Hull City: 2008 The Year of The Tiger

Brian RhodesSenior Analyst IDecember 31, 2008

On the second to last day of 2008 the last game of Premier League football for the year was played at the Kingston Communication Stadium, the home of Hull City Football Club.

It has taken Hull City 104 years to reach the top flight of English football—the nearest they have come previously was before most of the current crop of fans were even a glint in a Tiger's eye—but for this particular match they witnessed a spectacle that wasn't overtly interesting in footballing terms, more like a game of chess for 88 minutes then "wham bang thank you ma'am", a flurry of incident.

The year 2008 will forever live long in the memories of Hull City fans. It started with the Phil Brown's Tigers riding high in 8th place in the Coca Cola Championship after fighting relegation the season before.

The rest of the regular season would see the Tigers winning 11 of the next 24 regular season games and drawing five, which would be enough to see them through to the Championship play-offs in third place behind West Brom and Stoke City.

The Play-off Semi-Final was against pre-season favourites for automatic promotion Watford. The Tigers provided a 6-1(on agg) demolition of the Hornets, which saw Hull City head for Wembley Stadium for the 1st time in their history to play against a Bristol City side that were hoping to get back into the top flight for the first time in over 25 years.

The stage was set for a nail-biting match but for fans that weren't involved it was pretty much a dire affair that will be remembered for one of the best goals to have ever been scored at either the new or the old Wembley stadiums.

On 38 minutes Fraizer Campbell received a threaded pass through the Bristol City midfield and weaved his way through the Bristol defence, taking the ball to the edge of the six yards box. But instead of taking a shot on goal, the on-loan Manchester United striker saw the old war horse Dean Windass running to the edge of the box, and cleverly chipped the ball to the free Windass—who hit the ball sweetly on the volley into the top corner of the net, despite the despairing dive of the the Bristol City goalkeeper.

1-0 to the Tigers, and that is how the team got to the top flight of English football for the first time in their history, with a goal from a local lad who had saved us from bankruptcy by being sold many years ago in his prime, only to come back and save the club from relegation the year before and to be the oldest player to score at Wembley Stadium.

Conventional wisdom has it that the team winning promotion from the play-offs is at a disadvantage by being three weeks behind everyone else in preparing for the new season.

Phil Brown and Paul Duffen the Hull City Chairman didn't agree with this, they held the belief that we were ahead of the rest of the Premiership teams as we were fitter than the rest because we hadn't had the lay off that other clubs had had.

The battle plans were drawn up and new recruits were brought in. Geovanni from Manchester City on a free transfer, Anthony Gardner from Tottenham Hotspur, Marlon King on loan from Wigan, Kamil Zayette from Young Boys of Zurich on loan, Bernard Mendy from Paris St Germain, Peter Halmosi from Plymouth Argyle, and George Boateng from Middlesbrough. 

After an indifferent pre-season, the opener against Fulham would be at at the KC stadium in front of a sell out crowd or Tiger's fans, and they wouldn't be disappointed.

As Ian Ashbee lead out the Tigers on that warm August day with fellow Hull City players Boaz Myhill and Andy Dawson it is worth remembering that these three special players have been with the Tigers all the way from the Coca Cola League Two through to the Premiership.

Indeed Ian Ashbee has the distinction of being the only player to have captained his club through all four professional English divisions.

After going behind to an early goal from Fulham's Seol Ki-Hyeon in the 8th minute, a sublime strike from Geovanni on 22 minutes saw the Tigers go in at half-time all square.

In a game were the established Premiership side were supposed to be in control it was hardly the case and on 81 minutes Hull City sub Caleb Folan popped up and grabbed a late winner after some tenacious play from Craig Fagan, who stole the ball off of a Fulham defender on the edge of their box.

The season would carry on in this vein with Phil Brown's Tigers gaining confidence with every match. Even after the 0-5 thrashing to Wigan the Tigers resolutely stuck to their principles and played fast paced counter attacking football built on a solid hard working team performances.

The highlight of the season so far has been the four game winning streak which included wins against Arsenal (this at the Emirates on the second time they had lost there since moving to the Emirates), Tottenham, and West Ham.

There have also been some other notable games so far this season, against Everton we out played them for 75 minutes only to let them back into it in the last 15 minutes. After losing easily to Chelsea the Tigers traveled to Manchester United at Old Trafford and gave them the scare of their life in a gritty 4-3 loss.

Liverpool were lucky to scrap a 2-2 draw with the help of some dubious refereeing. The 2-1 victory against Newcastle United when they were in turmoil helped to give the Tigers belief that they could compete in the Premiership.

The season has had it's ups and downs, more ups to be sure but the season has ended on a low for the Tigers. Only seven points from the last 11 games and three losses on the bounce isn't mid-table form but relegation form.

However, there is some hope to come out of this run, with a few exceptions we have proven we are a very difficult team to beat.

Yes, we have been beaten heavily in two of the last three games but the loss to Sunderland was a game ruined by a poor sending off and a deflected goal and the first half against Manchester City was one of the best displays of attacking football I have seen for some time—and added to the fact that Hull City had one of their most lacklustre performances for that first half display added to our misery.

Phil Brown gave the Hull City players some home truths on the pitch at Eastlands at half time in that match and the players showed that they still had some steel in them as they matched the Manchester City attacking machine.

Which leads to Aston Villa's first appearance at the KC in a Premiership fixture and our last match of 2008.

The Villain's came to the KC after an impressive performance against Arsenal but their skilled front line never looked like denting the Tiger's defensive framework.

The highlights of the game came early with a disallowed goal for the home side when diminutive ex-England international and Hull native Nick Barmby being harshly adjudged to have fouled the massive Villa 'keeper Brad Friedel. The expression of relief on Freidel's face told a different story from the one the ref had witnessed.

The game was running out to a stalemate when Kamil Zayette put the ball in to his own net under pressure in the 88th minute. This was followed with a farcical penalty that the ref gave to the Tigers in injury time only to take it away after the ref's assistant had talked to the fourth official who had seen the incident on video.

The match ended in a flurry of incident but with yet another loss for the Tigers.

So the year 2008 draws to a close for the Tigers. Would I change any of it? Probably not. We have climbed to heights that I never thought the Tigers would climb. I have followed the Tigers too many years not to be thrilled beyond belief at our current position.

To be 8th in the hardest football league in the World ain't bad at all when you think that ten years ago we were on the brink of going out of professional football in England and less then ten years ago we were on the edge of a financial abyss that some clubs never come back from.