CONSIDERING Hull City will next season be attempting to negotiate the often choppy seas of the Premier League, perhaps it was appropriate that Assem Allam spent Thursday night aboard one of the Royal Navy’s most iconic vessels commemorating the anniversary of one of history’s most important battles.
The Tigers’ chairman, fresh from toasting promotion with supporters the previous evening at the KC Stadium, joined Prince Andrew and a host of dignitaries on aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious, to mark the Allies’ victory in the Battle of the Atlantic 70 years earlier.
Historians have long since decreed that the entire war effort in mainland Europe depended on its outcome and Allam, a keen supporter of maritime charities in the past, admits it was both a humbling and enjoyable evening.
It also, the 73-year-old says, provided an insight into what promotion to the Premier League has already done for Hull’s profile.
“I went down to London with my wife thinking no one would know who we were,” said Dr Allam to the Yorkshire Post. “But from the moment we arrived, everyone wanted to talk about Hull City and our promotion.
“Even the Navy’s Fleet Commander (Admiral Philip Jones) wanted to discuss football. He is a Liverpool fan, while Martin Connell, the Captain of ‘Lusty’ – as HMS Illustrious is known – supports Chelsea so we spoke a lot about what the Tigers have achieved. I couldn’t believe that these important men even knew who I was, never mind were so interested in talking about Hull City.”
The Tigers being on the nation’s radar is something the club’s chairman is going to have to get used to. Being a member of the world’s most popular leagues means there is likely to be as much focus next season on the KC Stadium in East Asia as there will in the East Riding.
That Hull’s games will once again be beamed live in more than 100 countries is thanks to the managerial nous of Steve Bruce and the deep pockets of the Allam family, who rode to the rescue after two ruinous years in the top flight had left the club teetering on the edge.
Debt levels stood north of £30m, a winding-up order had been served and all that seemed to remain was for Hull, who sat just above the Championship relegation zone, to be placed in administration. It was a prospect Dr Allam couldn’t countenance, even if it would have allowed him to pick the club up for a much cheaper price.
“Had I left it four more days,” explains the Tigers’ chairman, “I could have bought it from the official receiver for nothing. But the club would have lost 10 points (by going into administration) and could have gone down (to League One) as a result.
“As you know, once that happens it can become a free-for-all at a club. Look at Leeds. The mighty Leeds United went down (in 2004) and are still not back. It can be so difficult.
“Portsmouth are another example, as are Bradford. I also look at Grimsby Town; they were in the Championship more recently than us not too long ago, but are now in the Conference.
“Knowing all this, I thought I couldn’t allow the club to be relegated. If I had, today we could be talking about League Two and not the Premier League.
“So, instead, we saved the club by throwing £27m of dead money at it. That went straight to the taxman and two banks to settle the winding-up order. I could have saved all that money by waiting four days, but Hull City would have suffered and I didn’t want that.”
As satisfying as promotion to the Premier League has been, there is one area that Allam admits remains a frustration. Namely, his failure in 2011 to buy the KC Stadium freehold off Hull City Council.
The ill-feeling that lingers from what the Tigers’ chief regards as the authority “mis-representing” his motives as “money-making” led to this week’s refusal of an invitation to stage an open top bus parade through Hull. Instead, the club staged their own party at the KC, whose management company is owned by the Allams.
He said: “When taking over the club, I did not plan too well in my mind because I thought I would get the freehold of the stadium. With that, I planned to spend £30m to create commercial activities around the stadium to generate profit for the club and to also increase capacity by 10,000.
“That work would have taken a year and the club would now be generating income rather than relying on me. Unfortunately, it was not possible and the Council said ‘no’.
“As it stands, there is limited scope as to what can be done at the KC. No one builds an extension on a house they rent. The worst thing is that £30m of potential capital expenditure has now had to be spent on covering losses for the last two-and-a-half years.
“It is frustrating because I hate
to see the club relying on me being alive or dead. Or at the mercy of my business doing well.”
A possible move away from the KC has been mooted, a scenario that cannot be dismissed with the Allams having already proved that difficult decisions come easy.
That much was evident a year ago when Nick Barmby, hugely popular with supporters, was sacked as manager. An outcry followed but the Tigers’ hierarchy never wavered from the belief they had done the right thing, even when the matter became the subject of legal action.
Allam recalls: “A year ago wasn’t easy for us. But I was determined nothing would change. Once we decide, we decide. You have to be strong and stick to your guns.
“We are not football people, we are business people. The man is not for turning.”
Bearing in mind how clubs promoted to the Premier League in the past have gone up with the best of intentions only to then be seduced by the heady atmosphere, sanctioning spending beyond their means, this intransigence is likely to prove key if Hull are not to repeat the mistakes of 2008-09.
On what approach Hull will adopt once the summer transfer window opens, the 73-year-old said: “We will be sensible. Steve has already said that.
“We didn’t do anything until the season was over as promotion was our priority, but we will start to have meetings next week to plan the way forward in terms of signings. The same goes for the players who will soon be out of contract.”
Next season may not be Hull’s maiden voyage in the Premier League. But, considering the deep waters the club found itself in during the three years that followed relegation, 2013-14 does have a feel of being another voyage of discovery.
Whether Tigers manager Bruce can now put together a squad capable of making waves come August remains to be seen, but with the Allams at the helm, there seems little danger of history repeating itself and Hull straying off course destined for the rocks.