“What you doing today, mate?” my new flatmate asks as he attempts to toast bread under a faltering grill.
“I’m going to Hull” I respond, like it's the most natural answer in the world. A look of puzzlement crosses his face before I have to explain that it’s not just to sample the delights of this year’s City of Culture, but to watch my team play a meaningless football match. “I guess someone has to,” he chuckles before lamenting that he supports Nottingham Forest and that “we’re getting relegated tomorrow, anyway”. There is no joy in this sport. I leave with the parting words of “well, try to enjoy it” as he eventually decides to use the toaster.
The student suburbs of Leeds are quiet on this Saturday morning, with a smattering of walk-of-shames awkwardly saying goodbye to their host for the past evening and being whisked away in Ubers. It’s that kind of crisp spring morning which really gets you in the mood for buying two bottles of Budvar for a half past 10 train.
I’ve got an appointment with a City of Culture and a dead rubber match which literally nobody seems to care about. To get the atmosphere white hot for this crunch game my Dad has been struck down with a cold and has been struggling from the off, but that’s nothing some train beers won’t fix. I’m spending the day with a fellow Sunderland exile and a Dunfermline-supporting mate - we’re determined to make the most of it.
The TransPennine Express hugs the River Humber as we pass under the impressive Humber Bridge and spot the KCOM Stadium in the distance. We are now at fever pitch anticipation - we’ve not spoke about the match at all and talk of sacking it off entirely and going to The Deep instead is now very much on the table.
I’m not completely au fait with what the City of Culture award gets you but since my last visit to Hull in 2015, the only thing that seems to have changed is they’ve built a bloody nice bit of paving outside the Maritime Museum. I’m serious, it is quality paving, like proper smooth with a canny fountain. It’s really quite nice. Oh, and there was a place called the Cafe of Culture to jump on that sweet, sweet bandwagon.
The saving grace, of course, is that Hull remains a very cheap to drink with the watering holes of The Punch Bowl and Ye Olde White Harte providing our pre-match refreshments. The latter, of course, is where it is said the English Civil War was triggered when King Charles I was refused entry. In my opinion, the bloke overreacted - I’ve been refused entry from a countless number of pubs and never started a civil war over it.
We still haven’t mentioned the match to each other.
Thanks to a combination of misjudging how far it was to walk to the ground, the lack of taxis and being caught in a weird conversation with a bunch of Morris dancers we rocked up to the KCOM five minutes after kick off. After taking a moment to regain our bearings, we realised we weren’t losing yet, settling into this festival of football.
What ensued was 90 minutes of royally mugging off Hull supporters. It’s weird being in a scenario where you couldn’t care less about the game of football you’re watching but it means absolutely everything to your opponents. It gives you an odd sense of power, it’s quite liberating.
Hull looked absolutely petrified and the anxiety around the ground was wonderful. All you could see were worried faces, concern that they weren’t putting away the worst side in the Premier League, aware that they were about to bottle their big chance. It was absolutely glorious.
We on the other hand were enjoying a macabre party, with beach balls floating around the away end before a killjoy steward took them away. The game trundled along and we seemed to grow in confidence - well, apart from Jermain Defoe, who seemed to miss chance after chance without a care in the world.
But then it came. A sight that I wouldn’t have believed had I not seen it with my own two eyes. Billy Jones. Diving. Header. The moment it hit the back of the net we seemed to turn in unison and laugh heartily at the despairing Hull supporters. They knew they had blown it. You know the rules - Billy Jones scores against you, you get relegated. Just ask Newcastle.
Hull huffed and puffed but they were done and then, just for added banter, we scored an offside goal. Delicious.
The mixed emotions of joy at winning a game but annoyance at why these useless gets couldn’t have done it any sooner was quickly dissipated once we returned to The Punch Bowl. With my Dad now departed the three of us young bachelors were taken under the wing of Sandra’s hen do (or something like that).
Alas, our time with these fair maidens could not last forever so with a heavy heart we bid farewell to the City of Culture, saluted the Humber Bridge on the train back and returned to West Yorkshire. Don’t worry Hull, we’ll be seeing you again very soon.
Come join us.
Editorial note: If anyone knows an Emily from Hull get her to give us a ring, we can finally go on that European city break we’d opined about for hours in The Punch Bowl.