Champagne for the champions, sparklers (eventually) for second place

Phil Ascough celebrates Hull City’s recent victory.

Phil Ascough and daughter Amber when City won the play-off final in 2016

#Typical City!

With a ban on fans attending matches and the club itself muted in support of the social media blackout, Hull City won their first title since 1966.

To save you counting backwards that’s fifty farv years! Definitely something to celebrate and indeed word has already crept out, although the  relatively low profile over the weekend is entirely in keeping with the “North East coastal town” references in radio broadcasts after the Blitz, and with the Premier League promotion charge in 2008 when City were most definitely under the radar for most of the season.

The Hull Story hit the nail on the head last week with the perfect headline: “The best trip we’ve never been on!”

As a newcomer to Hull in 1980 it’s not for me to bang on about a burden being lifted. It’s a time to respect the people who have grown up supporting the club – those whose memories of the previous success are now covered in cobwebs, and those too young to have celebrated top spot at the end of a season.

And of course those who have passed. The day before promotion was secured with victory at Lincoln City I sat in a pub beer garden as a funeral arrived. The mourners wore black and amber ties or scarves and I was deeply saddened to learn that I knew the deceased. There’s still a fear that it may be some time after lockdown before we find out how many friends we have lost.

Our connection was Hull City and that was the only topic of conversation whenever we met. In the pub after a match, a chance encounter in the streets of Cottingham, a couple of times at school parents’ nights. Usually we agreed that City must try harder.

That’s where my thoughts were as I sat with a mate and watched City confirm that promotion, and later as the sounds of celebrating players drifted over from the club’s training ground to our house a few hundred yards away. It’s not necessarily a compliment to suggest that some of the singers might set their sights on Eurovision later this month.

We’d drawn the parallels with the win at Yeovil in 2004 which took City to their first promotion since 1985. Thousands travelled to the match or watched on a big screen in the Bonus Arena and the triumph was followed by a repeat in 2005, but on each occasion in second place.

Phil at the KCOM Stadium

With a place in next season’s Championship in the bag, attention during the week turned to a first title for 55 years. That’s not something Hull is This observes from a sporting angle – Smallwood or Slater in front of the back four? Will Grant McCann play a 4-3-3 or a 4-3-3?* We’re interested in the social and community angles – sporting success is good for the city. And the heritage – hence looking back to 1966 and all that.

Our postman displayed a nervous anxiety when he told me that he was practically a baby when City last won a title. This week he’ll have a spring in his trudge.

We’d laughed on hearing that Peterborough United fans had set off their promotion fireworks after taking a two-goal lead against Doncaster Rovers, only to then concede two and have to settle for an inadequate draw.

We joked about sending a packet of sparklers for Peterborough to enjoy when they play Donny again next week, but in truth our focus was on the match against Wigan Athletic and the chance to roll back the clock 55 years.

We bought proper champagne to pop because, regardless of the outcome, we would still have a promotion to celebrate. We failed in our attempt to connect with a fellow City fan who attended his first match at Boothferry Park with his dad in 1965-66 and held a season pass at the KCOM long after relocating to Liverpool.

Sadly his broadband wasn’t up to handling both the live stream of the match and a Teams connection and we had to settle for regular phone calls, a bit like listening to Burnsy’s occasional updates on Radio Humberside since the football club pulled the plug on his live commentaries.

The conversation was less about this season than about the team’s prospects next season in the Championship, about previous memorable occasions and about attempts to involve the family which were only temporarily successful.

Alan said his son, Liverpool-born and now living in London, had pretty much given up on City. We remembered the few times he joined us at the KCOM, and his presence at the best and worst of away-days. There was Fulham in 2016, a year when City were the best team in the Championship and should have won the title but had to go through the play-offs. Then Stoke City a year later when the Tigers were well beaten on their way to relegation from the Premier League, and young Jack lost his ticket meaning we had to leave the pub early so he could queue for a replacement.

David told how his son Harry never really took to football. He’s hopeful that his granddaughter, now 18 months old, might fancy going to a match. But he hasn’t asked her parents yet.

I reminded them that my two had both held season tickets, both followed City to Wembley, now couldn’t care less but will still find the club exerting an influence on their lives. I gave up my pass this season because with the kids away we expect to be taking a few more trips. To London to see Matthew, QPR, Fulham, maybe Brentford, probably not Millwall. To wherever Amber ends up at university. Cardiff is a strong possibility, with a few ground-ticks within easy reach.

And to Stoke to catch up with the esteemed founder of Hull is This and to spend rather longer enjoying the pies and pints in The Glebe than I was able to when Jack lost his ticket.

*Grant McCann always plays 4-3-3. Always!

[Phil Ascough]

Pints at The Glebe, Stoke-on-Trent