Hull City remain a club pockmarked by rancour under Allams’ ownership | David Conn

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The semi-detached owners of Hull City spent their long, cold January insisting to widely disaffected supporters that they are not just clearing the decks, hauling in all the money they can net, and battening down for the anticipated relegation of a club they are trying to sell. The £20m trawled from selling Jake Livermore and the season’s brightest attacking force, Robert Snodgrass, did not greatly help their case but the vice-chairman, Ehab Allam, did spend his transfer window final day in a flurry of deadline trading.

Sources close to the club say the aim of the Allams, Ehab and his father Assem, who is suffering ill-health, is to make a £40m cash surplus this season, given their small squad and £100m or more gushing in from the Premier League’s lavish 2016-19 TV deals.

Such a cash pile can be presented as an asset in the continuing efforts to make a profit from a sale. It could be used to repay some of the £77m the Allams have loaned to the club over their six years of autocratic ownership and used as ballast if City do sink to the thinner waters of the Championship. Some supporters saw the Livermore and Snodgrass sales as further confirmation of this strategy but Ehab Allam maintained in a response to the Guardian that the aim is to replace them and to build a team for the engaging new coach Marco Silva who can salvage Premier League survival.

Hull City in numbers

While not commenting on the £40m surplus figure, Allam said: “It is not the intention of the family to have their loans repaid through the recent sale of players. All players sales, as authorised by Marco Silva, will be done with the aim of reinvesting this money back into the squad.”

The frantic final day recovered some credibility for that promise, reeling in the loan recruitment of the Italy defender Andrea Ranocchia from Internazionale and the former Sunderland midfielder Alfred N’Diaye from Villarreal, and the signing of the Poland winger Kamil Grosicki from Rennes on a three-and-a-half-year contract for a reported £7m.

City say they are to appeal for permission to sign the French midfielder Yannis Salibur from the Ligue 1 club Guingamp, claiming delay on the selling side pushed an agreed deal beyond Tuesday’s 11pm deadline. If that does happen, at a fee said to be £9m, it will take City’s spending on players beyond the £20m made from the sales.

The new arrivals at Hull join Evandro, signed from Porto, Markus Henriksen whose loan from AZ Alkmaar was made permanent with a £4.5m signing, and the loanees Oumar Niasse, Lazar Markovic and Omar Elabdellaoui from Everton, Liverpool and Silva’s former club, Olympiakos respectively.

For many supporters, it will take more than all this trading to repair a relationship which has never recovered from the Allams’ stubborn and flawed drive to change the club’s name to Hull Tigers, which was ultimately outlawed by the Football Association in April 2014. Assem Allam vowed he would sell the club within 24 hours but more than 1,000 days on his son remains in charge at a ground pockmarked by rancour, compounded by a new ticketing scheme which has removed concessions for young people and pensioners. Four different groups of potential buyers have sniffed over the club before departing with no deal concluded. One, led by a Chinese investor, was apparently agreed but fell away after the Premier League questioned how the funding was being structured.

Geoff Bielby, the chairman of the Hull City Supporters Trust, which campaigned against the name change and the new membership scheme, says he has cancelled his season ticket of 12 years in protest at the abolition of concession prices. The Premier League is still in talks with the club about whether the scheme breaches the league rule which require concessions to be offered at all grounds. City argue it does not. The club believes it has been given too little credit for the general reduction in prices to the lowest in the league, incorporating some adult season tickets of £252; £9 and £15 matchday tickets for category C matches, and prices of £24-£33 for plum category A matches such as Saturday’s visit of Liverpool. The club’s argument is that many tickets are so affordable they in effect constitute concessions.

Bielby rejects that, because adult prices have to be paid for children too and says the atmosphere in the ground had already become toxic after the name change debacle and during the relegation season of 2014-15: “My fear now is that because they have not been able to derive the value they wanted from a sale the Allams are trying to recover the money by running a small squad and relatively low wage bill, so they can remove large chunks of the Premier League TV money.”

To have generated unrest and disillusionment among many fans and an enduring chill in relations with the local council extending into a year in which Hull is the UK’s designated city of culture, seems all the more unnecessary given the Allams’ tenure has been the most successful in the club’s history.



Hull City fans stage a protest outside the ground earlier this season. Photograph: Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

Silva’s team were bottom when they went to Old Trafford on Wednesday but the fact Hull are facing Manchester United in a Premier League fixture remains historically remarkable. This is still only their fifth season in the top flight, in the 111 years since the one-year-old club was elected to the Football League Second Division in 1905. Three have been played under the Allams, who saved the club from serious financial difficulties under a previous owner, Russell Bartlett, in 2010, and have since pumped in loans from their generator manufacturing company, Allam Marine.

City played gallantly in their first FA Cup final in 2014, which they lost 3-2 to Arsenal, and when relegated in 2015, the Allams took out a £23m bank loan, now refinanced, to maintain a playing squad who could attain immediate promotion. That loan was refinanced this month with a further mortgage taken out with the London branch of the Australian bank Macquarie, secured on the Cottingham training ground and future Premier League TV money.

Even in this miserable season the club reached its first League Cup semi-final, losing 3-2 on aggregate to United after a 2-1 home victory that roused spirits on a bitterly cold night – but with an attendance of only 16,831, still featuring blocks of empty seats. The appointment of Silva, greeted with suspicion, is now hailed as progressive.

The club’s accounts for the year to 30 June 2016, the most recently published, show it took out that bank loan and made a loss of £21m to gain promotion, although £10m of that comprised bonuses payable to the players for doing so. The Allams invested £3m into the club permanently, for shares, rather than as loans, and did comply with the Football League’s financial fair play rules which, allowing for investment in youth development and facilities, permitted clubs to make a maximum loss of £5m, and up to a further £8m if the owners invested that in equity. All the players signed must accept clauses for their wages to reduce if the club is relegated, so that dropping out of the land of plenty does not descend into a financial collapse such as City have suffered twice in the past 20 years.

“The club remains up for sale,” Ehab Allam said, “but the primary focus is on supporting the head coach in the transfer window and beyond with our fight for Premier League survival.”

Such is life, during English football’s greatest boom, for the Tigers.

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