The Dentist’s Diary – 515th

THE GREAT RUGBY LEAGUE SWINDLE!!

Whether you sit in the ‘WE don’t need it’ or the ‘Bring it on’ camp is quite rightly a matter of opinion, but the way that the World Club Challenge has been handled is for many I have spoken to this week, just that… a swindle.

I highlight this at the top this week because so many people have talked to me about it since last week’s announcement. Quite rightly the team that won the Grand Final, takes one place, but the other match has been allocated to a Club that lost that game and the Wembley final and won little else than a makeshift trophy that the Rugby League themselves failed to recognise or award until a few seasons ago. In the mean-time the winners of the country’s other Cup competition, which is possibly the most historically relevant trophy in the world, are ignored and that in a week when another concocted and contrived fixture list for the Magic Weekend suddenly appeared.

Only in British Rugby League eh??

As an avid FC fan who feels a bit aggrieved, the title of this diary (with a nod to one of the most seminal pieces of vinyl ever produced) sums it all up for many folks I’ve spoken to. However, as you all know a bit of outrage is not unusual for yours truly, because I’m a bit of a reactionary old bugger at the best of times.

So, as I say, perhaps it’s just me, but a chat to Jim and a few other guys in my latest watering hole ‘The Tiger Inn’ in Beverley on Friday night, showed that I wasn’t on my own in my feelings, as a few others felt a bit aggrieved at the happenings of the past week themselves. I guess when you think logically and look closely at the effect that past World Club Challenges have had on the participating Clubs, the fact that we are not to be part of the competition in the coming season is a good thing. But it would have been nice to be asked!

Take last season for example when the participating Clubs all suffered a severe hangover and a dip in form after they were bashed up by the Australian visitors; I don’t think we need that do you? But, on the other hand it is a game that the fans in the city would have embraced (Rovers supporters would have loved supporting the opposition) and one that the players of the Challenge Cup winning club would have relished as a rare opportunity to pit their wits against a top Aussie team.

However, in the bigger scheme of things I guess that as far as success for Hull FC next season in the long term is concerned we don’t need such a physically and mentally distracting game at the start of a Super League season, that is already shaping up to be a bit of a farce fixture wise and certainly a big ask in 2017. That’s always been my thoughts and as you’ll maybe remember it was how I felt in here, straight after that wonderful win at Wembley back in late August. Many more agree with me now as well, because they feel that we have now to make the best of a bad thing and look on the bright side but want it or not, there is also little doubt that as a Club we have been fiddled out of the game by the RL. As someone so wisely said on RL fans the outcome is a case of “Good for the Players, Bad for the Fans”

For me, when I take my parochial views about the well-being of our own squad after such a game out of the equation, it should, most people in the game agree, be us and not Warrington who are taking part.

The two major and probably only trophies with any sort of credibility in our game are won at the Grand Final and after the conclusion of the oldest and most prestigious competition in the world, the Challenge Cup. All of a sudden however it appears that promises have been made to Warrington and so as if by magic the Plate is the second most important trophy…. apparently!

If they say that it’s important to honor the team that has gone through the play-offs and finished top, how about honoring the team that was top at the end of 23 proper rounds when all the top clubs have played each other home and away before the manufactured play off structure kicked in. One fellow aging fan that I spoke to on Friday said, “It’s getting more like Harry Potter than a professional sport, because it’s starting to look like something that is the product of an invented and stage managed story rather than a structured and transparent competition where everyone is equal”, and he added “In Rugby League it appears we are making it all up as we go along”

The RL can’t see promoting the sport as a major priority though can they? I mean they overlook a team who should have been included as winners of a Cup, who have a 25,000 seater stadium that would have been packed and whose position in the City of Culture should have offered an opportunity for some international exposure for the game of rugby league. The governing body instead then opt for a club who didn’t win either trophy, whose ground capacity is 15,000 and who offer no international impact for the game whatsoever. It’s as if it’s only the Sky supported tournament that has any meaning and that the Challenge Cup is just an unfortunate diversion.

Don’t just take it from me because in that excellent article in the Hull Daily Mail last Friday Paul Clarke said, “Even after Hull lost their Super League semi-final clash to Wigan on October 1, preparations should have begun for Hull to face any willing Australian sides, with Brisbane known to have been already interested at that point. Imagine welcoming the world’s biggest rugby league club in the Broncos to the KCOM Stadium for a match that would celebrate rugby league in Hull on a City of Culture themed night. Talking about history and celebration, there wouldn’t have been many better ways for Brisbane to celebrate the beginning of their 30th year as a club as well as the two teams combining together for a special evening. It could have been one of the greatest rugby league events Hull has witnessed. But instead, Warrington Wolves, who have been fantastic this year but failed to win either of the two major finals, will host the Broncos at the Halliwell Jones Stadium”

I include that very long quote because young Mr. Clarke angle on it all is for many spot on and well done for him for that!

It’s all academic now I know but, for me, the biggest issue is that once again the Challenge Cup has been devalued as a competition by this decision and it all looks like an old pal’s act and indeed to some I’ve spoken to as another ‘fix’ by the RL. As I said in starting this rant I wasn’t that bothered about hosting the game in the first place, however I do see the value of it to the City next year, but I guess most of all I feel a real sense of injustice which as a rugby fan at either side of the City of Hull is sadly not a rare a sensation.

Well, talking of Rugby League ‘fixes’, the Magic weekend has thrown up some interesting talking points as well hasn’t it? The RL are certainly struggling now that the Dobbins have been relegated and what an opportunity they have missed here to create a proper fixture defining formula and to introduce a transparent way to dictate who plays who? Perhaps this year they should have taken the chance to draw the games out of a hat or seed the teams, but instead the concocted, contrived stuff continues. At least first plays second and third plays fourth but the rest is just a contrived ‘hotch-potch’. However, has it worked? Well, I have to say that Sunday looks to be a rather weak programme and perhaps Hull and Saints should have been better on one day with Warrington and Wigan on the other.

From a selfish point of view I guess that Saturday is fine and as the middle game it really couldn’t be better for us. Plus, when you add the fact that the usual Derby tension and pressure will be off, I think a match against Saints will be a great spectacle and let’s face it, we seem to be able to beat them of late don’t we? So I guess for us it will be a good game and to have it followed by a re-run of the Grand Final will make for a good days spectating. However, if all the RL eggs have been put in the Saturday basket, Sunday does to me look a bit scratchy and an anticlimax. OK there’s always a bit of spice to be had when Leeds play Castleford but the other two games look to be pretty poor fare really.

It will be interesting to see how many plump for going for just one day this year rather than staying over for the Sunday, although I have to say I’m glad we haven’t got the ‘graveyard shift’ of the last game of the tournament; that was tough last year.

Leeds v Cas is a good end to it all I guess, whilst Leigh should still bring a few fans and given they are playing there for the first time that will be interesting as well. Over the two days Widnes notoriously don’t bring many, Catalan will bring no-one, Salford a couple of bus loads and Huddersfield, well, not that many more than that. Those four are the worst for travelling support anyway, so I can see the RL struggling to get anything like last year’s attendances. The absence of the Dobbins will certainly hit the gate and I can’t see Leigh bringing anything like the numbers the daft lads did. As for us, well if you wanted an ‘easy’ game then you’ll be disappointed, but if like me it’s just so good to not be playing Rovers…. AGAIN, then the thought of locking horns with Saints is not too bad at all really.

Well the fixtures are out and the trip to Wakey for our first away game of 2017 could be a lot worse couldn’t it? The home side however always seem to start well, so they will have to be watched but I certainly don’t fancy having to stand in the ‘orchestra pit’ again and quite frankly they had better make it all ticket because by then we will be wound up and ready to get going and I can see several thousand FC fans making the trip. Much as I like Belle Vue and all the memories and history it evokes, it’s about time they got themselves a new ground or stopped the ridiculous segregation they had in place for our game there in September. We should be allowed to mingle across the terraces instead of being penned in that cramped terracing where you can’t see a thing at the opposite end to where you are stood.

That starter is followed by us being at home to the usually pretty atmosphere less match against Catalan Dragons, who usually don’t bring more than 6 or so fans. It’s probably on paper as easy a start as we could have wished for but that doesn’t mean to say that both Clubs won’t be really up for it, for both have something to prove this season. Plus, one game, then a week off (that’s a bit surreal and smacks a bit of bad planning don’t you think?).

I quite like the look of Easter with a great game in prospect on Good Friday against Leeds and then a visit to the Leigh Sporting Village on the Monday. However, we were warned of a second Easter type weekend and that’s happening on Spring Bank Holiday when it hardly could have been worse really. On the Friday we play Leigh before we fly off to visit Catalan on the following Bank Holiday Monday, which is half term week so flight prices will be tough on the FC fans. However, there’s a nice Sunday game against Castleford in April too with the away fixture strangely scheduled for a Saturday night in Castleford in July but otherwise that’s it really. However, I guess at least as a Club we’ll get two weeks off during the season and boy will we need it! There’s no point in complaining too much because you have to play everyone twice sometime, but a mid-season break for a warm up international is, for me, making the schedule a real killer for the players! In fact, looking at that run down it seems we are putting International Rugby in front of player welfare.

Now, last Wednesday, just as in Australia Terry Campese was, talking about his past career and his new job Down Under whilst pointedly ignoring to mention at all his two years at Hull KR, our club released the transcript of the interview that Leon Pryce gave at the Player of the Year evening, concerning his departure from Hull FC and how different the rhetoric was. After two years playing with us Leon paid tribute to the fans and players at the club as he prepares for the last season of an illustrious career at the Bradford Bulls. Now 35 years old Pryce has played just short of 500 games over his 18-year career and he said of Hull FC, “I’ve been at some of the best clubs, best players, best teams, but the boys here are the up there with the best blokes I’ve ever played with. They’re a great set of guys who the Hull fans have got to be proud of, they have been brilliant during my time here. Thanks very much to the fans and thank you to Radders.”

He concluded, “It’s been a great experience, rugby-wise, it’s probably not gone as well as I would have liked. But putting up with getting older is something you’ve got to accept. I just wanted to say thank you for this year, it’s been a difficult one for me not playing many games because I’m coming to the back end of my career, but I’ve really enjoyed my time here.” I thought that was top stuff from Leon really and you know if you look back at the start of the season then he played some great games for us too, none more so than that sunny Sunday afternoon at Saints in the Cup! Good Luck Leon!

A week last Friday it was announced that Betfred would be Super Leagues main sponsor for the next 3 seasons in a deal that is reported to be worth £900,000 for a single season and that is a 20% increase on the former deal with First Utility. That was I think quite a coup for the RFL particularly after the past fiasco’s of the Sky deal and the previous Challenge Cup and League contracts and I guess it goes some way towards answering in part the claims that they’re failing to market the game properly. But, does this value the domestic competition highly enough? Well that’s hard to tell and could only really be assessed if we were to know emphatically that it is the best deal they can get. However, when compared with the ‘payment’ a few years ago that saw Stobart getting their name all over the competition in exchange for us getting our players all over their lorries, then anything is a better deal. We got hardly any money at all that year.

However, because so many Bookies want to be involved I suppose it just goes to show how much money they make out of rugby league from the punters. Now both our Premier Domestic League and Cup are sponsored by big bookmakers as next year will be the final year in a 3 year Ladbrokes deal to sponsor the Challenge Cup and they are also sponsors for the forthcoming 4 Nations. Most clubs have betting partners too, Huddersfield for instance have a link with Myclubbetting and William Hill have sponsored Brisbane Broncos for their trips over for the World Series.

Add to this that Wigan are sponsored by 188 bet and it seems the Bookies are clamouring for a piece of the RL action. Betting these days is spontaneous stuff with many folks gambling on mobile phones during games and whilst watching all manner of sports on the TV. Sky TV have just announced that viewing figures for the Premier League football games are down by 19% whilst their viewing stats for Rugby League show a sport maintaining and even increasing viewer numbers. So you can certainly see why, with flourishing TV viewing figures on satellite and games that can go either way with lots of shocks and a great level of uncertainty, the bookmakers are turning to Rugby League.

There are so many different things you can bet on too these days including the 1st scoring player to the Man of the Match, time of first try and winning points margin, so there’s plenty for the punter to get involved in and of course plenty of profitable outlets for the big bookmaking firms. However, all that said when it comes to the League game being sponsored by such organisations there are still some protaganists and moralists around. And some people are certainly dead against it!

Gone of course are the days of the John Player Trophy or indeed the Players Number 6 Trophy because the hearts and minds of our younger fans is always a consideration, but where do you stop? Will be banning sponsorship from anyone who sells fast cars or makes glue next?

Of course we won’t. However, it isn’t as if we haven’t thought it through because well considered precautionary measures are now in place anyway. Take for instance junior shirts at Wigan which have to have the club’s TV channel on them because you can’t advertise gambling to kids and it also poses problems with an advertising ban in France, where the glorification of gambling is still barred. But betting is everywhere now. We certainly don’t want to be encouraging children and vulnerable people to gamble but if every newsagent can sell scratch-cards surely the RFL can promote a licensed bookmaker?

So whilst we have to send out a message that people gamble responsibly, (as we see plastered everywhere on gambling advertising anyway), as a game we couldn’t turn this offer down especially as it comes from a company that began in Salford 50 years ago and who now has its main office in Warrington. Both locations which are right there smack in the middle of the Rugby League heartland.

The sport will get great exposure across the country in Betfreds shops via their TV channel, as it does already with Ladbrokes and that may even attract new followers to our game. Betfred in return will see their logo all over Old Trafford for the next 3 Grand Finals!

One thing that is for sure is that betting is here to stay whatever we think about it. The betting boom isn’t going away so perhaps we should accept the fact that the RL have grabbed the main chance here and made a bit of a killing. However, I guess I should add what everyone else does when discussing these things and that is that you should only bet with what you can afford to lose and as always gamble responsibly, (public service announcement over).

I had a coffee with my old pal David Doyle Davidson on Friday and what a fascinating hour that was! After we had discussed his love of the Club, his dismay at how distractions had seen us fall apart a bit at the end of the season and how glorious Wembley was, he was just an amazing mine of fascinating facts and can give so much detail of the days when he was Coach at the Club back in the 70’s. What a great bloke he is whose black and white through and through!

With our acquisition of a new centre in Josh Griffin coming from a troubled Salford outfit that only survived the Championship by the skin of their teeth, we got to thinking in the pub about what a great team the Manchester outfit have been in the past. In previous Diaries I have talked about the mould breaking days in the seventies when they were THE Club to beat. They were full of stars, the first to play on Friday nights, with a great social club and fantastic floodlights. However even as recently as the nineties they had a couple of really good seasons.

In fact in 1996 they were on top of the league after 3 games and still unbeaten after 5, when it was our turn to host the Divisions surprise packages at the Boulevard. Their sixth game saw them come up against an FC outfit that had made a patchy start and who were still trying to find their feet. The Salford side boasted some big stars such as Nathan McAvoy, Steve Hampson, Sam Panapa, Cliff Eccles (Who appeared to have spent some of his training as a regular in the queue for the pies) and Scott Naylor.

If I remember rightly it was Colin Morris who refereed that day, but there were just 3,350 in attendance when Gareth Stevens kicked off for the Airlie-Birds. What a game the “stay away” thousands missed, because by the time the hooter went 80 minutes later we all knew we had witnessed one of the most exciting games the Boulevard had seen for years.

It was in fact our sixth home game that year, three in the cup and three in the league, and although we had been pretty unconvincing we had managed to be defeated just once, by Widnes in the Cup. However, the visit of Salford was a really big ask!

The game was played at what can only be called a blistering pace with the lead actually changing hands three times before the interval. Things started dramatically when, in the thirteenth minute as we were called back for a dubious forward pass, Chico Jackson showed some dissent and Steve Blakeley popped over the penalty. The first of our tries followed just minutes later when Tevita Vaikona carved open the Reds defence down the Threepennies side and from the resultant play the ball Stephens sent Divorty crashing in.

Then Forber scored for Salford following a great looping pass from Sam Panapa and things started to look a bit bleak. However Phil Sigsworth, our coach that year, put on Jon Aston who had an instant impact. Hewitt was held up over the line on his back before Aston took a ball straight from the scrum to crash in from 15 yards. The next FC try was one I still remember vividly to this day. Gareth Stephens, flipped the ball into the air behind him, it seemed to hang there for an age before Gary Divorty ran onto it at half way, crashed through full back Hampson’s tackle and sped to the line with about 6 players in pursuit. He just got there and collapsed under a pile of tacklers over the whitewash.

That put us 16-8 in the lead with half time approaching but Nathan McAvoy scored a great try, running diagonally across the Hull defence beating player after player before he straightened up and sprinted 45 yards to the line, so at half time the score was 16-14.

The second half was not even old enough for everyone to have returned to their places from the hot dog queue, when a clinical move saw Marcus Bai race twenty yards to dive in at the corner. Hewitt converted and we all breathed a bit easier! Next Blakeley dribble through to score for the Reds and then landed a penalty to see the game tied again mid way through the half.

Then came the bit of luck you need in tight games. Hampson brilliantly fielded a massive bomb from Webber right in front of where we were stood, but failed to play the ball properly, we screamed at the ref. and a scrum was called. From this, a good set of drives saw Fisher dive over the line and we were back in front. A Hewitt penalty gave us an 8 point lead with just 9 minutes to go but back came Salford to literally ‘camp’ on our line.

The defence of our forwards particularly Dave Moffitt, Andy Fisher and Steve Craven was brilliant in those dying minutes, and although Lee side stepped his way over with two minutes left, we held out for an exciting if not unlikely 30-28 victory! As soon as the hooter went the crowds leapt (as was the case in these games), over the barriers and onto the pitch to congratulate their hero’s. But all I remember is just being thoroughly wrung out by all the excitement, I just stood, on my ‘lucky step’ at the Airlie Street end, clapping and singing “Old Faithful” for all I was worth.

It was without doubt one of the finest performances by the FC team in the second half of that decade and one I remember to this day with great affection!!

Now for a bit of an announcement because as you can maybe guess from reading thus far in the Diary, actual Hull related stuff is a bit thin on the ground at present and that’s likely to continue to only get worse for a while, until at least we are back training.

I’m a bit busy at present trying to write a journal of the 2016 season so that I’ve got exactly what happened and how I felt about it, written down in one place. Quite frankly you know, when you start to unpick our last campaign, it’s just amazing how many tight games we won, the number of matches that we came back from the dead to win and the number of times great pieces of individual brilliance got us home, plus of course there is that colossal semi at Donny and the best day of my life at Wembley, all encapsulated in one very special season. I have found that it’s easy to subject last season to the back pages of my mind, but perhaps instead we should all appreciate just how good it all was. However, I have found that to write about just one season ends up with little more than a catalogue of game after game and so it’s tough to animate it all sufficiently with what went on in between. Whether, when its finished, what I’ve written will ever be published in a book, serialised on the internet or just be placed in a draw for me to take out and read (and marvel at) in ‘a few year’s time’, really does remain to be seen, but I just have to try to write it all down before I too forgot it all and 2017 is upon us.

Anyway I digress, but I have been talking to a lot of readers and although we were averaging around 1600 hits during the deepest darkest recesses of last years closed season, I thought about having a break for a couple of months this time around. But as a few pointed out to me, who knows what might happen in the next few weeks? So, instead I have agreed with Joe at Blackandwhites that we will produce the Diary on alternative weeks until the Christmas break and then go back to a weekly edition from the start of January. So in the near future Diary’s will now appear on the following dates:

Monday 7th November
Monday 21st November
Monday 5th December
Monday 19th December

So there won’t be one next week and I hope you understand my position and that you continue to support me on those dates.

As for this week well that’s about it, a good old rant, a head scratch about the magic fixtures, our programme of games for 2017 and a look at the influence that betting has on our sport and that’s about it. The next diary in two weeks’ time should have a bit more FC stuff in it because by then we might have some news on signings and our strips and even an idea how season tickets are going at the very least. But, until then thanks for all your support and for contacting me in such numbers again this week. I’m starting to get withdrawal symptoms already but we’ll just have to get through that and look forward with some hope to next season. Thanks again for all your backing and I’ll speak to you soon.

Faithfully Yours

Wilf