So here it is the first Chapter of my life as an FC fan serialised as promised on a weekly basis, as I said last week it’s a bit social history-ish at first, as it’s hard to get to games when you’re in your nappies! However, most of the big FC games and seasons are in there and if you fancy a read bear with me. It’s not ideal and I know many of you will have already read it and won’t feeI much like reading it again. But, its better, I think, with all the doom and gloom and anxiety around our lives and our game at present to look back at more simpler times when perhaps we didn’t know just how lucky we were. I hope you find something to enjoy!
So back to those less stressful times!
Try to stay safe everyone!
Living in the shadow of Giants
The first game I ever missed.
Saturday 9th August 1950 Hull FC 18 Bradford Northern 10
For this Rugby League fan, the first Hull FC game I missed was against Bradford Northern at the Boulevard on 19th August 1950. Of course, even though I only lived across the road, at just two months old it would have been a big ‘ask’ for me to get there. Unlike the explanations of many of those absent fans who call those ‘Phone in’ sports shows on local radio after games, I believe I had a reasonable excuse. You know the type, the ones that when asked, “Did you go to the game today” always have a readymade excuse to trot out like, “No, I HAD to work…” or “The dog’s just died….” or “Just before I was going to set off, my conservatory collapsed…,”. I suppose, had there been local radio back in 1950 and had I been able to speak, I would have taken great delight in telling the presenter that “I am just two months old, in my cot, and I can’t walk or talk, otherwise I would have been there!” That was of course all true, I really couldn’t walk, but I somehow know that had I been able to, then I would have got there, although on this occasion, for once, I think that would be a pretty good excuse for not attending.
I’d like to think that even at that tender age there was no chance of me being like that lot of committed “Fair Weather’ supporters. We all know them, don’t we? Those ‘sing when your winning’ ‘only here for the Beer’ crowd who always have an opinion and invariably an excuse!! Perhaps, if you believe in fate, it explains why I was born just across the road from that most famous of Rugby League Stadiums, The Boulevard! Perhaps what follows in here was just my destiny.
Actually, talking of rugby, 1950 was not that good a season for the club anyway, three wins and a draw from our first 11 games was hardly awe inspiring! A Yorkshire Cup exit in the first round at Dewsbury was another blow, and then Warrington put us out of the Challenge Cup also in the first round and in the end a strong and experienced Workington Town side went on to win the Championship! So, I suppose I wasn’t really missing much, although one interesting point of note that passed me by completely back then, was that at the end of the campaign we finished the season off with a win against Celtic de Paris in a friendly game staged as part of the Festival of Britain! A friendly game? Now there’s a contradiction in terms if ever there was one because I challenge anyone to come forward who has actually witnessed a game of Rugby League that was ever “Friendly”. It was then and still is the hardest game in the World.
I say one point of note but of course the most significant thing to happen at my club that year, took place at York on 23rd December.
Johnny Whiteley takes a bow
This was without doubt a massive milestone in the long history of our club that year though and one that probably a good number of those fans with bereaved dogs and collapsed conservatories missed all together but it was then that the greatest and most popular of all Hull born players Johnny Whiteley made his debut for the club. His first run out came after playing just two “A” team games as a trialist and he received the princely sum of £100 as a signing on fee. Several seasoned supporters, relate a great story about how a couple of weeks later, just as he scored his first try for the club at the Gordon Street end of the Boulevard, a shaft of sunlight pierced the leaden January skies. One supporter that witnessed the event described it to me years later as, “A Spot light from Heaven’, it struck the figure of our young loose forward just as he placed the ball over the line to score the first of many touchdowns. Johnny was destined, (as his future career at the club would subsequently prove) to be the chosen one!
That of course is just a legend and emanates entirely from what I have gleaned from the ageing sages of the ‘FC Army’ of supporters, who remember these types of things. They are those guys who occasionally you bump into and who can, at the drop of the hat, relate tales of post war rugby league, Duncan Jackson, Bruce Ryan and all. But exactly how far back can I actually remember? And how far back do I have to look to see exactly where this wonderful obsession, nay, love affair with a Rugby League team started.
So that’s where it all started then?
Well, I know that I can’t remember anything from the early womb days, I doubt anyone can! Some wise men will tell you that their adventures in a bag of amniotic fluid manifest themselves in later life in that secure feeling you get when you wake up in bed with your knees tucked up into your stomach. However, if I’m honest I remember very little of what went on up to the age of two, but from then on I can remember quite a lot. That’s the funny thing about this sort of reminiscing really, you can remember the finest detail about your life back then and yet as you get older you have difficulty telling anyone what colour socks you wore yesterday.
The stuttering, hazy ‘video tape’ in my head can flash up tries, bus trips to away games, hotdogs served at half time, being sick in roadside ditches and even injuries from 50 years ago, and yet I constantly struggle to remember when my wedding anniversary is! (28th August I think?)
I will though, here at the very beginning, try my best to fill in the blanks with the stuff my parents told me and what I have gleaned from what I laughingly call my research! I start at the very beginning if for no other reason than to explode the myth that I was found wrapped in a Hull shirt on the terracing at the Airlie Street end of the Boulevard after some muddy ‘A’ team game, on a foggy Saturday afternoon, back in 1950!
Firstly, I have to say that I think it’s reasonably safe to presume that things on Anlaby Road back then were a bit quieter than they are now. The road was then the major western artery of Kingston upon Hull leading directly to Boothferry Road and the rest of the country, but it certainly saw a lot fewer motor vehicles but many more bicycles than it does today. The old grey-haired man sat in the little hut at the railway crossing at “Boulevard End”, would, having heard the electric bell ring, walk out into the traffic, waive his red flag and close the gates for a train. Something he would do, almost mechanically, around one hundred times a day! He just took hold of the gate waived the flag and stepped boldly out into the road. The crossing was replaced by a “Fly Over” many years later and that’s probably a good thing, as had that practise of opening and closing the gates continued today, it is likely the gateman would be doing well to get anywhere near being old and grey haired. There is little doubt that he would have been mowed down long ago by some boy racer or Eddie Stobart juggernaut.
No doubt too, as the twentieth century marked its half way point, those maroon liveried, battery operated Co-op vans would be speeding backwards and forwards with their daily deliveries, darting between the stately blue and cream East Yorkshire buses which plodded from stop to stop, up and down the highway. There would also be the silent running and slightly phantom, Corporation Transport trolley buses, displaying in their illuminated front panels 69 Meadow Bank Road or 69 Paragon Street depending, on which direction they were travelling. Then there was the hundreds and hundreds of cyclists too who, rain or shine, would make their way to and from work, weaving in and out of the traffic. This regular sojourn, only occasionally interrupted by the changing of the odd set of traffic lights or the closing of that busy railway crossing. It was at those wooden gates that these intrepid cyclists would line up like international cyclist at the start of the Tour de France waiting to race through the smallest of gap as the gates opened to traffic again.
Day after day, week after week Anlaby Road would be the same, with life continuing at this bustling yet measured pace. I don’t suppose any of these comings and goings bothered me much on the 26th June though. For at around ten o’clock that night, as life went on as normal outside the Newington Nursing home I was inside more preoccupied with gulping down my first breath, and crying to order after a slap across the backside.
Mum and Dad, Abbie and Wally.
In hindsight, I suppose I was a privileged child because back then there were only a few of the more ‘modern thinking’ families using Nursing Homes for these introductions to the world of West Hull. In most cases the overweight and fresh-faced resident midwife Mrs Hayes, was kept busy on her bike, racing up and down the Boulevard to the more traditional births, which the ‘more traditional’ mothers preferred, “In ‘me’ own bed!”
Abigail, my Mum, benefiting as she did from the post war euphoria that was everywhere in those days, definitely thought of herself as a modern woman. So, despite her own introduction to the world having been with plenty of ‘towels and hot water’ in the front room of 22 Carrington Street, she was certainly up for the nursing home bit when it came to giving birth herself. Her husband and my dad, Charles Walter (or Wally, as he was known by everyone in the Boulevard), was a butcher by trade or as he preferred to be designated whenever he was asked, a ‘Master Butcher’. My Dad was very proud of what he had achieved! His long apprenticeship at a Pork Butchers on Beverley Road and his subsequent and mandatory wartime spell in the catering section of the ‘Desert Rats’, had stood him in good stead to rise through the ranks of his chosen profession. He was, by the time ‘Yours Truly’ popped out, the Manager of Dewhurst the Butchers at 259 Holderness Road.
The funny thing about the nick name “Wally” is that these days it is a term of ridicule and indicates someone a little stupid, however back then there were a lot of Walters about and the shortened version of their name was seen as a term of endearment! Abbie and Wally, according to everyone who knew them then, had one thing in common, (well hopefully they had more than one but you’ll no doubt get the idea), because they were best known around the Boulevard for their keen interest in the game of Rugby League. They were though, more importantly almost notorious for their long and unswerving love of Hull Rugby League Football Club.
Right up to marrying Wally in 1947, Mum had always lived just off Airlie Street, at number 22 Carrington Street. This was an end terraced house, separated from next door by a short passage, where the back boundary of a tiny back garden was actually the solid concrete wall of the Main, or “Best Stand” of the Boulevard Stadium. The arena was undoubtedly the centre of the community for everyone in the neighbourhood.. There was a lot of local pride in the old place too with it being in the global scheme of things, a world-renowned venue for the game of Rugby League.
Amy Johnson knew my Mother!
Abbie had been a bright girl and attended Kingston High School on the Boulevard, a fact that sometimes assisted her in ‘breaking the ice at parties’, when she would casually announce that she was in the same class as Amy Johnson, the acclaimed long distant aviator. Amy was born not too far away in St George’s Road, at number 154 which was a bit more up market than Carrington Street, but still very much in ‘Black and White’ territory.
Wally alas, was born away from that hot bed of Rugby League in a terraced house in Lilac Avenue in Hardy Street just off Cottingham Road, in an area best described as North/Central Hull. He met Mum, just before the war, at a dance at the then centre of the city’s nightlife, the Beverley Road Baths. Shortly after this meeting, the recently qualified butcher, was called up into the R.A.F. to sort out Mr Hitler, he went into the catering corps. and did not return home until 1945. Throughout the war, as millions of other sweethearts did in those days, the pair communicated by hundreds of letters, many of which were lost well before they arrived at their destination. Mum was enlisted to the war effort, making as she put it, “Bits of Spitfires and tanks” at Rosedown and Thompson the Engineers in Cannon Street. By night she did her bit too, acted as an air raid warden and fire watcher around the Hessle Road area.
Wally at first served at local airfields such as Catfoss, and Bransburton and was able to get home to see Mum on leave. He was then posted to the Middle East where he catered for the Desert Rats before finally in 1945 he arrived home from Egypt. He brought with him a hand stitched leather camel ornament, a new wallet, a couple of leather lampshades and a bad dose of a Malaria type disease called ‘Sand Fly Fever’. Just in case he needed reminding of those years of carving beef and making sausages to feed the lads chasing Nazi’s up and down the Sahara, this inflamed rash reoccurred every summer almost up to the day he died in 1980.
23 Aylesford Street – Be it ever so humble….
After being married at St Matthew’s the areas (and the rugby clubs) Parish Church Mum and Dad decided to settle nearby. In fact, in the traditions of the much-vaunted extended family, they ended up not too far away from mum’s original home in Carrington Street, renting a two up two down “Sham Four” terraced house at 23 Aylesford Street. This fronted that street but had its ‘back passage’ in Airlie Street just across the road from the front entrance of the Boulevard Stadium. The house itself looks tiny now but back then it seemed like a mansion! There was a front room into which was squashed a gate leg table, a three-piece suite, a china cabinet, sideboard and in pride of place in the corner, a 12” Pye television set.
In those days the possession of a TV was still something of a status symbol, and Mum and Dad were the first in the area to have one. Apparently our H Arial was the first to be seen across the rooftops for miles around and I vaguely remember the day when I was three and all the neighbours crammed into our little front room to watch the Coronation.
However, back to 23 where the backroom downstairs was the kitchen which boasted an Ascot gas geyser, a stone sink washing machine with wringer and a kitchen table. There was a small pantry in one corner and a flight of stairs that led to the bedrooms in the other. Out through the back door was a yard with a coal house, a shed and next to the back gate an outdoor loo, with a paraffin night light for the cold weather and a rag rug under which the spare house key was always left! We actually had toilet paper, a luxury in those days around our way, with most of our neighbours using small sheets of newspaper. So that these could be hung up tidily the older members of the family often used to sit at night threading the small sheets of newsprint onto a loop of string with a darning needle, whilst listening to Dick Barton and ‘Take it from Here’ on the radio. Others, who were not so fussed, just jammed yesterday’s newspaper behind the plumbing. Some would say, even today, that it’s probably not a bad use for the local newspaper.
Upstairs there were two bedrooms; at the front was my parent’s room whilst I was in the back. There were only two things that were special about my room really, the smell and the view from the window. My Dad had made a wooden ottoman for Mum to keep all her bedding and linen in and for some unknown reason he had creosoted it! I can still smell it now! If I knelt on that same piece of aromatic furniture however I could see through the sash window right across the car park of the Boulevard Stadium. In fact if I looked a little further in the gap between the “Best” stand and the open terrace, or ‘Bunkers Hill’ as it was known back then, (no doubt after the famous American Battle of 1775) I could just see half the score board which in those days was at the Gordon Street end of the ground. Then, of course, this meant little to me, but in later years that view became very significant indeed.
So that was home, fresh meat every day, brought home by Dad, ‘Muffin the Mule’ and ‘Mexican Pete’ on the TV, ‘bombed buildings’ to play on and Mums homemade bacon and egg pie, who could wish for more.
Aylesford Street was terraced, in fact at the time of writing, it still is. Each house had a minuscule front garden, often fenced off by smart painted wooden palings. Dad had planted a Privet hedge in there which, I suppose, survived rather than flourished in the shallow soil. The kerbs in front of the houses had knobbly metal stumps along the top that indicated where the cast iron railings had been sawn off as scrap metal for the war effort and never replaced.
On just about every street corner there were little shops, butchers, general stores, hairdressers or bakers and all the daily needs of local families were met by these small corner shops. As well as food they provided a social meeting point for the local ladies. In those days it was difficult to keep food fresh and often the pantries were damp and small, so regular visits to these establishments were part of everyday life particularly for the women of the area. Money was tight and often the proprietors of the shops would measure out tiny quantities of tea, sugar, butter or lard to “tide” the families over till pay day.
One baker called Hudson had a shop on the corner of Airlie Street and the Boulevard. Old Mr Hudson used to bake his own bread daily and the smell was outstanding. One of my first recollections was being pushed down to the shop in my pram and smelling that bread. Even today when I arrive in Argyle Street for Home games at the KC Stadium and smell the aroma from Jackson’s Bakery, my mind automatically goes back to Hudson’s on the Boulevard with its tiled floor, polished chrome bacon slicer, Rhubarb tarts, fresh custard pies and fat jolly serving ladies in big green aprons.
Another store that stuck in my mind back in those really early days was Crimliss’s Fish and Chip shop in Airlie Street. Fish was popular, cheap and very plentiful. When I was little, I can remember Mum taking fish to the shop to be fried for about 2d a piece, but you had to buy chips with it, if you didn’t want chips then Mr Crimliss would refuse to fry your fish! Often neighbours who worked on the Fish Docks would bring home a “fry” of fish, which they would share with us! I guess I didn’t know back then, just how lucky I was as far as my nutritional needs go, having a butcher for a Dad and living so near to the docks!
My first encounter with ‘The Faithful’.
Saturday 2nd February 1952: Hull 12 Bradford Northern 8
On Saturdays when there was a rugby game across the road Mum used to proudly sit me in my pram outside the front of the house. There, wrapped in my home knitted black and white blanket, I would watch with great interest, and not a small amount of delight, the cars, buses and cycles arriving from all angles for the big games.
Although I would have been completely oblivious of what was going on, 1951/52 was a slightly better year for the “Cream” and ended with a heart-breaking defeat to Wigan by 13-9 in the play-off semi-final. For the second year running we went out of the Yorkshire Cup in the first round to Wakefield Trinity, whilst the New Zealand tourists thumped us at the Boulevard and Oldham knocked us out of the Challenge Cup in the second round, so in general I suppose I wasn’t missing much.
The next season though saw a staggering gate of 20,000 packed into the Boulevard for a game against Bradford Northern; this was the largest crowd to attend any Rugby League ground since the war. We won 12-8 to shatter Bradford’s 27 game winning streak and although I cannot remember it now, I bet the houses around us rocked to the roars of the crowd and the chorus’ of ‘Old Faithful’ that day!
I vaguely remember from about the age of two, Mum and I started to venture further afield to the local ‘shopping centres’ that were either Anlaby or Hessle Road. There, this inquisitive infant would find treasure houses in such establishments as Home and Colonial, Woolworths, Maypole, Boyes and Mallory’s. The thing was in those days that people were a lot less worried about child molesters and kidnappers as they are today. So it was, that all along these roads outside the shops we would be deposited in our prams, parked tidily in rows, whilst our Mothers went off to get the weekly provisions.
Hessle Road was of course, in the heart of the fishing industry and in the early 50’s around 120 trawlers would set off to ply their trade in the treacherous waters of the North Sea and the Arctic. As you grew up in the area every winter some mate or school pal would lose a father or a brother and, tragic though it was, it was just accepted as part and parcel of living in that fishing community. It was dangerous work on the trawlers and the brave lads who did it used to return home for a few days when a few “Bevvies” and a bit of fun were always on the agenda. One famous story has a group of seamen being regularly thrown out of the Criterion Pub on Hessle Road at 3-00pm, which was then the afternoon closing time. They would walk to Boyes, the local department store and swap around all the babies in the prams and then hide around the corner and watch the fun when the mothers returned! Those lads certainly worked hard and played hard.
Waistells the shop at the corner of West Dock Avenue stocked the ‘uniform’ that these trawlermen used to wear when at home. The younger seamen used to wear outrageous, flashy outfits that were known in the area as “Decky Learner” suits, in fact in the later ‘Teddy Boy’ era of the mid-fifties these lads in their powder blue, light grey or cream outfits developed a unique style. The more outrageous the suit worn by these young lads was usually determined by how drunk they were when they visited Waistells to order them.
These fishermen who experienced tremendous hardship everyday of their working lives also really loved their Rugby. It would not be unusual for a trawlerman to come ashore early on a Saturday morning, call at home to see his wife and kids, and then hop into a taxi to go to Huddersfield or Wigan for the game that afternoon! Taxi’s, although out of my family’s price range, were in fact often left with their meters running outside fishermen’s houses for hours; there is no wonder these brave lads got the nickname of “Weekend Millionaires”
Out and about in the pram.
Life in the Boulevard before school was great. I guess looking back money was in pretty short supply but we certainly had a great time. Dad would get Thursday afternoons off when his shop was closed, and whilst I was still being ferried around in a pram we would all go out exploring on Sundays. This usually took us to West Park to watch the bigger lads fishing for tadpoles, or to go and sit on the seats at the top of the Boulevard and watch the trains go by! Those were great afternoons and I used to be completely mesmerised by the opening and closing of the gates and the goods and passenger trains that would steam by! The seats which were next to Miles, the then famous motor cycle shop, were always occupied by other mothers with their children and several of the older male members of the community. They would sit all day smoking their pipes, discussing the rugby and putting the world to right! Mum would soon join in with the rugby talk, discussing no doubt the current form of say Colin Hutton, Roy Francis or Mick Scott. What better company could you wish for when you were 2 years old?
Another one of our trips used to take place on Saturdays when Hull City was at home. Mum used to push me all the way up Anlaby Road to Hull City’s Boothferry Park Ground. Once there, we would take up position across the road from the ground, me in my pram and mum sat on a convenient garden wall. There we would watch the trains pulling into the little railway halt bringing supporters from Paragon Station to the match. These keen supporters of the Tigers would open the doors even before the train had stopped, jump out onto the embankment and slide and skid down the muddy bank to the turnstiles at the bottom. It was an amazing sight and probably one of the best and most vivid recollections of my ‘pram days’.
Holy wars and Sunday School.
As soon as I was out of the pram and falling about the place I was taken every Sunday afternoon to the big “Parish Hall” of St Matthew’s Church which stood imposingly on the front of the Boulevard. Here, at Sunday school, I was introduced to a chap called God. This was a strange ritual where for the most part you sang songs with words you couldn’t understand and were taught about Jesus, peace and love! All this after having been thumped on the way in and then again on the way out, by the big lads who were all at least 7 years old.
This atmosphere of “Holy bullying” came to a head on Palm Sunday 1955 on the day of the Parish Parade. You see if there was one thing that they excelled at down at St Matthew’s it was parades. Everyone loved a procession around the district, and once a year on Palm Sunday, the vicar, choir, congregation and the whole Sunday School would process around the parish. We all processed behind the Church banners and all the kids carried the nearest you got to palms in West Hull; Pussy willow branches.
Up front was usually one of the local scrap metal dealers’ sons who bedecked in a blanket would re-enact the entry to Jerusalem on the back of one of his Dad’s donkeys! We would stop in every street and sing a Lenten song and of course rattle a collection box. That year I was given a beautiful branch that I thought I would take home to Mum so that she could put it in water and watch it burst into leaf! I had seen her do that sort of thing before and I guess in my own little way, I thought this act of unbridled generosity would maybe score some valuable points at home! The other kids, “Gods battling Urchins”, followed the parade, skirmishing amongst themselves and using their branches in mock sword fights, which soon left their Pussy Willow ‘Palms’ in tatters.
Of course, once we got back to the Parish Hall, the inevitable happened and I was set upon by the bad lads, beaten up, and left with a twig about a foot long! I went home in tears to Mum and Dad! If this proved anything to an impressionable four-year-old it was that all those nice-looking missionaries sat in cooking pots surrounded by jolly looking black men, that we saw in our Sunday School books, had it easy. Religious Education was a steep learning curve down the Boulevard!
A rugby orphan….Play days with Mrs (bloody) Clarkson.
Mother, as was the case in those days, did not work, and I would spend almost all my time in her company. I can remember on numerous occasions sitting her on the settee in the front room and aided by a big brass dish for a steering wheel, taking her on imaginary bus trips all over the place! Saturday afternoons however was different!! Although Dad was working, Mum had a season pass for the “Best Stand” at the Boulevard and every other week during the winter, at about twenty minutes to three I was taken to old Mrs Clarkson’s next door. She was charged with looking after me whilst Mum went to “Cheer on the Cream” across the Road. This of course was in the period which led up to the magnificent late 50’s and is talked of by many of those ‘sages’ I mentioned earlier, as the pinnacle of our clubs post war supremacy. As soon as I could speak and understand what my parents were on about, everywhere we went I would hear folks talking to them about the Drakes, Albert Tripp, Johnny Whiteley, Colin Hutton and Arthur Bedford, Oh and “Bloody Referee’s!!”
Generally speaking, in those days, the elderly were valued and appreciated and often taken under the wing of the younger members of the community. As soon as I could walk I would “go errands” for my Mum taking a plate of food, or some candles, to Mrs Clarkson next door, or taking the evening paper, after my Dad had read it, to old Mrs. Thorpe across the street. The local schools too, I remember, used to make a big thing of bringing the old and infirm produce from their Harvest Festivals and they would often get a few oranges, a jar of jam or a tin of corned beef from this source.
Mrs Clarkson was, I guess, a nice old lady, although when I think back, I suppose that she had probably been around a bit when she was younger. Dad was a bit surprised I think when on a few occasions, after a visit next door I would come out with the odd, ‘bloody’, or call a Policeman ‘a Rosser’! I got some of my first educational pointers from Mrs Clarkson! She was also in charge on Mum and Dad’s big night out every year as she ‘baby sat’ whilst they both put on their ‘glad rags’ and went to the Annual Supporters Club Dinner at the Broadway Hotel on Anlaby Road, an event that was always eagerly anticipated in our house.
I don’t remember much about Mrs Clarkson’s house except for the cast iron doorstop that she used, to hold the back door open on warm days. It was a cast iron black man squatting like a Buddha, with one hinged arm stuck out at the front. When you put a penny in his hand the arm went up to his mouth and he would eat the coin whole! It was of course a moneybox but I used to get no end of amusement by tricking him with washers from Dad’s shed. still an age away.
Match days in Airlie Street.
Every other Saturday throughout the winter, our usually quiet street came alive. Match days in Airlie Street were mayhem. Everybody down our back passage, except ourselves and Mrs Clarkson, took in bikes. This was to offer security during the game for the fan’s prime mode of transport whilst their owners enjoyed the game across the street. There was a set charge of 1d a bike and all householders who took part in this practise, operated a primitive sort of cartel I guess, with most backyards having their own regular customers. So good was trade that Mr Potter who lived four houses down, started an overflow business on the bombed building site at the end of our block of houses. I had never seen so many bicycles, cars and people and even at that tender age the whole match day thing fascinated me! Cars would park down the streets at 45 degrees to the pavement so as to pack more in and it was so quiet and eerie once everyone had got into the ground and the game had started. It was a strange experience seeing all those deserted streets, abandoned vehicles and cycles and hearing the ‘oooh’s’, ‘aaaahhhhs’ and cheers coming from behind the big brick wall across the road.
What’s going on behind that big concrete stand …Granny’s rugby commentaries!
Saturday 1st October 1953: Hull 2 Bradford 7
The 1953/54 season was a better one for the club and the feeling that even a four-year-old got that something special was happening across the street was probably founded in the fact that we were having a really good run of victories at home. Sadly, though we were beaten in the Final of the Yorkshire Cup by Bradford 7-2 although Hull FC managed a very creditable 33 wins out of the 47 games we played. More significantly however the club was starting to bring together the group of players that would serve us so well in the latter part of the decade. Mum would talk to Dad, the neighbours and anyone who she could get to listen about Johnny Whiteley and the team, whenever she got the chance.
As Mrs Clarkson became more and more infirm her language became even more colourful, and I was shipped off on Saturday afternoons to Granny Evers’s house in Carrington Street, where, when Hull scored, the whole house shook with the cheering! It was a strange experience for a four-year-old, but you got used to it and Granny and I played all sorts of games together. My favourite was “Builders” we would be “Bill” and “Mike” and build pretend walls with dusters and old magazines! Whilst doing this, Granny would keep me up to date with commentary on the game based on the noises coming from the stand at the end of the back yard. She’d say “He’s kicked the Goal”, “Now the refs copped it!” and “That’s a try, Up the Cream”. She usually had the score guessed well before Mum arrived back from the game to confirm it and take me home. The “Up the cream” expression, based on the teams faded shirts and shorts, was, my Mum told me many years later, one of the first phrases I ever came out with. Screaming it loud and long in the barber’s chair as a three-year-old, much to Mum’s embarrassment! Good old Granny!
I’ll always remember Granny Evers as being kind and particularly gentle whilst my Dad’s Mum was a formidable woman. She still lived in the family home in Lilac Avenue, where my Dad was born and around 1954 for some unknown reason she suddenly started to visit us every Thursday afternoon to coincide with Dad’s half day off. I bet Mum blessed her!
At about six-foot-tall she always dressed in a long black coat with a matching brimmed hat that she bought years earlier from the department store Thornton Varley’s in Ferensway. She would fill our little front room in Aylesford Street as soon as she walked in. I remember that as she stood there in the doorway pulling her gloves off finger by finger, she would say the greeting “Well, Ow are ya”. You can imagine by the age of four I had this off to a tee and used to imitate her whenever I got the opportunity and often, to my mother’s acute embarrassment, I’d even performed this party piece in unison, as my Grandma stood there saying it.
Jessie, my Dad’s Mum had experienced a sad life really; losing her husband at Passiondale in the Great War just before my Dad was born. In fact, Grandma brought my Dad and his sister up herself, never having got around it seemed to getting married again. Although she was quite softly spoken, Jessica was certainly no gentle giant! For someone who won prizes for her embroidery, she was really heavy handed, something that I remember well from the odd occasions when, in an effort to help my Mum, she used to wash me before I went to bed. I can still feel it today. It was as if someone was clamping my head and rubbing my face with sandpaper. The way she screwed the corner of the towel and rammed it in my ear to dry me, made me think that any time soon it would be coming out the other side.
Though they all looked after me really well, I was never cosseted. Kids just weren’t in those days and although we were warned not to go too far from home, it was a pretty safe community to live in, with the urban paranoia of the “Don’t take sweets from strangers” stuff being still a few years away.
Some women will do anything for a Sherbet Fizz!!
So it was that at about four years old, I started “Playing Out” with Jacko, David, Ginger, Biffo and my other pals down the street! We usually played on the bombed site across the road that was used on match days as a car park in front of the Boulevard ground. It was mostly Cowboys and Indians, Block or Realleyoo but I remember, being the youngest, it was often hard to understand what the older kids were actually doing. Mostly I think I just used to run around screaming at the top of my voice! However occasionally at the instigation of some of the older girls down the street we played Doctors and Nurses. It was then, I guess, that I first discovered an important truth that stayed with me for the rest of my life, that being, that some women will do just about anything for a Sherbet Fizz.
The thing is that we were all probably very poor but we did not realise it! The whole community was insular to the point of living in each other’s pockets; we were all in the same boat financially and lived to that level of expectation. I never remember wanting anything that I could not have, the fact being that you never really wanted that much! Across the road at the Boulevard major ground improvements were taking place and the constant stream of lorries and cranes arriving in Airlie Street heralded the complete re concreting of the terracing at both the Airlie and Gordon Street ends of the ground and the installation of new perimeter fences that were needed to contain the ever increasing attendances the club were attracting.
‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’.
The days were long, and there were always plenty of adventures to undertake and we got our treats from time to time which we really appreciated. Take Christmas for instance. Wherever you lived at that age it was a magical time. Father Christmas came to Aylesford Street just as he did to every other street in the country. The fact that he brought plastic cars, three-penny bits and oranges to me on Christmas morning, in a pillowcase that amazingly resembled one of my Mums’, made no difference at all. That would be what David next door, or Ginger down the street was getting too, in a pillowcase that looked just like the ones that their parents used! Of course, we had the biggest Turkey and lots of joints of meat and everyone crammed into our little front room and drank Hull Brewery Amber and played ‘Housey, Housey’ (Bingo).
Despite working Saturdays and missing most games at the Boulevard because of work Dad was very active at the club working with Ernie Mason and Jack Hayes on the committee that oversaw the building of the new supporter’s club house on the front of the ground. Throughout the festive period that year we all watched with interest as the brickwork was completed and the asbestos roofing sections were put in place.
There were always parties though particularly at Christmas. Jelly and custard, little buns with hundreds and thousands on them, games of musical chairs and at the end the mandatory and eagerly anticipated visit from Santa. Everyone took their own spoons because it was just impossible to eat jelly or blancmange without one and each utensil had a piece of coloured cotton attached to the handle to ensure that after washing up was completed, it was safely returned to the right child after the party. Well, I say Santa, but usually it was a rather short character, who was anything but jolly. Although he invariably had a holey, cotton wool beard and wore ‘National Health’ glasses, sometimes he would even exude the sweet odour of beer or rum but we were pleased to see him just the same, because we knew no different!
I remember one particular party a couple of years later at the newly completed Hull Supporters Club when Father Christmas was unusual to say the least. We all looked up from our trifle and looked again, because as Santa arrived in the usual garb he appeared to have a real dark ‘suntan’. Mum told me later that he had probably been delivering presents in Africa and as he had given me a great game called the Magic Marvello that was good enough for me! In fact, on comparing notes next day, Ginger’s dad had said he had probably been delivering in Brazil, whilst next door David’s mum told him that there had been a heat wave at the North Pole. It was many years before I discovered quite by chance that the club’s great South African coach Roy Francis used to love being Father Christmas at the kid’s parties. So, I guess that finally explained the bronzed faced Santa.
The biggest bath I had ever seen!
On another occasion I was taken by my Mum and a Mr Massey who was on the club’s backroom staff around the dressing rooms under the best stand at the Boulevard ground. He was apparently the club’s masseur at the time and he lived in a big house called Foxholes on the Boulevard. I cannot remember too much about that first visit to the hallowed changing rooms except that they let me stand in the massive communal bath that all the players from both sides got into after the game! It seemed gigantic especially because it seemed a long way from down there on the tiles up to where my Mum and Mr Massey were stood looking down at me. I suppose it made me feel even smaller than I was.
All I could do was be thankful that there was no water in it at the time. All grounds had these communal ‘tubs’ back then and all the players from both sides got in together after the game. It was tradition although it’s hard to imagine that it would go down too well at the KC Stadium these days. For me the camaraderie and friendship that existed between players from all clubs back then was a real plus for the sport and something that seems to have disappeared somewhat from the modern game.
Some Sundays Dad would take his turn at looking after me and he would take me to the town on the bus before walking me down the dockside to the Pier. On the way along the side of Humber Dock he would point out to me the Associated Humber Lines ships like ‘Fountains Abbey’ or ‘Rieveaux Abbey’ that were discharging various cargoes. I can still, to this day, smell the wonderful aroma that came from the banana drying and ripening sheds down there too! This ritual was usually followed by a Steven’s Ice cream from the kiosk on the Pier which accompanied an afternoon watching the ships go by down the Humber.
As for music, well you will find as you read on that it has played a very important part in my life although back at this time my play list was very limited. It probably included “The Runaway Train”, “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”, “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” and “Old Faithful” all with the exception of the latter which was the family anthem, I had learned ‘Parrot Fashion’ from listening to Uncle Mac on “Children’s Favourites” on the Radio at nine o’clock every Saturday Morning. ‘Old Faithful’ is included in this collection of merry melodies simply because it could often be heard drifting up our stairs on Saturday nights after Dad returned from the supporter’s club, usually smelling a bit like Father Christmas!
Still singing on the terraces long after Halifax had packed up and gone home with the cup….
Saturday 3rd October 1954: Hull 14 Halifax 22
Although unbeknown to me at the time, this period in the history of my Rugby League team was one of the greatest they had experienced since their inception in 1865. With that same Roy Francis as coach and that famous mobile “Panzer Pack”, ‘the Cream’ terrorised defences throughout the decade. It was in 1954 that the great team really started to tick and the crowds came rolling back to the Boulevard in their thousands. The club got to the Yorkshire Cup Final and this time after packing me off to Granny’s for some more “Magazine Building”, Mum went on a Danby’s Motor Coach, with the Hull Supporters Club to the game against Halifax at Headingley. She told me in later years of her vivid recollections of the match, which she obviously felt was one of the most exciting she had ever seen. Even though for the second year running we lost the final.
What she remembered most and related to everyone who cared to listen, was the number of injuries we incurred in the game. In the second half apparently, the crowd of over 25,000 watched as first Keith Bowman then Johnny Whiteley and finally Tommy Harris were badly injured all in a three-minute spell. Harris in fact was knocked out cold but the game still went on for around two minutes, as in those days the rules dictated that the referee had to play on until a try or infringement occurred. There were of course no substitutes then either, so Hull played on with, at one point, just 10 players on the field.
It was a real heroic performance and Harry Markham the massive FC forward even had to play on the wing to bolster the backs. Ailing and patched up players came back onto the field and trailing 22-9 late into the second half Hull, just refused to give up! Driven on by the strains of ‘Old Faithful’ they moved the ball to the wing and who else but Harry crashed over in the corner, for a try which Hutton goaled. Hull pressed but the loss of critical players at critical times eventually cost them the game 22-14. However, the Hull supporters have always been magnanimous when faced with endeavour and courage and My Mum always recalled with much relish the strains of our great anthem ringing around Headingley long after, she said, Halifax had collected the Cup and gone home!
But sadly, at such a tender age, it all passed me by. Although through this early period of my existence I had the occasional brush with the hallowed Boulevard Stadium whilst in the process of “playing out”.
Back then on game days, to accommodate early leavers, the big wooden gates would rumble open at around three-quarter time and I would perhaps daringly run into the entrance, shout abuse at the stewards and then hare out again. However thankfully as yet I had not been hooked, I was still immune, the world was still my oyster, the sky was always blue and everywhere was a playground. Although Hull Rugby League Football Club was always there, it was still tucked away at the back of my mind behind the bogey man, Robin Hood, the Lone Ranger, God and the fear of having to wear corrective shoes or clinic glasses! All us kids just took for granted the lines of Hull FC shirts flapping in the wind on a Monday morning down Graham Avenue after Ernie and Ivy Mason had washed them, (before, that was, they persuaded the club to buy a washing machine) because it was just all part of everyday life back then. The club that was to become a way of life was still just the wallpaper that surrounded my existence. I didn’t know it then, but it was to become an addiction and a wonderful obsession that would stay with me for the rest of my life.