It’s been a week for the young and a week for the old, for welcoming returning heroes and for remembering those heroes that are no more.
The week’s again been an interesting one, with a good night at the City Hall on Thursday, when we celebrated the 150th year of our great Club with the great James Leuluai, Sam Moa, a host of players past and present and the class of 2005, then we watched as the Carney saga dragging on and petered out… (I think), plus there was Adam on the Radio, a new recruit to the backroom staff and a great opener to the International series, with even an England win, at a packed and impressive KC Stadium.
It also appears that season tickets and the membership scheme are both ‘steaming’ ahead, which leaves me pleased but none the less a bit surprised. After what went on last season I’m pretty amazed at the response and loyalty of the fans who are once again rallying round the Club, but I shouldn’t be, because that’s what we do isn’t it!
So now with tickets sales hopefully approaching the 4000 mark and with well over two months still to go, I’m hoping that such a response from the ‘Faithful’, plus perhaps a new signing still to come, might just push us over last year’s total come the start of the season. It’s ambitious I know, but just about do-able all the same!
Now, last week in the return of the Wilf’s Whiffs section, I said that Monaghan was on his way to Castleford and that Adam Pearson was to give us one of his ‘State of the Nation’ speeches on the radio this week. Sure enough, the player in question signed on at the Jungle on Monday and our owner, accompanied by Lee Radford, duly obliged with a phone in on Radio Humberside’s Sports Talk last Tuesday evening. That certainly made for an interesting evening’s listening and I hope you all got a chance to tune in. I always think it’s not so much what’s said in these interviews, as what isn’t and if you didn’t get a chance to listen, then here’s my take on the proceedings.
Firstly, we should I guess discuss all things Justin Carney, because although later in the week it appeared things came to a head and we fluffed our chance to capture the Aussie try machine, that’s what the programme started with and indeed a subject that it kept harping back to, despite the best efforts of Adam Pearson to throw us all off the scent. But it was his fault, as he opened the can of worms in the first place by saying we were definitely interested in the player and of course then, once it had been said, there was no letting up from the fans and he couldn’t get the ‘Genie back in the bottle’. If you listened, then like me you would possibly have got the distinct impression that the Coach and the owner both wanted the player, with Lee no doubt obviously thinking he was just the match winner we needed and Adam recognising the fact that he was a real ‘drawing card’ for the fans.
However the impression given was that others at the Club (namely some of the players) were not that keen. AND before the Club start accusing me of stirring it ……again, let me say that’s the opinion and impression our owner and coach gave to everyone I spoke with after the broadcast. I rehearsed all the arguments about consensus management in here last week and I won’t be going there again and anyway the Club would rather just see it as a case of ‘Not wanting to upset the apple cart’. We didn’t have long to wait either before our dithering about saw club officials at the ‘do’ of Thursday saying that Mr Carney was likely to be signing for the Koukash revolution and the, ‘Let’s sue the owner once we’ve left’ Brigade at Salford. Still ‘every cloud has one’ I guess and at least it’s saved a lot of unnecessary phone calls, as no doubt if he’d signed and then not turned up at training one day, every other player would be on the phone at lunch-time checking up on his whereabouts!
On a more positive note however I was really pleased to hear Adam indicate that relations between the Club and the SMC have improved and what was once a rather chilly stand-off has recently started to thaw somewhat. It appears, we were told, that the new Managing Director is at last treating both the tenant Clubs the same, so much so that Adam, after a period of staying away, had actually been down to watch Hull City recently as well. Some rather prestigious ‘Tigers’ match tickets were available as raffle prizes at the City Hall last Thursday to further displays a coming together of both sides, which can only be a good thing in the long run, for all of us. It’s a big step forward and the fact that it means we are to be able to use the full scope of the new floodlights and the pre match effects we saw them create yesterday, was good news too.
Incidentally I was told the other day when having lunch in Hull that although the Allam’s are still hell bent on selling the football club, Ehab is actually interested in retaining the Stadium Management Company, but as he is now concentrating more on Allam Marine, he would manage it through his new Chief Executive, at ‘arm’s length’.
Ideally however we still need the beer prices and the issue of the need to have admission by turnstile re-instated on the day sorted out, don’t we? What Adam said in the radio interview did actually resonate with some positive things I heard coming from the staff that I know at the SMC too. They all say the new regime is much better and it was good as well to hear that moves are a foot to improve our identity in the Stadium so that next season it looks much more like our home and not just that of Hull City. Let’s hope all that materialises eh?
Next up on Sports Talk it was pass sales and a very healthy total of 3,200 (which next day was quoted as 3500 memberships to include none ticket memberships, I guess) that should have seen us get to the half way point in the renewal process this weekend. Some people have been saying that the total is skewed because loads of the renewals are actually just the non-season ticket memberships, but on enquiring I found out that only around 8% are those with all the rest being full seasons.
Shirts are also selling well and those factors and the income from the Joe Westerman sale have apparently and according to the ‘experts’ on social media, seen our credit rating go up again as a company, which has to be good news too.: That certainly seem to have put a smile back on Adams face!
We are certainly not out of the wood yet, but Adam did sound a whole lot more positive and up-beat about where we are finance wise and that’s certainly a relief, although it shouldn’t be an indication that as fans we are now off the hook and I just hope that people continue to re-subscribe for seasons and buy the shirts in the coming weeks. Although the end of October deadline is passed, prices are still at the discounted level until January, because it’s only the guarantee of a price freeze for 2017, and the direct debit deadline, that has now gone by.
One caller actually took up the subject of too much positive spin being forthcoming from the Club, but in fairness I would say that since the ‘Believe’ debacle (that was simply way over the top, particularly when it was compared with the reality of what materialised come the start of the season) we have quietened it down a lot. In response to this claim however Adam said that he heard what was being said, but felt we have to aspire to certain goals or we might as well all ‘give up and go home’ and so he believed that it was perfectly reasonable to say we want to end 2016 at least 3 wins better off than 2015 and be pushing towards the top 4; which of course is reasonable and for many an absolute minimum for the new campaign.
It was then interesting to hear that when our owner went to the Super League AGM in France he was surprised to hear that despite agreeing to look at contract talks for 2017 early next season, Joe Westerman was already being touted around other Clubs by his agent, with a view to him moving on at the end of the next campaign. We didn’t want to commit ourselves to a deal just yet because of his inconsistency last year, but once Adam heard what was happening ‘behind the Clubs back’ it was obvious we were going to miss out on a fee and the player’s signature as well, so we instigated the sale of our loose forward to Warrington in what was as I said last week, a bloody good deal for Hull FC. Incidentally all I’ll say about that is I haven’t yet met anyone who didn’t think it was, on balance, a good move for the Club.
On the playing side of things we were certainly told something that we all already knew, when it was stated by Lee Radford that we must improve our league position next season, but he then added that if we don’t, some (and he included himself in that) won’t deserve to be at the club. He went on to reiterate that an inability to execute near the line is our single biggest weakness and has to be the main focus in pre season. As a fan I completely agree with that one, but I also believe that a bit of time should be spent learning to play a safe option game and close games down when in the lead with 10 to 15 minutes to go. Lee also stated that Talanoa won’t be playing centre next year and that he will be returning to the wing, where it was felt he was most effective; that’s another no brainer for me! Our coach also stressed that he expected Jamie Shaul to be distributing the ball more often after receiving kicks, because in the Talanoa and Fonua we will have two of the best returners of the ball from deep positions, in the country.
Finally at least we had one conundrum that has bugged us for a while settled when Adam explained that the Super League attendances declared for all clubs are based on tickets sold and not how many are in the ground That explains gates being announced last year that were 9000/10,000 when we all knew that there were a only around 7000 in the Stadium. We now at least know for sure what we suspected, that a lot of season ticket holders who stayed away were counted in the total.
It was a good hour’s listening and after the doom and gloom and shroud waiving of 6 or so weeks ago, quite upbeat really. Reading between the lines we also found a bit out and got a deal of clarity about Mr Carney, our current financial situation and our future plans. However I guess I have to add something that a few are no doubt thinking and that is the fact that it’s easy to be upbeat when the last season, with its long run of defeats, is behind you and a bright new beginning is just around the corner….. once again; we can only hope!
The spectacle yesterday of an International game at the KC in front of a brilliant attendance was something else and the mood created with the lights off stuff at the beginning just cranked up the pre match atmosphere in a real exhibition of professional presentation which at long last ensured it looked like a ‘proper’ International. The Kiwi’s deflated the home crowd early on but as England came into it the crowd rose to the occasion a bit and it was a great effort by all at the SMC to host such an impressive afternoon. In the first half the rugby was scrappy but in the second England took control to gain a great win and in a game that was a tad scrappy particularly for the uninitiated viewer sat at home watching, a well overdue victory. As we all know so well, in the end, a wins a win!
I know things are pretty tough at our Club at times and we do drop the odd embarrassing b*llock as well, but James Hoggarth of Radio Humberside brought this monumental clanger to my notice during his visit to MK Dons to watch Hull City on Saturday.
Last Thursday brilliant event at the City Hall was an enjoyable evening out for me and Mrs R and something that I am glad I attended. It was good to see such an array of rugby talent gathered in one place and although a tad biased towards the two International teams and this weekend’s game at times, it was still great to remember 2005 and to celebrate our 150 years as a Rugby League Club with so many kindred spirits. However, on a personal note, being the one time City Hall Manager means that revisiting my old home had its drawbacks and being whisked off to look at the brand new kitchens immediately after we arrived was one of them.
Personal highlights for me included having a chat with Danny Brough who, despite a very lucrative contract that he said was designed to tie him to the Huddersfield Club until he retired, still lamented the fact that he’d have loved to return to the FC and I don’t think he was just saying that for effect either.
The sight of James Leuluai on the stage, still so quietly spoken, humble and the complete gentleman, while his wonderful ‘feet’ and turn of speed’ were being displayed behind him on the big screen, was a lasting memory. You know I understand that many of the great players of yesteryear perhaps couldn’t live with the rigours of modern day rugby league, but watching James certainly made me think that his amazing step, (which came off both feet)and that injection of speed that followed his ensuing arrival in a gap, would probably still see him a star in the modern day game.
His demeanour and humanity was shared by another great ‘Gentle Giant’ of our Club’s more recent history, Sam Moa. He was also obviously humbled by it all and so full of affection and love for the Club that took a punt on him back in the days when he arrived as nothing more than a ‘project’. Now as one of the greatest forwards in the World, he still appreciates what we did for him and that shows a level of loyalty and humility that many players could learn from and that should be appreciated by us all.
It was also great to see everybody in the Hall standing to greet a very surprised Richard Horne, as he received a certificate that enrolled him in the Hull FC Hall of Fame. He knew nothing at all about it before hand and is a pretty shy guy when it comes to public speaking and one of his FC colleagues said to me that if he had, he would have ‘Run a mile’. Hosted well by James Clark, the crowd of over 400 seemed to enjoy themselves and I’m glad I attended. Oh and the new kitchens came up trumps as well, because the pie, chips and peas was top notch!!!
I guess for me as I walked away after another of those great nights when I was surrounded by people I knew and who had the same feelings and affection for my team as I did, the overarching feeling was again one of the pride and pleasure that goes with being involved for almost 60 years in something that is in your very DNA. It’s rarely really that rewarding and so frustrating at times and yet it’s so compelling and all consuming too. I also mused on the fact that for all the woes, disappointment, frustration and heartache, people who don’t get emotionally attached to a group of blokes that run around in your colours and becomes forever ‘your’ team, really do miss out on a lot in life.
So, well done to everyone who went along to what was all in all, a smashing night and one I’ll remember for a good while too.
Well the Club have been dropping hints about a new backroom team for ages and this week, as I indicated in last week’s Whiffs, Paul Hatton, who was last with us under Peter Sharp, has returned to oversee all aspects of strength, conditioning and Physiotherapy at the Club. He takes over from of Sean Rush and Jamie Moseley who offered a ‘two hatted’ approach to the role and will be appointing his own team of staff to work with him.
I hope he does well, but I also remember that when he was last here under Peter Sharp we had one of the worst injury runs we have seen for year, which is no doubt purely coincidence, but a concern just the same. However with some of the best training facilities in the League and a new team coming in behind the scenes, the owner is again giving the Coach everything he needs and the personnel he wants, so in 2016 there can be no excuses. However no doubt some will invariably be forthcoming in the fullness of the season! In the meantime welcome back to Paul and it will be interesting to see who he brings in as his assistants!
The England warm up game against France last weekend was nothing short of a debacle and a real embarrassment for the sport. Nothing is to be gained as far as the International game is concerned with ‘thumping’s’ like that and to see Richard Agars side capitulating in such a way, was extremely disappointing particularly when the game was played over the back-drop of the RU World Cup. England would have been better off playing a Club side and if, because of the timing, that wasn’t possible then what about a match up against our own national Knights team. Years ago when I was a kid listening to the sports results on Sports Report at 5-00pm on a Saturday, the 15 a side game used to have trials for the International teams, which matched ‘the Possible’s’ against ‘The Probable’s’ and again for me that would be a much better idea. The fact that there is still such a gulf between the three premier international teams and the rest in the two hemisphere’s, is a concern, but I’m afraid it’s also a fact of life and ‘blow outs’ like last weekend’s are nothing short of a major showing up for our International status as a sport.
Now for a bit of really serious stuff as this last week the findings of a study conducted by the University of Huddersfield, on First Utility Super League players’ welfare, have been released. The pressure put on folks in general means that mental health is a massive issue in all walks of life these days and professional sport is no exception to that rule.
The study, which was carried out between January and May 2015, saw 103 RL players access an online welfare survey to answer questions on topics such as the player welfare provision at their club, mental health, stress to help build up a picture for the mysterious ‘athletic identity’. The research found that Players’ mental health shows a lower level of stress and depression when a club has a good Player Welfare Manager and when the players receive advice on the counselling support available from organisations such as ‘Sporting Chance’. Much of the research centred on the complex subject of ‘Athletic identity’ which majors on the amount of pressure that is put on a player participating in a high profile sport and is used to indicate how well or otherwise a player deals with making a social statement about what they are and how they want others to view them.
An athletic identity score is developed through indicators such as acquisition of social skills, levels of confidence and social interaction in a sporting environment and measures the perceived standing and profile of a particular player in the sporting community and society in general. Identifying who is most at risk then helps tackle the varying levels of the individual’s ability to determine’s how they cope with such things as career-threatening injuries and the constant limelight they find themselves in. Perhaps not unexpectedly the survey showed that younger players and players who are single and do not have any children are more prone to having a higher athletic identity and thus often tend to cope less well with their positions in society particularly in comparison to those who are married and/or have children.
There is little doubt that the stress of being a professional rugby league player who has to keep up a public persona and interact in a position of sometimes iconic status in the community, is wearing on some players and the danger of mental health issues, breakdowns and stress related conditions is growing in our game as it is in many other sports.
As I said in starting this bit, the research provided by the University survey certainly indentified the importance of having good quality player welfare officers at every Rugby League Club, as the pressure of professional sportsmen to perform on the field and also deal with the stress engendered by their elevated status in the community grows on an annual basis. The Rev. Tony Cotson who is, I find, a top bloke, has done a sterling job in this field at Hull FC over the years and Warrington have just appointed Richie Mathers into a full time welfare post this week. Mental health and a sportsman’s overall well being is a top priority in all walks of life and this survey shows if nothing else, that the inclusion of a qualified Player Welfare Officer at every senior RL Club, is an absolute must!
Now a thank you to Harry who put me right on the try’s scored in last week’s Codgers game; apparently I got the last two in the wrong order! However you know although I do apologise for the occasional mistake, it’s a fact of life that the older I get the more vividly I remember things that never actually happened!!
Still, we’ll press on and this week I want to indulge myself again in that great first season of the short reign of Brian Smith, simply because as you know I really enjoyed his three seasons with us and therefore I find that it’s a period of time during which I can remember just about every game….I think!
When Director Mick Stanley went over to Aus. to persuade the young manager of the previous seasons Australian Schoolboys touring side, to become our coach, it was a brave and no doubt expensive move for the club. In fact after the first 4 league games which we lost, we were all wondering whether we might just have been the wrong decision as well. We had all experienced his ‘new’ thinking with the first ever fans forum taking place and a pre season open trials day when RU players, with their ‘collars turned up, and hats pulled down’, came from across the country to have a go at Rugby League.
Those early season worries however were unfounded as a brilliant run followed and that saw us rise from bottom of the League in October to fourth in the table at the end of the normal season. Of course so special was the season to me, that I have covered some of those other matches in previous Diaries and perhaps you’ll remember the great home wins against Saints and Leeds and that fantastic night at Central Park Wigan when Garry Pearce blew the home team away, to probably instigated one of the first ever ‘Wigan walks’. We made the whole game sit up and take notice that year, but the other surprise package in 88/89 was ‘Little’ Featherstone who eventually finished 7th in the League.
Under the wily Peter Fox, they had made great strides forward and were in fact, as the season ended, the only club to have done the double over us. So, both Clubs moved into the play-offs which were a top 8 competition in those days. In the first round we faced and easily beat Castleford who finished 5th 32-6 and that set us up quite nicely for a clash against our arch nemesis Featherstone in the semi final, which was played at the Boulevard on Sunday 7th May 1989.
It was our first chance at a major final appearance for a while and that in a competition that we had failed to win in three consecutive final appearances between 1981-1983. The scene was set for a close game against a team that coach Peter Fox said had in Derek Fox and Graeme Steadman, ‘The best half back combination in the domestic game’. Why do I particularly remember this game? Well, in addition to a wonderful performance on the field it was the first time that I had heard Garry Pearce called ‘Porky’ and it’s a nick-name that has stuck for me to this day.
Earlier in the week Brian Smith had hinted that Pearce our ‘talisman’ off half could be dropped, as he was said to be ‘not as fit as he could be’, something that prompted all us supporters to think that perhaps that was code for the fact that Garry had been on the Cream Cakes, or worse! In truth Pearce never even looked like a rugby player, having as he did a physique more in keeping with a used car salesman or a pub landlord. That threat from Smith was however just the challenge Gary needed as he answered his boss and the protagonists amongst the fans in the best way possible.
Over 11,000 of us packed the Boulevard that day as Smithy’s brand of never say die, uncompromising and at times flamboyant rugby was wooing the supporters and bringing them back in their droves. It was to be a magical performance by the lads and the first 20 minutes set the pattern for the game. With Smithy watching from up in the stand in his newly erected ‘Crow’s Nest’ we kicked off on a sunny afternoon in front of a shirt sleeved crowd. The first few exchanges were tough as first Karl Harrison and then Jeff Grayson battled downfield to gain ground for the visitors but they were both repelled by a swarming FC defence led brilliantly by Andy Dannett. In the12th minute Pearce scored from a penalty after Welham had been tripped by Burton, the Colliers second rower and we were on the board.
Then 6 minutes later we scored a wonderful try. Initially we seemed to be going nowhere as first Lee Jackson then Steve Crooks drove the ball straight at defenders. However from a quick play the ball ‘Jacko’ flashed out a pass to Price who darted forward and as the Featherstone defence stood mesmerised, Pearce took a short pass and crashed over about five yards in from the corner flag. After the game Brian Smith said laughingly in his post match interview, ‘It was great play by Price who completely suckered their defence, in fact all ‘Porky’ had to do was roll over the line in the corner’ and so a legend was born! Garry kicked the goal and then after 27 minutes, on the third tackle, he dropped a fine field goal from 20 yards out, to further turn the screw.
Two minutes later Featherstone had their one and only real chance of the half when Bibb brilliantly side stepped away from our defence and raced down field only for winger Ian Smales to drop the ball with an open run to the line. Finally on 40 minutes it was Pearce again with another penalty, this time for off-side, that made the half time score ‘Porky’ eleven, Featherstone nil. In between times Windley, Sharp and Divorty had completely snuffed out ‘the best half back combination in the League’ and a dominant pack enabled Phil Windley at 7 to provide a link to the backs where our full back Fletcher was showing plenty of brilliance coming forward as he set off on a string of sizzling runs from deep positions.
Starring role, Gary ‘Porky’ Pearce.
The second half was business as usual really and after two sets a piece during which Andy Dannett was in mean and destructive mood, we got the ball from a scrum on half way. Three tackles into the set Windley passed to Pearce who (no doubt following a wigging at half time for the visitors from Fox) was receiving close attention from several players. The star of the show then brilliantly threaded a pass through about four of the retreating Featherstone tacklers to find Nolan on the run. He raced onto the ball and into the gap to score the easiest of tries and as Pearce added another two points from the conversion we were all getting ready for a trip to Old Trafford the following weekend.
The 1000 or so Featherstone supporters just didn’t know what had hit them, as Hull’s pack demolished their heroes and we drove on to victory. In that second half on no less than 5 occasions, Andy Dannett loosened the ball with ferocious tackles, whilst Wilby and Steve Crooks pulled off massive hits on Bastian and Clarke. A great run from Fletcher saw Paul Eastwood almost in at the corner whilst Brian Blacker was unlucky as he juggled the ball to just lose it over the line. However it really was all over in the final few minutes, when Jon Sharp broke 60 yards out from their line and fed a peach of a pass to full back Fletcher who took it at full pelt. He ran downfield and then in an arc around the Colliers full back Chris Bibb to score the try of the game which, (need I say it anymore) Pearce, who by then had been announced as Man of the Match, converted.
As referee Haigh blew the final whistle, and the appeals for fans to stay behind the fences rang out around the ground, Smithy and the lads did a lap of honour with not a soul leaving the place until they had paid homage to another remarkable win in a remarkable season. Of course on this occasion we lost the following week to a disputed O’Hara try against Widnes in the final, but this was just the shape of things to come, as the Brian Smith bandwagon gained momentum and we enjoyed a great couple of seasons, culminating with us winning the prize of the Premiership Trophy against the same Widnes two years later. The old Boulevard was certainly a great place to be back then!
Don’t forget this Saturday, the eve of Remembrance Sunday, when at 11-00am there will be a short homage, as the members of FC Voices lay a wreath at the Jack Harrison Memorial on the Stadium Concourse.
And, that’s about it for this week, another Diary over and another week gone by. There has been news, but not much of it, but I hope you enjoyed another read and thanks again for sticking with it until the end and for making the Diary so popular. I really do appreciate your support and I’ll be back next week when once again I’ll try and find something to talk about as we move through the closed season and look forward to the new campaign together!
And Finally through my abject inability to take flash photographs and especially because it was Halloween on Saturday here’s one to scare the kids!!!