Well if any of you managed to wade through last weeks offering here’s another dollop of the same as I continue the serialisation of my books about living in West Hull, the world of school and work and my lifetime obsession with Hull FC.Remember they are not the definitive final draft because these copies come before final proofing etc. but, I’m sure you’ll get the idea. I hope that you and your family are doing your best to stay safe. Man, these are tough times indeed but as promised below, I continue to cover my own younger yearsliving in simpler times, just across the road from the Boulevard. I hope to find something to enjoy. Stay safe and keep believing!
All hell breaks loose at Headingley.
Saturday 22nd October 1955: Hull 10 Halifax 10.
With the exception of my Saturday trips to Granny’s and Mum’s increasing excitement as Saturdays arrived, I still knew very little of things that were happening across the road at the Boulevard.
I was only just five years old in 1955 and the all-consumingworld of Hull FC still hadn’t infiltrated my life. However, had I been of an age to understand, I would probably have deduced that with the increase in people and traffic about on match days things, rugby wise, were really starting to move up a gear. In a season where we had been patchy at times and magnificent at others, we scraped into 4th place and the play-offs. But before that, one of the most notorious games in the club’s history took place at Leeds when we took on Halifax in the final of the Yorkshire Cup. The game itself was a dour affair full of niggling play and bad feeling from both sides, with Hull fighting back from being 10-0 down to draw level through tries from Ivor Watts and Keith Bowman.
But it was what else happened that day that had the national media representatives up in the press box licking their pencilsand scrambling for their notebooks, for Saturday 22nd October 1955 was the day all hell broke loose at Headingley. In the first half, the going was really tough for both sides, with some over exuberant tackling leaving several players needing attention to cuts on the face and head. Then in the second half John Henderson was sent off after producing a ‘sweet’ left hook to flatten our skipper Johnny Whiteley and from then on things turned really nasty with skirmishes and fights breaking out every four or five tackles.
The Hull fans, including my Mum, who had travelled in numbers on two special trains were totally incensed by the refereeing and the conduct of the opposition and as was the norm in those less disciplined times, pelted objects at the Halifax forwards as they left the field at half time. In the second period the inevitable happened as the game finally descended into mayhem when Bob Coverdale, the Hull prop, came out of a scrum with blood pouring down his face. The next scrum saw the Halifax prop, Wilkinson, falling out of the front row with a long cut over his eye that needed four stitches and so it went on. The final whistle went with the scores locked at 10-10 but it was the general opinion of everyone there that the referee, George Phillips had totally lost control well before the end.
So bad was the reaction next day in the national media that the Rugby League immediately held an inquiry and both clubs were publicly warned about their behaviour. The statement issued to the media indicated that “These practises must cease” and both clubs were warned about their future actions. However, for a couple of days the traditional northern game of Rugby League got plenty of national publicity, but sadly for all the wrong reasons.
It had been one of the most brutal encounters ever seen on a Rugby League field in this country. The whole thing was re-enacted a week later with the “Fax” winning the replay at Odsal 7-0. The Hull ‘Faithful’ were certainly despondent but little did the disappointed fans know that later in the season revenge would be a dish best served in Manchester.
School daze….. The first great betrayal.
One thing’s for sure in everyone’s life and that’s when you reach the age of five, with the disclosure of the great Father Christmas swindle still a couple of years off, you invariably experience the first big let -down of your life. One minute it seems that the world is one big adventure, you’re playing out and “sleeping tight”, digging worms and eating them, falling off back yard walls and making privet soup in your mother’s dolly tub, in fact, all in all, life is just full of fun. The next minute however you are taken to this strange place, with no carpets and really high windows. Everything stinks ofdisinfectant as you’re dumped on the floor by your parents, abandoned and with some strange adults and all this in the company of some even stranger looking kids. This, it was quickly apparent was what they meant when they talked about school.
I wouldn’t have minded really but I could clearly see that Mum was crying when she left me, so why, I thought, should she do it in the first place? It was all really baffling when you were just five. Then, just as I was starting to get used to my new surroundings, playing games and finding a few new friends, back she comes, takes my hand and walks me all the way home for lunch. She told me in later life that it was then, after my first half day at school, and through a mouthful of ‘Bullet’ Sago, that I announced across the kitchen table, “I don’t think I’ll go back to school this afternoon”.
The admission class at Chilton Street Infants contained as weird a collection of juveniles as any area in any City could throw together. As children do, my first observation centred on the fact that there were a couple of my classmates with one leg shorter than the other. Three others were really, really over weight with one who wore wiry glasses resembling that porky Billy Bunter character I had seen on the TV back at no. 23. There were also a couple of lads with strange shoes with holes in the side and one whose hair looked as if it had been pulled out of selected areas of his head. I can’t quite remember my reaction to this entire menagerie of human kind but I expect it was something along the lines of ‘what am I doing here with this lot?’
Strange bed fellows!
Once the ice was broken and we started to talk a bit I found that although many of them looked a little weird, we were all just the same really. The main difference seemed to be the level of excitement there was to be found in the jobs that the other kids Dad’s did and the amount of kids who didn’t have handkerchiefs or even seemed to know what they were used for. I mean to say who needs a handkerchief when your shirt has a sleeve. In Mrs Rutherford’s class there were plenty of sons and daughters of fishermen, a couple of the offspring of street sweepers, a sewage workers daughter and the son and heir to a scrap metal merchant’s empire.
From day one, I noticed that a lad called Billy always had a strange odour about him which I suppose, looking back, could have had something to do with his Dad’s work; he drove a sort of primitive version of a fork lift truck at the fish manure factory on St Andrews dock!
There appeared to be only one rule of uniform dress at Chilton Infants and that was that there were no rules! That was with the exception that everyone had to wear shoes. It’s a bit difficult to imagine these days I know but on the first day I was there, I watched with little interest as two lads were told that they could not sit in their Wellington boots all day and were sent home to get some shoes. As I said earlier, a couple of kids had strange shoe’s that we all called clodhoppers, these were really old looking and as big and chunky as the description dictates, but they also had holes punched in the sides. These, I found out quite by chance much later in life, had been provided years earlier, for the poor, by the “Parish Relief” and were punched, so that the children’s parents could not hawk or ‘pop’ them at the Porn Brokers to purchase essentials like beer and “cigs”.
So, there we all were, shiny faced and pretty bemused as we all prepared to take the first steps to university, college, the world of work, or Her Majesty’s Prison. We were all crammed into a small classroom, where we pulled faces at each other and no doubt picked our noses, all different in our own ways with only our thirst for knowledge and running noses as commonalities. Every day we played in a tablet top sandpit and seemed to do all sorts of wonderful things with plasticine. That was all fine by me and looking back, I really enjoyed it but I could not get on with all that numbers and letters stuff and I was absolutely hopeless at sums and at using that ‘dog eared’ cardboard money. The latter failing with any sort of currency is something that appears to have stayed with me to this day. ‘Green sleeves’ Bailey one of the none handkerchief owners, even tried to buy some milk drops from Mrs. Butter’s sweet shop with some of the cardboard coins he had smuggled out of school.
Playtimes however were great, if not a little too short. There were all manners of things to do, fights to support, races to run and games to play. We played Jacks, hopscotch and ‘scrapping’ and I often used to join some of the older boys as they linked arms and went about the playground singing “Anybody in the road gets a good KICK!” That game, predictably, did not go down too well with the teachers, although generally they turned a blind eye, probably seeing it back then, as a character-building exercise. Miss Rutherford,the Head Mistress, was a tall elegant grey-haired lady who always wore a Tweed two-piece and balanced a pair of silver pince nez on the end of her nose. These unusual spectacleswere a far cry from the ‘Clinic’ glasses that most visually challenged kids wore and were certainly a cause of fascination to us all. She was strict but quite liberal and actually let most of the rough tough stuff in the playground go unchallenged. In school however it was different and when she said ‘Shut up’ you did, immediately.
There was also a lot of what is classed these days as bullying going on too, although then it was just an accepted bi-product of growing up. I suppose I was pretty normal and so I avoided most of that, however if you were particularly rich or poor, fat or thin, smelt or wore anything out of the ordinary, you’d had it at Chilton Street. ‘Green sleeves Bailey’ and ‘Smelly’ Billy, ‘the Fishmeal kid’ certainly had a rough time.
Everyone got nits and head lice, some got fleas and some caught ringworm. I got nits twice but as a matter of pride, Mum always made sure that she got rid of them before the next visit of the school nurse; ’Nitty Norah the Head Explorer’.
Just another day at school and ‘Another brick in the wall’
Looking back, you could see exactly what Pink Floyd were on about but “Infants” was I guess a first chance to learn a little about life although when she met some of my chums for the first time, I think my Mother was convinced that I was already on the rocky road to delinquency. That was a theory, and a fear, which most certainly increased for her one afternoon when I poured glue into Mrs Rutherford’s handbag and Mum was summoned to school for me to beunceremoniously marched home and straight to bed.
The typical school day at Chiltern Street began with Assembly, which usually featured discordant renditions of either “Morning Has Broken”, or “All things Bright and Beautiful” bashed out by Mrs Court on the piano in the corner of the assembly hall. She was a really fat lady who used to play with such gusto that on occasions her glasses would slip down her nose and fall off onto the keyboard. Billy Johnson used to always do his ‘Elvis Presley’ to this before his impressions were stopped with a swift whack across the head by a teacher who was positioned at the end of his row for that very purpose.
But after the initial shock of experiencing the education system first hand, life just settled into a routine and seemed to be all lessons and playtimes! Monday was Bank Day and Mum used to send me to school with Half a Crown, (which was a lot of money back then) and my Hull Savings Bank book. This was placed in a bag that she had made for me out of scraps of material and which had a draw top and an elastic strap that went over my shoulder. I must have looked what Granny always referred to as a ‘real devil’ walking to school on Mondays! ! This procedure was, Mum said, so that I could save up for a “Rainy Day”. It rained a lot back then, but I never recollect ever seeing much of the money.
We are the champions! Or so they told me.
Saturday 12th May 1956: Hull 10 Halifax 9
Despite the commencement of my education, my future as a hooligan and my growing fortune in the bank, Hull FC battled on through the season and managed to scrape in at fourth position in the final league table. That gave us entry into the play-offs again and this time the club travelled all the way to Barrow on 12th April and won 30-12. My Mother always told me she did not go to that one simply because it would have meant leaving me too long at Granny’s. That was a good decision too although about two hundred Hull FC fans made the journey, which in those days took around ten hours by coach. I remember being woken by them, in my little bedroom overlooking the car park, as they noisily tumbled off the bus at around 3-00am on Sunday Morning, they were tired, hung over, but happy. We were through to the semi-final.
The success at Barrow meant that we had to go to the Wildespool to play the most feared team in the Rugby League that year, Warrington, or the “Wire Pullers” as they were nicknamed then. (I often wonder with its modern connotations why they dropped that nickname.) The Hull Directors sensing a possible final appearance and the revenue that it would bring to the club slapped a £25 a man winning bonus on our players, something that was, down our street at least, considered a fortune. They probably thought that their money was reasonably safe anyway because to win at Wildespool would be a really tall order, which was understandable when you consider that Warrington, boasting such famous players as Harry Bath and Brian Bevan, had not been beaten at home by a Yorkshire club for seventeen years (how’s that for a statistic?). In contrast this was our first championship play-off semi-final for twenty years. The odds were certainly stacked against Hull FC.
Roy Francis our Coach (and closet Father Christmas) had devised a game plan that was based around creating a fast mobile set of forwards. He had in fact ordered that no one besides the players should be admitted to the two training sessions that week and in this atmosphere of secrecy, he trained with the backs acting as forwards and the forwards playing the game of the backs! It was not unusual in the days when Francis reigned as coach, to see the ‘backs’ hobbling out of the players gate at the Boulevard on a Tuesday and Thursday night after training.
Years later one of them Brian Darlington told me a story from those days about Francis and how he constantly went on and on about the importance of strong legs at just about every training session. He maintained that they were the most significant and fragile part of a rugby player‘s metabolism, particularly, he said, if you were a ‘back‘. To build the players’ leg strength up he used to make all the three quarters, full-backs and half-backs we had on our books, stand in a line at the bottom of the terracing with a rugby ball between their knees. He then made them hop up and down the terrace ten times without dropping the ball, if you did drop it you started again! Most of them, Brian said, collapsed at the end of the session grasping their legs. On the occasion of the big game at Warrington though this intensive training seemed to pay off as Hull scored an early try by Cooper and Hutton kicked a couple of goals and from then on our forwards led by Bill Drake, Bob Coverdale and Johnny Whiteley ground the Wire into the Lancashire mud.
The Hull forwards ran the Warrington pack off their feet that day and once the big Warrington forwards started to capitulate, scrum half Tommy Finn began to run the game and that brought two late tries for Bill Drake and hooker Tommy Harris. It was a magnificent performance with Hull finishing up 17-0 winners. That result shook the world of Rugby League to the core and did not please the Warrington supporters much either. There were reports of one or two fights breaking out in the streets around the ground as the home supporters argued amongst themselves. It was one of the best wins in Hull’s long and celebrated history, and back in Airlie Street no one could believe it.
As kids it was hard to understand just what all the fuss in the street that teatime was all about! Most supporters had seen the score quickly flashed up on the TV but everyone thought it must be wrong. With no mobile phones or local radio, everyone had to wait about an hour for confirmation and queued at the newsagents for the Green Sports Mail to be delivered. A big cheer went up across the whole of West Hull as the little red Austin Daily Mail vans delivered the papers and the result was confirmed. The success starved Hull supporters began to make plans to attend the final, which would be against Halifax, the team they all loved to hate, particularly after that early season ‘Blood Bath’ at Headingley.
So, on 12th May 1956 Hull FC met Halifax in the final of the Championship at Maine Road, Manchester, the home of Manchester City football club. Dad got a very rare day off work and accompanied Mum by train to Manchester, whilst no doubt I stayed at Granny Evers, continuing our architectural endeavours with those old magazines and dusters.
Maine Road was packed to the rafters that day. The first half-hour of the game was tight and neither team seemed to be able to make a break or get on top. Slowly but surely though the Hull pack were starting to wrestle the advantage away from the Halifax six and at half time, thanks to a Tommy Harris try, engineered by Whiteley, and a goal by Colin Hutton we were in front. The second half was a real battle, which many that attended thought might, any minute erupt as the Yorkshire Cup final had a few months earlier. Then, halfway through the second period of play, Halifax lost the ball at a scrum 10 yards from their line and Tommy Finn nipped in to touch down near the corner flag before the “Fax” six had even managed to get their heads out of the scrum. Hutton missed the conversion but “Old Faithful” rang out across Manchester.
Back came Halifax with three unconverted tries in just twenty minutes and they were in the lead. Then it was ‘nip and tuck’ for the rest of the game. We had Brian Darlington our flying winger playing as an injured passenger on the right and as our forwards started to tire, Halifax moved in for the kill. It looked all over but in the final minute Darlington somehow found the strength to run through the pain barrier on a swerving 30-yard charge that left us just 10 yards from the Halifax line. The Hull crowd cheered the move so loudly that most of them missed the referee blowing for the West Yorkshire outfit being off side at the play the ball and with us trailing 9-8, Hutton had the chance to kick the goal and grab the two points that would herald an unlikely victory for Hull.
In those days before the recent and I think somewhat stupid trend of opposition supporters booing kickers had arrived, the whole place went deathly silent, and you could have heard a pin drop. From about ten yards in from the touch line, just to the right of the posts Colin Hutton struck the wet and heavy leather ball with a thud that echoed around the silent terraces, it rose majestically, sailed through the uprights and the place went ballistic! The referee, Charlie “Apple cart” Appleton, blew the final whistle, and we had won the Championship 10-9 in a game that saw the players pick up pay packets of £33 and my Mum and Dad arrived back home drunk for probably the only time I can ever remember.
Meadowlark Lemon might have come to the Boulevard.
The Board at Hull FC always had an eye for something a bit different and the following week a big crowd attended the Boulevard to see the famous American basketball team the Harlem Globetrotters take on the Texas Cowboys as part of a national tour. A mat was laid across the centre spot of the ground the size of a basketball court, and the hoops were erected at both ends. On tour with them was probably the most famous basketball player in the world Meadowlark Lemon, although there are conflicting stories as to whether he actually played that afternoon at the Boulevard or not.
Despite these occasional departures from the norm and the heroics from the rugby team across the road at the Boulevard, life in Aylesford Street continued to move along as usual, in fact most things back then were contained within a conventional routine which everyone in the neighbourhood seemed to embrace without question.
We always got up at 7-00, saw Dad off to work on his bike, had porridge in winter and cornflakes in summer, and then it was off to school. This ordered pattern of life was duplicated in all the homes around us and included wash day on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, bath night on Thursdays and house cleaning on Friday. As a kid, if you were not at school, Mondays were a day for keeping out of the way, because the major operation of performing the family wash rendered the whole house a no-go area. The washer itself would be ticking over in the middle of the kitchen, clothes were festooned everywhere, gently steaming on clotheshorses and there would be condensation on ever window in the house. Dad would drag the hand wringer out of the shed and set it up on the kitchen table before he went to work. There were dolly tubs and poshers and all manner of paraphernalia that any little lad of 7 was best clear of.
Bath nights on Thursdays were another performance too! No one in Aylesford Street had a bathroom so everyone was in the same boat! In our house straight after tea, Dad would unhook the tin bath from the nail in the back yard and set it up in front of the fire in the front room. Then Mum would run backwards and forwards with the kettle, slowly but surely filling it up. I was always despatched upstairs as first Mum and then Dad would have a bath. The water, although never changed, was topped up and re warmed as needed and after about an hour I was called and it was my turn to step into the tepid and by now rather murky waters. I was presented with a big lump of Sunlight soap and told, “And don’t leave it in the water too long!”
Everywhere in our street it was bath night on Thursdays, and it was a sort of unwritten rule that everyone gave their neighbours the necessary privacy needed in those little houses for this almost essential of operations. Sometimes though, people from outside the area would call, and Mum would ask them in, whilst Dad hid me behind a massive bath towel he held up between the bath and the visitor. That towel was never used to get dry on, but specifically kept just for that purpose. There I would be behind the ‘modesty’ towel, sat hunched in the bath with my knees under my chin, whilst at the other side of the room Mr Hayes was collecting the Littlewoods pools money and chuckling at his own jokes about me “Keeping my hand on my ‘Half penny”. Bath nights in Aylesford Street was certainly a memorable experience.
‘Yours truly’ makes his debut at the Boulevard.
Saturday 25th March 1957: Hull 41 York 3
At about the same time that I was hiding every Thursdaybehind that towelling curtain, my Mum and Dad where taking the life changing decision (Well as far as I was concerned it was life changing) to introduce their son and heir to his first proper game of Rugby League.
In those days of course there were no floodlights and with Dad being a butcher and working Saturdays the games that he could attend were few and far between so he really looked forward to Bank Holiday games and those over Christmas. It was therefore decided that a bank holiday match would be as good as any to be the first that the whole family attended. So it was that at about 2-15pm on Easter Monday 25th March 1957 with around 10,000 other black and white fanatics in attendance, I made my bow at the Boulevard. We set off from home, crossed the road from our house onto the players and official’s car park at the front of the ground and before I knew much about it, I was being lifted over the turnstiles and into the Stadium. This was the first time that I had set foot in the place at the beginning of a game, and it marked the moment when this young impressionable and slightly bemused boywas introduced to an obsession that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
Now before I go any further, I have to say that although my memory is reasonably good as far as all things Hull FC are concerned, it is not that good! So what I have to say about this game is a mixture of the facts I have gleaned from various sources and some vague and misty memories. The reports in the local press I researched years later indicated that my parents had made a good choice and stated that the game showed, “a near perfect display of backs and forwards feeding off each other in devastating style”, no wonder I was hooked by the time we left.
Mum and Dad certainly picked a great game for my introduction to the obsession, and no doubt because of myyoung and diminutive frame they chose for us to sit in the “Best” seats in the “Best Stand”. The seats actually equated toplanks of wood, painted green divided by white lines and witha number to depict your allotted space. I sat on Mums knee and probably mused on the fact that if those were the ‘best’, heaven knows what the blocks of seats further down were like.
According to the reports, York was a good side back then and had finished tenth in a league of 30 clubs the previous year. There were some great players in the Hull line up that day, and it was our diminutive scrum half Tommy Finn who took the headlines scoring a hat trick of tries including one of the first two ‘nerve settling’ scores. Tommy was famous, along with half-back partner Rowley Moat, for doggedlyfollowing the Hull pack around the ground and feeding off the scraps of ball he could get from the big forwards.
Rowley had a great game that day but failed to get on the score sheet. Turner another long serving Hull back had a goodmatch as well, running all of 80 yards in his centre position to score a great try under the posts. Strangely enough, for a team in good form, Hull started poorly and struggled, showing some signs of nerves by constantly forcing the pass when there was no need. It was therefore no surprise that at first points were at a premium and after half an hour the visitors led 3-2. All of Hull’s 9 tries were scored in the next 50 minutes as our aptly named, ‘Panzer’ pack, which included that day, Mick Scott, Tommy Harris, Bill and Jim Drake, a very youthful Cyril Sykes and the great Johnny Whiteley at loose forward, dominated the exchanges. By half time the score was 17-3 to Hull and in reality we never looked back.
As the second half started Turner sent Jim Drake crashing over, and the team then finally treated the 10,000 admiring fans to what they had come to expect at home games, as Hull produced another 35 minutes of exhibition rugby. Hooker Tommy ‘Bomber’ Harris constantly blasted his way through the York ranks whilst there were great performances from Brian Darlington and Ivor Watts, on the wings. The only try I can vaguely remember was one that my Mum constantly reminded me about years later. Johnny Whiteley was her big hero and right there in front of us, it was he who took the ball, swerved round three York players before sending Brian Saville in at the corner. That score was something that I can still see in my mind’s eyes, which is hardly surprising because until the day she died, Mum never let me forget the highlight of my first game. I think if I am honest, at the time I really enjoyed the whole experience but found it hard to understand what all the jumping up and down and shouting at the referee was about! I guess I know all about that now.
The fact that Hull won the game and with such ease and style overshadowed somewhat the fact that a little bit of history was made that day when three ‘Drakes’ played in the same game. The “Minster men” of York had a really good winger called Brian Smith who unfortunately missed out when the car he was travelling in from York got a puncture at Hayton. Smith had no spare tyre and the visitors had no spare players, so in desperation they called upon Jim and Bill Drake’s younger brother Joe, (who was on York’s books anyway, and who had travelled over that morning to watch his brothers play), to fill the breach. Amazingly all three scored too, with Joe getting York’s only try at the start of the game and Bill and Jim running in one each for the victorious Airliebirds’. The final score was 41-3, and I loved every minute of it.
I remember how all my pals at Chiltern Street gathered round in the playground when we got back to school after the holidays to hear about my trip to the Boulevard, they had all been in at ‘three quarter time’ when the gates opened, but never sat in the ‘Best Seats’! It was a great day out for me and still one of my best memories.
The European Club Championship…bicycles, onions and stick on moustaches.
Monday 15th April 1957: Hull 19 Albi 19
I didn’t “officially” go again that season although I did sneak in a couple of times, (over the wall and through a hole in the fence, at the end of an avenue in Carrington Street). However, I was, even at 7 years old, starting to understand just what all the fuss was about as behind that big wall just across the road, things were hotting-up for the Airlie Birds. It was season 1956/57 and Hull FC were about to be crowned, for the first and last time in British Rugby League history, European Club Champions! That was the season when both the British and French leagues agreed to jointly stage a tournament to find Europe’s best team featuring as it did theprevious year’s top two clubs from both the French and British Leagues. We had a fantastic tournament, beating Carcassonne home and away and Albi away, although we could only manage a draw against the latter at home.
As for the ‘all British’ games, the other club involved was of course the team we defeated in the Championship final the previous year at Maine Road, Halifax but rather than play extra matches our league games against the West Yorkshire outfit (which we won) were counted as tournament games too. Hull fans have always liked a bit of dressing up and many turned out for the drawn Albi game with either beret’s on their heads or strings of onions round their necks, some in fact even sported stick on black curly moustaches made from sticky back paper. It was an amazing sight to see them parading past number 23, looking like those jolly Frenchmen I’d seen in those dog-eared geography books at Chiltern Street!
The game turned out to be an exciting affair. Fixture pile-ups were the thing in those days, as with no floodlights and hard winters, it was impossible to play previously postponed games until the end of the season. The Albi game was played with a 6-30 kick off, on Monday 15th April, and 10,000 fans turned up to see the Hull side play their fifth game in ten days, as we chased another top four league finish. Albi looked certain to win as they led 19-17, with a minute to go, when, of all people, our international prop Mick Scott dropped a goal to ensure the points were shared.
The final game that saw us lift the trophy was played a week later on 22nd April at the Boulevard in front of 22,000 fans. We won that match, which was also our ‘official’ home League game against Halifax, 35-12. Mum of course went along as usual and no doubt came home full of it. The competition lasted for just one year though and as it has not taken place since I expect Hull FC are still officially European Club Champions of the Rugby League World.
Defeat at Odsal in front of 66,190 fans.
Saturday 18th May 1958: Hull 14 Oldham 15
However, the excitement for that season was not over yetbecause that win against Halifax also secured our top four spot in the League table, and two weeks later we played Barrow in the Championship play-off semi-final at Boothferry Park, in front of another big gate of almost 20,000. We won again 49-14, scoring eleven tries, three of which were memorable 80-yard efforts by our rampaging forwards and so we progressed again to the Final at Odsal on 18th May 1958.
That was a famous occasion for the black and white army who, along with my Mum, travelled to West Yorkshire for the final decider against Oldham. The crowd that day was an amazing 66,199 and they watched as Hull just missed out 15-14. Many years later Mum used to relate the story about just how well we had played. She said that a minute from the end Stan Cowan snapped up a loose ball to race 40 yards to the line, only for the great Colin Hutton, who had already kicked a then club record of 166 goals that season, to miss in the dying seconds from just 10 yards out! The hero, who had twelve months earlier kicked us to glory at Maine Road, missed it from an easy position, and we fell at the final hurdle, but that’s Hull FC for you, it happened then and has continued to happen down the years ever since. Oldham actually won with a disputed penalty when Cyril Sykes was so badly injured that he could not get up and play the ball. Back then, if you could not get to your feet it was deemed an offence, but after this incident in such a high profile game, the rules were subsequently changed so that in future recovery time would be given to any injured player, however that action by the RL came a bit too late for Cyril, and our hopes against Oldham.
Granny’s building site closes for good.
For my part I was getting more involved with the club too and used to line up with my pals on game days at the big gates on the car park ready to run in as soon as they were opened at three quarter time. We would then run up and down the hills that made up the back of the terracing playing cowboys and Indians and other games that involved chasing about. We would occasionally stop momentarily to see what all the fuss was about when the crowd cheered but in general what was happening on the pitch still, by and large, passed me by! During that summer after the season finished, we would sneak into the ground and play in the trenches that had been dug backwards and forwards across the pitch. I found out later that over one and a quarter miles of new drainage were laid under the playing surface that June and July. This work was needed to improve the condition of the pitch but for us it made for a cross between an adventure playground and a First World War re-enactment site. Club records later showed that the work over ran by three weeks probably because the contractors spent as much time chasing us kids out of the ground, as they did laying the drains.
Granny Evers, my main baby sitter and fellow “duster and magazine” builder, sadly died when I was seven although I don’t remember much about it happening, except that Mum cried a lot. However, right up until she passed away suddenly sat at the kitchen table, I spent more and more of my time after school at her house. There were some great lads living around there and we played “Out” in the street, at cricket and football for hours, stopping only occasionally to let the odd car or delivery van through the “outfield”. Cricket usually came somewhere between the marbles and ‘conker’ seasons and lamp post’s doubled as wickets with the bat often being a piece of wood roughly honed by some father from an old ironing board or fish box.
On one occasion I remember how Kenny White who lived two doors down Carrington Street from Granny, hit a cricket ball so hard the bat flew out of his hand and straight through Mrs Metcalfe’s living room window! We all immediately scampered away and hid down passages and behind dustbins. By the time Mr Metcalfe, who had been asleep in that same sitting room at the time of the incident, came screaming out of the front door, shouting about how he could have been killed, there was not a soul in sight! In fact, all it would have needed for the scene to be complete was for some tumbleweed to blow across the pavement. Of course, one by one we emerged from our hiding places and all had to pay towards replacing the window; there was a traditional agreed procedure for these things, because broken windows were a pretty common occurrence around the Boulevard back then.
“Chilly bon bon sells fish tuppence ha’penny a dish…..”
There was much rivalry amongst the schools in the area too and we at Chilton Street were always at war with the kids from Constable Street, (Or ‘Scummy Cunny’ as it was generally known). They used to taunt us as we passed them on our way to school. They would be going one way, whilst we were going the other. The bigger urchins from “Cunny” often used to shout a rhyme across the road, to the tune of Happy Birthday to you. It went something like, “Chilly Bom Bomsells fish, tuppence ha’penny a dish, don’t buy it don’t buy it, it stinks when you fry it!” We weren’t too impressed with this and used to just wave two fingers back at them and run like hell. We didn’t really know of the significance of what we were doing, or what it meant, but we had seen the big lads do it and it all seemed pretty ‘Hard’ to us.
Who is that other Whiteley?
Saturday 17th May 1958: Hull 20 Workington 3
Despite Mum’s hero Johnny Whiteley being elected club captain, the next season (1957/58) at the Boulevard sadly saw an early sequence of results when much of the promise of the previous two years looked to be ebbing away. We were dumped out of both the Yorkshire Cup and the Challenge Cup following, what my Dad called, ‘Pretty pathetic performances’ against Hunslet and Rochdale respectively. However, that was soon forgotten when a total of twenty-nine league wins and two draws saw us get to the Championship final again, this time we were to face the ‘Cumbrian giants‘ of Workington Town.
Firstly though, in the semi-final, the black and whites had to face Oldham at their Watersheddings ground a week after our league game there had ended in us getting a 43-9 drubbing. Oldham had kicked on from their success the previous season and won the last 11 league games that year and most pundits felt that as far as them retaining the title was concerned it was, for the ‘Roughyeds’ as they were known, just a formality. Roy Francis, who was gaining a reputation as British Rugby League’s master tactician, declined the temptation to make some changes and stuck almost completely to the team that lost the previous week making just one change on the wing.
Watts, Cooper, Drake and Sykes all scored tries and well into the second half Hull were surprisingly leading their Lancashire rivals by 20-3. Then, as often happened in those days, Tommy Harris our international hooker appeared to geta bit bored of playing rugby, and proceeded to lay out the Oldham star Frank Pitchford, with a great right hook. ‘Bomber’ started his walk to the dressing room even before referee Matt Coates had got his note book out! Reduced to 12 men we really had to scrap to keep the Oldham side at bay but with Brian Hambling taking over Harris’s hooking duties, we held out to win the game 20-8. We were in the final again, and this time we were to win!
Over 57,000 people crammed into Odsal Stadium in Bradford for the Championship final against Workington on 17th May 1958, and it was estimated that over 20,000 of those had made the journey from West Hull.
That’s a magnificent turnout when you consider the lack of car ownership and motorways back then. British Railways put on six special trains from Hull Paragon Station that morning, but mum went, as usual, on a Danby’s motor coach with Hull Supporters Club! After those two physical encounters against Oldham, Hull was beset by injuries and both the Drake twins and Tommy Harris cried off with knocks before the game. In came Johnny Whiteley’s kid brother Peter and young ‘A’team hooker Alan Holdstock. I actually remember seeing Peter Whiteley play several times and thought he had a neat crew cut and always thought he was a shadow of his brother in pretty much every aspect of his play, but every dog has his day and this was to be Peter Whiteley’s eighty minutes of fame. This was the day that he was to make his mark for Hull FC.
Mum said that a groan went around the ground when he was named as a late team change but he soon had the crowd cheering with some great breaks and backing up. Workington themselves were dealt a blow too when after only 25 minutes their sensational second rower Cec Thompson was carried off on a stretcher, clearly in a lot of pain with what turned out to be a leg that was broken in three places.
In the early exchanges the Cumbrian pack led by Edgar caused Hull lots of problems as they ground the yards out down the middle of the pitch. Following Thompson’s injury, Town went ahead through their flying winger, Ike Southward,who took a pass from Edgar and dived in at the corner. Hull came back with a Colin Cooper try which Bateson goaled from the touch line and we then went ahead when JohnnyWhiteley side stepping his way to score from acting half. With 12-man Workington starting to flag, there were further tries for Mick Scott and Tommy Finn which finished the opposition off. Hull FC had won the game 20-3 and with it the Rugby League Championship. I bet “Old Faithful” rang round the refurbished “Rubbish Tip” that was the Odsal Stadium that day. That famous victory was followed by a civic reception at the Guildhall with an appearance in front of the fans on the balcony with the trophy, which I witnessed in person perched triumphantly on my Dad’s shoulders. It was the culmination of what turned out in the end to be a great season.
‘Letting it all hang out’ on a Hull Corporation bus?
As a boy attending Chilton Street school, (There were girls there, but I never really noticed many of them) the moment you were seven and went up into the “Juniors” you started to play rugby. Once a week we would all be loaded onto a bus which took us out into “the country”, well actually just about three miles down Boothferry High Road to Anlaby Park Road South, but it was the country to us lot.
‘Rain snow or blow’ we were all deposited at a marked out playing field surrounded by a high Hawthorne hedge, by an ageing Hull Corporation double decker bus, but there was precious little to see once we arrived. There were two pitches marked out in creosote and a couple of sets of rugby posts which usually slanted badly in opposing directions. There were no changing rooms either, so we used to change into our various bits of miscellaneous kit at school before we left.
We wore every strip imaginable and it was obvious that Boyes, the economy clothing store on Hessle Road, which sold just about everything and still does to this day, had been doing a roaring trade with seconds of sports kit! Some lads wore hob nailed boots, some played in shoes, whilst otherslike me, actually wore real rugby boots. Mine were an ancient ‘well dubbined’ pair that Mum came by at a Jumble Sale at the local Church Hall. The stud’s underneath were each secured by 3 steel nails, a fact that I remember vividly, because every time I wore them, they used to stick through the sole of the boot and into my foot. I still have the scars to this day.
By the end of these sessions in the rudiments of rugby league that were carried out under the watchful eye of Mr Chambers, we were covered from head to foot in mud and because the driver of our bus was adverse to getting his upholstery messed up, we used to strip to our underwear under the hedge and then travel back to school semi naked. There were certainly some shocked expressions on the faces of the ladies shopping on Anlaby Road, as the Chiltern Street rugby bus went by. There on show for all to see, were half naked young lads hanging out of the windows, wearing just their tatty underpants, with no doubt, occasionally, other things hanging out on show as well. When we got off the bus back at school in Division Road, we would, there on the pavement, put our muddy gear back on again, ready for the walk home! It was a great show for the mothers and fathers waiting to take the other kids home from school, and they would often laugh,point and directing direct wolf whistles at us.
Rugby was taken very seriously at Chiltern Street even at an early age; it was much more than just a game, league tables meant little compared with the great honour in beating our local rivals from Constable Street and West Dock Avenue! As I said earlier our ‘head coach’ was teacher, Mr Chambers, who as well as having a regular third year class was in charge of all boy’s sport. He was a real disciplinarian when it came to training and took everything very seriously indeed often running in and tackling us when our backs were turned for no apparent reason. Even more remarkable was the fact that he wore a wig, the first I, and the other lads, had ever seen. In fact, on one occasion it blew off whilst we were up at Anlaby Park Road and I can still see him after that happened, stood on the touch line, barking orders out across the pitch, with one hand permanently clamped to his head! He was a great guy though, and I still see him to this day at Hull FC games.
Old Chambers really believed in toughening us up and made us stay behind at least two nights a week to practise in the playground. This was aimed at improving our ball skills and handling but also included tackling practise on the stone paving, something that really left your legs in tatters! Back then, knees weren’t knees if they didn’t have scabs on them.
The other excursion of the week was during the summer on Wednesday mornings when, with our “Cossies” wrapped in a towel, a procession of kids, walking in pairs, would snake through the streets between the School and Madeley Street Public Swimming Baths. There we were taught to swim and to compete for Certificates that displayed the progress we were making. I started well and got a Third Class and “Diving off the side” diploma, before my pals and I got bored. Afterthat we would spend the sessions splashing each other and causing distress amongst the younger “learners” by jumping off the side and “Bombing them”
I liked the swimming baths though and for a couple of years I would go to the same baths with Martin Tomlinson a pal of mine from Airlie Street, whose dad worked on the Railway. On Thursday evenings there was a British Railway’s Swimming Club at Madeley Street between 7 and 9pm. Those sessions were great fun and we would call at the Constable Street Chip shop for a bag of scraps and a few chips drenched in vinegar, on our way home.
Johnny Whiteley …Working class hero.
It’s funny really how certain things connected to my beloved rugby club, constantly circled my development and were woven into the fabric of my very existence even before I was a real ‘fan’ of Hull FC, that beautiful yet frustrating obsession that was to take over my life. I remember one day whilst Mum and I were on one of our weekly shopping expeditions down Hessle Road I saw a crowd of people gathered round a hole in the ground outside the Criterion pub! All of a sudden as we approached, the crowd burst into applause as a big man in an apron emerged up the ladder from the cellar with an empty beer keg on his shoulder. That was the first time that I ever saw, close up, the great International rugby player, captain of Hull FC and ‘chosen one’, Johnny Whiteley. He was at work in his day job as a Drayman for Moore’s and Robson’s Brewery Company Ltd. Back then Johnny was a real local hero, on the pitch and off it; in fact he still is today.
Johnny, even back then, was a great ambassador for the club and became part of local folklore and everyday conversation. He even gave his name to some gent’s underwear down our street!! You see, Mrs Mudd across the road, always called her husband George’s underpants his “Johnny Whiteley’s”. I could never understand this strange nomenclature until years later when my Mum explained that apparently George used to roll up his old underpants at the top because they were devoid of any elastic. This was also the trademark of our loose forward, who used to do the same thing with his shorts when he was playing for the club. So Georgie Mudds underpants were re christened his “Johnny Whiteley’s”. Whatever happened in the Boulevard area it was hard to escape the influence of Hull FC; it was all around you at the heart of the community. Incidentally the Mudd’s also had a mongrel dog called “Bomber” that was named after the club’s great Hooker Tommy Harris.
The haunted house in Camden Street.
Once Granny Evers had gone ‘to heaven’, her sister Auntie Ethel came more into the picture. That’s how it happens when you look back on your youth, your development and agingmoves from one person to another, as one influence on your life disappears off the scene they are replaced by someone else. Your extended family and friends are the ‘Wallpaper’ that surrounds your life and seem to form milestones in the process of ‘growing up’. Ethel lived in Camden Street the next street along Airlie Street from where Granny had lived. Her home was a similar end terraced house which I remember had both a Grandfather and Grandmother Clock in the front room. The noise of their ticking and chiming dominated the whole house, and there was a musty smell everywhere! It seemed to an 8-year-old that each clock wanted to get to the hour before the other and both were straining to chime first. It was a really bizarre environment for a child.
Ethel had been unmarried for the whole of her life, and I remember thinking “So that’s what they mean at church by a ‘Spinster of this Parish’ is it?” She was, apparently, for many years the private secretary to James Reckitt the managing Director at Reckitt and Colman, the famous “Brasso” makers of Dansom Lane. She travelled extensively across Europe with her boss and was reported, years later, to have had a brief romantic encounter with an Austrian nobleman along the way. Apparently whilst on a visit to Austria with Mr Reckitt she had fallen for an Austrian Prince and although he was married a brief and rather scandalous affair had occurred. It finished almost as soon as it started but for years afterwards he would send her gifts and postcards.
Whether that’s true or not I’m not sure but it would probably explain a lot, because what I remember most about her house was the amount of German and Austrian stuff there was everywhere, Cuckoo clocks, fancy pipes, paper weights and Beer Steins festooned every shelf, cupboard and wall! Ethel slept at the back of the house and the front bedroom was empty except for a big camp bed positioned from corner to corner across the middle of the floor. This visibly bulged and sagged with postcards, books and memorabilia from Germany and the Tyrol, and provided a wealth of fun for my mates and me, although the sparse furnishings and dust sheet at the window did cause us to believe that the room was probably haunted. Ethel was a frail old lady, who was always well dressed, wore a lot of lace and silk stockings and what I guess we would now call ’granny shoes’, however she always seemed to be surrounded by intrigue and rumour, much of which went right over this young man’s head.
The community and the club.
When I was eight, Dad, who had been a member of the Hull Supporters club for many years, stood in as their secretary when the previous incumbent died, and this gave me a new opportunity to get into the Stadium across the road! On Sunday mornings after the previous day’s game, he would take me with him as we were joined by the grounds man, Ernie Mason the Chairman and a few of the other committee members on the hallowed turf. There we would all pull a massive concrete roller up and down the pitch to flatten out the divots created by the game the day before! We would either ride on the roller or run alongside it which was great fun.
On other occasions when the weather forecast predicted frost we would go into the ground and spend most of Sunday afternoon spreading straw over the pitch. This was delivered by a series of tractors and trailers that arrived in Airlie Street throughout the morning. I even remember Mum telling me that on one occasion, last thing at night before her and Dad went to bed, they took hot drinks over the road for the fans who were manning braziers spread across the pitch. They were attempting to stop it from freezing and causing the abandonment of the game next day! The winters seemed a lot harder back then though, with us having at least four or five periods of snow each year. Not that snow lasted long round our way, as it was usually reduced to slush really quickly once the cars and bikes got going! But whilst it was there we loved it.
There was motorised traffic around our neighbourhood of course but there were still a lot of horses and carts used for local deliveries and Rafferty and Watson used to deliver our coal using this mode of transport. As kids one of our favourite pranks was to lead the horse and cart around a corner, whilst the coalman was down a back alley delivering to the coal houses of local homes. If we succeeded, it was great fun hiding round the same corner with the horse and cart and watching the coalman’s expression when he returned to find that his transport and all his sacks of coal had completely disappeared.
Remember, remember the 5th of November? The holder of the bell.
Bonfire nights were always a big occasion down Airlie Street and there was invariably one large and several small bonfires on the stadium’s car park every year! There was always a great rivalry with the ‘gangs’ from the adjacent streets, who also had big fires, built on any available land that had been left after the bombing during the war. Often ‘raiding parties’ would set off to try and pinch wood from these rival operations and we used to take it in turns to guard our pile of wood in the centre of the Boulevard car park in the days leading up to the big night! Local firms would see this as a great time to get rid of their rubbish too and you could often see ‘tipper’ lorries arriving next to our fire heap from companies like Boggs Fish Merchants to deposit loads of old crates, slimy and stinking of rotting fish, before their drivers beat a hasty retreat.
The Council used to clear any potentially dangerous bonfires away back then, but ours, being well away from the nearest houses, was usually left untouched. That could not be said of the ones that were built about a quarter of a mile away down South Boulevard, in the area just adjacent to the fish docks. The lads who lived down there were a bit braver than us lotand appeared to be fearless as far as authority was concerned. They had little spare land to build on and so usually resorted to constructing their fires on the grass verge often around a telegraph pole! Looking back, the guarding and building of those great bonfires was probably more fun than Bonfire Night itself. This guarding, in Airlie Street, used to involve a long tradition called the “Holder of the Bell”, a ritual which was part of folklore in Airlie Street back in the fifties.
What happened was this: each morning at about 5-30 it would be someone’s turn to get up early and go and guard the fire. Early mornings were a favourite time for raids particularly from the Chiltern or Heron Street gangs. Billy Chapman’s Dad was a schoolteacher and he had an old school hand bell that we would borrow and whoever was guarding the fire that morning would ‘hold the bell’. If a raid was threatened it was his job to climb to the top of the fire heap and ring the bell for all he was worth. Then the rest of us would come running out of our houses, often in our pyjamas to defend our fire! All the kids took this very seriously indeed.
Looking back to the night itself it is amazing that more people were not injured on 5th November because there was no such thing as organised displays of fireworks and everyone had to ‘make their own amusement’ often with dangerous consequences. When the big night arrived people used to purchase their fireworks from Benny Allgood’s newsagents in Airlie Street, and then they would proceed to let them off everywhere. Mums and Dads would do their best to try and supervise things but penny bangers would be flying all over the place and rockets were launched from bottles laid on the ground to chase anyone who happened to be riding a bike up the street, it was mayhem, but great fun! One particular ladcalled Paul, who was nicknamed ‘Crazy Horse’ had a real speciality of putting two rockets down the ends of his bicycle handle bars. After lighting them both, he would pedal as hard as he could till the rockets flew out on either side. Everyone ducked or ran for cover when you saw ‘Crazy Horses’ bike coming down Airlie Street.
Any young people reading this should note that none of these things involving fireworks are clever or should ever be attempted, however we knew little better back then so it just happened and was part of Bonfire Night on the Boulevard.The Emergency Department of the Hull Royal Infirmary was always busy that night. I guess that Bonfire night and holidays were probably the only two things us kids needed money for in those days. However, if we did need it, for say a new yo-yo or a catapult, we had seen in Boyes, we could soon raise it. You could get a paper round at nine, or even help the milkman with his deliveries, although the best way of raising some cash was usually by holding a jumble sale on an old carpet, on the pavement in front of your house. These seemed to benefit everyone as parents got old toys cleared out of their homes, we kids got extra cash and the buyers usually got a bargain! You just laid out your wares, a crowd gathered and the haggling began.
Another of our money-making schemes involved the practise of taking bottles back to the shops to claim the deposit. There was a ‘penny back’ on most beer and lemonade bottles and they were then subsequently returned by the shop owner to the manufacturers for refilling. To boost my finance’s I had though devised an even more lucrative scheme to re-claim these deposits which involved me climbing into the back yard of Harry’s Beer ‘Off license’ shop on the Boulevard. Once inside I would pass a number of bottles back over the wall to my pals and we would then take them around the front of the shop and claim our penny deposits. This practise went on for months and strangely enough we were never detected, however it stopped abruptly one night when I climbed over the wall to find that Harry had made some alterations. All the Murden’s and Hull Brewery crates full of empty bottles had been placed in a new padlocked metal cage. Still it was a good scam whilst it lasted.
Six weeks in Mappleton; Billy Butlin, eat your heart out.
Not many kids had proper holidays then and the local parks were really busy throughout the school holidays but I was one of the lucky few and every summer, once school broke up, we went to the village of Mappleton near Hornsea for most of the six weeks. I would always hold a jumble sale before I went to raise some money to spend on some ‘Goodies’ from the village shop, which was and probably still is, the only shop in the sleepy sea side village.
Dad’s Mum, Jessie (“Well ow are ya Then!!”) had somehow come by an old wooden Great Central Railwaycarriage that was converted into a caravan, which made a perfect holiday home. This had been originally sited at Cowden on the East Coast just north of Aldborough. However coastal erosion at the site meant that in 1954 the structure had to be moved, otherwise it would have simply just fallen off the cliff and into the sea. So, in an effort to keep the family holiday ‘escape’, it was transported to a field behind “Speight’s Farm” at Mappleton, about two miles north of Cowden, on the road towards Hornsea.
At this location there were about 40 caravans and portable homes positioned around a field, most of which had been relocated from Cowden for the same reasons as ‘Granny’s Carriage’ and access to our holiday destination was by a long lane from the main road. This led right through the farmyard and onto the field that doubled as a caravan site. Next to the farm buildings there was an old mill, devoid of any sails, which looked out over the campsite and this was where between the ages of 8 and 11, I spent my summer holidays.
We had a great time, Mum would be there some of the time and Dad would ride all the way from work on Holderness Road most nights to join us! There was one little village shop that supplied all manner of sweets and chews and you could get right down to the beach by using some steps that the fathers hacked out of the clay cliffs at the start of every holiday season. Facilities at the caravan site were a bit basic though to say the least! There was just one tap in the middle of the field for water and every week Mr Speight the farmer would come down the field to empty the contents of ourportable toilets. They stank and it was a really messy job! Dad called the tractor and trailer ‘The Gravy Boat’ and told me the farmer took the contents to put on his turnips. For years after that they were a vegetable I would not entertain at any cost.
I learnt quite a few new skills on holiday at Mapleton too! I became a hot shot with a catapult and a dab hand at sea fishing and those six weeks summer holidays seemed to last forever. A mobile fish and chip van used to come onto the site once a week and on occasions we would walk into Hornsea for the day. It was an idyllic way for a young lad from the city to spend his holidays.
Watching trains and training.
Back home in Airlie Street, once the summer break was over, I was starting to get increasingly interested in what was happening across the road behind the newly constructed brick wall. This new structure had broken pieces of bottles stuck in cement across the top and had replaced the old tarred wooden fencing. I began to sneak into training on Tuesday and Thursday nights which was great fun because as the players kicked the ball into the stands we would retrieve it for them and kick it back! We got to know many of the players really well and in fact by the age of 9 I could usually tell you who was arriving for training just by seeing a car turning into the far end of Airlie Street. I could name the player long before they parked on the car park and so the adventure began!
Around this time we were visited by the son of one of my Dad’s wartime soldier pals, (Tommy, would you believe), who lived in Orpington in Kent. His son Jonathan was about 14 then, and a Queen’s Scout and he had been up to Balmoral in Scotland for a national Jamboree and so broke his journey to stay overnight at our house on his way back down south. I was, I remember, a bit put out when I had to sleep on the settee whilst our guest used my bed but number 23 only had two bedrooms. I told him about the famous Hull FC, being across the road, but he had never even heard about Rugby League having played something called ‘Union’, or “Rugger” at school.
However, I remember he showed some sign of understanding what I was going on about when I mentioned the Cup Final at Wembley! During the day he was with us, all he wanted to do was go to the end of Boulevard and watch the trains go by, for Jonathan was a train spotter!! Within an hour of sitting there with him and listening to his tales of the Mallard, expresses, goods trains and sheds, I was absolutely hooked! For the next ten or so years I was to be a dedicated train spotter which engendered in me a general interest in railways that probably stayed with me for the rest of my life.
Holy orders? Some Tizer and a banana sandwich please.
At Sunday School, when I was nine, I was singled out ashaving a handy singing voice, and was soon invited to go along to augment the Church choir at St Matthew’s when the Bishop of Hull paid his annual visit for a confirmation service. The vicar at the time was a Reverend Dietz, a wonderful man who was rather tubby; with a round face andwho always wore a rather unconventional black beret. That day they rigged me out in an ill-fitting cassock and surplice and I took my place with the other lads in the choir stalls for the service. I quite enjoyed the whole experience really and was afterwards invited to join the choir full time and as the rest of the members were made up mostly of Hull fans and some of my new train spotting chums, I quickly agreed!
The choirmaster at that time Mr Johns, was also the organist, he too was a really nice chap if not a bit sedentary, he had sparse grey hair, a bit of a twitch and always wore an old suit that smelt of mothballs. It was pretty obvious that his health was failing fast. We did our best as a choir, and although we screeched a bit, we still made half-a-crown every time we were employed to sing at a wedding on Saturday afternoons, so, financially it proved quite lucrative too! About three months after I joined the choir, ‘Johnno’ retired through ill health, and the ensemble was amalgamated with another chorister’s outfit from, I think, Saint Silas, a church in the centre of the City that had just been demolished! This lot was a really professional set up with Tenors, Bass’s, Alto, and even girls singing mezzo-soprano! The organist a Mr Watkinson even wrote his own anthems.
St Matthews was a proud building back then stood as it was at the corner of the Boulevard and Anlaby Road with its almost famous ‘Wayside Pulpit’ advertisement board outside which displayed ‘Jesus Loves You’ and ‘Heaven Can’t wait’ type motifs for the passengers on the 69 Trolley Buses to digest as they rode by. Around the same time one had actually made The Hull Daily Mail when in the early part of the year a vigilant cameraman spotted some graffiti that had been added by some of the local kids. The board read, JESUS SAVES! To which had been added… but Dave King nods in the rebounds! (Dave King was a Hull City player at the time). Another funny one that amused the Mums and Dads of us lot singing in the choir, was when a slogan that read ‘JESUS IS DEAD GOOD’ had an exclamation mark added between the last two words.
They were great days and we had lots of good fun. Often, on Saturdays when there were no weddings, the choir’s train spotting fraternity would go off to York or Doncaster together to sit on the station all day collecting numbers! It was the twilight of the steam age and ironically I can still hear us shouting “Scrap the Crate” to engines we had seen before, little knowing that soon they would all indeed be scrapped, steam would have disappeared and we would be left with those horribly impersonal diesel locomotives.
At first, good old Mum would take us all on these trips and looking back now, she was pretty long suffering really. There she would sit at the end of platform 8N at York with 10 or 11 choirboys getting progressively dirtier as each steam engine went by. We of course could simply not imagine anything better as we were happy to spot our trains, drink our Tizer and eat our banana or tomato sandwiches. These meals were always neatly wrapped in that “waxy” paper that bread loaves used to be sold in and stowed away at the bottom of our ex army rucksacks that we had bought from Boyes.
One of my pals in the Choir and in fact head boy of the whole outfit at St Matthew’s back then, was Michael Watts son of the great Hull winger Ivor. In later years some of the other players like Keith Barnwell and Brian and Clive Sullivan would sometimes also attend church as part of the congregation, so once again the influence of the club was all around me and soon it was to over-take all other interests in my life as I grew from a lad who happened to live opposite a sports stadium, to an incurable rugby fanatic.
In January 1959 the ‘Airlie Street and District Tenants Association’ for whom Mum was minutes secretary, ran their annual trip to the pantomime. This was a great organisation, which featured pretty much the same band of good-hearted volunteers that ran Hull Supporters Club. They regularly promoted shows and parties for us children in St Matthews Church Hall and in the hall adjacent to St Wilfred’s Church on the Boulevard. On this occasion all us kids piled onto a motor coach and were taken to the Regal Cinema in Ferensway to see Lonnie Donegan and his Skiffle Group starring in Mother Goose.
It’s a little-known fact that after one evening performance in late January the theatre was converted into a recording studio as Lonnie and the rest of the group recorded a ‘B’ side for their single, ‘Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bed post overnight!’ We all loved the ‘Panto’ and in our street the annual ASDTA trip to see it, which saw us face to face with stars of the day such as Lonnie and in later years, Helen Shapiro and Cliff Richard and the Shadows, was the highlight of the year.
Next week the rugby really gets going take care and stay safe!