LOOKING around a barely half-full KCOM Stadium on Tuesday night, Hull City looked anything but a club capable of attracting one potential suitor never mind three.
Huge swathes of empty seats stared back at a team putting in as lifeless a display against Leeds United as the dwindling band of diehard supporters who have stuck by the club could recall.
He was keeping an uncharacteristically low profile yesterday, but few are better at PR than Hull’s former chairman. So, if the Saudi-backed takeover does go through, expect big attempts to entice back the thousands of disaffected supporters.Richard Sutcliffe
Any noise that could be heard invariably emanated from West Riding voices, a far cry from the days of not so long ago when the visit of a hated rival such as Leeds guaranteed not only a full house but also a crackling atmosphere.
Hull lost 1-0 and few of the 9,500 or so home fans filing out into the cold night after the Tigers’ seventh defeat in 11 Championship outings will have foreseen anything but a long winter ahead.
Just 24 hours later, however, and the mood had shifted considerably thanks to news of a potential takeover. A group of Saudi investors, fronted by former chairman Paul Duffen, had bid £40m last month and due diligence was well under way.
By yesterday morning The Yorkshire Post had been informed there were actually three interested parties with sources indicating two, including Duffen’s consortium, had made concrete offers.
According to those same insiders, the process is sufficiently advanced that the Allam family – who put Hull up for sale in 2014 after failing in their attempts to re-brand as ‘Hull Tigers’ – could be gone before their eighth anniversary of taking charge comes round in mid-December.
There can be little doubt such a scenario would suit supporters as much as the owners.
But can a deal be struck? And why is Hull, a club where disillusionment reigns in the stands, so attractive a proposition that three groups are bidding to take control?
Potential and the ability to make a difference as a new owner are the key to answering the second of those burning questions.
Fans may have been alienated by how the Tigers have been run in recent years, be it the attempted name change, the lack of ticket concessions or the sale of the club’s prized assets.
But the financial picture at the KCOM is healthy with Hull posting a profit of £23.7m last season.
Following on from a £35m surplus in 2016-17 this gives any prospective new owner with genuine ambitions the sort of leeway under Football League profit and sustainability rules that is simply not available elsewhere in a division where many clubs are at or very close to the permitted £39m losses over three years.
In theory this means the Tigers’ playing budget could benefit from £60m-£70m investment without fear of breaching League regulations – a potentially game-changing amount even in a Championship awash with big-spending clubs.
Duffen’s group, who reports suggest see the area around the KCOM as prime for potential investment, is understood to be the front-runner.
His colourful past in the East Riding as the man who delivered top-flight football after a 104-year wait only then to carry the can for the financial implosion that followed makes the potential return of the 60-year-old businessman particularly intriguing.
Some fans may never forgive Duffen for the mess that the Allams had to sort out when rescuing the club in December, 2010.
But what cannot be denied is the feelgood factor that swept the city of Hull along with the Tigers for so much of his reign.
Wembley, promotion and a double in north London that saw the homes of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur conquered on consecutive weekends – today marks the tenth anniversary of the latter at White Hart Lane, Geovanni’s stunning free-kick sealing a never-to-be-forgotten victory – all came on Duffen’s watch.
He was keeping an uncharacteristically low profile yesterday, but few are better at PR than Hull’s former chairman. So, if the Saudi-backed takeover does go through, expect big attempts to entice back the thousands of disaffected supporters.
This, of course, is potentially for the future. What matters now is whether a deal can be struck with any of the interested parties.
A potential barrier was cleared this week when Companies House revealed a mortgage charge from Macquarie Bank on the Tigers had been released, meaning the only outstanding loan is now the £50m – down from £88m a couple of years ago – owed to the Allams.
This makes any potential sale much more straight-forward. So, too, does the club’s insistence on paying all transfer fees inside 12 months rather than over three to four years, cutting down liabilities for a prospective new owner.
Which leaves us with the multi-million pound question as to what price will be right for the Allams to sell a club who will bank a final Premier League relegation parachute payment of around £33m this term.
There are no hints being given publicly, but the urgent need for a fresh start all round is surely lost on no one.