Johnson seeks the answer to £100m question
Granted Wednesday's kickaround in Moscow was a big game, with a major prize, but winning the European Cup has not significantly changed Manchester United plc, nor its local community. Both were already successful, and globally recognised.
This afternoon's match at Wembley is a different matter. Victory in the Championship play-off final could change the destinies of Bristol City and Hull City forever. It would also provide their communities with worldwide visibility. The Premier League, as it never ceases to tell us, is one of the planet's most popular brands and competing in it can open doors east to Tokyo and west to Seattle. More than a decade ago businessmen in Blackburn talked about how beneficial Rovers' success was when it came to competing for foreign markets. The Robins and the Tigers can give their own economies a similar boost.
Hull particularly stands to gain. It may be special enough for Nick Barmby to drop down the divisions to play for his home town, but even in England Hull is regarded as being out on a limb. Promotion today could provide further impetus to the port's regeneration .
"We have a lot of new developments going up providing new office space and apartments, but being in the Premier League can give us something no amount of building can bring," said Ben Delaney, the project development officer at Hull and Humberside Chamber of Commerce yesterday. Delaney added: "Everyone here is saying promotion would put Hull on the map. There are also lots of economic benefits, and aspects, such as giving people pride in their city."
Barmby agreed. "To see the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo coming to the KC Stadium, and going to places like Anfield and Old Trafford, would have a massive positive effect on the city," he said. "It would mean everything to the people of Hull."
For the clubs itself the match is worth upwards of £60m (one source at newly-promoted Stoke City believes going up could ultimately be worth £100m). Just going up, and coming down immediately, would bring £55m in television income and parachute payments. Then there are the merchandising spin-offs, corporate entertainment (more lucrative to Hull, with their modern ground, than Bristol City) and increased gate receipts. Even Derby, despite their awful season just gone, virtually sold out every game.
Not much pressure then, for Gary Johnson and Phil Brown, the managers, and their respective teams. Johnson's City also have a new ground to build, one which could host World Cup matches in 2018. Unsurprisingly, with so much at stake he is concentrating on the football. Johnson hopes, and believes his players will do the same.
"I don't think the £60m means much to the players to be honest," he said. "I think it means more to the accounts department because they have to make the figures add up. This group of lads will not have one thought about the money. Once the game kicks off, it's a game of football that we've got to win. All the bits that come after – the finances and everything – really do come after."
For now his chairman agrees. Stephen Lansdown said: "I'm a bit fed up with people talking about £60m and 'What are you going to do with it' and 'How's it going to work?'" he said. "If we got in the Premier League I would look forward to going to the Emirates Stadium and Old Trafford. That would be absolutely fantastic, seeing Bristol City in the same League and the same company as those teams."
City, though, know the importance of making the books add up, and not just because Lansdown is co-founder of financial advisors Hargreaves Lansdown. It is 32 years since Alan Dicks led a City team which included Gerry Gow and Clive Whitehead into the old First Division. They survived four seasons but mismanaged the finances so badly relegation was followed by bankruptcy after key players were given lucrative long-term contracts.
By 1982 City were in the Fourth Division after three relegations in three years. It has been a long climb back to the brink of the elite.
Hull have never been in the top flight. It is, as has been endlessly repeated, Europe's largest city not to play in the top level of its national league. That is some monkey on the back and Brown, who has made the most of a second chance in management after a difficult spell at Derby, is putting his faith in positive thought. "All our focus has to be on belief," he said. "We have to go out there believing that we are good enough to belong in the Premier League, that will be key."
Brown, who like Johnson picks from a fully fit squad, added: "If we don't think we're going to be a Premier League side tomorrow, that attitude will manifest itself in a poor performance. I watched Manchester United play Chelsea and they looked as though they knew they would win the Champions League, they believed in it. My players need to believe in themselves but I fully believe that we will be a Premier League club."
It would be surprising if, as they walk out at Wembley today, Hull's captain Ian Ashbee, goalkeeper Boaz Myhill and left-back Andy Dawson did not pinch themselves in disbelief. Promotion would complete a five-year climb from fourth tier to first for Hull with that trio there all the way.
Staying in the Premier League would be an even greater achievement, for either side, but today's victors can start worrying about that on Monday.
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