The Dentist’s Diary – 516th

So…… while it was quiet I decided to take a bit of a sabbatical and run these Diaries every two week, but just as I try to have a break and do a bit of writing, lo and behold everything kicks off!

Despite the fact that Adam has been away and Lee Radford only returned from holiday last Friday, news has still been coming thick and fast and when no one has been around to confirm or deny it, the media and the fans have just been making it up!

Season ticket sales, Albert Kelly, Frank Pritchard, Jordan Abdull, International games at the KC, a new exciting and yet pretty controversial strip, a great traditional shirt etc. etc. etc. and so it just went on and on. As for me, well, I’m still enjoying the break, but finding it hard to get too excited about this International stuff. I guess I have also to admit that whilst scouring the media for information on the above issues which seem to be occupying the minds of the sports writers and the fans alike, I’m again starting to look forward to next season. Trouble is, no one at the Club is around to comment and with even our Marketing and Communications Director taking a well-deserved break last week the rumour mill has been going wild.

However earlier in the past week there is little doubt that the big talking point surrounded the rumoured departure of Frank Pritchard and the securing of that much needed half back in the shape of (again the rumoured) Albert Kelly.

James Smailes indicated on Twitter that he didn’t expect Frank would be turning out in the irregular hoops again and his newspaper heralded the arrival of Mr. Kelly as ‘very likely’; and so we were off! Two bits of controversial ‘news’, neither piece of which has been ratified by the Club, simply because I guess neither deal is sorted and as I say, everyone was away on holiday. Things at Hull FC get back underway this week with the conditioning and Coaching staff returning to work today and then a week later on the 14th new arrivals and what they are calling ‘early returners’ are back in training with everyone else back a week after that on the 21st. I have spoken a couple of times this week to Andy Last who told me that already a lot of preparation work was going on and everyone was certainly up for next season.

Danny Washbrook is a regular already at the Total Fitness Gym and more recently both Danny Houghton and Gareth Ellis have been in there doing some training and in Gareth’s case some rehab; while a lot of other players are now returning from their holidays in preparation for getting going again. So we should all be hearing a lot more from the Club in the coming days to take the pressure off the media, who are scratching around for news and stories while the keyboard warriors on message boards and Facebook etc. argue amongst themselves as they make it up as they go along.

So, I guess that here I should have a bit of a look at the rumors and firstly the possibility of the big man signing for the Parramatta Eels. Off the pitch in 2016, Frank was a big personality, a fans favorite and a real ‘connect point’ between the supporters and the Club and that was his real forte throughout a memorable campaign. Many say that he was the big reason that some overseas stars settled so quickly and that is true in part, but Feke was the main mover in that role and indeed by the end of the campaign Frank did start to believe his own publicity a bit.

As a so called Marquee signing and considering the money he is on, he was expected to deliver more than he probably did on the field. His stats from game to game on yards made and tackles executed were always good but as for him being the explosive wide running back rower we hoped that his early form would provide, then I guess he probably disappointed me a bit there. Some reckon that he was played out of position but for me Manu and Mini were better out there in that wide running role and so when they were on the field with Frank, the big man was left to play a more central role. So, all that considered, for me if he leaves then it should not be seen as a massive negative, on the field at least.

With Dean Hadley, Jansin Turgut, Jack Downs and Brad Fash there are plenty of good young back rowers coming through at the KCOM and they need to see a pathway to the first team. They can be the long term future of this club if they get the game time required. Of course they won’t have the presence or the baby kissing, selfie posing, PR generating aura of ‘The Tank’ but few players have and that’s why he was a massive plus for us off the field in our very special year. That is where for me we will miss Frank the most. Playing well is always paramount for any Club, but once you’re doing OK in the League, then the ability to generate a buzz off the field is so important.

However, although few would disagree that on the field he flattered to deceive a bit, particularly in that Marquee role, I also know of a couple of incidents that I heard about in the latter stages of the season which made me think that perhaps it was job done and time for Frank to move on. The role he played in re-launching the team and its image last year was phenomenal and you just have to love the bloke, I really appreciated what he did for us and I wish him good luck whatever he decides to do.

If he stays and I doubt he will, then I would need for him to have a massive season on the field as well as off it. However, Frank and his family had a lot to do with the hype and excitement that surrounded our wonderful season and few will forget his ‘Face-book’ arm dancing in the car on the way to training after a win, or his celebrating after some of those great victories last season. Had we seen that rampaging form of the pre-season game against Rovers throughout the season then thing might have been different, but we didn’t and it’s the stuff that I have outlined above that he will be remembered most for and that’s the point I make really for he was a marketer’s dream. Good luck Frank whatever you decided to do.

As for the Kelly stuff well he’s certainly got bags of talent and is an exciting player to watch, but why are we reported to be considering risking everything we have built both team spirit and camaraderie wise, on a player that has an appalling disciplinary record? Well perhaps that’s just down to the nature of British Rugby League.

Critics of the modern game would point to the fact that it is turning into a form of chess played by robots controlled by the coaches and the lack of real quality, flair and unpredictability is, some say, making it boring to watch for the uninitiated and staid and even a bit banal for the dedicated fan. That’s because gone are the days when every team had an off the cuff player or two, a ‘cheeky Charlie’ type half back, or a real villain. There is a real dearth of that sort of flourish and if you like mischief based play making that used to spice up the game and make the unexpected more common and often the highlight of most games. At Hull FC we’ve had them over the years and we never quite knew what the likes of Terry Devonshire, Terry Kirchin, Tony Dean, Peter Sterling, Mick Crane, Gary Pearce, Kevin Dick, Greg Mackie or even Danny Brough would do with the ball and although they all had different personalities it was their unpredictability and sheer ‘cheek’ that made for exciting and surprising plays and rugby, that at times won us games. On occasions however several of those listed could hardly be called model Clubmen could they?

Look at that tremendously exciting season we had last year and consider the fact that although when it came to tries scored we were the third highest ranked Super League side, when Sneyd’s kicking game wasn’t working as well as it normally did, then we just tried to impose our strength and force our way over the line, because try as Jordan Abdull and Carlos might, attack wise we didn’t seem to have a ‘Plan B’ at all. Teams were starting to find us out at the end of last term as on attack things became more and more predictable, but its blooming hard to find a person who can change games in such a way as those heroes listed above could, but, by the same rule, it would be a real coupe if any team could discover or capture one. So, why are there none about anymore?
Well perhaps the answer is the format that the game has evolved into, because it has seen coaches err on the safe side and plump for a more staid and structured game plan, with less risks and everyone expected to stick strictly to their roles and the game strategy. This, so much so that the free spirit sort of approach has been coached out of our game. Now however clubs are desperately looking to get that X factor back, because they believe it could give them the edge in what has developed into a stale and staid game where most teams are pretty equal. They are however also finding that as they search for such talents all there is out there to perhaps meet those needs are the rebels, renegades and bolshie buggers who refuse to be coached into the ‘structured’ way of doing things, who have dubious personalities and who have been branded as mavericks and outcasts.

The skills those ‘rebels’ have retained despite being told to change, now seem to be back in demand and if the game is to re-invent itself and we are not going to spend the rest of our lives watching a Super League populated by 12 ‘Wigan’s’ playing the same boring game week in week out, an injection of some raw flair is perhaps the answer. Look at the current players that can turn a game in those circumstances like Carney, Chase, Brough and dare I say Kelly, they all have had or have issues and have been ostracized at times by their clubs and colleagues and yet they all have that X factor that teams are now craving. Sadly, however, as I say, experience seems to dictate that the ability to play high octane off the cuff and unpredictable rugby goes hand in hand with being a bit of a twat as well!
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Kelly’s been a twat on several occasions already but he can also be a real game breaker and on his day he can be unreadable for the opposition and a great exponent of the running game; although I have to say that I question whether he shows that consistently enough. But on the other side there’s the disciplinary stuff; he has more baggage than British Airways and quite frankly my instinct is to stay clear of anyone like that! However, if he wants to keep playing rugby he’s running out of options, but for a Club looking to grab some real unpredictability in attack then who else is their out there?

Our peer group of players with Mini, Ellis, Manu, Houghton and Taylor is a lot stronger and single minded than the rag bag there was at Rovers last season and from the sounds of things the club have tailored the contract on offer in their favour. The culture at Hull FC is a strong one based on camaraderie and working hard for each other and I very much doubt one player could disrupt that with any significance and of course, with Radford at the helm if he buggers us about he’ll be gone. Our Coach will leave him under no illusions about that I’m sure. If his wage is indeed pitched at a level that is a lot less than he was on at Rover’s, it almost sounds as if we could possibly be getting an absolute bargain and we’d be hard pushed to get anyone else with such skills for the same money we’ll be paying him. If that is we sign him which is still as I write this a matter for much conjecture.

His agent is no doubt hanging out for a better deal somewhere else, however I still doubt that bringing him in at Hull FC is a good idea at all, it doesn’t sit right with me but I also trust Lee and Motu’s judgement. To me he’s a bad lad and has been one at every Club he has played at, so he has a lot of bridges to build with this fan before I’d ever accept him. But, perhaps looking at the market place he’s our only real chance of getting some variation into our attacking play. Whilst we had our best year for a long time in 2016 the club have obviously identified that an ‘off the cuff’ type player would complement the structured approach we have developed to our game and I think as well that’s perhaps what we have attempted to do in the long term with the signing of Jake Connor.

You see he’s a bit of an unpredictable player as well and although a bit green he has, whilst at Huddersfield, shown definite signs of being a bit unorthodox at times in his approach to trying to break a game. However, the kick back from that is, that in Huddersfield he’s not renowned for having a good attitude towards training, so again we see a pattern developing. However, some players are just naturally gifted and even if they don’t train the house down they can still change a game in a second. These players also quite often bring a sense of levity and fun to the training ground so it’s always a bit of a balancing act really, but the key is man-managing them correctly and getting the best out of them. If Kelly does come, then I hope he is a success, but I ain’t holding my breath just yet!

Now, my old pal Stephen Kirkwood contacted me on Friday to make the observation that, “I had to drive though East Hull today and I am sure that instead of all the HKR number plates there was a lot more XKR ones” to which amazingly I was able to replay to him that “Incredibly, I’m just in the car park at Morrisons in Beverley and parked next to a Ford Fiesta that’s plate reads, FKR”. A sentiment that I could associate with immediately.

So what do you make of the new shirts eh? Well let me say from the off that I was down there at the KCOM shop first thing last Saturday morning to secure one of those great vintage alternatives, which include a cream collar and a badge that resembles the one that was carried on the 1959 and 1960 Cup final shirts. It’s a great garment and one I’ll certainly wear with pride. However, and it’s a big however, the new home shirt is not for me at all. I tried one on and felt better about it when I did, but it’s simply not my sort of thing really. But then, I’m a bit of a traditional old bugger anyway!

Having said that it’s great for the younger fans and I’ve honestly never seen so many shirts being bought on that first Saturday that they were on sale, so what do I know? I won’t criticise it at all because they are selling like hot cakes and good luck to the Club for that. I also get what introducing a modern, trendy shirt is all about and how important it is to get away from the ‘V one year, then irregular hoops the next’ rotation, which has gone on since time immemorial, or at least since we arrived at the KCOM stadium. This shirt is different, a brave departure and as Marmite (some love it, some hate it) as you like, its stylish and edgy and I get all of that and I’m sure they’ll sell loads, so they’ve got it right and I’ve got it wrong haven’t I? But, as I say, sadly on a personal note I’m afraid it’s not for me! However, we can now all await the away shirt appearing as it no doubt will well before Christmas.

How great it was to see that this week Richard Whiting has at last made his much anticipated move to the Toronto Wolfpack. Rich made his debut for Featherstone in 2003 before joining us two years later. He made 253 appearances before signing for Leigh earlier this year and he went on to play 15 games for Centurions in 2016. I was sorry to lose him from Hull FC and at 31 he still has a few years left in his career and so this move must be seen as an exciting one. I wish him and his family well and will be following his career with the fledgling team with interest!

Well if you can’t sell seasons tickets after a great campaign like the one that we all experienced last year, then you might as well go home! That last season was an epic year for Hull FC and there is nothing to believe with the players we have signed and the progress we made last term, that such heroics will not continue into 2017 and beyond. I wonder a bit, of course I do, because that’s what I’m like and as an FC fan optimism is still a sense that alludes me somewhat, probably because of all the years of disappointment that have gone before. As I have said so many times in here, “I’m a sceptical old bugger but I want to Believe”

However, I went and got our tickets as I always do and it’s great to see that we have come through the renewal period or at least the first part of it with record sales. 4200 sold is blooming good going and that, along with those record shirts sales I mentioned above, have again seen the FC Faithful shelling out in massive proportions. There is little evidence at all to suggest that we won’t see season ticket sales soar this year to reverse what has been in recent years a downward trend. We sold just under 6600 last season and at the weekend we were already almost two thirds of the way to that target again and that with still more time for season ticket holders to renew and the onset today of the ‘first bite of the cherry’ commencing for new subscribers.

I have said in here before that when it was first announced I analysed the scheme and pulled it apart a bit, but I have seen nothing at all since then to suggest that it still isn’t an excellent offer and, entertainment wise, brilliant value for money. I hope that gates increase next year if for nothing else than for Adam Pearson’s sake and I hope that he realises that the fans are already doing their bit for next season. Then of course it’s up to the players, but we’ll have plenty of time to chew the fat on that one in future Diary’s I’m sure. However, for now James Clark and Co have done a good job and I just hope that the success of last season encourages some lapsed and potentially new season ticket holder to come forward and sign up for 2017.

So is Jordan Abdull off to Rovers on a year-long loan? Well once again it’s a case of who knows, but I wonder what Mr. Hudgell will think about him crossing the divide, because it wasn’t that long ago when he said, “We’ve been very fortunate to have signed very good players and club men in former FC players, but we are now looking to build a culture that reflects the values of our supporters. Our fans are loyal, passionate and only interested in one club. Taking players from our nearest rivals doesn’t fit in with that brief anymore” Oh dear sometimes its maybe best to keep your mouth shut and perhaps a bit of Humble Pie will be on the Caravan Park menu this coming week eh?

It was good to see two of our old boys featuring widely in the news Down Under as Steve McNamara went to work for Stephen Kearney at New Zealand Warriors.
Steve said, “I’m really excited about this next step in my coaching career, coming to Auckland and working with Stephen and a great coaching group. I have the greatest admiration for Stephen from the days when we were opposing coaches of our national teams.” Whilst Kearney said he couldn’t be happier to secure McNamara’s services saying, “While Steve and I were adversaries in our roles with our national teams, we formed a great relationship, he brings qualities that will give us a really strong and experienced coaching group as we look ahead to take the Warriors to the level we collectively expect of this club.”

So everyone’s happy but I just wonder if Steve was really so much in the frame for Rovers as we were led to believe or whether Tim Sheens was always their first choice. Perhaps on that one we’ll never know, but watching that game on Saturday I also wonder if the new England manager is doing any better than McNamara did when he was in post?

Now before I get to the old timers bit I have to report some really sad news that came to me this week concerning an old pal and an FC acquaintance who has been around the club and me since the Boulevard days and beyond.

Eric Rhodes who sadly died this week was a true black and white, a great fans of the sport and his Club and a smashing bloke. I’ve been bumping into him for a chat at away games, fans forums, Club gatherings etc. for what seems like decades and he always had a lot of common sense and passion to impart about his beloved Hull FC. We would stop and talk for maybe half an hour one week, whilst the next, perhaps as we left some far flung Stadium after a defeat, a mutual rolling of the eyes was all that was needed, but Eric got it, he loved the Club and now sadly he will be watching with so many other local heroes up there on the terrace in the Sky.

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Eric with the Challenge Cup

I’ll really miss him and at this time my thoughts go out to his Wife, my good friend Steph who is his daughter and all the family. I last spoke to Eric just after Wembley and he was absolutely ‘made up’ and that’s how I’ll remember him. Top Bloke R.I.P. Eric Rhodes.

So to Codgers Corner and another requested feature, this time following a chance meeting I had with David Doyle Davidson when we talked about our need to secure a half back for next season and that got me to thinking about some of the brilliant exponents of that position we have had over the years. It also coincided with an E Mail from John Dawson in Stalybridge who contacted me last month and wanted to hear again about one of the greatest half backs we ever saw at the Club.

Dave ‘Toppo’ Topliss was the stuff that legends are made of and yet he only played for us for 4 seasons and actually only joined the club at the age of 31. For years his brilliant half back play had tormented and frustrated the FC Faithful (and those of most other clubs too), as he led Wakefield Trinity around the field during his 13 years with his hometown club! He was always a thorn in our side. Rumours were rife for years that Arthur Bunting was after him, but if you were around then, you’ll know already that we were always linked with every great player, and there was little doubt that Dave was a great player! Having put together the most formidable pack in the League, our coach finally managed to snare the player he needed to play behind it and signed Toppo, for a bargain price of £15,000, to put the finishing touches to a back division as good as the club has ever seen!

Dave’s signing was interesting in itself, as it was made just as Hull KR were about to face Widnes in the 1981 Cup Final at Wembley. As if to steel some of Rovers thunder the signing was announced two days before the final, although he couldn’t play for us in the Premiership competition which ended in defeat, 11-7 to the old enemy. By the next season, when he made his debut, we had seen Chairman Charlie Watson replaced by Roy Waudby and the three Kiwi’s Leuluai, O’Hara and Kemble on their way to the Club. Toppo was soon a fans favourite!

Stand-off, loose Forward and scrum half in those days were the critical positions and so when Dave joined Harkin and Dean (our “Rotating” scrum halves) and Knocker Norton, the scene was set for some exciting times. Toppo was almost immediately made club captain and in his first season he led us to that fabulous Challenge Cup replay victory against Widnes at Elland Road. But more of that later!

Dave was a class player and if ever there was one who fitted the tag of “The little General” then it was he. He was not just a great player and a real thinker, but he also was one of only a very few players who had a move all to himself. Back in the early 1980’s my pals and I would call it his “rap around move” and try as they may, the opposition couldn’t handle it at all. Everyone knew what was coming, but no one could do anything about it.

Take that final replay in Leeds for instance when Toppo got the man of the match award and scored two tries. There we were with a scrum near the right hand touch line about 25 yards out from the Widnes try line. Toppo barked out the instructions as the pack formed and the two centres Leuluai and Evans and full back Kemble stood almost in a line about 10 yards apart well back from the scrum. We had all seen this before, and as the Hull crowd started to roar in expectation, the “Wrap around” was on!

Swift hands from the scrum saw Tony Dean feed Topliss whilst the three backs raced towards the action. The fast and straight dummy running of Evans and Kemble took two defenders away whilst Topliss fed Leuluai who stopped turned his back on the defence just as Dave curved around behind him, where he receives the shortest of return passes, and continues on, in an arcing run to the line. We all knew it was going to happen and so probably did the Widnes players and coaching staff, but no one could stop it.

I can see it now and will do till the day I die!!! The previous try was the same sort of thing too, except that Toppo fed Norton who turned his back on the defence, Dave got the return ball and as the defence shut the hole he fed Kemble who was running wider and Gary sped over. There are seldom players who “Patent” a move for their very own and even fewer of those moves that are almost unplayable and that one and David Doyle Davidson’s infamous 1970’s ‘Buzzer’ move from a standing tap penalty are the only two I can ever remember us perfecting. That wrap around was often imitated by other Clubs, but strangely never duplicated.

After that replay, to a rapturous reception from the FC Faithful, Toppo received the Cup from Neil McFarlene the Minister for Sport and said, “I’ve devoted my whole life to Rugby League and this is the happiest moment I have ever had!” For many of us there, it was our captain and the rest of the FC team who had given us our happiest moment ever, for now, too!!!

Toppo also scored a memorable try against the “Invincibles”, the 82 Aussie Tourists, when our scratch team so nearly beat them at the Boulevard. His try that night was one of only 7 that they conceded on that whole tour!

Dave was just an outstanding talent, a great team player and a really nice bloke too! I met him several times at post game, “Get togethers”, at pubs around the City and he always had time for the fans and loved to talk about the game! When I asked him one night in the Mermaid why he signed for us and left Wakey where he was such a legend, he said, “I just wanted the fantastic Hull fans on my side for a change”

In his short career at the club he played 120 games and scored 56 tries, but most of all he became a hero who has since evolved into a legend. When he reached 34 and Fred Ah Koi was signed, the writing was on the wall, but it was still Toppo who played in that first 8 game spell of the Peter Stirling era and what a sight those two together behind the scrum where! He eventually left our club and still managed to play two seasons at Oldham before retiring to become coach back at Wakefield Trinity! Sadly, no longer with us, the legend and immortality of Toppo will live on forever in the hearts of FC fans who saw him play, he was simply an enigma and an amazing servant to the game of Rugby League. Thanks therefore go to John in Lancashire for the idea and for giving me the opportunity to remember the great Dave Topliss.

So that’s the Diary for another two weeks as by the time I return for the next edition of this drivel pre-season training will be in full swing and many of the rumours and mysteries that currently surround the makeup of next year’s team will have been resolved. It’s a funny time of year when as a fan you enjoy the rest from the week in week out ‘tumble dryer’ of game following game and all the stress that ensue from it, but yet a time when you start to have withdrawal symptoms and yearn for a bit of action. That will probably now come on Boxing Day with as I predicted a few weeks ago a trip to Castleford for a special Challenge match. However again that has yet to be confirmed and so everything as it was when I started writing this week’s edition; all up in the air.

Thanks for reading the Diary and sticking with it when news is so thin on the ground. I also really appreciate all your comments and feed-back and I’ll be back with the next edition in two weeks’ time.

Keep Believing

Faithfully Yours

Wilf