Less than three years after Assem Allam rescued Hull from falling into financial ruin, the goodwill toward the Egyptian businessman has turned into open hostility.
Allam was feted as a savior after injecting about £40 million into the club when it was close to bankruptcy while playing in the Championship in 2010. The team then secured a surprise return to the Premier League last season and have been punching above their weight so far this season, as demonstrated by their 3-1 victory over Liverpool on Sunday.
But Allam’s desire to change the 109-year-old club’s official name from Hull City AFC to Hull Tigers to attract investors and boost marketing appeal abroad, has provoked fury among many fans as well as traditionalists in British football.
The backlash intensified this weekend when Allam responded to supporters’ chants and banners of “City Till We Die” by telling a Sunday newspaper: “They can die as soon as they want, as long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football.”
That made for a hostile atmosphere at the KC Stadium on Sunday as Hull beat Liverpool for the first time in 17 attempts.
What should have been a day to celebrate one of the best results in Hull’s history, instead saw all the talk about the wrangle between the fans and the owner. And the animosity could rumble on throughout the team’s first season back in the top division.
And Hull manager Steve Bruce said yesterday, “What we can’t let it do is fester because it creates, at times, when things aren’t going so well, an atmosphere that none of us want.
“If we are Hull City Tigers or we are Hull City, whatever we are, we have got to stay together going forward because we need all the help we can get. We are a newly promoted team. We have only been three years in the Premier League in our history so we are up against it.
“The chairman has put something like £70 million in,” Bruce continued. “Without him, there wouldn’t be a club or a Hull City. It would be down the tubes, in my opinion.
“However, I have got to have a conversation with him because I don’t think he quite understands what it means in terms of history and tradition. All he thinks about is going forward and he thinks the brand would be better. That is his opinion but there are thousands who don’t agree.”
Angry Hull fans sang “We’re Hull City, We’ll Die When We Want” during the Liverpool game as Allam watched on from the director’s box with members of his family.
Bernard Noble, spokesman for the Hull City Official Supporters Club, said the vast majority of fans want to see Allam stay as chairman but back down from his plans to press ahead with the name change.
“If the comments he made are true, they are ill-judged and they shouldn’t have been said,” said Noble. “There is a lot of anger about what he said. I just hope that we can draw a line under it and concentrate on staying in the Premier League. We can revisit it at the end of the season. This is not the time for it.”
Allam is not the first foreign owner of an English club to incur the wrath of supporters in attempts to increase the team’s marketability.
Cardiff City, for example, controversially changed their badge and the Welsh club – traditionally nicknamed the Bluebirds – now play in red instead of blue at the insistence of Malaysian owner Vincent Tan.
But Allam’s opinion is unlikely to waver. He recently said the word “City” in the name is “redundant” and “irrelevant,” and that he would prove to be a trailblazer for clubs changing their names “to something more interesting.”
“City, Town, County: these are meaningless,” he said in September. “The shorter the name the more powerful – Twitter, Apple. By next year, I will change the name to Hull Tigers.”