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’sÂ pubÂ in theseÂ parts, andÂ when Walcott opened Hull up likeÂ a can of beans earlyÂ in the second half,Â the placeÂ erupted. It was harshÂ on Hull, who’d matched Arsenal up until then, playingÂ withÂ confidence and assurance.
So when Geovanni’s wonderful goal wentÂ in, my first thought was that another mightÂ shortly follow; andÂ 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 anÂ 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 justÂ one more passing phaseÂ in the Premiership’s history?
OfÂ course, I hope so; everyone hopes so. AndÂ perhaps the absurd money that is nowÂ comingÂ intoÂ the gameÂ makes it more likely, not less. In the 1950s, Sunderland becameÂ known as the “Bank of England” club for the amount thatÂ they wereÂ prepared to spendÂ on players. Much good it did them: IÂ once possessed a paperback history ofÂ the Football LeagueÂ publishedÂ in 1957Â to mark the League’s 70th birthday which celebrated Sunderland for never having been relegated: guess whatÂ happened to themÂ in the following season. Huge sums wielded byÂ inexpert owners leaningÂ onÂ increasingly short-termÂ managersÂ in search ofÂ instant success creates a kind of opportunity for poorer clubs with moreÂ patience and a manager given time to organize, teach and train. Men like Phil Brown and Brian Horton, forÂ 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 situatedÂ in large conurbations does no harm either.
But nothing standsÂ in the way of them becoming a Southampton. I refer here to the Southampton sentÂ on its way by Lawrie McMenemyÂ in the ’70s and ’80s, who were an established Premiership club untilÂ they pressed the destruct button so meaninglessly a fewÂ years ago. Southampton had had to surviveÂ inÂ 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.