Hull City's Egyptian owner is convinced the club can make an impact globally by changing its name to Hull Tigers
In a marble-floored suite above the factory floor at Assem Allam's company headquarters, the Hull City owner maintains, knowingly, "the man is not for turning" over the issue of renaming the club Hull Tigers. It is not, he repeatedly insists, a change of name, because at Companies House, and registered with the Football Association, the club is officially called Hull City Tigers. This will be only a further shortening of the name, Allam having already dropped AFC earlier this year – "AFC meant nothing," he says, waving his hand.
A dapper 76, Allam, used to running his own business for 30 years, more recently with his son Ehab as a co-director, maintains that Tigers is a name of "power". It will, he envisages, enable the club, known as Hull City since 1904, to market itself globally, making the millions of pounds it needs to become sustainable in the Premier League.
"Manchester United are selling shirts in the far east," Allam says, "selling commercial activities all over the world. We need the club to be known globally, and shortening the name will make the club known globally."
Hull City need to make money somehow; the accounts for the year to 31 July 2013 will be published this week and will, Allam says, show a £28m loss for what should be the romantic story of Premier League promotion. He believes that to stay up they need to buy a striker in January for the manager, Steve Bruce, and overall, predicts City will lose a further £11m this year. This follows £20m lost in 2010-11, the first year Allam took over, and £9m lost in 2011-12, so losses will amount to £68m altogether in the four years he has owned the club.
Allam arrived in Hull with his young family in 1968 from Egypt, where he says he fled Nasser's dictatorship, which targeted him with arrest and beatings after he opposed it publicly. He studied accountancy while working at manual jobs, then eventually in the 1980s bought out a company manufacturing generators, from the investment bank that employed him as a finance director. Now named after him, Allam Marine is flourishing in these new premises, his black Rolls Royce with his personalised number plate, 2 AA, parked in the No1 spot outside.
He says he put £66m into Hull City by July, to scoop up the club's financial meltdown under the previous owner, the property investor Russell Bartlett, then the losses since. He sank the money in from profits and, he says, selling land and businesses in Egypt. He says he was able to get his money out unhindered by the Mubarak dictatorship, which was then approaching its popular ousting. The Allam Marine accounts show he took £28m out of his business, paying a £16m dividend to himself in 2010, then £12m in 2011.
Since then, Allam Marine has encountered rockier times; its turnover almost halved from £185m in 2010-11 to £100m in 2011-12, although he says it has now picked up. Exporting to Egypt, Libya and Syria, trade was hit by the political turmoil, and elsewhere by the eurozone crisis, he says. The fortunes are not there for him to continually bankroll a football club in the world's highest-rolling league.
"I cannot keep throwing money into it," he says. "There must be a limit. Our target is for the club to be self-financed, relying on its own resources."
So, it becomes clear, he is staking a great deal on presuming a worldwide bonanza from "shortening" the name, citing an article he found in the Harvard Business Review which said companies with short names do better when they float on the stock market.
"Which of the three names would you remove?" he asks, rhetorically. "Hull is relevant. City is not relevant. Tigers: are you telling me you would drop the symbol of power?"
An alliance of bewildered supporters' groups has protested, without success so far. Asked if he has researched the projected global advantage Tigers will accrue, he says not yet. "I know it will make a difference; shorter names have a quicker impact, it is textbook marketing," he states. He hopes to make the change "early next year," after looking further into it.
Posed the obvious point, that everybody knows the club as Hull City, so Hull Tigers is actually longer, Allam replies: "I will not let people get away with that. Everybody knows it now as Hull City Tigers."
As he develops his explanations, a striking revelation emerges. All this talk of a name-shortened route to global expansion has sprung from a very local fallout. Hull City's most obvious means of expansion is at home, at the KC Stadium, not in hoped-for millions from east Asia. Hull city council built the stadium with £43.5m of public money in 2002, a civic boost to the status of Hull City and Hull FC rugby league club, who became tenants. Built at a 25,586 capacity, the stadium was designed to fit additional tiers and create 30,000 seats if the football club became successful enough.
Allam held discussions on this almost immediately, in which he says the council indicated it did not want to sell the stadium and wanted to do the expansion jointly. He refused, having few good words for the council, and insisted he had to buy the freehold. Then he would finance the extra seats, and commercial businesses around the stadium. "Tell me," he asks, rhetorically again, "would you build an extension on a house if you didn't own it?"
He then took great exception to an interview one councillor gave on local radio after a meeting, which Allam says implied he wanted to do the development for his own financial benefit. That was not the case, he says; although he would own it, the money would be for the club.
"That was it," he says, his hand slicing the air. "I have severed my relationship with the council."
He says he suggested to the council leader, Stephen Brady, a "committee of inquiry", to decide whether the councillor had misrepresented the meeting. But no such committee was set up, and so: "My relationship is severed with the council. And when I say severed, I mean severed."
Asked about this account, Brady declined to talk about details, limiting himself to telling the Guardian: "I am willing to meet with Mr Allam at any time to discuss his proposals."
Allam says that instead of spending £30m on the development, he then sank it largely into players transfer fees and wages which have brought the club this quick promotion.
Now, marketing Hull Tigers to the world is his big idea to make the money needed, instead of the stadium expansion which is waiting to be done.
On the way out, Allam points out some handsome photographs; one with Bruce, posing after promotion between Allam and Ehab. One huge picture shows Allam himself, standing smiling above a matchday crowd. Underneath is a quote from the French novelist Victor Hugo: "There is nothing more powerful," it reads, "than an idea whose time has come."