After a decade in relative anonymity at the wrong end of the English football league pyramid, you would think Hull City fans would be enjoying their spell in the limelight. But given the worrying nature of the headlines over the past few weeks, you could forgive them for wishing for a return to the peace and quiet of the lower leagues.
Uncertainty that stretches from the dressing room to the boardroom has seen the chairman Paul Duffen resign and new man (or should that be old man?) Adam Pearson return. Pearson immediately backed beleaguered boss Phil Brown, although his statement cloaked a subtle warning that a bad result against Stoke could be curtains for the former Derby boss.
All of this caps a horrible 12 months for the club which has seen the dream turn into a nightmare. They had that fantastic start to last season, which saw them flying high in the table, beating the likes of Spurs and Arsenal away. Punch-drunk with their dizzy heights, Duffen boldly declared the club were aiming for Europe, not relegation (a quote which now causes most Tigers fans to wince with embarrassment).
But come May safety was celebrated with all the vigour and relief of a side that had won only one game all calendar year, and were nudged above the safety line only by the inadequacies of others.
The poor form has continued this year, with just two league wins, and the side look relegation fodder all over. What is more worrying is the latest financial results from Deloitte which say the club has to raise £23 million just to stay a ‘going concern’ and cover their costs next season. It’s when you delve into this issue that you find the root of Hull’s problems.
The club has the seventh highest wage bill in the top flight, but since selling Michael Turner to Sunderland in August, have no real saleable assets to speak of. Did their early success go to their head? Is it a coincidence that around about the time of Duffen’s prediction of European football, the club signed Jimmy Bullard from Hull in a deal that will eventually cost them £16million including wages? Add that to the £7 million in Premier League TV revenue and there is your £23 million shortfall.
Ten years ago, Leeds United were ‘living the dream’, signing the country’s best young players, upsetting the Champions League odds and challenging at the top end of the Premier League table. Hull’s achievements aren’t on the same level but if you consider where they have come from it is on a similar scale.
But the dream became a nightmare for United as the banks asked for their money back and they tumbled down the divisions. They are the example for any club which thinks about over-stretching.
Sadly, if the figures are to be believed, Hull are heading the same way, and once you start dropping, it’s very hard to arrest the slide. Sadly I fear a return to the lower divisions is beckoning for the Tigers and their brief sojourn in England’s top flight will prove an unsustainable dream.