The Dentist’s Diary – 650th

Welcome to what is another Milestone edition of the Dentists Diary! 

It’s 14 years almost to the day since the first one and since then there’s been 650 editions, over one million hits on the site and over 4 million words written. In fact, there’s been enough words to fill 5 bibles (and the content has been no doubt at times far more difficult to understand than the eminently baffling Book of Ezekiel you’ll find in there!!). And all that just to talk about the Club with whom I’m obsessed and whom I have loved all my life. 

Yep, this week, once again, we’ve all made it to another landmark edition of the weekly Journal of an ordinary fan, with an extra ordinary fixation for his and his families rugby league team. For me it’s certainly been a great ride and a wonderful experience, furthermore I’ve really enjoyed writing it and linking up with all the friends and acquaintances I’ve made along the way. 

But, enough of that (although there’s a bit more later on), because life goes on and probably because Radders and the rest of the coaching staff have been on holiday, the Club has again been quiet in the last 14 days. None the less, the fans have still been busy showing their amazing loyalty and in so do have taken our season ticket sales up to almost 7,200 after just five weeks of them being on offer. Thankfully for the news starved supporters, tomorrow sees the fixtures published and this morning (Monday) 80% of the squad are back for kitting out before they launch into the start of the pre-season grind, as the hard yards and the hills of Brantingham and Beverley Westwood beckon again.

So, I guess, 2020 starts here, although just three of our 7 new signings will be in attendance at County Road with Sao, Ma’u and Jones all expected around 10th December after international duties and Mahe Fonua flying in later this month. Add to that Jake Connor who will also be returning in mid-December and we’re certainly a few short, (I would like to comment on Jakes progress in the England team and I will do once someone gives him a decent pass!!) The Club are planning a few days away once everyone is in camp to get everyone together and bonding, but its hardly ideal is it? 

Still Josh Johnstone, Joe Cator and Adam Swift will be at it already and hoping to steal a march on the others. What’s more of course, having forgone his international call to get stuck in from the off, Satae is training as well. Lee, who might just be feeling the pressure and weight of expectation a bit, says that he wants to produce a team that the fans can be proud of again and we’ll all drink to that. I guess both the owner and the fans are expecting big things, particularly after Adam has backed Lee and funded perhaps the strongest pre-season signing spree we have seen. Pearson is, like everyone else, expecting big things but only time will tell whether they will come to pass in 2020. The owner will be addressing the 23 or so players that will be reporting back this week and you can guarantee no one will be left wondering what is expected of them. 

As far as the fans are concerned one thing has already been proved and that is that despite a shocking end to last season, there is nothing like showing a bit of ambition and bringing in some big name signings to re-engage the season ticket holders and to get things buzzing again. 

It was interesting to hear from Gareth Ellis in the Yorkshire Post when he indicated that he wouldn’t be playing every week next year, but that instead of taking the passive, ‘Just glad I’m playing again’ role that he embraced last season, he was looking to get back into the leadership position he’s occupied in the past. With Manu, Mini and Mickey Paea leaving we certainly need some continuity on that front and as he joins Danny Houghton, I think that it’s time now for Scott Taylor to be more prominent in that role as well. Gareth has been a great player and a fantastic leader who has inspired us to great things. He will certainly be looked back on in years to come as one of the club’s and the game’s best signings of the modern era. 

Do we need to evaluate and change the direction the team is heading in and the governance of the various characters and personalities there will be in the squad and indeed could that lead to a change in the captaincy this season? Well, I doubt it myself, but Lee will realise the importance of ensuring that his new signings really do make a big difference and so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  

Talking of Gareth, there was an interesting piece on an independent site last week which saw them talking to our ex captain as he looked back at the circumstances under which he joined us back in 2013. Apparently he got offers from every one of the twelve Super League Clubs. Yep every one of them! 

You’ll remember the deal was finally agreed after an on line conference between Gareth, Adam Pearson and Motu Tony, but there was apparently a lot more to his signing than we knew back then. After a four-year stint in Australia with NRL club Wests Tigers, where he won the Player of the Year award in three consecutive seasons, he subsequently joined us in 2013, however his agent has now revealed that it could have been a much different story. 

David Howes, Managing Director of ‘Howes Etc.’ who is his agent, said last week, “Gareth did a wonderful job out there but when he wanted to come home, we actually got an offer from every Super League club. Two thirds of them we immediately discounted, but then again it would have been so easy for Gareth to take the easy option and go back to Leeds – and believe me Leeds came in all singing, all dancing. St Helens were the top offer. Wigan came in, Warrington came in, but I was pushing him towards Hull because I knew Adam Pearson and I knew his ambitions to really bring the club alive. The big challenge I gave Hull was that they had to pay the going rate, which was top money, but equally important was that if he joined them he would be made Captain”.

We were all told by Adam at the time that we really pushed the boat out to get Gareth and beat a few other clubs to his signature, but only now do we actually know just how much competition there was. It was a big wage and a big investment, but boy did it pay off as Gareth’s leadership and example setting both on and off the field lead us in 2016 to the ultimate prize for every FC fan. 

It was certainly interesting to hear the details of the signing and it just shows I think what goes on behind the scenes and indeed how much money we are willing to pay to beat other bidders, when they start to show an interest. We know this year that three other clubs came in for Ma’u, when he stated that he was leaving the NRL, but we closed out the deal and its good to know we are still right up there in bargaining terms when someone else is interested. Adam talked big when he arrived and now we know he was acting big as well, he may have been a bit quiet of late, but he’s still dedicated to taking our club forward and that’s so good to see. 

Now, on Friday an interesting interview with Lee confirmed what a lot of us suspected in that we have now severed all our ties with Doncaster and will not be continuing with our duel registration arrangement with the South Yorkshire club. I expect Toronto will forge a DR link with a Championship Club and Catalan will as usual do their own thing in the French Leagues but as for the rest of Super League? Well, I expect most will have it ‘all on’ honouring their reserve fixtures, without the distraction of duel registration as well.  At Hull FC this move explains why Richard Horne has severed completely his links with our Club and moved as Coach to Donny and perhaps why, I’m told, Richards leaving our Club, (after a long and glorious association with us), was a very low key affair indeed!  

It is of course an eminently sensible thing to do as far as the Super League Clubs are concerned as with a Reserves League and duel registration, it would be impossible to do both arrangements justice once injuries, suspensions etc. begin to bite. Money is in short supply across the game, as therefore are fringe players and so I expect some clubs, switching from running small squads to the new set up, will struggle to see out their reserve fixtures, never mind anything else. However, that does pose the question what now for those Championship Clubs that have relied on the Duel Registration system to bolster their ranks on a regular basis over the last few years? And indeed what about the quality that DR players have brought to the Championship. Some teams are really going to struggle, but at least they will now be forced to bring new blood into the game and that must be a good thing, if not in the short term than for the strength of the games professional playing pool in years to come. 

It might of course see the ‘haves’ pulling away from the ‘have not’s’ and the gulf between the Super League Clubs, the top two or three Championship Clubs and the rest visibly growing. Will for instance Featherstone continue to benefit from a large influx of Leeds players on DR when the Headingley team have to field 17 player’s week in week out in the Reserves League? As the reality of the situation bites, I expect to see most of the other Super League clubs severing their DR connections in the weeks to come, with more collateral damage to the championship likely.  

In the longer term it could even in future years see there being a case for a 14 strong Super league and the pulling up of the drawbridge and the return of some form of licensing! Perhaps that’s what some want anyway? 

However, that’s getting in front of myself and for now safe to say that the Reserves League is a great idea, it worked for decades in the game and it will again, providing clubs take it seriously and strive to do it justice. It is a format that has to be persisted with, but as I say the fallout from its introduction could have major ramifications for lower division clubs. So, it’s going to be an interesting Winter and fascinating to see how it all pans out. 

I see that the Dobbins have opened a pop up shop in St Stephens in the run up to Christmas, just as we did last year! Well they do say that imitation is the highest form of flattery!  

So Octobers gone and, enjoying the break from the week in week out trauma of that long league season, I’ve had a great few days since the last Diary. I managed to take in Al Stewart in Concert in Pocklington and the brilliant new Bruce Springsteen film Western Stars last Monday in Beverley. I’ve also been watching the Rugby Union and enjoying the drama of England’s progress through the competition. Indeed, that semi-final was one of the best games of kick and clap I’ve seen; if only the rest were as good, for the final was pretty gruesome to watch!! 

I’m not usually a fan at all, but I guess that both codes have their merits, as we saw perfectly demonstrated last weekend when back to back the Great Britain RL team, were easily defeated by a wonderful display of power Rugby League from the smiling assassins of Tonga and England RU took on New Zealand in that pulsating semi-final. Both games showed the best of both sports, but the way our game moves the ball so quickly up and down the pitch and the way that we ‘get on with it’, certainly showed the virtue of the 13 a side game over the other code. 

I know and you all know which one I prefer, but as for Union well it was enjoyable to watch, but I still can’t understand why they don’t stop the clock for scrums. I mean to say, in that semi-final against New Zealand 3 mins. 40secs. of the first six minutes was spent trying to get a scrum set! In the other semi, next day, Wales went behind with 5 minutes to go but the South Africans managed to waste a whole two and a half minutes on one scrum to see out the game!! I had a go at a couple of the luminaries from Beverley RU about it in the pub last Saturday, but they just looked down their noses and told me as a League fan, I just didn’t understand their game!! “No”, I said, “But, you don’t have to be Eddie Jones to understand time wasting!!”

It was therefore really interesting to see a letter in the Sunday Times next day that actually highlighted the issue I mention to those guys in the pub. It came from a dedicated Saracens fan who wrote that their contested scrums were being used to run down the clock, aid recovery times after injury, were a cause of injury and were anyway not a fair contest. The correspondent then had to reluctantly conclude that it was the competitive nature of every scrum and the pushing that was the issues and that “the game would again be wise to follow the example of Rugby League (as it had done on several aspect of the game over the last few years) by introducing uncontested scrums”. 

That won’t happen I know, but for me, at the very least, they should consider stopping the clock for every scrum that takes say over a minute to be concluded. However, it was good to see such an ardent Union fan citing our game as an example of good practice. All that said, as I say, I enjoyed the drama and tension of England’s efforts in the Union World Cup, but as a game, the time keeping is baffling, the number of forward passes and ‘knock on’s’ that go unpunished unfathomable and as a free flowing spectacle, it will never be able to lick our boots!!  However, they do at least use their video referee’s to adjudge forward passes and although we have been told for years, time and again, you can’t use it and it won’t work, it seems to operate OK for them. 

Fact is that it’s all a case of the Kings new clothes for me. The game of Rugby Union on the field as a spectacle may be far inferior to our game, but the way that they sell it, market it, engage with young people at club level and generally hype the product, is light years ahead of us. I guess that as RL fans we all know where the problems lie, but will we ever address them? Quite frankly over the years I have grown to doubt that we ever will.      

Now, he certainly was a colourful character when he was working for us and now he’s no longer in the game, former Widnes Vikings and Hull FC chief executive James Rule is now pursuing a new career as a motivational speaker and business coach. However, it’s not going too smoothly at all. It was reported last week that an upcoming event in Coventry was cancelled at short notice, after Widnes fans, still smarting from the way he left the club and their spiralling demise ever since, caught wind of it, and registered to attend, obviously wanting some answers.  They still hold James responsible for a lot of what went on and the Institute of Healthcare Management, the organisers of the event, blocked multiple Widnes fans on Twitter who had voiced their displeasure at their decision to hand Rule’s new business an opportunity. 

Rule’s website for his talk entitled, “The Lonely Leader”, includes testimonials from former RFL executives Nigel Wood and Brian Barwick, which is a bit rich, but according to some of the more vociferous Widnes fans he neglects to mention his two-year ban from the sport for the Martin Gleeson incident with us and the circumstances that surrounded putting Widnes into administrationI guess the fans reaction is a bit unfair but that said, it’s certainly a cautionary tale for anyone who considers actions that gain the wrath of us supporters; for we all have long memories. 

Now with all the intrigue and suspicion that is at present surrounding the RFL and their ownership of Odsal there are plenty of questions being asked about our governing body. The Bulls previous owner Andrew Chalmers said that they could no longer afford to play there and he has now sold up and Milton Keynes owner and North American expansionist Eric Perez has taken over the reins at the beleaguered club enlisting ex RFL Chief Executive Nigel Woods along the way. Never the less, despite moving to Dewsbury, Bradford have continued to haemorrhage players and the bigger questions surrounding Odsal still remain.  Wood was at the RFL helm when the governing body purchased the lease at Odsal in 2012 when the club fell into financial difficulty. 

Now he’s back in it at the Bulls side of the fence and I bet that there will be some clubs keeping a close eye on the relationship between Perez and Wood in the coming weeks. You’ll no doubt recall that concerns were raised by several Clubs a while ago over Wood’s close involvement in the Rugby Football League’s process for clubs wanting to join League 1, (despite him having already left as chief executive with a £500,000 pay-off), but they fell on deaf ears. 

It was claimed that Clubs where being asked to stump up a sizeable fee to join the competition but some owners learned that Perez had allegedly been granted the RFL licence for Ottawa Stags from 2021, via Hemel Hempstead’s place in the competition, for considerably less than was being asked of others. I don’t know if there is any truth in it, but now those two  have joining up at Bradford and a lot smell a rat and are watching the situation closely! It wouldn’t be rugby league without a bit of intrigue though would it? 

This week in Codgers Corner I’ll feature a game which I was thinking about the other day but which I have so far not featured in the 650 editions of this Journal. I want to go back not too far but to a Final at Wembley which again broke our hearts, but which none the less saw a titanic effort from our lads. The year was 2008 and after our heroics at Cardiff three years earlier we all really did fancy our chances of at last breaking the hoodoo in this one! But in the end the self-styled Cup kings St Helens survived an almighty second-half fight back and scare, to secure a third straight final success, but boy did we fight and where there some heroes out there. The much fancied Lancashire Club coached by Daniel Anderson were as now, a real classy outfit back then and no one gave us a hope so when we were 10-0 down at half time everyone expected that Saints were coasting towards a 12th showpiece win. However, the FC really rose to the occasion and did Richard Agar proud in the second half, before class at last shone through and we were beaten but certainly not bowed. 

It had been an interesting journey to the final for the FC with easy wins over Rochdale Hornets and Widnes before a brilliant game in the quarter finals at the KCom against Bradford saw us run out 22-16 winners. The semi-final was a great affair played out against Wakefield at the Keepmoat where despite the heroics of the opposition in staying in the game, we ran our 32-24 winners and moved onto the final at Wembley. 

The FC took around 20,000 fans that day in an attendance of 82,500 and as the game kicked off at 2-30 the sun shone right into our eyes as we sat on the NE corner, but who cared as our injury hit team squared up to the favourites for the biggest prize in the game. 

It didn’t start well for the Saints as Sculthorpe’s afternoon was brought to an abrupt end within the first two minutes, as he was led from the field with a dislocated shoulder after a great ball and all tackle with Todd Byrne who was playing at full back that day. This buoyed us and we then carved out the first chance of the game and could have gone ahead had Gareth Raynor’s knock-down from Tommy Lee’s kick bounced more kindly for Willie Manu. But just as we all feared Saints hit straight back at us and after a knock-on from Byrne was grabbed by the opposition and the ball was shifted wide to Paul Wellens, he  drew in two tacklers before handing Matt Gidley the simplest of opening tries on seven minutes. 

We were struggling to settle but a neat kick from Shaun Berrigan nearly saw Francis Meli goof as he juggled with the bal and almost presented Matt Sing with a score. Then however it was our turn to be fortunate as Ade Gardner spilled possession as he powered his way over, after a poor error and fumble from Sing. Still with Shaun Berrigan running everything we did our best with Peter Cusack, Lee Radford and Willie Manu time and again driving into the heart of the Saints defence. 

Richard Horne who had miraculously recovered from a serious injury in time for the game came on and within 10 seconds he was immediately flattened by James Graham. You could hear the thud of the collision on the terraces and it was met with immediate silence around the terraces and as he lay prone on the turf a worried buzz spread right across the whole crowd, but thankfully he came around and got up!! Then Graham who was growing into the game bashed his way through our line deep in their own half and created an opportunity for Meli to race the length of the field and score after shaking off the attentions of the chasing Sing. Sean Long slotted his first conversion for a 10-point lead.

Back we came and after some strong running from Sing he nearly created a try for Graeme Horne in the corner, but the pair’s defensive partnership was struggling as both Meli and Willie Talau made light work of shaking them off every time the Saints moved down their side. 

We were now losing possession regularly and it took some heroic defending to stop Wellens and Gardner getting over the line to stretch the Saints lead, before we all heaved a big sigh of relief when referee Steve Ganson ruled out a try for Talau following a forward pass from Fa’asavalu.

Despite only leading by 10, St Helens were all over us at this point and we were really lucky when they could have had a third score just before the hooter, only for the video referee to deem that Meli made a double movement when squeezing in at the corner.

The second half started with more woes for the FC as Tom Briscoe’s afternoon was ended prematurely as he was carried off with an ankle injury just two minutes in. But just as all looked to be lost we got a great try when Kirk Yeaman picked off a pass from Cunningham to intercept and race 80 metres towards us in the stand and to the line, despite a great chase from Leon Pryce. It was Yeamo at his best as the arc of his run just fooled Pryce and we were on the score board. Danny Tickle slotted the goal to bring the deficit to an unlikely four points.

Suddenly we looked on the up and we were managing Saints well as they tried to press home their advantage and we even looked to be in with a chance of a dramatic comeback, although we had to survive a scare when Long had a try ruled out for an obstruction as Chris Flannery ran across him. A rare error from Wellens then presented us with some excellent field position and this time we were able to cash in, as Richard Horne and Manu combined to send Yeaman powering over for his second try to level the scores. Tickle kept his composure to slot the goal from the touchline and edge us in front. 12-10.

It was hard for us all to believe what we were seeing, but as good sides do, the Saints responded almost instantly and were soon back in front when Pryce resisted Richard Horne’s tackle to stand a pass up to Meli who slipped in for his second try. Long matched Tickle to slot the goal from out wide and Jon Wilkin then charged down a kick on the sixth from Danny Washbrook’s kick and collected the loose ball to race unchallenged to the line.

Still undeterred we battled on and even hinted that we could come back again as Gareth Raynor sped in to score wide out but it proved to be in vain as Pryce shot through a hole in our lien and raced to the line with a late solo effort and that was that! 

We had put in such a great effort and our makeshift injury ravaged team had fought so well but we left the national Stadium having lost …as usual. I remember breaking the silence as we walked back up Wembley way and saying to Mrs R, “Will we ever come to this bloody place and win”; little did I know that I would be spared to see us do just that ….twice!!  Great Memories eh? 

I see that over a week ago some Rovers fans started a Marquee Player fundraiser but despite a lot of trumpeting on social media by Friday they had only raised £5,171 however that’ll probably do because here at just £5,200, could be the first sight of their new marquee acquisition for next season. 

(Just a Joke guys no more hate mail please!!)

So here we are we have arrived at the 650th edition of this rubbish and even though it tends to monopolise both my and my family’s life at times, I’ve pretty much loved the journey. 

All those editions and words have seen us all experience, in excess of 150 players, 5 different Coaches, two owners and one very difficult stadium operator! That, plus countless trays of soggy chips, regular Derby heartbreakers, perennial soakings at Headingley (and in the early days at Odsal), those infuriating Friday night detours off the M62, a few periods of imprisonment in the Car Park at Salford, some brilliant times (and trays of chips) across the game and the odd bout of street fighting in Warrington, which just about cover the full gambit of what the long suffering FC fan accepts as just our normal existence. That and of course lots and lots and lots of disappointment, distress and tearing out of hair, interspersed with just one or two truly life changing moments!! 

In here I have tried my best to reflect those great times and to mirror as well the buckets full of heartbreak. As the writer of this drivel I’ve had my share of abuse and even a few threats aimed at me, but much more importantly I’ve made some really good, valued and new friends. I’ve re-engaged with mates I haven’t seen for years and put names to many faces that I’ve seen about the FC for over half a century. That happened last week at the gym and these things alone makes up for hours and hours of writing, head scratching and re-writing. Even now researching, writing and changing means that the average Diary takes around 12/13 hours a week to complete, however back when I started it all, I couldn’t even write a shopping list and it took hours longer. 

At least I have Joe Bennett always supporting me and posting the Diary every week. What’s more he has become a big friend and one that, immortalised as Lucky Joe, shared Wembley first hand with me, on both occasions! He sorts me out every week, despite the constraints of his own busy life, and for that I am eternally grateful.

So I guess what I’m saying is that it’s worth it because the Hull fans that have to ride the roller coaster and endure it all are very special people!!  Sports fans everywhere can list their own tragedies and setbacks, but few can lay claim to occurrences so numerous or indeed boast so many loyal and perhaps even crazy individuals sticking with their team through so many lean years. It’s that weight of fanatical support, sustained through adversity over the seasons, no matter what has been thrown at it, that makes the ‘FC Army’ truly ‘barmy’ and truly great. 

We’re all in it together and without your individual fanaticism being ‘a part of the whole’ we would never have what we have got in the family that is Hull FC. Regular readers might well remember early on in the 2016 season when I reported in here a conversation I had with Frank Pritchard where he said that for him, from what he’d seen, the Club, unlike any other, really felt like it belonged to the fans. We know how much we care, but it good to know that it shines through to those coming into it from outside too.

It is also the legacy of all that has gone before, that has made periods in our history like the ‘Golden Years’ of the ‘Bunting era’, the reign of Brian Smith, that 2005 triumph in Cardiff and 2016 and 2017 at Wembley so memorable and unforgettable and that’s why, in here, features and stories come and go, scandals and sensations happen and disappear, but we’ll always have our heritage and our name. For that reason alone,  Codgers Corner has continued throughout, just to celebrate that very fact. 

You see, I believe that in the hierarchy of its peers, the importance and status of a Sports Club is not judged by short term indicators like its current performances, last week’s result or its present players. Nor is it defined by Dicks on Social media and ‘well-wishers’ on message boards, sat tapping away in their bedrooms. Instead, I think it’s measured by its heritage, its history, the passion of its devotees, the sacrifices they have made and the adversity that we the fans have been through together in the name of the Club we all love. 

Saints fans will have absolutely loved winning at Old Trafford and Warrington followers at Wembley will have felt the same this year, but because of their past successes there and in other finals it will never ever have resonated in their very souls as did that moment for us, at 4.55 on Saturday 27th August 2016.  I have always tried to reflect that by trying to capture week in week out, what I and thus most other fans are thinking at that very moment in our supporting lives. 

It’s not easy because although my thoughts on most issues (like say our relationship with the SMC) bring pretty universal agreement across the fan base some others such as relegation and promotion, new transcontinental clubs joining the league etc. split us in our views. I just have to say it as I see it, expecting you to often disagree. Everyone with a passion for something is allowed an opinion. 

What’s so much more important however is the fact that I have made some great friends, confidants and soul mates, whilst as I go about the daily round, the diary has also instigated literally hundreds of chats on that one subject; the Club we all love. I’ve also upset the Administration on a regular basis by what I like to think is my honesty and willingness to reflect what everyone is saying and in addition I’ve really got up a few Dobbins fans noses; so it seems for that angle at least its job done!! 

Add to that the fact that this twaddle has help me write three books and to sit at a couple of games next to Adam Pearson. It has seen me have the honour of being part of 4 Testimonial Committees and even facilitated me being given the ultimate accolade of addressing to the team after the last training session before a local derby at Caravan Park, (and we won!!!) and now as I enter the Diaries 15th and my 70th year, it’s still enjoyable and still all consuming, yet I guess, all things, good and bad, have to come to an end sometime!

At such milestone editions as this one I certainly consider whether the time to call it a day has arrived. Throughout the Diary’s life time, I have written it down as I see it, even at times of absolute turmoil and disappointment when I would, no doubt like many of you, have rather crawled away to grieve alone. However, week in week out your loyal support for this weekly drivel, particularly in those hard times, has been simply amazing. 

That’s pretty rewarding, so as long as someone wants to read the Diary, I guess I’ll attempt to keep it going, well at least for another season!  That said, as we move on towards the 700th edition, all that’s left for me now, is to finish as I started and sincerely express my gratitude to everyone who has backed and followed this Journal over the last 14 years and to all of you for allowing me every Monday morning into your own fanatical world, where Hull FC is OUR team. Thank you all so much for your support, it’s great to know I’m not on my own and your faith, fanaticism and friendship will always be very special to me! See you again in two weeks’ time!!!

Keep Believing and thanks!!

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf.