Again …. Yep, that’s right, we went to Wembley and won the blooming thing there last year and now we are back at the National Stadium on Saturday to defend it! A few years ago it would have been hard to imagine it and yet these day, as fans, we pretty much take it all in our stride. However, having failed to get there at all between 1985 and 2005, when you actually sit back and reflect on things, it’s all pretty blooming hard to believe isn’t it? Particularly when you consider it’s the third time in five years that we have been there! In that alone we are as fans so, so lucky!
However, some things never change at Hull FC do they? There we were early last week approaching the final with probably for the first time since 1983, a modicum of confidence as we seemed to be on a roll; rotating the squad, steering clear of injuries, targeting the big games, blowing away Leeds in the semi in some style and preparing to face a Wigan team that had spluttered and stuttered all season. But, what a difference one night makes eh? All of a sudden after an abject display against Huddersfield and with Wigan producing probably their best performance since the Grand Final last year, we are doing what we do best before Wembley and wobbling a bit!!!
No wonder years ago we used to sing “We’re on our way to Wembley, our knees are getting trembly”. Oh and by the way many reading this will, like me, also remember what happened in 1983, as we defended the trophy last time around all those years ago.
Wembley is the maker of dreams and the breaker of hearts and we all know to our cost how painful that second option can be! Last year just as we were about to kick off Lisa Yeaman, whose husband was out there preparing to do battle, text me the single sentence. “Do we dare to Dream” and now 12 months on her words return to me and still ring so, so, true.
But nevertheless here we are again, on the threshold of Lisa’s dream once more, as our moment in the spotlight has just about arrived, the talking is almost over and its time for the flags, scarves, shirts and lucky underpants to be produced all over again. But just remember too that…..
“LIFE IS NEVER EASY FOR THOSE WHO DREAM!!!!”
One fan I know has done it tough this week and to save his dignity he had better remain anonymous however some of you might guess who he is. Last Friday with a very uncharacteristically positive outlook and to show his absolute confidence in our ability to get a third middle 8’s win on the bounce, he had a full dress rehearsal of his traditional, lucky Wembley togs for his visit to the KCOM for the Huddersfield game. He’d only wore them all once before this year at Donny and so they were without doubt still, he thought, full of the good luck of last year. Before the game it all seemed a really great idea, but the minute he got home from the pub after the match, he completely stripped off in the kitchen and put everything he had on into the washer, before with some gusto he switched it on and went to bed!
Such acts of defiance always seem a good idea after several pints of ‘Landlord’, but perhaps in the cold light of Saturday morning when it came to hanging his midnight washing out, it seemed that putting blue socks, black underpants, a dyed maroon baseball cap, a 1985 Wembley rosette, a white based Hull shirt and a hand knitted wool scarf in a boil wash without any powder, was not the best of ideas. You’ll know him if you see me at Wembley, he’ll be the one wearing the greyish/pink outfit with the two-foot long scarf!!! As Homer Simpson my constant mentor in life once said;
But, enough of such sartorial complications, because it’s here again and despite what happened on Friday, hope springs eternal and quite amazingly we’re going down the M1 again to the place where all our dreams came true that sunny afternoon, exactly a year ago! Once again it’s a massive week for everyone concerned with Hull FC and for the players it started on Saturday Morning at the Total Fitness Health Club when the full squad were presented with their Wembley suits. They have again been sponsored by the excellent Len Beck’s Tailors and well done to them for that! That act sort of made it all official again and we were off! It was now all officially happening again and despite being drawn against Super League Teams in every Round for the second year running, we are returning to Wembley to defend the Cup.
All that, after a week that has already brought an ignominious reversal on the field to the Giants, Gareth Ellis’ retirement announcement and for me personally a milestone 550th edition of this weekly rubbish. It’s hard to believe it I know, but this diatribe is about to enter its 12th year of existence and although I really should start to consider getting a life, in that time this Diary has seen me in this position just before a Wembley final on 4 separate occasions. Compared with most other clubs our appearance rate at the national stadium is pretty good, although of course so far we have only registered that one glorious win.
So, I guess I should be getting used to sitting down and trying to encapsulate what we are all thinking. As holders we might just be a bit blasé about it all at present, but yet again we sit on the brink of another day in the North London sunshine, as we take centre stage in the showpiece game of British Rugby League. Lee Radford and the players can say what they like about the Grand Final, but for old codgers like me this is the real deal and this is what you spend your life and your hard earned finances working towards. Three times in five years? As I said earlier, some of the illustrious Clubs in the game would kill for an appearance record like that one!
It’s all looking good as far as the Club is concerned because Lee Radford has declared that everyone is fit and thus he decided on his team on Monday. We are following exactly the blue print we used last year and with the hiccup against Huddersfield at the fore-front of his mind, it seems likely that we will field the team that did us so well at Doncaster in the semi-final. That’s probably anyway our best line-up and although its ok bring in and taking out your younger less experienced players as the grind of a long season continues, at Finals you field your very best team and don’t take any risks.
For us lot we just have to put last Friday behind us and hope that our wonderful ability to rise to the occasion returns on Saturday and it will have to as well! Wigan are looking as good as they have all season and their Coach was already, as I went to print, being bullish and up-beat about their prospects. They will be a whole different kettle of fish when compared to Warrington last year, I’m sure of that, and it will not be about what we can do with the ball or in the tackle as much as how we face the challenge head on, with the required mental tenacity. Getting our heads right will be the one thing that makes the difference between success and failure on Saturday. Getting that spot on is the challenge every player in that squad faces this week.
The fans are struggling, they are increasingly finding financing such excursions to the capital, never mind Australia, hard to deliver, some are big making sacrifices to get there, some are going into hock to see their heroes and that’s what the players have to understand. It’s not just about them it’s about the whole FC family. All I can say on a personal note is thank goodness we won last year, because I couldn’t have faced writing another wishing and hoping diatribe like the other three I’ve done in here in the past. However, from the fans prospective I really do believe that, despite that wobble against the Giants last week, this time the approach to our latest visit to the famous North London ‘arch’ is different, because of what went before in that last famous final.
You know, I disagree with those sages who say you learn a lot more from losing than you do from winning, because when we at last grabbed that Challenge Cup victory, I learned quite a lot about both rugby and myself. I’d been involved since 1959 and went to Wembley for the first time in 1960 and since then a long succession of Wembley defeats had certainly numbed my senses and had, year on year, piled on the depression. I increasingly hated going but I just had to be there. However, when at last we finally won THAT trophy at THAT stadium last year, for me, everything changed. I suddenly got it all, the shroud was lifted, my life was pretty complete and retribution was mine. I felt instantly better and I remember that as I watched all those happy smiling people walking back up Wembley Way after the game, I hoped in the future that would be it and we could all get back to smiling a bit more and to actually start enjoying games again, like normal sports fans do. By and large I think that’s the situation now and despite that loss on Friday, I watched as people walked away from the KCOM more in a state of bemused acceptance, rather than in the apoplectic rage you used to see after such embarrassing defeats.
Remember what it used to be like before last year? Oh boy it was tough, nay harrowing at times. Remember looking towards the North Stand at the KCOM and hearing that song? It was hard and our woes seemed endless, it’s been with us for years if not decades and had that not happened last year I wouldn’t have been cracking a few jokes or sharing my intimate midnight washing machine rituals with you all in here. Heaven knows before last season what I’d have been like had I had to sit through such a humiliating defeat in the last game before a final. You see I think since last year the general ‘landscape’ for all FC fans has changed immensely.
Just look at what was said in the corresponding diary in 2013 when after that great semi-final victory at Huddersfield, Steve Roberts an old pal and founder member of the Hull Independent Supporters Club wrote to the Diary,
“……After the euphoria of another stunning, against all the odds, semi-final victory against Warrington, the cold reality of Wembley dawned on me, yet again it is going to be purgatory, weeks of waking up in a cold sweat, going to league matches with the only thought being ‘please no injuries’ and the careful collection of the same clothes (including socks and underpants!) I wore for the semi being saved for the final. To the many blokes like me of a certain age the top of our bucket list just has to be seeing a Hull FC captain lift the famous trophy at Wembley before we die, let us hope it will be Gareth Ellis on the 24th. No doubt the full 80 minutes will be the same stomach churning experience of all our other Wembley visits but hopefully with a different end result!”
Of course we lost again, in fact little was different in 2013 except for the fact that Wembley wise it poured with rain throughout and we probably sank to a new all-time low with our performance.
In the afterglow of that and so many other Wembley defeats last year at this time I could hardly bare the foreboding and fear that surrounded the process of waiting for the game to come around and in the corresponding blog to this one I wrote.
“This special Diary is just about the thoughts of a tired, passionate and at times disenchanted fan, as he stands, once again on the threshold of a dream whilst all the while fearing that the nightmare will prevail once more!”.
But Steve, I and all of you, were at last rewarded so magnificently last time around and so everything is undoubtedly a lot easier now. Yes, of course I admit to being a tad nervous again this year, the omens ain’t that good and the tide of fortune doesn’t seem to be running with us as strongly as we all felt it was last year, but are we anxious or disenchanted? Are we hell, because those two imposters packed their bags and shipped out last year at 5-00pm on 27th August. In fact, I think this year I have a modicum of faith and even some level of belief, as we face our destiny again this weekend. In such emotional situations I sort of trust the team so much more these days!
What’s more I’m intent on ensuring that I actually at last enjoy a Hull FC appearance at Wembley, probably for the first time ever! Yes, I want to win of course I do and after our recent performance it’ll be tense come 3-00pm on Saturday and I’ll be a little fraught, plus I guess I’ll still be pretty fed up if we don’t retain the trophy. However, I also know that if that is the case, I’ll get over it so much better, because all the desperation and heartache has gone and as was the case at Doncaster and in the Quarter Final against Castleford, I’ll enjoy the occasion a lot more too.
Indeed, I’ll feel that I’m watching a competitive game of rugby played at the very top of the sport, that involves me and my team, but one that doesn’t totally take me over and it’s going to a change to not be spending 80 minutes in purgatory, head in hands watching through my fingers! How do I know that? well it’s how I’ve been all year since we won the Cup last season. Even when those 4 heavy defeats at home (Fortress KCOM my arse!) came along, I was disappointed, but somehow, not at all like I used to be in such circumstance.
All we can really do is of course hope, although some will do their best to help by going through the same rituals again to protect their luck, no doubt Steve Roberts will be searching for his lucky underpants, my pal ‘Lucky’ Joe is borrowing a red car to go down because his hire car last year was red and Harry at the pub has his dads 1960 flat cap out of the wardrobe again, whilst the Kirks are no different as this picture show!
I know one thing however and that is that now the ‘Monkey’s’ finally off my back and as we go back to Wembley as Cup holders, we have a team that (whether they admit it or not) every other Club in the country fears when we are on song. Unfortunately, we have ‘lost the music’ a time or two this year particularly at home, but we have never done it in the big games and there by hangs all our hopes for Saturday! No one can beat us when we are on top of our game …no one, and that’s a fact! The act of us always reserving those performances for the really big games must give us great heart too and although we all know what happened so gloriously last year can often, in sport, come back to bite you, we have every right to face the final with a deal of hope, some optimism and even a little confidence. Now that’s a novelty isn’t it! What a difference a year makes eh?
Its almost here …again!
Kevin Harkin that great FC Scrum half that played for us in the early 80’s and who sat with us our gang at Wembley last year said,
“The greatest moment in my career was playing in the final against Widnes in 1982. As a kid growing up my only ambition was to play at Wembley. Walking around the pitch before the game and seeing that sea of black and white fans brought tears to my eyes. I always go to Wembley but this year with Hull there again, it’ll be again be so special. I’m so proud to have both played for Hull at Wembley and watched them there over the years!” That’s what it means to a player and we all get it completely.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that last year we all went along fearing a repeat of the past, some of us didn’t even want to go and yet we just had to be there and how richly we were all rewarded not just with that life changing win, but with the retribution it brought and the change in outlook that followed it. Thanks to our players and their amazing efforts and our amazing faith in them, they delivered the dream and in doing so evolved from players, to heroes to legends. For all of us that was without doubt the moment of truth, it was our time and although for years those heroes out on the field in black and white had frustrated us, worried us and broken our hearts, they at last did the business and brought us so much joy and hope for the future. This now is that future and we have to grab the opportunity to go down in the history books, as a team that was able to retaining the cup, with both hands.
For make no bones about it, returning to the Stadium where dreams come true and doing it as Cup holders to defend our crown, is very special in itself and something that no one in the family of the Faithful has seen since 1983. However, if there is a lesson to be learned from the last time that we defended our crown following our win over Widnes at the second attempt in 1982, then it is a very salient and pertinent one. On that occasion 12 months after that wonderful replay win at Elland Road, there followed an ignominious and embarrassing defeat to the biggest rank outsiders that the Cup final has ever thrown up in Featherstone Rovers.
That unexpected and indeed shock reversal reverberated around the game for years and if it taught us one thing it was that there is never anything about that god forsaken Wembley place that can be taken for granted and its nobody’s right to win there.
Yet now. after last year, when we all tasted the sweet, sweet wine of success, we are back for more, because quite frankly if were honest, for once we all rather liked it! As the dust settled in the afterglow of that victory we all swore that 2016 was it, that was the moment, retribution and fulfilment was ours and we’d now been completely rewarded for all those years of strife and hardship. Had we been stamp collectors or Train spotters we would have at that point sold the albums and put the spotting books in the dustbin and gone for a more sedate and less taxing life! But, can we stay away this year; can we hell! I’ll be there at 12-30 on Thursday just to waive my heroes off no doubt stood with all my pals from the same occasion last year; fact is, it’s a drug, an opiate, a complete way of life and I simply can’t stay away from it and now at my age I will never ever be able to either.
I’ll never learn and at 67 I’m bloody full of it again but as I say, unlike all those finals before last year, I’m now looking forward to it as an occasion as much as a match. We have all aged a lot and just about seen it all through all those years of defeat after defeat in London, but this year I’m going along to enjoy myself and I suggest you try your best to do the same. I simply can’t wait for it all to start next Friday, as I travel down to the Capital to meet Joe, Uppo and the lads in the Globe in Baker Street, as has been embedded as the tradition for us all as we await the big day! I’m a glutton for punishment and should know better by now, but as Neil Young once said, “In the end it’s better to burn out than to rust!”
Then we’re back at it again, as we face a much bigger foe than Featherstone ever were all those years ago. It will certainly be hard and the whole outcome is again certainly in the melting pot after this week-ends results! One things for sure, Wigan’s expectations and confidence levels will be sky high and they are a real threat.
Saturday IS the big day of the season, all over again, and it’s guaranteed to be full of emotion, sentiment, hugging, handshakes and encounters with old friends. Plus of course a deal of tension and fretting to boot…. But, what I guess I’m trying to say is, hopefully not as much as usual!!
Wembley Way is a special, special place to be on these occasions when despite the supporters of all the other Clubs making their way to the game proudly wearing their colours, you know that it’s YOUR Club that is playing that afternoon, it’s your afternoon, your final and you’re there as an ‘active’ participant in the most famous RL game in the World! In exchange for that honour, we are duty bound to give it our all from the terraces, as even more than usual it’s a case of ‘Ask not what you Club can do for you, but rather what you can do for your Club!’ It’s a fantastic, exciting and pretty scary proposition. But and it’s a big but, it is no place for losers and our lads have to realise that and act accordingly. However, as I have said so many times over the years about such Finals, despite all that, I simply can’t wait!
What do I pick this time around on such an auspicious occasion for my Wembley editions Codgers Corner? Well it has to be a final and it has to be a memorable one. I have covered that famous 1985 encounter with Wigan a few times over the years including in this edition last year so that one is out and although Ive mentioned it here I couldn’t face the Featherstone final of 1983 either! 2013 is still too fraught with disappointment to cover yet, so I’ll jump to one of the most unforgettable games ever for this fan which was my first ever Wembley trip when I travelled to London with my Mum to watch Hull get absolutely thumped by Wakefield at Wembley in 1960.
The previous year saw us in the final too but although I had “grown up a bit” (by stopping playing Cowboys and Indians on the hills behind the terracing at the Boulevard) and actually started to watch the games, I was still deemed too young to attend the final in the Capital. That game was against Wigan and Mum and I watched the match on our old Pye twelve-inch TV in our little house in Aylesford Street! We were beaten that year by a much fancied Wigan and by a record score, and just to rub it in Grandstand, the BBC’s regular Saturday afternoon sports programme, featured our only try in the game by Tommy Finn in its weekly opening credits for years afterwards! Let’s hope for no Wigan defeats by record scores this time around eh?
My first trip to the national stadium the following year was to end in a second successive record defeat for the club. That was however a long way off as Mum and I headed off in a taxi at about 5-15am for the 6-00 am “Train number 3” that Saturday morning. It was all a great adventure for a lad who was only nine and three quarter years old and I was just amazed by the sight that met us at the Station when we arrived. Everyone was in Black and white, this included all the attendants, the tea ladies in the Kiosk, the guard of our train and even the people who had just finished cleaning the coaches out! Four trains were waiting our arrival, each with about 12 coaches, and three, including ours were positioned in the old excursion platforms at the South side of the station behind the Tower cinema.
There were trolleys and carts of beer everywhere. Crates of Hull Brewery Amber and Nut Brown were stacked in the aisles as we mounted our carriage and pushed our way to our seats. I can still clearly remember the strains of ‘Old Faithful’ ringing out up and down the corridors of the train even before we had left Paragon Station. We were sat with a Friend of my Mums Mrs Rogers who had the biggest Rossette I had ever seen. She had also knitted herself an irregular hooped scarf that had “Up the Cream” embroidered on it!
In those days it was a case of do it yourself rather than any sort of merchandising operation. Everyone including me seemed to have a rattle. Mine was bought about 3 weeks earlier from Boyes and was no doubt a remnant from the Air Raid wardens of the last War! I had painted it in the club’s colours and stuck names of the team, cut out of The Hull Daily Mail.
For a young lad from Chiltern Street School whose idea of a day out was a trip to ‘Witherenseea’ on the train, Wembley was simply the biggest thing I had ever seen or been inside. It was massive! We found our seats (which were on planking, divided by white paint lines with a number on each) and enjoyed the community Hymn singing before the game got under way. Although even before the game kicked off we were beset by injuries!
We went into the game without several first team regulars including half our mighty pack and so bad was our demise that we even gave a first team debut to Mike Smith, who became the first player to ever make his club debut at Wembley. The game had only been going for a few minutes when we experienced even more injuries and it appeared Hull had no chance against a Wakefield team bristling with Internationals.
Our pre match injury crisis was not helped when a week earlier in a Championship play-off game our star full back Peter Bateson was the victim of a stiff arm tackle from Derek “Rocky” Turner and was ruled out of the game. Turner got away with it and played, whilst we had to use centre Kershaw at Full back.
Neil Fox kicked an early penalty goal and that was followed by a try by Rollin and our worst fears seemed to be realised. But our depleted team battled on and nine minutes later Stan Cowen swerved and side stepped his way to a great try behind the sticks, Sammy Evans added the goal and at half time we went in with a respectable, if not surprising, score line, trailing 7-5.
The second half saw Wakefield run riot with Neil Fox and Rocky Turner running all over us while for us Tommy Harris was soon badly injured and hobbling, before Cowan then suffered a cracked rib. Both battled on, as there were no substitutes in those days, but the Trinity blew us away and scored a number of long distance tries none better than Alan Skene’s 60-yard dash for the line. Hull tried really hard but 5 tries in the last 20 minutes left another record score line of 38-5.
However, whereas the post-match reports the previous year had been embarrassing, this time they were full of praise for our battling qualities and never say die attitude. The score line did not do justice to our efforts and we left the field to a hero’s reception at the end of the game. Tommy Harris’s performance won him the Lance Todd Trophy and was generally hailed as the bravest performance ever seen at the stadium; He was floored by several tackles that left him rolling about the pitch in agony but still broke their line time and again. He eventually left the field, with 10 minutes to go, with severe concussion. In our ranks that day were some real names from the past like, Kershaw, Cowan, Nan Halifihi, Broadhurst, Finn and of course Johnny Whiteley.
Some of the above detail, of course, I have since learnt from reading about that great occasion and I don’t remember much of the journey back to Hull either, although mum told me years later that it was about 4-00am before we finally got home to bed. 24 hours of excitement and I guess heartbreak for a young ten-year old. That exertion, she also told me, saw me sleep right through the next day and the following night and it was Tuesday before I had fully recovered!!!
More recently I came across a famous quote about Tommy Harris from the Queen, who was attended her first ever Rugby League game. She is reported to have said to RL Council member Bill Cunningham, “It is amazing that such a small man can be at the bottom of a scrum and then be so active a short time later”. Greta days eh?
Here is a great collection of the actual tickets from all the finals we have been in and even the replay at Elland Road in ’82, where the ticket indicates standing on the Spion Kop at Elland Road! What a great collection courtesy of Trevor Gibbins. Brilliant stuff eh?
Last year I felt that the tide of emotion and fate was flowing with us although I stopped short of saying that before-hand for fear of jinxing things, this year …well I ‘ll leave you to decided, but I guess after 551 editions of this Diatribe and as we once again stand on the threshold of another dream, I could, in closing, be excused for giving you all some advice and if I can then it would be this!
Go to London, watch at home, tune into the radio or do whatever you must to follow the game on Saturday. If we win be amazed by the feat we have attained and how much we have grown in these last few years and if we lose lament a bit, be a tad despondent and if you like, be downright pissed off and then dust yourself off and remember last year, for no one can take that away from us …ever! Keep the faith, hold the line and hope, because hard times often lead to the greatest moments of your life.
So, if you’re travelling to the capital try your best to enjoy the day relish the experience, meet your mates, have a laugh (and a beer or two if it’s your wont) and just be a part of it all. Make sure too that whether you are supporter or a player, you do your bit give your all and leave it all on the field or the terraces.
Above all things though we should never forget to face whatever is to come as ‘good sports’ and ‘take triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same’ so that whatever the outcome we accept it and move on. In the end we are so privileged to be there and I guess it’s a sobering thought that no-one knows when we will next grace that hallowed turf or whether, as individuals, we will ever see it again in our lifetimes.
Looking back on the season its not been plain sailing at all, but after those amazing performances against Castleford and Leeds we have certainly earned our day in the sun again haven’t we? We will be out there, the stars of the show, in front of a massive TV audience on the most prestigious and celebrated stage there is in the game!!
Sorry to go on a bit and thanks for bearing with me, but as always I just say it as I see it and I’m so proud of the lads and the fans at these times. In addition, and after all these years I’m still getting quite excited again. So play your part, sing your hearts out and enjoy every second, we are at Wembley again, we are the famous Hull FC and we are there to win that Cup again! Let’s bring it back to West Hull where it belongs!!!! Enjoy the Day!
Keep Believing and
COME ON YOU HULLLLLLAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!
And Finally. just remember………