Hull is on the East Coast of England on the Humber Estuary with a population of 250,000 and an independent spirit. Over 95% of homes were bombed during the 2nd World War, and it has suffered from The Cod Wars with Iceland which desimated its fishing fleet, and recent floods in 2007.
It's the largest city in England never to have had a football team in the top tier-the present Premier League, and Hull City nearly folded completely 8 years ago when the bailiff's padlocked the old stadium, Boothferry Park, and if it hadn't been for the legendary Warren Joyce they would have been relegated from the fourth tier of the Football League pyramid and into oblivion. What a change since my last visit over 34 years ago. Leeds United's commercial manager Adam Pearson left Elland Road, an hour away to the west, and bought the decrepid club.(he sold it a month ago). 5 years ago he was largely responsible for revitalising both the city and the club nicknamed THE TIGERS, with the building of Kinsgston Communications Stadium KC Stadium, a beautiful covered stadium in a park land , 20 minutes walking distance from the city centre, which they share with the Rugby League club Hull FC. www.worldstadiums.com
I was there on Saturday for a pre-season match, Hull City vs Royal Antwerp www.rafc.be with the proceeds going to the fund to aid victims of the recent flooding in the city as the Humber and the River Hull were unable to contain the excessive rain. In fact KC Stadium was flooded and a number of pre-season matches cancelled.
The day was hot and humid, with about 750 Belgian fans making the trip by overnight ferry and by air. As I stepped out of Hull Paragon train station, which has a £20 million renovation almost complete, the first pub I saw had Stella Artois umbrellas on its outdoor tables and was packed with Royal Antwerp fans and their favourite brew in the hot sun on a really nice downtown that Hull has created in recent year. The match ended in a 0-0 tie, and could have been improved by a streaker or at least a striker.
Hull City fans are extremely loyal and their amber and black striped shirts were worn all over town with Tiger tails on sale outside the stadium. I was with some coaching friends from Manchester United, who own 50% of the Belgium club and exchange players regularly. Five Manchester United players are on the Royal Antwerp squad, now coached by Warren Joyce,a favourite on both sides of the North Sea, with others from Argentina, Uruguay, France, Holland, Malta, Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, Serbia and Ireland - and a few Belgians.
Royal Antwerp are in the 2nd tier of Belgian soccer and had a brief fling in the top league. They have the distinction of Registration No. 1 as the oldest club in Belgium when the Belgian F.A. was formed in 1895, when the club were already 7 years old, and they play in a suburb of the Flemish capital at Bosuilt Stadion with an all seater capacity of 16,600. Their nickname is GREAT OLD, because of their history of 125 years which they celebrated last season with the star studded visit of Manchester United. Their best European feat was losing 3-1 to Parma AC of Italy in the European Cup Winners Final of 1993 at Wembley Stadium
We laughed at all the world wide attention given to 9 year old Rhain Davis, from Brisbane Australia, who came with his family to stay with his grandad in Cheshire, just South of The Manchester United training site after being seen on www.youtube.com and is with about 30 other players in his age group at the Carrington facility. I am assured that he is treated no differently from any other young lad, and most wonder kids never make it to the Premiership for many reasons. I know that United treat their young players the right way and discuss their progress with the kids first rather than the parents. Young players may not join a club for 2-3 times a week training if they live more than an hour away. At about 14 years old that distance is extended to 90 minutes . Nobody is allowed on site with a camera to take photos, and while the soccer authorities rightly insist that parents are given a covered lounge and refreshments while they wait, no interference in the training is allowed.