Richard Brook reports on the Shakespearean tragedy unfolding by the Humber.
Hull City owner, Assem Allam is as misguided as when Juliet addresses Romeo, in the famous play by William Shakespeare named after the two characters. While Juliet’s point might be a modern one, that we are all the same at our base level, a name is not an aesthetic triviality that can be casually dismissed and replaced.
‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;’
Those are the words the Bard of Avon assigned to Miss Capulet. The trouble for Allam, is that the supporters of Hull City, do not find the smell relating to the name change he proposes in the least bit sweet. And why should they?
In the last few days the club’s owner has issued a clear and unveiled threat to those opposing his prospective, insensitive name change to Hull City Tigers. Allam has stated that he promises to go away “within 24 hours” if the Hull City community tell him to do so. The owner also stated the same applied if the FA do not ratify his wish, retaining – as they do – an absolute power of veto.
At least Allam’s recent comments are more moderate than his previous assertions. In December he echoed of another of the great writers Charles Dickens, when Ebenezer Scrooge speaks on people in Victorian workhouses to say: ‘If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’
Allam’s actual comments on the supporters group, City Till We Die, were that “they can die as soon as they want”. He continued, of fans displaying a protest banner: “How can they call themselves fans, these hooligans, this militant minority, when they disturb and distract the players while taking away the rights of others to watch the football, and of companies who have paid good money for sponsorship.”
At the time a statement from the City Till We Die group read: “The intemperate suggestion that singing “City Till I Die”, or holding a banner with Hull City’s name on it, constitutes disorder is ill-informed, unhelpful and will be considered by many to be offensive.”
Almost as offensive as to brand Hull City, the name of the club of which he is the appointed caretaker, as “lousy” and “common”. The businessman believes his choice of name symbolises power, and will increase worldwide merchandise sales.
Anyone hoping that Allam might have been visited by three spirits over the Christmas period will have had such hopes crushed by his most recent statements, that he will be gone in 24 hours, if the fans or the FA oppose him in his quest to rebrand the team.
The threat of the owner leaving brings with it great uncertainty given the club’s financial situation. Fans will have happier memories of Allam, from him taking over a club in financial difficulty in December 2010 and immediately lending the club a reported £41 million. Last summer the figure was reportedly £72 million, with these loans are charged at 5% interest. In the Championship, the club’s wage bill was reported to stand at £26 million, a figure which also is believed to equate to the loss they made in achieving promotion to the Premier League. The club’s income was said to be £11 million for the same season.
Amongst his comments this week Allam remained bullishly unperturbed on the subject: “No one on earth is allowed to question my business decisions. I won’t allow it. I can give you my CV to give you comfort, for what I do in business, what I have achieved, but for someone to come and question me is not allowed. I’m here to save the club and manage the club for the benefit of the community. It will never, never be the other way round.”
For the second time in a week I find myself writing this sentence. Football, at least within this country, is not a business like any other. Football fans are without doubt paying customers of a football club but in no other mode of business are the customers so emotionally caught up in the company they are dealing with and the product they are receiving. It is quite conceivable that the 74 year old, Egyptian born business man could change the name of the generator company that made his millions, and experience the benefits of a more marketable moniker. That is simply not the case with a football club that have played under their current name since 1904.
There can be no benefit in naming Hull City anything other than that, to market it more globally, if in so doing their bread and butter fans – the ones who live in Hull, buy tickets, programmes, food and merchandise – are alienated by the move.
A football club is a matter of family history, tradition and tribalism. A name gives it identity and continuity as it is passed from parent to child. A name gains value from the repetition, people know what is being spoken of and what is to be expected of it. If you blindfolded a group of people and asked them to sniff a rose, but named it as some new variety of flower, and compare its scent on a scale of one to ten, to the scent of a rose would they say it smells the same? Does a rose by any other name smell as sweet? That could be a very interesting psychological experiment.
Foreign owners such as Allam and Vincent Tan at Cardiff are ditching our game’s rich tapestries in the blink of an eye, with no apparent understanding for the industry in which they are operating. Given their financial dependency on their owner, it would be quite understandable if Hull City fans did not agree, but I believe English football would be much better off if all the club owners who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, did disappear from the game in the next 24 hours.
Does a football club abandoning its heritage, to whatever end smell, as sweet? No it does not. In fact it stinks.