The Dentist’s Diary – 503rd

Well who didn’t see that coming, because I’m afraid to say I did!!

We had a real dig in the second half but on the whole we were poor and without doubt the best team won, however as I say our lack of intensity was, for me at least, pretty predictable. We don’t win these games, we rarely have over the years and we were always going to suffer a comedown after the emotion, stress and unreserved relief of winning the semi final. You’d better believe it too, that when you’re in that position and mindset, a fresh, rested and ‘carefree’ Castleford side are exactly the sort of opposition you don’t want to be playing!!

They played well, without worries or any pressure on them. They’ll be going to Wembley, but their only concern is where they’ll be sitting! Our players now have the euphoria of a Cup Final appearance and the hopes of a massive FC Army weighing on their minds and it showed on Friday. There were, in the first half hour, when we went 20-0 down, similarities to that debacle at Widnes back in round 5, but to their credit the players dug deep and made a game of it for the rest of the match. That effort showed me that we have at least improved since that bleak night; however by then the damage was done!!

I hope we have got that performance out of our system and it has helped our lot have a long look at themselves and re-group. Several of them were certainly ill prepared and a few, I thought, looked a tad jaded. We are still top of the League and will sit there for another week and even if we were to lose the next two matches, don’t despair, because we still all know what this squad of players can do, for they are, on their day, as good a group as we’ve had for years.

Unfortunately Friday was simply not their day!

However, for me, come the final, those same players give us as good a chance as we have ever had of winning that coveted trophy and as fans we simply have to believe in them!!!

Welcome to a Diary which, due to some technical issues, is shorter than usual and unfortunately devoid of any pictures. Normal service will however resume again next week; a sentiment I hope extends to the players too.

All week my thoughts had fluctuated between dreaming of the twin towers and wondering how Friday’s game would turn out. One filled me with hope and expectation, whilst the other scared me stiff. I’ll leave you to decide which was which. I received my Cup Final tickets from the RL and got a good reduction through a discount code, which I found out, when the tickets arrived, was only on full price tickets and that saw me, the poor old senior citizen, paying more for my ‘concessionary’ ticket than everyone else in our party!! Still we are in the Holiday Inn at Wembley and up there behind the sticks at the Hull end, were we will be joined by around 30,000 other FC fans.

I was talking to a pal on Sunday in the showers at the gym and he was really despondent following the loss against Cas however he went on to say at the end of our conversation, “I don’t know how you can be so optimistic” I assured him that optimism was not a quality I embraced at all these days and that I was just as down as he was at the end of the match, but having then to sit back, think about it, watch it again and write this, often made you more philosophical about what was, as I said earlier, something that I saw coming anyway. I guess I’d prepared myself for it, but we both agreed in closing that there is little doubt that all the stress, disappointment and scepticism does get worse and worse as you get older. I guess my feelings that we might yet end the season empty handed are just part of a defence mechanism I have adopted, which has become, over years of disappointment, part of my DNA.

In the build up to the match I got to thinking about how we’re pretty good at semi finals in the cup and how the last time we lost a Challenge Cup semi final was, I thought, way back in 1987 when we had to replay before we lost to Halifax. However that said and with us having played 4 semi finals since then, all of which we’ve won, I struggled too to remember any sort of consistency of results after such a game. Indeed in 2013 in the next match we went on to beat Widnes 72-10 whilst back in 2008 we lost the match after the semi to Wigan 66-6. That didn’t comfort me much, because I could feel the worrying signs all week and feared that we could struggle against a Cas side with nothing to lose. However I drew solace from the fact that back in that glorious year of 2005 under Johnny Kear, we lost two and won just one of our games between the semi at Huddersfield and that glorious Final victory at Cardiff (before going on to get mullered at Bradford in the play-offs).

I also mused last week on what that game at Doncaster took out of us and also, on the invitations I had seen from local Clubs and pubs for the lads to go and celebrate their success last weekend. Then I thought about those players who had never been to Wembley before, those south sea islanders who came to do just that and the players for whom this was, as far as Wembley was concerned, the last chance saloon. Everyone would I concluded, have other things on their minds when they ran out against Castleford. In addition the possibility of getting injured must in these circumstances cross the player’s mind’s as well.

Then I thought about Castleford with a week off, sat last weekend with a beer and their feet up watching Wigan knocking seven bells of excreta out of us. I mused on the fact that in reality they would never get in the top 4 and so they would come to the KC, play without any fetters, throw the ball about and enjoy themselves, which is I guess, looking back, exactly what they did.

All week we heard about how the players were up for it and how high they were after that victory and that’s were for me the problem lay, because although I’ve bulled him up so much lately, on this occasion I think some of the blame for that showing must fall at the feet of our coach. Lee should have spotted what was happening and although all the players were ‘putting their hands up to play’, when you consider us constantly being told about the depth of the Clubs playing strength (which saw no less than 5 players getting 10 out of 10 in the Mail ratings after the Under 23’s game at Wigan) perhaps we should have played some of them!! The coach runs the team; it’s not run by the players however respected and ‘senior’ they are. His post match press conference was the shortest ‘on record’ lasting just 90 seconds and perhaps, just perhaps, he was beating himself up a bit because he had let his heart rule his head when he should have ignored the players and picked what he thought was the best mentally prepared, fittest and most energised 17.

Just look for a moment back to last year when we were in Castleford’s position in the Super 8’s and we experimented with youth. We won at Saints and almost overcame Wigan away too with a team stuffed with junior players, so why not give it a go, have a bit of a punt and match Castleford’s verve and enthusiasm with some of our youngsters (and perhaps Leon Pryce). Quite frankly for me, Dean Hadley must wonder what he has to do to get a game!!

It was my opinion that during the first half we were suffering from fatigue and were listless and un-focussed. We invited them to run at us too much without going out to meet them, however in the second half when we gave it a real dig to get within 8 points of Cas, I changed my mind and thought it was perhaps a mental thing that, after all the celebrating made them think that they could do no wrong and just had to turn up to win. Perhaps in the end it was a bit of both and our mental focus and physical energy were both an issue, as was I believe, the loss of big hitters Watts, Talanoa and Fornua.

Whatever it was, there were some poor showings and surprisingly the players we brought in, Noggers, Bowden and Abdull, all failed to show up at all. It was their big chance, but for me they all failed to impress. Across the three-quarters with the exception of Yeamo who seems week in week out to not let anyone down and ‘does what it says on the tin’, our three-quarters were (early on in particular) pretty hapless. Carlos just doesn’t look or defend like a centre and Noggers and Michaels were pretty ineffective as well. Once we got going in the second half Castleford were struggling to hold us but for long periods of the first we looked tired and at times not bothered. It was certainly one to forget and as Warrington lost too, some would say perhaps a typical response from the winners, after the semi finals.

When we were 8 points behind with just 5 minutes to go and charging out of our half from the restart, the way that Thompson lost the ball in the impact was typical of what had gone before and finished off completely any chance we had! Thompson in fact lost the ball a time or two and was off the mark for me and epitomised what I’m trying to say about players not being 100% tuned in.

Yet, there was a good piece from Jordan in the Mail on Friday which indicated the ‘line’ the players were adopting, although we never put into practise what was said and indeed what we had been told. In one short interview Thompson talked about what Andy Last had said about real heroes being the ones who back up big games with big performances and also commented on what Danny Houghton and Gareth Ellis had said about not throwing this opportunity away. That ethos left us in good stead for the game, but you have to believe and live what you are saying and on this occasion we just played lip service to what appeared to be some warnings as to what could happen if we were not careful. Thompson and several other players weren’t indeed careful and we all saw what happened didn’t we?

Performance wise there were few highlights really. I thought Sneyd tried really hard, Ellis battled away, Frank Pritchard drove well but should have been played wider out, Shaul tried his best, Taylor battled forward and Houghton tried everything to get us moving, but few others stood out and there will be several licking their wounds when they return to training today. Without Fanoa, who has in fairness worked hard on his defence, the left side which was targeted again cost us two easy early tries.

I thought that Jordan Abdull looked a bit ‘heavy’ again and he struggled to get going, he’s only young, but his inability to show some discipline in controlling his weight is very disappointing for me and must already cast a doubt as to whether he is the answer at half back. However in general as a team we were just not at it! Everyone is allowed a blip and no one is going to win them all, but that was disappointing if only because we should now have the mental tenacity to front up to such challenges. Indeed many of us sat there in the stand realised that our ability to get mentally prepared for any eventuality is still an issue and our resolve in these situations is still questionable.

So, we lost and we move onto Widnes and another really tough game! I feel we have to get another 4 points to get us into the top 4, which is the least we deserve after a great first 24 rounds, so we have to get our heads together and have a dig next Thursday. However what is good is that we seem to be managing to avoid any injuries, although there are still 160 minutes of rugby to go before the great day is upon us!

So onto the week gone by and on the whiffs front this week it’s hard to know where we are with the fans wishes to try and keep Stevie Michaels at the KC. However the 18th man web site FC writer Lewis Scott had some interesting if slightly off the mark comments to make about it this week when he said, “…. speculation on social media has suggested that this could be Kirk Yeaman’s last season for Hull FC after spending 15 years at the club. After over 350 appearances, ‘Yeamo’ is yet to be offered a new contract and could be on his way out of the club. This would make room for FC to retain Michaels but at the cost of losing someone who is considered a legend in West Hull”

I would just add that my sources would indicate that Yeamo may well have been offered a new one year deal, but that doesn’t mean to say this might not still be his last season, however if ‘on his way out of the Club’ implies he’s off somewhere else, then I believe that won’t be happening and if and when Kirk leaves I still think it will be as the ‘one team’ FC legend that he is!

Personally I’d love to keep them both, but I’m not managing the clubs salary cap and as for Lewis’s thoughts on wages I doubt Kirks wage would match Stevie’s anyway! Also on the rumours front I’m told Rovers James Green has accepted an offer to play in Australia and that in form Warrington Centre Ryan Atkins is in fact joining Wakefield next season in what is a really surprising move.

The Club is certainly getting its act together with regard to cashing in on the Wembley experience and how important to Adam Pearson it must be to get as much cash in as possible. It’s a massive opportunity and the Club have to capitalise on it. No club in the competition budgets for the Cup at all and anything that it brings in is a bonus. Last year the Dobbins made a killing on the final which has propped them up through a tough year. So, with this year’s attendance looking to break recent records we should be in for a nice little wodge of dosh come the end of the season. It will be without doubt a cash bonanza that has come just at the right time and it should see us turning what was going to be at best a break even campaign into a winning and lucrative one.

Things are moving already this week and we heard what the Clubs strip was to be on the big day and although the shirt looks smart, I was a bit disappointed that we weren’t going for a tradition irregular hoops design. The choice can’t be down to the home shirts sponsors, because we changed to the excellent white star shirt for the semi final, so I would have loved to see us lining up in a really traditional shirt or at least the white star one, but they’ll no doubt have their reasons and that’s just me being sentiment I guess! In fact I remember in here saying something along the same lines back in 2013, when we ditched the shirt with all the players that had played for us on it, which we wore in the semi, for the final. I’m sure we’ll have some great commemorative T shirts and stuff coming into the shops and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s forthcoming!

With regard to the last time we were at Wembley, I remember that the club were reluctant at first to have the traditional send off that we used to enjoy at Brantingham, were the fans were given the opportunity to wave off the players as they left for Wembley. However they gave in and we all went down to the KC to wish the lads well. Tradition is for me very important and I think its part of the ritual and I hope we do it again this year, in fact I believe that FC Voices are to approach the Club about ensuring they consider including it again this time and I hope fans will press for it too. As for the afters, well if anything is to happen in Hull, it will only be if we win and then on the Monday after the game (which is a Bank Holiday), so no one will have to rush home on Sunday! Whether Bobby Bubbles has been booked however I really don’t know!!

Meanwhile with 75,000 tickets sold for what is expected to be an enthralling game and with still some 3 weeks to go the Final is heading for the first ever Challenge Cup sell out at the new Wembley. Warrington & Leeds set the record at the refurbished national stadium in 2010 with just over 85,000, but with sales continuing to go well it’s expected that this year’s attendance will beat that. The lower bowl has now all but sold out and with both us and Warrington expected to bring around 50,000 supporters in total; it should be an electric afternoon.

Now, sports supporters are without doubt a superstitious crowd. It’s a strange existence being a fan really and if you’re long standing one then chances are that you’re watching habits will be steeped in tradition. My pal Adam used to carry a lucky conker with him to every game, well he did till he threw it in disgust onto the field at Wigan after a particularly big defeat. Harry James, who sadly passed away the other month, used to wear his Hull shirt to bed the night before a game if we won, and keep it on next day, whilst I once knew a lady who refused to wear make up for games since Wembley 1985 when the tears at the end made her eye shadow run. Some people play a certain song on the way to big games (it’s ‘The World goes on’ by Barclay James Harvest for me) whilst others have a ritual about what they eat before they go and so it goes on. When I moved to Bunkers Hill from the Threepenny’s to watch games at the Boulevard in the late 80’s, I adopted a lucky step. Why exactly it was ‘lucky’ is shrouded and lost in the ‘black holes’ manufactured by copious amounts of Mansfield Bitter, but it was lucky none the less and woe betides anyone who stood on it!

On occasions it has been said of late that our Coach Lee Radford is a fan as well as a Coach and so I guess it was to be expected that he would have rituals too. After last Friday’s triumph at the Keepmoat Stadium he was asked what has been the reason behind the side’s recent success. “I’ll let you in to a secret… it’s the same outfit! Socks, underpants, the lot!, they’ve not been washed no, and I’ll be wearing them at Wembley!” How reassuring that is and how it makes me feel a lot better now; although perhaps it would be best no to get down wind of Lee in the meantime!! Now, where’s my lucky scarf??

Well it was certainly a monumental game and a massive event to attend and so I guess it was only natural that the memory of that great semi final would resonate with the FC faithful throughout the past week. I got loads of PM’s, texts and messages which ended up in the avalanche of Mail I got last week. It was great to hear from you all and thanks so much for getting in touch and sharing the moment! However Christopher Parker sent me a particularly long E Mail, which was pretty fascinating as he asked the question ‘From the point of view of Hull fans what was unique about the choice of Doncaster’s Keep Moat Stadium as the venue for the Challenge Cup semi final?’

Over the weekend Chris had been musing about the poor turnout of Wigan’s fans which got him thinking a bit about past semi finals. Yes it was a long drive from Wigan and really accessible at home as it was televised live on the BBC, whilst there was also the possibility too, that Wigan fans have become so bloated with success over the years, that even a challenge cup semi seemed a bit run-of-the-mill to them? Believing that, in any case, the FC and Rovers fans probably clock up more miles than anyone else travelling to away games got Chris thinking about semi-final venues generally and brought about the answer to the opening question in that the semi at Doncaster against Wigan must be the first time in Hull FC’s post war history, that we’ve had a shorter distance to travel than our opponents.

Chris decided to try and check that out and concluded that he thought he’d got that right. Relying on his memory he believes that FC’s first post-war semi-final was at Odsal against Featherstone in 1959 – and Odsal is obviously closer to Featherstone than Hull. In 1960 we played Oldham at Swinton. Then in 1961 it was Saints at Odsal – not much difference in distances there, but according to Google maps FC fans had to travel 5 to 10 miles further than Saints fans. Since then we’ve travelled back to Swinton to play Widnes in 1980, met Cas several times in the early 80’s in Leeds, played Halifax in Leeds, Saints at Huddersfield, Wakey at Doncaster and Warrington at Huddersfield.

So, as I say, at that point Chris decided that in his opinion in every one of those games before last Fridays we’ve had to travel further than our opponents. If you think differently let me know but thanks to Diary reader Chris for getting in touch and although a lot of Wigan fans were aggrieved about the venue, they and other clubs have always had the upper hand on us travelling wise in the past and in the end for once we didn’t have to travel the furthest! Thanks Chris for reading the Diary and sending me such a thought provoking E Mail.
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When the subject got round to how bad referee’s were in the modern game, someone on Rugby League fans alluded to a match he remembered where the referee got into a melee with a fan at half time, although he couldn’t remember the details that got me thinking, because I recollected that match as well. The game I think he was refereeing to took place on Tuesday 10th September 1974, when the opposition was Leeds. We played them a lot back then because there were then three cup competitions as well as the League to play for, although we always seemed to get drawn against the same teams in the knock out tournaments and so there were few surprises for us as the draw was made for the second round of the Yorkshire Cup that year and who should we come out of the ‘hat’ against? Yep you guessed it; it was Leeds again!!

We always seemed to be drawn against the ‘Good time Charley’s’ from the West Riding and always gave them a good game, so much so that the RL newspaper at the time ‘The Rugby Leaguer’ called us the ‘Loiners’ bogey team. The match was played under floodlights at the Boulevard on a barmy late summer evening in front of a very respectable attendance of over 4000 people. That was certainly a good gate for that year and I well remember one old guy stood near me looking round and saying that ‘Perhaps most of this lot thought it was Speedway tonight’

I watched the game from the Best Stand, which was a rarity for me, and quite why I wasn’t in my usual position on the Threepenny Stand escapes me now. The souvenir programme’s listings reflected Doyle-Davidson’s efforts to build a competitive team as it included a few youngsters who were the first green shoots of what was to be a great team in the latter years of the decade. It was however a game that had some truly amazing circumstances surrounding it, particularly with regard to the referee that night Mr. Lawrenson.

We were the team floundering in the Second Division whilst Leeds had held the Yorkshire Cup for the past two years and they were, as usual, the top club east of the Pennines and ‘dead certs’ for a win that night at the Boulevard. Their line up back then included familiar names like Langley, Holmes, Syd Hynes, Keith Hepworth (late of Castleford and soon to be of Hull FC), Mike Harrison (ex of Hull FC and destined to eventually also return) and a great flying winger called John Atkinson.

The pundits may have had us down for a good hiding but we shot into a surprise 7-0 lead in the first half hour, however it was just before half time when the whole thing kicked off. Hepworth tackled our captain, the usually mild mannered Brian Hancock and elbowed him in the process as then, much to the delight of the fans a fist fight involving six players immediately broke out centred around these two who were battering each other in front of the Best Stand. Referee Lawrenson sent Hancock straight off the field, for what was the player’s first ever dismissal. His Hull FC team mates crowded round the official to object and Len Casey must have said a bit too much because off he went too, as the referee again pointed to the dressing rooms.

Our blind side prop forward that day ‘Big’ Jim Macklin, who never had that much patience, had by this time clearly had enough! The fiery front rower motioned to the players and pointed to the tunnel as most of them started to trudge defiantly towards the touchline. Now, this was a real surprise for the fans, who had seen most things but never an instance of the players walking from the field of play in protest. It was simply unheard of and we all stood there in absolute amazement. The official, who clearly had no idea what to do next, (nothing new there then) told Leeds to ignore our players and get on with the penalty, Syd Hynes tapped the ball and set off arrogantly jogging down the pitch towards the Airlie Street end, goading the departing FC players with a wide grin on his face.

As an amazed silence fell on the terraces Alf Macklin, Jim’s brother, who was stuck out on the wing and not part of the walk off, shouted to the lads and pointed to the Leeds player as his shout of ‘F*cking get Him’ rang out across the becalmed crowd. This was a call that was of course taken up immediately around the terracing. Our players turned round, and in a fit of rage ran back across the field and Jim Macklin and Don Robson sunk the now fleeing Syd Hynes with one of the biggest crash tackles I have ever seen!! Robson head punch on the centre went unpunished as the referee had by now completely lost control and roared on by an incensed crowd the game continued to the break by which time the eleven players of Hull FC, playing like men possessed, had somehow managed to tough it out and keep the marauding Leeds forwards from scoring any points.

However the excitement was not over yet because after the referee had blown the whistle for half time, a Hull fan, obviously enraged by the earlier dismissals, vaulted the hooped top fencing in front of the terracing at the Airlie Street end and ran towards the match official with his fists up ready for a fight. Amazingly Referee Lawrenson, who obviously fancied himself a bit, set off toward the supporter to confront him head on! It was all happening, and the crowd roared their approval as two policemen lost their helmets rugby tackling the fan, whilst our scrum half Chris Davidson, held back the referee and escorted him off the pitch. That was a real reversal of roles because with Chris it was usually the other way around and the referee was usually sending him off!! The uniqueness of this occurrence was something that was not lost on the crowd who were ‘buzzing’ about it throughout the whole of the half time interval.

If the first half was pure circus, then the second half was possibly one of the best displays of ‘backs to the wall’ rugby that I have seen. The crowd, who had come along to watch an anticipated drubbing were treated to the best dogged, gutsy exhibition of Rugby League most of them had seen, and in fact would probably ever see! The “flash” Leeds team ripped into the 11 men of Hull from the kick off but the home defences somehow stayed intact and as Chris Davidson kicked a penalty and then added a drop goal to move the score line to 10-0, what we were witnessing from these eleven heroes was almost impossible to believe.

Leeds numerical superiority eventually brought them two quick tries, one of which was converted and after 60 minutes they were trailing by just 2 points at 10-8. For the last 20 minutes they bombarded our line but somehow we held out! In those days of unlimited substitution our coach rang the changes so many times in the last fifteen minutes that the referee stopped the game on a couple of occasions just to count how many players we actually had on the field. I have witnessed some great gritty and passionate performances since, notably winning at Castleford again with 11 men in the early 80’s, but no display was greater than that one!

Looking at the record books for that year Hull finished the season 6th in the Second Division whilst Leeds were the first ever winners of the Premiership title! But I bet they and their fans remembered that September night at the Boulevard for a long time afterwards, because it was simply unbelievable and I’ll certainly always remember that half time punch up and the only time I have seen a team walk off the field in protest.

So there we are and for me I guess I’ve got to say that I believe that even though the season will have been a massive success regardless of whether or not we win anything, I really do want to pick up a trophy and the Challenge Cup being just 80 minutes of rugby away, is I believe our biggest chance. Winning that would bring an end to the heartache and indeed see the realisation of the impossible dream and if attaining that means we are unable to maintain a grip on the top of the table then I can live with that 100%. We’re going to be ‘there or there abouts’ anyway, which is a huge achievement for Hull FC the perennial underachievers who the pundits predicted would finish at best 6th. However I think that Friday proved that there is still work to do on managing the consistency levels we play at.

Our actual game management has improved greatly this season which has reflected I think on our performances, but our coach has to major now on managing the levels of our execution through all the ups and downs we see in a season. As fans I’m afraid we have to get used to losing a few too, because you can’t win em all! That said Widnes on their plastic pitch, with again like Castleford nothing to lose, will be a big ask and expect plenty of flamboyant rugby and ‘chancing of their arms’ from the home team. We in turn must use that last defeat there as a motivational tool to succeed! Will we win, well who knows but we have to hope don’t we?

Thanks to everyone who has got in touch and stopped me for a chat about Wembley etc in the last week, the Diary will be back in its usual form, pictures and all next week but for now…..

Try to keep believing!!!

Faithfully Your

Wilf