JAMES CHESTER’S defensive resolution amid new-found Premier League surroundings may be impressing many, but it was determination of a different sort that served him well on Saturday, May 4.
That bewildering but beautiful Spring afternoon in East Yorkshire is now firmly etched into Hull City folklore with 20,000-plus Tigers supporters enduring a white-knuckle roller-coaster ride before being left to savour a delicious and delirious promotion.
The events will be remembered forever and a day with the majority of expectant Hull players huddling around a TV screen inside the KC Stadium after their see-saw 2-2 draw with today’s visitors Cardiff City ended to anxiously watch events 200 miles away in Watford.
No-one of an amber-and-black persuasion will need any reminding of the fact that the Hornets, whose game with Leeds United had been delayed 15 minutes after a serious injury to goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, needed just one goal to pip the Tigers to automatic promotion with their game locked at 1-1.
The seconds felt like minutes and the minutes resembled hours for the City fans who had invaded the pitch and players and staff before Leeds striker Ross McCormack earned plenty of instant friends in Hull by netting a winner for the visitors to kick-start a party.
Tigers’ players ecstatic celebrations were filmed, with the likes of Robbie Brady and Ahmed Elmohamady very much at the front.
They say big men don’t cry, but many did that day. Although Chester, as in the words of a famous hit song performed by Beautiful South – a band with strong Hull links – managed to ‘keep it all in.’
That was possibly due to the fact a self-confessed Manchester United fan just could not stomach cheering on Leeds.
Chester said: “The 10 or 15 minutes waiting for the Watford result felt like the longest of my life.
“Some people were watching the TV and some were doing different things just to get away from it.
“It was a strange experience, but we’re so thankful the result went our way and we got this opportunity.
“I couldn’t watch. I was sat in the changing room on my own. I found a little corner to hide in until the final whistle. Then I heard all the lads in the room next door cheering.
“There were a few crying. There were people crying before we knew the Watford result and then, when the final whistle went, there were a few more. It was a strange experience and one I’ll never forget.
“I held it together. My girlfriend always says I’ve got a heart made of stone. I’m definitely my dad’s son, so I managed to keep it together.”
Just as he has at the back so far this season for the Tigers, with the presence of himself and summer signings Curtis Davies and Maynor Figueroa already looking a cohesive triple axis, with a goalkeeper behind in Allan McGregor who has already proved a strong last line of defence.
Granted, their efforts failed to ultimately keep out moneybags outfits Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad, but neither were the Tigers ripped apart, as many pundits were expecting them to be.
That, allied to their organisation and passages of quality in general play has already earned some respect, according to Chester, who helped repel the efforts of Norwich in the Tigers’ last home game – when they were a man light for over an hour but still won.
Chester, making a fair fist of his first season in the top flight, said: “We worked hard last season to show we deserve to be here. The kind of performances we’ve shown so far, I think we have gained some respect from the teams we’ve played.
“The gaffer’s bought in quality, but he’s also bought in people who have fitted in well. There’s a real excitement around the place and a real belief we can be successful this season.”
On Davies and McGregor, who already look like the shrewdest of acquisitions by Bruce for a bargain combined fee of under £4.5m, Chester added: “Curtis has been a good signing. His communication has been really helpful for me. When you’ve got people running in behind you, that’s what you need.
“Allan has also been great. In the two or three years, I’ve been here we haven’t had a goalkeeper contracted to the club. So it’s nice to know Al is there and he’s going to play the majority of the games and you’re able to build a relationship with him.”