It is a dream time to be a fan of Hull City.
Despite Wednesday's heavy defeat to Chelsea, a Tigers fan need only cast their mind back ten years to a time when the club propped up the entire Football League. Now they prepare to face Premier League and European champions Manchester United on November 1 when, for a brief period last Saturday after a 3-0 away win at West Brom, they were level on points with league leaders Liverpool and Chelsea.
Playing in front of a 76,000 Old Trafford crowd will be a far cry from the horror of Halloween 1998 where desperate Hull fought out a 0-0 draw at Plymouth and survived being down to ten men for 52 minutes in front of a crowd of just 4,285.
The club's then manager was Mark Hateley. As a former England, AC Milan and Rangers striker Hateley's playing career clearly far outstripped that of current boss Phil Brown, who made his bones as a lower division player with Hartlepool, Halifax, Bolton and Blackpool. Yet, in contrast to Brown's lengthy coaching experience, as assistant to Sam Allardyce at Bolton, manager at Derby and then City, this was Hateley's first job in the dug-out. It was also to be his last.
Arriving at the club in 1997 on the conclusion of his playing career, Hateley will always be remembered at City for being brought into the club by David Lloyd. The tennis and leisure club magnate was keen to take advantage of the potential of Hull the city. Way over in East Yorkshire, Kingston upon Hull, to call it by its full name, with its population of 257,000 people, was the largest city, the seventh biggest in Britain, to have never had a top-division football club. Lloyd's dream was to build a rugby league and football empire. He singularly failed to achieve that aim.
He had planned to merge the club with rugby league club Hull Sharks, and, in the interim of building a super-stadium for the conglomerate he wanted to call 'Tigers-Sharks' had chosen to shift the football club out to The Boulevard, where the other code was played.
By the beginning of November 1998, Lloyd's grand ideas had fallen on stony ground. The now reviled and exiled southerner had eventually given up on his idea after fans had shown their disquiet with a "tennis ball protest" during a recent League Cup game with Bolton. By the time Hull travelled to Plymouth Lloyd was in negotiation to sell the club to a consortium of local businessmen.
Fans soon had their wish of seeing Lloyd out of their club. Though he would be back to haunt them. As part of the terms of the sale he retained the lease on Boothferry Park, the dilapidated stadium that the Tigers still called home. "The Tigerdome" or "Fortress Boothferry" as local humour, ever wracked with irony, labelled it, had once been capable of holding 55,019 fans in 1949 for an FA Cup tie with Manchester United.
By 1998, the stadium, with the wind of the North Sea whipping away at those hardy, or foolish, enough to sit in its higher reaches, resembled a ghost ship washed up from a previous era.
One end of the ground now sat above a supermarket. Another terrace, which ran the length of the pitch, was barely used, with attendances like the previous week's, a 1-1 draw with Southend watched by just 3,351, hardly ever requiring anything like capacity to be employed. The old East Terrace was covered by a temporary structure, put up some time in the early 1950s and never replaced. This was a club stuck in a timewarp described by one fan as "94 years of mediocrity".
Before the modern day, perhaps the club's greatest era had come in the late 1940s, under the management of former England international Raich Carter, when they had reached that FA Cup quarter-final against Matt Busby's United. The 1980s had been relatively fruitful, with a long spell in the old Second Division, featuring players like fearsome forward Billy Whitehurst, future Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal winger Brian Marwood and creative midfielder Steve McClaren, remembered by fans as a man not blessed with the greatest of engines.
Hateley will never be remembered as a great Hull player, joining the club at 36 when his best days were clearly behind him. He will probably be remembered as the Tigers' worst ever manager. He soon followed Lloyd out of the Boothferry door, lamented by few Tigers fans when he was sacked after a home defeat to ten-man Brighton on November 11.
Hateley's place was taken by club captain Warren Joyce, firstly on a temporary basis for a First Round FA Cup tie at non-league Salisbury on November 14. A hard-won win and Joyce, soon given a permanent player-manager's role, was on his way to rescuing the club from relegation and potential extinction.
City would end that season just two points clear of demotion from the old Division Three. A season of turmoil was reflected by the fact they managed to use as many as 38 players in a 46-game season. Joyce performed a miracle for which he will always be remembered fondly among City fans. Some suggest there would have been no club at all without Joyce and his team, for whom the leading lights were top goalscorer David Brown, hulking former nightclub bouncer Gary Brabin in midfield, local teenage defender Mike Edwards and Welsh midfielder David D'Auria, the man sent off that day at Plymouth.
On the long road to Old Trafford, where Joyce's standing as a coach now sees him earn his corn looking after Manchester United's reserves, the club would suffer further crises. City faced a winding-up order in 2001 from Customs and Excise over an unpaid VAT bill while Lloyd further added to his status as Humberside Public Enemy Number One by simultaneously locking the club out of Boothferry for rent owed to him. Eventually, another takeover, led by former Leeds commercial director Adam Pearson, saved the club and a rise to the impossible dream of the Premier League could begin.
After a couple of false starts with managers Brian Little and Jan Molby the appointment of Peter Taylor in December 2002 began City's climb up the table. By 2005, consecutive promotions from League 2 and League 1 found Hull in the second tier of English football for the first time in 14 years. When Taylor left for Crystal Palace, former Colchester boss Phil Parkinson joined for what proved to be a short-lived spell. Parkinson's best step was to bring in Phil Brown. It was his Sunderland-born assistant that succeeded him as first caretaker and then full-time manager.
Brown saved the Tigers from relegation in 2006/07 and, with the club now under the chairmanship of Paul Duffen, a volleyed Wembley winner from local veteran Dean Windass took the club into the Premier League after the 2007/08 Play-Off Final. City had ascended from the bottom division to the top in just five seasons.
That rise took place with the Tigers housed at a spanking new stadium, the Kingston Communications (KC) Stadium, unveiled in December 2002, just as Taylor arrived, to end 56 years at Boothferry. Sharing it with Hull FC, the rugby league club whose name had reverted from being called Hull Sharks, as it had under Lloyd, City now had a stadium to fit their newly lofty status. And the fairytale has continued as Brown's team has picked up some wondrous results so far this season against the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle.
From the squalor of Boothferry Park to the rareified surroundings of Old Trafford, the Emirates, Anfield and Stamford Bridge. What a difference ten years has made to Hull City AFC.