Bruce will do well to avoid being wounded in Hull crossfire

The Tigers beat Liverpool for the first time in the club’s 109 years on Sunday. But talk afterwards was dominated by the escalating row over a proposed name change. Leon Wobschall reports.

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SITTING tenth in the world’s most high-profile league above the likes of Aston Villa, West Ham and Sunderland, everything in Hull City’s garden should be rosy.

These are no ordinary times to be a Tigers fan. Unfortunately, it is not all down to their current lofty placing in just their third season in the top flight of English football in the club’s 109-year history.

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Manager Steve Bruce should have been basking in the glow of his side’s splendid success against Champions League hopefuls Liverpool in his after-match press conference on Sunday.

Instead, he had to field questions, not for the first time, on the spiky issue of a possible name change following another curve ball he could have done without.

On Friday, Bruce made great play of the need for supporters to focus fully on enjoying one of the blue riband games in the club’s calendar against Liverpool and spoke about trying to avoid what he viewed as unnecessary distractions.

Instead, his chairman Assem Allam fanned the flames with an untimely pre-game interview in which he labelled protesters against his plans to rebrand the club Hull Tigers as hooligans.

Campaign groups opposing the change have unfurled banners after 19 minutes and four seconds of every home game this season, with 1904 the year of Hull’s birth.

It has been a peaceful protest, although matters got particularly heated during the home game against Crystal Palace when stewards attempted to prevent a banner being displayed before relenting.

It provided an unfortunate backdrop to Hull’s sole home defeat of the season so far to the division’s basement club – and then came Sunday’s developments.

The person caught in the crossfire in all of this is Bruce, mindful that it is Allam who signs the cheques and who handed him his return to management – but equally sympathetic towards fans emotionally attached to their club, Hull City AFC.

A banner unveiled on Sunday which said: “One Love One Club - Hull City AFC – No to Hull Tigers” spoke for many fans against what they see as the consumerisation of their club, with feelings clearly running high against an attempt to erase a century of culture by renaming Hull City.

Bruce’s task in finding middle ground is arguably as taxing as his day job.

He is halfway towards achieving his on-pitch remit of orchestrating a survival mission in the top flight after five wins of his targeted haul of 10.

The task of cleansing the toxic atmosphere between sections of the club’s support and Allam is more problematic.

Especially given the fact that Allam clearly seems to be unwilling to give any ground in the dispute.

Bruce spoke about his intention to talk with his owner to try to resolve the increasingly bitter stand-off regarding the name change following Sunday’s game, but you sense he will have his work cut out in fixing the impasse.

Ahead of the Palace game, Bruce made reference to Allam digging his heels in regarding the issue and being unwilling to change course after chats over many cups of coffee. Getting a victory at league leaders Arsenal tomorrow might be an easier proposition.

In a recent interview on the controversial topic of re-naming, Allam spoke of renaming his company Allam Marine five times and of his pride in seeing turnover go from £250,000 to £185m, adding: “You shouldn’t sit and worship a name or cry over a name. It’s what you’re doing with the club.”

Try telling that to many Hull supporters who see following their club as a labour of love and not a business. Names matter.

Bruce last night said he felt Allam’s comments had been misinterpreted regarding fans dying “as soon as they want”.

“I think what he was saying was he needs the situation to die, not the supporters to go away and die,” Bruce told BBC Radio 5 live.

“I think there’s a misinterpretation.”

Bruce added: “The owner’s been [in Hull] 45 years, and I’m not making excuses here, but if you speak to him he still hasn’t quite grasped the English language.”