The message “practice what you preach” is more relevant than ever. Social media’s ubiquity has facilitated the growth of a macabre, international market for the superficial and the vapid. The inability of platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok to accommodate depth in the content posted to them inadvertently promotes the expedient and the striking over the well-researched and the empirical. One negative side-effect of the global social media tsunami is the premium that popular culture places on virtuosity – regardless how selfless or benevolent an “influencer” may actually be away from the filters.
We at FBTG believing in practicing what we preach. Thus, after years of talking critically about fans from Beijing to Buenos Aires via Berlin, we are finally looking in the mirror and being self-critical about “our” Football club.
Hull doesn’t exactly have a great domestic reputation. As much as we seek to promote our merry old home town, we concede it is not a particular glamorous city. The 2017 City Of Culture parade was certainly a success where branding and tourism are concerned, but several years later locals are questioning what the longer-term benefits of our year in the spotlight will be – if any. Where economics and industry are concerned, Hull has not climbed out of its rut.
Yet while many voices predictably cite such factors as a history of social problems in the region, the general pattern of economic decline across industrialised (north) England or the local council’s incompetence as sources of Kingston Upon Hull’s economic stagnation, today we are taking a few steps back and viewing the situation through a different lens. With Football fan culture as our analytical weapon of choice (as always), we offer an alternative explanation as to why the Humberside economy constantly fails to get ahead. And unfortunately, it’s not something that can be tackled with a few decent policies and a bit of elbow grease, arr kid.
Unlike comparable cities such as Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Leeds, Hull is not located in the centre of the country. We are on the periphery – in more ways than one. Travellers from the south to the north (or from the north to the south if you prefer) frequently pass through the aforementioned cities on their onward journey, occasionally stopping for a coffee, for a shit or to change trains. But my port city, nestled in on the east coast, is out of the way for most people and therefore receives far less passing footfall. It is difficult to find yourself in Hull unless you are specifically going to Hull. And for the local economy, that is a problem.
A key recurring theme in the history of human civilisation is the spread of ideas as a necessary precursor to technological (and then economic) progress. Groups of humans clustered in a single area (what we might now call “nations”) fail to innovate if they remain isolated. It is when visitors from other “groups” with different cultural norms arrive and share new approaches to old problems that marvels such as wheels, written language, iron ore smelting, the seed drill, gunpowder, textile factories, the internal combustion engine and the internet change our lives for the better. Look at a map of the world at night. The brightest spots represent global cities where millions of people come, go, teach and instruct. Tiny but diverse and outward looking Singapore is a glowing lantern. Tightly sealed North Korea is not.
Now, we’re not comparing Hull to the DPRK – but you get the point. Hull’s location on the edge of the country is not conducive to a healthy influx of innovative ideas that stimulate a city’s economy. A lower degree of exposure to foreign thought means that the local population is less equipped to problem solve, create and innovate than they could be (at least in theory). Individuals growing up in culturally homogenous environments seldom learn to view their obstacles from as many different perspectives as kids growing up in London, New York or Sydney surrounded by people from Honduras, Uganda, Lebanon or Laos do. Their unfamiliarity with “other ways of doing things” also compounds the problem when it comes to attracting talent. In the global labour market, the best brains go to the places that offer the most opportunities. A city that embraces diversity, alternative business ideas and absurd new concepts for trendy bars and boutiques will always have an edge over a city that lacks a lust for the “other”.
We hate to say it, but this is why the people of Hull are often so late to trends and why the city is failing to prosper economically. It is not due to the people that live there. It is due to the people that don’t live there.
Hull’s relative isolation is also affecting its Football fan culture. We have said it before on FBTG but we shall repeat it here; we stand at the beginning of a new era in English Football fandom as the “ultra model” of support (synonymous with fan culture on the continent) slowly begins to take root in a land whose fanatics have historically resisted looking outside its borders for inspiration. Fans groups are slowly getting more organised and funding, managing and executing matchday tifos and choreographies independently of the club they support. Supporters of for example Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Watford and Huddersfield Town are currently pioneering new standards of English fan culture. Yet as this crucial how-to knowledge is verbally exchanged between fans casually meeting at train stations and service stations up and down the country, it will inevitably take longer for notable change to reach the terraces of the KCOM Stadium. Hull’s geography will once again be a hindrance to innovation and progress.
There is one obvious outlier to this theory. Liverpool is as geographically sidelined as Kingston Upon Hull is (albeit on the opposing coast). However, everybody’s favourite stag-do destination draws in millions of visitors each year who come for the obligatory Anfield tour and overpriced pint in the Cavern Club. Liverpool boasts an extraordinary legacy both in music and in sport that a place like Hull cannot replicate, but due to its longstanding commercial ties to the Americas (some of which proud Scousers are understandably uncomfortable with), Merseyside has historically been an import point for foreign ideas and concepts that subsequently spread.
This is a lesson that Hull could take from Liverpool’s success. If they want to foster a culture that embraces diversity and breeds innovation, the great people of Humberside and their employers should collectively look not to the Americas like Liverpool does, but to North Sea port cities such as Oslo, Hamburg and Rotterdam to which the city already faces. Stronger commercial and cultural links to these places could potentially give Hull an edge over its competitor cities where innovation is concerned, albeit with a lot of commitment and patience. However, if the results of a recent referendum are anything to go by, the people of my city are not interested in what is good for their local economy.