This blog explores the curious nuances of Football fan behaviour around the world through the eyes of a typical fan. Our status as exiled Hull City supporters influences our branding and identity, but we seldom write about our club in favour of exploring the great stories that exist in world Football. However, there come major moments in your relationship with your club that warrant close attention, and in our case, publication.
On Wednesday the 19th, Hull City AFC announced the completion of the sale of the club from Assem Allam to the Acun Medya Group owned by Turkish media and broadcasting mogul Acun Ilicali in a deal believed to be worth around £20 million. The 10 following days have seen a storm of positivity in comment sections and daily conversions of fans and associates. In that time, my club embroiled in a typically tense Championship relegation battle has found an incredible form, taking 3 consecutive victories with 5 goals without retort – two of which came against promotion hot-shots Blackburn Rovers and Bournemouth. We have burst 12 points clear of the relegation zone and Hull City is currently one of two sides in the league to have won their last 3 matches.
Yet while the upturn in on-field fortunes certainly contributes to the temporary ecstasy-high that is saturating the veins of the KC, most fans are celebrating for a different reason. To them, what is happening in the director’s box far outweighs the importance of those 9 points. The sale of Hull City AFC to Acun Medya Group marks the end of the most successful, but most controversial, era in the club’s history.
In 2010, Assem Allam purchased a club in dire financial straights. The Egyptian businessman wiped the club’s £35 million worth of debts clean and steered it into the most successful period in its history. Humberside favourite Steve Bruce‘s appointment as manager for the 2012-2013 season proved triumphant as Hull secured promotion to the Premier League for only the second time in its history in dramatic fashion on the final day. Hull City competed in the Premier League in 3 of the 4 following seasons, wining the Championship Promotion Play-Off final against Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday in the process and coming oh so ****ing close to wining the FA Cup final against sodding Arsenal in 2014. The Europa League campaign that followed was short lived but gave us some unforgettable experiences nevertheless. Our tenure in the Premier League concluded in 2017 and since then there has been little indication that the Pride of Humberside is likely to return.
But it was early in the Allam reign that the biggest media controversy surrounding Hull City began. In August 2013, Dr Allam announced a proposed name change to “Hull Tigers” in the hope of curating a more corporate friendly brand. The legal entity did successfully change its name to “Hull City Tigers Ltd”, but the Football Association blocked the proposed name change following loud and very boisterous protests from fans who did not take kindly to the perceived experimentation on the club that represents their community for the sake of commercial gain. The verbose Dr Allam defiantly put the club up for sale and was quoted as having said that fans can “die when they want” (referencing a common fan chant in the KC) as fans continued to protest his direction, accusing the entrepreneur of not following up on his promises. Since then various suitors have come to seek the princess’ hand in marriage, and finally the Allam family has sold Hull City AFC to a new investor that they have deemed worthy 12 years after they originally took the helm.
New director Acun Ilicali has certainly not been shy in his first weeks in charge. Unsurprisingly for a global media and broadcasting heavyweight, Mr Ilicali handles the media with grace, confidence and savvy – something that the very blunt Dr Allam probably lacked. A Turkish flag now flies high above the KC (which may or may not be an uncomfortable sight for any Greeks, Kurds or Armenians living in the area) and Mr Ilicali has been extremely visible in the club’s social media accounts. Former manager Grant McCann was released on the 25th of January with Georgian Shota Arveladze immediately hired in what can only be a pre-meditated move. This is Mr Arveladze’s first experience of managing a British side and I personally am apprehensive about his lack of experience of the very physically demanding game played in the Championship. But of course I hope my doubts are proven wrong.
The commentary spaces, Facebook pages and internet fora are now ablaze with wildly hopeful comments about what may be achieved under this new owner, but this purpose of this blog post is to address what we may be leaving behind. Whatever spin you want to take, Mr Ilicali’s motives are clearly at least partially commercial in nature. He is a business man, and a presence in British professional Football offers image reparation and commercial opportunity to such professionals. We at FBTG have not yet done the full research on his background and thus cannot put him in the same category as, for example, members of royal families of oppressive Gulf states pumping their petrodollars into Premier League clubs in order to buy positive media attention. But, regardless of whatever you want to think of the man, Dr Assem Allam genuinely cared about the people of Kingston Upon Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire.
Having fled the authoritarian Nasser regime in his late 20’s, Dr Assem Allam studied economics at the University of Hull and set up his engineering business Allam Marine Ltd in the region, employing local talent and paying his taxes in our county. He has lived in the region since moving here, contributing to the wellbeing of the people via employment and philanthropy. Dr Allam donated £1m to Rugby League club Hull Kingston Rovers, invested in the British Open Squash Championship (hosted in Hull) and donated millions to multiple medical facilities across the city which invariably have provided immediate benefit to thousands of our neighbours. Yet thanks to the vitriolic coverage of the Hull Tigers name change debacle, the family name has been tarnished to the point where the Allam family home has been attacked and their personal assets have been vandalised by dickheads who think they are doing something for their Football club.
Ultimately, his relationship with Hull City fans became so strained that the only thing left to do was walk away from the bad blood. This has been at great personal cost – the Allam family has just sold a club that they acquired for around £45m for only £20m. But tragically, the need for some fans to see him as the enemy corrupts the media narrative and obscures the selfless things he and his family have done for our community. Who else do you know that has donated £8m into the diabetes treatment facilities of a local hospital? This is a man who has demonstrated true affection for the region, and it is clear that his motives for assuming ownership of the club were not for political, media or commercial gain.
We do not yet know what awaits us in the Ilicali era, but we have surely lost one of the most admirable British club owners in recent memory. We would like to publically thank the Allam family for all their work and investment in our Football club. The good times were some of the best we have ever known. But gosh, how we wish the bad times did not sting so much.