The emergency crew of cleaners and painters had done their best but by the time the VIP party from China arrived, blurred remnants of the grafitti artists’ work still scarred stadium walls. “Allams out” was the polite gist of messages spray-gunned around Hull City’s home on the day they marked their return to the Premier League and entertained the champions Leicester City.
Goodness knows what the 10 Chinese visitors thought as they were driven through West Park. The August sun may have been shining on the KCom Stadium’s normally pleasant, tree-lined hinterland but on Saturday it was filled with angry locals, waving banners and chanting.
Once they had passed further dissenters and an enhanced security system at main reception the guests, in branded Hull scarves, sweatshirts and T-shirts, went upstairs to a corridor of executive boxes from where they doubtless noted that fans invariably took their seats clutching red cards.
At that point the consortium that is considering buying Hull, led by Hawken Xi Liu, a journalist turned commercial property magnate, and her brother Dai Yongge – (both somewhat controversial figures in their homeland), was possibly wondering how quickly it could board a Beijing-bound flight.
Then, once the red card protest was over and the match began, something quite extraordinary and thoroughly bewitching unfolded.
A Hull side under Mike Phelan’s caretaker management and with only 13 fit senior players – the home bench was staffed by untried teenagers and Phelan did not risk any substitutions - outmanoeuvred Claudio Ranieri’s champions, winning 2-1.
When the outstanding Robert Snodgrass whipped in a corner, Curtis Davies forced Kasper Schmeichel into a flying diversion and Abel Hernández and Adama Diomande both met the fallout with acrobatic overhead kicks, the Chinese were on their feet cheering. Well before the goal was eventually awarded to Diomande, it was apparent we were witnessing a special, if fragile, example of team bonding.
Sam Clucas, normally a left winger, was proving imperious in an unfamiliar central midfield holding role, making an excellent job of interrupting Danny Drinkwater’s supply lines to Jamie Vardy. Clucas would not have been on the pitch had Mohamed Diamé, until recently probably Hull’s best player, not been 150 miles north preparing to make an underwhelming Championship debut for Newcastle United.
Meanwhile Jake Livermore, a midfielder, looked a natural at centre-half and would later make a brilliant block to deny an increasingly frustrated Vardy a goal.
Then there was Snodgrass, not only the scorer of the superbly struck second-half winner but a constant tormentor of Leicester’s suddenly vulnerable defence and David Meyler, indefatigable in left midfield. After enduring long months on the sidelines, rehabbing from respective career threatening knee injuries – at one point a leading surgeon told Meyler he might struggle to walk normally again – that pair proved emblematic of Hull’s circumstance defying spirit.
On half-time, Phelan scratched his head and, frankly, looked a little puzzled. After all, a summer of paralysing stasis featuring Hull’s failure to sign a single first team player, a rash of injuries and Steve Bruce’s despairing resignation as manager had left Sir Alex Ferguson’s one-time Manchester United sidekick with only 11 fit senior outfielders.
Like the fans, those players privately have pertinent questions about what is happening to Hull’s share of the television fuelled riches guaranteed to Premier League clubs.
Assem Allam, the chairman, is seriously ill and his son, Ehab Allam, is clearly desperate to sell up. The Chinese are undertaking due diligence but the fact that no exclusivity deal has been signed suggests another prospective buyer may yet enter the equation.
Phelan, still to be told whether he will remain in charge beyond Monday, is sufficiently worldly wise to view events with a certain detached cynicism. He knows that without investment before the transfer window’s closure Hull will effectively be doomed to relegation.
Bruce’s erstwhile assistant used the word “apparently” a lot when discussing the mooted takeover and gave the impression it might take the appearance on Humberside of Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China editor, before he believed anything was imminent.
“It might be a big week for this club,” he said. “But there’s been talk of it being taken over for eight to 12 months now.” Phelan also revealed he is in frequent contact with Bruce. ”Steve’s been great, really encouraging,” he said. “I’m sure he’s massively disappointed to be sitting at home.”
If the tantalising possibility of Bruce being persuaded into a post-buyout return may be wishful thinking, the same goes for repeats of Saturday’s heroics. Although Phelan lauded the “courage” of a “small group” of players “galvanised” by adversity he knows they cannot continue like this.
One win may temporarily air-brush problems away but, just like the graffiti, they are harder to erase permanently. “This league is cruel,” he said. “If you take your eye off the ball you can get badly hurt.”
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