The Dentist’s Diary – 606th

In a week when training continued and our last International player, Bureto Fairamo finally finished his 2018 season, there was some good news from the RL about the Challenge Cup and the Magic Weekend and closer to home the new shop in St Stephens is rocking and really impressive! So, perhaps the only real worry for Hull FC fans as they looked around the RL scene this week was the players other Clubs have been signing.

In what we are told is a ‘pretty stagnant market that lacks any depth of quality’, several teams continue to seem to be able to find players that look to be improving their squads. Conversely, we have chosen to get all our players signed up again and to expand our roster with some new faces from the junior ranks and the lower divisions. I guess that we’ll only find out if we have got that right come 1st February at ‘The Land that Time Forgot’! You have to trust Lee and the Club as to whether they have chosen wisely and we have to have faith in their judgement, but it does seem to me that a lot of teams are looking stronger for next season!

Thank you for joining me again as this week when I’ll have a look at that, at why we all feel as we do at present and indeed at everything else that has interested me in the world of Rugby League in the past 7 days.

The pre-season friendlies were announced last Monday and many were disappointed that we are playing Doncaster, Wakefield and St Helens, all away from home. However, that is hardly surprising with the money the SMC want from us for games that fall outside the user agreement, because I’ve experienced in the past with Testimonial matches how they really do screw you down to pay for everything. However, whatever the reasons behind the three away games and it can only really be the cost, its tough on the fans who don’t travel, and yet want to run the rule over their heroes pre-season. I quite fancy Donny and Wakey, but I can’t see that many of us going over to Lancashire can you?

When I was younger, less-wiser and more ‘manic’ in my support, I used to spend all winter looking forward to the first friendly and I’d always go to the lot. None the less although I’ve got older and perhaps a bit wiser, I still really do like the youngsters and fringe players turning out every year at Doncaster. It’s always a great, no pressure day out, if not a usually freezing cold one, but the fans are always in good spirits, it’s a great stadium and as well as us having over the years, seen some entertaining, pressure free games, we usually have a good laugh as well. A couple of years ago I remember the digital electronic score-board packing up altogether and one shivering wag behind me, stood stamping his feet to keep warm, shouted, “Have you tried switching it off and on again?”. I’ll be there again this year I expect!

Washy’s Testimonial game at Wakey will be a good run out for the starting 17, although I hope they let us on to their end Terracing because that crap side where they usually put us is deadly at that time of year, particularly if it’s raining or worse. Then it’s all the way over to Saints and that’s it, 3 away run outs and we’re off at Craven Park; it’s bloody ironic really when the only pre-season game that is financially viable at the KCom now is the one you don’t want, the unpopular Derby (un) Friendly, isn’t it?

But I ain’t bothered about that at all and not playing that match is a massive relief for me, simply because, as you know, I was totally sick of the over kill it offered, there is just no such thing as a friendly between our two sets of fans, never mind the players!!! If our tough start needs animating, then it’s interesting to note that the Dobbins are playing both their pre-season games at home and have 3 of their first 4 games in the league at home as well. However, circumstances dictate that we have to play all our practise matches away, before what is without doubt a really hard start, It’s a shame though for all the fans who don’t travel; bloody SMC!!

I had a quick look at the new shop for myself!

I spoke last week of the many pro’s and few con’s there were with regard to the opening of the new Club shop at St Stephens and once again the fervour and loyalty of a group of fans who should by rights be a bit battered and bruised after such a poor end to the last season, shone through as it opened. The Mail reported that hundreds were queuing for that opening at 10-00am on a cold Sunday morning. I’m told it was around the 200 mark although in fairness the launch of the new away shirt helped. However, it was still a great turn out and the place was still rammed by I got there at 11-00am. James Clark who is now openly being described as our Chief Executive has always been good at the hype and having an eye for an opportunity and his marketing initiatives and the fans amazing loyalty has led us to the current situation, where season tickets are still flying out and the two new shirts are selling as well as any such match day merchandising has done in the past.

I was really impressed!

Clark said last week of the new shop, “With the accessibility here, and the parking and transport links, I am confident this will be busy in the run up to Christmas. So for Hull FC to be here it’s fantastic and it is a great opportunity for us to promote the club and I hope we hit the ground running into the new season as that’s what this is all about. Today (opening Sunday) is all about the fans meeting the players getting their hands on the new kit and creating that buzz because we know that if the fans, the players and the staff are all united going into the new season then we’ve got a real chance.”.

Of course it’s all in the end about how the team do next year and as I said to Clarky last week when I saw him, the unfortunate thing about sports clubs is that however passionate, committed and dedicated to the cause the fans and the administration are off the field, in the end it all comes down to what your players do on it.

So how do you think we are doing so far? Are we in for a great and glorious season, an average hit up, a hard slog or worse? Well, as I say, on the commercial side of things the fans have already come up trumps and flocked to renew their tickets, but, do you think that with the signings we have made, the players we have retained and with a bit of good luck with injuries, we will be back there at the top of the table challenging for honours? No one inside or outside the club really knows do they? In any case as regular readers will appreciate, it’s always hard for cynical old me to be overtly confident!

That said of course we all hope it’s going to be good, the Club will state that it will be and of course only time will tell, but, in the end its not just about us but also about the opposition! Perhaps instead of pondering the imponderable about our lot, we should be looking at the other 11 teams and what they have done to strengthen their rosters and whether their strengthening is balanced by our players coming back from long term injuries and the new signings we have made.

For me that one is on a bit of a knife edge really and after just two weeks of pre-season, with a couple of players struggling with new injuries already and Bowden admitting he won’t be ready for Round One, it’s clear that much will depend on who is injury free at the end of January and which long term absentees have actually reached peak fitness by the first game.

OK, London have a lot of work to do to build a team that is sustainable through a long season and Salford through their predicament as a Club are struggling to attract the level of player needed to lift their hopes, but otherwise most of the other Clubs have made significant additions of quality to their squads. In fact, Warrington, Leeds (With two recent Marquee signings), Wigan, Huddersfield, Wakefield and even Rovers, who have made a couple of reasonable additions, have made bigger signings than we have, what’s more they have procured players that will undoubtedly freshen things up and improve the quality of their outfits come 2018.

Fetuli Talanoa said this week that the aim of the squad was to get a few victories under their belts and some points on the board in the early part of the campaign and after what happened last season, (when we saw the benefit of such a situation come the end of the season), that makes a lot of sense. However, looking at the first few fixtures we have been allocated I think that could well be easier said than done! Many fans are concerned at the quality of our signings and although it will be great if the Club can prove them wrong, when you look at other teams acquisitions you can sort of see their point can’t you? The club had to look at the market place and decide to stick or twist on or current squad. They decided to stick predominantly I think because of the lack of quality available out there, and now we have to go with it!

So to the game at large and this last week we saw another couple of steps forward in the process of repositioning our game as we try to reinstate it as a national sporting icon. Last Tuesday it was announced that from 2020 the Final will be played at Wembley in July and that we have signed a deal to stay at the National stadium until the 2027 season. This is great news all round, because as I have so often said in here, Wembley is the Challenge Cup and the Challenge Cup is Wembley.

People invariably say “I’m off to Wembley” rather than “I’m off to the Challenge Cup Final”, for it’s the spiritual home for our game and the place where the final has to be played if we are to have any national credibility as a sport. In fact, the only reason it has been devalued of late is because it’s too near (calendar wise) the Grand Final, of which Sky Sports make so much. However, with the announcement of a further final to be staged on the same day, there was more good news because now Championship Clubs and some of the Division One Clubs will play off to take part in the 1895 Cup Final directly before the big game. That means that if say Widnes and Bradford were to get through next season, we could well see another 10,000 at least on the Wembley gate.

That new tournament and the switch to July could maybe even soon see the old place bursting at the seams again for the Final. For me, the Challenge Cup is our major Trophy and no one will tell me otherwise. I have banged on about changing the date and staying at Wembley for years in here simple because profile wise it is our major event as a sport. Sky try to make out the Grand Final is the big one (and after 30 odd rounds it’s very important for the players and coaches), but in the eyes of the none attending sporting public, Wembley is the one thing we have that is unique to the game! It’s the touchstone of the sport across the world and it has to be preserved. Late though it has been in coming (and I would have still preferred for it to start next season), I’m confident that this news is excellent stuff for the game.

We had only just digested that release when on Tuesday, as predicted last week, we were told the fixtures for the Magic Weekend event. However, the day of the announcement was about all I did get right, because I anticipated that we would be playing Wakefield and instead we are to play Huddersfield. The event will be staged at Anfield under the title of Mersey Magic and again that is a step in the right direction for the game, because it’s much more accessible for a lot and although I’m not a big fan I think it will be well supported.

That said although Liverpool is a key British City it is not exactly steeped in rugby league history is it? However, a crowd of over 40,000 for an Australia v New Zealand clash two years ago showed it to certainly has potential. Anyone who has been to Liverpool knows there is a great scene there and you can have a lot of fun, but that brings me onto why it may not exactly be the ideal choice, because while there is plenty to see and do in the city, it is a fair way out to Anfield as we are talking a good couple of miles’ walk.

You can’t please everyone and that won’t suit those who want to spend most of the weekend staggering around the nearby pubs and a few I know having watched football there, tell me that the seats are packed in extremely tightly with not a great deal of leg room. They claim that sitting there for six games over two days would be pretty uncomfortable.

Then there are the logistical hurdles to clear I mentioned last week, such as the Liverpool Marathon being scheduled for that Sunday with a route that takes runners right around the stadium. How will that work? However, someone will always grumble but with dipping gates at Newcastle something had to be tried so let’s at least get behind it.

Magic goes to Anfield BUT, not good for pub crawling supporters with long legs according to some!!!

However, once you get past the venue, the draw and how it has been formed was most interesting for me. As was expected, one plays three and two plays four etc. through the table from last season, but the draw is based on the league positions after 30 rounds and not as was originally thought after 23 (that’s why we play Huddersfield instead of Wakefield). Still that’s fine for me because another big positive is the fact that we at least have a transparent structured means of deciding who plays who. That has to be more equitable than a few blokes in a room with the door shut determining what games will be the most attractive for Sky and us lot still having to play the Dobbins in the last match, just so the place looks ‘lived in’ at the end for TV. Who you play is now just the luck of the draw, based on where you and other teams finished the previous year. That’s fair and what’s more we all understand it!

As you know, I don’t like the concept, believing the whole thing to be conceived in the first place as nothing more than a manufactured for TV extravaganza. But of course I’m an old fuddy, duddy and I recognise that at present we have to have it, so, when I begrudging accept the need for the event at all, then it’s easier when it has the caveat that there is actually a fair and understandable structure to the games being played. Like the revisions to the Challenge Cup and the scrapping of those middle eight’s, it’s another victory for common sense, Elstone and the Super League Clubs. For I’m convinced that although it’s Rimmer and the RL who are making the announcements, it is, I’m sure, the Super League Chief Executive and the Owners who are pulling the strings. As another week goes by I feel that its small steps, but perhaps the game and its future is looking a little rosier at last?

Well, it’s the off season and everyone is hunting for something to talk about and you know I have said here before that these days as I enter my 58th year as a pass holder, in what is now perhaps my dotage, for me it’s more about trying to get back to just enjoying it all again. I’m really trying to get away from the cynicism, politics and agenda’s, of modern sport. In fact, as far as supporting my Club is concerned, I’d like to rid myself of the anxious nervy feel of it all and get back to that wonderful enthusiasm and optimism that I had about my Club in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s, even when times were hard. Back then it seemed to be great fun being a fan, but perhaps as is the case with life in general, as you get older you only really remember the sunny days? On that tack last Wednesday I had an interesting chat with an old pal and I’ve tried to do justice to what was said here, simply because I think that a lot of you reading this will be able to associate with it, as I did at the time.

He asked me this week, quite out of the blue, how my actual rationale about Hull FC, Super League and the game in general was these days and I immediately retorted that I was ‘Nervous about the new season for Hull FC and perhaps for the game in general going forward’. However, although I’m firmly of that mind about the game, perhaps due to the matter of fact way I answered the question, my questioner immediately saw through the veneer of my thinly veiled lack of resolve as far as Hull FC was concerned and detected he thought, a hint of reticence in there. It was the stock answer, but am I really NERVOUS about our next season as a Club anymore?

By our second cup of Marks and Spencer’s coffee we were deep into a philosophical discussion about our evolving feelings for Hull FC, a club that we’ve both support since we were kids and we’ll continue to do so, until the day we die. We tried to put some sort of sense into how we both feel about things these days and it appeared that our thoughts were pretty much aligned. That was strange in itself because we have over the years disagreed about players, about tactics, about owners, about coaches and even about Lee Radford, Peter Gentle and Richard Agar, in fact at times it has seemed that the only thing we could agree about was the fact that Hull FC are the one thing in our lives that had always been there and would be there, in fact, until the day we both died.

Yet as we spoke it became apparent that these days deep down we both felt a bit different about it all. Andy laughed out loud when he remembered what I had said in here about going ‘direct debit’ on my season tickets for the first time this year; simply because I couldn’t be arsed to keep waking up in the middle of the night fretting that I had missed the cut off date for renewals, or trekking down to town to do the deed (I still don’t trust that on line stuff much in such important matters). He laughed because he, like another pal from the gym I spoke to the next day, had done exactly the same thing for exactly the same reason just a week before me. In fact, he added he did it just so he could take the stress and self-doubt out of annually subscribing to the cause and just keep paying until the day he was physically not able to go anymore; again just like me! At that point for once we both agreed that it seemed such actions dictated that there was little wrong with our life-long commitment to the cause, but yet it all seemed somehow the whole rationale behind that passion was different these days.

I wonder how many other old timers out there reading this feel the same? We both agreed we knew a few that did! It’s a strange one though, because I used to fret and fume when we lost and be unbearable for days, but now, although I’m still really passionate about it all, (let’s face it I wouldn’t be writing this weekly rubbish if I wasn’t), somehow it’s not that ultimately mood defining anymore. Last year in fact I was more concerned with not finishing in the middle eight’s and once that was decided the 11 on the trot defeats although pretty crap on a week to week basis, certainly weren’t ‘terminal’ anymore.

I hate to think how I would have felt about that run, and the way we were playing, say three years earlier. I doubt that the ‘Radford Out!!’ bedsheet banners would have been produced for me although I think they would have been for many. All the same I would have been bloody depressed and I wouldn’t be on my own with that one either. Previously for me, losing was always when the real fallout occurred. A loss would always affect my mood, my day and at times my week. It didn’t keep me from getting on with being a husband or a father, but it was there on the periphery, veiling my perspective on everything.

That sort of universal angst a few years ago would have impacted massively on season ticket sales as well and yet, here we are, 11 defeats on the trot and yet with 3 months to go we have almost 7000 season tickets sold already, could other fans be mellowing a bit as well?

In 2018 it was certainly tough going for many supporters yet we all tried to understand and listened to the arguments as we just longed for the season to end, just so we could all start over again. There perhaps, my pal and I agreed, was the answer. For, since that glorious day at Wembley in 2016 everything about our regrettable yet unavoidable ‘manic fixation’ with all things FC had changed. We conceded that you can’t live in the past but perhaps when you look back you realise that it has offered you the watershed moment in your sporting life that then engenders more tolerance, whatever is thrown at you?

We were both still as passionate about our beloved club, but for both of us much of the stress was gone, the pressure was off and we were enjoying it all a bit more. In fact, we had now got used to living on the fringes rather than being totally, emotionally immersed in the rough and tumble of the weekly ‘cement mixer’ that has for years been our obsession with our club and their success. Was it the years of waiting, or the relief after years of going to Wembley and losing, or just the end of those taunts of ‘you’ll never win at Wembley’ from the dip sticks across the river?

Well we weren’t sure, but that historic win and how we all felt afterwards had certainly got the monkey off both our backs and even perhaps left a legacy. As fanatical followers of Hull FC we thought we had seen all we would ever see, but then it happened and suddenly we were the golden generation, we saw and experienced something that thousands of others had died wondering about and at least for me and my coffee guzzling pal Andy, nothing will ever be quite the same again.

We agreed that we were both really looking forward to the new season and doing so ‘enthusiastically’. We were not overtly anxious or worried about it for now and certainly not fretting about it, the fixtures, the signings we have made etc. etc. like we used to, but instead we were intent on just enjoying it!! That’s not I think a bad place to be and so 2019 beckons and it’s great looking forward to it all.

I guess however the big question is, will we be the same once it’s started? We’d like to think so, but we were still not sure. Of course, for this fan watching games will always be a bit hard going at times and more what the Americans call hurt-so-good. When we are playing well, will I be just enjoying it or bracing myself for when we ain’t playing well? When we’re playing poorly, will I again be silently fuming, like a driver pinned behind an articulated lorry in the slow lane on a motorway? That we both agreed was what we have somehow to this year get away from if we are going to just enjoy our rugby again! That’s the dream: reaping the good without suffering the bad.

At such a quiet time for us fans I thought it was an interesting conversation and I hope I haven’t bored you passing it on. You might not agree and might still be lying awake worrying about our lack of punch in the front row, our recent signings and even whether you have missed the cut off date to renew your seat!!!!! However, on Tuesday in Marks and Spencer’s café, even with 130 years of support between us, we both agreed we had lightening up about it all a bit and changing our attitude and perhaps as FC till we die supporters we ain’t on our own on feeling that change either!! Will it work? Well it could, I hope it does, but in reality I somehow doubt it will!!

Club Historian Bill Dalton with Johnny Whitely (and Barry Edwards from the ex-players Association) and his Rugby League Hall of fame life-long achievement medal about which Bill commented, “I never thought I’d ever got that close to a Hall of Fame medal” For the amount of work Bill has done to preserve the heritage and history of the Club over many, many years he probably deserves some similar recognition himself.

That loyalty and loving of your club I outline above is borne out of a lifetime of dedication which often shows unparalleled levels of devotion to the cause from a young age. After last week’s Diary reader Mike animated that perfectly with this indication of amazing loyalty to the cause at a very early age, when he contacted me this week.

He said, “In Codgers Corner last week, you featured the third Round Cup game against Wigan in March 1960, which was of particular significance to me as it signalled the end of my school football career. I first started watching Hull FC as a skinny eight-year-old at West Dock Avenue Junior Boys School, before I passed the eleven plus to go to Kingston High School, where I played for the football teams. On the day of the cuptie, the school team were due to play the annual match against a team at Winteringham, near Grimsby, which meant taking the ferry and train. Because they had different age qualification for their teams, we had to send a combination team from two of our age groups”.

Mike continued, “As I had a ticket for the Cup-tie, and the school had plenty of players available, I asked not to be chosen as there was no way I would have got back in time. When the team-sheet went up on the notice board and my name was on it, I went to see the master in charge, and said I would not play. I was given a lecture on loyalty to the school, to which I politely countered that my loyalty was to Hull FC, whom I had supported long before I had joined the SchooI. I was fourteen at the time, but was not prepared to back down. He told me that if I did not play, I would never be chosen to play football for the school again ….and I never was”. Great memories eh?

So talking about iconic games in our history here’s one from the bad old days as this week as in Codgers Corner I would like to feature a game that has gone down in the folk lore of Hull FC, its one that everyone knows about but sadly for all the wrong reasons. In the early 1970’s we were struggling badly and gates suffered terribly. So it was that on 14th March 1975 we played in front of just 983 fans in a league game against Huyton. This was officially our lowest ever gate at the Boulevard and proved a really low point for the club and the fans. Before the 70’s the previous lowest attendance was 1700 for a game against Doncaster in 1966, but then in 1971 we recorded1243 for a game against Dewsbury and 1430 against Huyton. However, this game that I feature today, saw us plumb the very depths of rock bottom attendance, wise.

We were of course a poor side back then and the success of the football team down the road, the demise of the fishing industry and general apathy towards the game itself, left us with dwindling supporter interest and on the verge of extinction. In fact, some say to this day that if it had not been for the income from the Speedway Franchise we would not have come through that period at all!

The game itself was an equally dire affair and the humiliation of a second defeat to the perennial whipping boys of the competition was only averted by a last minute penalty by Keith Boxall. Back in November that season we had actually been beaten 32-10 away by the beleaguered Merseysider’s in a game when the only memorable moment came when Dick Tingle the Hull Daily Mail reporter leaned back in his chair and fell through the back of the stand! In fact, over on Merseyside before the game the media were claiming that this was Huyton’s chance to get a very, very rare away win, and they were almost right.

Anyone who was there (and let’s face it by the glory days returned in the early 80’s, upwards of at least 10,000 of the ‘Faithful’ claimed that they had been) will remember the shocking condition of the pitch. The shale from the speedway track was just starting to silt up the land drains under the turf and the whole playing surface was like a morass. The problem was that our pack was too light for the conditions, and we soon went behind to a shock try after just 6 minutes, the try went to their star back Don Preston, who they were soon to sell to Warrington.

We needed a response and it came from a dependable source when some good work in the mud by Bill Ramsey when he wasn’ty held properly in the tackle saw him slip out a pass that Tony Salmon through and he crashed over for Boxall to add the goal. Back came Huyton and an offence against us for laying on saw the Lancastrians goal kicker Watts make no mistake and it was 5-5.

It was then all dropped ball and crunching tackles from both sides until, ‘The Rhino’ Keith Boxall received an inside pass from our debutant scrum half Steve Lane and in typical fashion he shrugged off two tackles and set off on one of those barrelling runs of his to plunge over the line and restore our lead. So we were at least ahead at half time, but after the now mandatory changing of shirts at the interval, both teams re-appeared from the tunnel in pristine tops and mud caked brown shorts, before Huyton stormed straight back with a try from Prescott and a penalty goal from Watts.

Then it was down to Mally Walker who had come on as sub to step out of a tackle and give a good switch pass to Salmon who seemed to fly over three would be tacklers, NFL style, to land over the line, and with Boxall converting we were again in the lead. As you looked around that day it was a sorry sight indeed as soon both teams were almost indefinable as their shirts got more and more muddy. They were playing on a bog of a pitch in front of a pitiful crowd!

Some really sloppy play in the visitor’s half when we knocked on 5 times in about ten minutes, saw us under pressure again and as we suffered possession wise from the absence of our usual reliable hooker Tony Duke, we conceded again, this time Trevor Lloyd went through three would be tacklers and scored with Watts kicking the goal. It was all level at 15 a piece. We did at least throw a bit at the visitors line in the last few minutes, and a head high tackle on Brian Hancock, that the visitors were unlucky to concede on such a treacherous pitch, meant that Boxall got that late, late penalty to get us in the lead again and as Huyton peppered our line in the final minute, and it was almost impossible to tell who was who, so dark and dreary was the weather, tackle after tackle held them out before Fred Lindop the referee blew the whistle and we had won…..just!!!! An almost ironic cheer went up from the Faithful and the players who resembled mud larks, sort of celebrated!!!

That’s probably the first resume of that most famous of games you have read for some time, and hopefully that review of the game rings true to those of you who were there, and even for those who weren’t…………..but were, if you see what I mean!!!

Now, struggling for Christmas presents? Well, for all those guys whose wives have asked for something to slip into at bed-time that will get the passions racing, this looks ideal!

So there we are, nothing much happening of note at present but I hope that you found something of interest this week and thanks for sticking with me again. I have had so much interesting communication this week and thanks for everyone who has kept in touch despite a quite time the reader figures are quite amazing really and your support is as always greatly appreciated. The Diary will be back next week.

Faithfully Yours