Fortunes transformed as stadium provides a beacon of unity for Hull

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As the KC Stadium celebrates its 10th anniversary, Richard Sutcliffe meets the man behind much of its undoubted success.

AT various times over the first decade of the KC Stadium’s life, Adam Pearson has been at the helm of Hull City, Hull FC and the management committee running the entire complex.

It is ironic, therefore, that when the 48-year-old, who at the time was Leeds United’s commercial director, first considered getting involved in East Riding sport, his grand vision involved bringing all three bodies under his own control.

“My plan when I first looked at Hull City in 2000-01 was to own the Stadium Management Company, the football club and also Hull FC,” says Pearson.

“The same administration team could have run both clubs and operated a really slick set-up. It would have worked well. We got City but, unfortunately, couldn’t agree a price with the then owners of Hull FC. At one stage, we were only small figures apart from agreeing a deal, but then everyone became quite stubborn and the chance was gone.

“We kept it quiet at the time, but did manage to get due diligence on the rugby club done. It was just before everyone moved into the KC. By that time, I’d been at City for a few months and could see for myself the huge potential of Hull as a sporting city.

“Getting the football club and Hull FC under the same ownership at the KC Stadium would have been great for the city, but, unfortunately, we couldn’t pull it off.”

The KC Stadium opened 10 years ago this week, Sunderland providing the opposition for a friendly on December 18 that was followed eight days later by its first league game as Hartlepool United were beaten 2-0.

A new and exciting chapter in Hull’s sporting history had begun. Funded entirely by the City Council through its windfall from a partial flotation of Kingston Communications in 1999, the £44m all-seater venue not only transformed the fortunes of the two tenant clubs but also the mindset of a region.

Hull, then in the basement division, would be in the Championship within four years and playing in front of attendances that simply could not have been accommodated at their previous home, Boothferry Park.

The rugby club, too, enjoyed a major lift as crowds doubled and a first Super League Grand Final appearance followed in 2006.

Pearson, who chaired the Stadium Management Company for the first six years, recalls: “The building of the KC definitely changed the mindset of Hull.

“When I was looking on from afar, Hull always seemed to be a city fighting with one arm tied behind its back. There was such disunity, particularly in sport. All the clubs were separate and didn’t get on. The facilities were awful and the crowds disparate.

“Everything needed bringing together and the KC did that. It made people proud of their city and regenerated it. Both clubs have benefited hugely from the KC.

“Mind, when we first looked at Hull City and spoke to the council about the proposed new stadium, they were still talking to Hull KR about being a tenant.

“In the end, it was just Hull FC and Hull City but can you imagine how good it would have been to have all three of the city’s clubs based in one venue, even if I’m not sure the pitch would have been too great.”

Built on the site of the former Circle cricket ground that had once staged County Championship cricket, the KC quickly became an iconic image for Hull on a par with the Humber Bridge.

However, Pearson admits the original plan to kick-start the regeneration of the surrounding area has not been realised.

“The Council took the long-term view and wanted to build a legacy with the KC dividend windfall money,” he says.

“But the disappointing thing – and this is as much down to me as anyone – is that we didn’t develop it out in the boom years going up to 2007.

“The casino licence was won and we had hotels falling over us to get involved. We should really have done that then because it would have finished off what the council wanted – to regenerate the whole of West Hull.

“It was supposed to start off with hotels and restaurants, alongside the casino. There would have been a conference centre and then it would have levitated out towards smaller shops and into the residential areas. But it never quite took off, which is a shame.

“It would be difficult to do it now as well. The casinos have gone, and so have the hotel chains. It could still be done but it would need someone of great wealth to do it.”

Another part of the grand vision for the KC that has not been maintained is the staging of major music concerts. In the early years, the SMC that Pearson headed brought the likes of The Who, Elton John and REM to East Yorkshire.

Lately, however, the shows have dried up and the Hull FC chairman, who is no longer involved with the SMC, admits that is a shame.

He said: “The problem is they became harder to put on, particularly in terms of fitting them into the playing schedule.

“At the start, it was quite a new concept and the artists didn’t really catch on for a few years as to how much money we were making.

“But then after two or three years, they caught on and it swung the other way. I remember putting on Bon Jovi. It was a big risk as we paid about £1.1m. And in the end we only grossed just over £1m.”

Future developments are a contentious issue with the Allam family’s attempts to buy the KC having been rebuffed earlier this year.

Just this week, chairman Assem Allam, who saved the football club in 2010, questioned whether the Tigers would be able to stay at the Stadium if they won promotion without owning the 100 per cent freehold that is currently in the hands of the council.

Pearson said: “The problem at the moment is that the KC is a public asset. It has become a stand-off but, hopefully, things can be resolved.

“It needs people to want to do it and maybe there isn’t that desire at the moment. I hope something can be done as, to me, the KC Stadium is, like the Bridge and The Deep, a beacon for Hull.”