The Boys are back in Town!
So training has started and we now know who we are playing in 2019 and when! At first glance, it’s a really tough start in a season that dictates that hitting the ground running is a must. If we don’t get a good start and that unenviable losing run continues, then jobs and reputations could well be on the line. Having said all that, the first month of games which was announced in our 2019 fixtures this week, doesn’t look that straight forward to me at all, in fact quite the contrary for it is a tough old start all round.
The fixtures in fact threw up some strange ones for the coming campaign and I’ll have a close look at what I think are the plusses and the anomalies within the new schedule later on in here. In addition, in a busy week we have also opened a new shop, tweaked the coaching side of things somewhat, heard a bit more about the reserve grade, found a job for Gareth Ellis, launched a new shirt, remembered Jack Harrison and those fans that served and gave their lives for their country, plus we’ve also seen the NZ tourists muller England and Jake Connor complete his stint as one of the new golden boys of the English international team. Closed season? It’s never dull is it?
Then on top of all that, the fans have certainly rallied around too and with near on 7000 season tickets sold at the end of the first phase of selling, which closed on Saturday, they have, despite the issues of last season, risen to the challenge to go around again. With the possibility of another couple of thousand being sold before the next cut off point in the sales process, all looks well for some good gates to start off the season. In fact, all we need now are a few passionate performances out on the field that match the efforts of the fans thus far, off it. Well done to everyone who has signed up again by the way, we certainly have some tremendous supporters.
Now, despite a quieter game this week, the rise and rise of Jake Connor on the international scene is well documented, but it is also a bit of a worry for every FC fan, as this hugely talented and massively ambitious young man finds himself firmly in the spotlight from both sides of the world. Connor is a rarity, for he is a gifted off the cuff player of the sort you rarely see in the modern game. What’s more in the spirit of old fashioned scrum halves like Alex Murphy and Andy Gregory he is a real wind up merchant, who obviously has the desire to go right to the top of the sport and he certainly won’t be happy bumping along in the league in a team that is mid table at best.
We can build Hull FC around him for years to come but to do that we have to match his ambition with our own actions on the field. We need to be up there in the league with the best so that Jake has the platform and stage to further show off and develop his skills. Anything short of that and history dictates that Connor will be off Down Under or poached by Wigan, Saints or Warrington when they come along waving a massive ‘Lineham, Westerman or Watts’ type cheque under our noses.
For me I believe that Jake will only be happy playing at the top of the game for a top club and why not? But we have to ensure that Club is us. Another season of struggle and broken dreams will I’m convinced see him off, because one of the main things he has in his favour is his ambition and as a club and a team as I say, we have to match that!
Another worry for me with this squad going forward is Marc Sneyd, who after that avalanche of re-signings at the end of last season is the only player of our current senior ‘spine’, who is not signed up for 2020. There will be a lot of clubs eying him up in the first couple of months of the season yet there seems to be no movement from us on that one at all. Injuries and ‘that knee’ have been a worry I know and you can see why the club are being cautious, perhaps that’s it or maybe he’s sticking out for more money or even that he wants away. We know little at all at present really except that he is out of contract next year!
I get a lot of correspondence from readers unhappy about the fact that we have not signed anyone of any sort of stature for next season, relying instead to build the size of the playing pool with squad type players, but Sneyd is the organiser and the general out there when he’s fit and we are going to need him fit and firing for that start.
None the less I get the doubters point completely, but perhaps signing top players is not really that easy. Folks still talk in glowing terms about what Motu Tony did at the Club while he was here and about the standard and number of the signings. But, although he did a massive job, perhaps some of the practises he used have in the long term left us struggling a bit.
You see, it’s not easy to do what we did it at the start of the 2016 season with Manu, Pritchard, Tumavive, Fonua and Taylor all coming is at once. However, if you back-load contracts as I believe he did back then and promise jam tomorrow, in the name of getting those big names into the club at the same time, your chickens come home to roost in later years, when you have to provide those players with the ‘promised jam’. Next season is a real watershed year at the club for more reasons than one and we will see a lot of our senior players released, retiring or leaving. That will be when big names will be coming in I feel, they’ll have to, simply because that movement out will have seen the quality go, as the money is freed up to entice new comers of high standing to the FC. This year we have built our squad depth and consolidated but action will be expected for 2020.
All that said, change is still ongoing and as well as the players we have brought in I knew that Lee, Adam and James Clark had been looking closely at the need to freshen up the backroom staff and to install a system that best met the changing need of an expanded squad and a reserve team. What’s more it was a pretty poorly kept secret that Gareth Ellis was in the frame for a new role with his football manager’s duties being taken over no doubt by James Clark, who these days seems to do everything else away from the playing side of things.
Ellis’ new remit is to work with the less experienced members of the first team squad in both a coaching and mentor capacity, with the focus on developing our younger fringe players. We have seen so many get so far in the past, before failing to kick on and he is expected to fill that gap and using the new Reserves set up, move things forward and get some of that potential up into the next grade of first team football. Masi did it last year, but few others really followed him.
Ellis will be assisted by Yeamo, who is now one of the club’s conditioners, as well as physio Chris John and the trio will form the nucleus to lead with the club’s new reserve grade. They will also be joined by eminent local coach John McCracken in that reserve team’s coaching set-up. The new coaching model will see the new ‘team’ mirroring what the first team coaches do and judging by the amount that has been invested in it, the system has to work. Adam has certainly backed the requests of the coach. We have a massive squad and the biggest back room crew we have seen at the Club for years who all have to be paid. It will be interesting to see how it all works out, going forward wont it?
Talking of that second string it seems that we are to have a nine team reserve grade next season as the guessing game as to who has still not agreed to run one raged over the weekend. Leeds were favourites of course and I can confirm they won’t be running one this year, but you’d be surprised how many other Super League Clubs including St Helens aren’t either.
Word coming out of Red Hall indicates that Rovers certainly won’t have one, but several Championship Clubs like Keighley, Halifax and Bradford will! That’s so disappointing really as once again little will change as too many Clubs will be waiting in the wings to snap up the players (that have played in this league) without having made the investment needed to develop them. Nor do we this year want to see any clubs crying off from pre-arranged fixtures either! Personally, I think that too many Clubs are putting all their investment into the present and not looking to the future and with that in mind perhaps we should work towards making the running of a second string team compulsory if you’re in the Super League.
The model we are now adopting at Hull FC with our links into the local game at amateur level, (through employing coaching staff who know there way around it) as well as with the Academy is one that has I know impressed the RL and for me, it’s the one that should be the blue print for the game in the future, going forward. All Clubs should all be responsible for bringing good British players through the ranks and it shouldn’t be left to the usual few.
So on Tuesday we saw the fixtures appear at 12-00noon precisely; and nice and early as promised. Some things never change with them leaking to some of us almost 24 hours early as usual, but how do I feel about them? Well you have to play everyone, so I guess that’s that. Loop fixtures are a bind and a bore, but we are told a commercial necessity as far as the clubs are concerned. Well, they are until a 14 strong league is introduced anyway and the sooner that comes about the better! None the less we all like a grumble and I honestly don’t think the way the cards have fallen this time has favoured us much at all, in fact I think that all things considered we have been dealt a really tough hand.
Within half an hour of the fixtures being officially announced I heard from a reader who said, “Well we’ve really angered the rugby league gods haven’t we! Opening with a freezing Friday night ‘on the dock’ then a six-day turn-around to play against one of the most expansive teams in the league. That’s a nice steady start which is followed by a visit to the current champions! Two five day turn-arounds in March including a road trip down south. Rovers Good Friday followed by Saints away on Easter Monday!! Then in June we get a five-day turn-around from a trip to the ‘gentle and always clean’ Catalans (at the height of summer) before another trip to East Hull!! Randomly generated fixtures my arse!” and within the next hour he was joined by five other readers expressing similar concerns and I guess looking through the list I could see their point.
My old Mum used to say that, ‘You can always find someone who is worse off than yourself’ and although in this case its hard, the only one that really stands out is probably Leeds, who due to the completion of the Headingley development, play 4 away games on the trot to start off their campaign, at Warrington, Wigan, Salford and St Helens!! That’s really hard going, but then again, the scheduling of their ground improvements is somewhat self-imposed in any case isn’t it?
However, through no fault of our own, our overall fixture spread is tough too. ‘The Land of Make Believe’ could well be like the Baltic on 1st February, however, my gripes on that aside, I can see the new regimes thinking behind getting the season off with a bang with the two biggest Derby games Wigan and Saints and us and the Dobbins being played in Week One. It’s a real jamboree for the TV audience and it hopefully provides games that will by the end, inspire folks out of their armchairs, to watch games live. Providing of course the country isn’t under a foot of snow in the first weekend of February!
What’s more, after years of banging on about it in here and the RL doing nothing, the influence of the Super League owners has already seen some consideration to the fans, with every Thursday night game now being played between teams that are not too far apart geographically. We only actually play two games away from home on a Thursday and they come at Castleford Tigers on June 13 and at the Dobbins on June 27 and across the game a concerted attempt has been made for this to be the case so more fans who want to, can travel. Just one short trip on a Thursday evening is at least a big win for the FC Army and those long suffering travelling fans who are fed up of racing to Widnes, Saints and Wigan for 7-45pm on a Thursday and then spent the early hours diverted off the M62 for road works. However, as those readers who contacted me pointed out, there are several worrying and/or perceived negatives to our particular fixture schedule as well.
The main issue for me surrounds the two trips to Catalans Dragons. I acknowledge that someone has to do it, but it’s not those games but rather the turn arounds afterwards that are tough and that could have been addressed better I think. It’s a good thing I guess for those fans who enjoy the trip over to the South of France and good that one of the games is in April, for they could have both been at the height of summer when the temperatures soar for the players.
But as readers have pointed out those trips and the fixtures on our return, do pose a massive challenge for the team itself and the strength in depth of the squad. Especially as derby matches against Hull KR come after both of those journeys. As the Catalan fixture and the greatest Derby in the game are without doubt our most stressful fixtures to have them following each other… TWICE isn’t particularly fair at all really.
So there’s some tough stuff in there and it would be nice to say it’s the same for everyone, but in fact in that last case it isn’t! Of course every closed season when the fixtures come out someone gets what they perceive is be an unfair draw and will grumble at the fixtures and that’s our right and our prerogative as paying customers.
In the end I guess many of the anomalies of this current situation are not our fault, or that of the owners, or the RL, but down to the weekly rounds spanning 4 days, with Sky TV needing a game on a Thursday, with the frequency in which your team get that short turn around the biggest problem. Still we can’t address that until we renegotiate the TV deal and in the mean time in the end we have to play everyone and so let’s get on with it.
As a foot note on that if I was doing the negotiations I would at least float the possibility of TV games being screened on a Thursday night and at 3-00 on a Saturday afternoon or evening (when there is no football on), with true game days for the attending public on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons devoid of TV games. That way I think that we would get bigger TV audiences and more fans attending the rest of the un-televised games. However, that’s just a pipe dream I guess.
So we all know what we are doing and when we are doing it next season and next up I expect we will see what other changes are to be implemented concerning improving the quality of the games themselves as a spectacle. As I have said in here before, shot clocks, just 8 substitutes and the golden point, at the very least, are certainly all on the cards!!
Also likely to be announced as early as this week is the format and venue for the Magic Weekend. When the fixtures for the new Super League season were released, the RFL confirmed that the annual Magic Weekend Fiasco would go ahead as normal and be held over the second Bank Holiday weekend in May – which falls on May 25th-26th. The venue will be confirmed this week, but it is thought Anfield, which hosted the second Test between England and New Zealand last Sunday in front of a crowd of 26,234, is the heavy favourite.
However, a potential stumbling block is that the Liverpool Marathon is scheduled for Sunday, May 26, and the route takes runners around the outside of the Stadium so that has to be sorted. However, we have an idea already about who we could be playing. Super League’s new structure dictates that each team will face seven of their other 11 rivals three times and the other four twice so we can expect to play someone outside the teams in our own loop fixtures and Wakefield look favourites at present. Thankfully it won’t be Rovers and as I say we should hear something to confirm the fixtures this week.
So what did you think to the International series and indeed the last Test played in front of such a big crowd at Elland Road yesterday. I somehow thought we would see a different game and I was right as they showed us just how to deal with a team that had already won the series and was just off the mark concentration wise at times. However, with such a great gate there ready to celebrate, it was such a shame that we didn’t give them what they wanted and give them all a lift going into the winter. Still with 4 more players missing it’s great to see what a depth we have at international level and that must auger well for the future.
It was hard for Connor because he got almost no ball at all and then copped for an injury, but he’s still had a great series and has been, for many, the surprise packet of the England team. Drifted away from you before you know where you are. Of course the last game was a salutary lesson for the England boys in that you only have to make a couple of mistakes and the game at international level has gone away from you! At least international Rugby League is back in the swing again and with the proposed GB tour of the southern hemisphere things are certainly looking up a bit!
Back to Hull FC and you know, since James Clark became Chief Executive there has been a strong move to build the clubs income off the field and that continued this week. At a time when our fiends from across the river have recently shrunk their merchandising operation and moved it all into the Stadium on Preston Road, Hull FC have quite surprisingly announced the opening of a new retail outlet at St Stephens that brings our total up to three stores. The announcement in the Mail last Tuesday came a bit out of the blue, but taking over a unit that is empty in the Cities premier shopping centre does offer the club another chance to showcase our merchandising range so in the busy run up to Christmas it will be a winner for the Centre and the Club.
True, with the well-publicised national decline of the high street, the centre is losing several tenants whose leases are up, but we have always had a great relationship with St Stephens and have even launched our new shirts there in the past, so it seems a sensible move. With that difficult economic climate in retail I think we might well have got a beneficial deal but whether as an operation we can sustain three shops in the long term is pretty unlikely, however, as a temporary outlet is a great idea and once again it is a positive move for the Club.
It’s open now with it launching the new away shirt yesterday, what do you think about it? For me Blue is the colour as far as what we needed this year, for a change and thank goodness we have shied away from shocking pink and dayglow yellow this time around. However, although I’m sure it will sell well, when you see that shirt how good would it have been if it was irregular hoops in those colours? Still you can’t have everything and I’m sure that offering will be featuring on a lot of Christmas lists this year!
I went along as usual to the short Remembrance Day vigil that took place at the Jack Harrison Memorial at the KCOM at 11-00am on Saturday. Around 100 FC fans turned up and it was a very thought provoking occasion. Club Chaplain the Rev. Tony Cotson officiated at a short memorial service which featured Kathy Kirk reading ‘In Flanders Field’ one of the most famous war poems penned by John McCrae. We heard a rendition of the last post by the band and there was an immaculately observed one minute’s silence as we remembered all the FC fans and players that have given their lives for their country over the years. Well done to all concerned.
After a chat I had with Diary reader Kevin in the Dog and Duck in Beverley on Saturday tea time, I want to dedicate the Codgers spot this week to him and our mutual pal Vince who passed away a few years ago and feature what was their favourite game from our youth as we lived a few doors from each other all those years ago in Airlie Street. We both talked long about the old days when it was certainly a fabulous time to be a young FC fan and so this week we go back to Saturday 19th March 1960.
Actually things started the previous week end for me, when the quiet of a Sunday Morning in Airlie Street was disturbed at about 3-00am when outside my bedroom window I could hear voices in the dark. As I wiped the condensation from the window with my pyjama’s sleeve through the pale street lights I could just see that across the road on the Car Park at the front of the ground a queue was starting to form. By the time a grey dawn broke the human snake stretched 4 times around the Car Park past the front of our house in Aylesford street to disappeared around the far corner and out of sight. By the time the ticket window at the supporter’s club opened at 10-00am the queue was down the Boulevard and into Selby Street stretching right down to Chiltern Street! In fact the local Mail next night stated that at one time around 14,000 people were estimated to be queuing. Mrs Butters, Benny Algood’s and all the local corner shops that opened on Sundays had sold out of everything by 11-00am!!!!!
It was a freezing cold day too and my old pal Vince always used to tell me that he was in that same queue having been bribed by his Dad who said that he would take him to the game if he queued for their tickets!! We got ours I believe from the supporter’s club so we all just sat in the front room all day and watched the fun as hundreds filed past our bay window.
Mum I guess, realising that there was going to be a big crush and a gate in excess of 20,000 at the game, felt that these seats were safest for both me and her!! Saturday at last arrived and with it being a sell-out Cup game the “ALL MUST PAY” signs that usually adorned the turnstiles for these matches were replaced by “TICKETS ONLY” placards pasted over each gateway into the ground. One thing is for sure and that is that those ring side seats would never be allowed in modern Stadia these days, but were back then just a means of getting a few more folks into the ground for the big games.
Having got through a turnstile marked out by a piece of cardboard with “RINGSIDE SEATS ONLY” scribbled on it in Biro, you then showed your ticket at the big gate in the perimeter fence near the dressing rooms, where the disabled on stretchers and in wheelchairs were brought to the touch line to watch the games. Then we walked, through the discarded straw around the dead ball line, and took up our seats on park benches positioned in front of the Threepenny stand at the Gordon Street end, about 6 foot from the touch line! These seats were also positioned behind the posts at each end too, and I remember that’s were Vince and his Dad sat! The safety at Sports Ground People would have had a field day!
So there we were surrounded by the straw that had covered the pitch all week to keep the frost out. It was a right mess! Everywhere you looked the terracing at the ends seemed to be bulging as thousands packed into the old ground. This was a totally new experience for me. Mum probably though we would be safe there, but within ten minutes of the start, (my pal Mike’s Dad), our winger Ivor Watts, was tackled into touch and landed, with a Wigan three quarter on top of him, about 6 inches from my foot! It was a great game, but also, perhaps more importantly, my first real experience of that institution that was to dominate my life for years to come, the Threepenny Stand.
Behind me there was a bear garden of cheering, drinking, smoking, referee bashing, and swearing.
My Mum, who incidentally I never ever heard swear, seemed immune to it all, but Oh Boy was there some new words learnt that day!! There were profanities that even I the lad from Chilton Juniors, had never heard before. Finally, I plucked up the courage to look over my shoulder at the wooden edifice that was soon to become my spiritual home. It wasn’t the size of the crowd or the sea of faces that impressed me most though; it was the way that they all lived every minute moving from agony to ecstasy at the drop of a ball! These supporters were a lot different to those that stood with me in my usual vantage point over on the terracing on Bunkers Hill at the Airlie Street end of the ground. These guys were allowed to shout “Bastard” out at the top of their voices, without attracting any attention at all from those around them!
For probably the first time in my life I saw real anger and real passion on display there, and it was great, so much so that I made a mental note of the fact that the sooner I got myself into this stand the better!!! The game itself was an absolute classic with “The Cream” coming out eventual winner by twelve points to eight with Kershaw scoring the winning try and Bateson slotting over the conversion. I was a bit too young back then to remember much more detail.
As the final whistle went the players hugged each other shook hands and then (like the Gladiators I had seen in those Roman epics on our new Rediffusion TV) they all turned to The Threepennies to soak up the adoration of the crowd. As we filed out along the touchline, the last members of the team disappeared down the tunnel, and I was bemused by the fact that most of those fabulous ‘Threepenny Stander’s’ just stood there, as if not wanting the moment to pass. It was always a big victory if you could turn over the Pies, but this was a cup game and they were the Cup Kings, with Bolton, McTigue, Sayer and Barton on show, who had beaten us in the final the previous year. Little did I realise then that I was going to be left standing on those pee soaked wooden steps, not wanting to leave the scene of a victory, on many, many occasions in the decades to come!
Vince though, sitting at the other end, had just as strong memories of that day as he told me several times that he was sat there when Wigan’s Norman Cherrington scored just 6 feet from him, only for the try scorer then to be congratulated right in front of him by the legendary Eric Ashton! He always said that it was almost unreal to see those great folk heroes of the age right in front of him. Vince incidentally said that it was the most exciting experience he has ever had at a Rugby League game. Your first big game as a kid is like that though isn‘t it? Great memories of a great game and that wonderful Threepenny Stand.
So some first impressions of an iconic stand and a place that was to be home for so many years thereafter, it was run always down and invariably packed with rubbish underneath. Of course it was a fire hazard for the Threepenny Stand hadn’t been cleaned out underneath for years and the only thing that stopped it burning down was probably the urine pickled state of the wooden terrace boards.
You know, when the Bradford tragedy unfolded in the 1983/84 season an empty packet of peanut found in the smouldering rubbish under the stand read 6d, so it had not been cleaned out since before the coming of decimalisation in February 1971, I would think the Threepennies was little different myself, although the old edifice actually existed in some form, well into the late 1980’s. A dump it might have been but looking back it was certainly an important part of so many people’s lives just the same.
So there we are, a really busy week in which our preparations for 2019 started in earnest. There has been so much going on I’m sorry I have jumped about a bit this week but as I always say I just record the things that have interested me. It was great to meet so many Diary readers at the Jack Harrison event on Saturday at was a very moving service of remembrance. Thanks so much for all your feedback as the correspondence I received particularly after the fixtures were announced was simply amazing. Thanks again as well for all your support reading this and for sticking with me through the closed season, it will be a long haul but at least there is always something happening at the moment.