EPL Talk’s ex-pat and Anglophile readers familiar with the classic British sitcom Only Fools and Horses will likely remember the program’s 1985 Christmas special, “To Hull and Back,” in which Del Boy and Rodney unwittingly end up in the northern English city of Hull on their way to picking up smuggled diamonds in Holland. When it dawns on Del Boy that he’s ended up in Humberside, though, he angrily demands that his brother rush him back to London as “otherwise I’ll be saying ‘Hey-up’ and breeding whippets before I’m very much older.”
Now, Yorkshire accents, sighthound-breeding and shipping ports as far as the eye can see are all well and good, but OFAH’s depiction of Hull doesn’t give the impression that there’s much else going on in the town. It’s a picture that many North American soccer fans following the English game probably presumed out of ignorance up until Dean Windass’ volley in last season’s Coca-Cola Championship promotion play-off final against Bristol City brought England’s largest city previously without having ever tasted top-flight football into the Premier League.
Now that Hull City A.F.C. is finally in the limelight, however, the Tigers are milking it for all its worth, and that apparently includes making inroads on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Following the lead of Oldham Athletic chairman Simon Blitz, Hull have launched a publicity campaign in North America in an apparent bid to build the Tigers’ name recognition abroad and, with any luck, also bring in potential new supporters. The bulk of the campaign so far seems to be emanating from Los Angeles, where, in recent days, both manager Phil Brown and club chairman Paul Duffen have been interviewed at length on World Soccer Daily, a popular caller-driven satellite radio program that is also downloaded by approximately 290,000 listeners worldwide each weekday.
Bringing Brown and Duffen onto the show has been a major coup for WSD – which in recent months has been unveiling increasingly high-profile regular guests such as Robbie Earle, Tim Vickery and Andy Brassell – but it also stands to pay dividends for Hull City, a club vying for fans’ attention on two fronts: Not just abroad, but also even in its own stadium.
In terms of support, the Tigers face the same problem that Premier League rivals Wigan Athletic have been made to endure: They play in a city that is crazy about rugby league. It is perhaps not such a big surprise, given that rugby league originated in Yorkshire, but have fun telling that to Hull City, who share the Kingston Communications Stadium with Hull F.C., the city’s Super League rugby side. Both the Tigers and Latics play in multi-purpose stadia, which theoretically keep the football teams on par with their rugby league counterparts where facilities are concerned, but when it’s butts in seats that means more to the clubs financially – which is where the football clubs are getting the short end of the stick – it’s hard to blame either for branching out to recruit new supporters wherever they can.
Bearing that in mind, what Hull City have done in building bridges over the Pennines, across the Atlantic and into North America is perhaps as wise a PR move as we have seen from any Premier League side in a good while, and they stand to add to their fan base because of it. They probably would have had a little more luck with the campaign had they launched it earlier in the season when their place in the Premiership table indicated more feast than (the current) famine, but nevertheless, given the club’s apparent enthusiasm to embrace the North American market, new fans to the game on this side of the pond could do much worse than to hop onto the black and amber bandwagon.