COMMENTARY | If you, one of the ever-growing numbers of American EPL followers, have yet to commit your allegiance to a specific club, Hull -- the club, the supporters, the community and the city -- should be given due consideration.
The U.S. sports market currently stands on the cusp of unprecedented English football/soccer coverage thanks to NBC's multi-year $250 million television deal. For the previously uninvolved American viewer, the increased exposure is likely to begin the natural process of becoming an engaged EPL follower, which will eventually lead to a decision regarding which specific team to support.
To present, the lion's share of American EPL supporters have gravitated toward the big Manchester, London and Liverpool teams that perennially occupy the top of the EPL standings. With geography and ancestral or childhood connections largely absent, the criteria for Americans selecting a club to support can be relatively superficial and anecdotal.
Supporting the Underdog
Bereft of relevant personal connections, large swaths of Americans tend to gravitate to the clubs with instantly recognizable stars and plenty of trophies, which partly explains the sheer numbers of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea fans. However, many Americans also like cheering for the underdog.
From surviving its Third Division trials and tribulations of the 1990s, through its previous EPL promotion in 2008 and subsequent relegation in 2010 with the club teetering on the brink of financial collapse, Hull City's place in the 2013-14 EPL season is a classic, feel-good, resilient, underdog story.
Hull City manager Steve Bruce is a much-maligned underdog himself. Coming off a slate of often problematic coaching stints with other clubs, Bruce found new life at Hull and guided the Tigers to a dramatic second-place finish in the 2012-13 English Championship league season, thus securing Hull's automatic promotion back into the EPL.
More Than Just a Football Team
Being an American Hull City fan has a peculiar way of transforming support for a football team into an overwhelming and otherwise inexplicable sense of community, not only with the club and its native supporters but also for the city of Hull itself.
Located in northeast England, Hull's history -- like that of its football team and manager -- is a hard-fought, underdog story of resilience. Once one of Britain's most important port cities, Hull was heavily bombed during World War II, leaving nearly two-thirds of the city's population homeless. Suffering under the economic blight of post-Industrial decline, the city built itself back up as a major fishing hub, only to lose the industry in the 1970s to crippling fishing rights legislation. The last three decades have seen Hull rebuilding itself yet again, this time around a university and a cultural center.
Undercurrent of Skepticism
Appropriately, the suffering, struggles, defeats and hard-earned victories of Hull City AFC are an apt reflection of the city it represents. As such, an undercurrent of measured skepticism tends to permeate both citizens and supporters alike.
Bernard Porter succinctly illustrates the stubborn Hull skepticism that prefaces even the best causes for celebration: "I'm not sure that Hull City are good enough to play in the Premiership -- they've been rubbish in recent games, but their promotion is terrific for the city. With so much worldwide interest in the English Premier League, playing there puts this poor, isolated and much denigrated town on the map."
To his latter point, EPL promotion will indeed be good for both the club and the city. As the most watched football league in the world, the EPL will afford Hull global exposure with associated revenues providing a much-needed boost to the brittle local economy.
Confidence and Optimism
Beyond tangible benefits, Hull City's EPL promotion has already brought confidence and optimism to the city and the community at a time when it stands on the cusp of what some are alluding to as a potential renaissance. In fact, EPL promotion could be but a prelude to a big year for the city of Hull, which stands as a finalist -- to be selected this year -- for the UK's Capital of Culture in 2017.
Fittingly, as the underdog city of Hull looks to seize upon opportunities for greater fortunes, so does its newly promoted Premier League football team.
If you are an uncommitted American EPL fan with have a penchant for avoiding the star-struck crowds on the bandwagon and are inclined to support the resilient, unheralded underdog: Hull City is your team.
Harold has followed Hull City AFC since its Third Division days of the late-'90s. He has played, coached and been involved with a variety of soccer/football-related interests in Holland, England, the U.S., Germany, Belgium, Portugal, and Italy for nearly three decades.
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