Exciting European jaunts to capitals of culture like Barcelona, Madrid, Milan and Rome may be the source of great memories, but they don’t validate a supporter’s commitment to the cause in the way that a trip to Hull does. Never mind your Elland Road membership and loyalty schemes; those Whites who venture into Hull and successfully come out the other side should immediately be afforded the highest possible degree of reverence and a badge of honour (and maybe some health checks) as life doesn’t get grimmer.
Hull is an almost unimaginably bleak place; a decaying urban sprawl, riddled with unemployment, teenage pregnancies, heroin addiction, crime and violence; in the air an unmistakable, putrid stench – a cocktail of raw fish, decay and family incest. It’s not so much a place that time forgot, rather somewhere time took one look at and thought “F**k me! Forget it…” before secreting it out of the mischievous gaze of progress. Apparently in recent times, attempts have been made to transform the city; “an extensive programme of economic reconstruction and urban renewal” was undertaken. Sadly the 2008 economic crisis hit the programme, though remnants of its achievements do remain, including a couple of partially glazed bus stops by the City Hall and an Aldi ‘8 till late local’ store in the cultural quarter.
It is not by chance that Hull became the inaugural winner of the Idler ‘Crap Towns’ prize; the place is essentially an amalgamation of everything that makes Huddersfield and Barnsley godforsaken shit holes, with dead fish thrown in on top. Not that the locals think so; happily living in their backwards enclave, they regard all ‘oustiders’ with suspicion and spend their days talking in hushed tones about a magical monochrome rainbow lying on the outskirts of their territory that is believed to lead to magical lands and untold riches – that’s the M62 to you and me.
Still, this a place where Dean Windass is regarded as a deity, rather than a damning indictment of a failing educational system and where Jimmy Bullard was a pin up… so maybe ignorance is bliss!
Arriving early in the city, we took the opportunity to sample the local delicacies and called in at a nearby chippy; the produce itself was gargantuan in scale; the price list clearly stated haddock, though after cutting through a cross section, my geological instincts immediately dated the fish back to the Triassic period – still, it was pretty good!
Then on to the ground; surprisingly for something based in Hull, the KFC Stadium is actually one of the less offensive breed of contemporary stadia, being at least a little less uniform in appearance than horrendous bowls like those in Leicester, Middlesbrough and the like. Still, that’s not accounting for the clientele it attracts - It must be bloody horrible existence for Hull supporters; so depressed are they by their long standing traditional rivalries with clubs like Scunthorpe and Grimsby, and so keen are they to try and validate claims of being a big club, that they’ve desperately tried to concoct something with us…well as the chant goes, “We’re Leeds United, we don’t give a f**k!” – deal with it and f**k off!!
Pre-match was a fairly sedate affair, the first showing of any intent from the Leeds end being the first delightful riposte of “Tigers! Tigers! Rah! Rah! Rah!” in the face local abuse. The pre-match airing of a new wave ‘tin pot anthem™’, Elvis’ ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’, provided a further welcome opportunity for mockery. Oh and one other point of note: why do Hull appear to have a mascot who dresses as a cigarette tab end?
From an early stage it was pretty apparent that Leeds were not going to scale the heights of the weekend. For most of the first half, the home side dictated play and in one particularly troublesome 15 minute spell were creating chances at will. The formation, exciting days earlier, was suddenly baffling in a game where all Leeds’ previous weaknesses emerged as strengths and vice-versa. Lonergan had to be alert from the early stages and pulled off a number of excellent saves; Lees and O’Dea were every bit as solid as could be expected, Brown (again) stood out, as did Becchio. Suddenly the team had a spine, the problems were everywhere else.
Having four forwards on the pitch from the off was always a cause for concern and became even more so as they all wanted to play centrally. Warnock frantically barked instructions and McCormack, Webber and Snoddy held repeated conferences on the pitch to address the situation, but it was never really resolved. By the end of the half, a frustrated Becchio resorted to persistent fouling, at one stage attempting broaden the width of Jack Hobb’s philtrum via an non-invasive surgical procedure, courtesy of his left boot.
That said, Hull were hardly shy on the tackling front; Stuart Atwell perhaps reluctant to wave yellow cards as he thought all breeds of tiger were endangered species. It didn’t stop the dirty twats trying to bring about the premature extinction of the species Michaelus Brownius though. The locals in the South Stand roared their approval. It wasn’t a pretty sight; an isotropic vista of slack-jawed meat heads - many of whom had brought their husbands along in tow – grunting like the enemy front line at Helm’s Deep.
Half-time came as a relief and an opportunity to reorganise. However, the team re-emerged for the kick-off still lining up in the Warnock patented ‘4-2-FFS!’ formation; it was worry, though as the second half passed by, it was evident that the players were getting to grips with it. Other than that, there wasn’t too much to say about the second half; Leeds had plenty of the ball, but repeatedly wasted good crossing opportunities, while Clayton and Snoddy were consistently wasteful or hesitant when something rather more decisive was required – JUST HIT THE F**KING THING!!!
Width continued to be a problem, something which the introduction of Lloyd Sam did little to alleviate – seriously, what is the point in this ‘footballer’? A fella a couple of rows in front me, a fair haired Jonny Vegas type, bawled out the insult: “Sam, I can f**king move quicker than you!!” – I was inclined to believe him.
When the full-time whistle arrived, it felt as much an act of mercy as another nail in the play-off coffin; still, we always win at Middlesbrough, don’t we?