By 2016, since getting promoted to the Premier League in 2008, Hull City had enjoyed three promotions to the top flight, played the club’s first ever FA Cup final and got into the preliminary rounds of European football.
Since then, however, they have been on a downward spiral.
A fall from grace
When Marco Silva’s Tigers fell just short of surviving Premier League relegation in 2016/17, every City fan expected a repeat of previous years, to challenge for promotion back to the top fight, but that wasn’t to be the case.
The Portuguese manager left to join Watford and a mini managerial carousel at the KCOM Stadium began. Leonid Slutsky’s attacking style brought joy to the fans but also opposition strikers, so Nigel Adkins was swiftly brought in. He immediately proved his worth in the hot seat and steadied a sinking ship on an extremely tight budget, but his departure sent shockwaves through the fan base – albeit an unsurprising occurrence.
The Allams have given themselves a bad name in the City stands ever since their failed name change attempts and Adkins walked when he believed he saw the club’s future in a different light to the Egyptians, leaving the club needing a third manager in as many years.
In came Grant McCann, who had enjoyed promotion from League One into the Championship with Peterborough United and Doncaster Rovers, so many assumed success would follow in East Yorkshire. But when the Allams sold star men Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki to West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion on deadline day of the January transfer window in 2019/20, things changed.
The Tigers were sat eighth in the table and well in the play-off hunt on January 31st but, after selling Bowen and Grosicki, lost a club-record number of games – including a horrendous 8-0 battering at Wigan Athletic in the second tier, as they plummeted down to the foot of the Championship and were relegated for the first time in the 21st century.
It was a 15-year low for a club that had become used to fighting England’s big boys and the signs didn’t look good. Sunderland, Portsmouth, Blackpool and Charlton Athletic had all fallen from the top flight to the third tier before the Tigers and none had made even one step back towards the big time, highlighting just how hard a task it is to turn the tide.
Bouncing back and breaking records
But, Hull don’t like playing in League One. The club had only ever spent one season at this level of the football pyramid when they completed back-to-back promotions from League Two to the Championship – finishing runners up in the fourth and third tiers in 2003/04 and 2004/05 respectively.
Back then, cult hero and arguably the club’s greatest ever manager Peter Taylor was at the helm, as the Tigers roared their way up the divisions, so supporters were dreaming of an immediate repeat, regardless of how unlikely it was.
The vast majority of fans, though, called for McCann’s head when Hull lost 16 of their last 20 games in the 2019/20 season – but the Allams kept faith in their man. Regardless of whether it was so they didn’t have to pay him out of a contract or they actually believed that his previous League One successes would be repeated, it proved the right call.
Having seen both their captain and vice-captain, amongst others, refuse to extend their contracts in the longer than usual 2019/20 campaign, a major summer rehaul began.
Hometown man Lewie Coyle joined from Fleetwood Town for an undisclosed fee, whilst Josh Emmanuel, Jordan Flores, Festus Arthur, Thomas Mayer and Greg Docherty also joined on permanent deals alongside new skipper, Richie Smallwood.
Regan Slater, Daniel Crowley and Gavin Whyte all came in on loan before another Hull-born player, Max Clark, returned to the club having left to join Vitesse Arnhem just a couple of years ago.
City, then, had gotten rid of all the deadwood that weighed them down to the bottom of the Championship and now had strength in depth. And they set about breaking club records all season long.
Daring to dream
They scored the most goals, had the tightest defence and gained the most points the club had ever seen in a single season and gave the fans a first league title since 1965/66 in what should be considered one of the most successful seasons in Hull’s history – and they beat Leeds United in the Carabao Cup for good measure.
What’s more, 2020/21 was the first time since the pyramid reformat that three City forwards hit double figures for goals in the same campaign with Mallik Wilks, Josh Magennis and local lad Keane Lewis-Potter firing them to promotion.
So then, history repeated itself. Hull have spent two seasons in League One and stormed to promotion on both occasions. The trophy lift on the final day will live long in the memory of the black and amber faithful and the players will go down in history, but what more can they achieve?
Only Watford (1997-1999), Norwich (2009-2011) and Southampton (2010-2012) have recorded back-to-back promotions from the third tier to the Premier League, but dreams are meant to be lived.
McCann has already stated that he is sitting down with the Allams imminently as they begin preparations for next season and, with a few quality additions and a strong start to 2021/22, the Tigers will believe they can climb back up the tree and into the promised land for a fourth time in the near future.