I’m not sure that Hull City are good enough to play in the Premiership – they’ve been rubbish in recent games, and the very last stages of their campaign were pretty nail-biting – but their promotion is terrific for the city. With so much worldwide interest in the English Premier League, playing there puts this poor, isolated and much denigrated town on the map. Quite literally: I remember, the last time they were (briefly) in the Premiership, checking into a hotel in Copenhagen, giving my Hull address, and saying (based on my experience abroad): ‘I don’t suppose you know where that is.’ ‘Oh yes I do,’ the man replied. ‘It’s in the Premier League.’ Those of us who live there, especially if we came from the South (as I did, in 1968), greatly resent the way it’s generally presented by our softer neighbours. Being placed top of a list of ‘Crap Towns’ a few years ago hurt. My son, who lives and works in London, gets it all the time – though he’s better than I am at laughing it off.
Hull is applying for ‘European City of Culture’ status. Whether it deserves that is probably just as moot as whether it really merits being in the Premiership. It has one or two great players, contemporarily and historically: William Wilberforce, Andrew Marvell, Philip Larkin, Alan Plater, a number of well-known actors, at least two leading film directors, the Housemartins, Amy Johnson, the Hull Truck Theatre, a big aquarium, two Rugby League teams, the ghost of a once great and brave fishing industry, and a university that is far better than its name makes it sound. (‘Hull’ is such a dull word, especially in a Hull accent: ‘’ll’.) The university was what drew me to the place originally. I’d hardly been north of Watford before – I’m sorry they missed out on automatic promotion, by the way; perhaps they could be given the City of Culture accolade as a consolation prize – and I didn’t really know where the place was myself. But it’s not a bad place to live (if you have a job): its people decent and pretty friendly (as Yorkshire people go), labouring under terrible burdens inflicted on them by Tories and bankers from the Home Counties, and with some wonderful country around (ask David Hockney). I was happier at Hull than at any of my other universities, which have included Cambridge and Yale: none of the latters’ airs, graces and snobbery. And housing is cheap. Where else can you buy a 4-bedroom Victorian house in a leafy inner suburb for under £200,000? (Though that’s not unconnected to the high unemployment.)
There’s another reason for welcoming the Tigers’ promotion. Like many football clubs now they’re owned by a foreign millionaire capitalist – a trend I generally abhor; but in this case there’s a difference. Assem Allam came to the UK as a refugee from Nasser’s Egypt, and to Hull to study economics at the university. He was so impressed with the welcome he got here that when he became rich he decided to give something back to the city in gratitude. Rescuing the football team from near bankruptcy was one of his gifts to us. OK, there may be more (or less) to it than that; but at least he has a genuine connection with the place; and one the city can take real pride in.