With just one more Diary before Christmas (and still no pre-season friendlies announced) at least the worst part of the annual hiatus that is the closed season, is almost over.
We’ve had the World Cup to keep us amused, but now for four weeks or so at least, we have no rugby to watch at all. Still, it’s a critical time for the club in other ways and I’ll talk later about the success of our quite amazing retail operation. The fans have this week, with record season ticket sales a real possibility, queued in unprecedented numbers in the FC retail outlets, no doubt inspired by the last two campaigns at the Club. Everyone seems, I think, to have faith that after a number of years in the doldrums, the wonderful 2016 season was not just a flash in the pan and we are moving forward as a club and a team.
In a great HDM interview this week with Adam Pearson, which I will look at in depth later on, our Leader indicated that he expected big changes in the structure of the game which we have, he said, as a Club, to be prepared for. So as we approach Christmas it is maybe for a change, a steady as you go, stable and positive outlook for Hull FC, with all the uncertainty and concern for once circulating not around our heroes but rather about where exactly the Domestic Game is heading in the coming years.
Enjoy these relatively stress free week’s folks they won’t last long!!
Well its over six years since 22nd July 2011 when Adam Pearson bought the Club from Hetherington and Co. and although things started in a bumpy manner and no doubt Adam, (like us lot), wondered a bit about his investment, once the whole infrastructure at the Club had been rebuilt, the last 3 years have been progressive and productive; possibly beyond our wildest dreams. In fact, Adams declaration that he would put the Club, “Back where it belongs” has certainly come to pass, but it’s taken some blood, sweat and tears, some mistakes and a shed load of cash to do it. It’s easy to forget the upheaval and change we saw in those first three seasons under Pearson and its now something that we all take a bit for granted I guess.
But that’s the way it is with fans isn’t it? As if to perpetuate the saying that ‘Nostalgia is no longer a thing of the past’, long term recollections of years gone by burn bright, but those short term memories seem to fade, before in years hence they come back often in the form of unrecorded myth and legend. That was the basis on which I wrote the last book, because I honestly believe it will only be in a few years’ time when we take it down from the dusty book shelf of life, that we will truly recognise how significant and life changing the 2016 season was for us all in the long suffering FC Faithful.
It was bloody hard going at times in that last year of Peter Gentle’s reign and the first two of Lee Radford’s. At present they are forgotten and its hard for us all to imagine just how frustrating it was at times and how restless was the fan base. The thought of a ‘Radford Out’ campaign is these days unthinkable, but yet, just three years ago, that was all totally and painfully real. You can these days find loads of folks who tell you they always had faith in Lee (and some like my pal Barry truly did) but if they are honest many, many fans like me didn’t and haven’t Adam Pearson and Lee proved us all wrong eh?
It was the same with Kath Etherington, Agar and Co. when once again we saw some tough times, which for now are largely forgotten. These days, thankfully, it’s hard to imagine the place without Adam at the helm and he seems to still be happy running the Club. Furthermore, after extensive changes behind the scenes, he has proved to be quite ruthless when he has to be and therefore he’s still very much the man in charge. Over the years in his football career he has always been a big believer in a constantly evolving management model that adapts as income , fortunes and thus priorities change. Yes, its cost him a lot of dosh, but he’s obviously now getting the returns he wants, because he’s pretty upbeat and he’s certainly still happy with Rugby League and his investment at the FC.
Why shouldn’t he be though, we’ve only gone and won back to back Challenge Cup Finals and finished well up the League in both seasons and, as these days we don’t hear that much from Adam that only has to be a good sign. Only two years ago he was in the papers every week appealing for season ticket holders to renew, now he’s really up beat, which I guess augers well for how the business is going. The thing is of course we and Adam now need to build on that success, because although all good runs at any Club do come to an end, it would be nice to see the Radford/Pearson dynasty continue to deliver for a few years more. Both those corner-stones of the current Club are certainly staying well-grounded as we approach Christmas and the start of the 2018 campaign.
It is the season for the owners usual Christmas Message and that probably came on Saturday with an interesting interview in the Hull Daily Mail. With everything going well at Hull FC, (compared with a football Club in crisis and the other RL club in the City scratching around to find players to build a Super League team), I guess, we don’t command the column inches at present simply because, good news doesn’t see papers and we are not that news worthy at present as a Club.
It’s been a quite sedate sort of closed season and as quiet as I can remember, but with the Club refraining from hounding us as much as they usually do with regard to season tickets (which are heading for an all-time record at the KCOM and indeed the best total at the Club since the 1983 season) and a steady as you go approach to recruitment, it’s been ‘tumbleweed time’ for the media as far as Hull FC are concerned. It has seemed like a real break and although a lot of fans I speak to are getting a bit twitchy and looking forward to the new season, many others have enjoyed the less stressful pass time of watching the World Cup and all the lack of excitement and totally expected outcomes it brought.
Pearson’s interview was interesting however and he was honest about the fact that he was a bit impatient at first when he came to the Club. He said, “It has taken us a long time to get in the direction I wanted us to be heading in, longer than I initially thought it would. It’s taken five years, but now we’ve won at Wembley twice, the fans are coming back and the club is in a much stronger position. However, we won’t rest on our laurels at all” That sounds like the words of an owner who is contented with our progress but none the less not willing to see the club stagnate. Perhaps he is even getting the fact that as fans we were just as happy to win the Challenge Cup last year as we would have been to win the Grand Final. We all want to win both, but after generations of hurt Wembley is still so important to many fans. Winning it the first time was historic, mould breaking and generation defining, but to win it back to back had its moments as well.
Pearson also seems to have learned from his past exploits in football when he said, “I was part of a club at Leeds United in 2000 who believed in their own hubris (good word that Adam and if anyone’s interested it means; excessive pride towards or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis!) and we saw what happened there. There will be no complacency from anyone here, we continue to have our feet on the ground and we will keep working hard to compete on and off the field.”
That was certainly all positive stuff and although Adam didn’t actually get quoted as saying as such, it was interesting to see the Mail, in the context of that interview, throwing in the comment that they anticipated ‘a rise in membership figures that have seen the club hopeful of reaching 9,500 members by the start of the new Super League season in just under eight weeks’.
That’s would be an unprecedented level of subscriptions in what are hard times for the game in general, where most Club are struggling to sustain last year’s levels of sales, never mind increase them. So from Adam at least it was good news all round, but of course we haven’t passed a ball in anger yet! Still it all feels pretty good at present doesn’t it?
The return of a Micky Paea who at times seemed to struggle with injuries last time he was at the KCOM, was a strange one indeed for a lot of FC fans. He’d hardly shone back in Australia where he returned for two seasons in the NRL and many fans wondered a bit, to say the least, when he was re-signed back in August.
Micky is a great Club man and quite a thinker when it comes to the rationale and culture of the game. Asked in the Yorkshire Post about missing out on those back-to-back Challenge Cup glories while he was back home in Australia Paea conceded: “In part of me there was regret, but you have to live by your decisions in such circumstances, I’m man enough to do that. At the time I thought it was the best decision for me to go home and have another crack in the NRL. Yes, it wasn’t great and we had two tough years at the Knights, but apart from that in terms of a life decision it was great. We went back and me and my wife had our baby boy Elijah. We’d been trying for four years in our time here, so for me that’s the biggest achievement. So, for me, there’s no regrets at all”.
The 31-year-old player continued: “At the time I didn’t know if I’d have the opportunity to get back (to the NRL), but, just to see if I could still play at that level was important. I felt for the most part of the year I could. In saying that, I didn’t feel I was part of the fabric or part of the plans so that was hard to swallow. But that’s that now and it’s gone. I wish them success to come and think they will go well. It’s good to be back here, though, and be amongst the environment of a winning team. I’m now surrounded in training camp by those pictures of success, which is great!”.
There is little doubt for me that Mickey has been signed to help off the field with the cultural bit as much as on the field where he will, I think, be used as an impact player off the bench; just like Feke was! The signing of Mickey was the last act of departing football manager Motu Tony, who initiated the deal, but it was widely reported Down Under that, so influential was he in the dressing rooms in his last spell at our Club, we always left the door open for him to return.
Mickey said to the YP of that, “It wasn’t a tough decision in terms of coming back to Hull. I’d spoken to Motu and he ran the idea by me. At the time it wasn’t a decision I’d take lightly as these decisions are big ones. It’s not just that you’re going to the other side of the world, but you want to make sure you’re right upstairs in your head, because if you do come back you want to give a good account of yourself. A couple of weeks later I spoke to him again and, having spoken to my wife and after two tough years at the Knights, it was great to get the opportunity to go back to a place I love. It’s a place I know can bring the best out of me and where mentally I feel I can contribute and really add to the squad. They were all the things I had to run by myself. It wasn’t a quick decision, but an easy one in the end. For Radders to give me that opportunity, too, he sees value in me. I can’t wait to repay his faith” Time for me, as they say, will tell on this particular signing.
The players are reporting that its really tough in camp at present and with little or no ball work at all, it’s now about strength and stamina training with a lot of sports science stuff and a big emphasis on injury avoidance. They all seem to be enjoying it though, but as far as the life of a rugby league player is concerned, it’s the least enjoyable bit for most of them, who can’t wait to get playing competitive games again.
The constant insinuations, particularly in East Hull, that Albert Kelly is sensational in his first season before in his second he always rests on his laurels, can’t be arsed, becomes the personification of a bad lad and therefore his weight becomes an issue, are being touted around again. That’s what has happened to Kelly at some of his previous clubs like Hull KR, Gold Coast Titans and Cronulla Sharks, but I’m convinced that we’ll get none of that at the FC, because from what I’m hearing from one or two players, that certainly isn’t likely to be a problem this time around.
In a recent article in the Hull Daily Mail, Head of Performance Paul Hatton actually revealed that Kelly is more motivated than ever after loving his first season at Hull FC and winning the Challenge Cup on that great afternoon last August. His form in fact has dictated that in the eyes of most fans he has had an outstanding start to life at the FC. In his other RL lives he invariably got all the plaudits before ending up being suspended or at loggerheads with the training staff, but that doesn’t appear to be on the agenda at all this time around. I have seen Albert a time or two working hard on his own in the gym and in fact it appears that during the off season he just had 10 days out before getting back into his training plan. Hatton, in fact, explains that the 26-year-old was one of the first Hull stars in the gym during the off-season and he is hell bent on winning more silverware next year.
The players also reckon that Albert is really motivated and wants to win things again this coming season, but most of all he is a valued and proactive member of the FC family, he’s integrated well and its likely that he’s one of those players that needs to be wanted and feel part of things, so the culture at County Road is proving important to him. Hatton bore this out when he said, “He’s happy and when you’re happy at work, you perform well. That’s like any field of work really, he’s trained even harder again this pre-season because his body is in a better place. It’s a mixture of things with that. It’s the mentality and the need to feel wanted, but Albert trains really hard as well. I can’t fault him at all”.
At 26 years of age there is little doubt that Albert is totally committed. He played for a really small salary last season as he was told to prove himself and has since signed a new deal for this coming season, which better fits his abilities. Of course he will no doubt cast an envious eye, (as all exiled players do), at the salaries that are being dished out Down Under and no doubt part of him will want to go back there and prove a few folks wrong.
However, as a maverick type player he is just what the British game needs, but all the same most definitely in a minority. Most of those type of players like Broughy, Hardaker, Chase etc. have issues and it sometimes appears that the only players that are ‘unstructured’, unconventional and yet able to turn games in an instant, have by definition to be bad lads. I think that the atmosphere and culture down at County Road is benefiting Albert immensely and perhaps just perhaps we have tamed one side of his character without eradicating his ‘maverick’ instincts. Only this season and the way that Albert plays will tell us that, but at present he is the model professional, he’s setting a great example to the younger players and itching to get going again in 2018. Can he sing though? Well we’ll find that out next Monday at the City Hall!
I was surprised how time has flown by, when it was announced this week on the Club site that Danny Washbrook was about to enter his 14th season in Super league. What a servant to the Club and the game Washy has been. Never a star and certainly never anything like a Marquee player, Danny has just gone about his business in a workman like way, he’s always been loyal, always been consistent and invariably been a dependable utility player. I always think we play better when he is in the 17 as he just brings a lift to thing when he comes on and can play anywhere from the centre, to half back and from second row to loose-forward. He’s even doubled up at hooker a time or two as well. When he was at Wakey, he was just as well liked by their fans, but when Lee brought him back a few, including me, wondered a bit about the move. However, since his return he has been ‘Mr Dependable’ just as he was before he left, I like him as a player and what’s more, he’s a blooming nice bloke as well.
That is the point really, because yes I think he was signed to help strengthen the depth of the squad, but he was I believe also signed to assist with the ongoing development of the culture within the team on and off the field. Washy is a great Club man and always one of the lads. His leading by example at training is invaluable and although he might think with Abdull and Dean Hadley it will be hard to get some game-time, I think he’ll get loads of opportunities, simply because he’s pretty voracious in his appetite for the game. He’s a good bloke is Washy, an unsung hero in many ways and the sort of player on which Rugby League in this country is built.
here’s a link
to a brilliant piece on the Talk Sport Web site by their top presenter Adrian Durham, who reads the Diary and is also a fan of the ‘Roamin the Range’ Books. I was going to feature it in here myself, but I felt that perhaps it was best to leave you a link so you can read it in its entirety. Well Done Adrian top stuff!
Sometimes doing this Diary every week and trying my best to make some sense of it all, really pays off and how brilliant it was to receive this wonderful Christmas Card from Sue and Mike, good pals and Diary readers from over in Cheshire. Sue has beautifully crafted this card from needle point and it’ll be getting framed and going on the wall after Christmas.
Mr and Mrs R also got a great card this week from Brian Chapman and his wife over in Spain. Brian has, for his sins been reading this rubbish almost for edition one, so thanks for that mate. Whilst I’m on the subject of Christmas Cards it was great to see the proliferation of those with Robins on them all showing arrows, spears or kebab sticks going through them (usually added in biro) dropping through the letter box again. One particular masterpiece from Dave Cooper was particularly appreciated. Thanks to everyone!
After last week’s diatribe about the World Cup and the resurgence and influence of Fiji and Tonga I got some great feedback from Diary readers and one piece from Club Historian Bill Dalton really took my eye when he said,
“Speaking of Tonga, on reading the Diary, my mind went back to Hull’s first foray into the Tongan market when in 1959-60, we introduced Nanumi Halafihi and Sam Faletau. Sam didn’t play in the first team, but Nan played 16 matches in that campaign, scoring 4 Tries and his only defeat was in the Wembley Final. He was somewhat of a lucky mascot. I was at Headingley when he got his first Try (in his third game), and was stood literally 15 yards from his touchdown. He had such a delighted grin all over his face at scoring a try, that he almost forgot to actually put the ball down! His Brother, Johnny Halafihi, was a World Champion Boxer at the time. Of course, Tongans had been coming over for some years at that time and Rochdale Hornets saw them as central to their fortunes because they had about 5 of them in the team during one period. I believe York also had a couple of Tongans going back in time. Nothings ever changed though and they always played with a smile!!”
Thanks Bill and as always a great insight. Watch out next year for Bills book coming out, it’s a complete history of the Club, from the meeting in the vestry at St Mary’s Lowgate Church in 1865 to that victory last year at Wembley and a must buy for all FC fans.
Well the heroics of Tonga and England’s encouraging performances in their World Cup final defeat to Australia is seeing a resurgence in the interest in International rugby with already a three-match test series against New Zealand sorted for next year, all of which will be televised live by the BBC.
Now however, there is talk on the rumour mill about a possible mid-season game, also against the Kiwis, possibly taking place in Colorado, USA, well there is according to the Daily Telegraph anyway. There has been amongst the Clubs a real appetite to take a game to new territories and it had been anticipated that it would have been a World Club Challenge game. However, with the growing clamour for more international rugby league and a higher profile much needed, a trip to the States may be on the cards, especially with all eyes on Toronto Wolfpack and a possible new North American team joining the RFL structure in the not too distant future. You’ll remember that last season a planned pre-season trip for England to Dubai was cancelled after much derision by clubs, fans and parts of the media; though perhaps what the RL failed to tell us at the time was that in fact rugby league is banned in the UAE!
Meanwhile, with international rugby league firmly in the headlines, who will be the coach for 2018 is still very much up in the air. Whether Wayne Bennett will decide, or indeed be asked, to remain in the role after two seasons in charge is as yet unknown, and Castleford boss Daryl Powell has admitted to Dave Craven of the Yorkshire Evening Post that he would “pretty foolish not to be interested” if it came up. Bennett’s assistant and current Widnes head coach Denis Betts is also likely to be a candidate should Bennett move on. Betts lost out on the top job once before of course to Steve McNamara.
As things quieten down on the World Cup front over in Australia the proposed New York franchise in League 1 that is likely to come about in 2019 sees Aussie reporters completely besotted. Since the World Cup started, with American Franchise chief Ricky Wilby in town for the duration as a reporter, the stories about the team have not stopped. They are tipping Mick Potter, Ben and Shane Walker for coach, with player wise, Jarryd Hayne chased, not chased, and now being chased again.
You know, Toronto Wolfpack appear to be some sort of exotic animal to Australian fans, who constantly bombard the club’s social media channels demanding merchandise, whilst no doubt the thought of all this expansion is interesting a lot of Aussie players as well. Meanwhile the Antipodean supporters who for years have not given the likes of Batley, Swinton or Oldham a second thought are clamoring for information about proposed franchises in Hamilton Ontario, Boston, Philadelphia and Jacksonville. With domestic clubs in Super League struggling to maintain support and money in short supply over here it’s all quite baffling really. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns eh?
3-00pm Saturday two shops one (top) with 10 people in and a deal of tumbleweed blowing about, the other with 37 people queuing round the store to get their Calendars and books signed. It’s hard to imagine they are both in the same street really isn’t it?
So to this week’s Codgers spot and back to December 1988 when Brian Smiths revolution was starting to gather some pace. We had started the season badly with 4 consecutive defeats but after that fourth loss Smithy had delivered his famous “Keep the Faith” speech in the local paper and we had as fans tried to do just that, although gates were still only around the 5000 mark. So, as we went into this week’s featured game, although we were definitely improving, an influx of new faces, some new backroom staff and a completely new game plan were taking a bit of time to bed in. We took on the Saints at the Boulevard on Tuesday 13th December and night matches at that time of the year were usually bleak cold affairs, but the atmosphere and excitement on the pitch kept us warm in the Threepenny’s that night.
The star studded Saints outfit sat fourth in the Division whilst we were in the bottom four, but that meant little that night, as we started to see the first glimpses of what was to be a short but golden phase in the history of our great club. It was a crisp starlit evening with hardly any breeze as referee Mr Berry blew the whistle and Garry Pearce kicked off towards a sparsely populated Airlie Street end. After just two ‘sets’, a brilliant deep kick on the 4th tackle by Craig Colman saw Hull pin Saints deep in their own twenty-five and after a massive hit by Andy Dannett, John Fieldhouse lost the ball in the tackle and Tim Wilby gleefully dropped on it.
Just two tackles later a smart reverse pass by Lee Jackson into the path of Craig Colman saw the scrum half brilliantly dummy, before feeding Jon Sharp who ran in wide out to open the score. Pearce missed the goal, but soon it was clear that the Saints ‘Super Stars’ were getting frustrated as the Hull defence swarmed all over them like, The Daily Mirror said next day, “an army of worker ants”. Boyle, Jackson, Dannett, Wilby and Divorty smashed the visitor’s forwards and covered every inch of the Boulevard in that first thirty minutes and as Burke, Haggerty and Dwyer got increasingly frustrated, Pearce swung his boot at three penalty attempts and converted all of them. At 10-0, with Craig Colman brilliantly directing things and organising the Hull players, we were all over the Saints.
Then disaster struck as after a pretty innocuous tackle that left Neil Holden on the floor on his own 25, the Touch Judge ran onto the field with his flag held high and shortly afterwards the referee sent Andy Dannett off for a high tackle. That could have spelt disaster and indeed within 3 minutes, and just on the stroke of half time, the visitors were on the score board. It took a brilliant try by Dwyer to get them there, as the second rower weaved his way through the Hull defence beating three would be tacklers to run 30 yards to score near the posts and as Loughlin converted the half time hooter sounded and with just those twelve men on the field, we all feared the worst in the second half.
Saints started the second half well and drove into our 25 on three separate occasions in the first six minutes but were becoming increasingly frustrated by our 12 men as they tackled doggedly and at times heroically. Saints started to lose patience when their star studded attack couldn’t penetrate our depleted lines and they gave away penalty after penalty. Pearce certainly wasn’t going to miss that opportunity and two successful kicks at each side of a great drop goal saw us leading 15-6 by the 55th minute. Colman continued to run the show, brilliantly marshalling his troops and frustrating the Saints players with some astute kicking and short thrusting scampers through their lines and so industrious were the rest of the team at times that it looked like we had 14 or 15 men on the pitch rather than 12.
The onslaught we had expected wasn’t happening and the crowd roared every tackle as Hull frustrated and niggled at the Saints forwards, then just 13 minutes from time, Coleman struck. It was a piece of sheer magic on a memorable night as he stepped left and right accelerating into a gap and drawing full back Veivers fed a great pass out to substitute Welham who crashed in through three would be tacklers to score under the posts. ‘Porky’ Pearce tagged on the points and at 21-8 with 13 minutes to go the game still had to be won, but heartened by this try and the great response it got from us lot on the terraces, there was no giving up. Wilby switched from second row to centre, before finishing at hooker, Boyle ran himself into the ground and Moon and Price in the centres were rock solid against O’Connor and Loughlin. We did ‘leak’ a sloppy try in the final minute when Carrington scored but as Loughlin’s conversion attempt floated wide of the left hand post the hooter went and the game was won 21-12.
Smithy came onto the field and shook every players hand as he celebrated with the lads, who came over to the Threepenny’s where no one had left early, but had stayed to hail what was a fine performance on a cold night. Brian Smith had arrived as a little known Aussie coach, but was fast gaining hero status with The FC Faithful as was our brilliant little general Craig Colman. What a great night that was!!!
Well that’s it after another quiet week when the most significant news was probably the fact that we could well see record numbers of season ticket sales this year. I was down at the Club shop in Savile Street on Saturday with Danny Houghton as he signed numerous copies of that ‘naughty’ calendar and I sold a few of the books (which have now raised over £2600 for Danny; thank you). It was however brilliant to see so many of you down there and to chat to loads of Diary readers. Great to see you all and thanks for popping in.
While I’m on the subject of Saturday I have to mention the staff in that shop who worked tirelessly all day and between 11-30 and 3-30 (while I was there), they dealt with a constant queue of around 30 people patiently and efficiently, whilst the fans spent an absolute fortune. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it before, because it was mayhem, I sold around 35 books and Danny’s ‘Naughty’ calendar sold well over 100 copies which was absolutely fantastic. So, thanks from Danny and I to everyone who came along and to those wonderful staff who were brilliant all day, the Club is certainly lucky to have them.
Looking around it was apparent that the Club has an excellent range of Merchandise and as well as snapping up all those season tickets the fans are really turning up in great numbers and spending on Christmas presents like I’ve never seen before. It’s been absolutely great helping Danny this year with the book and on occasions like this one he’s always got time for everyone as perhaps this picture proves.
Tonight (Monday) I’m out trying to sell some more of that tome and giving a talk on “Writing books for Rugby League fans, like What I wrote!!” for some real unsung heroes of the Club the Vice Presidents Association. They probably don’t hear much at their meetings from ordinary fans like me (good thing too they’ll probably say) and if nothing else, it gives me the chance to thank an organisation that has over 40 years helped the Club out and at times even propped it up and saved it from going under. I think I’ll do that bit at the start, before they all fall asleep!!!
Then it’s onto next Monday (18th December) when we stage Danny Houghton’s XMAS Factor at the City Hall. With around 900 fans expected there are still a few tickets left and if you haven’t got any can you really afford to miss Albert Kelly and Feke singing a Christmas duet, well ….yes maybe you can?? It should be a brilliant night though!
Thanks as always for reading the Diary it’s a bit hard at present to find much that is controversial or really news worthy and I’m sorry if there’s been a bit too much of me this week, but I guess in the end a lack of news and hullabaloo is at this time of year in many ways a nice change and indeed perhaps a good thing!
Thanks as always for all your support!