I caught this one, albeit at an extreme angle to the screen, in a Queens Arms rammed by Open Door weekend. There is a kind of football rudeness when you can see the TV and your interlocutor can’t: your eyes drift upwards all on their own, and your ears switch channels from your real conversation to the artificial one of the broadcast. It’s terrible manners, really.
The Queens Arms does seem to be the Londoner’s pub in these parts, and when Walcott opened Hull up like a can of beans early in the second half, the place erupted. It was harsh on Hull, who’d matched Arsenal up until then, playing with confidence and assurance.
So when Geovanni’s wonderful goal went in, my first thought was that another might shortly follow; and in my mind’s eye I saw how well West Brom have been performing, and how capably Stoke got through games against the top four without an implosion of morale. Just at the point when every commentator believes that the rich vs poor divide has condemned the promoted clubs to instant relegation, are these three going to be the clubs to show that divide up as just one more passing phase in the Premiership’s history?
Of course, I hope so; everyone hopes so. And perhaps the absurd money that is now coming into the game makes it more likely, not less. In the 1950s, Sunderland became known as the “Bank of England” club for the amount that they were prepared to spend on players. Much good it did them: I once possessed a paperback history of the Football League published in 1957 to mark the League’s 70th birthday which celebrated Sunderland for never having been relegated: guess what happened to them in the following season. Huge sums wielded by inexpert owners leaning on increasingly short-term managers in search of instant success creates a kind of opportunity for poorer clubs with more patience and a manager given time to organize, teach and train. Men like Phil Brown and Brian Horton, for instance.
What really stands between a Hull City and what you might call e.g. “Aston Villa status” is history: Villa, or Spurs, or any of the other clubs with glorious pasts, have always been able to use their clippings file as bait for talent. Being situated in large conurbations does no harm either.
But nothing stands in the way of them becoming a Southampton. I refer here to the Southampton sent on its way by Lawrie McMenemy in the ’70s and ’80s, who were an established Premiership club until they pressed the destruct button so meaninglessly a few years ago. Southampton had had to survive in the Premiership at the Dell for a number of years, courtesy of Matt Le Tissier and a squad who never gave up. Hull arrive with their modern stadium up and running.
If they keep their nerve, I think they can do it.