Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

In England, A Team's Fans Are Sometimes More Powerful Than The Owner

Illustration for article titled In England, A Teams Fans Are Sometimes More Powerful Than The Owner

This story is a great example of the fundamental differences between European soccer clubs and American franchises.


Assem Allam, owner of ambitious Premier League minnow Hull City, does not like his club's name. He wants to drop the "City" and make them the Hull Tigers—Tigers being the club's nickname. And if he doesn't get his way, he says, he won't spend one red cent to help the team.

The thing is—and here's the part that illustrates how differently things are run over there—English soccer's governing body won't allow him. Earlier this year, Allam applied to the Football Association Council for an official ruling on whether or not he would be able to drop what he has referred to as the "common" and "lousy" word City and tack on the Tigers. The Council voted against the measure overwhelmingly.


To understand why that decision was made, you should know a little about the interested parties in the naming controversy. Allam claims that the name Hull City is holding his team back from the financial riches necessary to truly compete with the bigger teams in the Prem. Were the team called the Hull Tigers, on the other hand, it would be a marketing bonanza, with children across the globe clamouring for a lower-midtable English club's tiger-striped kit, because who doesn't love tigers? Or something. Here he is describing his mindset to the BBC:

"To take the club global, you need a strong name. I don't want to create a new name. I do not want to change it from Hull City Tigers to Hull Viking, or Hull Allam or Hull whatever.

"For 110 years, the club has had City and it has had Tigers in the name.

"Now we want to shorten the name to go global - like Coca-Cola, like Twitter, like Google. You will never make it if your name is Hull City Association Football Club Tigers Ltd. You will never make it."

Allam admitted one sponsor had agreed a deal on the basis that the name was shortened to Hull Tigers.

"One of the sponsors offered, in writing, without mentioning names," Allam said. "The day we lost the FA ruling, they withdrew their offer.

"The replacement bid was £1m a year less for the first two years. Am I supposed to pay this? To cover this? The answer is no."

Allam's actually against the City designator in general, and believes his crusade against is prescient. From the Guardian:

"In a few years many clubs will follow and change their names to something more interesting and I will have proved I am a leader – remember this discussion," Allam predicted. "City, Town, County: these are meaningless."


"If I were the owner of Manchester City I would change the name to Manchester Hunter – you need power. In time I would suggest names for all the clubs called City, but I do not have the time."


I can see it now: "In this afternoon's Manchester derby, Hunter welcome Squirrels to the Etihad…"

Hull's supporters are a little less convinced that all the only thing holding them back from Champions League play is one little word. More importantly, they are more reticent to throw away 110 years of history on the off chance that Allam is correct. Hence the "City Till We Die" fan group, which has designed a popular scarf with their slogan, shouted their outrage both inside and outside the stadium, and even submitted a statement to the FA Council as evidence in the hearing to make their displeasure clear.


And so we have the Council ruling with the fans and keeping Hull City Hull City. Allam is not taking this sitting down. Immediately after losing the initial decision, he put the team up for sale. He also has appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. In the meantime, for as long as he remains owner of Hull City and not the Hull Tigers, he isn't going to spend another pound to improve the team.

Now, before you start throwing around comparisons to owners like Vincent Tan—who changed his team's colors from blue to red and still hopes to change the name as well—you should know that Allam has been a very good owner up to this point. The team was at risk of administration after getting relegated in 2010, a fate Allam saved them from by buying the club and paying its debt. He has been very active in the transfer market and even spent over £30 million this summer, after knowing he'd lost the name change decision. Hull have a handful of promising young players that, if a few of them hit their potential, could see them ascend to the comfortable midtable ranks, which would be a pretty cushy life for them, all things considered. And like he said, he isn't changing the name to Hull Viking.


Still, it's an interesting juxtaposition. American teams, which are sometimes explicitly purchased in order to be moved across the country, regularly threaten their fans with relocation unless the citizens pony up to fund stadium upgrades. In England, even switching one measly word in the name is too much for a rich-guy owner to swing.



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