Without hope we have nothing!
“Someone needs to fight, someone needs to sacrifice, someone needs to inspire and someone needs to be a hero.”
The weekend games are over, the stage is cleared and all the rest of the cast list are now mere spectators and, as the lights go down and the orchestra strikes up, it’s the Warrington Wolves and my team that are waiting in the wings to do battle!! At last it’s here, at last its Challenge Cup week and for the fourth time in just 12 years it’s the ‘Famous Hull FC’ that’s playing in the Final!
How good is that?? Well it’s good; but it’s bloody Scary!!!!!
This special Diary is just about the thoughts of an excited, nervous and I guess somewhat apprehensive fan, as he stands, once again, on the threshold of a dream! In this special addition of my weekly waffle there are a few hopes, some concerns, some soul searching, a reminder of what it is like to win that Cup and even a bit of Shakespeare!!
Plus, I’ve included several photos of past Wembley finals to bring back some memories, which I hope animate for you as they do for me, what being a fan at these times is all about!
We’re off to Wembley, but I’m just an ordinary, aging and perhaps misguided fan who knows little about anything but the love affair he has always had with his team, so why am I so anxious? Shouldn’t I be pumped up, excited and relishing the moment? Well, you know, FC fans of many years like me invariably look on the black side. It’s what we do best because we’ve been there so many times and seen our hopes and dreams wrecked on the rocks of bad luck, uncharacteristic displays and players and teams failing to ‘turn up’ at all!! So perhaps the best way to start this particular edition is to firstly remind ourselves of the absolute certainty that an unrequited love of your team will always break your heart; it always has done and it always will do and by now it’s something that we should all have got well and truly used to!!
However it is without doubt that heartbreak and those bad times that make the good times when they come along, so, so wonderful!
We all know that and we know it because in the past on so many occasions we have learned that lesson the hard way! However I guess if your hearts being broken on such a regular basis then if nothing else it does at least prove that you have one and that’s perhaps why, somehow, once again, we find ourselves back for more, as the roller coaster of Wembley week begins to unfold.
The national Stadium, the home of the national soccer team, is our destination on Saturday but we can take heart from the fact that this isn’t football and rugby players don’t run around with money in their pockets and sports cars on their drives. Instead they just run and run with hope in their hearts and dreams in their heads. I think that they are more closely aligned with the fans and ‘get it’ more than footballers do and if proof were needed Scott Taylor provided it last Thursday when he stated, “It’s going to be the best week of my life and it would be great to cap it with a win. Obviously I’ve won it before with Wigan but getting there with the team I supported as a kid and who my family have loved for years, makes this the biggest game of my
Seeing the Boys Off; Brantingham 2008!
Of course as fans we ‘get’ exactly what Scott is saying and those comments are reflected by the amount of supporters that have made big sacrifices and massive efforts to get to the game. There are all sorts of stories out there about how far people are travelling to just be at the match. Diary readers are journeying from Spain, Australia, South America and the States, whilst others like Caroline and her family are flying home early from their holidays and spending almost as much to do that, as they have spent on their vacation. Moneys tight too and many, many more are too proud to divulge what personal sacrifices have been made to ensure that they get there; but believe me sacrifices have been made and difficult choices have been taken; but get there they will!!
Of course everyone fears a repeat of the past, but everyone has to be there just in case it’s different this time. For all of us this is the moment of truth, this is our time and we have to get behind the lads, for although for years they have frustrated us, worried us and broken our hearts, they have brought us so much joy this season and now, thanks to their amazing efforts and our amazing faith in them, we all stand together on the verge of greatness.
This is a very special group of players, I’m sure of that and as you look at our starting 17 it’s hard to find any weaknesses both in ability and mental strength, but it all of course depends on how we ‘frame’ on the day. Some of the best teams in all sports across the world have blown it big style on the big occasion. Some great wins over top opposition this season prove the ability is there, whilst the way we have approached and performed in our last two outings before the Wembley final, prove the tenacity and mental strength that lies within this group. Playing the team currently in second place in the Final, we’ve already beaten the teams in the 3rd 4th and 5th positions in the current Super Eights table to get to Wembley and there can’t have been a harder route to the game or a tougher eventual final!
As fans we all look to 2005 and that team that won the Cup in Cardiff as a benchmark against which we will always assess any Cup Final team. I conducted that very exercise in the Diary in 2008 and in 2013 and on both occasions we came up short because there was something very special about Johnny Kear’s Cardiff heroes and the inner strength of that squad. However with Shaun Briscoe in hospital and Motu Tony/Nathan Blacklock at full back and Tommy Saxton and Jamie Thackerey on the bench back then they had shortcomings and so I believe that, when looking again, this 2016 team has no weak links or significant injury worries and is therefore even stronger. On the ‘wanting it’ front too, for the first time since that history making 2005 team, this current squad of players are equal to those lads! Indeed in the cut and thrust, happiness and disappointment of our current campaign I wonder at times if as fans we really appreciate just how good this current team is.
Back in 2005 we took great heart from the fact that in Stephen Kearney we had an experienced competitor in big games that would influence the players in the build up and on the day. The stories of his pep talk in the dressing room beforehand are legendary, but this time we have Scott Taylor, a player who has been there and won it with Wigan, Kirk Yeaman who won it with us in Cardiff and makes his third visit to Wembley, Danny Houghton and Danny Washbrook who have been there with us before and Gareth Ellis, Frank Pritchard and Seke Manu who have done it big style in major finals in the Southern Hemisphere. So we have some big characters and plenty of big game experience in the squad and perhaps therefore the edge on 2005 in that department too.
This final, like all others, is full of great stories. Adam Pearson pouring hundreds of thousands of pounds into this team and holding the line so heroically when times were tough, Lee Radford the local lad with a tooth missing trying to make history, Steve Michaels ‘having a party’ but not getting another contract and trying to go out with a bang, Mark Sneyd returning to the scene of his nightmare a couple of years ago when playing for Castleford, Gareth Ellis desperate to win the one prize that has alluded him, Frank, Mini and Seke coming half way round the world for just such occasions and then there is Kirk Yeaman.
I know many of you think I rate this local hero too highly (as one reader said to me at the Widnes game, ’Bloody hell Wilf, are you Kirk’s agent?’), but his story is without doubt the sort of ‘fairy tale’ stuff that the legends of Wembley finals are made of. I’m old and so I like local heroes and enjoy all the sentimental twaddle that surrounds them.
After 15 years of starring for the black and whites and indeed Great Britain, at the start of the season Yeamo found himself out in the cold and playing at Doncaster on duel registration. However since then he has proved his doubters wrong and jabbed up and frequently carrying the injuries that age brings to all players, he has been a fixture on the team sheet ever since.
Recalled to the team after that now much talked about defeat at Widnes, his pass to Jamie Shaul at Caravan Park started it all and how ironic it was that he then returned to the home of the Doncaster Club to play his part in that epic semi final. Kirk took his place for the 2005 Final, in the one in 2008 (scoring two tries) and for the 2013 disappointment. As a prophet in his own land he’s sometimes berated by the FC fans, but Kirk’s back is broad and in the end he’s seen it all anyway and like Scott Taylor he still lives, eats and breathes Hull FC. It looks likely at present that this, his fourth Challenge Cup final for the FC, is to be part of his last season with us and so his last in the game. For me therefore no one deserves a winner’s medal (for Lisa to dust on the mantelpiece) more than Kirk!! He’ll certainly be dreaming of redemption too!
Then what about another local lad, Danny (the machine) Houghton, who has been so loyal to the Club over the years? Although offers have been made to him and hard times have beset the Club, he has stuck with us and is now garnering much deserved praise and no doubt about to benefit from a Testimonial year and the rewards for his loyalty that such a milestone brings. Always a good player and again as a prophet in his own land, he has over the years even been berated by some as ‘not being able to pass’, but this year we’ve all found out that given the right quality of pack to play behind, he’s nothing short of a world beater at number 9 and one that is now even tipped as a Man of Steel candidate. This week he’ll also be dreaming of a winner’s medal.
However, if the dreams and hopes of the home grown players are paramount for them and their families, they are even more pertinent for us lot the long suffering pilgrims who have been around longer than any of the players, seen it all before, been there on several occasions and endured the worst that the national Stadium can throw at us; we know better than anyone that it is no place for losers. “When we win at Wembley I can die happy!!” is something I have heard several times since we won that torrid and mind numbing victory at Doncaster 3 weeks ago and I guess that I too can really empathise with that one.
Of course it’s all serious stuff for the dedicated fanatic. Not for us lot the prospect of going for a few beers, ‘a day out’ in the capital with our mates and a saunter along to the game, for we are part of the drama and part of the spectacle and it’s our beloved Hull FC that line up at 3-00pm on Saturday. Since that damp but glorious night at the Keepmoat Stadium and despite some crucial League games coming thick and fast since, try as we may it’s been almost impossible to not get more and more wound up about the big day. Thank goodness the players have been able to divorce themselves from that and get those last two brilliant results.
However you know, despite it being the most glittering prize in Rugby League, the Challenge Cup final is still something of a strange and unique beast. Viewed around the world, the international TV audience for the match actually contains many who have never seen a live Rugby league game and never will, but they watch because it’s traditional to do so. It’s seen by millions of people in dozens of countries and many Aussie players relate how as kids they would always get up in the early hours to watch it! It is without doubt the most iconic game of Rugby league in the World and this year we are part of it!
Closer to home, everyone is making their own plans for the greatest weekend in the season (well in three seasons actually) and here in Beverley things have been little different. I’m excited, I’m apprehensive and I’m a tad scared, yet I simply can’t wait!!!! As I said last week I keep checking the tickets and counting the hours and between now and Saturday, for this aging fanatic, the game is the only thing! It will be there when I wake up, when I go to bed and when I’m asleep. In fact, I’ll no doubt stir in the early hours a time or two just to have a good old worry! Now it’s not a question of thinking about it every few minutes, because I’ll never stop thinking about it.
I’ll be preparing myself for the worst too, because dozens of seasons of setbacks and false dawns have rendered me pretty inadequate when it comes to optimism. I don’t do it that well as pessimism is a much bigger player in my make up these days. Perhaps that’s because over years of disappointment I have seen it evolve within my psyche as a defence mechanism which has become embedded deep in my DNA. I have absolutely no expectations at all and yet this year for once, against all the odds there is for me a strange and nagging glimmer of hope!! This team is, as I have said, just a little bit special!
For everyone who like me had been there numerous times since 1959, ritual is everything and as this uneasy anticipation gives way to the stark reality of the maelstrom that is Hull FC in the Final, we’ll set off early on Friday morning. We’ll have car flags flying and scarves out of the windows as we begin the charge down the M1 towards the capital. When we get to the Holiday Inn at Wembley it will all at last become reality as we set off into London to have as good a time as our nerves will allow us, before the serious stuff starts next morning.
Next day once inside the national stadium with my favourite shirt, lucky FC scarf and Mrs R, the atmosphere at the Hull end will be electric. Next year might see Hull as the city of Culture, but Festival Director Martin Green and his cronies would do well to get down there and see what Hull’s really all about because whatever happens in the end, what goes before is simply awesome and it’s a privilege and an honour to just be part of it. With over 32,000 of us lot down there on Saturday the real culture of Hull will be laid bare for a massive TV audience and that will be done as a backdrop to the grunt, pain, effort and biff of the greatest game in the world of Rugby League.
If you’ve never been there and never experienced it then let me assure you that when it’s your team that walks out of the tunnel, there is simply nowhere better to be in the world. What’s more, come the day that we at last look back on the journal of magical happenings that is our lives, it’s something that will be up there with the best of them.
A bit over the top? Well, despite my age, my experiences past and my cynical outlook towards all thing Wembley, this is still very special for me and as I get older such occasions seem to strangely become more and more significant. I have mentioned it a lot in here already and so it seems as I have never ever featured it in Codgers Corner that I should today look back through my own personal recollections on that sunny day in Cardiff in 2005 when many of our wildest dreams actually became a reality.
…..when we arrived outside the Stadium there were a few long Hull faces as word spread through the crowd that on the night before the game, Shaun Briscoe had been rushed to hospital with appendicitis. A victory that seemed unlikely suddenly looked impossible and when we heard that instead of bringing in Motu Tony as a straight replacement, winger Nathan Blacklock was to play at full back, there was some concern. Still everyone was there to party and many donned fancy dress and there seemed to be Skeletons, Big Baby’s, Gladiators and Clowns everywhere as young and old made the most of that rarest of occasions.
When we got inside there was plenty of antagonism going on out on the terraces between the Hull supporters and the already gloatingly, confident Leeds fans. Tin foil replica Cups glinted in the sunshine, scarves were waved and flags sprung up everywhere. The atmosphere was certainly charged with emotions as Katherine Jenkins led the singing of ‘Abide with Me’ and one Hull fan, Kevin Short, became quite a national celebrity as he was caught by the BBC TV camera’s crying through the moment, as he remembered his FC supporting Grandfather.
The baiting wasn’t just reserved for the terraces either and in the tunnel there was an altercation between Stephen Kearney and Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield. The latter had joined other Leeds players in shouting “Here come the losers”, as Hull left the changing rooms. Kearney certainly put them right in the tunnel, the fans put them right on the terraces and the players put them right on the pitch.
After the Hull team had been led out by ‘Number One’ fan and brave Cerebral Palsy sufferer Scott Walker, the game kicked off in a cauldron of emotion, as the Hull fans did what they do best and easily out sang a smug Leeds contingent. Sinfield soon tested Blacklock but then following a towering bomb, a mix-up ended with Gareth Raynor trying to prevent Mark Calderwood touching down, by pulling him back by his shorts. The video referee awarded a penalty try and Sinfield converted to give his side a 6-0 lead.
Midway through the half a couple of Rhino’s handling errors allowed Hull to apply some pressure as a speculative kick to the right wing by Shayne McMenemy was brilliantly flicked on to Tony by Richard Whiting. The winger chipped over Marcus Bai and despite being crash tackled over the line, he beat Ali Lauiti’iti and Richie Mathers to touch down. Danny Brough levelled the scores with a fine touch line conversion and we were level. However, despite a number of near misses, that’s how it stayed until half time.
During the interval, I didn’t know what to do with myself and I was in a trance like state as the tension really got to me. I wandered around aimlessly, before being approached in a refreshment area by a guy I had never seen before in my life. Sporting a Hull scarf and speaking in a broad South African accent he asked me if the Rosenberg which was emblazoned across the back of my shirt, was my name. I replied that it was actually name of my first FC hero, Wilf Rosenberg, ‘The Flying Dentist’, who I had watched at the Boulevard back in 1962.
He immediately shook my hand and introduced himself as Wilf’s nephew, who had made the trip over from South Africa to watch the game. I lament to this day the fact that I didn’t speak longer with him, but my condition dictated that I didn’t want to speak to anyone, and yet afterwards one of my only regrets from that wonderful day, was that I didn’t get a contact number. It did however bring a strange symmetry to this story as an echo from the very earliest parts of this sojourn came back out of the blue right there under the East Stand of the Millennium Stadium, on such a significant day, in the recent history of our Club.
The gamble by Leeds to play centre Keith Senior with a painkilling injection in his injured ankle, came to an abrupt end when he didn’t re-appear for the second half and soon a couple of loose passes by the Rhino’s again put Hull on the attack. This time we took full advantage as Motu Tony, intercepting a pass from Mathers, set up a good attacking position. Blacklock squeezed out a superb pass for Raynor who scored in the corner, for Brough to again add the conversion.
Leeds drew level again when Sinfield put Danny Ward over and then converted, but then the Leeds captain sent a kick on the fifth tackle straight into touch to give Hull another excellent attacking platform. Leeds seemed to have weathered the storm when Bai collected Horne’s grubber behind his own line, but the wingman tried to pass to Mathers, the ball popped out and there was Whiting to score the simplest of tries. Brough converted and then added a drop goal to give Hull a 19-12 lead going into the final quarter.
Just when Leeds were starting to look ragged, handling errors by Hull threw them a lifeline. Sinfield fed Mark Calderwood from a scrum after a Hull knock on and when Blacklock missed him, the try was inevitable. Bai made up for his blunder when he out jumped Tony, to grab a kick from Mathers to touch down and Sinfield converted both to make it 24-19 to Leeds with 10 minutes remaining.
Hull looked to be down and out, but they summoned one last effort after a grubber kick from McMenemy yielding another six tackles deep in the Leeds half. As we all stretched and strained as if we were playing, at a play the ball in front of the sticks Horne feigned to go right, half dummied to just wrong foot the defence, and released Cooke to his left. As we held our breath and the action went into ‘slow motion’ our number 6 gliding through a gap to cross the line. We all grimaced as he celebrated before he put the ball down behind the posts, but get it down he did, and the place erupted. When Brough stepped up to take what was a simple conversion, he admitted afterwards that thoughts of Don Fox’s Final miss for Wakefield in 1968 went through his mind, but he kept his nerve and we were a point in front.
However as often happens just when you think you have it won, a fumble by Jamie Thackray from the kick-off gifted the ball and the last set of six tackles of the game, to Leeds. They charged downfield to set up a position for the drop goal that would tie the scores, but as Sinfield aimed to stroke the ball between the posts somehow ‘Captain Fantastic’ Richard Swain got out of our line, jumped in front of him and charged down the kick and the Cup was on its way to Hull. Still the game went on and we were awarded a penalty which we still had to take after the hooter had gone. I imagined all sorts of scenarios but as McMenemy tapped the ball and toe prodded it into touch the hooter went again and the celebrations began.
Kear, who had masterminded one of the Challenge Cup’s biggest upsets when Sheffield Eagles beat Wigan in 1998 and who rated this victory even better, ran onto the field and hugged his players, whilst for me it was simply amazing. I couldn’t cheer, I couldn’t dance I just sat there with my head in my hands and cried, and this time, for a change, I wasn’t on my own! All the heartache, all the frustration and all the disappointment endured since our last Challenge Cup victory back in 1982 was forgotten in an instant as all around me grown men and women were reduced to tears. It would have been so cruel on our players had we been denied victory because their passion and determination deserved to be rewarded, in what was one of the most emotional Finals of all time. It had been a long, long journey since Elland Road in 1982, full of disappointment, disenchantment and at times anger but at that moment, it was all so eminently worthwhile.
The ceremonials were just what I expected and what I had seen played out by those arrogant sods in Wigan, Leeds, Saints or Widnes shirts on so many occasions. But this time it was US!! Broughy put the Cup on his head, John Kear fell over the advertisement boards and even our Chair Kath Hetherington managed to wave regally to the crowd (before commenting that the win was worth over £300,000 to the Club). For me all this seemed so unreal, it was all happening there in front of me, and yet I wasn’t there at all, it was all flying by, whizzing past too quickly, just when I wanted it to last forever.
Forty minutes after the game had finished and as the ‘banging and clattering’ of the scaffolders dismantling the dais that had seen Richard Swain hoist aloft the Challenge Cup, echoed around the empty stadium, no one wanted to go home. Hundreds just stood there, transfixed and zombie like, long after the last diminishing chord of ‘Rockin’ all Over the World’, had faded into the ether and the last of the brave ‘Gladiators’ had retired from the pitch to open their champagne, or in Leeds case, cry into their Yorkshire Bitter.
Eventually we had to leave, the stewards were almost begging us to “Go Home” but I was just overawed by it all and never wanted to be anywhere else, ever again! They should bottle that feeling and sell it as you leave games like that one. Then, when you eventually prepare to ‘depart this mortal coil’ you can uncork it, take a long sniff of the sweet smell of success, and exit this world in the knowledge that you know exactly what was like ‘Being There’. Will we smell it again? I only dare to dream.
So, there we are; what great memories eh? But now the 2016 Final is all but here and at times like this everyone has a view and everyone an opinion. Diary reader Mike sent me a couple of interesting comments last week when he said,
“If you believe in sequences, the next number after 38-0 and 44-0, should be 50-0, but wait a minute, hasn’t that already happened at Wembley, last season if my memory is correct? And, if you believe in coincidences, the last time Hull FC won the cup, they beat a team that play in blue and yellow and were coached by Tony Smith”.
Good stuff if you believe in such things and I guess as far as opinions go we all also know what we would say if we were in Lee Radford’s boots as well don’t we??
I suppose if I had a message for the players this week it would be this; remember, the only things you regret in life are the opportunities you miss and the chances you don’t take!! This is your opportunity to become legends, because legends aren’t made on the training pitch, legends are made from people who have something deep inside them – a desire, a dream and a vision. It’s your chance to be the history boys, your chance for immortality in the heart and minds of the FC Faithful, so just go out and nail it for the fans; particularly the old buggers like me, who don’t want to die wondering!
But, what do we expect you to give as a player? Well, basically everything, Just like Charlie Stone did!
Finally, never forget that Wembley can be a lonely place and a harsh one too when you lose, so as we strive to find that final inner peace, be prepared for the worst, because for obvious reasons none of us are quite sure what it’s like when you win; however perhaps just perhaps, that could change on Saturday. As FC fans we just have to have faith, boundless and unflinching faith and always believe that we can do it, for in the end it could just be our support and our wanting out there on the terraces, that wins the prize on the day!
This coming week is quite simply what it’s all about!! This is what the supporters of Swinton, Rochdale, York and many other RL teams that are not so blessed, dream of. There is little doubt that we are certainly honoured to be there too and we should never ever take the fact that we are for granted!! The famous Hull FC will walk out on Saturday to the singing and chanting of the best supporters in the whole game who will do everything they can to will them to win, let’s just hope that the players respond to it!!!
I will, as I have already said, savour every minute of the whole experience, even if at times it’s spent with my head in my hands not daring to look, or watching through my fingers. I’ll be there on Thursday to see the boys off, because that’s what I have always done in the 10 times that I have watched them in the Challenge Cup final and that will start the whole process.
In conclusion to all of you out there reading this (the loyal, long suffering and much valued weekly subscribers to this rubbish) I would offer a big thank you for your continued support and add that for every one of us, our passion, hope and unfailing loyalty is all about a weekend such as the coming one. This is a special group of players who now, for the first time for years, match what has always been the most special group of fans in the world!! Experience this season proves that it won’t just be a game, it will be a war!! But this is a chance to be famous, a chance to be remembered and a chance for retribution and we should all, on the field and off it, grab it firmly with both hands.
So, for now that’s it from me, the talking is almost over and the moment is upon us, the accommodation, tickets and transport are booked and it’s time to get the flags out. The last pre Wembley Super 8’s games are finished and we have prepared well, as once again we approach what could be, ‘The day we never believed would happen’
Wherever you watch the game, be it in the Stadium, in the pub or from behind the settee, our part as fans is to be as one with those players, to ‘catch every ball and field every kick’, to share their hopes and cheer and sing them onto realising their dreams. On Saturday at 3-00pm we are all as one with just one purpose; winning at all, and at any cost! The FC army are on the march, it’s our moment and we should do what we can to try to enjoy it.
Have Hope, Have Faith, Give your all,
Sing your heart out, trust we can do it and whatever happens……. don’t stop believing!!
‘Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!!’
WEMBLEY here we come!!