ALL HAIL THE HISTORY BOYS!!
Johnny Whiteley couldn’t win it at Wembley and neither could Peter Sterling, Knocker Norton, Roy Francis, Arthur Bunting or Brian Smith, but Lee Radford and those 17 heroes won it for us and they did it in the most glorious of circumstances possible!!!
The moment that said it all for every FC fan, Lee’s face just showed what we were all thinking, what it meant to us as fans as he lifted the Cup and that picture is the moment that will stay with me till the day I die.
That win was for everyone who has suffered for the cause, everyone who has been taunted by our rivals, everyone who kept on believing in the dark days when the light almost went out and everyone who just hoped, despite never ever thinking it would happen. It was also for those who made sacrifices and went into hock to get there, those others who have passed on with their biggest wish unfulfilled and for those who said, “Never again” and yet came back for more.
It was simply awesome to see history made before our eyes. For this ageing fanatic, (who still has tears in his eyes as he writes this), LAST SATURDAY WAS SIMPLY THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE which was then followed by a weekend that I’ll never forget until the day I die and one that when I do, will see me finally flee this mortal coil a happy, happy man.
I simply can’t think about anything else and certainly not about it being the start of better things, or the beginning of a new dynasty or a bright new era, because all that’s for ‘next week’. You see for now I just want to savour the moment and enjoy the afterglow, with so many memories, pictures and emotions still swimming around in my head. I’ve had three sleeps since Wembley but still wake up in the middle of the night wondering if it’s real. I’ve met so many great folks, met some old buddies and made some wonderful new friends, all as part of a massive family celebration the likes of which few sports fans have ever seen.
You know, I’m honestly doing my best here, but how can I ever describe that afternoon and do it justice, I seriously considered not writing anything this week, because it’s so hard to encapsulate what a life changing occasion it was. I cried and cried and cried and was absolutely beside myself. My pal Uppo said to me a month or two ago, “Why not wait until a Cup win and then stop the Diary on a high” and I guess I now get what he meant for I’m totally and absolutely, emotionally drained. Drained but overjoyed!
Marking as it does the most significant moment I have ever experienced as a fan, this is the most pertinent Dentist Diary I have written and perhaps will ever write. I’m absolutely bursting with pride and happiness, but unrequited joy is only possible when we allow ourselves to recognise just how good things are and this is blooming good! That win was so special, in fact for me it was as magical as it ever gets. Elland Road was a famous victory and Cardiff was a seminal point in all our lives but to win at Wembley was always going to be totally life changing for every FC fan and what’s more it’s happened! Yep, the thing that I never thought would ever take place has actually amazingly come to pass, we’ve done it, the monkey is off our backs at last and I just can’t believe it.
Over the years of writing this, often late at night, or while scratching my head in the early hours of the morning or with my lap to on my knee, struggling to find the words to soften the disappointment in the car coming home, I never dared to dream that I would ever be writing about Wembley again, never mind about us bloody winning the Challenge Cup there!
It’s become an obsession for all of us and yet something too that we all deemed to be totally unobtainable and with twenty minutes to go we all wondered if it was about to be catastrophic again. Some amazingly even tweeted at 10-0, ‘That’s it, we’ve had it’ but I, like the majority of you reading this still harboured that slight flickering hope deep inside me that was based on the fact that this lot never give up and never give in and as the final quarter unfolded and the heroes stepped forward the rest really is HISTORY! Can you believe it, because I still can’t!!!
It’s surreal really because despite the fundamental importance of it to all us FC fans, the world goes on, the sun comes up, the cars go by and the bills come in, nothing much around us has changed and yet we have won it, we have finally laid the ghost and we are the holders of the most prestigious trophy in the game and so in fact everything HAS changed and life for the loyal FC fan will never ever be the same again! I feel different, my life is transformed forever, I’m finally fulfilled and as an aside the Dobbins can stick their song where the sun don’t shine!!
One song! They’ve only got one song, they’ve only got one song, they’ve only got one song!
Sitting here on Monday I’m just still so, so, proud and wonder what else there is now for me, because I’ll go to Wembley again if we ever get there, but it will never ever be like that! The day, the drama, the tension and the emotion with 30,000 FC fans who, in unison, cheered and wept at the same time, was believe me, something to behold and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end. For a few moments we all experienced something that millions of people will never get to experience in their whole lives and something that none of us will ever forget! I firmly believe that it’s the belonging and being part of it all that makes it so special.
But, why did it make me and thousands of other people cry, why was it was so, so important? Well, I’ll say it again; it was the best day of my life full stop!!! But, if you ever could stand back from such an occasion then why was it so significant to us all? Well obviously we wanted to win the Challenge Cup at Wembley!! But there was that sodding song too and it was a chance to at last shove that back down the Dobbins throats as well. Then there was Yeamo in his own personal last chance saloon with the opportunity to be the only Hull player to win the Cup twice in our colours. He was a bloke who, after 3 other finals and all those games behind him, still dared to dream. Then there’s Danny Houghton with the chance of showing the world what an unfashionable Man of Steel looks like and Mini, Frank and Gareth desperate for one last big prize. Plus of course there was Hull 1st in the table winning the Cup after beating the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th teams in the League to do it, has anyone else ever done that before?
Add to that the comparisons and similarities with 2005, the fact we played on the 27th August, in bright sunshine against a team in primrose and yellow that was coached by Brian Smith. What more could happen coincidence wise? Could it again be won by a special defensive play in the last few minutes by a very special Hull FC hooker? It’s simply the stuff that fairy tales are made of and I’m honestly struggling to do the moment anything like justice, in fact I reckon Hans Christian Anderson would bloody struggle with this one!!
The rest of the season is now pretty academic to me because that’s the prize I really wanted, but we are still in a semi final and now I believe, (although they haven’t even announced the format for next year), all things being equal we will be in the new expanded World Club challenge too.
I have so many personal memories from the weekend which I will cherish for a long time. There was sitting with James Smailes from the Mail after the game and hearing how much it meant to him, the text I got from Lisa Yeaman who said, just before the game (on what was an emotional day for all the Yeaman clan and particularly for Kirk, after the sad loss of his Dad earlier this year), ‘Dare we Dream’ which said it all really. That brought more tears for me and we hadn’t even started! It was so good to have Mrs R, (who has suffered from her husband’s obsession so much over the years), there beside me when that hooter went and amazing to receive an E mail from the Gentle clan in Australia straight after the final play of the game.
There were so many heroes last Saturday too, with 17 on the pitch and 30,000 off it and after watching the game back, the last 15 minutes were still excruciating to behold. Scott Taylor said, that watching it again he still thought we were going to lose and I get that, I really do!!! However when times are tough in the future, I’ll be watching that back and for years to come when I’m down, when times are hard and when I need reminding of just how good it really can be, I’ll be re-running it.
Our defence was again, as it so often is, nothing short of heroic and when the BBC put up the game statistics they talked about Houghton being top with 52 tackles but how good it was that our second best tackler was Gareth Ellis with 37, which was still more than any Warrington player and he did that having played only 60 minutes of the game!! What a player eh? I don’t know if he was injured or just knackered when he went off in the first half but he was de-hydrated as he threw himself time and again at Warrington in that first quarter before he had to be subbed. However Houghton made a name for himself that will last for eternity; simple as! What a stint he put in, what a tackle and what a performance that was for the ‘outsider’ for the Man of Steel trophy.
Danny Houghton is just a machine but the journalists I spoke to afterwards said that Jamie Shaul got a lot of votes in the Lance Todd voting and he too had a great game. That chase back and the try he scored will be remembered forever and his shout for the ball as that second try move unfolded could be heard in the stands. In Steve Michaels we had a real hero too. He was so secure under the high ball as the Wire peppered him with kicks and boy did he give everything on his kick returns, but he was not on his own there either. Warrington had obviously decided that there was no point in targeting the Yeamo, Talanoa side, so they went for the Michaels, Fornua flank instead.
Fonua was instrumental in many facets of the game and without his hand in the two tries we would never have won. He’s just a maverick, a bit wayward at times but a real star in the backs who teams find it impossible to defend against. However Warrington’s kicking game got little joy at either side really as the three quarters just fielded everything that was throw at them. Sneyd was imperious despite some close attention and it was ironic I thought that it was the one player that had hit Sneyd late for most of the afternoon who, with his elbow, dealt the killer blow to Gidley in the tackle that saw the Aussie play maker leave the field. However Sneyd never let that pressure get to him and in that final quarter came up with the goods to create both tries, after before that kicking the 40/20 that actually turned the tide of the game. His ability to not only put the kick up but then field the knock back from Fornua to supply the winning score for Shaul, was a massive piece of magic for me!
But as I said earlier what a shift Houghton put in. When Ben Currie stepped between Marc Sneyd and Mark Minichiello it looked all up, as he seemingly glided in to score, but at that point Houghton performed arguably the most important individual pieces of brilliance in the entire history of the Club! From where we were the ball just came loose but when you watched it again on the BBC what an amazing piece of skill it was to tackle and apply just the right pressure at the right time to ‘loose’ the ball. Soon after the game Danny was awarded a testimonial for next season and how richly he deserves that! I loved the tackle but also admire his grit and leadership from the front, for example on the player mike in the first half he could be heard to shout,”Fight for each other boys fight and no lazy’s”
Up front both Watts and Taylor were amazing with the amount of work they put in. It was obvious that Warrington changed their game plan in an attempt to defuse the strength of our forwards and when you looked at them all at the end of the game stretched out on the field like it was a ‘still’ from the battle of the Somme, you could see that it hadn’t worked. Our starting props had a lot to do with that, as did Green and Bowden who proved that Radford had his selection exactly right! All four were towers of strength, whilst behind them Minniciello had a massive game. Frank also came on and had his best game for ages and Washy really lifted the tempo when he was brought off the bench as legs started to tire. Manu was into everything and worked himself to an absolute standstill and in fact what can I say but heroes all and now I’m sure, legends all as well!
It was a massive game and you don’t need me to go into details because we have all watched it several times now, but to be hailed as the best Wembley final in the 21st Century in one RL paper and as ‘A superb display of quality Rugby League from 26 players and a fantastic crowd’ in one Sunday paper, was something special too. It might have been heavy going for us lot fretting out there on the terraces but for the neutral apparently it was absorbing, brutal at times and certainly exciting throughout!!
Hull FC as an organisation conducted themselves so well right through the whole weekend and everyone at the Club looked the part, (well everyone but Lee Radford who for reasons of superstition, and we all know about that, looked more like ‘Man at C&A’s’). In the context of such a historic win Adam Pearson deserves massive praise as well, over the years I told him once or twice that we needed a change or two but he declined any such advice and stuck to his guns and now he too goes down in history as once again it proved that really I know nothing!! He is now a hero of the City and with what he has done over the years for Hull City, probably the greatest backer of sport Hull has ever seen. He even gave the players an added fillip when he announced as they returned to the field with the trophy that they had been granted an extra winning bonus for their wonderful performance. They really deserved it, particularly when you consider that a field temperature of 23 degrees centigrade rose to 27 degrees as the sun came out! Something that had both teams rushing giant ice containers into the dressing rooms at half time.
Then there is Lee Radford and what a place he now has in the illustrious annals of sport in the City too. For Hull FC he has now eclipsed Brian Smith, Arthur Bunting, John Whiteley and even perhaps Roy Francis in that he has delivered the glittering prize the Holy Grail and the pot of gold that we have all desired for so many years. And he has done it at Wembley Stadium! His preparation was meticulous and the relationship and mutual respect that exists between him, the players and the more widely influential senior players group, is something that many of the best sporting coaches have tried to achieve but often miserably failed to deliver. Scott Taylor again said, “Lifting the Challenge Cup up and being there and creating history, you just can’t beat it. Radders is the Dadders. He’ll always be the Dadders.”
There will be tough times ahead, of course there will be, because that’s the nature of sport, but Lee has shown what a brilliant coach and tactician he is and he, Horney and Lasty will forever be etched in the hearts of the FC Faithful; Immortals all!!!
You know, after the 2013 Final when we simply didn’t turn up, I remember for the last five minutes of the game and the subsequent two or three hours after the hooter that I did wonder about chucking it altogether. I considered whether it was worth all the misery and heartache I suffer and that I put my family through and whether I had incrementally lowered myself into a state that reduced me to nothing more than a bloody idiot who was throwing money down a black hole. At 63 I wondered if it was time to get out of the pressure cooker that is being an active and sometimes outspoken fan, dropping this Diary and just watching from a distance in the afterglow brought about by a less eventful and stressful retirement. I hate to admit it and I could keep quiet about the doubt, but back then it was the truth, because at that point I simply never wanted to experience that feeling ever again in my life. I was absolutely inconsolable.
In the build up to Saturday I tried to keep level headed and settled but what a bloody week it was to get through! Although Lee Radford and the boys did everything they could to get through it all without too many alarms and excursions, in our house it was all panic and stress as the tension grew towards departing to London. The feedback from you all after last week Diary was really humbling and thanks so much to the dozens and dozens of fans that got in touch after an edition that saw me just sit down and write what I was thinking, to somehow animate exactly what I was going through. As I get older I don’t do these occasions very well at the best of times and last week was tough as I couldn’t think of anything else but Saturday and that game.
It all became reality for me back on Thursday when we all assembled to waive the team off. It was a great occasion with over 1000 people there and the boys just looked so relaxed! We got interviewed by Calendar news and my pal Barry gave a great précis of the situation which finished with something like “It’s about time that we shut that lot in the East up and that Gwilym Lloyd too” To which the interviewer retorted “I think we’ll have to cut that last bit off” poor old Gwilym, he has to take a bit of stick doesn’t he? It was a great event and of course all part of the Wembley ceremony and ritual that none of us would ever want to miss. We all remembered times passed, talked great players, chatted about how we’d said that we’d never go again after 2013 and then discussed where we were all staying in London!!
Friday started with me sat in bed determined to have a good time and not let it get to me…whilst shaking like a leaf. However before long we were off down the M1 to London joining a cavalcade of cars, mini buses and coaches as we all made our way to a date with the Warrington Wolves. The rest of the day was one of nervous tension and many meetings. Keith Tindall, Barry Edwards, Kevin Harkin and Sammy Lloyd were amongst those we met in the pubs and clubs and we all finished off in the Sherlock Holmes and the Globe in Baker Street surrounded by equally nervous Diary readers.
Make no mistake about it, whatever the outcome, every supporter of every club in the Rugby League who was not involved on Saturday would have given their eye teeth to be in our shoes as we walked down Wembley Way next day, towards what was, once again, our date with destiny! We heard how a couple of players and one in particular were desperately disappointed to not make the starting seventeen but all agreed when the team was announced that it was the best line up we could put out there and if it was nerve racking for us lot, it was certainly a massive day for old hands Gareth, Mini and Yeamo who could muster over 100 years between them!!
The concourses were again a place of many meetings and many anxious faces, that bit for me is simply unbearable and I just want to get started, however once the game was under way I fell silent and with the exception of celebrating our two tries I said very little at all, it was all so tense and pressurised as my heart beat out of my chest, the sweat formed on my brow and I made every tackle and passed every ball. Thank goodness too, for BBC I player as I needed to watch it back as soon as I got home because I could remember little of what actually went on during the game, as my thoughts at half time and the end seemed to be made up of a jumbled emotional catalogue of flash backs, panic situations and freeze frame moments.
At the end, the place exploded and I admit to being in bits I just cried and cried hugged Mrs R and cried some more. I once said if you could bottle that moment to uncork it in the future then it would be amazing, for as always it was gone too soon, but while it was there all around us it was simply magical.
Women danced, old men stood wide mouthed and the ‘hardest and toughest’ sang and cried, often at the same time, it was just amazing; I have never been hugged by so many guys or kissed by so many stubbly faces in my life. The emotion was simply palpable you can’t explain it, film it or video it, because you simply can’t make an image of the relief, the joy and that wonderful feeling of retrubution!!!
As I said earlier, the first text I got at the final hooter was from the Gentle clan in Australia who read the diary and said ‘Celebrate long and hard, you and all those loyal fans certainly deserve it” However I also discovered late last week that Peter had been admitted to Hospital with a very severe bout of Streptococcus Pneumonia. His kidneys and liver had been badly affected and he was extremely fortunate that the medical staff were able to diagnose and treat the condition promptly. After spending two weeks in hospital he is now on the mend, although it will be 6 to 8 weeks before he is given the all clear to resume normal duties at the Eels and I’m sure you all join me in wishing him well.
The game was literally packed with stories and you’ll remember back during the season past I featured the sad death of Gerry Browning who passed on to ‘the Boulevard in the sky’ in February. Dave Illes contacted me to tell me that he was so sad that Gerry had missed the best season for many, many years, though, in his 72 years as an avid fan (he was 83 when he died) he has certainly seen the best and the worst, several times over! Gerry would have loved to be there at the weekend so Dave took him with him to the final…….by way of this T-Shirt. What a great idea that was!
It was just so wonderful to hear all the tales and anecdotes afterwards and as I said in starting, it is just impossible to describe in any sort of realistic way what was a fairy tale ending to a life time of waiting!!
That night back at the Holiday Inn I spent the evening with James Smailes of the Mail and Nick Pinkney of Radio Humberside who were both so pleased that we had won, we all had a few drinks with Joe Bennett the boss of this site and several other close friends as we revelled in the reflected glory of what had gone before, in what was an extraordinary and life changing day! I guess at that time and perhaps since then I have felt fulfilled and I guess (in the words of Pink Floyd) comfortably numb!! I’m still finding it hard to believe it’s all happened, but it has because I’ve seen the Cup and it’s got black and white ribbons on it!!
We drove home on Sunday and after a night in the Drum and Monkey when we again celebrated hard, on the old places penultimate weekend, I had another listless night before it was onto Queens Gardens for the victory parade and the homecoming celebrations on Monday.
What an afternoon that was with over 23,000 in attendance and many thousands lining the route. I had a great time again, as the sun shone and the fans hailed their heroes.
Unsung hero Andy Last enjoys the reception.
After that I was lucky enough to get into the Councils official reception in the Guildhall when in the speeches Adam Pearson made a big point of thanking the Council who he said had been brilliant in backing the Club ‘every step of the way!’ Finally after that and a chat with Adam, Yeamo, Radders, Lasty and Danny Washbrook, it was off to the Blue Bell in the old town for the final hurrah!! And yet after all that I still can’t really believe it’s all happened!!
Perhaps you didn’t want to hear so much detail of what I did, but I just wanted to try and emphasise that I just had to pack as much as I could into a weekend that was simply the best and most memorable of my whole life. It was just outstanding and I just didn’t want it to end, but now of course it has, but I’ve still got those memories which will last forever.
However I guess I have to get some normality into all this, so let’s have a quick look at the week gone by! As always in the run up to the big game it’s not the early week stuff that comes out in the media that is interesting but rather what emerges on Wednesday and Thursday when they are scratching around for news that is often to them a filler but to us lot so significant.
I have said a few times of late that our owner has been very low key of late and I have worried as to whether there is more than meets the eye to this situation. On Thursday however after the Mail had, I can reveal, a few false starts with an interview there was a piece but it certainly wasn’t of the usual proportions and not for instance the two page revelations we saw from Hudgell a few weeks back. I needn’t have worried however, because the full two piece question and answer session was in the Wembley Supplement and on the web site next day. However rhetoric was quite voluminous but lacking in much substance.
Of course there is only so much that you can really say and whether this was just because there was a massive effort across the Club to play down the whole preparation process when compared with 2013, or something more baffling it was hard to determine, but now I think I know that it was the former. The interview did outline the owners wish to not see this season as one of isolation and short term success, but more as the start of building a new dynasty by establishing a decade of success for Hull FC at the KCOM Stadium.
He added that, ‘sparking a sustained period of challenging for trophies will only come with winning a major final’ He also made it quite clear that for him regular visits to both the nation’s capital and Old Trafford for the Grand Final had to be the target for his Hull team. “We have to maximise where we are now and the way to do that is to win something”, he told James Smailes and that’s very commendable and a bit of a relief too really. I spoke to Smailsey after the send off at the KC and he said Adam was really worried about breaking the habit of relative silence that had served him so well over this season. There is little doubt that the average fan had some question marks over the fact that for months prior to this interview our owner had said nothing about other pertinent issues like the state of the Club financially and how the Cup run had helped that, when we are to hear about next year’s season tickets, what impact the take-over of Hull City will have on the Club and indeed what effect that will have on our tenure at the Stadium etc. etc. Perhaps it’s just me but at times like these when we have a great team and a lot of hope for the future, I still like to know that I’ll have a team to support in ten years time.
Then there was an article entitled ‘Brian Noble Legacy helped shape Hull FC’. In it Lee Radford said, “In Tevita Vaikona and Lesley Vainikolo we had some great blokes out of the backfield. I sometimes stood on the halfway line and watched them break the ball back to me. We are not far off achieving something similar in Mahe Fonua and Fetuli Talanoa. I was very respectful of having those big outside backs when I played at Bradford.” That article just confirmed what a lot of us had suspected in that the Bradford blue print was the plan from day one, but through two seasons of frustration it was hard for us all to understand just where it was taking us.
So as we start another week, it has at last been fulfilled, the dreams have come true and the most unlikely of out-comes is confirmed. Almost sixty years of heartache, fretting and occasional moments of utter elation have culminated for me in Hull FC winning the Challenge Cup at Wembley in the most sensational and unexpected of circumstances and producing as important a moment in my life as there has been and will ever be again.
I make that rather outspoken comment simply because I know it’s true. It’s true because it was for me and Hull FC, the main prize and the one we all wanted! It was a moment of destiny for the famous Black and Whites who are and always will be my team, my passion and I suppose, looking back, my life. Its times like that wonderful moment when the hooter went that makes you reflect afterwards on just what it is all about!
What have I learned? What has that and a few other amazingly magical moments in a lifelong love affair with a Rugby League Club taught me? Well perhaps firstly I now know that to be a real fan requires you to ‘eat, sleep and live Rugby League; being ‘interested’ or an ‘only here for the beer’ supporter is simply not sufficient. It’s hard when you’re totally immersed and at times that state of mind can be soul destroying. However it’s just like a marriage really, you have your good days and your bad ones, but whatever else it is, it’s never about being a mere spectator – you can’t just ‘take it or leave it’ because if you do then moments like this lose a lot of their significance and overarching magic. Its total immersion, total participation and friends, relatives and loved ones have to be prepared for your team to be central to your very existence and when they are, then when you win the Cup you feel like you do right now and it’s the greatest feeling in the world.
Winning the challenge cup is something that can define your very life, and something that also brings with it the fulfilment of realising the impossible dream. However it’s also a point in your life when you know paradoxically that it’s all the depression, futility, frustration and anger that has gone before, that actually make moments like 4-45 last Saturday so bloody significant and in turn therefore, all that hardship so gloriously worthwhile.
I’m still so emotional and whenever anyone stops me to talk about it I fill up, but I don’t care, because I know that thousands of sports fans will never ever feel what I am feeling or experience the affinity with 17 blokes is black and white shirts that I feel right now. Every one of them is now a life-long hero borne out of a day I’ll never ever forget as long as I live.
I’ve had a go in here but it’s not enough I know that, because no one, but no one can truly put into the written word what we have all just experienced. The performance wasn’t perfect, far from it but the efforts, wanting and sheer will to get over the line was phenomenal! It takes just one moment to create Challenge Cup immortality, Danny Houghton produced it and I’m so pleased I was there to witness the occasion.
On the terraces the tension and the stress saw the fans hushed at times, as everyone seemed to hold their breath, but at the end delirium and pandemonium was all around and it was simply brilliant to be part of it all! It was a weekend that was memorable for so many reasons and the fact that we have at last won at Wembley and got that monkey off our backs made it one we will remember forever. Will we go on to win other things this season? Well for now who knows and indeed who cares, but you should never discount anything with this current team and nothing would surprise me when it comes to what they can achieve!
So there we are, I can say no more, I’m sorry to go on and on but I’m so, so happy!!! I’ll probably still wake up a time or two in the night over the next few days and pinch myself but for now I’m simply in dreamland. Thanks so much for the dozens of readers who hunted me out at Wembley and thank you all for your support over the last few weeks. It’s all like a dream really isn’t it, but we were there, we witnessed the almost impossible become a reality and we saw history made! I’ve drunk too much, sang too loud and smiled too manically, but who cares, I’d always rather be happy than dignified!!
AND boy after that am I happy!!!!
Enjoy the moment, live the dream and soak it all up; heaven knows we’ve all waited long enough for it!!!
Have a great week and keep believing!!!!