Ahead of Saturday’s clash with Hull, I caught up with Rick Skelton, a Hull fan since the ’80s, and a member of City Till We Die, a supporters group who campaigned against the proposed name change of the club, and the Hull City Supporters Trust:
Hi Rick, how are you enjoying being back in the Championship?
I can’t say I am. I love the division and have no snobbery towards it but when you come from the Premier League – getting beat most weeks – you want to enjoy winning games again and our mess of a summer (again) has put us in a poor position.
That leads me on neatly to the next question. You lost a number of well-known players in the summer such as Clucas, McGuire, Robertson, Huddlestone, Elmohamady, Davies and Tymon for an estimated total of around £45m, but you’ve also spent a fair amount replacing them with players like Stewart, Dicko, Kingsley, Toral, Irvine and Mazuch. How are the new players settling in and does it feel like a new era at the KCOM?
Yes, a thrifty new era. The owners, the horrible Allams, have fallen out with the fans – well, they’ve fallen out with everyone. They’ve decided they’re going to spend as little as possible now while pretending to still be ambitious. We have to live with that. The new signings aren’t bad players and are all young and will improve but I can’t honestly say anyone has hit the ground running..
From an outsider’s point of view the problems with the Allam’s had seemed to quieten down a little but I’m assuming that’s because the national media aren’t watching so much anymore and therefore those outside Hull are not hearing what’s going on. Are there any signs of entente or is the Cold War still being fought?
The name change has seemingly gone away because they are not reapplying to the FA but it festers because they refuse to call us Hull City. It’s “The Tigers” or just “Tigers” exclusively. Perhaps even more unforgiving is the removal of concessions that saw them rapped by the Premier League. They’ve driven down gates to the point where they don’t open the upper tier now and they announce attendances that are inflated by 2000-3000 people. Despite success, they’re killing us.
Yours is a bit of a cautionary tale about the dangers of selling to investor owners rather than people with a genuine interest in the club. It’s the main reason Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones won’t consider selling their controlling interest in Norwich to anyone other than a fan.
A lot of teams have a natural home in the football league. Obviously the Liverpool’s and Manchester United’s are always playing at the top level, while the Rochdale’s and Bury’s bounce between League’s One and Two. Hull are a club that seem to be bipolar, either soaring up divisions or plummeting down the pyramid. Do you think you’ll settle into a natural level or is it more fun to enjoy the ride and the highs and lows?
The lows certainly make you appreciate the highs. From when I became a City fan, we plummeted to the verge of relegation from the league and scrambled about at the bottom for quite a while – all the while staving off administration and winding up orders. Then in 7 years we went from being in administration and locked out of our home at Boothferry Park to the Premier League for the first time in our history. Quite remarkable really. And it meant all the more for the fall so you wouldn’t change that. I think this is our level really though. It’s too big a City to not have a team at least in the second tier but is prone to mismanagement.
Your results so far have been up and down, with thumping wins against Burton, Bolton and latterly Birmingham juxtaposed with a few one goal defeats and a pasting against Derby. Who are the real Hull City this season?
We’re the team who wasted pre-season and has therefore spent the first 10 games looking for the right system and the right team. We’ve got some excellent attacking players like young Jarrod Bowen, Kamil Grosicki and Fraizer Campbell but a soft centre – almost literally. We’ve no bite in midfield and inexperience at the back. That’s never going to breed consistency. The Birmingham performance was outstanding though they were woeful.
Leonid Slutsky was a left field appointment in the summer. How have Hull fans found him?
He’s a tremendous man. He’s bubbly, honest and gracious. It’s hard not to like him. Some questions have started to be asked though because even though the owners let him down in the summer, he’s struggled to nail his team and system.
What kind of tactics does he prefer and what is the likely formation and team against Norwich?
We’ve flirted with 4-4-2 and 3-4-3 but I think, we’ll hope, that we’ll now stick with the 4-3-3 that’s worked so well the last game and a half. The team will be similar to the one that faced Birmingham but there’ll be a temptation to put fit again Kevin Stewart in away from home.
And finally, what’s your score guess?
We’ve not won a league game away since August 2016. Last time we had a run like this, it ended in a 2-0 win at Carrow Road in 2010 so I’m going for history repeating itself!
We’re usually happy to oblige in those type of situations but I’m hoping that our recent improvement in form will prevent that happening! Rick, it’s been a pleasure, thank you for your time and good luck for the season.