Before the realpolitik of the new season starts to properly bite, August gives us all a chance to suspend our disbelief and wallow in our dreams. The reality is harsher now than it ever was, with the brushed metal veneer of twenty-first century money shining in the background reminder us at every step of the limits of everyone’s ambitions. For the press, this season isn’t about whether Hull City and Stoke City will stay in the Premier League or not. In the Brave New World, we already know that they are showing breathtaking impetuousness by even daring to turn up for their matches. Why are they even bothering? They don’t have the right to come into this league under the pretention that they can be considered equals. August, however, is different. For a few weeks, we can wallow in our own opulence and dream, amongst dreams, of parallel universes in which scenarios so unlikely that Terry Pratchett would baulk at them unfold. Why shouldn’t be us that storm to an FA Cup Final and sneak into the Champions League on the last day of the season after Arsenal draw at home for the fifteenth time?
The first day of the season is often the day upon which those dreams burst, but it’s probably fair to say that the hopes and dreams of Hull City supporters have leant towards the realistic rather than the over-ambitious this summer. Hull City’s promotion at the end of last season through the play-offs veered off into the realms of fantasy, with the winning goal coming from Dean Windass, the 39 year-old Hull boy who had spent twelve years travelling the country as a journeyman striker before coming home to enjoy the greatest indian summer imaginable. His goal in the final against Bristol City at Wembley couldn’t have provided a more fitting coda to the story. He was on the bench yesterday afternoon and didn’t get on the pitch, but he will get a run out at some point and, when he does, you rather suspect that the roof might lift clean off the Kingston Communications Stadium. Hull’s summer transfer policy has been “steady as she goes”, with the under-performing and overpaid Jay Jay Okocha released, and solid if unspectacular professionals such as George Boateng brought in. Seventeenth place would suit them just fine.
Their opening day opposition is Fulham, and there is something appropriate about this. They may be owned by Mohammed Al-Fayed and boast Hugh Grant as a celebrity supporter, but there is something about Fulham that sticks it to The Man. Craven Cottage remains, by some distance, the most civilised place to watch football in London. They are a London club without the perceived arrogance of Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham United. They keep their heads above water. Their last day of the season survival against Portsmouth last season was one in the eye for football’s arrivistes – possibly a last hurrah for the quiet types that watch their football over the top of their glasses whilst struggling with the Daily Telegraph crossword. Like Hull, Fulham supporters have spent their summer of dreaming of better days. And for Hull supporters, Fulham provide a source for quiet optimism for this season. The Harrods money stopped pouring into Craven Cottage some years ago. Fulham have had to learn to be self-supportive, and have managed it. It looked as if they may be on their way out for good when they left Craven Cottage for Loftus Road, but they returned triumphantly to a redeveloped Craven Cottage which should be a template for clubs looking to build a 20,000-seater stadium. They are the nearest things to “little guys” in the Premier League, and their annual survival in this rarified atmosphere is little short of a marvel.
So, the KC Stadium is, unsurprisingly, full for this opening match. Hull have sold their full allocation of season tickets for this seasons – optimists or masochists, depending on whether your glass is half-full or half-empty. For the first few minutes, the Premier League approved script is scrupulously followed, but then Geovanni’s header is brilliantly saved by Schwarzer – sign of things to come. On eight minutes, the KC Stadium deflates. Bullard’s cross is met by Seol Ki-Hyeon, who heads powerfully past the Hull goalkeeper Myhill. For a while, it looks as if Fulham could walk away with the match before Hull can regain their stride. Simon Davies shoots narrowly over and Zoltan Gera mis-kicks from an angle when a decent connection would almost certainly double the lead. Then, suddenly, Hull are right back in it. Geovanni picks up the ball in a bit of space and runs unchallenged before curling the ball deliciously into the bottom corner. Hull finish the first half in the ascendency with Nick Barmby heading just wide.
Fulham start the second half as the stronger of the two sides. Zoltan Gera, whose left foot appears to have been riven from a pile of bacon mis-shapes, shoots wide with the Hull defence waiting for an offside flag that stays defiantly absent. Slowly, Hull begin to claw their way back into things. Turner heads just over, and Geovanni makes a hash of things from six yards after excellent approach work by Nick Barmby. Hull are back on top, and Schwarzer is keeping them in the game, but with nine minutes to play, his good work is undone by a defensive lapse. Paul Konchesky gets the ball trapped under his feet and attempts, unwisely, to dig himself out of trouble by performing a little jig. Craig Fagan nips the ball from under his feet, rolls the ball into the path of Caleb Folan, who can’t miss from eight yards. Fulham have nothing left to give, and the points go to Humberside. Their relegation, perhaps, isn’t the foregone conclusion that everyone had assumed.
For Hull, the perfect day. Three points to put them in third place in the first league table of the season, the coveted 10.15 spot on Sky Sports and being featured as the main match on “Match Of The Day”. Fulham’s Roy Hodgson is characteristically gracious in defeat. “A point today would have been a very, very good result for us”, he says afterwards. For the Fulham supporters that dared to dream, this result is a jolt back to earth. “Not quite back to the drawing board – one of Roy’s strengths is to keep an even keel rain or shine, especially this early in the year – but that was a very disappointing start to the season”, says Craven Cottage Newsround. In sharp contrast to this sombre outlook, Hull City’s outstanding messageboard, Amber Nectar, is beside itself. “We’re going to piss this shitty division”, says Cactus Jack (possibly after a light ale or two), whilst Kristian “hereby reserve(s) the right to ejaculate uncontrollably”. It has been that sort of day. On the basis of this performance, Hull City don’t need to be patronised this season. On this early evidence, they might just be capable of looking after themselves.