THE late Tony Wilson once told a story of a heated meeting he had with members of New Order during one of the Hacienda nightclub’s many security or finance-related crises.
“Come on guys, this has been wonderful,” Wilson said, as the club swallowed up several hundred thousand quid from New Order’s record sales and created all sorts of additional headaches. “Let’s be honest. If there was a button you could push and the Hacienda had never existed, what would you do?”
At which point, according to Wilson, Bernard Sumner leaned forward and said, very slowly, very deliberately: “Show me the fucking button.”
It is tempting to wonder if those involved with Hull City have a similar attitude to the Premier League. Being in the top flight must have seemed a wonderful idea when Dean Windass volleyed a spectacular Championship play-off final winner against Bristol City. But the two years since then have been one long comedown.
There are clubs in a far worse state than Hull. (Ten letters, begins with a P.) But they’re still not in a good way following relegation back to the Championship. Former chairman Paul Duffen allowed former manager Phil Brown to overspend on players who were not good enough to keep them in the Premier League. The result is a club in a huge financial hole. Even Gordon Brown would not be encouraging Hull to spend their way out of recession right now.
And yet there seems to be a remarkably calm atmosphere at Hull these days, like the bit at the end of a disaster movie where the main character is huddled at the top of a mountain with the rescue helicopter on its way. Difficult times lie ahead, but maybe the very worst is over.
Or maybe the atmosphere is down to the fact that new manager Nigel Pearson is a much calmer character than the flamboyant Brown. Pearson is a pragmatist, and one who is developing a reputation for stepping in to deal with the messes left by others.
Having briefly been caretaker boss at Newcastle following Sam Allardyce’s sacking in early 2008, Pearson ended the season by keeping Southampton in the Championship – and was very unlucky not to get that job full-time – before steering Leicester up from League One, where they should never have been in the first place, and very nearly to the Premier League.
On arriving at Hull, Pearson found a club desperately trying to shed players on Premier League contracts from the wage bill in order to avoid administration. Eleven senior departures later, they are looking a little healthier, but they’re still in trouble.
It might help if they could move Jimmy Bullard on. The midfielder is Hull’s highest earner on £45,000 a week, and has three years to run on his contract. They cannot afford to keep him. And as they try to sell or loan him out, they cannot afford for him to get injured either.
The result is that Bullard has played in none of the club’s pre-season games, and is unlikely to figure any time soon. Aside from a proposed loan move to Celtic, which he turned down, the offers have not exactly flooded in.
“I had a chat with Jimmy as soon as I came in,” Pearson said. “He sees himself elsewhere and that would be a good solution for both parties. But I’m not ruling anything out. If the transfer deadline comes and goes and he’s still here, then he’s our player.”
In addition, Hull still owe £9million in transfer money to a total of seven clubs, and have spent a good deal of time recently negotiating repayment schedules. It was proving a tricky enough task for BBC Radio Humberside to report on Tuesday night that Hull were 48 hours from going into administration. Owner Russell Bartlett subsequently denied this, and the immediate threat has now been averted.
“I’d like to thank the clubs that we owe money to,” Pearson said. “Football is always dressed up as a cynical industry, and it is in many ways, I suppose. But a number of clubs have agreed to structure the debts in different ways.
“We still have a lot of financial commitments that we have to honour – and we will honour them. But it’s important as a club to get some sort of stability. And there’s no doubt that some clubs have been very flexible.”
Even so, it caused enough concern for the Premier League to threaten to withhold the first £7.6m parachute payment instalment, and instead use the cash to settle some of the transfer debts. And that, in turn, threatened Hull’s attempts to sign teenage midfielder John Bostock on a season’s loan from Tottenham.
Everything was sorted out in time for Bostock to sign on Friday, though – and what a difference he made against Swansea in this afternoon’s Championship season opener.
Midway through the first half, a couple of minutes after David Cotterill had hit the bar with a free kick, Bostock took on Nolberto Solano’s return pass, spun away from defender Albert Serran and slammed a 25-yard left-foot shot into the top of the net. That was brilliant. He also picked up a booking for taking his shirt off, which was rather less brilliant.
There had been a huge question mark as to where Hull’s goals would come from, as the summer clearout had left Pearson desperately short on strikers. So much so, that his starting line-up this afternoon didn’t contain any. A 4-2-3-1 formation saw Richard Garcia, nominally a winger – and he was still taking corners – pushed into a lone forward’s role. He did an excellent job.
If it was a good afternoon for Garcia, it was a very special one for Ian Ashbee. Five minutes into the second half, Swansea keeper Dorus De Vries flapped at a Garcia corner, and Ashbee drove in the loose ball from four yards to secure a 2-0 win.
It was a big moment for the Hull captain, making his first competitive appearance for 15 months after suffering a career-threatening knee injury. In fact, Ashbee has suffered so many knee problems that doctors told him to retire or face ending up in a wheelchair. In the circumstances, the 33-year-old’s determination to play is extraordinary.
“Ian’s worked ever so hard,” Pearson said. “I’m delighted for him, because he has had a tough 15 months or so, and it’s good to get him back on the field.”
Pearson has talked a lot about fresh starts, and it does feel as though Hull are trying to build from scratch. Youth-team graduates Tom Cairney and Will Atkinson were in the starting line-up today. Two more – Jamie Devitt and Mark Cullen – came on as substitutes. It was a pointer to Hull’s immediate future. The days of spending millions won’t be back any time soon.
“I would never criticise anything that has gone before, because it’s not my place to do so,” Pearson said. “But we have to make sure that, in the present, we manage ourselves so that we can function as a club.”
There is no erasing the past. But maybe Hull City can learn from it. They don’t really have any other choice.