Words failed me about that performance and I bet they did for you too!
But the drama that followed for those watching at home, when a chairman actually came out on the pitch and announced he had parted company with his Coach a few minutes earlier and did it, on live TV, was quite unheard of!
It was certainly another night of drama on Thursday and just like the best Agatha Christie who-done-it, it was predictable all the way through until the final twist took us all by surprise.
He might have been the Bookmakers number One choice for the chop, but make no mistake about it, Lee will go down in the annals of Hull FC as one of the most memorable Coaches we have had. I say that simply because he took us to the Holy Grail on that wonderful summer afternoon in London, when all our dreams came true. Those memories will last forever and for me there should be a statue dedicated to him for that! However, although it’s all very sad, as with the end of the great Arthur Bunting, it just had to be done, his reign had run its course, Adams patience had run out and the fans had stomached enough, for it was all too cosy, as once out on the pitch, the players appeared to be just doing as they liked!!
That drama all followed what can only be described as a poor excuse for a performance. If that was the last game we were to witness at the KCom as fans, for a while, then it was one that could best be described as totally unmemorable and a match with too many ego’s on display and not enough passion and attitude.
Yet as FC fans, at these times when such scary problems surround us and our families, we just needed something to cling onto and to remember, something to at least raise our spirits for a short time, but we all got was more disappointment, more disenchantment and more frustration.
We just can’t perform at the KCom can we? And in the end, that inability to rule the roost in one of the best stadiums in the game, was Lee’s down-fall. Our home record is pathetic, yet all the fans wanted was passion, it doesn’t matter who plays or what adversity you go through, or even if the kids make mistakes, but you have to see some shape, some idea of the game plan and some pride in the badge, all of which was missing in spades again on Thursday. Yeh, we were players short, but Warrington really weren’t that good, yet if you compare our showing with say a beleaguered Toronto’s the night before, as they oozed passion against the Giants, you know what, there was simply no comparison. Things, I’m afraid, had to change.
The departure of Lee Radford was I guess sad, but it had to be done. He couldn’t take us any further because it looked as if the players were doing as they liked and not as they had been coached or told to do. They have of late been given a game plan for each opponent and I don’t mind if, because they are not good enough they miss tackles and drop balls, but when they are disarray from the off as they were on Friday, it’s just awful for the paying customer.
The word was that some players were doing their own thing off the field and that attitude has now at times transferred onto the pitch. It was out there before a very dignified, but obviously, absolutely fuming Adam Pearson, did what we all knew had to be done.
As for the ‘fancy doing it on TV’ brigade? Well, all I can say is that folks who were in the Raich Carter Suite saw the rather heated discussion between Coach and owner before the broadcast and yeh, it could have been handled better, but if you want your chief to be passionate, accountable and, if you like, ‘bleeding with the fans’ that face and those words is what you want to see!
Adam has spent big. He kept his word after he promised Lee he would do just that and did it in a behind closed doors showdown at the end of the 2019 season, the second that had seen an absolute capitulation in the last 10 or so games. I’m told Marc Sneyd’s drop-goal saved him from the chop last week, but the way the final coupe-de-gras was done, so soon after the Warrington game ended, was pretty unheard of. Adam was bloody apoplectic and it made great drama for Sky TV, but for many of us, it heralded the end of an era too.
An era that ironically started with Lee and several of the other players playing at Huddersfield and doing it in such an irresponsible yet contrived way, that Coach Peter Gentle got his marching orders next day. Recognise anything? And so as always ‘the moving finger writes and having writ moves on!! What comes around in life does tend to go around as well doesn’t it!!
However, as I said earlier, I have life-long fond memories of Lee and those great times at Doncaster and Wembley and I will forever be in his debt. In real time fans have short memories as we go from game to game and win to defeat, but there is no doubt that when the final role of honour of FC coaches is written, he’ll be right up there near the top as the man who made dreams come true. It’s tough is sport and a sad time all round!
Earlier in the week when the team was announced on Tuesday, I was thinking back to try and remember, when we had so many first teamers out so early in the season, but 9 is a blooming lot!! Still once again it gave the youngsters a chance to shine and I just thought that they had better do so, because what went before indicated that the much-heralded strength in depth, might well be running out of chances. All we wanted to see was some sort of semblance of a team that had a game plan and a structure to play to and that stuck to it and got right into the faces of the Wolves. But in the end we got none of that!…. at all!
In addition, Tom Lineham, didn’t do his street cred in Hull much good with those comments before the game about the City, it being a ghetto and about Jamie Shaul. He said, “I think it’s been voted in the top three worst cities in the UK for as long as I can remember. So, it’s not a pretty trip, it’s a tough place to go. My good friend Jamie Shaul will be there. He’s spoken, I’ve got a lot of inside information on Hull FC. I won’t delve into too much detail for the cameras but he gives me a lot of information that I’ll be sharing with Steve Price, his coaching staff and the rest of my teammates this week.”
I smiled at what was a bit of a poor attempt at being funny and told myself that although a hero of mine when he was here and (as far as I’m concerned) a mercenary bugger when he left, he always was a bit of a daft lad, wasn’t he? However, one has to remember as well that Warrington have set themselves up as the wind-up merchants of the League this season. They seem to believe that antagonism in both mainstream and social media, is the way to hype up the game. They do it in an attempt to spark pre-game hysteria and have already had run in’s with both the Wigan fans and those of Saints. And, whether you agree with it or not, daft lad Tom, did add a bit of spice to the proceedings.
There were spaces a plenty on the terraces as the teams came out and it was indeed a much-changed line-up that appeared for Hull FC, as the wind swirled across the terraces. From the first play it all went wrong as Satae released the ball and Taylor knocked on! We defended well and a poor kick was fielded in goal to give us a 7-tackle set in which we got to the second before Bowden knocked on. What a disastrous start. It was last year against Warrington all over again, as they drove down the field and Austen scored under the sticks. It was all that we deserved and after a truly sloppy start, you didn’t have to be Banksy to realise that already the writing was on the wall.
Warrington made a bit of a harsh of the restart, but it was hard going for the fans watching as things just got worse. Then as Austen landed a brilliant 40/20 somehow our line survived. But, then we actually pressed their line, but failed with a poor final kick but we regrouped and went down their end again, only for Houghton to knock on. A brilliant run out of defence by Fonua ended with him prone on the ground holding his ribs and off he went gasping for air. He has a broken rib to go with all our broken hearts and quite frankly nothing goes right for us these days does it?
Next up we went down field with big Josh Jones moving into the centre and we even managed to force a drop out. We were holding them up field as well, but defeated ourselves, being disjointed and struggling for shape with such a jumbled-up line. Danny Houghton fell apart under the sticks as he stood with his back to a play the ball and Warrington got possession 5 yards out. We survived but then a man short in the scrum we took too long to pack down to give away a shot clock penalty, none the less somehow a fortuitous obstruction saved our line again.
We had to drop out on the 30th minute mark as we were under the cosh once more and it was all best described as a bit of a circus as both sides made mistakes, produced erratic decision making which was followed by more mistakes. The thing is they were crap as well. For the watching fans at home, it must have been a cross between a fiasco and a good laugh. We were just awful and punished again when another Hull error, this time from Fash saw Lineham sliding in at the corner. It was just shocking stuff in what was the worst half of the season and as the hooter sounded, as if to give some blessed relief, we went in 12-0 down.
The second half started with us giving away a stupid interception and it looked little better as Shaul lost the ball on the sixth tackle, in his own twenty. Then as we got upfield we coughed the ball up again and Toby King went right back to the other end and scored and that was, after just 48 minutes, 16-0 and that!!! Watching it back we were being ridiculed by the Sky commentators and who can blame then? Warrington ‘scored’ but Gelling lost the ball crossing the line as ‘Enter of the Gladiators’ (the famous circus music) went through my head.
Shaul knocked on, again, simply because he was in the wrong place for a Kelly pass, they went downfield and Gelling scored; it was a shambles and I pondered just what do our lot do all week, besides have their hair cut and in Albo’s case, coloured? Murdoch-Massila went in under the posts and the FC fans headed for the exits and that after just 59 minutes. Good practise for playing behind closed doors, I thought!
I’d lost interest by now as thankfully, as we muddled along, Ratchford knocked on over our line and Kelly missed a sitter when all he had to do was catch the ball and run in untouched. Next up, Widdop went in as the rout continued and he was followed by Austen. 38-0 with 9 minutes to go! Everything that could go wrong went wrong, but not because we were unlucky but because we were crap. Johnson was looking sharp playing at acting half whilst Houghton just looked lost in the line. As the hooter was about to go Buchanan went in at the corner and of course, typical of the night, Sneyd missed the kick.
We were at last all put out of our misery and as the tumble-weed blew across the terraces the valiant few who stayed to watch, saw just Jack Brown, Brad Fash, Jordan Johnstone, Kieran Buchanan Tag, Marc Sneyd and Albert Kelly bothered enough to come around the pitch and clap the fans. They then all just trudged off home, unable to even raise a comment on the game. We were rudderless, leaderless and besides young Brown who had a real dig, no one deserves a special mention really for everyone was pretty ordinary.
So, to really serious stuff, which I feel I have to at least mention, because I guess for Rugby League the ‘Elephant in the Room’ that is the looming spectre of Corona Virus, has finally come out from behind the settee and games look like being played if at all, without fans present. All Clubs across the game must be worried. Sport of course pales into insignificance when you consider what our great Country faces and as a male at the wrong end of the age range with iffy lungs, the constant media barrage of doom and gloom, means that it’s all become a bit scary. Thus, the sport I love is at present, even for me, a bit secondary. I’m sure that must resonate a bit for a lot of you out there reading this as well.
However, hope springs eternal and we’ll all keep the faith and battle through; we all just have to keep believing. The thing is, although no one in the media seems to want to contemplate opening the discussion, you have to consider the impact it will have on the owners of clubs in a cash strapped game, that lives on the edge and that relies on weekly match day revenue and a pay as you play TV deal. Take Adam Pearson for instance. With his current wage bill, he can’t contemplate, for long, playing games behind closed doors at the KCom particularly with the charges he has to pay the SMC, (even without the cost of stewarding, catering staff etc.), nor can he foot the bill if they are postponed or cancelled altogether.
He said after he had sacked Lee, that the club was entering hard times and as such the fans would need to rally around the players and staff and that was I guess code, for what I outline here. When he joked after being told he had said he would never sell Lee whilst he was at the club, he commented, ‘Well I’d better sell up then!’ You really do hope he was joking don’t you! But with what is coming up, I bet there are other places he would rather be!
The owners of the clubs apparently want to postpone the season, because without the income, (already banked and in some cases spent or at least committed) from season tickets, they can’t even start to honour their commitments and a hefty wage bill. At least postponing the season keeps that cash in house in the hope that the fixtures are played some time. Then there is Sky TV and what happens if they withdraw some of their broadcast fees. It’s Unthinkable really!!!!
However, much as we hope differently, in the worst-case scenario, this could be the end of some clubs and even perhaps the game as we know it! Players have to live and have their commitments and their families to support, but the owners can’t pay a monthly wage bill of such proportions, without any cash flow from customers, so it’s all a bit concerning really, isn’t it? However, it’s a problem that hundreds of firms across the country are facing. In fact, it’s hard to see where the game will end up! As for me personally, well they can have my season ticket money games or no games, if that means I’ve done something to ensure that the club I love survives.
So, to lighter matters and (ex-coach) Lee Radford was eating a bit of humble pie last week after his ill thought out comments about the Wakefield pitch which, on the night, was in fact a good playing surface. It was a typical comedy interlude from Lee when our Coach said, “I hammered the pitch before the game, I called it a cow pat and I apologise sincerely for that I have spoken with Steve (Dutton) the groundsman here and he’s fuming with me. I said I’m going to bring him a beer when I come watch the reserves. It was like Wembley turf when we walked out there”. That made me smile a bit!
So, to the Wakey coach Chris Chester and some sour grapes he brought forward, which often happens when you’re disappointed. However, his outburst after our one-point win in West Yorkshire last weekend, was about his opinion that the whole principle of the Golden point was flawed. Well I guess it is when you lose Chris!
However that said he maybe has a point because his comments engendered a whole discussion on the subject from people who liked the principle, those who felt it should be scrapped and a draw with one point each awarded and the others who feel that we should give a point to each side and award an extra one for the golden point win.
When the principle of Golden Point was first muted three years ago I said in here it was all a bit too ‘American’ for me, for in the States, when it comes to sport, there always has to be a winner and a loser. That’s the way it pans out as well big style in Rugby League! One team and one set of fans enjoy that amazing feeling there is in such situations whilst the other side experience that horrible feeling and risk a real knock to their confidence going forward.
When it comes to tactics, receiving the ball really is key, for you really do have make sure you receive possession first. However, you can win without it …occasionally …, as happened last season for us at Catalan where a great kick-off from that man Sneyd (again), found touch and we got the head and feed at the scrum.
So, what do we do with the conundrum of the Golden Point? Well, for me I think that the half-way house, as already used in the Championship, is the best idea whereby in the event of a draw you get a point each to keep the clubs happy and then play for another point in Golden Point to satisfy Sky TV and the spectators. That would work well and I think keep everyone on board without dissipating the drama of that amazing end to a game.
I was hearing the other day that a referee posted on twitter that he had been officiating at a game on Friday which was a close game (as they all where) but all his family were there only to witness that official being abused from the terraces, as the fans called him everything from a paedophile to a masturbator, which naturally really upset his wife and three children who were sat right next as this abuse was doled out. I know back in the day the old Boulevard ‘Little Wooden Whistle’ song was always finished with a string of expletives but I think that perhaps something has to be done about such action, but I’m not sure what can be are you?
Every fan has a right to criticise the referee and booing him is also I think pretty acceptable in modern sport, let’s face it we do see some rubbish decisions. However, that more radical sort of stuff can’t be allowed if we are as we say a family game. No wonder we are short of referee’s, something that was animated perfectly when the two linesmen at the Wigan v Rovers game were the best two referees we have! I mean to say, who would keep on turning up to officiate, if you get that sort of stuff which we were told really upset the referee’s family. I know a young referee, from Beverley, who regularly gets abuse from the watching parents when he officiates in junior rugby and it seems to be a cultural thing these days. There’s a bit to be done about the quality of our officiating, but we all have I think to clean it up a bit as well, although that’s just my perhaps out-moded view of things of course.
We heard last week in the League Express that the RFL has written to Adam Pearson asking him to explain his comments made in the Catalans club’s match programme where he questioned how the Dragons were able to afford their squad under Super League’s £2.1m salary cap. Prior to the game that the Dragons won 34-29 he said, “It appears at first glance that Catalans have four marquee players on their books, for James Maloney, Sam Tomkins, Israel Folau and Sam Kasiano are all big money, star players and pose a huge threat today with a talented squad around them, including the likes of proven, integral Super League players. Our CEO James Clark does a good job for maximising all available channels, but whoever is doing the equivalent job at Catalans must be a magician by trade!”
Adam also criticised the RFL’s disciplinary panel in the column, after Chris Satae and Albert Kelly’s suspensions. He added, “It would be nice to avoid any further ludicrous suspensions. Albert’s ban was effectively extended to five matches, which I’m sure we all had trouble working out, but the rules are the rules. Meanwhile Chris gets a two-game ban for a schoolyard push which we have seen repeated so many times across Super League in recent weeks and all have gone without punishment. It does seem that punishments are far harsher and more frequent down this end of the M62!”
I suspect it was what he had to say in the last bit about the suspensions and bias against the Hull Clubs, that got him in hot water and so two weeks ago the RFL sent a compliance letter to Adam and he had until last Tuesday to explain his actions. Thing is of course, who can really argue with anything he said, he was just saying what we and probably the fans of every other club feel about the RFL all the time. Well done to him I say, some won’t like me saying that and he’ll be out of pocket I guess, furthermore I doubt that the RL will agree with my sentiments do you?
Last week was a busy one for announcements and on Monday it came out that a second Canadian club, Ottawa Aces, had been officially launched, with the aim of following Toronto Wolfpack into Super League. The RFL confirmed Ottawa’s participation in League One, from 2021 while at the same time announcing (thank goodness) a 12-month delay for New York because it feels two trips to North America in one season would place unfair demands on part-time players.
Canadian Eric Perez, who you’ll remember originally founded Toronto in 2016 and oversaw their promotion to the Championship before making way for Aussie billionaire David Argyle, unveiled the new club at a press conference in Ottawa. They were initially given the go-ahead to enter in 2020 and Perez, says the delay was due to prolonged discussions over central funding distribution. With a seven-strong board and more than 20 investors, Perez says finance will not be an issue, but claims their insistence on central distribution, which was and continues to be denied to Toronto, was a matter of principle. At the press conference he said, “We weren’t going to come in unless we were getting a fair deal,” he said. “We will be getting a percentage of central distribution and working our way towards getting all the distribution in a few years.”
So, there we are were off and by 2023 we could well have two French teams and three North American outfits taking part in the competition, however, I’m not all together sure if this a very good idea myself. If for nothing else than for the fact that we already have a shrinking talent pool in the game which because of Duel-Registration sees lower division clubs not having to develop their own talent in any sort of numbers. Plus the fact that both these clubs will be tapping into a few Aussie players, as our Championship and Division One clubs and developing very few if any local players. Who knows by say 2025 or 26 we might even see a Super League with only 7 British Clubs in it and teams shuttling backwards and forward to France the USA and Canada!!
This week I was prompted to start thinking about how the old guard has changed with regard to what different positions do in a team and how the old tradition of a ball handling rangy loose forward is now pretty much gone forever. These days the loose man is invariably just another prop, or if you’re lucky an extra running second rower. It’s quite ironic really how in the past we have been invariably always been good when we had a ball playing 13 making play down the middle, as we saw with Johnny Whiteley, Mick Crane, Gary Divorty and Jason Smith. But with respect to them, there was only one real master in that position and that was the one and only ‘Knocker’ Norton. What a player he was and with apologies and respect to all those I mentioned earlier, without doubt the best I have ever seen. When I think of him it brings back lots of great memories like that run towards the Kop at Elland Road with the Cup in 1982 and many tries, shimmies and pin point passes. The man was an absolute marvel who had an ability to approach a would-be tackler and simply cruise straight past him.
However, one game that always springs to mind when I think of Knocker was played at Wheldon Road Castleford in the John Player Trophy second round on Sunday 1st November 1981. This week in Codgers Corner, I want to feature it as an all-time favourite of mine and what a game it was, with a record gate for the Competition of 13,413, of which at least 6000 travelled down the M62 from Hull to roar on the FC.
Recently rated the World’s Number One Loose Forward in an 1981 Australian RL magazine, Norton took on that mantle superbly that day as he took his old Club apart.
In a game that saw Crooks, Prendiville and Harrison all pulled back by ponderous referee Ronnie Campbell, for forward passes after ‘scoring’, Hull were supreme. After a slow start which saw us lose the ball twice in contact, we eventually got the scoreboard turning with a wonderful try engineered by Tony Dean. The live wire scrum half who I remember had a pain killing injection in his ankle before the kick off, was everywhere and he slipped a tackle, fed Norton who shimmied to the left and released a wonderful one-handed pass to Dane O’Hara for the Centre (that day) to power away from the defence to touch down wide out. However, Crooks who missed with the first three attempts he had at goal, missed the conversion. Our tackling was superb with Gary Kemble brilliant at the back and the wings made up of Clive Sullivan and Prendiville keeping the Castleford danger men wide out, Richardson and Morris relatively quiet.
Then just 6 minutes before the break, in only their third visit into Hull’s 25, Johnson produced one of the best dummies I have ever seen to this day. As we all looked one way he stepped the other to score a great try and with a conversion from Paul Norton the home team went in at half time leading 5-3. All that after Wileman had won the first half scrums 8-0.
Hull seemed to lack any sort of penetration in that first 40 minutes and seemed at times content to flit backwards and forwards across the field showing plenty of fancy passes, but making little forward progress. Whilst Cas’ just stood their ground and using marker defence snuffed out any forward motion we made. As the trains rumbled by the end terrace we all feared the worst during the break, but we need not have worried because from the first set of the second half the whole game became a master class from Steve Norton.
Just when we needed a score, in the 57th minute Norton obliged. Dean took the ball from a scrum and inter-passed with the breaking Norton, who then dummied left and right, feigned to kick and as the home clubs line responded he created so much space he was able to romp in for his 97th career try. It was a superb piece of play and although Crooks missed the conversion again, he tucked away two points a few minutes later when Beardmore tried to decapitate our loose-forward only for Norton to duck and stand smiling as the referee ticked the Castleford scrum half off and awarded the penalty. At 8-5 the pieces were now starting to come together, and soon Norton was at it again. He combined with Dean, Crane, and Leuluai in a flowing move that saw Kemble shoot up from full back to support the play and scream off towards the line where after an arcing run he scored with ease.
We were now on the rampage and as both Spurr and Crampton gave away penalties Knocker sent out a spinning pass that cut out four players (despite Mick Crane desperately trying to get hold of it) and found O’Hara in space where he fed substitute Sammy Lloyd, who, in front of his home town crowd, put Paul Harrison on his way to the line as a game that had started so badly was beginning to look like a rout!
Norton was going berserk as on one occasion he beat seven players, before finally falling over his own feet when about to release Crane with a clear run to the line. Then with time and Castleford’s energy running out and the home crowd streaming out of the exits, Norton found Crane, who broke well into open field, Crooks came in support and Robin Chester, on as substitute for Clive Sullivan, switched play brilliantly back inside for Tony Dean to complete the scoring.
It was as good a win as we had all seen ‘On the Road’ for many a year, with the forwards led by Stone, Skerrett and Wileman tackling everything and laying a platform that Dean and Leuluai at half back really capitalised on. However, in the end it was a privilege and an honour to be there that day and to witness one of the most devastating and classy displays anyone could wish to see. Norton was that afternoon, just like all Super Heroes, totally invincible! What a memory and what a player!
So there we are and what a night it was on Thursday eh? Both forgettable and unforgettable in equal portions! No doubt those die-hard pilgrims left watching at the end took a last look around a Stadium they might not see for a while, turned their collars up to the cold wind and trudged home across West Park, as behind them, just in front of the West Stand and in the glare of the TV camera’s, it was all happening.
I’m truly grateful for what Lee did for us, the Diary has been critical at times, but it always supported him and it will be a funny old place without his mis-quotes, mispronunciations and wry humour after games. Whenever I asked him a question to include in the Diary he would invariably be interesting and honest. Always’ waspish with the media post game, he has been pretty subdued of late and has looked just crushed by our recent reversals.
He painted the Training rooms out every closed season, Boxed for Charity and interacted well with the fans and for that alone he will be hard to replace. He was also a fan and a real anorak of the game and a good bloke as well. But of late out on the field whatever he has done before-hand the tail seemed to be wagging the dog and it was time for change. I guess in a nut shell it looked like he had lost the players although perhaps only in the motivational bits, for they all seem to be speaking highly of him after the event!! Perhaps they should have thought about that earlier? However, it seems that when the dust settled Lee was actually even a bit relieved that it was all over! With all the trauma and financial issues the club is to face in the coming weeks, we may not see a replacement any time soon, but that’s completely understandable.
Thanks for reading another Diary, it’s been a funny old week so quiet early on and yet going out with a bang at the end. It’s a pity that outside issues have arrived to scupper what could have been an exciting new start in the weeks to come. I’ll speak to you next week!!
But these are strange times indeed!!!