The Dentist’s Diary – 513th

DANNY HOUGHTON – MAN OF STEEL!!!
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LEE RADFORD – COACH OF THE YEAR!!!

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HULL FC – TEAM OF THE YEAR!!!!

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AND…Rovers relegated!!!

WHEN DID WE LAST SEE A YEAR LIKE THAT?

The answer to that is I guess at least over 30 years ago! The good news just kept on coming last Monday night and what an occasion The Man of Steel Awards were for Hull FC. The evening was a real fillip for everyone involved with our club, as we swept the board at the games biggest and most prestigious off field celebration! I had just started to get out of the twilight zone that was believing that at long last we had finally won the Challenge Cup for the first time at Wembley, when I was catapulted back in to the ‘land of make believe’ as I watched the drama unfold on line, at the ceremony at Old Trafford in Manchester. They just kept opening the results envelopes and my club or our players just kept coming out of them, it was simply amazing to behold.

That night topped off what was in hindsight without doubt the best season of our reign in Super league and indeed, as I said, for me it has to be the best since the early 80’s, although even back then I can’t remember us as a team being honoured by the RL, the press, the players and the rest of the Clubs in such a way as we have been this year. OK we only won one of the three trophies on offer, but if we could only have one, then that would have been it for all of us! Although I don’t usually quote Paul Cooke in here, I had to agree with him when he was on Sports Talk on Tuesday, and in response to Adrian Durham who said, “It’s a shame Hull have fallen off a cliff since Wembley”, Cooke said, “Who cares?” And as the dust settles on what has been a monumental season for this fan my answer to that is I guess, “Not this fan”

What a night it was last Monday though, and how good that the RL made it possible for us all to watch the ceremony unfold through a web cast on the Rugby League site. I’d wondered about the Man of Steel award a bit and thought that maybe Solomona with his hat full of tries for an unfancied Club, might have shaved it and if he didn’t then sentiment and an amazing ‘comeback story’ would surly get it for Gareth Ellis. In the end the player that I perhaps least fancied, simply because he has been overlooked and an unsung hero for so long, walked off with the main prize. There is little doubt that everyone knew he was a dour and relentless tackler, he’s won the Hitman award on four separate occasions now, so perhaps Danny flew under the radar a tad, but that tackle at Wembley thrust him into the limelight. There is no doubt it was that moment that made the ‘judges’ some of his colleagues look again and the rest, as they say, is history. I did however wonder what Gareth Ellis, getting so close to the end of his career and after such an inspirational season, felt about it all didn’t you?

Whilst some people might criticize the decision to select two FC players, (that came from a team which didn’t even make the Grand Final), on a three-man shortlist for the top award, that choice did I think reflected just how far we have come as a team and indeed what a short time we have done it in. I think that we can only really judge that progress rationally if we step away a moment from all that has gone on of late and look back to last year at this time and where we were then as a Club.

Limping along in eighth to the end of the season and having given our youngsters a few run outs in the final games, the future looked to be a case of ‘same old same old’ as we all chuntered about the coaching, the tactics and just about everything else. Of course after all that we still summoned up the strength and the ackers to go around one more time and invest in our season tickets; we always do! Yet last season end there seemed to be a lot more, “This is the last time” type comments coming forth. It was desperate times all round and even before that I remember well, as you probably do too, the celebrations out on the field with Motu Tony, Lee Radford and Adam Pearson after the Rovers game away in 2015, that secured our place in the top eight, however after that, it was a real grind to the end of the season and not too pleasant at all to watch. As the intensity increased and the big boys flexed their muscles our youngsters were drafted in and gave it a good shot, but we looked years away from competing with that lot for energy, never mind ability! Yet here we are, accepted after just one season as one of those big boys ourselves. What a difference a year makes eh?

That progress is phenomenal really and can be measured as well by the fact that not only did Houghton pick up the Man of Steel award, but as a nod to that amazing transformation, Hull FC also won Club of the Year. Whilst Lee Radford (much maligned in here at times and across the supporter base in general just 12 months ago) was named the Coach of the Year in what was quite surprisingly something of a one horse race in the end. So, it just shows that whatever we think we are the tops this year as far as the game of Rugby League in Great Britain is concerned. In the end it was just another hard to believe occurrence in an unbelievable season and thus for the famous Hull FC a fantastic night all round. It was an evening that cemented our place as a top Club in the game and now of course the challenge is to sustain that position into 2017 and beyond.

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When we look back on it in a couple of months, it will be a season full of great memories.

But how did we do it and what is the winning formula that all the clubs who finished below us will be looking at in the coming weeks as they try to emulate what we did this season? Well first of all in the last closed season we bought big in every sense of the word and using the old ‘Bradford Template’ that had served our coach so well in years gone by, we changed our game plans to served up a power game that few if any could equal. It was those tactics linked to the fact that we were so lucky with injuries, which I guess saw us in the end run out of petrol, but before we faded a bit, what a great ride we all had.

At times we were blooming relentless and the power we showed was complimented in equal parts with some great skill, a deal of on field direction and a team spirit that was second to none. Perhaps if we have learned anything then it is that come next season, if we steer clear of injuries again, then we might have to look to limiting the minutes played by some of our forwards, although that said I would add that there is no doubt our coach and his staff have always put their players in the best position to win every time they ran out this term. That has been a critical element in our success story and so for me, there is little doubt that the medical and conditioning guys need a massive pat on the back too, they didn’t get any medals or end of season accolades but they have done an immense job and a few teams will be looking closely to ascertain just how we did that bit as well!

However, there are other reasons for our success. As I said earlier, our on-field direction has been superb and in Minniciello, Ellis, Houghton, Taylor and Pritchard we have had a great leadership group. Yeamo did his own version of ‘Holding back the Years’ and filled in superbly, our spine has been a revelation, while in Fonua and Michaels we have had two players that none of us could ever believe would have turned out so well when we signed them. The success we have enjoyed and our sheer bloody minded will to win has at times this season taken the game by surprise but now we approach ‘the difficult second year’ when unlike this term, pre-season expectations will be sky high. We have now all tasted the sweet wine of success and want some more and so for 2017 the hopes and objectives will be pitched even higher. Add to that the fact that other Clubs were starting to ‘work us out’ and I think that we still might just need some new blood and, after listening to him this week, it appears that Adam feels the same way too.

Over the past decade, Castleford and Huddersfield are probably the only two Clubs (before us) to challenge the status quo of the big four at the top of the table. But they have both been ‘one season wonders’ and soon crashed and burned when, by analyzing their one big year, everyone had sussed them out. We should be wary of their experiences because we simply can’t risk that happening to us in 2017. Signing wise so far the lad from Halifax, Nick Rawsthorne, looks a massive prospect but a work in progress, Jake Connor has a lot of skill and more important a deal of vision (and can play a bit of half back too) while as for Josh Griffin, well, the happenings last weekend render him a hero already and a shoe in for Kirks old number 3 shirt in next season’s team.

All that said, it was pleasing to note this week that the end of term decline after Wembley, has not only sent some alarm bells ringing through the ranks of the fans but had also turned Adam Pearson and Lee Radford’s minds towards what most of us had contemplated already; the need for another half back. We have to add some depth and balance to what we already have in that department and that looks a must if we are to progress further next year. On Tuesday, in an interview with Radio Humberside, Adam said that Stevie Michaels will sign back on and that there were also two signings to come, a rather unlikely additional outside back and that much needed half back. If that wasn’t enough our appetites were further whet by him saying “And when the fan’s see who they are they’ll realise that next season we’ll be even better”.

That’s all very well but it’s interesting too that we are all now scratching our heads as to how that will be possible without releasing players and with such a tightly bonded group how will letting some personnel move on from the Club, effect the team and indeed what will be the attitude of the rest of the players to new blood coming in. I guess therefore it came as no surprise when since that announcement we have been faced with two or three newspaper articles which indicate that we have to be ‘cautious’ with any additions that do come in, to ensure they don’t ‘rock the boat’ because our excellent camaraderie and team spirit is the bedrock on which our success has been based. We all like new signings but it’s almost as if after Adam raised the subject we have since been playing it down and even a piece on the Club site talked about our already captured new signings but almost deliberately avoided any hint of more to come.

However, we all like a bit of intrigue and a little closed season speculation don’t we and as always at this time of year it’s a case again of more questions than answers. We should be hearing about release date for the sale of passes soon but surely that ‘hard sell’ should, after such a glittering season, be an easier task this year. Still there is little doubt as to what a timely boost of a signing or two to coincide with the start of the sales period would do. Interesting times eh?

Well, just so you don’t think I’m getting all dewy eyed and sentimental after such an amazing season how about a bit of negativity for a change? It’s been a while since I’ve had a go in here, but I feel that as always when something is bugging readers of the Diary and they have taken the time to get in touch, then I should at least air their concerns, even if a lot of you might not in the end agree with what I and those readers have to say!

There is little doubt that with the demise of the Dead Red Robins and the subsequent lack of Derby games next term, we certainly need to generate more income, which brings me nicely to the issue in question, this year’s Player of the Year Awards which are to take place this Wednesday 12th October. You won’t have seen tickets for this prestigious event advertised until quite recently when ‘one or two’ ‘returns’ have become available, however in an official press release we were told over a week ago that it had sold out in advance which is absolutely great except for the fact that the ordinary fan hasn’t been given the chance to even buy a ticket. A week last Friday afternoon the Club website first publicly announced the event just as many fans were on the way to Wigan and it simply said, “The popular event, which has already sold out to club guests and sponsors before even going on general sale, offers the chance to say one final goodbye to departing players, including long-serving legend, Kirk Yeaman”

Only it doesn’t offer that opportunity to the ordinary fan, because he or she couldn’t at that time get a ticket even if they could afford one. A few may or may not have now become available, but by and large it was the Clubs intension to sell the event out to sponsors and associated organization’s in advance.

These corporate supporters had apparently already snapped up all the places, but at the end of the club article they also point out that ticket prices have in any case been raised from £55 last year to £85 this. That’s certainly a big hike and would, in an expensive season, have made it hard for many fans like me to attend anyway I guess, but it would have been nice to have been asked!

Its brilliant that there is so much interest and I can understand completely the Clubs angle on this, because raising finance is everything, so well done to them for that. But, what about the ordinary Joe supporter who, (unlike some sponsors I know who are going), has trudged the country watching his team all season, bought shirts, scarves and hats as well as a season ticket but who isn’t a sponsor, benefactor, supporting business, corporate associate or member of fans organisation FC Voices. They were all offered tickets before the fans got a look in. It would, I think, have been nice if ordinary fans had at least been given the opportunity to go when it first went on sale. A couple who, to try and support the Club, went for a birthday celebration last year and wanted tickets again this year were disappointed, as were another two Diary readers one who went last year and another who has been to the last 4 and that’s all I know about, there will no doubt have been many more!! Offering a few dribs and drabs of tickets at the end after the sponsors have got theirs is hardly ‘sport for all’ is it?

I expect that had we had a bad season, the adverts would have been everywhere, with the prices frozen at last year’s levels and it would have been, come one come all! However, as we’ve had such a great 2016 campaign, what’s happened here is just market forces coming to the fore as far as a massively increased demand from sponsors etc. is concerned.

So, I’m not going to criticise the Club for being so successful in selling those inflated tickets because I want a team to support next season and in business the more successful you become the more it’s about capitalising on that success to generate income. However, it’s sad all the same that because tickets haven’t been advertised externally from the off or some set aside at first for ordinary fans, it’s now being talked about by some supporters on social media as an ‘us and them’ situation.

I know fans who have been to the event to support the Club in the lean years, that have been in the shop enquiring about tickets and been disappointed to be told that it has sold out already to the corporates etc. Still what’s done is done and after such a great season who are we to grumble? But it would be nice for the fans who haven’t been given a chance to get tickets, if the event could at least be streamed live on the Clubs web site in its entirety al la the Man of Steel awards. That way we could all share in the occasion and see the announcements, speeches etc. as they are made and do it from the comfort of our own settees. Still what do I know, rant over!

Diary reader Bill Conboy E Mailed this week to ask, (purely because he’s curious he said), to enquire if I knew what the difference in central RL funding is when you get relegated from Super League to the Championship. I agreed with him that there seems to be a lot of misinformation about all this, coming predominantly from the fans over in the East, but as far as I know the definitive answer is this Bill. The RFL central funding from Sky income goes down from 1.85M to 700K when you descend into the championship. However, the permitted cap spend is still 1.85M in both leagues as long as its sustainable, and if you’re in the Championship, that means it has to be at least half of your total income.
Now as the season has finished as always at this time before the speculation and rumour has had time to gain pace, we are getting a bit short of news and as I have no games to report on it’s always great to hear some FC related stories however tenuous the links are. So, it great this week to hear from a good pal of mine Steve Wray, who has just got back from a brilliant holiday in the States. Steve returned with just such a tale involving the greatest of Rugby League anthems ‘Old Faithful’. Bear with me here because in an E Mail he told me this week, “I thought you might like this about Gene Autry and ‘Old Faithful’ from the inside of an album I bought in Nashville”

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The album’s penultimate track is the great old song that we have adopted as our own and the accompanying sleeve notes went on to say…….

One day in 1928 the famed humourist Will Rogers found himself in the hamlet of Chelsea Oklahoma, with the need to send a telegram. As he strolled into the telegraph office he could hear someone playing the guitar and singing. As he approached the desk Rogers could see the singer was the telegrapher himself a young moon faced man whiling away the time by singing an old cowboy song about a horse. Rogers waited till the song was over and then grinned and complimented the youngster saying, “You’re really good you know, you ought to go to New York, you’re good enough to sing professionally” Surprised the telegrapher stammered his thanks.

Rogers wrote his telegram and went on his way, but if he had asked the singer would have told him that his name was Orvon Gene Autry the son of a farmer from Ravia and this famous person, Will Rogers, had just given him the encouragement he needed to do something he had been thinking about for months, to try his luck in New York. Seven years passed and Will became even more of a star until the fateful day in 1935 when he and aviator Wiley Post were both killed in a plane crash in Alaska.

There was a private service for Rogers in California full of eulogies and tributes and towards the end a man near the back stood up and sang a song which had become one of the humourists personal favourites, that same ‘Old Faithful’. A number of mourners thought it was just an old cowboy song that Rogers had heard at some long forgotten rodeo, whilst a few recognised it as a hit record by a sensational new singer who had just arrived on the West Coast from Chicago, called Gene Autry. One or two however knew the full story and Rogers would have smiled at the irony of it all and might still have remembered that smiling telegrapher, from that brief encounter years before. He would certainly have been pleased to know the song he sang on both occasions, ‘Old Faithful’, was the first of a multitude of Gene Autry songs that would define for millions the American West and make Autry an international singing star.

So, when we have attended all those funerals over the years when the great anthem of Hull FC was sung so wonderfully to send off another ‘Old Faithful’ to that stadium in the sky, few of us knew how far back it was used in the same way to mark the departure of a guy who probably heard it sang by Gene Autry for the first time. A great story and thanks so much Steve for sharing your find with us all.

Now much has been said this week concerning the depth of our squad and the need for our club to build a bigger group for next year because of a tight and very hectic season. That got me thinking about the old days when we had some real stars who from time to time got injured and what we did to cover for them in what were perennially packed seasons of games. It’s important in those cases that the ‘foot soldiers’ of the squad, the guys who can stand in at times of duress injury wise, come to the fore. So in Codgers Corner this week I thought I would have a look at a game that springs to mind when I consider those sorts of circumstances, and I want to take you back to the season of 1984/5 during the reign of that mercurial ‘Superman’ who really would have finished off our current great squad perfectly, the great Peter Sterling. Can you imagine him in there with Sneydy today??

The night in question was Friday 29th March 1985 and it was a game under the lights at the Boulevard, against a rampant Wigan team. It was a strange season in some ways because although we had big imports Peter Sterling and John Muggleton at the Club, we also had an array of other home grown and international stars like Steve Norton, Lee Crooks and the four New Zealanders, O’Hara, Kemble, Leuluai and Ah’Kuoi. However, crowds were already starting to wain as we spluttered and mis-fired at times and as the golden era of the early 1980’s started to come to an end.

Struggling with several first team regulars missing through injury there was an air of despondency and gloom around the Boulevard after we had been beaten easily at both Castleford and St Helens and on top of that we had a big Cup semi-final coming up, whilst our opponents Wigan, were already through to the final at Wembley and were riding on the crest of a wave. They were unbeaten in their last 15 League games and only needed to win that day to equal the record for an unbeaten run in the old First Division.

It was a windy, dry evening as Hull kicked off and as the light faded and some grey clouds scuttled across the sky, there were few signs of spring breaking out any time soon at the Boulevard. Hull began well and controlled much of the first quarter taking the lead through a well struck penalty by Lee Crooks on 10 minutes. Then a brilliant break by Peter Sterling saw his brother-in-law John Muggleton free on his shoulder and he cruised in, but Crooks missed an easy conversion but at 6-0 the crowd were warming to the task and although there were only 8000 in attendance that night the atmosphere at that point was electric. A young Paul Eastwood who had come in because of an injury crisis with our wingers was having an excellent game and should have scored twice in the next ten minutes after being held desperately short on both occasions by the scrambling Wigan defence.

We were fighting hard with Trevor Skerrett and Lee Crooks matching and beating the big mobile Wigan pack led by West, Potter and Dermott. Wigan were certainly a side running hot and as we made elementary mistakes and handing them possession the Lancastrians started to get on top. With Peter Sterling, having been blatantly impeded by Henderson Gill, visibly struggling with hip and shoulder injuries and Gary Kemble a limping passenger at full-back with a groin strain, it looked like we had somehow held out until halftime. Then as the hooter went, but before referee Ronnie Campbell was able to stop the game, Hull hooker Shaun Patrick lost the ball and a sweeping move involving Wigan full back Ford saw him shoot down the left and on the last play of the half, hold off three would be tacklers to score. Stephenson converted and the scoreboard showed the game tied at 6-6. We all thought that was it, particularly as both Kemble and Sterling failed to re-appear after the interval and Wigan went straight back onto the attack.

It only took the visitors 5 minutes to take the lead and it was that man Ford again who took a short pass from Kenny and raced away from the cover before using Henderson Gill as a foil and then scoring near the posts. At 12-6 it looked all over and a further successful penalty to Wigan saw sections of the crowd started to voice their frustrations. However, unlike the two previous games in which we had capitulated, Hull hung in and started to fight back. Dave Topliss, who was getting to the end of a glittering career at Hull, had come on for Sterling and he soon started to work his magic as did James Leuluai who had switched from centre to full back. Toppo broke through a tackle by Juliffe and Holden in his own half and found Leuluai who somehow engineered himself some space and set off downfield. Ford was out of position in the opposition defence and our stand in full back raced away to beat the chasing cover in a breath taking 65-yard move, that saw him arc away from the defenders towards the whitewash. Then Lee Crooks who had struggled to find his kicking touch left us all gasping as he brilliantly curled the ball through the posts from wide out to convert the try and reduce the Wigan lead to just two points at 14-12.

Back onto the field hobbled Sterling as Hull started to take the initiative and for the first time it was Wigan that were starting to panic. It was now a thrilling game to watch and as Wigan swept across field a long speculative pass from Brett Kenny arced towards Graeme West, but into the line scorched the master of half chances Steve Evans. Quick as a flash, with hands stretched above his head he intercepted the ball and with the cover flat footed and roared on by the crowd, he charged downfield for 35 yards to beat Ford’s last ditch attempt at a tackle 5 yards out and score a brilliant try. The place exploded with cheering at the sight of Hull at last wrestling the initiative away from Wigan and we led 16-14. Hull tackled like terriers before John Muggleton came up with the killer blow. Feeding off a simple pass by Sterling he dummied to Topliss, stumbled, half tripped, looked up and dropped a great goal. Those final 5 minutes seemed to last a lifetime and in the final seconds of normal time Kenny broke away and aimed a pin point pass to Henderson Gill on the wing. It looked as if we would be robbed of a famous victory, but Gill, booed by almost everyone in the stadium for his previous dirty play, inexplicably fumbled the pass, the ball fell to the ground and the hooter went.

That night sheer determination and an unwillingness to accept defeat won the day, despite the fact that we had been ravaged by injuries both before and after the game. It might not have been one of our most spectacular displays but it was one of our most whole hearted and by the end no one could question Hull’s player’s commitment to the cause. Peter Sterling had led us to a great victory, but when he was off the field the rest of the team had closed ranks and held the line. It was a great night to be an FC fan and what great memories it left me with.

Now a quick shout out for Ash Foster at the Club who is a real unsung hero of the organisation. I first came across him when he was running the Clubs 150th celebration stuff on which, I have to say, he worked tirelessly often on his own. Now he’s an important part of the ‘back office’ at Hull FC and a really good bloke. The reason I mention him this week is however because I heard from my pal Joe at Hull Royal Infirmary that Ash turned up last Friday at the Elderly Care Wards bringing with him the Challenge Cup. Ash arrived on his own, but the reaction was quite amazing with some of the patients actually in tears of joy to see the iconic trophy that we had waited so long to win. It certainly made a real difference to all those patients that day and so well done to him; great stuff and a lovely story!

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Well that’s it for this week, as the post season blues starts to descend on the FC Faithful and we scour the papers and the web for any news, rumours or pointers as to what we intend to do for next season, as the only Club in the City of Hull in Super League. It’s been a great year and while there is news about I’ll keep this blog going although I do intend to have a break this winter because keeping it going right through was hard work last year. In any case I’ve got a lot on at present as I’m around 20,000 words into a new book with the working title of ‘2016 Just Another Year ???’ Whether it will ever see the light of day I don’t know, because at present, it’s anyone’s guess. However, for now I’m just writing it for myself so that in a few years’ time I can look back at the 2016 season in all its glory and marvel at what we did all over again. I know although I’m only up to the 6th game of the campaign, there’s already so much good stuff, anecdotes, stories, characters etc. that I’d already forgotten and anyway it’ll keep me off the streets won’t it?

Thanks as always for reading this week’s Diary, I’ve enjoyed writing it and thanks too for all the stories, comments and observations you have sent me this week. Keep ‘em coming and I’ll speak to you again next time!

Faithfully Yours

Wilf