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Hull fans refuse to be tamed in tiger row

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers reacts before their English Premier League soccer match against Hull City at the KC stadium in Hull, north
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers reacts before their English Premier League soccer match against Hull City at the KC stadium in Hull, north

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - It should have been a weekend of celebration for Hull City but a 3-1 victory over Liverpool was overshadowed by an increasingly bitter row between the club's owner and the diehard fans.

Egyptian-born Assem Allam's wish to re-brand the 109-year-old Yorkshire club as Hull Tigers has provoked a fierce backlash and things came to a head after comments he made to a Sunday newspaper, suggesting those opposed to his view were "hooligans" and that they "could die as soon as they want".

Businessman Allam was reacting to a fans' campaign group named "City Till We Die" which was formed when his desire to change the club's name in order to attract more investment first became known.

Poor old manager Steve Bruce found himself treading carefully on Sunday, not wishing to alienate the heart and soul fans or the man who writes the cheques.

"I am happy to speak to the owner and give him my opinion," a diplomatic Bruce said after the thoroughly deserved victory which steered Hull into mid-table.

"But if he wants us to play in pink fairy dresses then he is entitled to that view."

At last week's game against Crystal Palace stewards tried to remove a banner which read "We are Hull City" while on Sunday against Liverpool their riposte was "We're Hull City, We'll Die When We Want" while Bruce said he hoped to sit down with Allam and find a "happy solution".

The gallows humor will strike a chord with fans up and down the country, however, who have watched their clubs change hands, sometimes with catastrophic results.

LOCAL CONNECTION

Foreign owners divide opinion more than most.

Blackburn Rovers fans, who have watched the club slide out of the Premier division since being taken over by Indian chicken producers Venky's, still pine for the days of local businessman Jack Walker whose money fuelled a league title.

Cardiff City fans' joy at their club reaching the Premier League this season was tempered by the fact that the team now play in red rather than blue and the club crest changed from the bluebird to the dragon, all at the command of billionaire Malaysian owner Vincent Tan.

Then again, Manchester City and Chelsea fans are hardly likely to complain about the transformation in their team's fortunes since foreign cash began rolling in.

Allam is not the typical "foreign" owner as he has been in England since fleeing Egypt in 1968, went to university there, has successful companies in the area and makes charitable donations to several local charities.

He is also extremely rich and in 2010 decided to step in to save Hull City from financial ruin after they were relegated from the Premier League saddled with debt.

So, while the grievances of the fans are understandable, it is mainly because of Allam's purchase of the club, and the wily management of Bruce, that they find themselves back in the big time alongside the likes of Liverpool.

Allam appears determined to do things his way, or not at all, and has threatened to walk away from the club he has invested 60 million pounds ($98.28 million) in.

"I'm a simple man. Do they want me to stay? If it's 'No thank you', fine, in 24 hours the club is for sale... I do not put in one more pound," he recently told the Hull Daily Mail.

($1 = 0.6105 pounds)

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John O'Brien)

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