“I’ve grown out of it,” writes Phil

It’s not about the Covid-enforced closure of football grounds and nor it is about the team testing our patience as they tumble towards mid-table mediocrity or worse.

Hull City AFC
Hull City AFC. Photo: Jerome Whittingham @photomoments

It’s not even about the owners, whose antics during a period of such dramatic decline now seem to have silenced even the “Allam In” brigade.

It’s just a time of life thing. Empty-nest syndrome. By the end of September both our kids will be away, Amber just starting university and Matthew hopefully gainfully employed, lighting some live gigs.

There was a time when we all had our own season passes at Hull City. Now, just like them, I’ve grown out of it.

As the action unfolds during the 2021–22 season I’ll take in the odd reunion game with mates who, like me, used to be passholders but drifted away. But most weekends I’ll do something else. 

Maybe Jayne and I will visit the kids wherever they are, or maybe we’ll have a trip somewhere else. A beach walk at Spurn, a matinee at Hull Truck, a gin-making session at Hotham’s, or a long lunch in a good pub.

I thought seriously a few years ago about ditching the football and writing a book about alternative forms of Saturday afternoon entertainment. I was going to call it When Saturday Went. Might still do it. We’ll see.

At first I didn’t think of it as such a big deal, probably because so many mates who were born in Hull and experienced their Boothferry Park baptisms back in the sixties gave up long before this newcomer, a regular only since 1980.

hcafc
Hull City AFC. Photo: Jerome Whittingham @photomoments

I doubt having held a pass for the last 17 years would put me in the top 50 in Cottingham never mind anywhere else. But some friends have been gobsmacked to hear the news. I’m hoping they’ll send beer to console me!

It is a wrench, but you have to apply a sense of perspective. There are far worse things happening, still at a rate of hundreds per day. But at the same time it’s wrong to write off the importance of football.

A shared passion for Hull City has created and supported many great friendships. It’s much more than “22 grown men kicking a bag of air around” and it builds and sustains communities. Does it live up to the Bill Shankly quote about being more important than life and death? At times it certainly embraces both of those extremes.

Our Amber was born on the day of City’s first match at the new stadium, although her name was a coincidence. Seven years later she was the last person in our family to speak to our great friend Richard “Disco Dick” Catchpole as she dropped off his Christmas card while I waved from the car.

I was planning a festive drink with Disco and others after the match against Manchester United the day after Boxing Day. But when I arrived the guys said he’d felt ill during his walk to the stadium, the St John Ambulance team suspected heart problems and sent him to hospital. An hour into the game, with City about to score a penalty in a 3–1 defeat, we got the call saying Disco had passed away.

He has a plaque on the wall in the West Stand concourse, squeezed in along with so many other symbols of people’s worst days at Hull City.

We keep going back in their memory, because we can, and because there are so many highs, each of them all the sweeter to those who had felt trapped by the years of darkness and false dawns.

Successive promotions were beyond our wildest dreams and then came that play-off win against Watford, rewarded with the real history of a first trip to Wembley. Then an automatic promotion secured in the most nerve-wracking fashion as we waited an age in the stands of our stadium for Watford to fail at Leeds.

Then the FA Cup quarter final win over Sunderland, and hearing on the radio as we walked to the pub that only Sheffield United, two divisions lower, stood between Hull City and their first FA Cup Final. And the next season proper European football here in Hull.

The excitement didn’t always take hold in the notoriously silent “sleepy West Stand”, where I would try to raise the tempo with a full-throated cry of “Come on CITY!!!” On one occasion prompting a woman in front to spin round, slap me on the leg and growl: “I’m watching this!”

And in recent years, more often than not it’s been a struggle. My current seat, which I have until the end of this season and will obviously never use, is next to Keith, who I’d never met before but who is a fellow Cottingham resident. At his senior age and with the immediate personal priority of his wife’s advancing dementia, Keith hasn’t stayed until full time for years.

Typically he would tiptoe off after about an hour of play. During one particularly abject performance a couple of seasons ago he stood up after 40 minutes and said he was off. I suggested he stay until the end to beat the rush.

Who knows what next season will bring? Which division we’ll be in? Whether we’ll have a new manager or even new owners? Whether we’ll be allowed back in the stadium? I’ll still go, just not to every game, and I’ll still refer to us as “we”.

Phil Ascough

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