Hateley ready for Hull revolution

THIRD DIVISION

Even in the bottom section, where the 24 clubs have invested an average of pounds 20,000 on players this summer, the word "potential" is recited like a mantra. Mark Hateley, the new player-manager of Hull City, is one of the few who can put his money where his mouth is.

Hull's status as the biggest English city never to have had a top-grade team is one of the game's tiredest cliches. Hateley, installed by a consortium headed by David Lloyd, Britain's tennis captain, will be the first incumbent in three decades with the financial clout to help the perenially toothless Tigers begin to address the anomaly.

The former England striker has made no drastic changes to a side who finished 17th, though he is promising to implement the progressive ideas absorbed under Arsene Wenger at Monaco. The chequebook is poised, however, and the fact that Hateley has sounded out ex-Rangers colleagues Ally McCoist and Ian Durrant shows the scale of Hull's ambition.

And money is particularly persuasive at this level. Wigan, reputedly the highest payers in the lower divisions, came from 14th in 1996 to champions after a similar transformation.

The relatively smooth handover of power at Hull - not to mention Lloyd's plan to share a local rugby ground as the first step towards a new stadium - must have drawn envious glances in another large coastal conurbation. Scandalously, Brighton have squandered the momentum built up during their escape from the clutches of the Vauxhall Conference.

Their followers have endured a summer of fear (over possible expulsion from the League) and loathing (towards Bill Archer, who inexplicably remains as chairman). With no new signings and home matches at Gillingham, a round trip of 140 miles, Steve Gritt must pull off an even greater achievement than survival if Brighton are to be anything but also-rans.

Jan Molby, whose Swansea side were beaten play-off finalists, also had his hands tied on transfers while waiting for a projected takeover. Having lost three stalwarts, he will do well to justify the Swans' status as joint favourites.

That distinction is shared by rivals Cardiff, another club who have traded on potential too long. The pounds 85,000 spent on Bristol City's Kevin Nugent and Swansea's David Penney should increase scoring power sufficiently to improve on last season's play-off failure.

The relegated trio of Notts County, Shrewsbury and Peterborough (where Barry Fry, amazingly, is pounds 150,000 up on a mere 13 deals) are also equipped to challenge. Chester, who have bought back Gary Bennett, should be thereabouts, along with Leyton Orient, where Tommy Taylor has made some useful buys, and Lincoln, who may be pretty effective if not pretty under John Beck.

Sammy McIlroy's positive values should enable Macclesfield to prevent a lack of resources from sabotaging their inaugural campaign. In the danger zone, the usual suspects - Doncaster, Hartlepool, Darlington, Exeter and Torquay - are likely to be joined by Barnet and Mansfield.

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