On the surface, it feels as if it should be a definitive decision. Yesterday afternoon, the FA Membership Committee met, deliberated, and eventually agreed that Hull City AFC should not have its name changed to Hull Tigers on the whims of its owner, Dr Assem Allam, and that, we might presume, should be that. After all, this isn’t the first time that Allam has put his case before the governing body and failed to successfully make his case. However, while the decision reached by the Membership Committee yesterday can only be interpreted as another victory for those that have campaigned so vigorously to prevent this act of cultural vandalism, there are grounds for concern over the minutiae of what came to pass at St George’s Park, and what this tells us about those running the professional game in England at the moment.
The decision to block the name change was blocked by a significant margin, and the 69.5% of those who voted against it represented an increase from the 63.5% who voted against it when it first came before them fifteen months ago. The club’s avenue of appeals under the FA’s process has now been exhausted, but the possibility of further applications being made by the club at some indeterminate point in the future cannot be completely ruled out, especially when we consider the completely intransigent stance that Allam has taken over this entire matter from the very outset. Since first announcing that he was making this decision unilaterally, there has been no sign of any policy from within the club itself that it cared in the slightest about the wishes of supporters. What, realistically, is the likelihood that Allam will drop this particular bone of contention now? The club’s immediate response to the matter was to write a response as predictably terse as we might have expected from such an autocratic regime:
The Club acknowledges the FA Council’s decision with regards to our name change application.
We always knew that following a change to the FA’s policy, the chances of changing the name were slim but we also feel it is important to fight for what you believe in and we believe that being called Hull Tigers would be the best strategy for the future.
We will be taking some time away from the Club to consider our options and we will make no further comment until we have come to a conclusion.
Throughout this entire saga, it has frequently felt as if the Allams simply have no understanding of the emotional bond that football supporters hold for their clubs. Even now, their official statement following yet another rejection by the FA’s Membership Committee can offer no cogent, well thought out rationale as to why anybody looking in from the outside, whether members of the game’s governing body, supporters themselves or whoever, should believe for a second that such a big decision should have been agreed. “We believe that being called Hull Tigers would be the best strategy for the future” simply doesn’t cut it, and the fact that they were unable to convince the Membership Committee to any significant extent that there was a case for allowing it for a second time can only lead us to the possibility than there may never have been one, above and beyond “because we say so.” Certainly, his previous public comment on the matter (in a televised interview with the BBC) that, “In marketing theory, the shorter the name, the more powerful the impact,” made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Meanwhile, in amongst the Allams’ bluff and bluster, the Hull City Supporters Trust produced a twenty-four page long document explaining patiently and cogently why the name change should not be allowed.
More troubling, however, are suggestions that have been made over the last twenty-four hours or so concerning what the patterns were within this vote. BBC Humberside’s David Burns tweeted yesterday that, “I hear it was amateur game/County FA’s the defeated Hull City name change. Pro game reps were largely pro,” while the Chair of the Football Supporters Federation, Malcolm Clarke (who was present at the meeting), has suggested that even Greg Dyke, the chairman of the Football Association itself, voted in favour of the allowing the name change. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at Dyke’s actions when we consider his pivotal role in the formation of the Premier League in the first place, but it is worth recalling patterns such as these when he is publicly claiming to be something approximating the living, breathing conscience of professional football, as he was following the recent announcement of Sepp Blatter that he would be stepping down as the Secretary of FIFA.
What the Allams next move might be is open to conjecture. They’ve put £75m in investment into to the club – although let’s not forget that none of this was gifts granted from the goodness of their hearts; it’s all in loans and is understood to be accumulating interest – but they haven’t got the name change they wanted, haven’t been gifted the KC Stadium by the local council, and as of the end of last season, there isn’t even the bottomless pit of money that a place in the Premier League any more to cushion the blow. As things stand, Hull City AFC will be playing next season in the Football League Championship at the council-owned KC Stadium. Premier League parachute payments will continue to give the club a significant competitive advantage over the other clubs vying for a place back at the gilded trough for the start of the season after next, but precisely none of the position described as above is likely to be what Allam wanted, and on top of this his legacy as the owner of the football club is already spoiled, perhaps beyond salvation.
This state of affairs is somewhat ironic, when we consider that Allam might actually have been remembered as the saviour of the club had he not behaved in the way that he has over this name change, but this behaviour is now most likely what he will be remembered for more than anything else when he does come to leave the club. He had the opportunity to build himself a legacy that would long outlive him at Hull City AFC. As things stand, he will leave a legacy, but it’s far from likely that this will be anything like the sort of legacy that anybody would want to leave behind anywhere. Now, this whole dismal story may just boil down to becoming a question of economics. Will the Allams choose to cut their losses and run, or will they stay at the club and continue to dig their reputations still further into a grave that is entirely of their own making? It would be nice to think that they might show a little dignity and put this all to rest once and for all. Unfortunately, all indications from their previous behaviour can only lead us to believe that this may not be the case. For now, though, yesterday’s ruling was another victory for supporters in defiance of those who would continue to trash the heritage of our game in the pursuit of another buck.
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