Hull City vs. Chelsea : 25 January 2020.
The third game in eight days was another away day in the North of England. After gliding past Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup, we were drawn against Hull City who are enjoying – or not – a middling season in The Championship.
On my four previous visits to Kingston upon Hull, I had driven up and back from each and every one of them on the day of the game. But it’s a tough, tough ask. It’s around a ten-hour return trip by car. For this game we decided to stay the Saturday night. As the weekend quickly approached, the trip took over my thoughts. There was plenty to keep me pleasantly occupied.
I needed to plan a pub crawl, probably based around the marina. On my last visit to Hull during the 2016/17 season – the match report was titled “Tales From A Day Of Sobriety” – I had left Parky and PD in a large “Spoons” in the city centre, while I pottered off on a little walk around the city centre and the marina. I spotted a few pubs and I made a mental note of their whereabouts. I hoped for a larger, more expansive, tour this time around. There would be no sobriety on this visit.
I was also looking forward – with a kind of schoolboy giddiness – to seeing us in our beautiful blue and yellow FA kit once again.
And there was the matter of the hotel that I had booked. I had sorted out some digs close to City’s KCOM Stadium for the princely sum of £29 for two rooms. I was intrigued, for the want of a better word, how that would pan out.
The game? That would take care of itself.
Let’s go to Hull.
My alarm was set for 4.30am on Saturday morning and I woke a few minutes ahead of it. After a strong coffee, I was ready. This was going to be another long day, but it would be a day that we live for. I fuelled up nearby and collected the father-and-son combination of P-Diddy Daddy-O and Scott at 6am.
Everything was dark until we stopped at Strensham Services on the M5 for a McBreakfast at 7.30am. From then on, the day slowly broke. I made excellent time and the morning flew past. I rarely drive up the M1 for football and I was enjoying the change of scene. After passing East Midlands Airport on the A42, I spotted the familiar cooling towers to the east at Ratcliffe on Soar as I joined the M1 and these signalled, to me anyway, that my journey to “The North” was in full flow. There would be cooling towers-a-plenty on the road to Hull.
Unlike the M6 to the west of the midlands which is predominantly flat, the M1 undulates as it takes everyone north. It’s not a photogenic road. For miles upon mile, the motorway is flanked by huge distribution warehouses, retail parks, the flattened hills of former coal-mining areas, and cooling towers. Past Mansfield, past Chesterfield. Signposts for the footballing cities of Sheffield and Leeds.
There were bittersweet memories of my second and third visits to see Chelsea play at Hull City.
In January 2014 – my match report was titled “Tales From A Road Less Travelled” – I collected friends Andy, Alan and Seb in the midlands en route – and headed up to Hull. The game resulted in a standard 2-0 win for Chelsea, but marks the last game that I attended before my mother became incapacitated through rheumatism. By the time of the next visit in March 2015, barely a year later, my mother had sadly passed away and it was my first away game since her death. On that visit, a 3-2 win on our way to a title, I felt rather numbed by everything. I called that one “Tales From The Beautiful North” and it summed up my melancholy mood. It was a delicate, tender blue day. Memories, no doubt, raced back to the half-term holiday of October 1973 when I first visited Hull with my parents, a day trip from visiting friends in Grimsby, a ferry over the Humber from New Holland, the huge bridge far from completed.
Bridges and elevated sections took us over the rivers which would eventually drift into The Humber. We veered off onto the M18. As we hit the M62, my eyes focussed on the far horizon in several directions. A bleak vista was dominated by cooling towers and wind turbines. It all started to resemble a bleak scene from a sci-fi film.
The winds howl over these flat lands.
Another bridge took us over the wonderfully named River Ouse. Out and away, Hull was not too far now. I drove on past the huge Humber Bridge, the World’s longest until 1998, and I was soon on Clive Sullivan Way, named after a rugby league icon.
In the pub on Tuesday, my pal Tim from Bristol spoke of his last visit to Hull in 2016. If anyone remembers, it was our first game of the long unbeaten run, win after win after win. But on that day, just as he reached the city’s inner suburbs, he spotted a rag and bone man, with cart and horse, like a latter day “Steptoe & Son.” He then spotted a bare-chested man riding a horse through the streets.
Bloody hell, a real city on the edge.
As I drove through the surprisingly wide streets of Hull, I found myself behind a van carrying scrap. I half expected Dublin-style horses to gallop past.
Welcome to Hull.
At around 10.30am we had reached base camp, our hotel on Anlaby Road.
Well. What can I say? It was a pub, with rooms, but hardly worthy of a single star, not so much a hotel as a notel. I soon posted my thoughts on “Facebook.”
“Well, our £7.50 a night hotel has lived down to expectations.”
Much banter followed.
We booked in, and at 11am the barman poured the first pints of the day for us. Friends much further south were yet to set off. You can’t say that we aren’t keen.
There was a little chat with a couple of locals. The pub had openened at 10am, one silent chap was already on his second or third pint. Another grisly local warned us –
“There was some fighting in town last night, Chelsea.”
But we ignored him.
I fiddled with my camera bag, making sure my match ticket was secure.
He looked over and said :
“Ha, is that your first-aid kit?”
Now that made me laugh. All part of the spice of life, eh? Indeed, the place was starting to grow on me.
Like a fungus.
Outside, I took a photo of PD and Scott in front of a chalkboard of the week’s coming attractions, blank apart from karaoke on Sunday. I was just surprised that karaoke was spelled correctly.
At about 11.45am we caught a cab into town.
The cab driver was gruff.
“I fucking hate Chelsea.”
I feared that he might be a Leeds United fan. But no, far from it. In spite of a northern accent, he was from Fulham, a Fulham fan, but living in Hull for forty years. I felt that life had dealt him a tough hand of cards. From the cosmopolitan bustling city of London to the dustbowl of Kingston upon Hull, until recently one of the UK’s forgotten cities.
“I go and watch City a bit. It’s sold out today, isn’t it? Only £12.”
I was warming to him now, it’s funny how football can break down barriers.
We dropped into the second of the day’s seven pubs. It was a familiar haunt. We had visited “The Admiral Of The Humber” in 2015 and 2016. PD was hoping to spot a local that he had chatted to on both occasions. In 2016, there was a funny anecdote.
The Hull City fan had spoken about a visit of Newcastle United, when the very same pub was mobbed by visiting Geordies. They very soon started singing a song, aimed at him, based on the fact that his grey beard and glasses made him resemble an infamous person in Britain’s recent past.
“One Harold Shipman, there’s only one Harold Shipman.”
He smiled as he re-told the story of how he remonstrated with them, and how this resulted in the Geordies buying him drink after drink.
“I love that about football, the banter” he joked.
Alas, no Harold Shipman this time. A couple of Chelsea supporters dropped in, but it was mainly “locals only.” It was a lovely Saturday afternoon mixture of football lads in designer gear, scarfers, a chap in a Dukla Prague away kit, and a table full of overly-made up middle-aged women that do lunch, dinner, tea, an evening meal and breakfast if you ask them nicely.
The three of us were now getting stuck into our second and third pints and the laughter was booming. We chatted about our hotel.
Chris : “I was a bit concerned when all the windows in your room were wide open. I wondered if it meant that the room needed some fresh air. That it would have been otherwise musty.”
PD : “That was to let the rats out.”
Chris : “No, that was to let them in.”
On a wall inside the pub, getting busier and busier now, was a copy of The Housemartins’ “Hull 0 London 4” album.
As the jokes continued, PD and Scott were grinning themselves to death.
At 1pm, we hopped into another cab to embark on the next stage of the pub crawl.
“The Minerva” was to be the highlight of the day and we stayed a good hour. On rather a different scale, it reminded me of The Flatiron Building in New York; a squeezed building, triangular in shape, it sat right on the quayside looking across the river to Lincolnshire. As soon as we arrived, three fellow Chelsea supporters arrived too, faces familiar, names unknown. The pub was a joy. Little rooms, a couple of snugs, a good selection of ales and lagers, antique décor, and it looked like it served excellent food too. The further you went away from the tip of the building, more rooms kept appearing. On a wall was a framed copy of one of Spencer Tunick’s “Sea of Hull” photo shoots which kick-started Hull’s year as the UK’s “City of Culture” in 2017.
I just thought everybody was blue with the cold in Hull.
I could have stayed in “The Minerva” for hours. But I wanted to pack as much in as possible. We still had a few more to visit; “The Barrow Boys”, “The Humber Dock”, “Bar 82” and lastly a real ale pub called “Furley” where I bumped into Kev who sits around ten feet away from me in “The Sleepy Hollow.”
Phew. Seven stops on this pub crawl. It was just right. Perfect even. Friendly locals, no trouble, what it is all about. The pubs and bars on the cobbled streets near the marina were excellent.
“Hull on Earth?”
Or, as the locals would have pronounced it : “nurrrr.”
I like Kingston upon Hull. There, I said it.
Time was moving on now, so we hopped in to a cab, which took us back along the same Anlaby Road that our hotel was on, from the city centre, past The Admiral Of The Humber, and it deposited us a few hundred yards to the south of the KCOM Stadium. Night was falling, and there was a rush to get inside for kick-off.
Surely this was football to a tee. I had awoken at 4.30am and yet thirteen hours later I was rushing to get in on time.
But get in on time I did.
Just in time.
Have I mentioned that I work in logistics?
The stadium was packed, a full-house. I half expected to see swathes of empty seats in our end, with tickets purchased – just £12 remember – for loyalty points alone. A great show of support, four thousand strong.
Frank Lampard chose this starting eleven :
Azpilicueta – Tomori – Zouma – Alonso
Barkley – Kovacic – Mount
Hudson-Odoi – Batshuayi – Pedro
I like Hull City’s stadium. I like the rising roof, and the blue lighting of the metal at the rear of the lower deck. For the first time since my first visit I was positioned towards the main stand. On that day in 2008, I celebrated my seven-hundredth Chelsea game with a pre-match “Nando’s” – still my only ever visit – and I detailed the day in “Tales From The Roman Road”. On that Wednesday, I travelled along two roman roads to Hull, the Fosse Way and then Ermine Street. It was fortuitous that I did as many Chelsea missed the kick-off due to traffic problems on the M1. The detail of the match was scant.
“What a goal from Frank – I amazingly captured this on film…just beautiful. A great start. However, Hull did well not to capitulate and had a fair share of the ball in that first period. Cousin hit the post, Cech made a few good stops. We had a few chances too, of course, but the usual suspects didn’t appear to be playing too well. We were begging for a second goal.
At the break, I handed out a few doughnuts to the boys – the Game 700 Meal overspill.
A much better team performance in the second-half. Hull gave Frank too much space and I thought he ran the game. He has been great this season. All of the first-half under performers stepped up in the second 45 – Anelka after his goal especially…the chances came and went…one miss from Malouda especially. However, it ended up 3-0 with the much-maligned Frenchman touching home.
I couldn’t understand a lot of the Hull songs to be honest. You had to admire their cheek, though, because they serenaded us with a song about fucking off back to our shit hole. The cheeky young whippersnappers.”
So, back to 2020.
The Chelsea team lined up in all white and it annoyed me. Was the limited colour clash of Hull City amber socks and Chelsea yellow socks enough to enforce a change? Or were Chelsea beholden to play in the second kit at least once in this cup run? Either way, I was not impressed. The home team were kitted-out in amber, black, amber, but with tigerish stripes on the top section of the shirts, how Cincinnati Bengals.
Chelsea were attacking the opposite end in the first-half. We were all stood, of course. As always. On just six minutes, a great ball out by Mateo Kovacic found Dave in acres of space. He quickly pumped in a cross, possibly over-hit, but it fell for Mason Mount to stab at goal. It rebounded out and Michy Batshuayi, lurking nicely, was on hand to follow up. A deflected shot gave the Hull City ‘keeper George Long no chance.
It was our first real attack.
Alan, no more than ten rows in front of me : “THTCAUN.”
Some incisive passing from Kovacic set up good chances for Ross Barkley and Mason Mount, but Long was able to pull off two fine blocks. There had been an earlier half-chance for Michy. Callum was involved on the right, Pedro not so much on the left. But throughout much of the first-half it was the Chelsea story of the season; more passing than required, less shooting than required.
Pass, pass, pass, pass, sideways, sideways, sideways, sideways.
It was as if we were attempting to crabwalk.
Even so, we were on top. Not exactly coasting, but looking the more likely to score the next goal. Just before the whistle for half-time, a deep cross from Marcos Alonso was chested down by Dave who then shot at Long in the Hull goal but he pulled off another fine save.
Around me – despite us winning – I had endured voices of discontent during that first-half. And where we could, and should, have been cheering the boys on, there were periods of quietness in our ranks. Sometimes there is hot and cold in our support, often during the same game.
Hot and cold.
Noise and quiet.
Stillness and mayhem.
Frost and fire.
It would be nice to be warmed constantly by our support during every single game. For every fine pass to be applauded as loudly as ever wayward pass is booed.
Me, looking at my phone at halftime: “COMLD.”
Sorry Alan. Better late than never.
The second-half began, and the home team came out of their shells a little. They had offered a few attacks in the first-half but not a great deal. In the second period they looked a little livelier. They definitely had the edge of the opening period. Jarrod Bowen, who reminded me of “Eriksen from Tottenham but not much longer”, was a threat and he raced on to a through ball before punching a shot just over Caballero’s bar.
Our play had deteriorated. Not much bite, not much ingenuity. Shot-shy.
Just after an hour, Barkley steadied himself before sending over a deep free-kick. Fikayo Tomori, who had formed a steady relationship again with Kurt Zouma, rose unhindered at the far post to head down, a perfect finish, past Long. My photos of the free-kick and the header are not great, but at least I was on hand to snap away as the players celebrated just yards away from me.
There is always a great fascination to see the body language of our players as they celebrate together. Smiles, hugs, knowing winks, loving looks. I must confess I go overboard at such moments, but these photographs take care of themselves really.
Time for some substitutions.
Billy Gilmour for Our Callum.
Willian for Our Mason.
Fine work from Willian, and a reverse pass to Pedro, but the winger edged it just past the far post. The same player finished weakly from the other side of the penalty area.
With twelve minutes remaining, I captured the free-kick by substitute Kamil Grosicki that hit our wall and ballooned up and into our goal.
With me unable to watch a potential replay in ten days’ time, I was grimly aware that another Hull City goal would cause me grief for more than one reason. After cheaply giving the ball away, Bowen fed Grosicki but his shot was thankfully wide.
Tariq Lamptey replaced Pedro late on. We survived an even later home corner.
Hull 1 London 2.
The soft Southerners, thankfully, had not been a soft touch.
Into Round Five we went.
We took our time exiting the stadium. Out onto Anlaby Road once more, and we walked past our hotel on the search for nosebag. A Greek restaurant was fully-booked, but I soon spotted the sign for “Tandoor Mahal.”
I was on the “Diet Cokes” now – my Sunday morning drive on my mind – but we settled in and enjoyed a lovely meal.
Prawn puri, lamb dhansak, boiled rice and peshwari naan.
I filled my boots. It was one of the best curries that I have eaten for a while. Top marks.
On the adjacent table was Lee, a Hull City supporter of around the same vintage as little old me, and we spent ages talking – lamenting – how football has changed over the past thirty years. We soon found that we had so many things in common. He was with his young daughter, and he really wanted to stay out with us, but after an elongated leaving ceremony he reluctantly said “cheerio.”
He wanted me to mention him in this blog.
So, there you go Lee. See you next time.
At about 10pm, we wandered back to our digs, passing some locals, who we engaged in some witty banter as is our wont.
“Where are you off lads”?
“Back to our hotel.”
“Oh no. It’s not The Carlton is it”?
There was time for one last nightcap at the hotel before bed. Next to us at the bar were three Chelsea fans; a young couple from Birmingham and a chap from Stafford. I was, at last, comforted that other Chelsea supporters had chosen the same hotel as us.
It had been a long day. At just before 11pm, I called it a night. Anlaby Road had treated us well.
Next up, an away day – up the Fosse Way once more – to Leicester City.
I will see you there.
Featured album :
“Eden” : Everything But The Girl 1984.