Belfast Telegraph

Bruce appeals to fans for calm

Manager Steve Bruce has appealed to Hull fans to put all their energies into supporting their side against West Ham on Monday night - not protesting against owner Assem Allam.

Sections of the club's support have been at loggerheads with the Egyptian businessman since last year's controversial proposal to rebrand the team Hull Tigers and ditch their 110-year-old moniker Hull City AFC.

That was eventually dismissed by the Football Association Council in April, though the chanting, banner-waving and mutual antipathy continued.

Tensions did at least simmer down from their peak in November, when a televised home match against Crystal Palace saw clashes between fans eager to make register their objections in front of a global television audience and embattled stewards.

With Allam having stoked old fires with the announcement that he was taking the issue to arbitration, the TV match against the Hammers threatens to be another flashpoint.

But Bruce, as was the case several times last season, cast himself in the role of peacemaker.

"My appeal to all of the fans is that they can have their thoughts but once it gets to matchday, we need them to get behind the team," he said.

"We need them to do that because if it becomes fractious then it becomes difficult.

"When it becomes difficult then it can affect the team. That is why I appeal to the fans.

"We don't want any protests - even though I know nothing's changed on their behalf with the name-change issue.

"We want the supporters to get behind the team, that's my concern, and I'm sure they will.

"The protests hit their peak against Crystal Palace last season, and it seemed to wane after that. We lost that game and we should have won if I remember.

"We need all the supporters, if they can, to support the team. Of course they can keep their opinions - but not on a match day because that just harms everybody."

Bruce, who has spent more time than he would care to recall fending off questions on the stand-off between Allam and protest groups such as City Till We Die, even likened the argument to a certain political struggle taking place north of the border.

"There is a huge debate in Scotland right now but it pales into insignificance when it comes to Hull," he joked.

Ironically, Bruce's best chance of drawing fan focus back on the pitch and away from the boardroom lies in the string of exciting signings Allam agreed to finance on transfer deadline day.

Bruce swooped for club record signing Abel Hernandez, former Hammer Mohamed Diame, Southampton's Gaston Ramirez and Newcastle playmaker Hatem Ben Arfa.

Of those deals, the season-long loan for Ben Arfa is the one that could thrill fans the most - despite the messy end to his stay at St James' Park.

"There might be a bit of a maverick in him, but there's a few mavericks around here so he's in good company," said Bruce, with Allam surely not far from his thoughts.

"I want him to enjoy playing again and feel wanted and be part of the club and be appreciated for what he's got.

"A year ago I remember when we beat Newcastle up there, we thought 'how do we stop Ben Arfa?' because he was their big player at the time and he is such a talent.

"I think he might just have something to prove and when someone has got a fire burning inside them to prove people wrong then sometimes you can benefit from that. Let's hope so."

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