Last spring, tiny Hull City tripped up a luckless Bristol City in the playoff final at Wembley, and earned their way into the English Premier League for the very first time.
This humble squad which, as late as 2003, only barely held their place in the lowest division of the English League, was rewarded with invitations to dance at Old Trafford, Anfield, Stamford Bridge and The Emirates.
Unseen, at the bottom of the invites, were the unspoken words “Welcome, I guess, now please prepare to go away.”
Hull City are not going away.
They’ve already triumphed at Arsenal – and Newcastle, and Tott’n’m. They also bagged three goals in a losing effort at Manchester United. This past Saturday, they ran up a two-goal lead at Anfield, before a pair of desperately needed Steven Gerrard scoring strikes lifted Liverpool level on the day.
What I love about this team is not what they do, but rather how they do it. These tireless Tigers attack every ball. All of them. Fifty-fifties, half chances, bad passes – even very good passes. Opponents might win the ball, but a moving, overlapping, tireless, insatiable wall of orange and black will be there to block or burden the way forward.
This isn’t a 70-minute strategy. Heck, 90’s not going to be enough. The only way this works is if everybody gives their utter all, for 90 plus however much stoppage time the referee might care to allow.
Hull grabbed the lead early in Liverpool, on a surging header from Paul McShane just 12 minutes in. They doubled it on 22, when a hard low cross from the wing had the good fortune to hit Liverpool’s Jamie Carracher right in the back wheel well just two feet out. Own-goal. Happy Hull.
As mentioned, Gerrard put paid to all of that with two goals. But the real story, to me, was the second half.
It looked like Hull had fourteen men on the field. Everywhere the Reds found space, the Tigers closed – continually finding a second defender to rotate to the ball. Names don’t much matter here, because all of them were doing it.
And when the ball popped loose, Hull were on it. Pressing forward. Hard. Going all out to create, trusting teammates left far behind the ball to figure out the right rotation when the rampant Reds inevitably returned.
These toothy, low-rent Tigers have been pulling this stunt up and down England since August. There is now more than enough evidence in the books to say this is not a fluke, and these largely anonymous near-Northerners will, indeed, be back next year.
And there is a huge lesson here – for Toronto FC.
Dwayne DeRosario is safely in the fold, and that’s a hefty upgrade on the busted-down bus our Fort York Redcoats drove around MLS last season. But most of the rest of the roster are the same guys who really didn’t compete in 2008.
But as Hull City are showing almost every week, scrap and attitude are the great equalizers in the wonderful sport of soccer. Heck, TFC do their own version of this tactic quite a bit. But the consistent, slam it on, every last minute, no breaks, no breathers, No-Sleep-Till-Columbus effort was far too inconsistent.
With a defence that still needs rebuilding, the possible imminent departure of swingman Marvell Wynne, as well as the happy arrival of a second creative, forward-pushing middie, the Torontos could indeed rise up strongly and suddenly – if they commit to utterly outworking the opposition every time they see green under their galoshes.
That’s largely how Greece shocked the world to win it all at Euro ’04. Humble roster, hellacious work ethic. And firebrand bench boss John Carver is exactly the sort of strategist to get them there.
I want every Hull City game to be compulsory viewing for the entire TFC travelling party. Play like that – anywhere and everywhere – and losses become draws, while draws blossom into … dare we even dream it?
The example is out there, lads. Are you ready – each and every one of you – to work … that … hard?