The Dentist’s Diary – 617th

As we pass the 16th Anniversary of our first game at the KCom, it’s almost been nice to have had a week off playing hasn’t it?

In that passage of time so much has changed and yet so much has stayed the same in the tumble drier that is being an FC fan and so the drama continues, as does the unexpected and as ever, it’s not always good either is it?

Already this season loads of stuff has gone on and been crammed in around those two defeats and all in the first fortnight of the FC 2019 campaign. Sadly, any dreams of a good start are in tatters and so this week its almost been a relief to catch our breath a bit and regroup our thoughts before we hit the road to Wigan next Sunday.   

It’s been one of those weeks that offers a time for reflection and looking forward and indeed for ensuring that as a club we do everything we can to avoid the escalating misfortune of another defeat this weekend. That would be an all-time record breaker, but we won’t dwell on that as with recovering players, a major suspension and our first Reserve game it’s been an interesting week off for us lot, as it has been for Scott Taylor who has another three off and poor old Matty Dawson-Jones who is done for the year!!! It’s therefore I feel, been one of the most incident packed and toughest starts to a season I can ever remember!

Of course it’s still very early days and there is a lot of water to go under the bridge before we have a real idea as to how it will all pan out; none the less looking at what has come to pass so far, it’s not been that good has it?

We started the season with the hangover of an unprecedented losing streak of 11 games weighing heavy on our shoulders and despite a massive effort to put it behind us and get everyone fit for the ‘get go’, 7 players were out injured, plus our best player was banned for the first match and all that before a ball had been kicked. We’ve now gone on to lose our first two games, including a heart-breaking defeat at Caravan Park in that opener. Then, we’re on the verge of a Club record number of defeats next week if we lose at Wigan, our best forward by a country mile has been banned for three games, we have lost our new wing hope for a whole season with a ACL injury that he got in training and what’s more, we can’t de-register him or get an exemption in the salary cap, because he has played a game.

Plus, finally, for now, Bowden and Green won’t be near fitness until at least the end of March!!!  For thing’s to be much worse, after just two matches, is hard to imagine, isn’t it?

It’s been Lee’s worst start as our Coach and although we may feel that some of it could in hindsight have been avoided, Radders must think that he’s run over a whole herd of black cats!!

But however you look at it when you stack them all up, that’s some role of disasters after just two weeks of the new season, isn’t it?

However, it’s so early in the campaign and we just have as fans to try to look for positives if we can, for we are all loyal supporters and thus for our own wellbeing, we can’t afford to dwell on such disasters after just two matches!!! There’s certainly some mitigating circumstance, there always is if you look hard enough.

For starters those defeats have both been close ones, our attack has looked handy and we now face a Wigan team coming off the back of the World Club Challenge game. Danny Houghton is already the games top tackler with 110 in two matches and last week he was the only player to execute over 50 tackles in the second round of the British competition.

Another plus is the fact that Joe Westerman returned against Castleford with some aplomb and for a bloke who has been injured for so long, he looked to be a real plus. He says he’s feeling really good whilst Kelly is almost fit and aiming for the Wigan game, as is Hadley and how good is it after all his woes to see Fetuli Talanoa likely to be back for the Huddersfield match.

Then there’s Connor returning, playing in imperious form and managing to keep his mouth shut and Jamie Shaul whose flying like the old days as well. After that I’m struggling, except for the fact that after two rounds there were still 4 other teams keeping us company at the bottom on no points. That won’t last forever though will it? For they are the next 4 teams that we have to play, so getting our first win and some points on the board against them is an imperative. That said of course without Taylor, then those next three matches at least, are looking a tough old proposition indeed.    

 We never really know what is going on behind closed doors down at County Road, (even when they are preparing Gareth Ellis for a return) but there is little doubt that when it comes to the fans concern’s, then its up front in the pack where we feel we have the problems. I was thinking last Sunday about our current pack and musing on the fact that perhaps this week, with no game, was a chance to consider our engine room a bit and see what conclusions I could make about strengths, weaknesses and possible recruitment! Then as if by magic the news about Scott Taylor came crashing down on a club that was already on the back foot and struggling to avoid any more knocks to their confidence.

To say that Scott had carried our pack thus far this season is perhaps a bit over the top, but none the less he has been our best forward by a mile. Since he arrived around him things have changed a lot, as players have left, retired, lost their form and become injured for long periods of time, but Scott is still there battling on and a top forward who is now vice-captain and still in love with his boy-hood club. How have things changed? Well I know you can’t live in the past (although I quite enjoy it at times) but three years ago if he had been banned, Watts would have started up front with Bowden, Frank the Tank and Ellis would have come off the bench and if we were stuck Feke would come in and put in a big stint as well, whilst of course Mini and Manu would have muscled up to fill the void from the back row. Now? Well even if you’re the most optimistic of blue sky supporters, you have to admit that it ain’t like that anymore is it?

On the Taylor incident well, I watched it several times and couldn’t really see why anything more than a slapped wrist was a reasonable outcome. Of the main, two match ban, even McShane commented after the game that he thought it had been just an accident. But, then again, perhaps I’m biased, but I won’t be using this specific case to argue that he shouldn’t have been banned, because we have to trust the Disciplinary panel to get it right, that said though the bigger picture is, as Scott takes his medicine, does anyone really trust them at all???

As far as their integrity is concerned then sadly, looking around, it’s all gone too far and now, following years of dodgy decisions, head scratching and downright bad calls I’m afraid, whatever happens, the current system has no credibility with the supporters at all. That means that, as I have said in here before, nowadays even the decisions that are right are usually questioned and disbelieved. But, after a night against Cas. when we lost and had to endure an appalling refereeing performance to boot, we then were, last Monday, presented with this Taylor decision and to pretty universal indignation, folks were typically aggrieved!

The trouble is, whenever a player from any club is cited, all that team’s supporters are dubious about its validity from the off, because there is now just too much ‘history’ and suspicion and not enough transparency in the system. 

I know that if we dig around we can find out who these people on the panel are, but do they have any refereeing qualifications past or present, how were they chosen, is any thought given to which clubs they represent and the clubs they are ruling on?  Let’s face it, we have had in the past an ex Rovers Chairman ruling on an appeal and upholding a suspending for an FC player!!!! I’m sure he was fair, (well I think he was), but the vagaries of the system deemed that not many thought he would be at the time!!

I raised some of my concerns on RL Fans and was indebted and grateful to ‘Clearwing’ on there for posting this link which does I feel explain some of it;

That’s good and thanks for it, but who honestly knew where that was? The thing is I guess, that the whole process of the referee’s and the judiciary is all so, “behind closed doors”.

Some fans have just given up altogether so that when one of their own is cited, they immediately say, ‘Well, that’s just typical of the RFL’ and just suck it up without further comment, whilst other rant on about it, but whichever angle they come from, few seem to have any sort of faith in the process. I know that I don’t! It appears, in fact, when you delve into it a bit, that most citing’s don’t stem from referee feedback at all but actually come through complaints from the opposing team or from detailed and long winded scrutiny from the review panel.

‘On report’ is of course different, because that’s when the referee is in doubt and wants further scrutiny of an incident and by all means that has to be looked at. But, these days, we have had loads of instances when players have been hauled in without the incident being put on report or the on field official penalising it, which also mystifies fans a bit as well.

So how can things be rectified and this broken trust repaired? Well perhaps it’s a case of the sooner we take the responsibility away from the creaking and dysfunctional RFL (who, as an organisation even when they do something right, have now no credibility left with the fans) the better. Perhaps then, they should move it to the new Super League set up to give it a fresh start that we can all buy into? The indignation and disbelief amongst the FC fans last week certainly made me think, as did the Club deciding that there was no point in appealing and there is little doubt that we need to sweep that legacy of mistrust and the cloak of mysticism away and start all over again from scratch.

As far as that disciplinary panel is concerned well, for me it should be made up of people who are ex or retired referee’s or at least who have held a refereeing qualification. There should also be some simple bench marks set down on which their decisions are based and these should be laid out in public for everyone to see and we also need a published system of how panel members are selected and on what basis that is done.

Then when decisions are announced they should be accompanied by a layman’s explanation as to why they have been made, in association with the video the panel watched to make that decision. In fact, when suspensions are dished out, I would go as far as to say that the chairman of the panel should go on-line to describe the deliberations that took place, the decisions that were made and the conclusions they had drawn, but I guess that’s just asking too much. However, although they might say some of these questions are addressed in that link I have enclosed, they certainly make little effort to demystify things for the average fan, who just wants a simple answer.  

If all this was done and made clear then even though we might not agree with what they have decided, (because as fans our biased nature will always see us disagree) at least justice would be seen to be done. One things for sure the paying customer has to have some means of feeling some redress of his complaints. Even the Broadcasters have to put a referee on their match day panel to explain what is happening, because no one afterwards will do that!!

I guess what I am saying is that after the panel decision we have to put the whole thing to bed quickly and move on, not having mistrusting and poorly informed supporters aggrieved by it for days! However, as long as the smoke and mirrors continues behind closed doors, the fans, starved of the facts, will continue to believe that some clubs are treat better than others, that as many have said this week some officials are ‘bent’ and most will continue to have absolutely no trust in the system at all I’m certainly not saying that anyone is not doing what they think is right, but none the less transparency in such things is absolutely paramount if the game is to have any sort of credibility at all with its customers! We need most of all a completely fresh start and a system that we can all buy into and support!     

Well, back to the FC and it was interesting to hear that, as he approaches full fitness, Louis Bienek is going out on loan to Batley. However, with the strength in depth we have this year, it seems pretty sensible that we should put him out on loan. Batley is a good set up to be involved with and it appears that any deal will be a time limited one. That’s wise, I think, particularly when you consider our current injury issues in the front row.

The thing is with Lewis is that a period playing week in week out in the Championship will certainly do him good, although it won’t be happening straight away as he is still recovering from that serious injury he received on international duty last autumn. I have a belief myself that he will make a great forward. He has all the attributes of size, impact and speed, he was rushed last year because we were in dire straits and I’m sure that a period playing regularly in West Yorkshire will suit him.

The Club were always going to loan players out in any case because with the size of squad we have, we must be near the line or indeed well over it, as far as the cap is concerned. I just hope he gets properly fit first and I also wish him good luck at Batley, once he gets there. In fact, I hope he progresses well because as I say, he is a player that has a big future with us and this loan will suit him and the Club and hopefully speed up his transition to being in line for a regular first team call up.

So Gareth Ellis returns eh? His inclusion and starting in the reserves match at Bishop Burton on Saturday was a turn up and no mistake. Mind you if ever there was a case for bringing back the reserves, this was it, because what a good hit up it was for them all. As long as teams can raise a second string and we can stick to the fixtures, without having them shifted and cancelled, it will I’m sure do us good. However, I didn’t see Ellis’s return coming and I don’t know anyone who did. I knew he had been through the pre-season stuff, but I just thought he was doing it to set an example. However, to see him turn-out because we were short-handed, through a couple of injuries sustained last week in training, was a big surprise and what’s more he immediately looked the part!! I’m told however that we should ‘forget about’ a first team recall.

Back in harness!

Now, this week’s fixture at Wigan is a tough one, some would say as tough as they get, but at least we aren’t playing at the cauldron that was Central Park; a place that anyone who went there will never forget! When we’re off there to play I always think of those great days and particularly nights in the confines of what was that aging and history steeped Stadium in the middle of Wigan. Of all the grounds that have closed and been vacated across the RL in recent years, perhaps for me personally, after the Boulevard, the demise of Central Park Wigan was the most poignant. Many old time Wigan fans that you speak to, still find it hard to go to the JJB or the DW Stadium as it is now known, and one or two have never set foot in the place at all.

When the move was muted there was uproar in the town because their old ground was held in such high regard and was as well known in the game and across the World, as was the Boulevard. In fact, all in all, it was just too hard for some to take! I have some great memories from Central Park myself, because although we got some big ‘Stuffing’s’ over there we still saw some really great games, none more so than the victory we gained in the first season that Brian Smith was in charge, Garry Pearce was just amazing that day, but more of that one later.

I remember that the Cherry and Whites always used to run out of the tunnel to the sound of a scratchy old version of “Entry of the Gladiators” which sounded like it was played on an old 78 record player, but the old circus favorite, booming out of the old horn speakers, was all part and parcel of visiting that stadium! The ground was pulled down after a tearful goodbye when 18,179 fans saw Wigan defeat Saints 28-20 on a sunny Sunday afternoon, on 5th September 1999. What better finale for the old place was there than that eh?

The end had to come with match day parking becoming more and more restricted and any sort of expansion and modification  of the ageing cramped stadium severely hampered by the proximity of the River Douglas. Wigan had always resisted a ground share with their footballing rivals the ‘Latics’, but falling gates, crumbling terraces and the condition of the fabric of the stands etc. (and a nice offer from a Super Market Chain for the central park site), made the move into a new shared stadium inevitable.

At the nearby St Mary’s Church, a memorial garden was established which offers a focus of respect for the thousands of former supporters and players that graced the Stadium and particularly in memory of the hundreds who over the years, had their ashes scattered on the famous pitch. With undue haste the ground was demolished and two weeks after that last game Wigan played Castleford in their new home, in a Super League play-off match. Cas. unfortunately spoiled that party and beat the Pies 14-10.

Built by McAlpine the 25,004 DW Stadium was officially opened on 4th August 1999 when Wigan football club played Man. United in a packed stadium for a friendly game. However, it took a while for the Rugby team to fill the place, reaching the capacity eventually on 25th March 2005 when Saints were again the visitors. Many die-hard fans believe that the developers made a big mistake in not covering the corners of the ground, and, with these open, they blamed that for the Stadium not having the atmosphere of the old Central Park (which strangely had open corners too although the terracing did go just about right around the ground).

Rugby Union was also once played at the new stadium as Orrell RUFC used it for a couple of seasons, but they never got the gates to justify their presence there, and as a result they stopped using it (and probably saved the pitch) in 2003. Disputes have never been far away from the place though and the first occurred when it was revealed Dave Whelan the owner had not paid Great Manchester Police their costs for policing football matches. The dispute was settled when the Wigan Athletic club agreed to pay the £300,000 owed, although the club later won back damages from the police, on appeal.

 Another confrontation occured when Wigan Warriors had to move their home Super League play-off match against Bradford Bulls to Widnes, after Whelan refused to allow the match to be played due to a scheduled football game that involved his beloved Wigan Athletic, the following day. So it’s been an interesting if short history for the Pies at their new home, and it is to there that we travel at the weekend and do it I think, more in hope than expectation for this fan at least.

So let’s go back to that game in 1989 and revisit again a wonderful trip to central Lancashire that anyone who was there will never forget. It was Wednesday 12th January in a winter that had seen a considerable amount of snow and many games postponed. Central Park was a grand sight back in those days, and doing ‘what it said on the tin’, was smack in the centre of Wigan. It had massive terracing on three sides and a lower seated stand that had a roof painted in red and white stripes, down the other. If a great sight during the day, under floodlights it was nothing short of magnificent and a great example of a traditional Rugby League stadium. As we stood on the ‘Spion Kop’ that night a misty sheen hung over the pitch, whilst there were around 12,000 braving the elements that night to engender what was a great atmosphere.

In fact, the roar that greeted the Wigan team as they ran out, led by Andy Gregory, to that famous circus anthem, struck fear into the hearts of the 500 or so Hull fans, that had made the long trip over the Pennines. We had every right to be fearful too because Wigan were on a run of six straight wins, the last of which had been a victory the previous week in the John Player Trophy Final and the team that ran on to parade the Cup before the game read like a ‘who’s who’ of Rugby League. Although, in fairness we had actually won our last five games, but even under Brian Smith it seemed like we faced an almost impossible task as (Popeyesquely) Andy Gregory rolled his sleeves up to his shoulders, took a divot out with his heal, and placed the ball on the centre spot to kick off.

The first half turned out to be a tight affair with both sides defending well. Wigan looked the stronger, so it was quite ironic that it was Hull that took the lead with Garry Pearce landing a great penalty goal after Iro had upended Moon 30 yards from the line. To return the compliment, Wilby then tripped Bell as he ran past him and a Gregory penalty tied the scores. A sweeping move down the left hand side saw Ellery Hanley dance between Price and O’Hara to set Wigan’s winger Preston flying down the touchline. When Hanley broke through like that he was a wonderful sight to see, providing you weren’t playing against him of course! Preston then passed back inside and there was Bell to scoop up the ball and fly in 10 yards from the corner flag. Gregory missed the goal but at 6-2, things already looked to be turning against us.

Straight from the restart, as a thin rain came down, Moon broke away down the centre channel, outstripped the defence and touched down near the corner flag, but it was too wide out for Pearce to convert. However, back came Wigan through a Preston try two minutes later, when he seemed to juggle with the ball for ages before touching down, and with a Pearce penalty for a trip by Betts on Wilby, just before half time, we went in only two points down, which was seen as a ‘moral victory’ as far us as travelling fans were concerned!

Having forgone any half time nosh following us stopping for one of Poole’s Pies on the way into Wigan, we were ready for the start again and if the first half had been tense and nervy, then the second was a revelation and will be remembered forever by anyone who made the trip that night. Craig Colman, (a masterstroke of a signing by ‘Smithy’) started the second period in fine style as he proceeded to give Great Britain number 7, Andy Gregory, the run around. The game however took a truly dramatic turn after Pearce had kicked a superbly angled penalty from the 40-yard line to level the scores.

’Porky’ then took the ball on the third tackle and without a player near him, struck a massive angled drop goal from 38 yards out, to edge us ahead. What followed however can, only in truth be described as 20 minutes of some of the most remarkable Rugby League I had ever seen.

On 53 minutes Wigan’s Shelford knocked on and from the ensuing scrum Pearce broke magnificently, stepping first to the right then to the left, leaving Hanley and Edwards ‘for dead’. Colman shot through behind him, took his inside pass and floated a fantastic looping ball to Divorty out on the right. As the defence ‘funneled’ back and caught him, Gary stood in the tackle and popped a pass out to Colman who ran a great angle back inside to score under the posts. Pearce converted and it was 10-17.

The home side were visibly shaken as they dropped the ball again almost straight after the kick off. Pearce shot through the line and this time using a fantastic dummy which left the cover grabbing at thin air, he passed onto Colman again. Craig handed on to Price who went in untouched to score. A further conversion saw us 23-10 in front and while a hush spread through the ranks of the ‘Cherry and White’ supporters, we were dancing on the terraces to the chants of ‘Brian Smith’s Black and White Army’.

Next it was Colman again, this time drawing Byrne and Shelford before, to a great “Ooooh” from the crowd he slipped out a wonderful pass behind his back to Divorty, who passed it on and hung the ball in the air long enough for Paul Fletcher to grab it one handed in full flight and romp over to the right of the posts for his first try of the season. It was champagne stuff. A Pearce conversion meant that with 19 minutes to go we were 10-29 up and scoring at a point a minute.

We were coasting, but coasting for Hull FC has always been a problem! We missed several tackles and Hanley, who was always a danger, strode in to restore some of the home sides pride as the locals sensed a possible comeback.

However, any hope they had was short lived because nine minutes later it was Craig Colman who again roared away from their grasping defence. This time he fed Tim Wilby who timed his run perfectly and careered down the field. As the defence scrambled back he flicked the ball out of Gildard’s tackle and as it went to ground, Pearce ‘fly hacked’ it forward and Jon Sharp touched down to end the rout. We all tumbled down the terracing in delight before a late Bett’s try and Gregory goal added some respectability to the score line. Wigan were well beaten and we witnessed an early example of the ’Wigan Walk’. The sleet came down and well before the end the home fans headed for the exits, as the terraces emptied like a draining bath.

However, on the hooter, as a couple of hundred Hull fans danced a conga on those same terraces, the aging corrugated iron roof over the ‘Kop’ echoed to the strains of ‘Old Faithful’, while Brian Smith, as usual, came out onto the pitch after the game to applaud the crowd and we all sang and danced until the stewards moved us on towards the exits.

The wizardry of Coleman and Pearce swept us into 4th place that cold night at Central Park, and after two years in the doldrums under Len Casey, Brian Smith and the Hull lads had posted the ‘FC are Back’ signs across the Rugby League world. What a night, what a performance and what a memory. Wigan ‘Star’ Shaun Edwards was interviewed afterwards and came up with the classic quote about our half back combination of Pearce and Colman, “I knew they were good, but I didn’t know they were that good”. That night the depression that had descended on my life since the demise of Arthur Bunting packed its bags and moved out and it is without doubt a moment in time that I will cherish forever.

Noe, back to the present and I was talking to a Rovers fan the other day who hunted me out to have a gloat. I at least took the time to point out to him that we had three of our first four games away from home, whilst they had three of their first four at home, so let’s wait a bit a see how things pan out by Easter! However, that losing record is getting a bit hard to defend really. Several folks on social media bang on about forgetting it, because we are really only on two defeats because, they say, this is a new season, but the record of course shows that in reality that isn’t the case.

I’m sure Lee has thought about it too because who would want the mixed blessing of being remembered as the man who took Hull FC to their first Wembley win, who repeated the victory the following season and then took us on the clubs longest losing run in its history. There is therefore little doubt that for us lot, the owner, the players and indeed Lee himself this coming match at Wigan is a monumental one for our season and I guess our credibility.

We have to go there and play with the passion and wanting we have shown so far, but relax a bit and try and play some rugby at the end of our sets. We have to finish off some good positions with tries. Whatever they say and however they prepare in the coming week, Wigan will think that our record deems us ‘easy beats’ so after the rigours of the World Club challenge we might just catch them a bit off their guard.

Next Sunday will be hard, of course it will, but we have got to be more clinical and stop blowing our chances. This team will make those try scoring chances, that’s a fact, but we have to convert them and if we do, then I think that we have a chance. I detect an opportunity here, let’s hope that we can take it! It’s easy to support your club when things are going well, but at times like this its tough and for our part, we just have to get behind the lads from the terraces.

So, there we are not too much news this week but at least we have at last got a structured and laid out schedule of Reserve games for the rest of the year under way; in a competition that started this weekend at Bishop Burton. That’s so important to us with our big squad and its certainly good that it is up and running. Thanks so much for sticking with a Diary that reflects a week of little good news for Hull FC fans, but at least we have a game next weekend to look forward to. It’s been great to hear from so many readers and particularly those of you who commented on my appraisal last week of our performance against Castleford. It’s hard at present isn’t it?

Thanks as always for all your support

Faithfully Yours