What’s next for Hull City? Wembley triumph masks the rancour with fans

A view of a section of seats for Hull City fans before the Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium, London.
A view of a section of seats for Hull City fans before the Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium, London.
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“WHAT a good place to be.”

As ‘Happy Hour’, that infectious 1980s song by Hull band The Housemartins, boomed out from the PA system as Steve Bruce and his players celebrated promotion on the pitch, Paul Heaton’s lyrics, on the surface at least, took on a prescient feel.

Hull City's Abel Hernandez celebrates after the Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium, London.

Hull City's Abel Hernandez celebrates after the Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium, London.

Wembley was, indeed, a good place to be for Hull City and their 26,000 fans thanks to a Premier League return having been booked at the first attempt. City had been dominant under the Arch and all was well with the world.

However, just like a song that beneath an upbeat and jaunty pop tune has Heaton expressing his disdain for work colleagues out enjoying ‘happy hour’ in the pub, all was not what it seemed.

Beneath the feelgood factor that a win at Wembley always brings was a club that has been through tough times in the past year.

Fan discord grew the longer the season went on and peaked with the red card protests that made clear the opposition to City’s introduction of a controversial new membership scheme. Coming on the back of the failed attempt to rebrand as Hull Tigers, the scrapping of concessions for juniors and pensioners caused anger and resentment on an unprecedented scale, as underlined by almost 14,000 tickets remaining unsold for Saturday’s final.

Steve Bruce, top, raises his fist at the final whistle as Hull City clinch promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt. Bruces future in charge, however, remains in doubt.

Steve Bruce, top, raises his fist at the final whistle as Hull City clinch promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt. Bruces future in charge, however, remains in doubt.

Amid all this rancour has been Bruce and his players. The City manager, therefore, deserves a medal for keeping things together sufficiently that the club was even in the running for promotion, never mind able to go up via the play-offs.

The big question now, of course, is will Bruce stick around? As he makes clear on the front of today’s Sports Monday, there is plenty for him to ponder.

Bruce wants assurances over what money will be available. He also wants clarity on the rumours that have been circulating around the East Riding for months that a takeover is imminent.

Talks are due to take place this week and it is to be hoped Bruce sticks around as he has overseen arguably the most successful period in the club’s history.

Two promotions book-end a first FA Cup final appearance and place in European competition, even if the latter did end in the qualifying stages of the Europa League.

City, a club that for the first 104 years of its existence could only dream of top-flight football, have never known such times. Next season will be their fifth in the Premier League in nine years and considering all the sub-plots surrounding figures such as Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, it promises to be a fascinating time.

Bruce appreciates that more than anyone, hence why this correspondent believes he will stay and lead the Tigers.

“The Premier League is the place to be,” he said when speaking to The Yorkshire Post in the bowels of Wembley an hour or so after the final whistle had blown.

“Look at what happened this season. Leicester won it, which was terrific for football. None of us predicted that, none of us even thought about it if we are honest.

“Teams like Bournemouth, Swansea, West Brom are what we have to emulate. They have been in and around it for some time now. If we can do that and make it grow, that will be great.

“It is always difficult because of where we are. It makes it hard to attract players. We are never going to be the biggest payers and it is difficult to get players to come to us. Even if you have the money.

“I haven’t even asked about what we have available (financially). What is available, I don’t really know.

“When I ask other managers about salaries, it is mind-blowing. Absolutely mind-blowing. It seems to start at around £2-2.5m a year. That is the average, apparently. So, we better get ready for it.

“I am sure the calls will start. Agents offering me the next Pele for nothing and all that. There is a long road ahead but let’s not talk about that now. Let’s enjoy the moment. I can do all the worrying tomorrow.”

If anyone has earned a break it is Bruce. He has worn the look of a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders at times this season, and particularly in recent weeks.

Much of that was down to a team that, for all its quality, had a tendency to display a soft underbelly. City lost to not only relegated duo Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic this term but they dropped points against all but one of the bottom eight clubs.

Trying to rectify this damaging trait has taken its toll on Bruce and, no doubt, a big feature of his summer work will be to bring in characters capable of ensuring there is no repeat of this tendency to self-destruct come August.

The fixtures are out a fortnight on Wednesday, underlining just how quickly City will have to move in the transfer market. Middlesbrough and Burnley have had a three-week start on the Yorkshire club, while those whose top-flight status was assured as long ago as February have had months to prepare.

“Next season, the Premier League is going to be special,” added Bruce. “We will probably get one of the big ones on the first day. We actually got Jose three years ago on his return to Chelsea.

“But that is what it is all about. A small little club like ours taking on the giants of the game, which is always difficult, don’t get me wrong, but we’ll make a fist of it. We will try our best.”

As for being in the opposite dugout to Guardiola at Manchester City, Bruce blew out his cheeks before laughing: “Well, I would love to have been given the chance to manage the clubs he has managed. Instead of going to war with a pop gun, like I have to!”