IT may only be a game. But it’s symbolic of so much more in East Yorkshire.
On Saturday, thousands will flock from Hull to London to watch their team in the city’s first ever FA Cup Final. A drop in the global audience ocean, with half a billion expected to tune in across the world.
It is still the biggest domestic game on the planet, and Hull, buoyed by its recent City of Culture success, couldn’t dream of buying exposure on that scale. As huge underdogs, the team will be cheered on by people in countries where the name of Hull may have barely registered before, and with the Tigers having qualified for European football next season, that exposure will expand even further.
Times are changing in Hull, and the club has mirrored a sense of belief in the city where previously there was doubt and scepticism.
That is evidenced by the fact that today’s successes are in such stark contrast to those of the past. Hull have reached a cup final before. Once. Sadly, it was not a time to celebrate.
In 1984 the city was still struggling to reinvent itself following the demise of its fishing industry. It was not helped by other parts of Yorkshire being embroiled in the bitter miners dispute and as the jobless queues lengthened there was little to smile about, save for the city’s best known band The Housemartins flying high in the charts.
Hull City though were doing their bit to try to lift morale, pushing for a second successive promotion and on the terraces at Boothferry Park the fans were starting to dream.
Until the month of May. A desperate, depressing and demoralising comedown, a hat trick of horrors which could never be repeated today.
The football authorities now rightly insist on all teams playing their final league matches at the same time. In 1984 it was different.
The league season in the Third Division had finished apart from one game, Hull’s rearranged match at Burnley which had earlier fallen foul of the weather. A three goal victory would secure Hull promotion and the team included future England manager Steve McClaren and future England player Brian Marwood, and they began well.
Two goals from Marwood left Hull on the brink of glory, but it was not to be. They could not score a third and at the final whistle a group of Sheffield United fans who had gone to the game celebrated wildly. The 2-0 win meant Hull missed out by a single goal. They had the same points and goal difference as Sheffield United, but it was the Blades who won promotion, by virtue of goals scored. The players trudged back to the dressing room where manager Colin Appleton delivered the second blow. He sat them down and told them he was resigning. Immediately. To go and manage Swansea.
It was against this backdrop that the city looked forward to its first ever football cup final nine days later, in the inaugural Associate Members Cup, a competition for teams in the bottom two divisions, now known as the Johnstone Paint’s Trophy. The competition is given extra kudos by having the final at Wembley.
At the time one of Hull’s unwanted accolades was being the biggest city in England whose football team had never played at Wembley. Sadly, two factors would ensure that continued.First, the football authorities doubted whether Hull and their opponents Bournemouth could muster enough fans to fill the national stadium.
It was a kick in the teeth for two proud clubs, but protests were rendered pointless by the unlikely presence of the Horse of the Year Show. At the time that event was staged at Wembley, and caused so much damage to the pitch that it was deemed unplayable.
So the clubs drew lots and Hull won the right to stage the game at Boothferry Park. Bournemouth won 2-1, and City’s misery was complete. The Wembley mishap was memorably described in a fanzine as a dream being shelved by “equine vandals and their jodhpured friends”. The jokes soon followed to rub salt in the wound: “Come on lads. Why the long faces?”
Then Hull captain Garreth Roberts, now coach development manager with the Humber Sports Partnership, which aims to support and promote sport across the region, thinks the transformation in Hull City’s fortunes is down to the opening of the KC Stadium 12 years ago.
“I never dreamed Hull City would reach the FA Cup final but the catalyst to what has happened was the opening of the stadium. I loved Boothferry Park, but the move to the KC was great and gave a whole new start to the cub.
“City being in the cup final makes me a bit jealous and wishing I was still playing. If you think how many people will be watching around the world, it is quite daunting. Coming on the back of the City of Culture means everything seems to be on the up. They are exciting times for the city.”
Wigan went through a similar high 12 months ago when they won the cup. It brought great exposure and a real feel good factor to the region.
Lord Peter Smith, the leader of Wigan Council, said: “We had a campaign with the club called Believe in Wigan which brought great pride. It is hard to quantify what something like the FA Cup final exposure can bring in terms of commerce and the economy, but it was huge exposure and promoted Wigan which has to be good. What is also did was bring people together and lift spirits which was great to see.”
Hull is hoping for similar benefits this weekend.
Terry Geraghty, Hull Council sport and leisure cabinet portfolio holder, said: “It’s a tremendous achievement to get to the final. Alongside the City of Culture, it will bring Hull great publicity and millions of people will see it around the world. That can only be good for the area.”
Coun Geraghty was 11-years-old when Hull played Manchester United in the FA Cup sixth round in front of more than 55,000 at Boothferry Park in 1949. City lost 1-0.
“I remember we queued for hours to get a ticket and all of us youngsters were put on the cinder track around the side of the pitch. We had a very good team and really thought we could win it. It was a real disappointment to lose.
“So to finally get to the final is wonderful. The FA Cup is still a huge competition in the world and everyone wants to watch the final. To get there after the City of Culture announcement is amazing. You couldn’t buy the publicity it will bring.”
While the Tigers will be hoping to put their recent poor league form behind them on Saturday and spring a major surprise at Arsenal’s expense, to some extent they have already achieved unprecedented success simply by getting there.
As Terry Geraghty says: “Whatever people say about the FA Cup, it is the trophy that all youngsters dream about. Just to get to the final is a tremendous achievement.”