As a preamble to the promotion celebrations, this game had a pre-season friendly feel about it until City exploded with three excellent goals in fifteen second half minutes. Ian Thomson's tosses his cap into the air amid the euphoria.
Anyone remember the last time we rounded off the season at home before moving on to a new League? 1996, the year was, and the day was one of the blackest in our Club's history, as the City faithful, just under 4 000 of them (less than half the crowd on the day), banished to the away end of the decrepit Boothferry Park, watched their team, ravaged to the point of non-existence by years of neglect from a major shareholder who refused either to sell the club or to invest, an ineffectual puppet chairman and an uninspired, uninspiring manager and assistant, capitulate to promotion-bound Bradford. Those that could be moved to attend vented their spleen loud and long throughout on the Club's management, and many vented it ferociously after the match on the gloating away support. For those who weren't there, it is impossible to describe the almost incapacitating sense of despair and outrage that hung over West Hull that terrible day as, heads hung in despondency, the Tiger Nation trudged away amidst the "Fish Out" posters on the walls and the mayhem breaking out everywhere at random.
That blackest of days, far from being a turning point, only served to herald a full-blown nuclear winter. Lloyd, and his sidekicks Wilby, Appleton and Calam; the infamous South Yorkshire "businessmen" Buchanan, Hinchliffe, Webster and Daykin. Some of the most contemptible individuals ever to be associated with Hull City; one or two merely incompetent fools out of their depth trying to run a football club, but the remainder men who, far from merely feeling nothing for the Club, were actually intent on destroying it with no more thought for the consequences than if they were discarding a toffee wrapper. Nine points adrift at the bottom of the Fourth at one point. Winding-up orders falling like confetti. Locked out of the ground. League gates below 2000. The complicit local press doing ostrich impersonations.
When fans of other clubs bemoan their fate and tell you how hard done by and long-suffering they are, you have to laugh. We've got the patent out on that. Barely a single set of fans in British football, if any, has had to endure the constant and mind-numbing pain that those of Hull City have had to put up with since the late 80s??..at least until 2001, when the Buchliffe regime collapsed after Hinchliffe finally had his collar felt over various long-standing shenanigans before his time at City and the Club was forced into administration??.and a man none of us had heard of before strode into town.
Compare the above now with what you saw yesterday. A gleaming arena, possibly the finest outside the Premiership and better than some in that pampered league, packed with 22 562 spectators, including what I think was the largest gathering of Hull City fans at a league fixture for over thirty years, basking in the glory generated by the elevation of the Club from the black pit of the Fourth Division after nine depressing years, many in the crowd, who had witnessed at first hand the evils of earlier regimes, standing there dewy-eyed, still barely able to convince themselves that it was all for real. The horrors of seasons past suddenly seemed light years away, the unspeakable memory of that awful Bradford game, and all the horrors which have befallen us since, assuaged in one fell swoop.
For let it ring out loud and long, in the words of the old song the Tigers are back, whoa-oh-oh.
The road to salvation Pearson has led us along has not been without its rough patches, potholes and slippery areas, but we have very definitely reached first base. For promotion this year is not the Holy Grail; there is much more to achieve. This Club, with Pearson at the helm, can surely only be on the verge of a powerful and exciting future, ready to roar onwards into realms that we can perhaps only dream of. And when we get there, what a just reward that will be for the vision, drive and enthusiasm of our chairman.
What a marvellously uplifting feeling it was to reflect upon all of this yesterday as the curtain fell on a momentous season. Many of those present at the Circle yesterday will have known little or nothing of the horrors of being a Hull City supporter during the nineties and cared even less, but no matter; to quote another fine old song, "Those days are gone now, and in the past they must remain".
And what a fitting way to round off a fine season and mark our departure from the wilderness, with the Pirates ultimately being made to walk the plank courtesy of an accomplished second-half display typical of the style and sparkle which Taylor and his lieutenants have instilled into the Tigers' performances this season and which have been a major factor in the Tigers' rise from oblivion.
The City manager kept faith with the same starting XI as at Huish Park the previous momentous Saturday:-
After taking the field first to allow the Tigers to receive the plaudits of the home crowd and emerge to the release of hundreds of black and amber balloons (anyone else really miss teams coming out separately, at one time an essential part of the Saturday afternoon experience?), Rovers kicked off towards their own creditable following of 1300 or so on an overcast afternoon, with plenty of clouds but no sign of the much-heralded arrival from Doncaster in the sky. The first half can be summed up in one much-used word: formless. City suffered an early scare on 6 minutes when a corner was knocked goalwards but was cleared from the line amid claims from the Rovers that the ball was in, and proceeded to show the irritating side of their character for much of the half, generally being second to the ball, knocking the ball aimlessly backwards and across the back line (in the latter case, often inaccurately) and, despite the game being played in the Rovers half to an increasing extent as the half wore on, showing little sign of the show that the expectant home gathering was eagerly anticipating. The prime incident of note occurred on 28 mins when, just after Elliott had driven wide of the near post in City's first real goalscoring opportunity, referee Cowburn left the field for reasons which were, and remain, not immediately apparent, to be replaced by the senior linesman. City proceeded to play out the half at a slightly more leisurely pace than their opponents, the nearest we came to breaching the Bristol net, until the half began to draw to a close, being a couple of timely clearances from the visiting defence, and the Circle atmosphere became increasingly flat, the crowd preferring to taunt the Bristol manager Atkins, whose Oxford side never recovered from the traumatising they got at the Circle in January. It did perk up a bit towards the end of the half, with Elliott being harshly adjudged to have fouled visiting custodian Miller when the latter fubled an Ashbee cross with Allsopp ready to pounce on the loose ball. Then, a couple of minutes before the break, the Aussie Tiger ? who tried hard but looked again as though he needs the summer to recover properly from his last injury - had the ball in the net after racing unchallenged onto a through ball which was miskicked by an away defender into his path but the flag was up for offside, presumably from the original through ball, otherwise there was no offside and the goal should have stood??if I understand the new offside rules correctly, that is.
So, half time. First half verdict? Some trying (Green, Delaney, Ash, France), others (Joseph and, surprisingly, Dawson) not.
Taylor, judging by his touchline remonstrations, was not wildly enamoured with his charges' efforts in the first period, and it seemed as though the message had been relayed to the team at half time, the Tigers commencing the second period seemingly intent on putting their foot on the Gas. In the second minute of the half Elliott went down poleaxed in trademark fashion under a Bristol challenge out on the left, and then rose to head the resultant free kick powerfully over the bar. The double substitution on 51 minutes seemed further to raise the tempo, and the Tigers again threatened an opener on 55 when, after fine passing on the right, Price got in behind the Bristol defence and whipped over a cross which Allsopp was just beaten to.
City won their first corner on 57 minutes when a Forrester cross was cleared almost from off Elliott's head, and from the resultant flag kick we were ahead. The Bristol defence was slow to pick up Price's run into the box as the ball came in from the right, leaving the Welsh wizard free to plant a powerful header downwards into the corner of the net past the keeper's right hand.
The Circle duly erupted, and went into even greater raptures a couple of minutes later as the lead was doubled. Many opined that Delaney's stunning strike against Rochdale was a flash in the pan; well, if that be so, the young scamp had another yesterday. And this was even better than the Rochdale one. The Irishman started things off by bringing the ball out of defence and finding Forrester. The City number 8 had two options, namely the experienced, accomplished striker Allsopp to the right but in danger of being crowded out by the cover, or the young defender Delaney, who had continued his run to Forrester's left and was pointing to where he wanted the ball, and furthermore was covered only by the right back. Forrester wisely chose Delaney, who showed tremendous skill and composure as, first attempting to go round his marker and realising the angle would be too narrow, he then cut back, wrong-footing his marker in the process, and hit a glorious rising drive with his right foot across the face of the goal and into the top far corner of the net. This was a goal that would have graced any footballing occasion, and, coupled with another solid defensive display, provided a graphic reminder of what a jewel City has in this young man.
City now played with gay abandon, producing some marvellous stuff, but the Pirates rallied, and only failed to get onto the scoresheet courtesy of a stunning point-blank save as a cross from the right was volleyed goalwards on 68 minutes. This was a brief interruption to the show the Tigers were now putting on, though, and an elaborate free-kick move on 70 minutes saw Greeny run out of the box and round the back of Ash to receive the City skipper's lay off before striking a crisp shot which had the pace but was straight at the visiting keeper.
Now, one of the discernible aspects of the Tiger renaissance is that apparently not everybody who attends the Circle these days does so, like me, in order to cheer on the Tigers, applaud good play, show dismay at poor play, and, hopefully, celebrate victory. For many of the more recent converts to Tigerdom, the principal object of participation in the Circle experience is, it seems, to visit the kiosk to drink beer or buy and consume solid refreshments, or visit the toilets, in either case during the game, display a painted face, be first out of the car park after the game??..or, as a new addition to the list, participate in Mexican waves. Let me stress though that I am not about to criticise these alternative forms of behaviour; after all, the money which purchased the tickets of those who indulge in such behaviour is as good as that which purchased mine, and only the most incorrigible churl would swap a desolate, near deserted Boothferry Park for a thronging, vibrant Circle which the presence of these people had helped create. But it did seem a bit of a pity that many of those who chose to engage in behaviour more appropriate to watching the Bradford Bulls than the Tigers of Hull missed the third and final goal, a fine strike from Elliott on 73 minutes, the Ulsterman getting into position in the centre-forward channel and, from outside the box, delivering a vicious curling strike with the outside of the left boot into the top left hand corner, an effort which deserved a more attentive audience than it probably received.
And now it was party time. Fans joined in a conga along the front of the East Stand, whose occupants began to honour in song virtually every member of the team in succession, who in turn acknowledged the crowd's plaudits in a welcome show of mutual admiration. We might have had a fourth late on when France broke into the box but shot weakly at Miller, but nobody was much complaining. There was no anxious glancing at watches as Martyn Hainstock proclaimed "two minutes of division 2 added time", and soon enough our most (our only real?) joyful season in nineteen was over.
Of course this is City, lest any of us forget, and so, typically, the euphoria of the moment for a while looked as though it might be soured as first the headstrong few fans, then the lemming like majority, several hundred in all, surged onto the Circle pitch as the final whistle sounded, despite repeated earlier warnings over the PA and in the programme that such behaviour would jeopardise the post-match presentation. It has to be said that the Club might have anticipated this and had more stewards on duty, or that the phalanx of constabulary in front of the Bristol fans might have had the appropriate deterrent effect if some of them had been deployed, truncheons drawn, on the East side, but the oafs parading themselves on the pitch ought to have known better. I hope none of the culprits subscribes to this list, but just in case, here's a message for you: wankers; brainless, selfish, thoughtless, pathetic wankers. I hope you all were filmed and are barred from the ground for life.
Thankfully, order was restored, a stage swiftly erected to the accompaniment of a pipe band which did my old Caledonian heart good, and the players and officials came out in pairs, Noah's Ark style, to receive their medals from a couple of local Nationwide managers who clearly enjoyed their fifteen minutes of fame. For the record, those who received their medals were as follows: Myhill, Mussy, Hinds, Joseph, Delaney, Dawson, Elliott, Green, Allsopp, Walters, Price, Forrester, Thelwell, Wiseman, Holt, Peat, Whittle, Burgess, the physios, Murphy, Butler, and last but not least, to rapturous applause Ash and the now-besuited Taylor. The Runners up trophy, a handsome silver plate, was presented and players and officials went on a lap of honour to receive the deserved congratulations of the home support, virtually all of whom had stayed to acclaim their heroes.
So, I suppose that'll have to do then. The promotion craved by Club and fans alike has been achieved, with a powerful blend of grit, desire, spirit, flamboyance, skill and style, all of which, with the right nurturing on the field and the sure hand of Pearson on the tiller, augurs well for next season and the years to come. Personally, I can't wait for next season, and I suspect I'm not the only one.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Hinds, Joseph, Delaney, Dawson; France, Ashbee, Lewis, Green; Elliott, Allsopp. Subs: Price (for Hinds, 51), Forrester (for Lewis, 51), Thelwell (for Price, 76), Walters, Musselwhite.
Goals: Price 58; Delaney 60; Elliott 73
Sent Off: None
BRISTOL ROVERS: Miller, Edwards, J Anderson, Barrett, I Anderson, Gibb, Lescott, D Williams, Savage, Tait, Thorpe. Subs: Agogo (for Thorpe, 62), Quinn (for I Anderson, 64), Henriksen (for Tait, 74), R Williams, Parker.
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: M Cowburn
Last revised: May 16, 2004