The Dentists Diary – 449th

Hull FC’s season; sinking slowly into the west?
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The sun sets on Hull FC’s season as the Club I love blow their chance of something to remember their 150th season with! Then of course there was the Rainbow over the South Stand, the gold at the end of which was no doubt firmly planted in East Hull!

That was a fighting, battling display, of course it was and there are no question marks whatsoever as to the fact that in the dressing room beforehand they all wanted it as much as we did out on the terraces. However once again, for the third game running, it was a flawed display full of forced ball, blind alleys and frustration, in a match littered with stupid mistakes and unforced errors. Our execution was bloody woeful! It was as bad as I have seen, but then again that, for us long suffering FC fans, is becoming par for the course isn’t it. The fact is for me that even when you put those mistakes and frustrations aside, until we learn to play the ball more quickly and dispatch our passes a lot faster, we won’t trouble any opposition that has a quick line speed like Leeds had on Friday! They were really good and executed superbly while we were just poor!

The sight of Brian Smith sat there in the West Stand scribbling away and plotting our upcoming downfall hardly made me sleep any easier afterwards either.

The thing is of course we as fans just sat there and accepted what we saw, because although beforehand most of us were wound up with anticipation (dare I say even excited about it all), it was in the end business as usual. I wasn’t on my own in my enthusiasm either, because for the first time for ages the crowd was fully behind the team and doing their bit in an electric pre match atmosphere that it was brilliant to be part of. Stood there on the terraces singing ‘Come on You Hull’ it was just like the old days; well it was for a few minutes at least. What we felt though was always going to be a very fragile optimism, although there is little doubt that for the first time in ages at five to eight the fans had the smell of blood back in their nostrils!!

So I guess firstly there has to be a big well done to everyone who turned up, sang their hearts out and hoped, but I’m afraid as is usual, within minutes of the start we were in self imposed trouble again, as that early Rankin blunder was the cue to produce a soul destroying display that left everyone disappointed. Once again we had some hope, but that faded as the game went on, leaving us all shaking our heads and resigned to our fate. That’s a disposition that we have often felt at the end of so many games that Hull FC are involved in these days isn’t it?

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‘Same old same old guys’? I’m afraid so!

It not hard to see that Friday was a bloody strange way for me to celebrate hitting a ‘loose’ 65 and attaining my pensionable age. If my Birthday treat was to have been the ‘head of the Rhino’s on a stick’ and a place in the semi’s, then I was to be very disappointed indeed. However I prepared myself for what turned out to be the inevitable, because let’s face it I’m getting used to it all by now. As a team I now understand the fact that we simply ain’t that mentally tough enough and will therefore accept whatever is placed before me and just enjoy being there if I can!

Yeh, it was my birthday and a day when you should be relaxed and chilled, but I wasn’t, I was up for it and after weeks of being down, it was really good to feel that old nervous anxiety and excitement back in the pit of my stomach again. We were in it and should have won it too, but of course supporting the FC is never that simple is it? I really believed that we would right the wrongs of last Sunday and as I said last week, learn from our mistakes and get the win. But how foolish and gullible I was to once again get sucked in by it all and to really think that we would benefit from our experiences thus far, cut out the inept play and get a famous win.

I enjoyed the build up to the match in the media too, especially the great pieces that were produced both by the Club and the Mail about our past exploits in the Challenge Cup featuring Ewan Dowes, Motu and the great John (I’d have him back tomorrow) Kear.

These articles certainly ensured that by Friday and that coming of my pensionable age I was probably for the first time this season, bubbling with anticipation. On Friday the occasion was great and the expectations, for once, high, but the reality of it brought us all back down to earth with a bump. It’s hard to admit but when you stand back from it all it could be said that with these players and this coaching set up, we are going to struggle to succeed. It’s sad to say that but this was their big, big chance to make us all believe again, they wanted it, we wanted it, but we blew it and the tragedy is that there is nothing new in all of that!

I don’t get ‘suicidal’, mad or fuming anymore simply because quite frankly we’re all now sanitised to it aren’t we? We just sit there roll our eyes at one another, shrug our shoulders and take what has become the norm; we all feel a bit down, but accept that’s the way it is. It’s without doubt the way it has been for a while and no doubt it’s the way it will be for some time to come!! I just can’t see us shrugging it off.

Earlier in the season we experienced a brief respite and two good wins which, it looks like now, only really papered over the cracks, kept our coach in a job and maintained in part the sanity of most of us supporters. However when you look back it’s been another season littered with these sorts of battling yet stuttering displays. We have passion and ‘biff’ a plenty, but when it comes to the finesse needed to win a game and executing the right play at the right time we’re just not in Leeds’ league.

On Friday, just like last Sunday, we put tons of effort in and gave ourselves a chance, but that’s nothing new because we all saw it at Catalan, away at Wigan and Castleford and against Warrington in the second game of the season at home, in fact we see it in most games; in general we simply can’t win!!! We bash our way up field, shake the ball loose free in defence with crunching tackles and take the game to the opposition, but the next bit, getting over the line and in front on the scoreboard and staying there, seems to be beyond us. We are totally inept at playing steady pressure building rugby, preferring it appears, to throw caution to the wind on just about every play. Chance after bombed chance did for us, while a team missing both its first choice half backs did a really good job of stuffing us. That’s what happened against them 5 days earlier, but you’d think we would ‘watch and learn’ wouldn’t you?

In our 150th year we appear to be blowing our chances of having anything to remember at all. As fans we are all sick and fed up of being promised year after year that better times are around the corner only to see them as just that… empty promises. Kath made them, James Rule made them, Agar made them and more recently Adam and Lee have made them too and what are we left with? The prospect of being eclipsed by the little team across the river as they march on to Wembley.

On Friday we lacked any skill at the end of plays, a steadying hand and any sort of leadership or smartness on attack. We produced a string of chances, probably more than we created at Headingley and yet we bombed them all. Our whole demise and that of the Club in general is epitomised by Joe Westerman, who although he tackled and tackled and defended his heart out, has to understand that all that comes to nought if you can’t display the basic skills of catch and pass that are needed to play at amateur level, never mind in Super League. Some of our decision making and individual skill levels were an embarrassment. In his last two games Joe in particular hasn’t valued possession as on Friday and in Catalan, he treated it like something that doesn’t matter at all.

We needed to come out of the blocks battling and to stop the opposition getting the upper hand, that’s what the coach and two of the senior players told us in the build up to the match, but once again it all started so badly. There was the first three sets that promised a scrap at least before that effort to defuse a bomb by Rankin’s was way below what was required and despite Jordan trying his heart out all night that one piece of shocking play put us firmly on the back foot; a position that we just couldn’t shake from then on.

Leeds are a good team, a well drilled, fast off the line outfit who know exactly what to do in most circumstances. Even with six or seven players out the guys who came in knew exactly what the plan was and stuck to it whatever happened. We have a game plan, which when it breaks down as game plans always do at some point, renders us clueless. Yes chances were created but we failed to take them. It was just like last Sunday all over again, we had learned nothing, although as I say I think that our opportunities to score were even more clear cut this time around.

I remember looking at the clock with us 16-0 down and with still 20 minutes to go and thinking that with opportunities at a premium our best shot at a prize from our 150th year was fast slipping away. We had a quarter of the match to go but had already made 15 handling errors in attacking positions. With stats like that, we were simply never going to win but by then we all knew that didn’t we? Then, as if to convince the few FC fans who still held out a forlorn hope, poor old Joe Westerman came up with the biggest blunder of the evening; as a wonderful offload from Liam Watts found the loose forward, who broke Zak Hardaker’s tackle only for the ball to come lose as he hit the deck just two meters short of the line. That was a so near so far moment that for me simple epitomised our demise in the season so far. With a total of 6 dropped balls to his name poor old Joe had a shocking night!!

I’m afraid for me the Coach has to shoulder much of the blame but in his defence if there is one, some of our players appeared at times on Friday to be nothing short of panic stricken. Radford has therefore to accept the majority of the responsibility, because the players mental state, has to be in some part down to him, while he can also put some of the blame on his players who were decidedly jittery with ball in hand throughout. The Cup is a one off, but league position doesn’t lie does it? Where you stand in the week on week rounds dictates the health of the Club and when you consider that then we are at best decidedly mediocre and at worst destined to fail. Despite missing several key players Leeds bettered us in all departments and Friday was just an indicative of how far behind we are in the mental preparation stakes and the ability and belief to win games.

When you add to all of that another inept display by the referee, who had an absolute stinker and who showed once again why the game is going backwards, we were never going to succeed. He was without doubt ‘played’ for all he was worth by the Leeds team throughout and credit to them, we should be doing a lot more of that, but we play it by the book while others get away with murder. Childs is hopeless, he really is! Then finally, when you add the disgusting and despicable chanting of the Leeds supporters you have the makings of a thoroughly depressing evening all round. However as I said earlier few of us were surprised and so although it had taken weeks to build up any new found confidence, our fervour was dashed on the rocks of a predictably performance and by the end we all felt it was back to square one and that for this season the game was all but up!

Over the last 5 or 6 years and under two separate management regimes we have seen a quality side dismantled and our top players (by and Large) replaced with less capable individuals, as a succession of unsuitable coaches have masterminded a slow slide down the league table and away from the ‘Big Club’ persona our amazing support deserves. That spiralling down sees the fans faith in the Club fade by degrees and is something that seems to continue year on year gaining momentum as it goes!

So for me as a fan that had just got himself up for it again, Friday’s game was a real watershed and the defining moment of the year. It was without doubt the biggest game thus far this season and as I say probably the 150th season’s final chance at some glory. I hope my Club heed the warning signs and that they aren’t like so many fans I speak to, already resigned to our fate this year.

Now, once again, as I write this on Sunday afternoon, I’m just numb and pretty devoid of any sort of hope at all, I’m still as always looking forward to the game on Wednesday night at Belle Vue but I do it with a deal of trepidation. But then again for me and several hundred other fans who will make the journey it’s business as usual isn’t it. Can’t live with em, can’t live without ‘em eh? It’s a good job we love them isn’t it.

So to the week past and the welcome news for everyone who believes in ‘fair do’s’ that the Council is to take the Allam’s to court over their actions as tenants of the Airco Arena. For me it’s good news, simply because instead of the City Council producing their usual storm of rhetoric, threats and political posturing we have had a quiet period while they, their London solicitors, the council’s legal section and the Labour group have taken advice to ensure that they are not in danger of losing a shed load of the Council’s and the people’s money, on an abortive court case. Having done all that the council must be pretty confident if not very hopeful of succeeding with their action. Let’s hope they are and that the Airco is handed back to the local organisations that have used it so successfully for so many years. Next up it’s the name change decision and if he isn’t successful, the issue of whether Mr Allam will keep his promise and walk!

I was thinking that the emergence of Jordan Abdull as a real prospect has spluttered and stuttered somewhat over the past 18 months as he battled with firstly a loss of form, then weight problems and then the arrival of both Sneyd and Pryce to play in and around his favourite half back position. However he’s been patient and when times were tough his love of the Club and will to succeed has seen him overcome all of these hurdles, as he looks set to be a big star in years to come. OK a few had a go about him on Friday but who couldn’t you have a go at after that game? Jordan is however a quiet bloke off the field who has a massive persona on it as was indicated by Lee Radford when he said this week, “I’ve got complete trust in him because I know what the game means to him and I know what the club means to him. He is bigger on the field in our group than he is socially. I wish they were all like that, because it would make my job a lot easier.” Boy from what you hear and read on social media, you bet it would!!!

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Still one for the future for me!

It was good as well this week to see our new Hull FC reporter Paul Clarke jumping straight into the role, as James Smailes moves upstairs to Sports Editor and is now in charge of everything Sports wise at the paper. You know how much I respect Smailsey and have appreciated so many of his efforts over the months and years and now he has been rewarded with promotion for his great writing and a really good ‘angle’ of what it’s all about in Hull. It looks as if Paul has some big shoes to fill, but he is following in his footsteps and has started well so I wish him all the best. All you really want as a fan of any sports Club is a local reporter who is anything but impartial and one who gets it as far as the fans angle is concerned when it comes to the antics of the administration and the running of the Club we love; that is I guess what keeps us all happy and sells newspapers too. Good luck Smailsey and welcome to the madhouse Paul!

In the end the Mark Sneyd sentencing last Tuesday showed a modicum of sensibility because I thought from the moment I saw the first replay of the incident it needed a ban, but it certainly wasn’t malicious. On review the panel decided to reduce the charge to a Grade C and two games was, in the end, perhaps about right. However the reaction of many of the Leeds fans was a bit over the top even when you consider how we would all have reacted had the boot been on the other foot. Some of their fans really do think that they are above it all and the elite of the League don’t they? Sadly it’s a trait they have always had even back to the days when they couldn’t even fill the South Stand! Perhaps they think that chanting “Your the Scum of Rugby League” and “Hull is a Shit hole” is clever and shows a modicum of real class, who knows? Still as a Club and organisation they are a fine example to aspire to and as for the player himself, I do think in the end justice was done and I expect Sneyd to react to the way he has left us short in a Cup quarter final and the League game in hand, (which are probably the two most critical games of our season), by exploding back into the game next weekend.

Well Tim Sheens is coming and Iestyn Harris isn’t going, but otherwise the big press conference at Salford last Tuesday was a bit of a damp sqib really wasn’t it! In fact after being hailed as the crunch time when he would blow the lid off all the rumours of wages being paid late, money owing to the Council, unrest amongst the players etc. etc. it was a tame affair. Personally hearing what I’d heard I was expecting ‘Marvellous’ Marwan to announce that he was moving on to pastures new and that his wife was talking over the Manchester Club, (well, that’s where the smart money with the Lancashire Press was) but that never materialised and so it all seemed in the end a lot of ‘who ha’ over nothing didn’t it? There’s something going on there though, I’m sure of it!

“Get your hands on one of 50 Hull FC Magic Weekend replica shirts signed by the players for just £50 while stocks last!” So said the headline on the club site last Tuesday as it looks like for the first time that I can remember, the Clubs special addition Magic shirt is proving difficult to shift. They didn’t get that many in the first place either, so what exactly is wrong with it and why is there such a resistance to buying it? Well firstly with the wonderful home and away playing shirts we have had this season and the great shirt listing every player who has played for the Club, there might just have been a bit of a over kill with this limited edition offering, but for me, like it or not, the nature of the sponsor was a sticking point for a lot of fans.

As I said at the time that the shirt came out, I think that chemical cigarettes are a wonderful idea for those who want to get away from smoking fags, but with more and more reports of school children getting into them, the reputation of this recently introduced gizmo is fading fast and whether you agree with them or not there has to be a question mark over whether it’s the right thing to be displayed on the front of a sports shirt, don’t you think? I guess if I’m honest too that’s probably why I didn’t buy one and what’s more it’s the reason given to me as to why many others didn’t too! However I’m told it was a massive sponsorship deal for the Club and so taking into consideration what I tried to say last week about the game, the money and my feelings towards all that stuff, Thats hardly surprising I guess.

Well it came as a bit of a shock but perhaps it shouldn’t have done, because the news that the Hull Stingrays are to be put into administration and have resigned from the League is a real blow for those folks who have followed the Club through thick and thin. Fans can do nothing really but turn up and shell out, that’s what we do and yet if the figures don’t add up and the sponsors lose patience then the inevitable will happen whatever sport you play in. I really do feel for the supporters though, you put yourself in their position don’t you and it must be a really gut wrenching and a pretty unthinkable experience, particularly when you first hear that the Club you love and you obsession for so long, is no more. Tough times for those guys and who knows who will be next?

This week, by way of a change, I would like to use Codgers Corner to feature two match’s one of which was requested by regular reader Mitch while I was away, which show just how our great game has changed over the years. You tend to forget with under soil heating and part synthetic pitches that back in the 70’s winter rugby often meant watching a game with player’s ankle deep in mud.

This week’s first featured game was one that Mitch remembers with great affection and was against Bramley on Sunday 28th November 1976. Great times were around the corner at the Boulevard, although we certainly did not know it that season, as we battled on with poor attendances and a deal of debt. Back then it was really difficult for most clubs to make ends meet, and our pitch was just a mess as the drains silting up with Speedway shale leaving a morass of mud with very little grass evident at all.

The previous Friday, we had played and beaten Bramley’s A team at the Barley Mow, the significance of which you will see a little later. The weather that month was shocking and the general opinion then was that we would be lucky to see a game that day at all. Still as game day dawned, our desperation to generate some cash dictated that the match was still on, and I watched from the well in the best stand with four of my pals that I had met in the Eagle for a pint beforehand. 4000 others were in attendance!

As we walked down Saner Street and onto the Boulevard the rain was coming down like stair rods although by we had got through the turnstiles it had stopped again! The pitch was covered in small puddles and the grounds man Fred Daddy, was busy forking the pitch to ease the water away. It was a thankless task, as even the invalid carriages that usually parked behind the dead ball line got stuck in the mud!

Bramley’s player Coach back then was Peter Fox, and he got the usual rousing and abusive welcome when he ran out onto the pitch, and although the conditions were dreadful the game started on time. The match itself was a nail biting tussle with Keith Hepworth playing a storming game for us. Bramley were a handy outfit back then, and it was only through three great last ditch tackles by our full back George Robinson that we kept them out in the first ten minutes! However then, on the eleven minute mark, from our first attack Hepworth, Hancock and Hunter linked to send ‘Super’ Alf Macklin in at the corner. We continued to press until a long looping pass by Hancock was intercepted by Langton and he scooted fifty yards along the thin track of green on the wing, to score for the visitors.

That mistake turned the game, and with Fox behind just about every move they made, Bramley started to dominate, in fact after Boxall had punch Jack Austin in the tackle it was their player coach that stretched their lead to 7-5 with a penalty goal. Try as we may we could not get another score and with the ball like a bar of soap we saw 24 scrums in the first 40 minutes. On three or four occasions the respective scrum halves dropped the ball before they had even left the back of the scrum, and the players left the field at half time, muddied from head to foot, with that same score on the score board.

During half time as we went for the Bovril, it poured down again, and when we got back to the Well we all had to move back out of the rain, to avoid being drenched. Both teams changed their shirts at half time as the rain eased, but no further points were scored before once again it became really dark and the heavens opened. It rained so hard that the referee had to stop the game at a scrum, as no one on the field could see. After 56 minutes so muddy were their kits, that both teams looked exactly the same, so the referee had little choice but to take both sets of players off the field to change their shirts again.

Unfortunately our Chairman Charlie Watson claimed that we had already gone through two full strips on Friday in the A team game, and now having used up two more strips that day, we had no more shirts left. Bramley had just brought two sets of kit and although the referee said he would play on if just one team changed, neither side had anymore shirts!

As we stood on the terraces stamping out feet the tannoy interrupted the Batchelor’s singing ‘Ramona’ to announced that the referee had abandoned the game, and we all trudged off chuntering about getting our money back and what a farce the whole afternoon had been. Peter Fox was most vociferous in Mondays Yorkshire Post though, saying that they could have won the game and it was the responsibility of the home team to change their strips. He also refuted what Watson had said about changing strips at half time in the previous A team game and it all got a bit messy!!! However the RL decided that the game should be declared void and it was replayed later that year, when, on a Wednesday night we beat them 26-10. Up yours Foxy!!!

The second game which again I think just emphasises how things have changed over the years, was played on Friday 29th November 1974 under the floodlights at Craven Park, Barrow. I did not go to this particular game, Barrow on Friday back then was a 20 hour round trip job!!!! But it did have some strange circumstances surrounding it! Friday night games just did not happen back then, but Barrow had a major employer in the Vickers Ship Yard and insisted that because of the strange shift system the Company operated, the game would be played on a Friday.

I would not have minded but, in the end, only 1400 attended anyway. This was a major problem for Hull FC though, because many of our playing staff were in full time employment and would find it hard to get off work for a full day to take the 7 or 8 hour bus trip to Cumbria (Well Lancashire actually but you get my drift). You see back then the pay for playing for the FC was way below what they would get for a full days graft at the day job, and as it was performance related that was the case particularly if you lost!

The RL ruled that the game had to go ahead as they said that it was ‘Barrows call’ and so 7 of our first team players had to then drop out, because they could not get released from, or afford to miss, a full day at work. The squad we took was certainly a strange one. Tony Banham, only half fit and just signed from Keighley was at prop, whilst we had to sign young Ray Butler from the amateur game, to make up the numbers in the second row. Incidentally in the second row that night too was Barry Kear, a big name signing, who promised much, but who had a poor game, (but then those who saw him play will remember he always did).

Apparently Kenny Foulkes and Brian Hancock tried really hard at half back that night and Barrow’s winning margin of 14 points flattered them no end, but in the end our inexperience meant that we were never going to win and we came home empty handed losing 21-7. Hull gave half back Steve Lane his debut that night, and according to the papers next day, Boxhall had a good game too. But with players like Alf Macklin, Len Casey and Howard Firth missing it was always going to be a struggle! Good old Chris Davidson was missing too, but he was in the middle of a six match suspension for scrapping, (nothing new there then) but that as they say is another story!

So there we are two games that show just how our sport has evolved from a part time, winter spectacle in the mud, to the professional, big money game that it is today!!

I bang on in here a bit about the old ‘A’ team and the way that the RL should never have ditched the idea of Reserve Grade rugby because I feel that it should be re-instated to benefit all those players who are coming back from injury or can’t get in the first team because they are unfortunately over 19. I’m therefore indebted to my good pal Richard who sent me this little gem which is a copy of the A Team programme against Hunslet A from back in 1982. What a line up that was with players like Dean, Skerrett, Stone and Proctor all getting a game along with some youngsters and some first class reserves and what a blooming good front row eh? Great days!!

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Well by the next Diary, our 450the edition, we should all but know our fate in the top 8. Well we’ll at least know whether we have a chance of staying in there won’t we? These next two games are absolutely critical and pivotal to our season, although we go into Wednesday’s clash at Wakey battered, depressed and bruised to face a team that is not only coached by an ex FC Coach who was desperate for the job of coach at the KC earlier this season, but also by a team who have had 10 days rest and boast 4 new signings!!! Their final signing last Friday saw Anthony Walker as the forward from Saints arrive at the Wildcats to join fellow newcomers Jordan Tansey, another ex FC player who wants to show us a thing or two , Michael Sio and Kevin Locke. They are becoming a typical hard tackling Brian Smith coached team who are getting better and better and looking to end a losing streak that goes back 16 matches.

It doesn’t look good does it?

The fact that we were full on in defence throughout the game on Friday means that charging up and being ready for a team that has had all that rest is another major issue but we simply have to get a win on Wednesday. However if in the context of our 150th year and our recent history last Fridays match was the biggest for years, then this one is in the context of this season, another massive game. I think that it’s going to be mighty tough to get a result and yet as our game in hand it’s virtually imperative that we do. What a bloody shambles this new set up is with the teams that finished lowest last year being ‘persecuted’ and made to play an extra cup game and then a mid week game while all the top boys enjoy a bit of R & R as they prepare for next weekend’s clashes.

I’ll be there as I am sure a lot of you will be and no doubt we’ll all be wondering if it will be the last time that we go there to watch Rugby League. The Wakefield Club have failed to come to an agreement with the administrators of Belle Vue and this week handed in their 6 months notice to quit in December. It may come to nought but at present they are looking at a ground share in the future and Barnsley, Dewsbury and Batley are all in the pot for that one! So all round it’s another big game that we face on Wednesday.

My 65th came and went with a big gathering of my mates, a surprise cake and a massive chorus of Old Faithful at the Drum and Monkey last Thursday as we anticipated Fridays game. Thanks go this week to all those who came along and for a bumper amount of you who got in touch during the week. The last Diary’s feature of navel gazing on how it all looked to me as an ordinary fan, certainly seemed to garner the biggest response we have had for ages and thanks so much for all your observations. It was interesting to see that very few of your comments were anything but in agreement. Thanks again everyone for sticking with the Diary and reading it through to the end, I only try to reflect how I, an ordinary fan, feel and boy would I like to be upbeat, positive and happy clappy every week. But in reality I simply don’t feel that way, it’s not happening for my team and therefore not for me at present and I expect many of you know exactly what I mean by that!!
See you all at Wakey!
Keep Believing!

Faithfully Yours,

Wilf