Nick Barmby: 'Feel-good' KC Stadium set stage for Hull City's Premier League push
As the KC Stadium celebrates its 10th birthday, Hull City legend Nick Barmby tells Philip Buckingham about his favourite moments at the ground ...
WHEN the KC Stadium opened its doors for the very first time on December 18, 2002, Nick Barmby was one of 22,467 awe-struck supporters that braved a bitterly cold night to see history made.
The England international, who had made Leeds United the fifth Premier League side on a sparkling CV six months earlier, had just one thing on his mind.
"I was desperate to come back and play at some stage," said Barmby, recalling his recollections from a night when City defeated Sunderland 1-0 courtesy of a Steve Melton strike.
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"Even if it had been for one game, just to say that I had played there for my hometown club."
Barmby, of course, would get his wish to run out at the KC Stadium. Not once, but 102 times.
A free transfer from Leeds 18 months after the KC's grand opening fulfilled a long-held career ambition and began a love affair that would span nine years as player, coach and manager.
Barmby's return to East Yorkshire in the summer of 2004 saw him miss the KC Stadium's first promotion when City climbed out of Division Three under Peter Taylor, but few players command a place in its 10-year history like the hometown boy.
As well as winning a League One runners-up medal in his first year with the Tigers, Barmby assumed a lead role for Phil Brown's vintage campaign of 2007-08. His goal against Watford in the Championship play-off semi-final is widely credited as the moment that sealed City's first ever trip from Boothferry to Wembley.
Two bitter-sweet years in the Premier League followed before Barmby and City returned to the Championship to meet an unhappy and final separation in May, but the 38-year-old will always be grateful for the memories.
"One game would have been good enough for me so to do what we did, it was an incredible time," he said.
"The momentum was there when I arrived with us going up from Division Three and then it rolled on to get us into the Championship.
"To then get into the Premier League was unbelievable really. The KC belonged there as well, it was in keeping with all the grounds we went to.
"Remembering those days reminds you how much you miss playing. I miss it massively.
"But to say you were able to play a part in a special era of Hull City's history is something I'll always treasure."
Barmby prefers not to dwell on the details of his dismissal as manager at the end of last season and, such is his private nature, you suspect his side of a controversial story may never be clear.
However, the Hull-born forward can at least reflect on a poetic conclusion to a brilliant playing career.
It was at the KC Stadium where Barmby would mark his 584th and final appearance with a winning goal to sink Cardiff City 2-1 on October 1, 2011. A happier ending to his first management post would have been preferred, but at least his final playing day will never lose its romance.
"I'm fortunate to have a few fantastic memories of the KC," he said.
"Winning promotion to the Championship in 2004-05, a 0-0 draw with Swindon when Craig Fagan missed a penalty, was one of them.
"To get the point we needed in front of our fans was brilliant because to be back in the Championship after so long was a big deal.
"The first game in the Premier League against Fulham is another one. Seeing all those black and amber shirts in a full-house was brilliant.
More KC Stadium memories
"The play-off semi-final too, when all the fans ran on the pitch to celebrate. To get to Wembley was something that people had waited 100 years for.
"It's only been there for 10 years but the success the club's enjoyed there has been very special."
The KC Stadium was the platform from which City's greatest decade flourished.
"It's hard to imagine City ever getting in the Premier League without the KC," added Barmby.
"Boothferry Park had its history but it simply would not have been good enough to reach those standards.
"But it was also the feel-good factor it stirred up during its first couple of years.
"We were getting 20,000 crowds regularly in the bottom division and all of a sudden, people started to believe that the club was going places.
"Everyone got behind the stadium and what it stood for. The same goes for Hull FC fans and Hull KR fans in the derbies. It's been an amazing success."
Having stood on the terraces of both Boothferry Park and the Boulevard as a boy to witness their painful demises, Barmby owes a debt of appreciation to the KC Stadium.
As well as setting the stage for him to play top-flight football with the Tigers, it also provides his beloved Hull FC with perhaps the finest venue in Super League.
The sceptical followers of both clubs lost their voices long ago and Barmby remains proud to see "a real monument" standing tall in West Park.
"With the histories of Boothferry Park and the Boulevard, people were a bit reluctant to see change," he said.
"But for all the history and tradition of Boothferry Park, there comes a time when you really have to move on.
"There should be a massive pat on the back for the council. It was the best thing that's ever happened for sport in the city.
"It's been a focal point for the city and for everyone that lives here and it's created a real feel-good factor for people.
"We're very proud people to be from Hull and to have a stadium like that is something to be very proud of.
"The city has a habit of getting negative press nationally but the KC is a real monument to the passion we have towards sport."
What next for the KC Stadium is a thorny issue. A lack of development on the surrounding areas has left local powerhouses such as Adam Pearson and Assem Allam accusing Hull City Council of seeing opportunities missed.
Barmby prefers to focus more on the next generation, though, and hopes the KC Stadium can inspire youngsters in Hull and the East Riding to follow in his footsteps.
"The best thing you can ever want to do is to play for your hometown club, whether that's Hull City or Hull FC," he added.
"I've banged on the drum for years that there should be more kids from Hull breaking through. We see it a lot more in rugby league but there's no reason why we can't do it in football too. The size of the city and the passion for sport, there should be more getting there.
"That's what fans love to see and hopefully, in the years to come, we'll see a lot more of that at the KC."