The Dentist’s Diary – 608th

Well we’ve done our bit, now it’s down to the Players!!

With well in excess of 7500 Season Tickets sold, we are at least over 200 in front of last Year at this time, when we were selling on the back of a Wembley win!! So, a big well done to the Club, to those who are new to the mad house and particularly to those who have signed up to go around again!

For us lot, that is the big news of the week and Lee Radford said it all on Saturday when he commented, “On behalf of everyone at the club, I would like to say a big thank you to everyone that has signed up. Our loyal fans are the best in Super League. In all sports people’s opinions change from week to week, that’s the nature of what we do, but clearly our members backing hasn’t faltered and their support will be crucial next year”.

Great words from our Coach I thought, but some of you will be saying at this point, ‘Come on Wilf it’s only ticket sales” but on any level that’s a phenomenal effort! It’s great news for us and really does auger well for the coming season, however, further afield it was relatively quiet with the RL who are still no doubt smarting from the leaks about rule changes, new balls and golden points, saying nowt!

Still it’ll soon be January when Christmas is all over. It’s a cold and inhospitable month, but at least we have the pre-season games to look forward to and even attend. It’s just 8 weeks to the start of the season and other teams are still adding to their ranks, whilst we seem to be happy with what we have got!

Furthermore, with the Super League looking so much harder this year any outcomes are even more difficult than usual to predict (unless you’re Garry Schofield). All we can be certain of is that for Hull FC it’s going be tough going from the off, particularly in a competition in which, with the exception of London (who are hard to judge at present), everyone looks stronger.

All the FC fans appear to be desperately looking for something to discuss these days and people stop me all the time and ask if, when looking at the player’s other clubs have signed, I’m concerned by how we will go next year. The media are certainly dubious about our chances as are many of the more outspoken fans and as negativity is something that always spreads faster than good news, it all seems to have prompted everyone to ask me whether I’m ‘worried’ about next season as well?

As I’ve said before, if I’m honest, since that amazing day in 2016, I’m certainly more relaxed and I’m not that ‘worried’ about anything much in life or in rugby. However, I think that it’s fair to say, if I’m truthful, that as far as 2019 goes, I’m a tad apprehensive. The way that most clubs have strengthened their squads with new signings that lift the level of potency and skill in their rosters and (more worryingly) improve immediately their starting 17’s, it sees most are now looking to be an even greater threat than they posed when many of them put us to the sword in that run of 11 defeats last year. Who wouldn’t be a bit hesitant in those circumstances eh?

Of course we have strengthened as well, of a kind, and all those missing players, (with the exception of Green and perhaps Bowden) should be back by February. Several like Minichiello have now got over their operations and are back fresh and ready to go. Only this week Jamie Shaul, who seemed to be struggling with an injury last term, reported that he was fully fit, as did Seke Manu who carried a problem for weeks last year. However, pound for pound the task in hand looks to have got even harder with the other clubs instead of just consolidating and getting their players fit, consciously striving to strengthen their starting line-ups, often with marquee signings.

Most Clubs have in fact reduced the size of their squads going for quality rather than quantity. Hull FC, on the other hand, have a much bigger pool of players this year. However, with us being duped in the Reserves League debacle that unfolded last week, that depth will prove to have little impact on the actual quality of a starting 17 that is, when fit, basically the same as last year! They are good we know that, but I still think that it will be really tough going for us come February.

Many I speak to believe that we have got it wrong this year recruitment wise and my gut feeling is that they maybe have a point and of course as fans that is their right! But hindsight is a wonderful thing and as the reserve team goal posts have been moved we have to back Lee, a Coach who still seems confident with the squad we have got for next season and unlike this fan, scratching around for something to grumble about, he sees them on a daily basis and is quietly confident.

That said, he’s hardly likely to say he lacks confidence in them either is he? However, his job is potentially on the line, so he’s under pressure and we have to hope that he knows what he is doing for both our benefit and ultimately his own as well! One thing that you can’t take away from him is that over these past few seasons he has certainly proved most of us wrong on a number of occasions and so the benefit of the doubt must at present be strongly with him.

Of course it will be great if we can find a new star out of the players we have signed up, with Green as I say, unlikely to start the season, I think that Jordan Thompson will get into the starting 17 from the off, and Joe Westerman is like a new player anyway and he’ll be straight in if he’s fit. Unfortunately, the rest of our new signings are a real unknown quantity. Let’s imagine that for instance Danny Langtree makes it big, it will not just be a fairy-tale for a player who has been a stalwart of the Championship and Division One for the past 8 years, (and who has consistently been over looked by Super League Clubs), but the more experience of us who have been around for decades realise it’ll also be a minor miracle! That sort of transformation just doesn’t happen straight away, if at all, that often does it? But that said, the kid, like the rest of our new signings, is certainly getting his head down and I’m told he is hell bent on ensuring that he gets a chance next season and when he does, he is intent on taking it.

Danny is a really tough uncompromising forward who is working really hard and he’s not on his own with that because the players openly endorse the coach’s comments that all the newcomers are impressing and in fact already pushing our regular first teamers. The thing is of course that, as I said earlier, if we are honest and everyone is fit, our starting line-up picks itself because we haven’t made any additions that are automatic starters for the 17, before our current staff, have we?? Yeh, it’s certainly an issue that concerns me a bit and we just have to trust Adam and Lee, (the guys who let’s face it, brought us two successive Cup Final wins) and hope that they have it right!

So, to answer all those questions, I’m not worried, not worried at all, but I have to admit to being a little apprehensive as well; let’s face it when you step back a bit, who wouldn’t be?

In the light of all that, as I said in starting, the news of season ticket sales so far is pretty amazing really and after what happened last season and with the lack of major signings, I guess for those who do not know the dynamic of being an FC fan, those figures will be hard to believe. With sales in advance of last year the figures are extremely rewarding for both the administration and indeed the players. We, the best fans in the game, still keep the faith when the supporters of other clubs would doubtless be wobbling by now, but let’s be honest, had we sold a couple of thousand less no one would really have been surprised would they? Well after the last campaign I don’t think I would have been short of reasons why we were struggling, would you?

None the less, the feeling of ‘job done in 2016’ that permeates the older members of the supporter base, means that I know several loyal committed and life-long FC fans who have not renewed and I get that completely! They like me have received their reward, but unlike fanatical old me, their whole dynamic has changed. However, how good for James Clark and the Clubs administration that they have been replaced by younger fresh faced fans, with shining ambitions and bright hopes for the future. The survival and flourishing of our club is in their hands and they have thus far ensured that Hull FC is heading in the right direction with those record ticket sales.

To have sold well over 7,500 by this last weekend’s deadline is quite staggering really. Plus, Children’s tickets are still discounted until after Christmas and with a good few usually still sold in that period, we are doing extremely well, under what could have been difficult circumstances. Perhaps the new rules have inspired people, perhaps everyone welcomes a return to sanity with the new structure or perhaps it’s just that we’re all fed up of bad news and Brexit, I don’t know, however I suspect the great sales are down to something else completely. I think that they are just a reflection on the amazing and almost unique loyalty of the FC fans, as they return in their droves and do it despite the Club losing the last 11 games of the previous campaign! How many more sports clubs could boast such a response in such circumstances?

Lee Radford came out on Saturday and lauded those who have signed up saying, “Whilst it seems a small minority of people including some in the media are unable to peddle anything other than negativity, we know with news like this that our most loyal and knowledgeable supporters are right behind us. The boys will feed off that as we head into next year. We have some tough months ahead through pre-season, but I’ve been really impressed with how they’re going so far”. That sort of positivity from our Coach has to take us forward into the New Year with real hope. Aspirations are great, but the reality is often harder to deliver, however Lee thinks we are doing OK and that has to be something we can all take heart from. Let’s face it at present we as fans have little to be negative about at all!

When you add to all that the amazing sales figures for the two new shirts for next season, it should all have really pleased Adam and what’s more that income will have done what it needed to do, in getting us over the financial hump that is always apparent in the hiatus between seasons.

This is traditionally a hard time for clubs who despite no game day income being forthcoming and with the first Sky payment a couple of months off, still have to pay everyone’s wages and the multifarious other costs that include the need to invest in clothing and equipment for the pre-season training period. Well played to everyone who have done their bit towards this great response, although as I say, because of the circumstances, I also understand those who haven’t subscribed again.

However, at least they can join up to FCTV so that they don’t miss a single game next season, because come the first match whatever they say now, I know they’ll all miss it a bit! They’ll have that ache that you get when the FC are playing and you’re not there, but it will no doubt pass in time. So an amazing effort all round, but of course in every bit of good news, in business there is always a need for caution, in not getting too carried away and ahead of yourself.

This year we have all stood firm, despite a disappointing season, some boring games, a disastrous end to that 2017 campaign and our concerns about our recent recruitment. The loyalty of the ever faithful FC fans has indeed made many sit up and take notice, but their devotion and dedication is based on a burning passion that tries to understand and be steadfast through the harder times. That said as a group we won’t be fooled or have the wool pulled over our eyes will we? With years under Lloyd and the rigours of the Hetherington/Rule reign we just like honesty and won’t tolerate anything else, for when it comes to having finely tuned bulls*it detectors there are no better equipped fans than those at Hull FC. At present the reading is very low indeed as honesty prevails and let’s just hope it always stays that way!

The FC fans have proved in the past (and not that long ago) that they won’t be conned or deceived and will vote with their feet and their wallets if they think they are being duped. As a Club we have to give all these faithful fans who have shelled out this year in good faith what they want; an exciting and reasonable successful season that exudes integrity off the field and oozes bags of honest effort on it. That will do, with Cups and medals a bonus, but anything short of that and next year at this time I might well be discussing a very different scenario!

One thing’s for sure as well in that we are always passionately protective of our team too and I noticed this week that Garry Scofield thinks that we’ll finish 9th In Super League, so he knows what he’s talking about then does he?

I have to say that, reading his appraisal of our chances next season, had he been a normal, measured and reliable pundit, then I could have at least tried to see his point of view, but because he’s none of those things and instead a prize D*ck, no one really takes what he says with anything more than a large pinch of salt. If indeed the bother to read it at all. That’s the problem with Prize D*cks who have a platform, when they do say something of merit it is lost in the tripe that has gone before and that will no doubt follow after.

I have told you before in here that I know a very, very good friend of his (yes he has one) who has told me on many occasions that he openly admits that the only way he can make his money is to be controversial and he doesn’t mind who he upsets to do it! He looks around at the most passionate supporter groups across the game and then proceeds to demolish their heroes, expecting to get a reaction which causes controversy which in turn he hopes impresses his editors with the interest he gets. Of course there is no more of a passionate supporter base than that of the FC Army and so we are usually the butt of his vitriol and he regularly vents his spleen at us, knowing that he will get a reaction. Conversely of course everyone in that group of supporters takes what he says, good or bad, as an affront and rubbishes him.

I’m firmly in that camp and to see the response that he got from some on the message boarders, face-bookers etc. must have been egg and milk to him and kept him in work for another few weeks or so until, that is, the season starts and he reverts to taking the opportunity to character assassinate some innocent party like Marc Sneyd again, as he has so often done in the past.

Personally I take no notice of a guy who might need to make a living, but does it at the expense of one day retiring with precious little credibility and few if any friends left. Now for obvious reasons I will say no more to fuel the fires of his own self-gratification and instead move on! I suggest you all do the same and take no notice, rather than giving him the fuel he craves to stoke the fires of his controversial wittering’s.

“The Steeden rugby balls will return to Super League from the 2019 season, Love Rugby League can reveal” read the headline last Wednesday, but of course they couldn’t reveal much to those who had read the Dentists Diary when we exclusively revealed it last week. I told you all about it then, in what was a genuine Dentist Diary exclusive. Of course it’s just another leak from the colander that is Redhall, which stands in a growing queue of them waiting to be announced by the RL.

Last weekend I was in the company (in a pub) with a Super League Coach, (not ours or Rovers) and he was telling me how much he agreed with the new rule changes, but how difficult they were to handle because they didn’t know whether to train to the new rules or not, as nothing has been officially announced and here we are, just two months before the new season starts. He thought the changes were a step forward for the game but he felt reducing the number of interchanges would have been better done with a seasons notice, because his Club had signed a couple of players that would not suit 8 substitutions (rather than the original ten) simple because they were short minute’s impact players and he said that they might have changed their acquisitions had they been given the notice that let them plan for the changes and indeed train for them.

Lee Radford has already commented that he thought that the changes would benefit us and that we had been training for them from the off on 1st November, so he must believe or have been told that they are happening, but it appears, in the coaching fraternity, not everyone was a sure as him. However, I guess nothing is certain, I mean to say, as a club we were told that the reserve league was happening and look what unfolded when we acted on that. We have some good ideas and the game is really trying to make a good fist of turning its image around, but we always seem to dilute the benefits of such initiatives, by making such a mess of the implementation don’t we?

Well the reserves debacle continues and there are several issues that seem to be occupying the minds of the message board intelligencia in what has been a quite old week. Several solutions have been suggested including my favoured option that all Super League Clubs should be made to run a reserves team before they are allowed to sign a Marquee player. Some however would upgrade the current Academy sides to make them more open age and act as a reserves. The problem with that one is that we stupidly “merged” our U19’s and it would therefore be almost impossible for us and the dobbins to use an Academy side as a Reserves side. None of the fans of either team would want that would they? Then there is the problem of Salford who don’t even run an Academy! One things for sure Wakefield and ourselves must feel pretty humiliated by the rest of the Clubs who have without doubt, let us down.

Perhaps they could consider “Caravan Park is Falling Down, falling down, falling down”

I often say in here that we are making steps forward with the game at last, but not much will really change until we get to the time of renegotiating the Broadcasting deal, post 2020. That’s the water shed when we need a good enough product so that there is competition for the rights, but more importantly so that we can dictate our own terms about the final deal we get. At present the absolute monopoly Sky have on League rugby is absurd. That became apparent again this week when the ridiculous deal we have with Sky was highlighted again as we read that the RL have refused Bradford Bulls their request to continue their excellent experiment of streaming all their first team games again next season. The games administration added that it was because the second tier’s broadcast rights are held by Sky Sports.

In conjunction with Proper Sport, the West Yorkshire Club were able to screen the majority of their League One games live over the internet last season, as that division doesn’t have a broadcast deal. The club have stated that they will still be streaming Academy, Scholarship, Reserve and Women’s games but cannot do the same with their first team fixtures. The situation where we have given screening rights for our Championship to a broadcaster who has no intention of covering any games from that division (and yet forbids anyone else screening them even on line), is ludicrous really.

I don’t like the owner of the Bulls, Andrew Charmers much, (but not half as much as Hudge doesn’t) but give him credit too, because the fact that Bradford had up to 80,000 hits on some of their first team streaming’s last year was a massive plus for the game and its current quest to popularise the sport. What’s more it was advantageous to Sky and everyone else who needed more people to watch Rugby League. But, sadly it won’t be happening this year. It’s a real shame and only makes me think that not only do we have to have an improved product on offer, but we also need a better proposal prepared before TV company’s pitch for the next broadcast deal. For the good of the game our current deal is too long, too restrictive and leaning far too much towards Sky.

I was having a chat last Thursday in the Eye Hospital at Hull Royal Infirmary with a fan I hadn’t ‘seen’ for years. He was telling me that he was pleased that the Super League Clubs have had the savvy to change the structure of the games for the loop fixtures and to create a formula for the matches to be played in the Magic Weekend event. Let’s face it we have been in a position for ages where we could easily play Rovers four times a year in the league fixtures the Magic weekend and the final 7 game run in and as he said that was just getting down right boring. In fact, if you drew that team in the cup too, you could meet them five times in 30 odd games and play a pre-season friendly as well.

That was, we both agreed, ridiculous and we both longed for the day when we have 14 teams making up Super League again. However, as this guy pointed out, back in the early 80’s it was different and although there were two cup competitions, the Challenge Cup and the John Player Trophy, you just played clubs twice in the League. Still even that threw up some curved balls fixtures wise, because of those cup competitions, therefore it’s not too difficult to see in the 1982/83 season how we played Bradford 5 times in the regular season! So, this week in the Codgers spot I thought I’d have a look at that season’s games against ‘The Northern’, when we were all fed up of meeting them.

During the late 70’s and early 80’s we seemed destined to come out of the ‘Cup hat’ with Bradford, on a sickeningly regular basis and if it were not them it was often Leeds!! Of course, back then, we played winter rugby and the muddy hole that was Odsal in mid-winter, was never a good place for either fans or players to travel too. It was also the only place where the changing rooms were miles from the pitch, for back then the players got changed at the top of the hill and walked down to the playing area. Both teams had to leave the sheds on top of the hill and march, usually led by the referee, down a massive staircase alongside the stand that used to occupy the now open side of Odsal. This often meant that players and particularly officials had to run the gauntlet of baying fans that lined the steps at both sides, and there also seemed to be one or two old ladies wielding umbrella’s, who were also a hazard to the visiting players, even before they reached the pitch.

It was a busy campaign indeed, and the fact that we went on tour after the season finished and got to both the Cup and Premiership Finals meant we played 53 games in total that season, five of which were as I say against Bradford. First up was the League encounter at Odsal in September. This was the usual dire affair on an already heavy pitch and I watched it from the (now seated) stand on the East side of the bowl. It was 0-0 at half time, and a real slugging match. However just before the hour mark Dave Topliss put in a short lofted kick which the Northern winger David Barrends seemed to have covered. The popular winger somehow managed to mis-judge the bounce right in front of the FC fans (to our great delight) and the dropping ball was grabbed head high by Steve Evans who sped in, to open the scoring, with Lee Crooks tagging on the extra’s.

After that Northern threw everything at us, but resolute defence particularly by Charlie Stone and second rower Paul Rose (who spent the game at prop after Sutton was stretchered off with a rib injury) kept them at bay. Time after time they pressed our line until the dying seconds, when a break down field by Leuluei set up Mick Crane to drop a goal and we travelled back down the M62 with a hard fought and perhaps unlikely 6-0 win.

Two weeks later the teams met again in the Yorkshire Cup final at Headingley in a game that was covered in a recent Diary and which you’ll remember, we won 18-7. For a short time at least the trophy actually joined the Challenge Cup and the John Player Trophy to see all three major honours in the Boulevard cabinet!

Next up was the draw for the John Player Trophy second round and no one was that surprised when we came out of the hat straight after Bradford and we were off to Odsal again! The tournament was always played across Christmas and in the depths of winter and that game was played on 12th December on a mud bath of a pitch almost completely devoid of grass. I seem to remember the water supply to the refreshment kiosks had failed, or frozen up too, and there was no tea or Bovril to be had for the shivering FC fans out on the open escarpments that were Odsal back then.

The game was again a tough one, but despite the conditions within a few minutes of the start, we were treat to one of those classic Topliss ‘run around’ moves straight from a scrum, and we were 5-0 up. I remember it so well that day and soon we were further ahead through Knocker Norton who was held just inches short, before he played the ball to Steve Evans who shot from acting half, grubbered through and, as the ball stuck in the mud, he was able to tumble over on to it in the gloomy corner regions of the in goal area to score.

At 10-0 we looked comfortable and looked to have the game sown up particularly when Crooks crashed through only for Northern’s centre Davis to strip the ball out of his grasp in a three man tackle. The ball went loose, Rose touched down but referee Ronnie Campbell would have none of it, and awarded a knock on against Hull. That was a turning point and Bradford went on to score two converted tries by Whiteman and Jasiewicz for the game to end up as a 12-12 draw.

Three days later on 15th December in the replay we met Bradford again at a packed Boulevard where we again took an early lead. A flowing move from right to left featuring Crooks Norton, Crane, Rose and Kemble saw the full back draw the last defended and send Dane O’Hara in at the corner. The action then saw O’Hara lose his number as it was stripped from his back in the tackle and he played out the rest of the game as ‘anonymous on the wing‘. Next, Knocker slipped the ball out with three men on him and Kemble steamed onto the pass at full pace (as he so often did) to release Topliss to score under the sticks.

We thought that was it, and we were on our way, but then Ronnie Campbell took a hand again. This time Whitman, tackled well short, bumped over the line appearing to everyone except the referee to have made at least a triple movement, but the try stood and a Mumby conversion brought Bradford to within a point at 8-7. Campbell though was not satisfied yet, and when Bradford made a real hash of a play the ball, blatantly knocking on right under our sticks, Tony Dean shot out of square marker to scoop up the loose ball. To everyone’s amazement Campbell gave a penalty to Northern, which they converted and a further Rathbone penalty on time saw us out of the Cup, thanks mainly to the actions of the referee. Campbell had to have a Police escort off the field that day!

The fifth and final encounter saw us play some fantastic rugby to defeat Bradford 31-8 on 30th January in the sand at the Boulevard. We scored seven tries three being touched down by James Leuluai who was returning from 11 weeks out injured and who was playing out of position at 6. He might have been on form but he needed to get some more boots as that day he lost a boot no fewer than 5 times during the game. The other tries were scored by Prendeville, Kemble, Crooks and Barry Banks (the Sidewinder as he was known as he consistently ran across instead of down the field) and we sent the Northern fans home with the biggest defeat they had seen since April 1979. We invaded the pitch at the end and carried Leuluai off shoulder high, as we celebrated with both excitement and relief! As you can imagine, and as any-one reading this who was around then will remember, we were pretty fed up with the sight of Bradford Northern……and Ronnie Campbell by then!! Great memories eh?

It’s been strange for me this year with no book on sale because at this time of year I’m usually running around between the printers and the shops and to people’s houses delivering copies for Christmas presents for the regions least discerning readers, but then again little I saw last year inspired me much to put pen to paper again. That said, I guess come say 2020 then I might, if I’m spared, consider producing the third and last part of the Roamin’ the Range Saga (2005- 2020). Which will round off 70 years of one supporter’s life; We’ll see!

It’s been great to hear from so many readers this week including my mate Tommy Ball in Florida, Alan the Shadows fan, Barry, Steve, Harry P., Jeff Smith, Kevin Horsley, Phil (I hope the eyes improving) and everyone else who I have spoken to. Thanks for your support I try to find things of interest and to reflect what I’m feeling, as we move towards the new season. Let’s see what this week brings!

And in the words of the old Chinese proverb……

Keep Believing, Keep the Faith and may your floodlights never blow down!

Faithfully Yours