Hull City ace George Honeyman spoke to @HollyHunt10 about the turbulent start to his life in East Yorkshire and the Tigers’ budding renaissance.
Playing for Sunderland was all George Honeyman had ever dreamed of. He came through the ranks, skippered the side, and then out of nowhere, was informed he was surplus to requirements.
Prudhoe-born Honeyman was still reeling from leaving his boyhood club, having been on the Black Cats’ books since the age of 10, when he signed for then-Championship outfit Hull City in August 2019.
“I didn’t ever envisage it,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I look back and I’m disappointed with how long it took me to come to terms with it. I thought I was stronger mentally than that, but I guess when you never really think about something and then it happens, it’s hard to adjust.
“If I’m being honest with myself I didn’t cope with that situation very well, but that’s gone now and there’s no point in thinking about that because it’s in the past.”
Honeyman doesn’t have any regrets about his time at Sunderland: “To be there for 13 years and end up as club captain, for any boy coming through the academy that’s a dream.”
The 26-year-old sustained a knee injury just before moving to Hull, which ruled him out for at least a month. He soon found himself plagued by a sense of homesickness. “I really struggled until about Christmas time – I felt really unsettled here. There were a lot of different factors; I was living in a hotel, I didn’t have my family down, and I was in and out of the team because I’d signed for the club with an injury so I hadn’t been training.”
A “lightbulb moment” was requesting an audience with manager Grant McCann, to ask for another chance to prove his worth shortly after joining; something which was thankfully granted him.
“I don’t know what made me do it,” Honeyman explained. “In November, I hadn’t been training very well and was feeling sorry for myself.
“I asked to see the manager and normally when you’re not playing you ask to see the manager to find out why, but I basically apologised and said I hadn’t been myself.”
It was during that meeting that he changed his attitude and his game.
“Since then, I haven’t looked back and I’ve gone from strength to strength. It’s not an easy thing to do but being honest with yourself, first and foremost, is the best way to overcome your problems.
“It didn’t really tie in with the club’s results but from Christmas, I started feeling a lot more like myself… I’ve felt in a good place for the last six months so I’m happy with where I am.”
But Hull weren’t in such a good place. As the curtains closed on the 2019/20 campaign, the Tigers suffered relegation to the third tier for the first time in 15 years. They lost 16 of their last 20 matches, including an 8-0 mauling at Wigan.
The press circled around the KCOM, with the club subject to mass media attention as they slipped into the drop zone, finishing rock bottom of the Championship.
And if anybody knows what it’s like to be thrust into the spotlight, it’s George Honeyman. His time at Sunderland was documented in the hit Netflix series Sunderland ‘Til I Die, something which he previously admitted he didn’t take kindly to.
“We came back [after the break for COVID] for the nine games and it went from bad to worse,” he conceded. “The big one was the result at Wigan – there was a lot of scrutiny after that. With the Netflix thing you were constantly being watched, but this was more like reading terrible reports about you all the time.”
There were calls for McCann to be sacked by supporters, but Honeyman reaffirmed that the blame for Hull’s demise is shared equally among the players.
“When you win football games, everything’s good, but when you lose football games, you don’t enjoy anything and it doesn’t matter who the manager is.”
“I’m devastated that I’m playing in League One but that is what it is. I was part of the reason for that so I want to put that right.”
He made a brief getaway, taking a short vacation to escape the fanfare surrounding the club before the delayed 2020/21 season got underway.
When the Tigers drew the Black Cats away in a Carabao Cup First Round tie at the start of September, it presented Honeyman with a chance to return to his old stomping ground. But the lack of familiar faces around Wearside left him feeling somewhat emotionless, despite converting his spot-kick in the shootout that saw Hull progress to the second round.
“I didn’t really feel anything, to be honest. Normally, you’d pop into the players’ lounge and there’d be the ladies and security staff that have been there for years. There were no fans there and there’s only a couple lads there now that I played with.”
Honeyman still harbours those feelings of pride from his time at Sunderland, but the number 10 has come to accept that he is a Hull City player.
This year ‘the Honeymonster’ (as he’s affectionately known) has been a regular face in the League One team of the week, held in high regard as one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the third tier.
Unlike most, he found the first lockdown refreshing, using the self-isolation period to work harder than ever to show the boss that he meant business.
“I didn’t have a pre-season last summer – I signed for Hull with a knee injury so I trained for three days and played in a friendly game then was out for four weeks. I never got up and running so I was chasing my tail until the break so I used that as a big pre-season… I’m just relieved we’re continuing to play through this next lockdown because I’m not sure what I’d do with myself.”
Like other EFL clubs, Hull’s players and backroom staff must adhere to strict COVID-related protocols, but Honeyman confessed that when the spectator ban is lifted, the sound of chanting and cheering will be an unusual one.
“At first it was extremely bizarre when we came back, but it’s reversing now – and if the fans came back, it would start feeling the other way. It’s the norm that we’re playing in empty stadiums and I’ve gone past the point of finding it weird which is very sad.”
He was afraid the club would “meander out into the League One wilderness” if they wallowed in their own self-pity – but Hull have showed no signs of a hangover.
“We’ve started off well, but the key word there is it’s only the start – so we’ve got to keep cracking on and put a smile on everyone’s faces for the rest of the year. Long may it continue!”
You can follow Holly on Twitter @HollyHunt10