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Bristol face Hull in £60million English football play-off (SN)

SoccerNews in English Premier League 24 May 2008


Forget the lucrative rewards of winning the richest single match in world football, it is the chance to face stars like Cristiano Ronaldo on a regular basis that will motivate Hull when they face Bristol City in Saturday's Championship play-off final.

Victory at Wembley guarantees a place in the Premier League that is estimated to be worth an estimated 60 million pounds (75 million euros). But Hull forward Nicky Barmby would gladly trade all the cash in the world to see his club compete in the Premier League for the first time in their 104-year history.

While that sentiment that might make Hull's bank manager turn pale, former England, Liverpool and Middlesbrough star Barmby is unrepentant.

Hull is the largest English city never to have hosted top-flight football and has long been regarded as an unfashionable outpost. But the city's urban regeneration is reflected in the team's sudden rise to prominence.

Barmby, a lifelong Tigers fan, knows exactly what it would mean for his club to secure promotion to the Premier League in their debut appearance at Wembley.

“Domestically, this'll rank up with anything I've won with some of the great clubs I've been fortunate enough to play for,” Barmby said.

“For my hometown club, if we manage to get into the Premiership, it would mean everything, it really would.

“I think getting to the Premier League can change people's lives. Look at Middlesbrough. When I first signed for them (in 1995), it changed the town, going into the Premiership, moving into a new stadium. It's been the same at Blackburn and at Wigan.

“To see the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo coming to the KC and going to places like Anfield and Old Trafford would have a massive positive effect on the city.”

Barmby has bags of experience to help his team-mates cope with such a high-stakes match, but Hull manager Phil Brown has turned to an old ally to give him advice ahead of the biggest match of his short managerial career.

Brown served as Sam Allardyce's assistant at Bolton and has spoken to the former Newcastle boss this week.

“Sam is a very close ally of mine. He just knows how I tick and one or two words of wisdom have been offered my way,” Brown said.

“We've talked all the way through the season. He's helped me along.”

In contrast to Brown, Bristol City manager Gary Johnson has been through the promotion mill several times before.

Johnson, 52, took City up from League One last season and also led Yeovil from the National Conference to League One earlier in a career that included a stint as Latvia coach.

Now he is on the brink of topping all those achievements by returning City to the top flight for the first time since 1980.

If City do go up it would complete a remarkable double for Johnson and his son Lee, who plays in midfield for the Ashton Gate team, as they will become the only father-son duo to achieve promotion from all four divisions.

“It would be a magnificent honour and something that would make me and my family very proud,” Johnson junior said.

His father has a big decision to make first though and it could lead to some uncomfortable silences at Johnson family get-togethers.

The City midfielder has just returned to full fitness after two months out with an ankle injury and had to settle for a place on the bench during his side's play-off semi-final wins over Crystal Palace.

He is far from certain to play at Wembley but Johnson senior insists he will have no qualms about leaving out his son.

“It is something that has always been brought up, and there is no favouritism as far as Lee is concerned,” he said.

“We have had a policy and a way of selecting our teams all the way through the season and none of that changes for this game.”


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