The Dentist’s Diary – 443rd

The Challenge Cup Final; the Biggest game in British Rugby League? Well it always used to be!

In ‘Wembley week’ it makes you realise, I think, just how things have changed in our sport. I watched the match on TV, but back in the 70’s and 80’s no doubt I’d have been sat in one of that plethora of empty seats, whoever was playing.

I guess some of you were in attendance, but gone are the days when every pub had a trip down to the final with hundreds having saved up every week in their locals, to finance their annual sojourn to the capital. Two or three special trains left Paragon Station on Thursday and Friday even if a Hull team wasn’t involved and East Yorkshire always ran coach trips on the day. All that because supporters of all persuasions wanted to be there at the greatest event in their sporting year. However, changing trends, other leisure pursuits and Sky TV and the Super League has buggered all that up.

But, it’s nice to watch the teams walk out and remember some great times (although I doubt I could drink that much anymore!!) However, I use this analogy because it does make you think how the Final and our sport have been devalued and whether it will ever get that kudos back. As we all know, people around the world, sometimes in the middle of the night, tune in to watch it as a great sporting occasion. It has always been the shop window of our great game and let’s hope a change of date next year can make it so again. It’s still brilliant if your teams playing in it and glorious if you win, but if you aren’t involved, these days it is for many now, just of passing interest!! And that’s really sad!   

For me it’s been a week off and time to reflect a bit? I’m quite relieved to be honest, because I don’t think I could face another showing like the Salford game just yet!!!!

Because of that this week’s Diary is pretty random (in fact even more random than usual) I’m still stinging a bit from that last home game, so its tainted somewhat, but with a week off this journal is just a collection of my thoughts about our Club and where we are at present. It uses stats, records and the views of the readers out there who have contacted me and it’s about what we hear and what I think is happening at present. By the end you’ll probably be saying thank goodness there’s a game next week, but here goes ….  

You know, someone a whole lot more inspired than I will ever be once said of sport, that teams should, “Play with the enthusiasm of underdogs and the belief of Champions!” and what great advice that is for any club in any sport! What’s more after last weekend’s showing, it is something that should perhaps be plaster over the dressing room door before the players emerge. It’s certainly a sentiment that I wish could be applied on a consistent basis to our great team, because in the end, it’s all that most fans wish for!!

Firstly, let me say I want to be up-beat and I want to be positive, I love my club and always will and every week I’ll support everyone who pulls that famous shirt on for me. I’ll always go to the next game with optimism and hope, but man, some of our defeats this year, the massive swings in form and particularly our last two performances have even dented my belief a bit. I’m disheartened and listening to readers, fans in the street and my pals in the pub, I’m not on my own there either. The Salford game was a real let down and tremendously disappointing, but at least on the stats front it did see Hull score their 100th SL Try of the season (now 102), although even that says so much about our campaign, because as we reached that milestone we’d already conceded 119 at the other end. In fact, we have leaked points all year and last week when we were still third we were there with probably the biggest points deficit (against) that any team has had in that position at this time of the season. That, I know, probably reflects not just on us as a club, but on the poor quality of Super League this year as well.

But, without a weekend game to fret about, I was thinking this week just what a poor season, particularly at the KCom, we have experienced in 2019. Last year’s terrible run of defeats was bad enough, but we hardly built a team to change things in the closed season and this year has been pretty ropey at times as well. We just can’t win at home and that’s worrying as a lot of our season ticket holders subscribe because they can only afford to attend home games and so, having invested in the club, they have a right to demand the best.

You have to feel a bit sorry for James Clark and our commercial boys because although we have signed some massive prospects for next season, in the end selling season tickets to such folks, the bedrock of our club, might still be a tough task, unless we can send them into the closed season with smiles on their faces.  

Why, well in the end what do we all buy season tickets for? I expect for some it will be watching their heroes win most of their home games at the KCom, whilst, the majority just want to see a passion, wanting and desire to succeed on the field which mirrors that of all us lot, who have invested in the Club and are watching from the terraces. The problem is, Hull FC haven’t shown that too often this year, we have lost seven out of twelve games at home and that is just not cutting the mustard with many of those loyal home fans. It’s even become a bit frustrating for us ‘In Any Kinda Weather’ guys. 

Now you can just about get by with a record so poor if you are suffering under adversity like Salford, or just up from the Championship like London, or even perennial under achievers like Rovers, in fact perhaps it’s not all about winning anyway. Perhaps instead all it takes for their home fans to stay loyal is to see 100% effort and total commitment every week. In such circumstances some close defeats are acceptable. However, at best our lot have given the impression they are picking their matches and at worst it looks like sometimes they just can’t be arsed! Worst still is the margin of some of those 7 defeats. A few in fact have been pretty disastrous, by 20, 51, 31, 28 and now 22 points and that’s at home!!! That’s the second worst home form in Super League, bettered only by London!!

So, the only reason we ain’t right down there with London and the hapless Dobbins is our away form. On that front thankfully we have managed to win 10 out of our 13 games in 2019. In fact, when you travel regularly and compare performances, you realise that the team play so much better and with much more freedom away from home. Most of the best clubs make their own ground a fortress, where visitors fear playing, but the KCom has rarely ever been anything like that and now, this year, we are fast becoming looked on by our rivals, as a soft touch at home.

The thing is it cost some families a lot of hard earned dosh to attend home games. They also buy shirts, scarves and hot dogs all of which puts a real drain on their limited resources, but they are loyal supporters and make sacrifices to watch their heroes. However, if some of the time our players look disinterested and that leads to us winning only one in three of  our home games, then soon many fans will just become disenchanted and economic pressures will eventually see them using what disposable income they have on other more rewarding leisure pursuits elsewhere. 

In economic terms, being good away and poor at home is a bit like having a cinema around the corner that only shows arthouse films. You’ll give it a go for so long, because it’s your local picture house, but eventually you get fed up of what is being shown and stop going. What’s more you can’t be arsed to spend your hard earned travelling all the way into town every time you want to see some real blockbuster movies. In the end you finish up not going to the cinema (or to home or away games) at all. So, its time that as a team we start serving up some commitment and dare I say exciting stuff to watch, at home!

Of course the players have their own explanation of why our home form is so up and down! They maintain that it is because we as fans get on their backs too much and moan and grumble from our seats, within their earshot, instead of blindly supporting the team whatever they serve up!! Surely that’s immaterial and they must put their own self-esteem and pride for the shirt first? Anyway it’s a chicken and egg situation really, because if they show passion and heart then we will be right behind them. However far adrift we are in a game, you only have to hear the crowds respond when we do show some hunger and desire, to know that and we have certainly had the place rocking at times over the years. But, weeks of flat performances, a lack of enterprise and an apparent disinterest at times does, on the terraces, tend to temper the enthusiasm somewhat. It also makes people look closely at what they are spending their money on as well.

That’s just what pensioner Harry Faulkner was doing when we met in Beverley the other day. Harry, (I know won’t mind me saying), is hardly flush and said to me after our latest debacle last weekend that he was pretty exasperated by it all. He in fact wondered how teams with less money, (often under severe duress and external pressure), with poorer players and who are typically smaller club, like say Salford and London, can still show more spirit and play more exciting rugby than we can. He realised, like we all do, that as a team we have the resources, training facilities, a proven coach, some real quality players and of course a massive fan base and all that is of a better quality than some teams have.

I said to him, that after years of head scratching I had concluded of late that seeing that sort of passion in adversity was all down to some players at some clubs being more secure and more comfortable than those at others.

At the clubs that are struggling, players are often under short term contracts and the fear of relegation can make for personal disaster which, I think, make them desperate and hungry as they fear for their futures. Their supporter base is small, their facilities are limited and the player’s prospects as individuals are threatened on a regular basis. That desperation does make them more focussed and more determined to get wins and secure their own and their teams futures.

They also realise their responsibility for keeping the customers satisfied as well. I just think our lot have it too comfortable at times and that a few weeks at that sort of coal face, would not go amiss for some. We are just not desperate or on the edge enough these days. At some Clubs, play badly and you are in danger of there not being a next week, but with us there is always next week, always a chance to make amends and that I feel breeds complacency.

I’ll be criticised for my thoughts this week I know I will, but if I am I’ll just ask one question. In the semi-final we lost, but everyone on and off the field wanted it so badly, so much so that you could taste that almost corporate desire, yet in a game a couple of weeks later against Salford, that for our league season was equally as important, we were totally off focus and visibly disinterested.

The players are without doubt spoilt rotten by Adam and he certainly makes sure they get everything they need in an advanced training environment. As regular Reader Chris said to me this week, “Maybe they need a wake-up call and to realise how lucky they are to be at a club like Hull FC and not at a club like Wakey or Salford that struggle to compete financially, yet who scrap and give their all for the cause”.

The fans do their bit and still pitch up with over 10,000 regularly attending and we still consistently put our ground sharing footballing neighbours to shame, (last week it was reported that ‘the Fire Chiefs figures showed’ the actual home gate for them against Blackburn was just 7,644!!). But, for Chris, Billy Wilder, Kevin Horsley, Sammy C, Jem Bennison, Kev H, Brian Chapman Kathy Kirk (all of who contacted me this week with their own theories about where we are going wrong) me and no doubt hundreds of you lot, last Saturday was probably one of the worst displays we have seen in a long time of watching the FC. That when it should have been one of the best showings of the season.

Time tends to dilute the really bad times, so is that comment over the top a bit? Well not when you take into account how important the game was, who we were playing, what was at stake and our position in the league. This wasn’t an isolated game in a long run of defeats brought on by an injury crisis as in 2018, this was without doubt the means to an end that the whole season had been leading up to. With all that at stake it was just an unfathomable performance and smacked of a lot of players just not caring as much as we all do on the terraces.

Those players who read this certainly won’t agree with me but that’s a bit how it looked to many who have been in touch since, for we just look too comfortable with it all. As a fan you might not agree with me and its only my theory and just for what it’s worth my musings on our present state, in what has been a dead week for rugby for all of us. However, I’ve looked at this for a long time now and unlike say 2016 and 2017 when it was apparent that most of our players were absolutely desperate to succeed, at present, although a few have the same sentiments, at times some of our lot don’t seem that fussed at all.

Not all of them are included in that assumption though and that’s the difference between Scott Taylor, Danny Houghton and in fairness several of the others. Look at Mickey Paea for example, a bloke who told me some 8 weeks ago that the club had told him he wouldn’t be needed in 2020, but he’s is still slogging his guts out every week for the cause. Again the same goes for Mini and Manu, they might be aging a bit and lose the odd ball in the tackle, but when did you ever leave a game and say they couldn’t be arsed, even as they approach the end of their last season? Those three show a great attitude and still get it completely, at a time when they could in fact be excused for easing off, perhaps a few others should follow their example? 

I’d love to think that we will be there at the Grand Final and of course we could be, but I know in our heart of hearts that most of us think our season is much more likely to just fizzle out in a wave of injuries and excuses, quickly followed by promises of jam tomorrow. Why? Well if were honest that’s just how the majority of expect it to unfold these days. I just hope that we are all wrong  …so COME ON HULL FC, PROVE US WRONG!!!!

Now, after all that shroud waiving I want to reply to Harry Addy, who wrote a few weeks back about how we had done over all as a Club since we entered Super League. In a flat old week, I heard from Bill Dalton about our overall record since 1998 and I found out that as for tries for and against, since we entered Super League in 1998 we are now in deficit on tries by 2498 to 2500. So we’ve just about evened up on touch downs for and against, whilst clubs like Castleford, Wigan and Saints are way up in their try’s for column. Our points scored total since 1998 is in credit, but by only 54, with 14,554 for and 14,500 against. But, I guess that is mostly down to two players, Danny Tickle and Marc Sneyd and their imperious goal kicking records.

All in all, we could summarise our tenure of Super League as ‘bumpy’ when one would have hoped, if we really are a big club, to see our points and tries for, far exceeding those against. It all points to two decades when as a club we have had spikes of success but in general have never ever really risen above also rans. We have had good teams and some great players but despite winning three Challenge cup finals and getting to one Grand Final, in the end when averaged out we have in effect bumped along throughout. We have been better at home than away for most of those seasons, but over the last few years that record has slowly been reversed as well and as I said earlier, this season it is completely tilted towards away wins.  

Now let’s talk Marc Sneyd, the player who has kicked a lot of those goals but who has been given a bit of stick in some quarters of late. Let’s not pretend the bloke has been playing behind a dominant pack because he hasn’t, nor should we forget as well that he is currently in line for breaking every goal kicking record we have at the club. He has his critics as a scrum half, but for me he is a very special talent and providing he is playing behind a pack that is going forward, one of the best game managers in the British game as well. I guess his two Lance Todd Trophy wins in two consecutive finals speak for themselves, but it’s his week in week out points scoring efforts that really resonate with regards to just how good he is for Hull FC. Nothing is new and I remember when Johnny Maloney was potting goals from all over the shop and winning so many games for us in the late 60’s, the fans criticised his centre play and his defence all the time. However, when we now look back it was that consistency with the boot, that make him such a remembered player.

However, I as I said earlier, this week I contacted Bill Dalton, Club statistician and keeper of every record about our great Club, to get more of an insight into Sneyd’s performances for us thus far and Bill sort of confirmed the fact that he’s a bit special.

It appears that Marc is not only a great player for our time, but when it comes to scoring points for our club, he is one of the best in the history of Hull FC. Bill explained this fact as follows, “Having entered the Stats for the Salford match, I came across a surprising fact. Sneyd brought up his 250 Points for the season in the game, the third time he has reached that mark (2016, 2017 and 2019), what’s more, he is only the second player in Hull FC history to ever achieve that in three seasons. The only other one is Colin Hutton, who played full back in the 1950s. Even the great and celebrated Joe Oliver never got to that mark, his best in a season was 242 points. Whilst John Maloney, Paul Eastwood, Paul Cooke and Gary Schofield all achieved 250 points a season, twice”.

And of course in the case of most of Marc’s counterparts it has to be remembered that often in their days the club played more games in a regular season anyway.

Interesting stuff eh and perhaps when we watch Marc and grumble at times that he isn’t firing as he can, we should never underestimate his points scoring ability and how it has helped us as a club. I know I do and only last week I popped to the concourse to get a bottle of water after a try, as all around me people chatted away between themselves and Marc attempted a conversion from wide out; of course as the chatter continued it sailed through the up-rights and I returned to my seat not even having to consult the score board!

He’s done amazingly well already, he’s won us plenty of games and is on course to beat the clubs all time drop goal’s scored record too. In addition, he manufactured an end to a game and a win away in Catalan this year that we will probably as fans, never ever see the like of again. What’s more, with two seasons to go on his contract, well, who knows, by he ends his career at the Club, we could all have witnessed watching Hull FC’s top points scorer of all time!

Well they’re at it again!! As this week Sky announced that they have move our game at Castleford from a Sunday to a Thursday at just two weeks’ notice. The broadcaster is just taking the what not now, with loads of fans having already bought their tickets for the trip and looking forward to a nice traditional Summer Sunday afternoon out, watching a game of Rugby League. I thought that we were lucky this year as our final away day was on a Sunday and would suit everyone who likes to go to what has become a sort of fancy dress carnival of a trip. A lot I know were really looking forward to it and what’s more the Thursday means as well that it will be played when the kids are back at school and so many won’t be able to attend anyway! It’s just the last in a long line of such occurrences over the past months. Sky obviously feel that Rugby League is a drawing card but if they had any feeling for the game itself, or for its future, they would not be knocking nails into its coffin as they are doing here.

Quite frankly it’s a blooming disgrace. Rovers are in the same boat with their critical London game straight after a trip to Catalan being moved from Sunday to Friday and Warrington now play just 5 days after a Wembley final! So it goes on. Next season there needs to be a quota system where these games are spread amongst all the clubs. The game is on its knees and surely the guys at Sky can see that changing game times just 17 days prior to the scheduled fixture, is just crucifying the sport! And then, the Rugby League wonder why people are walking away from the sport in their droves, it’s just bloody disgraceful for me!!

This week in Codgers Corner I want to take you back to the happier times of the reign of Brian Smith and the 1989/90 season, when despite being knocked out of the Premiership in the first round by Widnes, in the run up to that final we won 8 league games on the bounce, as we were watching our charismatic coach build a really handy team. Smithy put together a fearsome outfit made up of a couple of big buys, some astute imports and a load of local lads, none better optimised than by our front row at the back end of that season, which was made up of local lads Andy Dannett and Lee Jackson and a big buy in Karl Harrison.

The game that sticks in my mind in that run was one at the Boulevard against Warrington. They came fresh from a Cup semi-final win and were on their way to Wembley were they would lose to Wigan in front of 77,000 people. However, the Wire were the form team of the competition back then and always difficult to beat either at home or away.

That day I remember watching from my ‘Lucky Step’ on the Airlie Street terracing with Gary Hart, Billy ‘the wiz’ and Steve Massam and from what I recall it was a beautiful sunny afternoon which attracted a large shirt sleeve crowd. It was also a significant game because the following Wednesday the team was to be announced for the Great Britain tour of Papua New Guinea and New Zealand and quite a few players from both teams had an interest in that! After Crompton had kicked off for Warrington an early period of Hull pressure and a penalty for a high tackle on Jon Sharp had us pressing their line and a dummy to the left and scoot from acting half, saw Lee Jackson shoot in after just 4 minutes. 

An Eastwood conversion settled things down a bit, but after a period of Warrington pressure, their full-back Wernham stroked over a 30-yard penalty to peg us back again. However with Greg Mackey and Phil Windley in control at half back, Warrington just couldn’t handle Hulls kicking game and it was a Mackey bomb, that was completely missed by Martin Crompton, that saw Brian Blacker ghosting up on the bouncing ball, out stepping Wernham and scoring near the posts for Eastwood to convert. I remember that it was probably the best game I saw Blacker play for us, and he had a hand in the next touch down too. Wriggling from a three man tackle Blacker got his hands free and passed onto Eastwood and then the Windley/ Mackey combination worked its magic as they exchanged passes for Greg to brilliantly put Phil in the open 10 yards out. He ran in untouched to score a brilliant try which had the Warrington defenders arguing amongst themselves behind the posts, as Eastwood stroked over the conversion. At 18-2 it looked like the Wire were desperately hanging on for half time but ‘Bluey’ Mackey had different ideas. In a sweeping move that started 20 yards from our own line, Jackson broke and ran about 40 yards before releasing our number 6 who stepped Burke before magnificently using Crusher Cleal as a foil to feed Sharp. Our loose forward then cut inside before turning to swing out a 15-yard looping pass to Eastwood who was running at full pelt unmarked along the white wash of the touchline. He collected the ball and continued on to score in the corner where a missed conversion saw us leading 22-2 at half time.

As regularly happened even in those heady days (and how often have I said this in here) we started the second half a ‘bit shakily’ allowing two tries by Rudd and Derbyshire sandwiched between a lucky try for us from Windley. This saw the scoreboard read 26-12 and the Wire sniffed an opportunity!  However, then it was Folkes to the rescue as he got us back on track. He had switched to half back from second row when Windley went off injured after his try and then somehow threaded through a brilliant grubber kick which Dannett charged onto while Des Drummond looked on. Young Jon Sharp was brilliantly positioned to take Andy’s pass and charged in with Warrington’s Sanderson hanging round his waist. By now every time we got the ball, Hull were on a steam-rollering charge towards the visitor’s line and Noel Cleal was wreaking havoc. On one occasion he left four Warrington tacklers in a heap as he got up to play the ball. We certainly loved it and were cheering every big hit as the man mountain started to rattle the visitors. Great play by Mackey and Lee Jackson saw Cleal get the ball 30 yards out and a 20-yard rumble downfield saw a perfectly flighted pass from the big man find Russ Walker to speed in and it was becoming a rout.

At 38-12 the game was won but with the crowd baying for  more ‘blood’ they got it after Warrington’s Foster had scored a breakaway consolation effort. Folkes broke down the left and with winger Neil Turner coming more and more into the game the number 5 lofted a great cross kick on the fifth tackle for Richard Price to out jump the floundering Wire defence to put the ball down over the line in the 79th minute. An Eastwood conversion made it 44-16 and but for three brilliant try scoring tackles from Des Drummond running back it could have been a much bigger victory. As the hooter sounded, (as was his want in those days), Brian Smith having descended from his crows-nest came over to the crowd with the players to celebrate and everyone rejoiced in the sunshine. Cleal, Mackey and Folkes had all had superb games while the front row of Dannett, Jackson and Harrison had ground the opposition into the ground. It was a brilliant and comprehensive performance, which was followed in the last regular season game with a 34-4 thrashing of Sheffield Eagles away. That I remember was another pretty remarkable showing as well, which I might just feature here one day in the future. Great memories!

It was certainly quite a sad moment and rather a nostalgic one in our house last Saturday when 6 years to the day that it was bought, my lucky scarf was washed for the first time since 2013. Only brought out for very special occasions it was a real icon of happier times for me. Procured for free from a dejected souvenir seller in the pouring rain outside Wembley in 2013, (when it was destined for the skip), it had repaid me with two semi-finals and two Finals wins, before the defeat at Bolton this year saw the magic broken and it was time to finally wash it. 

6 years old to the day!! I commented on how white it was after it had been through the rigours of the washing machine and Mrs R just retorted that it was probably all the beer that had been washed out of it!! Sad times indeed.

So, after a week off we enter the ‘no man’s land’ of our final three games after for so long looking nailed on for 2nd or 3rd. Nothing now is certain even as far as us surviving the top 5 is concerned and all of a sudden it looks a big ask again. I just hope we have had a few days off and come back refreshed for the fight and that we can give Mini, Micky and Manu, who have given so much to the FC over the years, a good send off and something to remember; the rest of the team owe them that!! Huddersfield will be desperate, they have some great players and will really take it to us from the off, so we have to be on our guard and hope that we win and other results fall for us. I’ll be there hoping as usual but what will we witness? Well this season the norm is; it’s any one guess!!  Let’s try and get two points and go on to Castleford on the following Thursday night in good spirits!

Thanks for sticking with a rather introspective and inward looking Diary in which I have just tried to reflect what I am thinking about the Club I love, at the present time. The correspondence from you all this week after that Salford game, has been phenomenal and just shows I think that whatever is happening and however disappointing we are, we all still care! We just have to ……..

Keep Believing!

See you at the KCom!!!

Faithfully Yours

Wilf!