Hull City v Sheffield Wednesday: The world's richest game
'˜OW much? A familiar utterance when Yorkshire football fans decamp en masse to London and realise a pint costs more than a fiver and that a bite to eat can require a remortgage.
No doubt those two words will once again be given several airings this weekend as more than 100,000 Yorkshire men, women and children descend on the capital as the Football League season reaches its traditional climax with the play-off finals.
Such exasperation, though, will not be restricted to London’s exhorbitant prices but also the mind-boggling sum of money on offer to the victors in Saturday’s Championship final between Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday.
Whoever prevails in the first all-Yorkshire second tier final will benefit from a minimum £200m windfall. Throw in the share of gate receipts from not only Wembley but also the two-legged semi-finals and this is the richest game in the history of world football.
To put just how much money is up for grabs this Saturday into context, Manchester United picked up £1.8m for lifting last weekend’s FA Cup final while the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will have a £11.6m (Euros 15m) bounty riding on it. UEFA also estimate that the winner of the continent’s most prestigious club trophy will have pocketed around £77m (Euros 100m) during the season in prize money and the central pool, which includes TV payments.
Hardly an insignificant sum for the accountants at either the Bernabeu or Calderon Stadiums but, alongside what either Hull or the Owls can look forward to over the next two years if promotion is secured at Wembley, one that pales in comparison.
The Premier League, since its inception in 1992 on the back of Sky ploughing millions into the game, has always been the financial Holy Grail. And that has only increased with time, Leicester City’s accounts for the last few years underlining the vast difference top-flight football can make to a club’s balance sheet.
Losses of £30m, £34m and £20.8m in the Foxes’ final three years in the Championship were suddenly transformed into a profit of £31m for 2014-15. Turnover was the driving force, as an annual income that stood at £31m in 2013-14 soared to £104m in the campaign when Nigel Pearson’s side pulled off the great escape that preceded this term’s stunning title success.
Next season, Leicester and the other 19 top-flight clubs can look forward to the coffers being swelled even further thanks to a new £8.3bn three-year TV deal that will mean the bottom placed club in 2016-17 banks almost £100m, followed by parachute payments of £75m spread over two years.
An additional uplift in commercial income, sponsorship and match-day revenue is also estimated to be worth around £20-25m. Stay up for another year – as Hull have done on both the previous occasions that the club won promotion to the top flight – and the expected windfall will rise from £200m to £300m.
These ‘phone-number’ earnings are, of course, the sort to have owners and accountants rubbing their hands with glee. For supporters, however, pound signs are not the motivation ahead of this weekend. Instead, a desire to see their side do battle on a weekly basis with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United is what will be firing hearts and minds on the trip south down the M1.
Burton and Brentford or Liverpool and champions Leicester? The DW Stadium or the Emirates Stadium? That is the stark alternatives facing the two Yorkshire clubs depending on how the play-off final pans out.
Both will head to the national stadium believing this is their moment. Hull will be on familiar ground, this being the East Riding club’s fourth visit to Wembley in eight years and their third in as many seasons.
No less than eight of the 14 players who played in the 2014 FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal will also be in the squad to face the Owls and the hope for those whose loyalties lay with the Tigers is that not only will this past experience and Steve Bruce having already won promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs as a manager could prove the deciding factor.
Carlos Carvalhal, in contrast, is enjoying his first season of English football but anyone believing the Portuguese lacks big-match nous should think again.
His 15-year career has taken in Turkey, Greece and his native Portugal, while his last job before arriving at Hillsborough was in the United Arab Emirates. Carvalhal has twice managed in the UEFA Cup, while his CV includes guiding third-tier Leixoes to the Portuguese Cup final against all the odds and winning promotion. Jose Mourinho is also a friend, the pair having completed their Pro-licence coaching badges together.
Carvalhal has more than justified the faith of chairman Dejphon Chansiri by delivering on the big occasion – as both Arsenal and Newcastle United found to their cost when being knocked out of the Capital One Cup earlier this season by Wednesday.
As the two meetings – a 1-1 draw at Hillsborough and a goalless stalemate in February’s return – between City and Wednesday proved, there is little between the two teams. Both have squads dripping with match-winners, be it Abel Hernandez and Robert Snodgrass for the Tigers or Owls duo Fernando Forestieri and Barry Bannan. Defensively, both Saturday’s combatants are also hard to break down with Michael Dawson and Tom Lees epitomising the ‘thou-shalt-not-pass’ attitude that is perhaps to be expected of teams led by two former central defenders.
Picking a winner is tough, not least because much could depend on which City side turns up? If it is the one that ruthlessly beat Middlesbrough and Burnley, Wednesday will have all on to prevail. If, however, the Hull side that lost to Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic shows up then Carvalhal’s men will be well placed to end the Owls’ 16-year absence from the top flight. Either way, Yorkshire football is set for an occasion to savour.
To paraphrase Colin Welland and his hyperbolic boast at the 1981 Oscars: Look out London.... the Tykes are coming. However, unlike that famous acceptance speech from the man behind the multi-award winning film ‘Chariots of Fire’, this weekend’s invasion from the Broad Acres will definitely bear fruit with either Hull or Wednesday returning north on Saturday night with the biggest cash haul in football history and a place back among the elite.