A strange expression? Well that was the headline in the Sunday Mirror the day after that wonderful win over St Helens at the Galfarm Stadium in the 2005 semi-final and although a completely different sort of victory manifest itself at Doncaster on Friday night, Hull is certainly ‘a poppin’ again! But boy what a bloody performance that was on Friday!!
For me the semi final was one of those magical nights which come all too infrequently in the life of an average fan, when the unlikely happens, the unthinkable becomes reality and you dare to dream. What a night, what a performance and what an outcome!
What helped to make it so special was the fact that both sides wanted the prize so much and, if the end was indeed ‘magical’, for the long suffering FC fan, the reality of enduring the game up until that joyous final hooter went, saw us fluctuating between a state of panic and one of ecstasy; it was simply heart stopping at times.
The whole thing was draining, tense, excruciating, mesmerising, dour, unbelievable, agonizing and finally just absolutely, absolutely wonderful. It saw the full gambit of emotions laid bare and what a fabulous night it was for everyone who managed to attend. Those who had to watch at home no doubt hiding behind the sofa, missed a massive occasion and a wonderful atmosphere, but you must have all had a tense time too, on what was a great day to be associated with the famous Hull FC, wherever you were watching them from.
Anyone with an ounce of soul could not fail to be grabbed by the occasion and since then I’ve had a permanent smile on my face and am just so proud to support my Club. It was a pulsating encounter, a fabulous game and a wonderful outcome which for the third time in 9 years sees us just 80 minutes away from total redemption!!
That final excruciating ten minutes will live with me forever as 8000 black and white voices sang the boys home and for now at least the RL press, those BBC commentators, the match officials and indeed anyone else who has doubted our renaissance this season can eat their hearts out, the FC are back, we’re off to Wembley again and this time we ain’t coming back empty handed!!!
I can talk for hours about the game, the crowd and the emotion of it all, about the effort, the drama and the way that the official and the games disciplinary panel both did their best to make sure we didn’t come out victorious, but first perhaps I should touch on what went before for an ordinary fan who found himself on Friday afternoon, full of concern and foreboding. So I wrote the next paragraph in real time at 4-20pm that very day…
I’m sat here at home in my lucky purple away shirt and my equally lucky Wembley scarf, just about ready to depart! I’m doing this now, because I feel I have to record that I have never felt so blooming apprehensive before a game and I can only surmise that as I get older, so it gets worse!! In the old days of Arthurs Army, and Brian Smith, I was always so pissed beforehand that it all washed over me a bit, but now, with responsibilities, things to do and cars to drive, such ‘calming influences’ are no more and I’m sat here in Beverley feeling nothing but raw anxiety; what a sad case I am eh?
Well, sad yes, but at that time as we all set off to face our destiny, I’ll bet you I wasn’t on my own in any of those feelings!! Oh to be a stamp collector or a train spotter at times like that eh?
You know people who have never become emotionally involved with a sports team really don’t get us lot who are so consumed by it all and indeed they often have a good laugh at those of us who find ourselves in this predicament. Family and friends trot out the usual ‘It’s only a game’ sort of comments, when of course to the indoctrinated fanatic it’s never ONLY a game! Nevertheless once you’re going round in ‘the tumble drier’ that is the world of the dedicated supporter, you can’t run and you can’t hide, there’s nothing you can do to get it out of your system and, as you get older, approaching these games just seems to get worse and worse.
We travelled to the game by car, this time with Joe who manages this site and Natasha his partner and we all really enjoyed the experience ….eventually! We got parked for £7 on a factory car park where the ‘jumble’ of cars meant that it was never going to be easy getting out and in the excitement, apprehension and eagerness to get inside the ground, I left the flask and the drinks in the boot, in truth I was already in pieces, but no-one cared really, we’d got there!!
The place was absolutely banging throughout and I don’t think I have seen so many happy (and drunk) people at the end. I spoke to two Match Day Stewards who told me they had been working there since the Keepmoat opened and they had never seen anything like that crowd!! However, as a game of rugby I think I found the whole thing better for watching back at home afterwards. I say that because being there with my heart pounding I became so engrossed in it all that I was making every tackle and catching every ball and it was hard to remember what had actually gone before. Gareth Ellis said on the player mike in the second half, “This is too tense for me” and few could argue with that, for it was drama of the first order and as we watched as passionate a display as you’ll probably ever see on a rugby field, the tension was at times unbearable. Wigan were the favourites, the ‘Cup kings’ and the team destined to appear at Wembley again, but no-one told our players. We battled through a tense first half and went in trailing by just 4 points. Things needed tweaking a bit at half time and whatever Lee said, our lads came out and amazingly found another gear in their go forward as we grabbed two so, so precious tries.
In full voice!
It was none stop drama and from the first minute the pressure was really on as we witnessed some huge performances right across the field with Seke Manu reserving his best outing in black and white thus far for this critical encounter.
He tackled everything and everybody and was immense down the right and with Fornua, his main ally, he really ‘bust’ them out there at the start of the second half, while at the other side Talanoa, so strong and direct, was unplayable at times. His big bust up the middle in the second set certainly dictated the tone for the game, which saw a determined and resolute Wigan outfit hanging in there for long periods, but always looking as if perhaps they could snatch it! If it was an enthralling spectacle for the neutral, it was at times a life shortening one for us lot stood in our seats……. wondering!
Of course Sneyd was massive, with his goal kicking eventually again proving the difference. However with Tumavive just back in the side and looking just a bit green at times, Mark ran the game at both sides of the field at times and dictated play perfectly as he tried to keep our momentum going. Three forward passes in the first half were a worry, but the flat nature of some of our attacking play dictated that might happen and for me Sneydy was simply superb and has blossomed into the half back we always craved. Perhaps now we just need another.
Sometimes you know, as FC fans, I think that we take Danny Houghton a little bit for granted and yet when you step back from it all he is just massive. His control of acting half was brilliant as he exposed the Wigan defence time and again when jumping out on a scoot, or by varying the pass to the oncoming forwards. Watts and Taylor were also big parts of our success down the middle and they both ran themselves to a standstill, whilst for me it was probably Chris Greens best outing thus far. He gained some great yards and always made himself available at first man.
Minichiello was into everything in attack and looked to be tackling at least two or three times in every set, whilst Gareth Ellis was simply Captain Fantastic. What a player he is and at 35 what a leader on the pitch too.
We do play better when Gareth is out there and his enthusiasm, strength and will to get over the advantage line are good pointers for every young player coming into the game. Frank played his part as well although he is being asked to play a roll down the middle as almost an extra prop coming up from loose forward and for me, that wide running game we saw from him in the pre-season drubbing of Rovers, is his best option. Fonua was big until his injury, while Kirk was, as usual, dependable throughout, pulling off some miraculous defence at times and gaining yards with every drive. Stevie Michaels took his try well and had a top game too. In fact everyone excelled from Shaul, who was brilliant throughout at the back, to Thompson and Washy who were big and strong off the bench; in fact on Friday night everyone was a hero and everyone a star!
Watching the spectacle as it unfolded was simply nerve racking and a bit of drizzle and a wet ball just added to the drama as we lost possession on a regular basis towards the end. In fact, in the last quarter I was sat with my head in my hands and as we hung on, the clock was stood still, as every second seemed to last a minute and every minute an hour. Mr Phaler certainly didn’t help either and watching it back my suspicions were confirmed in that although I couldn’t question the penalties we conceded, the infuriating bit was when Wigan came up with the same offences and they went unpunished. The referee had for me a poor game and at times in the last quarter we were playing him, as well as the Pies! I totally lost count of the times he gave Wigan the benefit of the doubt or just waived away offences whilst constantly giving decisions against Hull in similar situations… However I guess we are all used to that by now aren’t we?
However our defence was great and the tracking back and cover tackling in the last fifteen minutes was just fabulous to watch. In reality Hull knocked the stuffing out of the Warriors, who to a man on the final hooter, sank to their knees in sheer disbelief, exasperation and exhaustion.
It was so hard watching and yet the scenes at the end will stay with all of us who were there for the rest of our lives. Whilst on the field everyone connected with the club ran on to congratulate the lads, who smiled and danced as if they had won a trophy already. On the terraces women (and me) cried, grown men danced, lads sat on their mates shoulders, the chanting began and everyone just revelled in the afterglow of one of the most exciting games we had experienced for years. What an occasion we witnessed, what a special group of players we have and what a prize we gained.
In fact, while we are on the subject, what a group of supporters we have, because watching it back in the early hours of Saturday only served to confirm for me that we were both ‘loud and proud’ and we’re still without doubt the best supporters in the League. To say that a successful Hull FC is good for the British game is for me a no brainer and certainly not an understatement.
A moment to saver!
I’ve talked about the heroes out on the field but sitting here on Saturday trying to write this rubbish, I’m just so, so pleased for Adam Pearson as well.
I know he must at times have wondered just what he bought when he took a punt on Hull FC, but he always said that it would take time and it certainly has, however if we’re not careful he could even find himself the custodian of a team about to move into another golden era. I also feel pleased for Lee Radford, he’s a top bloke and as a fan as well as our coach, he gets it, he gets the Rovers stuff and he understands us lot too. On top of that he is developing into a great coach and a first class man manager to boot. I and many reading this have at times doubted him, but in the cold light of Saturday morning with 4 weeks to go to Wembley, he stands with the rest of this fabulous group of players, just 80 minutes away from immortality.
What a great tribute it was to the FC Faithful that around 8000 made the trip on Friday and despite the fact that I’m hearing that Adam is still losing money on the Club, (a situation that can’t go on forever), there must be some scope for a bit of optimism with that sort of take up, that passion and the resultant return of some lapsed fans. Everyone is certainly high on emotion at present and I think if it were up to me, I would have got next seasons memberships on sale at a discounted price, for both current holders and new subscribers (with a decent discount and the unoccupied reserve seats in the East and West offered to new members). Although this is not the place to discuss it, off the field times are still hard and one thing’s for sure, we need to increase season ticket sales for 2017!
He’s enjoying it; get ‘em while they’re hot Adam!
As I said earlier, the magnitude of the occasion certainly got to me in the end, but on a personal note it perhaps wasn’t as bad as it could have been. You’ll remember, if you read this stuff every week, that a year or so ago I was starting to worry myself a bit because I was getting so wound up by it all. As I said in edition 500 I didn’t anymore want to know how the ‘illusion or trick was done’, but to rather get back to the old situation whereby you just sat back in the audience and enjoyed the show!! After 9 years I ditched my chairmanship of FC Voices, thus distancing myself somewhat from my close associations with those in and at the top of the Club, I tried to stop being so negative and started being more cautious and even considered giving up writing this weekly rubbish too, all in an attempt to get back to that wonderful scenario that is just being an ordinary fan who tips up every weekend to enjoy a game and win or lose treats every encounter philosophically!
But, if I have learned one thing then it’s, that’s all bollocks really, because it just doesn’t happen that way does it? However that said this game was still an ideal opportunity to gauge what progress I had made. I’m pleased to report that I managed the stress of last week really well. I kept busy, it passed reasonably easily and my settled disposition was only really ruffled with all the texts I kept getting from my pals, enquiring as to whether I was nervous!! But, it was an interesting experiment I guess, because at least it confirmed what I suspected in that these days I seem to only get uneasy and stressed out days before a game, when that match is a local Derby. Boy I must detest Rovers! However when I started to read the morning papers last Friday, the anxiety began to bite a bit and by lunchtime I was suitably wound up and struggling, but on balance I guess that’s pretty acceptable. In the end all was well that ended well and I’m still ecstatic 48 hours after the hooter went at Doncaster; what a game and what a performance eh???
So I guess now I should do a bit about the rest of the week and with the advent of the fixtures for the rest of the season last Wednesday it became clearer as to what our path to the culmination of what has been a great season is to be. I think with the run in we have, which alternates home and away games, it’s much better than say the one last years that lumped home games and away games in pairs. Of course you want to beat everyone, but after all the trauma celebration and stress of that win last Friday and the then ensuing anticipation of a Wembley final (how good does that sound), if we can target and win three , then it’s likely that we will get into the play-off . Although that said, with four or five victories we’ll have a good chance of the top two and a home draw. So we know what we have to do and the 4 home games which bring with them the advantage of playing at the KC certainly appear to be crucial; win them and we’re there!
Starting next Friday the first round against Cas is a tough one, but then again ain’t they all? After what went before this looks to be a massive task as the ‘Tigers’ are finding some form and with Rangi likely to be back as well, they will come to play some open rugby. We will in turn therefore be thrown straight back into the melting pot and a lot will depend on what last Friday took out of us particularly in the psychological department! We have somehow to be refreshed and ready! In round two we also have the chance for retribution at Widnes and then it’s just a case of taking games one at a time; however it should be an interesting two months.
The introduction of a 4 game ticket bundle for the play–off Super 8’s is a great idea, particularly with kids tickets coming in at £7-50 a game and I hope people take it up and that those who do, can be converted to season ticket holders for next season. Of course much of that audience retention opportunity depends on how we play in the 4 home games but with the ‘Wembley effect’ weighing into the equation too, it’s a massive opportunity!
The way we have progressed this season isn’t just a bit of luck nor is it in any way (despite what Shaun Wane says) entirely down to the signings we have made, because behind the scenes a revolution is going on and that renaissance includes the way that we help young players bridge the considerable gap between the Under 19’s Academy and the first team. One of the main failings of the youngster stepping up for his debut has always been his inability to defend at the level needed when the chips are down in the first team defensive line. Lee Radford said last week, “It’s a difficult one if you’re not physically capable of defending there, set after set. In that position the timescale of coming through is also later than normal. I’m really cautious to ensure that protection for them but at the same time I do want to bring them through. We’ve got a progression plan and you can see that in the recruitment that we’ve done.”
That sort of indicates that the youngsters we have signed from other Clubs for 2017 show a conscious plan with regard to progression and as for our own youth products Radford has also been quick to send players out on loan in a bid to give his reserve stars as much first-team ‘bridging’ experience as possible. Lately that has seen Harry Tyson-Wilson featuring at York, while Brad Fash has joined Richard Whiting over at Championship leaders Leigh.
It was the same for much vaunted half-back Jordan Abdull who went over to Featherstone and whilst he struggled a bit in what was a slower format, his form since his return to Hull to play in a faster paced reserve league has been so much improved that he has been the stand out player every time he has taken to the field. Meanwhile his renewed confidence was rewarded by our Coach as he returned to revel in a strong performance, as we rolled Hull KR 36-12 in the derby.
“There’s a natural progression there so it’s up to us now to make sure they’re playing at a good and quick level,” continued Radford. “We’ve done that with the reserves, a competition that is faster than League One. We’ve got the data to prove that. We’ve sent some kids out on loan and they’ve had a GPS on them and we’ve done the same with our under-23s. That experiment proved that the reserves is a faster game – for me it’s the next step up into Super League”. I guess that just shows what an important part technology has to play in sport and explains that little square box many of the players wear at the top of the back of their shirts. The fact it’s a faster game in the reserves was also borne out by Jordan Abdull who talked about how he progressed back to the first team against Rovers in such style.
He puts the bulk of that improvement down to the Under 23’s when he said, ““It’s helped me get my confidence back, and it’s also benefited other young guys in the team like Jack Downs, who has gone on to play first team, too. “The standard is really good as well. It’s played at a quick speed and you have guys from Warrington who have played first team quite regularly such as Tom Lineham playing in it. So it’s definitely a decent standard and something that can help young players.”
Radford even referred to this over all infrastructure of youth development as being part of a bigger picture for the club that is based on what he found when he was at Bradford, which was something that many of us suspected from day one! Still, having seen what results it has brought, then I somehow think that all the long term planning put into getting us to where we are at present, should see us all well pleased with how things are going thus far!
Here’s an interesting one for my pal Tommy Ball who has lived in the States and still visits there on a regular basis. Here are the US license plates that he uses over there, good stuff I thought!
Now on a lighter note and standing in the car park at Donny before the game on Friday I was talking to Bill Benson and Harry Fredrickson who have been fans just about as long as I have. We got talking about our current team and indeed about the fact that with Jordan Rankin last year and Frank and Fonua this, we thankfully still have a few personalities at the Club and that in a game that is fast becoming devoid of them. So in Codgers Corner this week I promised the guys that I would feature a look back on something we have never been in short supply of at our club; real characters!! There is no doubt that that there is always a place in the hearts of the fans for those players who, be they good or bad on the field, brought a bit extra to our enjoyment of the black and whites, and often a little extra in the dressing rooms too.
My mind went back to a great centre we had in the 60’s called Dick Gemmell he was an international and quite a serious sort of bloke most of the time but that demeanour actually hid a guy who possessed a wicked sense of humour. Dick once played with a really bad ankle injury, he had to, because it was the Yorkshire Cup final in 1969, (which we eventually won by beating Featherstone 12-9). After the game I remember he stated with a big smile that he had actually bandaged up the good ankle and left the bad one uncovered to throw the opposition off the scent and stop them targeting his bad injury.
Then of course my thoughts went to the great Mick Crane, who I have already featured here in the Diary and who everyone has a story about. You could write a full diary just centring on his pranks and idiosyncrasies. He was the king of the characters and must have infuriated every coach he played for, but we just loved him. He turned up for training with a bag of chips from Crimliss’s in Airlie Street and even used to pop off the field for a swift drag ‘blagged’ off someone smoking on the fence of the Threepenny’s. But if Mick was the greatest character we ever had, then there are certainly plenty of others that spring to mind, who were not far behind!
Remember Lee Crooks, one of the most talent youngsters the club has ever produced. He, it was rumoured, sometimes liked a couple of pints before a game. I remember one Good Friday Derby when Lee, after about 20 minutes, popped off to the changing rooms, he was back in a minute, but we all chanted “We know where you’ve been” when he returned. Once in a game at the Boulevard in 1979 Paul Woods, that doyen of the ‘Coat hanger’ tackle, and one of the hardest players I have ever seen play rugby league, tried to sneak a few yards on a conversion attempt from the touch line in front of the Threepenny stand. The referee spotted him and immediately moved the ball back to the whitewash of the touchline. Paul placed the ball, took 4 strides back to the metal fence, wiped his boot, climbed over it, cleared the crowd and prepared his run up from 3 steps up the terracing! The place was in uproar, even the referee laughed. Great stuff!
Remember too, John Maloney, who used to turn up at games in his companies Bentley and “Super” Alf Macklin, who regularly turned up for games at the Boulevard on a bike, sometimes with a pot of paint on the handlebars! Alf could get you most things it seemed and he was always in demand in the dressing rooms. He was a real card, and once furtively taped Coach David Doyle Davidson’s pre match talk. The following week David was just about to launch into his usual stereotypical speech ‘gung ho’ when Alf started the tape recorder and said, “Don’t worry boss and save your breath for the touchline, we’ve got last weeks on tape”.
Whilst I am remembering ‘Super’ Alf he had another idiosyncrasy in that he would not eat hotel or restaurant food and so his Mum, who I knew as she worked at the Council as a cleaner, packed him up every week with some sandwiches. It is said that there was always a fight between his team mates at any meals out on the ‘road’, as apparently you could be guaranteed an extra plate of food, if you could get to sit next to Alf!! Another real ‘court jester’ in the 60’s was Terry Devonshire who would crack a joke whatever, and whenever the circumstances. He used to have a running conversation with the referee most of the time. Once though, it got him into trouble because in a game at York when Jim Neale was sent off, chirpy ‘Dev’ trotted up to the referee and in his usual joking manner, ruffled his hair and said, “Come on Mate, why have you sent ‘Neilly’ off, what was that for”. He must have caught referee Eric Lawrenson on a bad day though, because he swiftly retorted, “You had better go and ask him yourself, you’ve messed my hair up, so you’re off as well”.
Another amazing character I remember was Jack Kinsley the clubs physio in the 70’s. He was a hard man and the players hated going to him when they were injured, in fact Kenny Foulkes once told me that they would play injured rather than have their injuries ‘manipulated’ by Jack. I remember once seeing him put two of Tony Duke’s fingers ‘back in’ on the field after he had dislocated them, before turning to the Threepennys and feigning crying whilst pointing to Tony. Dukesy was a tough character but Boy Oh Boy, did he dance that day!!! Chris Davidson was another great halfback who used to love a laugh! He was also a local publican and at one particular game, he made a couple of mistakes and took a lot of abuse from an individual on the Threepenny Stand, who it turned out was one of his customers. How do I know that fact? Well, Chris walked over to the touchline looked over to us in the stand and shouted, “Don’t bother coming in tonight Johnny, your barred!”
Even the great Arthur Keegan had his quirks that made his a bit of a character because despite playing for our club for 12 years he never moved from his home in Dewsbury. Arthur loved living in the West Riding, and also refused to drive and used to travel by train 3 times a week to Hull and never complained! Then there was Vince Farrer who started the exodus of great players from the West Riding to the Boulevard in the late 70’s. He was renowned for being a ‘bit careful’ with his money. He had the clubs bonus system worked out to a ‘T’ and would give his colleagues a running commentary during games on how much they were owed by the points we had scored and how much certain mistakes had cost them as well. Farrer was big friends too with Charlie Stone, Clive Pickerill and John Newlove, all exiles from the West Riding, and these 4 were always getting up to something. On one trip to Australia with the British Lions Charlie had his case searched by customs on arrival Down Under. The guy found nothing but Charlie just said “I hope you’re going to repack that because it took our lass two hours to get the lid shut!!” Indeed talking of cases after an end of season jolly to Tonnes to play the French outfit in a friendly it was not until Knocker Norton got home to his house in Castleford and opened his case that he realised that he had left all his clothes in the wardrobe in France. If you know Knocker you will know that is eminently believable!
I once saw the 1980’s players at an after match get together in the Mermaid pub near Hessle that is sadly no more. That night one of the young players was a bit down in the mouth and had been that way for a couple of weeks because his girlfriend had packed him in. Farrer, Newlove, Pickerill and Stone soon disappeared into the gents with a hold all and appeared about ten minutes later in full drag, wigs make up and all!! They were all posing as replacements for the youngsters lost love!!!
That great forward of the early 70’s, Mick Harrison was another real card. He was most famous for always starting the games of “Off Ground” tig the players used to play on the girders of the old Boothferry Bridge, when they stopped at the Café there for a break on their way to away games. Then there was the late great Tony Dean whose Bobby Ball impersonation (usually performed with that other doyen of the practical joke the late Ronnie Wileman as Tommy Cannon) which was a regular post match attraction and well, I could go on and on and probably will in future Diary’s. However I for one feel that some of these characters have just done their bit, often in hard times, to make my enjoyment of the club I love a little more fun and I’ll probably remember their antics a lot longer than I remember their exploits on the field of play. Many thanks to both Bill and Harry for raising the subject of characters at Donny last Friday and I hope I’ve done the subject justice guys!
Well, what a Diary this has been to write and what a great feeling it is to be back in the final for the 4th time in 12 years. Dare I even say that it’s almost as if it was written in the stars that we would succeed on Friday, as the youngsters who are fulfilling their potential once again combined with the veterans that are defying their age, to get us home in a game that we would surely not have won before this campaign?
It was certainly tough but after dispatching Wigan there are no teams to truly fear when we set our stall out to get up for the big game and that includes Warrington, because this time around we are much better equipped than we were three years ago to take the biggest prize there is for a Hull FC fan! It will be getting up for the other games in the Super 8’s that is the big test. However with Abdull, Pryce, Hadley, Bowden, Naughton, Feke etc waiting in the wings we certainly have some strength in depth, something that was borne out by a massively impressive win for the Under 23’s by 42 points to 20 away at Wigan yesterday.
So that’s it and I guess after a wonderful night last Friday we have now as I say to try and think about next weekend and the start of the Super Eights at home to Castleford. Boy, in the context of getting up again after the war at the Keepmoat, this is certainly going to be tough! With a week off for the opposition and an absolutely mind numbing performance by our lads at Donny, energy will be down and there will no doubt be a few knocks and injury issues, so the omens are not good. However it will be great to all be back at the KC and there should be a great ‘Pre-Wembley’ atmosphere.
In closing I must apologise for this Diary, in that reading it back it is certainly a bit over the top again as I struggle each week to animate in here just how excited I am by some of our performances, but wow, was I ‘pumped’ after that amazing game and the drama of it all. Everyone who ‘made some noise’ needs a big pat on the back for it was again a great and passionate performance on the terraces that got us home when the chips were down. Thanks for all your correspondence and comments and for all those readers who came to empathise with me at Doncaster, what a night, what a team and what a memory!!!
Let’s hope however that even that pales into insignificance when compared with our next big challenge!!
Wembley here we come!