Assem Allam, who has died aged 83, was an Egyptian-born businessman who made his fortune on Humberside and became a noted philanthropist in the region.
From 2010 until 2022 he was also the owner and chairman of Hull City. His pragmatic stewardship of the football club led to some of the greatest days in its 118-year history, as well as a fair measure of turmoil and controversy.
Hull had never graced the top flight before securing promotion to the Premier League in 2008. Two seasons later, however, they were relegated, owing a reported £17 million to their banks and burdened by a multi-million-pound wage bill.
According to Allam, by December 2010 the club faced a winding-up petition from HMRC. He bought Hull for the nominal sum of a pound and pledged to invest £40 million to cover its debts and to bring in new players.
Little known until then, Allam had, since arriving as a political refugee in 1968, built up a firm making marine and industrial generators with a turnover of £185 million. In 2013, The Sunday Times estimated his wealth at £317 million.
With day-to-day matters often handled by his son Ehab, Allam gave notice that he would run Hull as a business rather than indulge it as a rich man’s plaything. This hard-nosed approach led to the sacking in 2012 of the manager Nick Barmby despite his good standing with supporters, after he implied that lack of funds for players had cost the club promotion.
He was replaced by Steve Bruce, who took Hull back into the Premier League in 2013. The following season saw them reach their first FA Cup final. Hull shocked their opponents Arsenal by scoring twice in the first eight minutes, only to lose 3-2 in extra time.
Nonetheless, their endeavours qualified them for European football for the first time, though that campaign proved short, and at the end of the season Hull were relegated from the Premier League. Bruce brought them back up in 2016, although the club could only put out 12 players for the first match of the next season, against the champions Leicester City.
Although Bruce had by then departed, he had defended Allam against claims he had not made money available for transfers, citing the arrivals earlier of Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore from Spurs. In interviews, Allam said he had put up to £66 million into the club, necessitating the transfer of family assets from Egypt.
Relegation, however, snared Hull again in 2017. Meanwhile, as early as 2013 Allam had lost the goodwill of many fans after announcing plans to rebrand the club as Hull Tigers, a reference to the black-and-amber stripes of their strip. Allam said this would enable him to market the club more effectively globally than if burdened by the parochial denomination “City”.
A group of supporters responded by forming “City Till We Die”, prompting an intemperate Allam to observe that “they can die as soon as they want,” adding: “Nobody questions my decisions in my business,” although as it happened the FA subsequently blocked his bid to change the club’s name.
Fans were further alienated in 2016 by the revelation of plans to introduce fixed prices for seats at the KC Stadium. This would affect those holding some concessionary and season tickets. By then, Allam had made it clear the club was for sale. His interest in it had perhaps waned following his failure to persuade the local council – which had funded much of the £44 million cost of the stadium’s construction – to sell him the freehold.
Allam had announced plans to increase the KC’s capacity and to add amenities such as a hotel. In the event, these did not materialise and Hull stagnated in the Championship for three years before dropping into League One. They won promotion in 2021, and in January 2022 Allam sold the club to Acun Ilıcalı, a Turkish media personality and entrepreneur, for a reported £30 million.
Assem Allam was born on August 1 1939. He studied in Cairo and, by his account, by the late 1960s was a senior auditor in Egypt’s finance ministry. After speaking out against the repressive regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, he was tortured. “I was given 12 lashes,” he said. “The marks remained on my body for years.”
He fled to Britain, but when he tried to pay into a branch of the Midland Bank $600,000 in cash that he had brought with him, he was told all the notes were forged. He was left with just £20 to support himself, his wife, Fatima, and their two young daughters.
Refusing to take benefits payments, he worked as a labourer until he found a junior position as a clerk (another version given out was that he studied Economics at the University of Hull). He was employed by Tempest Diesel, an engineering firm in Lincolnshire, the ownership of which he acquired in 1981.
The following year, it went into receivership along with an associated venture, Ruscador Shipyard. Allam bought the firms’ assets from the administrators and started a new business, Allam Marine, which found international markets for its generators, notably in the Middle East. He was named UK Entrepreneur of the Year in 2006 by the accountants Ernst & Young.
Grateful for his success, Allam had latterly been a major donor to causes and institutions both in the East Riding of Yorkshire, where he lived, and in Hull itself. Sport was an abiding passion, and in 2011 he gave £1 million to Hull Kingston Rovers, the rugby league club, to improve its squad and stadium.
That same year, he began to sponsor the British Squash Open. The championship was played in Hull from 2013 and Allam continued to support the event until his death.
Another recipient of his generosity was Hull Truck Theatre Company. In 2017, a birthing centre named for Fatima Allam opened at the Hull Women and Children’s Hospital. The family also made substantial donations towards the opening of a diabetes treatment centre and other medical research at the city’s hospitals and university.
Assem Allam is survived by his wife and children.
Assem Allam, born August 1 1939, died December 2 2022