When Hull City dropped out of the Premier League in 2010, signalling the end of the entertaining reign of manager Phil Brown, few expected them to bounce back. Yet coach Steve Bruce managed to get The Tigers back three seasons later, gaining automatic promotion in 2013. A brave showing in the FA Cup Final of 2014, Hull leading Arsenal 2-0 after only ten minutes, won over many a neutral and gained the club a first-ever European campaign in 2014-15.
In 2015-16, Bruce achieved another minor miracle, getting City back into the Premier League after a nail-biting play-off against Sheffield Wednesday. Sadly, his farewell letter to fans before the 2016-17 campaign tells its own tale. After four years of struggle, not least against controversial club owner Assem Allam, Bruce bowed out, leaving the club rudderless just days before the big kick-off.
There was always something a bit fairytale about Hull’s unprecedented rise to the top. Having scaled three divisions in four years, The Tigers made Premier League in 2008 thanks to a goal by local lad Dean Windass. His winning volley in the Wembley play-off with Bristol City was almost written in the stars.
Fate had not always been kind to Hull up to that point. They were founded in 1904, in a town defined by its already-established tradition in rugby league. In 1930, Hull fought through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup. Having triumphed over one great side of the day, Newcastle, they came up against another, Arsenal, succumbing 1-0 after a replay.
In the modern era, though hardly bringing home silverware, the club at least had character – the charmingly dilapidated Boothferry Park – and characters in spades. Ken Wagstaff starred in the team that scored 100-plus goals to win the Third Division Championship in 1966. Four decades later, during which time Wagstaff had run pubs around Hull and the region, fans voted him the club’s best ever player. At career end, he crossed paths, if only just, with Billy Bremner, who had two characteristically fiery seasons at Boothferry Park.
Most of all, though, was Windass, a brave, heart-on-his-sleeve centre-forward whose professional career started at Hull. In 2007, Windass returned on loan, his relegation-saving goal at Cardiff justifying manager Phil Brown’s decision to lure him back.
Brown had not long been made permanent manager. Almost improbably, within a season came that Windass volley and promotion to the Premiership.
Once up, things started to get a bit bizarre. Frustrated at being left out of the Saturday teamsheet, in a team showing extremes of form, Windass was involved in a fight at a casino with team-mate Marlon King. Then the perma-tanned Brown had the whole nation laughing over Christmas when he kept the players on the Manchester City pitch at half-time and lectured to them as if to naughty schoolchildren.
Despite Windass’ departure, and the many FA reprimands as Brown became more enraged, Hull stayed up and Brown serenaded celebrating fans by singing Beach Boys songs. In truth, results elsewhere had kept them up, and the writing was on the wall.
After several consecutive defeats and FA reprimands, a year later Brown was let go as Hull went down.
Egyptian philanthropist Assem Allam took over the club as three creditable Championship campaigns, and as many managers, ended in May 2013 with Steve Bruce taking Hull back up. A heart-stopping draw with already promoted Cardiff sealed the deal on the last day.
As Allam continues to battle to change the club’s name after 110 years (why do owners need to do this?), Bruce set about the serious task of getting Hull back to the Premier League – again. That achieved, the club now faces an uncertain future in the world’s richest league.
Surrounded by parkland and the sites of old grounds iconic to Hull’s sporting past, the KC Stadium was opened in 2002.
Shared by Hull City and rugby league’s Hull FC, the 25,500-capacity KC was the £44-million solution to each club’s falling-apart stadium problem. In City’s case, this was Boothferry Park, just further west from town along the same road, where they had played since 1946.
In fact, Hull City had begun peacetime football sharing The Boulevard with Hull FC, as local bomb devastation was slowly cleared. The nearby Anlaby Road ground, that City had used for most of their pre-war history, was unplayable.
Also in the immediate post-war period, Hull City used the cricket ground that stood where the KC does today, The Circle.
As Premiership crowds touch full capacity, Hull City owner Assem Allam has expressed interest in buying the venue from the local council who built it, and expanding.
For the moment, surrounded on three sides by one-tiered stands, the main Cranswick PLC West Stand, with its signature curving roof, rises above in two tiers. Away fans are allocated the nearest sectors (N1-N3 according to demand) of the Smith & Nephew North Stand to it. Like at Boothferry, the home faithful occupy the East (Neil Hudgell Solicitors Community) Stand, with further support in the other half of the North Stand, and the MKM South Stand behind the other goal.
Outside the West Stand, a raised plaque honours 2nd Lt Jack Harrison, top try scorer for Hull FC before the war that killed him in 1917.
Several buses run from the Paragon to the stadium, including the No.2, from the bays alongside the station. It’s at most a 15min walk from the Paragon, along Anlaby Road, with West Park to your right after the road bridge.
The ticket office (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 9am-noon, matchday Sat 9am- kick-off, matchday Sun 10am-kick-off) is by the club shop, behind the home East Stand. There’s also a ticket hotline (+44 1482 505 600) and online sales – but availability is the problem rather than distribution.
Some seats in the West and North Stands (£30) should be available two weeks in advance.
Behind the East Stand, Tiger Leisure (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, match day afternoons 9am-3pm, 4.45-5.15pm, match nights) stocks obscure histories of Hull City (‘Billy Bly – the India Rubber Man’) and giant sponge fingers with the word ‘MAULED’ across them. What are they going to do with all this merchandise should the club change names…
One-hour stadium tours take place most Mon and Wed, 11am & 2pm. Tickets and further information are available on +44 1482 358303.
The many pubs along Anlaby Road are the same ones Hull City fans would have used for Boothferry Park. In the immediate vicinity of the KC, those on and off Anlaby Road, such as the landmark corner pub Parkers and the brickmakers (57-65 Walton Street) are pretty much home fans only.
On the other side of the ground, by the car park, The George (Walton Street/Spring Bank West) offers TV sports but could do with a spruce-up.
On Spring Bank West, at most 10min walk from the stadium, is perhaps the best option: the Halfway House (No.595). With its own pub team, this large pub on a residential street puts equal focus on music as it does football.
Hull fans can also take advantage of the matchday-only Sports Bar behind the South Stand.