Examining the Hull City Ballot
There could be a new name on the cup this year. Would the FA really want it to be Hull Tigers?
There are a few big ifs of course — three other clubs have their own ambitions of lifting the trophy at Wembley on 17 May.
It’s also highly likely that football’s governing body will maintain its block on Assem Allam’s bid to change Hull City’s name, regardless of the outcome of the most pointless poll this side of Simferopol.
Pointless because the exercise is too late, because the questions are loaded and because a matter which has the potential to change the face of football in England is far too important to be decided by the fans of one club.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the ballot is evidence of Dr Allam’s new-found faith in democracy for football fans; it’s purely his last chance of swaying the FA, of convincing them that he has undertaken meaningful consultation with Hull City fans.
The roots of the problem are in Dr Allam’s self-confessed lack of understanding of football. In the summer of 2012 I interviewed him for nearly three hours, talking business and football while nibbling Ferrero Rocher in his sumptuous office.
He joked about not being able to understand the offside law, but the smile had disappeared when he spoke of his frustration at the lack of loyalty within football, and a man who claims to rarely get annoyed was clearly at the end of his tether as he descrtibed his efforts to buy the KC Stadium from Hull City Council.
What Dr Allam failed to appreciate then and has still not come to terms with now is that there is business, and then there is football business. He’d obviously never heard the old adage that the way to make a small fortune from investing in professional sport is to start with a large fortune.
His claim that criticism doesn’t bother him won’t cause any ripples in the corporate world, but it has stirred up a few storms with Hull City supporters as he’s blundered his way from one PR disaster to another.
In spite of occasionally irrational supporter opposition to many of Dr Allam’s controversial decisions it’s clear many fans know more than he does about how to run a football club.
They recognise that as the owner of Hull City he was perfectly within his rights to sack Nick Barmby and Adam Pearson, to order the removal of Hull FC rugby league memorabilia from the walls of the stadium, to increase ticket prices for disabled fans, to raise the qualifying age limit for seniors, to hold a promotion celebration at the stadium rather than share it with the city centre. And they’ll defend his right to approach such issues in as clumsy and offensive a way as he sees fit.
But the name of the club is not his to change, and claims that the switch would attract huge investment from overseas will always be shrouded by commercial confidentiality clauses.
Let’s accept it is just a misunderstanding when we hear Dr Allam talk about Hull City Council rejecting his bid to buy the KC Stadium and senior city councillors respond that they have never received an offer. But what happens if there is a similar misunderstanding with the mystery backers in the Far East after the name change?
Even if the name change helps to secure a lucrative sponsorship deal with Tiger Beer, what happens at the end of the term? By then Hull City will have pioneered the practice of football clubs adopting the name of their sponsor, and you’ll never get that genie back into the bottle.
Think back a few years to the season when City were sponsored by Twydale Turkeys. Hull Turkeys would have attracted ridicule, and not just at Christmas. And how about Hull Pawnbokers under Cash Converters? Hull Cranswick Porkers anybody?
The FA should block the change and also adopt a set of criteria to protect the heritage of the game and the individual clubs — establishing the name of a team, specifying the town/city/area with which teams are associated and within which they should be located and safeguarding the colours of the team’s first-choice kit.
They should not be influenced by a vote which is tarnished by Dr Allam’s clear threat to withdraw his investment from the club, and by a procedure which makes it easy to identify how people voted. A secret ballot managed by an independent operator would be more costly and time-consuming, but it would produce a more genuine response. Within minutes of the ballot form being published some fans were voicing fears that the club could use the personal details to discriminate against dissenters in the distribution of Wembley tickets.
Such a process can only increase the reluctance of people to vote, with a high “abstention” count likely to be portrayed by Dr Allam as a lack of concern about the name change and therefore an endorsement of his plans.
So how should we vote? On the simple, single issue it has to be no to Hull Tigers, and the outcome would surely be a landslide victory for that campaign but for Dr Allam’s strategy of linking the ballot to a vote of confidence in his leadership.
If Dr Allam loses and leaves that will be his decision. He may accuse the fans of having forced him out, but the reality is that all they’ll have done is resist begging him to stay.
Certainly it is clear that almost all the fans would like Dr Allam to continue, but not at such a high cost to Hull City’s dignity and heritage.
The whole episode is bonkers, but what Dr Allam has done is present the FA with an open goal — the opportunity to re-assert its authority and to re-affirm some of the traditions which make football such a great game.