The Dentist’s Diary – 524th

Well, firstly well done to both Wigan and Warrington for flying the flag for the British game and sticking it up the Aussies; they won’t like that at all!

I’m not convinced that the NRL sides took it at all seriously enough, but they don’t like losing at anything and I just wonder if that’s the last time we’ll see this particular crown competed for. Still, it’s great to have the World Club Champions playing in Super League and I guess Wigan won’t let us hear the end of that one either!! However, although there hasn’t been much to talk about this week FC wise, there’s been plenty going on in the game and off the field it’s hardly been ‘Good News Week’ in Rugby League!

Thanks to an enforced hiatus in our fixtures, we’ve all had a pretty unwelcome break, but the good stuff saw our Club posting some very encouraging accounts for last year and breaking records with the advanced Catalans ticket sales. However farther afield there has been more mixed messages. For a start, in the domestic competition it’s been a crazy few days. This weekend some Super League teams played league games and others didn’t, while all teams were told that they could lose up to 3 players for two matches mid-season to allow for an international trial and then our game was ranked 27th in the country as far as public participation is concerned. Plus, to add a level of levity, Featherstone introduced their new mascot Percy the Pit Pony (yep you heard that right, and a quick look at him leads me to believe that he won’t be available during the pantomime season). It might only be week two of the competition, but already there’s certainly a deal of controversy, most of it thankfully not directly concerning us.

Those instances and a couple of others are I feel a symptom of a bigger malaise that the British game seems to find itself slipping into at present and for me that’s a bit of a worry.

In the RL press and on the message boards it’s widely rumoured that the Clubs are at present getting their heads together with the new operations manager at the RL to try and sort out the future direction of the game and for me that can’t come soon enough! We need some more focus on the future course for the game because only this weekend it has proved to be a fabulous product, but one that seems to struggle to define itself, as it flounders around the margins of national sport like a rudderless ship.

The fixture arrangements are ludicrous! After just one full round had been played by everyone, this weekend 4 teams played Super League fixtures, two clubs played in the World Club Challenge Series and 6 other Clubs including Hull FC kicked their heels, after just getting their campaigns underway last week. For the outsider it must appear that despite us having one of the best games to watch in the world, it’s administration is a shambles.

Then of course later in the year up to three players can be taken out of any particular team for two Rounds, while they play in an International trial. One would expect that benefits the ‘lesser’ teams, who don’t have so many potential internationals. This is nothing like a level playing field at all and 2017 is shaping up to be a bit of a mess already. Why should we not be surprised that fans are walking away from the game and new converts are still finding it hard to understand what the hell is going on!

In the past I’ve been the first to moan in here about my Club, that’s my right as a fan, but this morning I have to say; thank goodness we support Hull FC. What an example of good practise we are at present, we have spent 3 years getting our ship in order and now it’s paying dividends…literally. Our new balance sheet, which, with the help of an expert, I will elaborate on shortly, shows we are going well and even making a bit of money. Wembley has helped us considerably, of course it has, but so has a process of refocussing and restructuring our back office, which has taken a couple of years to complete and has culminated in a new staffing structure and James Clark being appointed our new CEO.

We needed to capitalise on that Cup victory last year and, as all the other Clubs look to be posting a reduction in season ticket sales this year, we have made the most of our success and our sales are up, big style! The final totals for memberships look to be heading for a 33% increase on last year, with the increase for kids (without including freebies) up by a staggering 65%. The East Stand is just about sold out and the South Stand over 40% full in advance for the first time since 2010. That, to us laymen, equates to us having sold over 8000 season tickets compared with 6400, last year. But, despite Wembley, it hasn’t come about by magic and there is a lot of hard work behind those figures because such stats, in the current climate of the world of British Rugby League, have to be commended and indeed celebrated.

Much of the turn-around in our financial fortunes is down to hard work on ticket sales on the part of James Clark and I’m pleased that he has been given the chance to take charge, it’s a big job and he’ll certainly be under the microscope, (from me in here in particular). However, I’m hearing from the RL that he’s already been in there at the working groups, particularly the one that was instrumental in securing the new commission deal on away ticket sales. However, I just hope he can keep up a bit of his compering at forums etc, because he’s good at that.

On Thursday James Clark will be performing his final swansong on the pitch mic against Catalan, before the new lads take over for the following home game and he moves ‘upstairs’. No one who works for a sports club is popular with all the fans, all the time, that’s the nature of the beast, supporters love a protagonist to have a go at, particularly when times are hard. However, from my dealings as part of FC Voices over the years, it’s fair to say that Clarky is a realist and gets the supporters point of view as he seems to understand the issues we have. Further-more for me, anyone who is on the staff of the club and yet who publicly ‘blubs’ at the end of a Derby and for 15 minutes after that Wembley win, at least deserves a chance.

Good Luck Clarky, we’ll be watching you!!!

So to those accounts and with an air of ‘What the hell do I know’, I asked ‘the Diary’s Accountant’ and my good pal Mrs Barista to have a look at them, put some realism on some sketchy detail and give you a resume of the good news we seem to be hearing from the Club. She of course obliged and said;

“So after a few challenging financial years the board must be delighted to report a return to profitability posting a surplus for the year to 31st October of £269,574. The importance of a Wembley appearance has been reported before, with a rough indicator that it’s worth £250k and it’s quite possible that it’s more valuable from a commercial perspective than a Grand Final simply because of the 4 week run-up to shift merchandise as opposed to the GF which has just 1; making the play-offs is likely to have helped also. It’s very difficult to comment on the detail of how we achieved this result though because there’s no profit and loss account publishable, simply the bottom line number.

However other pieces of insight suggest that the result is more than a just a cup windfall. We know the club is facing cost headwinds – choosing to run a U23s set-up as an investment in the future pipeline must have incremental cost attached, and ongoing tensions with the SMC seem to indicate cost challenges around opening sections of the ground and office accommodation, so to be able to post a profit of that size in a year when passholder numbers were lower than what we’ve achieved for 2017 does bode well.

Whether the upturn can be sustained will clearly be correlated to whether we can progress to another major final but as importantly maintaining attacking and winning rugby, particularly at home, but for now these results will have eased the financial stresses that AP has often talked about before, so long may it continue!”

Thank you so much Mrs B and it seems that things are looking good for us finance wise at present at least!

There was an interesting insight into how things have changed at our Club on the field over the last couple of seasons as well this week when Paul Cooke spoke openly as Leigh’s Assistant Coach in this week’s Hull Daily Mail. He was talking about Curtis Naughton and the impression he has already made in his short time at the Lancashire Club, where he is taking a year out on a year-long loan from the FC. Cooke said, “Naughton is already bringing a top-four training mentality to our club. Our players seeing him first-hand, working hard when everyone else is leaving the training field making those players think twice before departing so hastily. It certainly helps us as staff and our players upon hearing his stories of the extras the top-drawer players at FC complete as a matter of normality to them. He’s fitted in well with our group and with just a little more time to understand our structures in offence and defence will push for a place in our team. He’s been discussed already following the impression he’s given from his short time with us”.

Much is said of the extra’s and additional warming up/cooling down and ball work stuff that Minnichiello, Ellis, Manu, Houghton etc. do at our Club, but perhaps sometimes we take all that for granted. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see how hearing about it impressed the guys over at Leigh. If proof was needed of its value and benefit to us then we should look no further than how well Gareth Ellis did at Wakefield after not playing a single minute in pre-season.

The culture at our Club is at present amazing, because that sort of stuff is not so much down to the coaching staff but to the player’s professionalism and personal attitude. That said, Lee Radford is really dedicated and meticulous in what he does himself and I think that rubs off on the players as well, but our experienced players, in the twilight of their careers, don’t have to be like that, but they are! It sets a fine example and develops an in house ethic that is needed if we are to be really successful. What’s more it rubs off on the younger players too and that’s been proved by the way that Naughton has already regaled the Leigh squad of the lengths that some players at Hull FC will go to when they prepare themselves for games.

As a Club, player wise, we are in a good place and much of that is down to the example set by some of those senior players. Just look at that super human effort by Talanoa at Wakefield that won us the game. That brilliant try saving play was about doing it for the ‘cause’ and for his mates and long may that attitude pervade the FC camp. However, those of us who find it hard to locate the rose tinted glasses, do wonder who we bring in to continue that culture in future, particularly when the Ellis’s and Minnichiello’s are no more. Nonetheless, I’m told that players such as Talanoa, Sneyd, Michaels and Griffin are following the example and stepping up into that role as well, but replacing those two will be very tough indeed. If nothing else Radford at present has the culture exactly right and although at this time of year it’s all about fiddling wins where you can, when it comes to the business end of things, then all that dedication should pay off. Good stuff though I thought and an insight from the Coach of another Club, as to just how far we have come at Hull FC.

It doesn’t stop there either because we are intent on having a lot more players game ready this season as the rigors of that previously mentioned ridiculous fixture schedule and the fear of injuries will always not be too far away. Our Coach indicated this week that every player on the Clubs books need to have played 20 games in all competitions by the end of the campaign. If we are to be successful of course some will have to play more matches. After an already extended pre-season of five official games designed to give his young guns and fringe members more game-time, Hull have since faced France’s under-23s, York City Knights and we now play another trial match at Hull KR against a select side tonight (Monday).

We have certainly started the quest to get every one of our staff more game time well, with some of Hull’s top youngsters like Jansin Turgut and Masimbaashe Matongo having featured in six contests already. It’s Radford’s view that the return of the reserves league last season helped some of our players get more matches under their belts, but holes in the calendar and teams dropping out last time around, saw some players missing out at times. Our Coach has now moved to rectify that for a season where, everyone agrees, the ability to keep as many players fit and game ready as possible will be imperative. It’s going to be a tough year and I can see any club that hasn’t got the necessary depth in their playing strength really struggling by Round 18 or 19 can’t you?

Now here’s a date for your Diary, because 22nd July is the release date for……

YeamoBook1

It’s a really good read and a great insight into the career of a true black and white hero and you can book a copy in advance too. I’ll try and post a link for that next week.

So, are you going on Thursday, well it looks like at least 13,000 FC fans will be there for our first home game of 2017 and I know readers who are travelling from London, Scotland and Cheshire for the game, as everyone seems to want to be part of the big kick off at the KCOM. There are still a few tickets left in the South Stand, for what should be a game played in an electric atmosphere. Of course we need to win to capitalise on all the hard work at Wakefield, but Catalans look a handy outfit and are always real party poopers and they are coming over early to ensure they are primed for the battle. The loss of Kelly is a blow and although he has been exemplary in his behavior off the field he has to sort out his petulant stance at times on it. He is being targeted as the danger man and the opposition forwards are really spotting him, but he has so far taken that well and given as much as he has got in the tackle. However, at times he appears to want to give a bit more and just gets a bit tetchy as then in comes the high tackle or loose arm. But, that said I think that he has done really well to settle in and he’ll be a big hit in the half backs I’m sure. His absence on Thursday certainly offers Jake Connor, a player who we have been told is intent on making a half back position his own, the chance to shine and it should be a great game, so get there if you can and let’s raise the roof.

YeamoBook2
Jake needs to have a big game!

One of the great conundrums of life is, “Who is called in when the official receiver goes bust?” Furthermore, it’s one that we are destined never to get an answer for! It’s hardly likely to happen, because I had a sneak, peak at the administrators report for the now defunct Bradford Bulls and was stunned at what I saw. The joint administrators charged a fee of £233,190.40 for their services, at a whopping rate of £230.27 per hour. Nice work if you can get it eh? The report also details that Bradford were owed £100,000 in sponsorship money, whilst creditors of the old Bulls include the RFL and a whole stack of other clubs – Workington, Whitehaven, Sheffield, London, Leeds, Salford, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Batley, Featherstone and St Helens. So although the new Club is now up and running the ramifications of the old set ups demise, are still rippling across the league as the other clubs have to take up the slack and if you are thinking of a career change, then perhaps a job in liquidation management is for you!

Another interesting bit of news coming from my ‘spy’ at the RL press is that an American consortium wants to follow in the path of the Toronto Wolfpack and is seeking entry for a new club into English rugby league. What’s more they’ve been over here twice for meetings on the subject. It appears that a US-based group is planning to launch a professional club in Florida that will play in League 1. It is likely that the new team will be based in the city of Jacksonville. That city has a strong rugby league background with the Jacksonville Axeman launched in 2006.They are one of the most successful rugby league clubs in the US and currently play in the USARL Championship.

So, after my revelations last week that a shake-up of the Super 8s is likely for 2018 it looks like more changes are likely to be announced in future weeks. The official line is that discussions are in the very early stages and any new club would be several years away. However, strangely enough my informant tells me, this US-based group has contacted prospective players about their venture, so make of that what you will.

Back in early January I heard one of my whiffs and passed it onto you when I said, “Perhaps the Rugby League should think about giving more of the income from tickets sold by the visiting club back to them, because that would soon make some get their fingers out and start thinking about building their own gates, encouraging more to travel to games and generally getting new customers on board. We take thousands away to some games and yet despite the fact that Hull FC have worked tirelessly to develop that loyalty and fervour as a club we get little back for the tickets we’ve sold to our travelling fans. While alternatively those Clubs who have low home attendances and ‘sit on their hands’ benefit from our visits, but invariably bring few to the KCOM in return”

Well, I repeat that just to say on this occasion it was certainly a case of ‘you should have listened to Wilf’ as last week RFL Executive Director Roger Draper announced that at his first meeting with all the Super League Clubs, the amount that a member gets from tickets it sells to its own fans for away games, was increased from 10 per cent to 25 per cent. Hull FC and Leeds Rhino’s proposed the change and it went through by 7 to 4 with Huddersfield, Wakefield and Leigh voting against it. The other Club that did, was quite surprisingly Wigan, who do however, when you think about it, struggled at times to take travelling support away with them; as last year’s semi-final at Doncaster proved. However, the rest were for it and so the change went through and at Hull FC it will certainly help and go a long way to making up for the money that will have lost with the disappearance of the local Derby games this year.

Does it make that much of a difference? Well, let’s look for a moment at a hypothetical model. If we sold 2500 tickets for the Wakefield game at our shops at say an average cost of £15 after V.A.T. we will have received around £9,300 from our sales last week, whilst under the old rules it would have been just £3,700. That over a season equates to a lot of dosh we didn’t have and as I said back in January, sees us rewarded for the number of our supporters we take travelling away. This scheme encourages clubs to get their fingers out and start looking to build their home gates, because they can’t rely on such a big income from travelling fans. However, it also sees them benefit from the visiting club recognising the ability to make more money and therefore encouraging their fans to travel away in greater numbers anyway. So everyone’s a winner. One things for sure though and that’s it is now more than ever imperative that if you go away, you buy the tickets from our club shop and don’t ‘pay on the gate’ so we reap the benefits of this increased levy.

In the same interview in League Express, Draper also alluded to the fact that, “The shape of Super League and the Super 8’s for 2018 needs reviewing and settling in the next month or two”. I’m told a lot has already been discussed and although nothing is sorted yet, then one thing is for sure; if we change again, then we have to stick with the outcome this time around because we can’t change our structure every year. So, as I always say, its time again to watch this space!!

Mind you, if the structure of the competition is a worry for some, they have a few other things to agonise about PDQ at Redhall as well. As I touched on earlier Rugby League is behind sports such as table tennis, angling and shooting in terms of people aged 16 and over who participate in a sport on a weekly basis. Well, they are according to data from Sport England which has appeared in a national newspaper. The Daily Telegraph have compiled a list of the 33 most popular sports in the country relating to data handed out by Sport England from the end of September 2016 – and rugby league sits at a worrying 27th on the list.

The article notes that 44,900 people participate in playing rugby league on a weekly basis, which is down almost 10 per cent from 12 months prior to that data being collated. Perhaps even more worryingly, it details a staggering 39.07% drop in participation numbers over the last decade in comparison to those playing the sport in September 2006. The article indicated that more people take part in sports like sailing and shooting on a weekly basis compared to rugby league. That’s very poor really and the administration at Redhall should be ashamed of themselves. That decline from 2006 is appalling and with gates dropping last year at the live games, both these worrying trends have to be reversed and soon. Otherwise Rugby League will descend into a sport watched only on TV and played at the top level by Australians and the elite few who have been cherry picked and cajoled into taking up the sport. Ten times more people play Badmington every week than play Rugby League, while Rugby Union’s weekly participant number is around 199,000, which puts the sport in 12th place.

If we don’t sort this out, everyone else will be playing Table-tennis, Badmington and Green Bowls as the opportunity to play our game eventually disappears altogether when the structure to deliver the sport and the teams that used to participate in it at grass roots melts away, all through a lack of amateur community clubs. That’s probably the most worrying news we have heard thus far this year!

Well to happier things and the Codgers piece on Colin Hutton last week produced a bumper mailbag of correspondence from readers many of whom were there at Maine Road back then in 1956. Harry Stanley and Bill Breedon both asked me if I would feature another significant game that they had fond memories of and it’s one that I have covered in here before, but not for a long, long time. So here is an extract again from the first book that covers a very significant game for me and indeed Hull FC, which took place over 55 years ago.

Saturday 9th December 1961: Hull 28 Bramley 9

However, that December, just as things were settling down for another average season, the news broke in the Hull Daily Mail that Hull had put in an audacious bid for the Leeds star Wilf Rosenberg, or as he was widely known in the West Riding, “The Flying Dentist”. Dad brought the paper into number 23 that night and immediately called me away from my home-work and into the kitchen as he spread The Hull Daily Mail on the table, sending the carefully arranged knives and forks crashing to the floor. There must be, I thought, something pretty dramatic in the news today. He turned the paper to the back page and announced triumphantly, “Look at that Son, now he is a great player”. The ‘flyer’ from South Africa had signed!

I was so excited and could not wait for his first home game that weekend against Bramley. On the days leading up to the match I desperately needed to find more out about this new ‘Star’ that we had acquired but with only a local paper to rely on, information was in scant supply. So in desperation I resorted to asking our Physics teacher Mr Bell, who hailed from Hunslet (but who supported Bramley) just what he knew about ‘The Flying Dentist’. I stopped him in the corridor at school before General Science that Wednesday morning and he willingly related all that I needed to know to ensure that, for me, a hero was about to come into my life.

He told me that Wilf was indeed a Dentist with a practise in Leeds, and that fact and his amazing speed with ball in hand, was the reason that he had been given his nick name. ‘Belly’ went on to tell me that Wilf was a real ‘old fashioned’ flying winger, whose speciality was to end his runs with a spectacular dive as he crossed the line. He also said that a lot of the Leeds fans over in the West Riding were ‘Up in arms’ about his leaving and added that he was amazed that Hull FC had got such a sensational player to move over to the Boulevard at all. I simply couldn’t wait for Saturday to come. I ducked out of homework on Thursday night and went with Jenksey and a few of my pals to Madeley Street to see if I could catch a glimpse of Wilf at training. Sadly, once we got there and watched the players going into the building it was hard to decide whether he was there or not. One of my mates Steve said, “They all look the same with their clothes on” which I guess summed it up really.

Well over a thousand more spectators than usual turned up at the Boulevard that Saturday as Jenks, Steve Dyson and I watched the game from our most recently adopted vantage point, in front of the Threepenny stand laid on the roof of the home teams trainers hut. It was a great view, although you had to keep quiet or the coaching staff would pop their heads over the roof and tell you to ‘Clear off’. For games to be really memorable back then and to send me back home buzzing with the overall experience of it all, I had to have fish and chips for dinner, meet my pals on the car park and watch from the Threepenny stand side of the Boulevard. I was meticulous in my planning that day and everything was set fair to remember this one.

The Hull’s team that kicked off at 2-30 that afternoon was I suppose the usual mix of ‘has been’s’ and youngsters, who were, none the less, still all big stars to this young supporter. Hollingdrake was missing because of a leg injury and as that made us short of Backs, Loose Forward and Captain Johnny Whiteley played in the centre for one of the few times in his career. This was probably, as one wag said behind us in the Threepenny Stand, “To bloody well make sure we get some value for money out of that bloody Dentist fella”

There was another surprise in store though because on the other wing was a rare sight in those days, a black man. There were hardly any playing in the RL and it was a really unusual sight for us all to see this lean, fit muscular black guy, shinning with embrocation, running straight out of the tunnel to take up his place in front of us. Looking on the team sheet in the programme he was down as A.N.Other, which seemed a really strange name for anyone, let alone a rugby player. Thankfully, someone in the know behind us explained that he was probably a “Trialist”, ‘moonlighting’, from Rugby Union. Back then if you were found playing League by the other code’s authorities your career was over, so aspiring converts reverted to pseudonyms such as A.N. Other, S.O. Else and even, A. Newman. In fact when international sprinter Berwyn Jones who was probably the fastest man in the country at the time, had a trial for Wakefield in 1964, because he had already played Union, he was given the rather ironic alias of ’Walker’.

No one down at the Boulevard that afternoon had to wait long for some action because the first time this Mr. Other got possession of the ball he was off down the field at great pace and it took a brilliant last ditch crash tackle by Wilson the Bramley full back to stop him from scoring with his first involvement in the game. Then, the moment we had been waiting for arrived as Wilf at last got in on the action. Scooping up a loose ball about fifteen meters from his own line, he set off down the field, ‘hugging’ the whitewash that denoted the right touch line. As he passed level with us scorching down the far Best Stand side, everyone from the trainer’s benches in front of us were on their feet. He looked like he would go into touch at any minute, (just as Hollingdrake seemed to do every week) but he handed away three potential tacklers in a thrilling dash to the line. Then, from what seemed at least five yards out, with just one player left in pursuit, he took off for that famous dive Mr Bell had described so graphically the previous Wednesday. Rosenberg literally flew over the line parallel with the ground to complete his first touchdown for the club, much to the pleasure of the posse of photographers eagerly waiting behind the dead ball line. As their flash bulbs lit up the dull afternoon for this fan a star was born.

That try and dive will stay in my memory forever, and I was not on my own because one of those photographs even featured in a couple of Rugby League annuals that Christmas!! Wilf scored 2 tries on his debut, whilst the trialist Winger Mr A.N. Other scored three, the last one a magnificent 50 yarder that saw the coaches and bench officials from both clubs applauding the effort, and so, almost as an aside, we won the game 29-9.

It wasn’t all about our wingers though because impromptu centre Whiteley, had a great game that afternoon too, he even supplied the passes for one of Rosenberg’s and two of the trialist wingers tries. As we sang “Old Faithful” with the rest of the ‘Threepennies’ at the end of the game, little did Steve, Jenks and I know that we had just witnessed the birth of a star and the beginning of an era for that Trialist winger was of course Clive Sullivan.

More great memories and I hope that does that monumental moment in our history justice for Harry and Bill. Well that’s it and all the talking has to stop on Thursday when we lock horns with the Catalans Dragons in front of what should be a large and loud crowd. Get there if you can, because it should be a great game. Thanks as always for sticking with what has been at times a bit of a dry Diary, but let’s hope I have more to report about our own club next week. See you there on Thursday!

And

Comeonyouhulllllaaarrrrr!!!!

Faithfully Yours

Wilf