Middlesbrough and Hull City were two of the teams fighting it out to reach the Premier League automatically right up to the closing weeks of the season. Arguably, David Nugent’s injury time winner at the Riverside was a decisive goal in the promotion race. It gave Boro an additional 3-point gap between them and one of their closest rivals, both in terms of league position and geography.
But that late header isn’t the only thing separating two teams who both may yet grace the highest tier of English football next season if Hull’s early play-off form continues. Both have rich chairman about whom fans have strong views. And those views have a relative chasm between them.
In his late twenties, Assem Allam fled his native Egypt and arrived in East Yorkshire. He bought a company, lost a company and made another with millions alongside it. He used some of his money to invest locally and philanthropically with this ultimately resulting in the buying of Hull City AFC a few years ago.
He was initially seen as a saviour, and promotion to the Premier League followed. However, he then began to pursue some less than universally popular causes, such as looking to change the name of the club from Hull City AFC to Hull Tigers. He also sought to replace season tickets with a membership scheme following on from a bizarre episode when a sports hall adjacent to Hull’s KC Stadium had an artificial pitch installed to accommodate HCAFC at the expense of others using the local amenity.
Steve Gibson famously borrowed some of his dad’s redundancy money to buy a tanker. He formed a company that became extremely successful and made him a multi-millionaire. He was on the board of Middlesbrough in 1986, whilst still in his mid-twenties. That summer, he fought tooth and nail to bring together a consortium that saved the club from extinction at almost literally the 11th hour.
Since then, he took over ownership of the club and remains to this day one of if not the most popular chairman in football. He has overseen 3 Wembley Cup Finals, 2 European adventures and 1 almighty party at Cardiff in 2004 when Boro, after 128 years of trying, finally won a trophy.
At the end of that match, whilst the presentations were ongoing, Gibson tried to sneak onto the pitch in a typically unassuming way. His entrance was picked up by the TV cameras and his image was broadcast onto the big screens at the Millennium Stadium. It brought the loudest cheer of the day. He stood on the pitch and raised his arms like every other fan when Gareth Southgate lifted the Carling Cup. When he attempted to congratulate the players during their celebrations, he was lifted onto their shoulders and was then presented with the cup and the most deserved drink of champagne there has ever been.
Gibson made his money and invested it into the club he loves. He is a businessman and has done his level best to make sure that the club is operated on a sound financial footing without jeopardising the football. He is, after all, first and foremost, a fan.
Allam made his money and invested it into a club he may love. He is a businessman and from afar appears to have run the club, first and foremost, as a business. The football comes second. Where the fans come is anyone’s guess. Certainly, there are lifelong Hull City fans who have vowed never to set foot inside the KC until Allam is a distant memory.
The gulf between the two, in terms of commitment and popularity, seems immense. One would be knighted if Teesside got its way. One would, if some had their way, also feel the touch of a sword albeit not quite so gently.
Whatever the football gods may have in store for both teams; whether Hull make it through the play-offs and join Boro in the promised land of the Premier League, one thing is for certain.
At the end of next season, even if Hull City have been promoted and subsequently ‘do a Leicester’, Allam will remain a figure detested by many who support HCAFC. They will still dream of the day when someone else takes the hot seat.
If, on the final day of the 2016/17 season, Boro are playing their last match in the Premier League for at least a season having been relegated, Steve Gibson will remain a hero to almost the whole of Teesside.
Because Boro fans know that Gibson will spend every waking hour battling to get Boro back into the Premier League doing whatever he believes he needs to do to make that happen. And he will be doing it, not because of the money but because every fans wants to see their team in the Premier League and challenging for honours. He is, as previously stated, a fan. There are, to my knowledge, no other chairman who have their image emblazoned on a banner held by fans.
The chairman of Middlesbrough Football Club is truly one of our own.