From winning 62-0 to losing 45-0 in just 8 days! Who’d be an FC fan Eh?
That performance was quite embarrassing really and there can be no dressing that up! Just 8 days earlier Lee Radford said we had played our best stuff of the season against Catalan and then his wards follow up with a performance that is without doubt our worst. It’s not so bad if you ain’t up to it, any fan can understand that, but our lot are, they just didn’t bring anything to the game on the day.
OK, so I didn’t go, but oh how I felt for those FC souls who made the trip to Newcastle with so much hope, only to see us struggle as all those good intentions of the pre-match interviews and all the marketing hype, unwound before their very eyes. In such situations you really do have to feel for our publicity people don’t you? Whether you were there, in the pub or indeed watching from behind the settee, it was in the end, just embarrassing! We might have been dressed up in those quite amazing green Hulk shirts, but on Saturday there was little incredible about us and we never looked like morphing into a rugby team, never mind a set of super heroes! The fans turned up in commendable numbers, only to be disappointed by a team that didn’t turn up at all. How often has that happened in the past and yet for the long suffering supporter, how often will it happen again in the future? It’s all just part of the deal isn’t it?
One despairing contributor to RL fans summed up their frustration and anger perfectly when they said, “Woeful performance in all aspects, defence, attack, effort, tactics, lack of a plan B, it was like watching something from the Agar era again”. An over-reaction or just an echo from a distant tide? Well I don’t know, but I think, as we conceded our third big reversal of the season, we saw a performance worse than we did at Widnes last year. Yet here we are, still in the top four, still three points clear of fifth and still all to play for! At Hull FC as they say, hope still springs eternal!
Yep, I’m trying my best to be optimistic, but if I’m realistic I’m sure most at the club and indeed some fans won’t like what I have to say this week, so if you’re of a nervous disposition stop reading now! But I have to be honest and tell it as I see it, otherwise it’s not worth bothering at all and sat here in the early hours of Monday morning I’m still bitterly disappointed in what I saw in that game.
There have been plenty of up-beat offerings in here of late but, this isn’t going to be one of them and as I have said on many occasions over the last 12 years in this blog, at times it’s a blooming soul destroying past-time being a sports fan.
Is green on a Hull shirt the harbinger of disaster? Who knows, but on Saturday we never looked like scoring at all really and they simply wanted it more than we did. We knew before we started that they had a new coach to impress and that they were better than their recent results and indeed, it was something that Lee had been banging on to our players about all week, but did they listen; did they buggery. I feel for him as well, but as fans we have every right to be aggrieved, not because it’s a knee jerk reaction, but simply because we all know that we are better than that! If it’s not a crisis, then it’s certainly a bloody reality check!
Whilst our current position in the table is not a worry either and we’ve done well to get up there with only 4 losses thus far, the fact is that it’s the third time in 2017 that we have been heavily beaten and that means that although the alarm bells aren’t exactly ringing, they could well be tinkling a little after that showing. For now, as I say, it’s not a problem, but I know that 6 games ago the owner and Coach were asking questions after those two consecutive big defeats and there is little doubt for me that Adam and Lee will be eager for the side to respond in kind this Friday at home to Leigh Centurions. It was, as was the case at home to Leeds and Salford, not so much the defeat, but more the manner of it that was the worrying bit.
Before the game all we heard was that Saints had struggled mentally in recent weeks, but in their new coach’s first game in charge the Lancashire outfit turned up with the right attitude from the outset and despite all the hype, new shirts and hope, we didn’t!
But what pre-empts a good performance? Well from a fans point of view it’s hard to know really! Before the game we said all the right things, the lads were up for it, the FC crowd was vociferous and in the dressing room they looked really focussed and indeed we started pretty well. But it soon became apparent that Saints had set their minds on crossing that finishing line first, while we just weren’t at the races. It was as bad a performance as we have seen for some time and it’s hard to watch that sort of stuff in your front room never mind miles from home in Newcastle isn’t it?
When you’re a black and white there is one thing that is a given; Hull FC, will always break your heart, in fact they seem to do it at regular intervals and with monotonous regularity, because that was the sort of performance that we’ve certainly seen a time or two over the years. It was a game from which we have to learn, regroup and come back fighting. But, on Saturday it just went from bad to worse and no one could steady us down and get us anywhere near back on track in that second half. Too many players looked pretty disinterested.
Desperation reigned as we chased the game and as always seems to happen in such situations, we forced the ball and the play, against a team who wanted it more, waited their chance and then executed the killer plays simply but effectively. Seldom have we seen our forwards ‘done’ so badly through the middle and although Bowden tried hard and Mini, Manu and Houghton had a real go, their forwards did for us.
4000 fans forked out for a weekend in ‘Geordieland’ and that in itself was a drain on a lot of individual’s resources. One aggrieved family of 4 contacted me yesterday to tell me that the weekend had cost them 700 quid, whilst my pal Iain reckons the three of them spent around £500; that’s a drain alright. As I say, I feel for Lee Radford because our preparation was good, but like us lot, he knows that such unexplainable things happen and that it’s just the way it is with sport in general and Hull FC in particular. Never mind the Coach, few of the fans out there could have seen that performance coming. Saints with a new coach to impress were always going to want it, it was just a case of us being just as resolute as they were and matching their desire.
On that one we came up woefully short, it started early on and whatever was said at half time seemed to make little difference really. It’s not a crisis just yet and these things do happen especially in this competition, this year, but we have to respond because should we come out of next weekend’s difficult double header with no points, then the word crisis will start at to cross the minds of a few, as Castleford will look to pull away at the top and we’ll get sucked into the mid table drama.
As such performances go, I guess standing back from it all it was a characteristic first quarter, with good early pressure, nullified by us once again trying to be a bit too flamboyant with the ball and from the off it all looked a bit too ‘slap dash’ for me. Six drives and a kick to build pressure early in the game was what we needed, but our inability to do that meant that Saints grew in confidence and with their places in the team obviously on the line they gained heart as we simply invited them into the game and they took that gift with both hands. Some good goal line defence was apparent at first, but even that, the mainstay of Hull FC for so many games in the last 18 months, creaked, crashed and burned in the face of what was no more than some effective and workmanlike play from the Saints.
Our opponents full of passion and inspired by the presence of their new leader, got one try from a forward ‘Crash’ over the line and then a poor attempt of a catch that found Jansin Turgot out of position presented them with another, as then did Michaels, with a poorly judged jump and that was effectively that. From then on it was a procession and as I said earlier another big defeat, our third this season, came as a matter of course. There is no explanation and certainly there are no excuses, because quite frankly we were crap.
There is little more you can say really is there. We have to learn from it and we must do, because otherwise our confidence will go backwards. I can’t really explain what happened, but perhaps despite all those points against Catalan its been coming in some ways. Those defeats to Salford and Leeds and that first half against Widnes were maybe pointers towards things to come and yet last week we absolutely murdered the Catalans Dragons! Quite where we now find the mental tenacity and the energy to get us through next weekend’s two games I don’t really know. We need two points on Friday because with a long journey to the South of France and a game in sweltering conditions just three days later, it will be a bloody tough proposition to get any more.
As for playing performances, well Houghton tried really hard throughout and made an amazing 68 tackles, Shauly had a real go as did Manu and perhaps Bowden tried, but for me Minnichiello, who never gave up, was the pick of a generally bad bunch. But otherwise we were rubbish. So we move on, lick our wounds and as fans …wonder! I can’t defend them this week because as a supporter I have every right to be aggrieved although a good stuffing of Leigh will move me on and all will no doubt be forgotten. But, and it’s a big but, can we get our mojo back; get to the KCOM on Friday where no doubt all will be revealed!
As for the rest of Magic well I watched the Leeds v Cas game and bits of the others, but quite frankly it was at times boring to behold, but perhaps that’s just me. However as for it being a bigger occasion than Wembley, well you have to be joking, but I’ll have a look at that ridiculous statement that appeared last Wednesday a little later on in here.
Talking of stuff that came to pass in the last week, it would appear that the game could, if we are not careful, be heading for a bit of a crisis. This week it was revealed that several Clubs had approached us about loaning players in the short term because they are suffering from a real injury crisis. It would also appear that all clubs are really struggling, as they attempt to get players fit to play between games and all that because of the ridiculously tight fixture schedule. The World Cup is of course blamed for that, but with dropping gates and money tight the inability of the Clubs to play less games for economic reasons coupled with the need to finish the year early, means that we face an almost inhumane situation where players are being asked to play without the right conditioning and preparation. This is leading to more injuries than usual and at present that situation is self-perpetuating as that parlous state of affairs shows no signs of improving.
The modern game bears little resemblance to that which was played in the 70’s and 80’s when teams regularly had weather and cup induced fixture backlogs to play out at the end of the campaign. However, these days it’s got to the point where either the clubs are allowed to spend more money to employ bigger squads (if indeed the talent is out there in the first place) or sooner or later a fixture is going to have to be pulled because one club can’t raise a team. Catalans came perilously close to that before their cup game against us and then got three more injuries during it! What’s the answer? Well something has got to give somewhere and either the fixture list needs to be shortened and the Super Eights stuff truncated and revised into something that takes up 4 or 5 round rather than 7 or the domestic competition has to take sovereignty over the International one.
We can’t have it both ways and 30 Domestic games plus 4 rounds of the Challenge Cup and a semi-final and Grand final is just too many matches for the players own good. I know the RL are looking at a new structure to supersede the middle eights but while they debate that, the players are suffering and worrying times could be just around the corner!
Talking of the state of the game in general, it’s a good job that we got that massive ‘multi-generational’ Monkey off our backs last year when we won the Challenge Cup at Wembley because by all accounts the National Stadium could well no longer be the venue for the event in future years. Last week, as I alluded to earlier, the Super League chief executive, Roger Draper, admitted that the sport’s governing body is keen to protect the future of the event, which he said, could yet mean exploring alternative options away from the stadium. My first response to that was, “What!!! Wembley IS the Challenge Cup”
The RL and the Stadium entered a 20-year agreement in 2007, but will apparently now hold further talks later this year about whether our governing body will honour that, as Draper said last week, “We’re conscious that the Challenge Cup has lost its shine (not round here it ain’t Roger) and it’s probably become our third biggest property. Magic Weekend has overtaken it in terms of fans and we’re conscious of that. There’s a lot we’ve got to sit down and discuss. We’ll look at all the available options and safeguard the event. We’re in the thick of renegotiating with Wembley. We’ve reached an agreement for 2017 which is great, but we’ll sit down with them over the summer and chat about 2018 onwards. We associate the cup final with Wembley and it would take a brave man to move it away from there but, having said that, you’ve got to look at everything and make sure it all stacks up for us.”
They have already got an agreement to put the middle VIP section on general sale for 2017 and what they are now saying may just be the RL posturing, before they enter into those forthcoming future negotiations. I hope that’s all it is, because although I’m not a stick in the mud and accept completely that there will always be change (except at Mr Allam’s Turnstiles) I take exception to a possible move of venue on several fronts (I bet you knew I would though didn’t you?) Firstly, attendance wise the Magic Weekend is just that; a Weekend! It’s certainly not in front of the Wembley Final in status or attendance in any way, in fact some would argue that Wembley even ranks above the Grand Final, simply because of its long tradition that encapsulates for many fans a weekend away and a trip each year to the Capital, the event is still seen as a prestigious national sporting event and positions the game of Rugby League right at the very heart of the Capital of the country.
Tradition can be a real hindrance at times, but it can also be a massive selling point and moving the Cup final from Wembley would for me, in sporting parlance, be equivalent to moving the boat race to the Mersey! The Magic Weekend is calculated over two days added together and some people who attend the whole weekend are counted twice. At that event, which Mr Draper thinks has overtaken Wembley, the crowd come to watch 12 teams over those two days, while the attendance at Wembley is made up of a cross section of the game with the bulk consisting of the followers of the two competing clubs. The tradition behind the final is such that most people say “Do you think we’ll get to Wembley again” or sing “Wembley, Wembley” or “we’re the famous Hull FC and …” because quite simply that game is associated with the London venue and has been since the 1940’s.
In our great game there is little current stability in the first place. It seems that every year we are tinkering with the rules, the competition, the structure, the funding, the quotas, the officials etc etc and change although often good, can be over-done. In sport too much change can be both destabilising and off putting for both the hardened spectator and the potential convert. All over the world people tune in for the occasion of the most prestigious match in the British competition (in their eyes at least) and to witness two teams walking out on the hallowed turf of the National Stadium. They acknowledge the spectacle of the occasion and the venue as much as they do the game itself because, as I say, in an ever changing world it’s a little bit of tradition. Some of you reading this will not agree and no doubt think to move the game would be a good idea, but for me to move it would be a shame, pretty counter-productive and a real nail in the coffin of Rugby League, which is a pretty perforated sarcophagus in any case. For me Wembley is one of the only remaining pieces of the bedrock on which our game is built. In the end I can’t see it happening but then again nothing surprises me on the RL front these days, does it you?
Well the ‘Looney Tune of the Week’ Award, has without doubt this week to go to the ubiquitous Dean Windass, who, can I firstly say, is actually employed by Hull City. Deano is a hero for our time as far as most football fans in the City are concerned and his goal at Wembley will be remembered for them as will Danny Houghton’s tackle for us. but Deano certainly appeared to be living in an alternative universe last week. On Radio 5 Live last Monday afternoon just after 4-00pm he found himself being interviewed on national Radio about the demise of ‘The Tigers’. In closing the interviewer said, “There was a lot of bad blood and animosity between the fans and the owners a while ago has all that subsided now”, to which Windass replied, “Oh yes everyone has been concentrating on staying up and that’s all forgotten now”. Obviously Dean, doesn’t go on the internet, take the Hull Daily Mail or go in any of the pubs that I frequent then! Is he not living in the real world or simply protecting his job? Well I know which my money’s on!
Whilst we are on such none rugby related things I noticed as I’m sure that you did that my old pal Angus Young of the Hull Daily Mail, whose wry wit and ability to poke the hornet’s nest I have admired for years, stated last Monday that Hull City owner Assem Allam could be made an honorary freeman of Hull. The article indicated that he is amongst a number of figures from the worlds of business, sport and the arts whose names are being considered. I’ll just point out firstly that this move certainly isn’t the City Councils idea and furthermore there’s a few in the Guildhall very much questioning the leak of the information of who is shortlisted in the first place. In fact, immediately after the revelation Labour members were taking to social media to deny involvement in his nomination!
Apparently, any one person can propose anyone for that position, but it’s up to the Councils Civic and Parliamentary Committee to recommend the final nominees to the Full City Council. The authority has delayed any such deliberations for another month and until after the election, (you bet they have!) but it would certainly be ironic if he were to be awarded such an accolade, because he would then stand shoulder to shoulder with another Freeman of the City, Johnny Whiteley, someone who Mr Allam pointed out a few years ago, he had never even heard of!!
Well you certainly hear some interesting stuff when you write something like this weekly drivel and there is little doubt that last weeks resume of the goings on at the end of the 1999 season when as a Club we almost sank without trace brought E Mails and messages a plenty. One I choose to highlight here certainly made me sit up and take notice although the donor, being still a very well connected member of the RL, had better remain nameless. He wrote,
“You talked in last week’s Diary about how close ‘Hull FC came to oblivion’ that day in late 1999, well I remember well that eventually the fate of the Club came down to a meeting of the second tier clubs and it was common knowledge back then that HKR and others were intent on voting against Hull FC joining them, as the black and whites hadn’t been officially relegated. The original proposed merger was what upset many clubs as they saw it as being unfair that Hull should be allowed to clear their debts while the other Clubs had all to labour on with theirs. Of course Rovers then saw a chance to kill their neighbours off and as one of their officials was heard to say, to “Make Hull KR the only Club in the City” That looked like it was to be the end but then a senior member of the RL council concocted the deal which saved your club. That day Hull were third on the agenda at the RL Council meeting and it was no secret that although the Club had been assured a deal was in place, your clubs representatives were really ‘bricking it’.
During the first two items Gary Hetherington, who was without doubt an Ally of your Club that day, was called out to receive an urgent phone call and when he came back, he had a private word with Rodney Walker the RL chairman. Hull’s item was subsequently laid aside, an action that prompted the representatives from Hull KR to enquire why. They were then told by the Chairman it was OK, as the merger was going ahead, but with Hull carrying on in Super League and Gateshead moving to the Boulevard. At that point I remember the Hull KR contingent stormed out, but it’s interesting that the merger was only sorted out mid-morning of the actual day of the meeting and it can never be over emphasised how near your Club were to going out of business. Just thought I’d chip in my two penneth, keep up the good work with the Diary”.
I thought you’d all find that addendum to last week’s piece pretty interesting.
I bumped into a couple of guys I haven’t seen for years in Morrison’s the other day and as massive FC fans they were asking about the new book before the conversation got somehow onto great Coaches of the past and why no one had ever written up the life of Arthur Bunting or at least his glorious reign as Hull Coach. He was, we remembered, an amazing coach but as we said all good things came to an end and it was in 1985 a pretty ignominious departure that faced our once heralded boss. I said I’d do my best this week to trace his departure and what happened as I saw it. It’s great when you have written about it all in a book which is now out of print, because you can soon dig up a few facts to paint a picture of what things were like back then in mid-December 1985.
Having been knocked out of the Yorkshire Cup in the semi-final by Hull KR, our bad luck continued that December without a ball being kicked in anger. Despite some patchy form in the League campaign, having beaten Swinton and Salford at the Boulevard in the first two rounds, we had reached the last eight of the John Player Trophy, and so, we eagerly awaited the draw for the quarter finals.
On Monday 2nd December, the day that local poet Phillip Larkin died, I got up early to watch the draw being made in front of a massive TV audience on the new and ground breaking BBC Breakfast Show. In those days each Club in the competition was (before the first round draw), allocated a number in line with their position in the alphabet. They kept that number throughout and it was included in the bag for each draw, until they were knocked out.
We should all have realised that something was wrong when the first ball out of the bag that morning was number 1, which was Barrow, who had actually already been knocked out the day before. However, despite us all fearing another RL cock up, the draw continued and we were allocated a home match against York, whilst Hull KR were drawn away at Warrington. There was however one too many balls in the bag, which was certainly apparent when David Oxley the Chairman of the Rugby League, (a man knick-named by the Threepenny Stand ‘The Cheshire Cat’ because he could smile through anything) got to the end of the proceedings with a ball still remaining.
40 minutes later, amidst much confusion, the draw was retaken ‘off camera’ with, this time, the right eight balls in contention and Hull FC were drawn away at Saints, whilst Rovers ended up with another away tie, but this time at lowly York. There were complaints a plenty, but the second draw was endorsed by the Governing Council of the Rugby Football League, and so we made our plans to travel to Knowesley Road St. Helens the following weekend.
Then the frost descended in Lancashire and the game was postponed 18 hours before it was due to be played. It was rescheduled for the following Wednesday, when after I had taken a day off work to travel over to Lancashire, we were ‘demolished’ 57-14. It was our biggest defeat ever at that time and followed a shambolic performance which epitomised our plight that season. We struggled to contain a rampant Saints attack, dropped lots of ball in our own half and had nothing left energy wise with which to counter attack. I guess, once again at a time of utter disappointment, and a new, unwanted record, I could say “I was there”, but there was little doubt that the magic of the last 5 years was fading fast, and the reality was that after a good start to the season my team was falling apart.
There were plenty of protagonists and ‘doom and gloom merchants’ around back then and everywhere you went fans were full of their own theories about what was happening at the Club. The Board, the Players, referee’s and even the Rugby League were blamed for our demise but the majority of folks who had a theory placed the responsibility squarely, but perhaps unfairly, at Arthur Buntings door. That’s what usually happens with supporters when the chips are down and everything has been tried and you’re still struggling then whatever his past exploits, it has to be the Coach’s fault. On the Sunday before Christmas, 22nd December, I drove over to Manchester for the Swinton game in my Opal Ascona, with Harry, Garry and a friend of mine from Garden Village called Andy.
Station Road was a once great Stadium which had fallen from grace and several sections of terrace were closed altogether. The weather was dire too and as the rain poured down from a leaden sky, we stood for 80 minutes with water running out of our shoes and lost to a poor but physical Swinton side 16-8. At the end a disheartened chorus of “Bunting Out” rang out from some of the 600 or so diehard fans that had made the trip over the Pennines, but of course I didn’t join in, although as we all got back to the car and wrung out our Hull Shirts and ‘bobble hats’, we had some sympathy with their point of view.
It was already a well-known fact all around West Hull that the Board of Directors had scheduled a special meeting to discuss the Club’s plight with Arthur and his Assistant Kenny Foulkes for that Monday, and it was there, in the Boulevard Boardroom, that the end of a ‘Golden Era’ came, as Arthur Bunting resigned as Hull FC Coach. His Assistant Kenny Foulkes was asked to take over and although rumours were rife around the City about Arthur’s replacement, Club Chairman Roy Waudby made it clear that Kenny was there until the end of that current campaign. Fast diminishing financial resources, falling gates, ageing players and struggles in the Boardroom, meant that the coaching role was a ‘poison chalice’, although at least Foulkes still had a job and stated afterwards, “I arrived at the meeting expecting to be sacked and walked out as Head Coach”. Fred Ah Kuoi became his Assistant and although in hindsight perhaps Arthur Bunting’s tenure at the Club had run its course, it was sad when he left but he will always be hailed as a legend and an all-time greats of Hull FC. He is, in fact, a real hero to this day.
In the New Year things went from bad to worse and the anticipated ‘new coach effect’ that the Board had pinned their hopes on, was certainly not materialising. Injuries continued to plague the team as Kenny Foulkes soldiered on with diminishing resources, whilst there was now an obvious aversion by the Board to spend any money at all, which indicated things were getting tough off the field as well. We were knocked out of the Cup in the early rounds by Hull KR, this time by 22-6 and a three-week period of inactivity due to some heavy frosts and snow, did nothing to help the Club’s finances either.
As the end of the season approached we were beaten away from home 44-6 by Wigan and 43-16 by Warrington and despite Kenny Foulkes’ best efforts, things continued to decline. Home gates were still dropping and it was as if some fans had just had too much success. Although they still ‘supported’ the Club they certainly didn’t do it with their feet or their cash, as average attendances at the Boulevard went down to 6,200 and by April 1986 we were mid table, a situation that we weren’t used to at all. Things were not helped by the fact that Rovers had just beaten Leeds in an energy sapping semi- final which saw our mortal enemy progress to Wembley. Thankfully and to the relief of everyone in West Hull, they were beaten there by Castleford. But it was a hard time for all concerned as we entered a real period of decline under the soon to be appointed Len Casey but it was a real sad end to one of the greatest Coaches the Club has ever seen. Great memories of tough times!
While we are on the historical stuff this week’s ‘quote of the week’ actually comes from the local newspaper back on 23rd April 2011, but you’ll get the idea. Back then Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell said in the wake of some allegations against full-back Ben Cockayne, “The club’s position is a very simple one. We are a family club; we would not tolerate any comment with racist connotations or anything with sexist or homophobic connotations. We take that sort of thing very seriously”. I guess I need say no more on that one except for, how times change eh?
Moving swiftly on and what a horror show that was on Saturday. There is no doubt at all that we really do have to get those two points this weekend, as the home games start to run out and we face a procession of difficult fixtures away from the KCOM. The vagaries of our shared stadium existence dictate that this is always the case and we just have to get on with it, but that fixture list really does look a tough one now with away games at Leeds, Salford, Saints and Cas on the horizon, plus that ludicrous trip to France, just four days after the Leigh game. Still we have to just get on with it and really need those next two points that should at least cement our place in the top 8, which has to be our first target.
Thanks to everyone who got in touch this week and for all the interesting and at times unprintable responses I got to the stuff I wrote the other week about 1999 and the near demise of our Club at the end of that season. Plus, whilst I’m on about readers it was great to hear from Talk Sports Adrian Durham the other day, as he E Mailed to enquired about the availability of the new book. He’s a great guy and of course a passionate FC fan who, he told me, shares with me and many of you reading this, the fact that 4-53pm on 27th August 2016 was the best sporting moment of his life. Top Bloke!
Last week I mentioned the unveiling and dedication of the Blue plaques that are to be positioned around the City and I can now tell you that this will now take place this week at the History Centre (and not the Guildhall as previously stated) at 12-00 on the 24th May.
So that’s it for another week. You know sometimes in the period leading up to a game, it’s hard to find stuff that’s interesting and different to write about around our Club, so at times like these I just cover whatever I find that is amusing me or that I find thought provoking across the game. I just hope you found something to entertain you in this week’s offering. What a tragedy that was at Newcastle eh? Still onwards and upwards I guess. Finally, a big well done to everyone who went to the Magic Weekend, you deserved so much better from our team you really do, but whatever happens I guess I’ll still see you all at the KCOM on Friday! As FC fans we are nothing if not a resilient bunch!
Try to Keep Believing!