Saturday 19th August 1989 was the last time City faced Leicester on the opening day of the season. Played at the decrepit Boothferry Park the score was 1-1 and the attendance 8,158 did not include me or my Dad was it was my wedding day!
As the reception was in the late afternoon we were treated to a reading of the classified results with Arsenal, defending Champions suffering a 4-1 hammering at the hands of Manchester United. This fixture gained notoriety for conman+ Michael Knighton displaying his keepie uppie skills in front of an incredulous Stretford End, dressed in a full Manure kit. He was publicising a £20 million take over which predictably collapsed in recrimination and counter accusations.
The sum involved is notable. For his cash injection Knighton pledged to renovate Old Trafford and make significant additions to the playing squad. Such a sum today would buy you Paul Pogba’s leg.
Therein lies the rub. Since the ascent of football to middle class so called respectability in the 1990’s the eye watering amounts of money involved make the Premier League akin to a rogue state. According to figures published by the Daily Mirror the TV deal alone is worth £5.3 billion (yes B not M) Add in the kit deals and other revenue streams even AFC Bournemouth are worth £104 million and unsurprisingly Knighton’s £20 million would now be worth a staggering £1.848 billion. That’s 92.4 times the original stake.
Typically where there is cash there are a myriad of problems. Football is quite simply the worst possible pastime you can choose if you are a Socialist as it magnifies all the putrid aspects of capitalism.
Whilst according to figures quoted by the Daily Mail players earn an average of £44,000 a week (£2.2 million a year), only Chelsea FC are committed to paying non playing staff the living wage and then not until 2019. Clubs behave with impunity in the way they exploit their workers and fans and there is not one jot of accountability. Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino makes Knighton look like a choir boy when you research his past in business.
City have suffered more than most when it comes to dodgy owners. Martin Fish oversaw the Tigers descent to the bottom division culminating in a catastrophic 1997/98 season when we finished 91st in the League pyramid including a humiliating defeat away to Doncaster who were the only team worse than us that term. Then we had the flash in the pan that was the David Lloyd era followed by some distinctly murky characters from the Sheffield area whose tenure saw the Club locked out of Boothferry Park and facing a date with the taxman in the High Court.
However the combination of a benign Labour council and the business management skills of Adam Pearson engendered a stunning rise through the divisions culminating in promotion to the Premier League in 2008, a 2014 FA Cup Final and playing in major European competition later that year. The shame was that Pearson was not there to savour the fruits of his work. Having sold the club to Paul Duffen in 2007 he was brought back in 2009 in a vain attempt to stave off relegation. When local family the Allam’s stepped in during 2010 with the slogan, “Football is like air, it should be free” the shit really hit the fan. Pearson was forced out and City legend Nick Barmby was ejected from the manager’s office.
Assam Allam’s contempt for the fans knows no bounds. In 2012 and for a saving of £70,000 the Club became the first ever of the 92 to axe the disabled concession for working age supporters. This was the just the start of fans being ripped off and even moved all around the KC against their will. Then Allam announced an attempt to re brand 110 years of history by asking the FA to approve a change to Hull Tigers.
His thinking was that it would make us more well known, but the real reason was due to the Labour Council’s refusal to give (not sell) him the KC Stadium. For that reason he wanted to drop the sobriquet City due to perceived links to Hull City Council. The fans sang, “City till I die“. The owners response was, “they can die as soon as they want”. Nice. The FA turned him down. His final words were, “No one on earth is allowed to question my business decisions”.
There’s plenty I could say about Allam but frankly I can’t be arsed and he is known to be an enthusiastic litigant anyhow. Needless to say workplace run by him are non unionised.
The upshot is that the owner is refusing to either spend the riches accrued on players or get out of the way and sell the club to a credible buyer. This stalemate has produced a situation where Steve Bruce walked away despite two promotions, an FA Cup Final and Europa League participation and not one single first team signing made. Throw in an injury crisis and City only had 13 fit players available to face Premier League champions Leicester City.
No Premier League winner has ever lost their opening game, and no team since Arsenal in 1989 has started a top flight title defence with a defeat.
Given all this doom and gloom (plus the sale of Mo Diame and Harry McGuire) we wound our way to the ground in a strangely downbeat mood given that we had bounced back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
But the greatest legacy of Steve Bruce’s tenure came to the fore. The spirit of this team knows no bounds and from the first blast of Mike Dean’s whistle the never say die attitude threw Leicester off their game. Makeshift centre back Jake Livermore and his partner Curtis Davies rode their luck but the blocks and key tackles provided a solid base. Just before the break Jamie Vardy blasted a decent chance into the South Stand, City forced a corner and from a Davies flick on Adama Diomande and Abel Hernandez both went for spectacular efforts with Diomande’s scissor kick trumping the Uruguayan’s attempted bicycle kick. We went bonkers.
Ten seconds after the break Leicester hit back with a dodgy penalty; the tackle that felled Demarai Gray was outside the box but Dean was conned and Mahrez converted. But after that it was all City and when man of the match Robert Snodgrass kept his shape and technique to net a low shot that went like a tracer bullet, it was nothing more than we deserved.
The players simply had to hang on as caretaker manager Phelan had no one on the bench with match day experience. So whilst we can savour a famous win there is not a cat in hells chance of City staying up until the politics are sorted out and the squad strengthened.
But this year football has imitated life; no one has a clue what is going to happen next so let optimism reign for today at least.
+ According to the Guardian 4/2/01 (Bill Bradshaw) https://www.theguardian.com/football/2001/feb/04/newsstory.sport5