Under normal circumstances I would today be wishing you a Happy Easter, reviewing and celebrating another big win over the Dobbins (hopefully!!) and looking forward to a tough old second Easter game on Monday, instead I’m wishing you well and trusting that you’re all keeping safe and staying in.
These are certainly mad, bad and sad times, aren’t they?
What a total mess this all is and although sport is pretty secondary to staying alive, I guess like me, there will have been times when you yearn to get back to the KCom to cheer on any sort of performance by our heroes. It seemed as if it was a real slog and even a drudge at times over the last couple of seasons, but oh boy, how we’d welcome some of that to return, in any form, now!!
For me, the whole future of our great game hangs in the balance and lately I just seem to be pondering more and moreon the fact that I really don’t know how lucky I have been over all my years of following the FC. I guess as Joni Mitchell once said, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”.
Don’t you as well, just have to wonder if the world of a sportwe all loved, will ever be the same again. Still, we all battle on and as brother’s in arms we in the FC Army have our camaraderie, memories and love of our club to keep us goingand so now, as promised, here is the third episode of my life, as a fanatical FC fan, growing up in Airlie Street in the ‘Shadow of Giants’. I hope you find something to enjoy, try to…..
A Featherstone miner saves Mums life!!
Saturday 11th April 1959: Hull 15 Featherstone 5
Whilst, as a nine-year-old, I was happily singing in the choir and train spotting for all I was worth, across the road 1958/59 was another landmark season for Hull FC, because they were to battle their way to the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley for the first time ever. There they would meet Wigan on 9th May 1959. The league season had been a disappointing one, particularly following the heights we had scaled the previous year and after some pretty indifferent league performances and being knocked out of the Yorkshire Cup in the second round by Wakefield, the loyal black and white fans were all pinning their hopes on a good Cup run. Much of this of course was still passing me by a bit, but the Challenge Cup fever that swept West Hull, was none the less the backdrop to my life because it seemed that everyone was talking about it, everywhere I went.
We played Blackpool at home in the first round and were then drawn against Wakefield in the second. This was our chance of revenge for some significant league defeats by the men from the West Riding but we blew our opportunities and could only draw 4-4, in a try-less game at the Boulevard. However somehow we managed to win the replay at Belle Vue and then we played Rovers at home and won 25-9 in front of a massive crowd at the Boulevard. So, it was back to Odsal for the semi-final against Featherstone and a massive 52,000 gate. That day a new star was to emerge from the shadows of Harris, Johnny Whiteley and Co. and that star was George Matthews.
Back at home in Aylesford Street rugby was the predominant topic of conversation, as usual it was there all the time, happening in the background as I chomped on my cornflakes, climbed back yard walls and watched Clint Eastwood in Rawhide on the TV. Those were the things that were important to a young lad back then and in fairness a lot of the rugby stuff still went over my head. Mum usually told Dad about games she had been to and although I am sure there was lots of exciting revelations, there were only a couple of bits that stick in my memory. She always went on about a league game against Rovers that took place on Good Friday 1958, which saw 27,000 people packed into the Boulevard. I found out much later that we won that one 15-8 but the one thing I remembered about my mother’s description of the game was the fact that she always said “Leaving the ground was just like going down Walton Street to Hull Fair. From the back of the Best Stand to getting out onto the car park my feet never touched the ground!” I tended to think, because of the number of times she related the story, that this experience frightened her somewhat, but it was the other one of her favourite stories that in the end I believe put her off attending the majority of the big games in future years.
This revelation, which she still relived right up to her death in 1979, involved a trip she made to Odsal for that Cup Semi Final game between Hull and Featherstone which took place on 11th April in front of that amazing gate. Mum travelled to the game, as usual, with the Hull Supporters Club bus, along with some of the chaps she sat with at the Boulevard and her pals from the club. That day there were eleven coaches lined up outside the ABC Regal Cinema, with thousands of other fans going on other private coach trips and specially chartered trains.
On arrival Mum positioned herself on the end of the ground which is now the North End Terracing. In those days the viewing area was made of wooden sleepers with the occasional crude cast iron crush barrier but this arrangement stopped half way up the bank and the rest of the hillside was covered in black ash. With over 57,000 people in the ground for the game, the only place Mum could get to stand was on this ash slope. Apparently when Hull scored their first try the crowd behind her that ringed the top of the bowl surged forward and she found herself flying down the hill towards a crush barrier in a scrummage of about 4000 people.
Mum continued the story by saying “As I saw the cast iron crush barrier fly towards my head, an arm suddenly wrapped round my waist and somehow just as I lost my footing and fell forward a giant of a man pulled me clear of the barrier and landed me safely on my bottom on the first step of the terracing. Another second and I would have been trampled by the avalanche of fans!” There were dozens of injured people that day but my Mum came out pretty unscathed. Later, she related, that she had found the man who had saved her and added, “He was about 6ft 4ins tall and weighed at least 18 stone in weight. He explained that he was a miner from Featherstone who was actually a prop forward for the local amateur team, Jubilee Hotel of Featherstone. He had been on shift until early that morning and come straight over for the game” It was one of her favourite stories in later years but she never added how mad I remember my Dad was when she got home, he was shouting at her about her “Nearly getting killed”, and I recall a right ‘Barney‘ going on downstairs that night.
I think the reality of that experience and my Father’s concern, (because still working as a butcher he was not able to accompany her to games which were still usually played on Saturdays), really unnerved her. In the following days she decided not to attend the final and the next season she missed quite a lot of games too. That game at Odsal saw Hull victorious over a much-fancied Featherstone Rovers team. Again, it was a match we were never expected to win but with the words of Coach Roy Francis ringing in their ears, the two Hull half backs Matthews and Broadhurst, took Featherstone apart.
Francis, it was reported afterwards, had told our two play makers, “From leaving the changing rooms to getting back in there just follow our forwards wherever they go, even if they leave the field” and that’s just what they did, so as the players took the long walk across the top of the terracing and down that long stairway to the Odsal pitch, it was the forwards that led and the backs that followed. Matthews in particular was a real hero, he scored a hat trick of tries and was the ‘toast’ of West Hull for a couple of weeks. He had signed to much acclaim, only a year earlier from amateur team Barrow Saint Mary’s and his obvious potential had led to an amazing 5000 people attending the under 19’s England International’s debut in Hull’s “A” team. His performance that day in the semi-final at Odsal won us the game and led to our first Wembley appearance against Wigan less than a month later. A game my still ‘shaken’ Mother and I were to watch at home on our little TV!
Saturday 9th May 1959: Hull 13 Wigan 30
The week leading up to the Cup Final was filled with excitement, even for a nine-year-old. Shops around the City had their windows decked out in black and white and there was a real buzz of excitement everywhere you went. Several houses in our street decorated their bay windows and there was a special “Farewell to the Players” evening on the Wednesday night in the supporters’ club. As kids it was all we talked about at school, although not particularly about the game itself, or even the prestige of winning the cup, all that stuff was still a bit beyond us. However, the children whose parents were making the trip to London talked incessantly about nothing else but what presents they would be bringing back with them from the capital. A few folks in those days went to Wembley for the weekend on organised trips, but that was not the norm and most people went down to the game on the Saturday morning and returned that same night.
Mum and Dad’s decision not to go to the final had been made a couple of weeks earlier when the tickets went on sale. That day we were joined by many of the neighbours as we watched in wonder from the top of our back passageway, as 20,000 people queued across the car park to get tickets for the game.
The local newspaper was full of the build-up to the match and carried stacks of editorial related to Hull’s Final appearance. One such story concerned the National Dock Labour Board who were worried that the departure of 2000 Dockers (half its work force) to the game would bring the docks to a standstill. Saturdays were a normal working day down on the docks and the management banned the stevedores from taking the day off. Most obeyed the instruction, although several risked their jobs to follow their club to London.
The day of the final was really exciting, Mum and I got up at half past six as Dad prepared for work and after he had set off on his bike, the two of us went to the railway crossings at the end of the Boulevard and watched the 11 special trains leaving at ten minute intervals all heading for London and the final. All steam hauled it was a young train spotter’s dream. As the trains rattled across the level crossings wreathed in steam, scarves and rattles could be seen draped out of every window and the saloon tables all seemed to include the mandatory crate of ale.
It was strangely quiet in Airlie Street that day and I remember that by 2-00pm the place was deserted. Mum and I settled down to watch the game on the BBC in front of our old Pye TV set. I was interested, as you are, in this big event that seemed to be causing such a fuss everywhere but as for the game, well I still found it hard to understand my Mum springing from her chair and shouting at the television as I had never seen her before. I did not realise I suppose, that all that manic behaviour was already in my genes, latently laid there, just waiting to soon emerge.
So, we both sat there on the settee and following every move on the flickering screen and every glib and often un-necessary comment from Eddie Waring, the commentator, as the action unfolded. The game itself was a bitter disappointment for everyone who went, everyone who watched on TV and indeed everyone in West Hull. We simply did not perform on the day, we had promised so much but once we got on the field, toe to toe with the mighty Wigan, we just froze. How often have I had to say those words since then?
Wigan with Billy Boston, Eric Ashton, David Bolton and Mick Sullivan had clearly the edge in the backs, but Hull seemed, on paper at least, to hold sway in the forwards. The first big disappointment for the fans was that Hull was unable to wear their traditional irregular strip and had to play in white shirts with a black “V”. It was only a few minutes after the teams had been presented to the Princess Royal and the 80,000 spectators, when the mistakes started with a dropped ball in our own half, from which Ashton and Holden scythed through our defence to go down the field and score. That try was converted but we got a penalty of our own from which a very young Arthur Keegan (In for our regular full-back Bateson who was injured) kicked a good goal.
Then with Wigan under pressure inside their 25-yard area Tommy Finn dropped the ball and Bolton scooped it up in a flash to send their mercurial winger Sullivan off on an easy ninety-yard run to the try line. Bolton then got on the score sheet himself and Boston got another before half time, by which time we were already 16 points behind. If however anyone ever doubted just how fast Johnny Whiteley was in his prime, they would enjoy my lasting memory from that half, which was the way he left the back of the scrum ran at an angle across the field to catch a ‘flying’ Mick Sullivan and dump him into touch.
Hull certainly started the second half well with both Saville and Cooper being held short before Wigan replied in deadly fashion through tries from McTigue and Boston, which really rubbed salt into our wounds. With just 8 minutes remaining we got our only try, as Finn steamed in off a Jim Drake pass to run around behind the posts to touch down.
If you’re serious about being a sports fan you have to be able to grieve.
When the final whistle went we had lost 30-13 and you could almost taste the disappointment everywhere. Leaving my Mum to her grief I walked out into Aylesford Street where, almost surreally in the blinding sunlight, I discovered several other people just gazing into nothingness. “It will take a while for our Street to get over this one”, I thought. I was glad though that Mum had only had to watch it on the TV with me and Eddie Waring and not made the long journey to London to be there in person. It was to be another year before I was to be able to experience for the first time that rather unique (and soon to be recurring) feeling that you get when you walk away from the twin towers having lost.
That is, I believe, one of the worst feelings you can experience as a fan, but after 50 odd years of supporting my club I have come to realise that the team you love can be so inventive in the ways that it can cause you sorrow. Over the years we have, on dozens of occasions, beaten the big boys and been thrashed by a small club the following week, taken the lead in a game and thrown it away and as was the case all those years ago, got to a final and been humiliated. Once you realise that this unrequited love of a sports team is permanent, it soon becomes apparent that the woe never ends. In fact, to this day I sincerely believe that just when you think you have seen it all and there is little else that your club can do to upset you, they come up with something new.
Eddie Waring …’Our Eddie’ to the impersonators and just ‘A bloody embarrassment’ to the fans!
I just mentioned Eddie Waring who was by then the accepted ‘Face’ of rugby league on the BBC. He was on everyone’s lips back then because whilst the uninitiated potential converts to the game all seemed to love him he was hated by the ‘dyed in the wool’ supporters. However, looking back now, there is little doubt that wherever you sat on that debate, the portly little man from Dewsbury was certainly doing a lot to ‘nationalise’ our northern game. Perhaps by way of a digression here it would be a good time for me to pay my homage to that same Eddie Waring because back then in the late fifties he was fast becoming an institution in British Broadcasting. They may not have liked him in the Threepenny Stand but as far as most of the citizens of the country were concerned Rugby League and Eddie Wearing went hand in hand like bacon and eggs. He was a media personality in the eyes of a growing TV audience, hated by many ‘real’ supporters, tolerated by the majority of fans, but loved by millions who actually had no idea what Rugby League was in the first place and who only watched it because of the antics of one, Eddie Waring.
For some thirty years he commentated on the ups and down of the game and so distinctive was his voice that no impersonator in the country was worth his salt if he couldn’t “do an Eddie Waring”. He was in fact the mimics dream, introducing as he did phrases such as “It’s an up and under”, “He’s going for an early bath” and “He’s a big lad but his mother loves him”. He popularised the game across the country particularly in the South, and an amazing 6 million viewers regularly tuned into his commentaries, most of whom, after the game, switched over to ITV for that other highly cultural pursuit back then, ‘Wrestling with Kent Walton’.
Next door at number 25 Mrs Potter and her husband Stan had moved into Mrs Clarkeson’s house after she died, didn’t care much for rugby, but they were big fans of Wrestling. They had their telly turned up really loud when it was on and they could both clearly be heard through the walls in our front room shouting at the top of their voices about, Mick McManus, Ricki Starr, Jack Dempsey and Jackie Pallo. They had ITV and with just two channels to choose from, they preferred the new one with ‘the adverts’.
As I said earlier many of the purists said that Eddie Waring gave the game of Rugby League a comedy image but what the hell, the current Rugby League administrators would, I am sure, do anything for an audience of 6 million for a televised game on a Saturday afternoon these days!
Waring had a reputation for being a bit of a strange character though, living for years; it was said, in a hotel and only venturing out once a week to commentate on games. The truth behind this myth is somewhat different however. It appears that Eddie was so put out by the reaction of the traditional supporters to his knockabout style of commentating, that he adopted the Queens Hotel in Leeds as his accommodation address, whilst actually living in secret in Sowerby Bridge. This paranoia was further born out for me when, in later life, I saw Eddie sneaking into the ground before a Wigan game. I guess if further evidence was needed that his caution was well justified, then you should look no further than the way he was received by the fans on the ‘Threepennies’ every time he walked round to his commentating position.
In his early life, during the war years, Eddie was a very successful manager at Dewsbury. He was well known back then as a canny operator, signing up all the players that were stationed at army depots and airfields nearby and winning several wartime trophies. After the war he travelled to America where the rumour goes he bumped into Bob Hope who spent some time informing Eddie about the power of television in the United States. Following this chance meeting it was not long before Eddie was one of the first in Great Britain to recognise the potential of televised sport. He courted the BBC in an attempt to persuade them to consider Rugby League for televising; he was appointed commentator for their first ever televised match, simply because there was no one else, and he became a fixture thereafter.
On the terraces his glib comments and off the cuff remarks, that were so loved by the uninitiated, were hated by the regulars. How dare he make a mockery of our great game? The unrest amongst traditional supporters grew when the world of show business beckoned and when Katie Boyle (sensible girl) walking out of “It’s a Knockout”, (a sort of shambolic holiday camp game show contested between different towns and cities) Eddie was appointed as one of the co-presenters. His style became more and more outlandish as he continued in both jobs; in fact things became so surreal it was often hard to define between his rugby and his “It’s a Knockout” commentaries. My parents and all the diehard FC supporters hated it but he soon gained cult status particularly with students and one university even had an ‘Eddie Waring Appreciation Society‘. Incidentally, it’s interesting to note that both Eddie and Sky TV presenter, Mike Stephenson hail from Dewsbury, probably just something in the water.
The BBC even received a 10,000-name petition from outraged diehard fans about his work, but at the height of his popularity the canny Eddie had negotiated himself a contract which tied him to the BBC until he wished to retire. His celebrity status continued unabated and he even appeared on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, although by this time it was hard to tell whether people were laughing with poor old Eddy, or at him.
“Mr Rugby League” finally decided to retire in 1981 aged 71 to be replaced by Ray French, and I guess in hindsight the game owes him a lot for the popularity he brought to it in what were difficult times. For me though he will always be remembered as a commentator who said whatever came into his head, which, in hindsight, was really quiet refreshing. One of his most celebrated and typical comments came at the end of the 1968 cup final when Don Fox missed that conversion under the post that would have won the game for Wakefield, he paused for a second whilst the crowd went mad and then said “Eeee… poor lad!”
But for all his failings he was a character and part of the everyday life of being a supporter back then, every kid on every street corner would do you an Eddie Waring impression. However, he played an important part in popularising the game across the country, on the TV at least. I have often thought there should have been some sort of memorial to him and the work he did. Perhaps in hindsight the best way he could be remembered would be for the Queen’ Hotel in Leeds to have a plaque by the door which simply says “Eddie Waring Never Lived Here”.
At last! ITV comes to No. 23… all thanks to Rediffusion!!!
But back to the last year of the decade and whilst I am on the subject of televisions, it was shortly after that Wembley Final that we as a family caught up with all the rest of my pal’s households, and exchanged that ageing Pye set for a Rediffusion 17-inch TV. This was a modern marvel and I suppose a piece of state-of-the-art technology that actually gave us for the first time ITV! The TV was connected to a brown Bakelite box on the wall that had a dial that you could use to tune to BBC RADIO, BBC TV and ITV. Immediately I was able to share and experience all the programmes my pals were always talking about at school, like Robin Hood, Ivanhoe and Wagon Train! Mum and Dad too seemed to enjoy Emergency Ward Ten and were always talking about it and particularly local boy John Alderton from Hessle High Road, who was starring in it at the time.
But it was the advertisements that impressed me the most and I was soon singing “Lyons Quick to brew tea means none for the pot” and ‘Unzip a Banana’ at the top of my voice, for this lad, commercial television brought a whole new dimension to the in-house entertainment at number 23.
Nine years three months and four days ….The age of enlightenment.
19th September 1959: Hull 53 Doncaster 8
At the age of nine when I guess I should have had my head down studying for my 11+ Exams (which because of my birthday I had to take at ten) all of a sudden something wonderful and mind blowing happened as the new rugby season started. I suddenly stopped running around the hills at the back of the terracing at the Boulevard after three quarter time and as an uneasy truce fell between the adolescent Cowboys and Indians, I started to take a lot more notice of what was actually going on out there on the pitch! Within the space of three weeks of the campaign beginning I was cadging the admission money from my Mum and going to watch the game from the start!
The experience at Odsal had, I think, unnerved my Mum more than she cared to admit and she didn’t renew her season ticket for the ‘Best Stand’ that year. She stopped going to a lot of the games, although she did accompany me to one or two of the bigger fixtures! But I was well into it and so it was that at the tender age of ten, I started the addiction that was to engross my life. It was a game against Doncaster that September when we won 53-8 that, for me, swung the deal completely though.
That day I stood on the terracing at the Airlie Street end next to a chap, who, to this day, I have never seen since. He was, I found out later, call Alf, and there with his son, who was about the same age as me. Alf wore a big Duffel coat, a black and white scarf, sported a Woodbine in his mouth all the time and wheezed as he spoke. Seeing me there on my own, he took me with his son, who I think was called Tim, down to the front and sat us on the hooped top metal fencing that separated the viewing areas from the playing area.
Throughout the game he stood behind us and told us both what was happening and who the players were. He was impressed with my knowledge of the club’s stars and what motor cars they drove, and warmed to me as the game went on! I remember he said, on several occasions, when the crowd shouted for a forward pass, “Well off-side actually but I suppose they are the same thing”. Funny thing to say that, and even funnier how I have remembered it after all these years.
I looked out for Alf and Tim on several occasions after that but did not see them again. From time to time my friends would run up in mid-game and ask me to join in with whatever chasing game they were playing that week but by then, I was just too much a fan of the FC to do those sorts of childish things. I was hooked!
A regular fan!
About that time my pal Billy Jenkinson started watching the game with me as well! This was a good thing because it was always good to ‘compare notes’ on what we thought was going on and to have someone to stand with, in fact Billy and I formed quite a close friendship! Billy lived in a terraced house just across the road from the ground in Division Road not far from Chiltern Street School, at the back of the Threepenny Stand. “Jenks” was the skinniest kid I had ever seen, who, whatever the weather always seemed to wear short pants that were much too small for him. We were both keen on the players and we waited after games and training to get all the stars’ names in our Autograph Books!
Once we became established friends, we would play for hours after school against the front wall of the Stadium with chalked wickets, in summer, and goal posts in winter. But mostly we would have ‘Kicking Duels‘, just like the full-backs did in games back then. We did this across the Boulevard car park, forcing each other backward with booming punts using the rugby ball I got from Mum and Dad for my ninth birthday.
On match days we would both put on the black and white scarves that our Mothers had knitted for us and I complimented mine with an old Air Raid Wardens rattle I got from Boyes on Hessle Road that Dad had painted black and white for me. This made a hell of a racket and certainly cleared a space around us on the concrete terraces of the Airlie Street end! We were often greeted on arriving before a game with “Oh no not you two again, Bugger off with that bloody rattle”
As for the playing staff back then, well I can remember the likes of the Drakes, Tommy Harris, Cyril Sykes, Tommy Finn and Ivor Watts! Although, most of the others seem to have disappeared into the mists of time. I can however remember well Nan Halifihi a Tongan who played for us; he had a brother Johnny who was a handy Boxer and used to keep fit by attending training at the club. His was the only autograph Jenksy and I had on the ‘boxing’ page of our autograph albums.
I had better get used to this; queuing for tickets, the ‘Threepennies’ and cup glory in the ringside seats.
Saturday 19th March 1960: Hull 12 Wigan 8
That year was however a big one for the club. As I said earlier, Mum and I had watched the previous year’s Cup Final defeat by Wigan on the TV but this year, as we started out on another great cup run to a Wembley return, I was a proper fan and so I needed, if not demanded, to be fully involved.
We beat both York and Keithley in the early rounds of the competition before things really warmed up and we were drawn against Wigan at the Boulevard in the quarter finals and what a day that was. Actually, to be honest things started the previous week end when the quiet of a Sunday morning in Airlie Street was disturbed at about 3-00am as outside my bedroom window I could hear voices in the dark.
Rubbing my eyes and wiping the condensation from the window with my pajama sleeve, I could just make out that across the road, illuminated by the pale street lights, at the front of the ground a queue was beginning to form. By the time a grey dawn broke, the human snake stretched 4 times round the car park, past the front of our house in AylesfordStreet to disappear round the far corner and out of sight. By the time the ticket window at the supporter’s club opened at 10-00am the queue was down the Boulevard and into Selby Street stretching right down to Chiltern Street! In fact, the local Daily Mail, next night, stated that at one time around 14,000 people were estimated to be standing in a queue three quarters of a mile long. Mrs. Butters, Benny Allgood’s and all the local corner shops that opened on Sundays, had sold out of just about everything by 11-00 o’clock.
It was a freezing cold day too and years later a pal of mine, Vince related how he was in that queue having been bribed by his Dad who said that he would take him to the game if he queued for their tickets!! We got ours I believe from the supporter’s club, so we all just sat in the front room all day and watched the fun as hundreds filed past our bay window.
Mum I guess, realising that there was going to be a big crush and a gate in excess of 20,000 at the game, felt that ‘Ring Side’ seats were safest for both me and her!! One thing is for sure and that is those ring side seats would never be allowed in modern day sports stadiums, but back then they were just a means of getting a few more folks into the ground for the big games.
Saturday arrived at last and with it being a sell-out Cup game the “ALL MUST PAY” signs that usually adorned the turnstiles for these matches were replaced by “TICKETS ONLY” placards pasted over each gateway into the ground. Having got through a turnstile identified by a piece of cardboard with “RINGSIDE SEATS ONLY” scribbled on it in Biro, we then showed our tickets at the big gate in the perimeter fence near the dressing rooms, where the ill and infirm on stretchers and in wheelchairs were brought to the touch line to watch the games. Then we walked, through the discarded heaps of straw around the dead ball line, and took up our seats on park benches positioned in front of the Threepenny Stand at the Gordon Street end of the ground and about 6 foot from the touch line! Seats were also lined up behind the posts at each end too and that’s where Vince and his Dad sat that day. The Safety at Sports Ground people would have had a field day!
So, there we sat surrounded by piles of discarded straw that had been used to cover the pitch to keep the frost out. It was a real mess! Wherever you looked the terracing at the ends of the ground seemed to be bulging as thousands packed into the old stadium. It was a still afternoon and a pall of cigarette smoke hung over the spectators like a volcano that was about to erupt. This was a totally new experience for me. Mum, after her lucky escape on the cinder hills of Odsal, probably thought we would be safer there but within ten minutes of the start, our winger Ivor Watts, was tackled into touch and landed, with a Wigan three quarter on top of him, about 6 inches from my foot! It was a great game, but also, perhaps more importantly, my first real experience of that institution that I had heard so much of and that was to dominate my life for years to come, the Threepenny Stand.
Behind me there was a ‘bear garden’ of cheering, drinking, smoking, referee bashing, and swearing. My Mum, who incidentally, I never ever heard swear, seemed immune to it all, but oh boy did I learn some new words that day! There were profanities that even the lad from Chilton Juniors, had never heard before. Finally, I plucked up the courage to look over my shoulder at the wooden edifice that was soon to become my spiritual home. It wasn’t the size of the crowd or the sea of faces that impressed me most though; it was the way that they all lived every minute moving from agony to ecstasy at the drop of a ball! These supporters were a lot different to those that stood with me in my usual vantage point over on the terracing on ‘Bunkers Hill’ at the Airlie Street end of the ground. These guys were allowed to shout “Bastard” out at the top of their voices, without attracting any attention at all from those around them. That smell of beer, cigarettes and just a hint of urine was one that was to indicate in years to come that ‘I was home’
For probably the first time in my life I saw real anger and real passion on display there and it was great, so much so that I made a mental note of the fact that the sooner I got myself into this stand the better! On Saturday afternoons in those days thirteen a side was a much different experience to the sanitised sporting day enjoyed by modern day crowds. There were no cheerleaders, no sponsored stadiums and no Australian coaches with their “sliding defences”. It was all pure drama for a young lad, trawlermen swore and cursed at everything and everybody, grubby infant delinquents not unlike me pelted hapless shivering touch judges with half eaten pies and red-faced Grannies turned the air blue, waving their meaty fists in the air and screaming “Gerr-em-onside!”
The game itself was an absolute classic with “The Cream” coming out eventual winners by twelve points to eight with Kershaw scoring the winning try and Bateson slotting over the conversion. I was a bit too young back then to remember much more of the detail though.
As the final whistle went the players hugged each other shook hands and then (like the Gladiators I had seen in those Roman epics on our new Rediffusion TV) they all turned to ‘The Threepennies’ to soak up the adoration of the crowd. As we filed out along the touchline and the last members of the team disappeared down the tunnel, I was bemused by the fact that most of those fabulous ‘Threepenny Standers’ just stood there, as if not wanting to go home and let the moment pass. It was always a big victory if you could turn over the ‘Pies’, but this was a cup game and they were of course the Cup holders. They had fielded a team with Bolton, McTigue, Sayer and Barton on show, who had all been instrumental in beating us so comprehensively in the final the previous year. Little did I realise then that I was going to be left standing on those pee soaked wooden steps, not wanting to leave the scene of a victory, on many, many occasions in the decades to come.
Vince though, sitting at the other end, has just as strong memories of that day and he told me years later that he was sat there when Wigan’s Norman Cherrington scored just 6 feet from him, only for the try scorer then to be congratulated right in front of him by the legendary Eric Ashton! He says that it was almost unreal to see those great folk heroes of the age right in front of him. Vince incidentally says that to this day it was the most exciting experience he has ever had at a Rugby League game. Not bad for a Rover’s fan, but your first big game as a kid is like that though isn‘t it? Sadly, he is no longer with us but his recollections of that day, certainly live on with me.
Waving the losers goodbye.
Train spotting was still very much on the agenda in those days and so having walked with my Mum back home, I raced to the level crossing at the top of the Boulevard to watch the 5 train loads of Wigan fans as they started their long journey home. There were quite a few of my pals who had the same idea down there and we stood with our faces through the barriers and booed and gave them the thumbs down as their glum faces peered at us through the grubby carriage windows! In all things there has to be losers and winners but that day we won, so it was a case of “Up yours Wigan” from us lot waving two fingers at them as they started their long trek back to Lancashire.
For those complete anoraks who have got this far in this catalogue of fanaticism, the trains were pulled by 5 ex London Midland Scottish steam engines, real rarities in Hull! There was one Patriot, two Jubilee’s and two ‘Black Fives’. I guess to most of you reading this that means absolutely nothing at all! But, those were rare railway locomotives in these parts and back then to a ten-year-old, seeing them meant the end to a perfect day.
We beat Oldham 12-9 in a pretty none descript semi-final played at Station Road Swinton and we were back at Wembley again for the second year running.
Wembley again and this time I’m there!
Saturday 13th May 1960: Hull 5 Wakefield 38
The previous year when we were beaten by a record score, you’ll remember I watched the Final with my Mum in Aylesford Street and just to prolong the agony, a few weeks later Grandstand, the BBC’s regular Saturday afternoon sports programme, featured our only try of the game, by Tommy Finn, in its weekly opening credits. This was something that survived for haunt us for many years to come, every time we switch that particular programme on. There would be no TV for me this time around though because the moment we won the semi-final against Oldham at Station Road Swinton 12-9, this young fan was off to Wembley.
My first trip to the national stadium was to end again in a second successive record defeat for the club, but that seemed a long way off as Mum and I headed off in a taxi to the station to catch the 6-00 am “Train No 3” heading for London Kings Cross. The cab was booked and arrived at 5-15am that Saturday morning. For a couple of weeks now, shops again had their windows decked out in black and white with large signs saying, “Good Luck Lads” and “Bring the Cup back Home for us Johnny”, plastered across their windows. As kids it was just about all we talked about at school and at Chiltern Street, even Mrs Rutherford the head teacher had a ‘Good Luck Hull FC’ decorated table in the corridor outside the Assembly Hall.
Actually, going to the game was a great adventure for a young northern lad and I was just amazed by the sight that met us at Paragon Station when we arrived. Everyone was in black and white; this included all the attendants, the guard on our train and even the people who had just finished cleaning the coaches out. Four trains were awaiting our arrival each with about 12 coaches and three trains, including ours were positioned in the old ‘Excursion’ platforms at the South side of the station. These crumbling platforms had seen some other memorable times in bygone years, none more so than when they were used many years earlier as the transit point for immigrants on route from Europe to the America‘s. On this particular weekend the west side of the City was temporarily on the move, on mass, to London.
There were trolleys, sack barrows and carts of beer everywhere. Crates of Hull Brewery Amber and Nut Brown were stacked in the aisles as we entered our carriage and pushed our way to our seats. I can still remember the strains of ‘Old Faithful’ ringing out around the train even before we had left Paragon Station. We were sitting with a friend of my mum’s Mrs Rogers who had the biggest rosette I had ever seem. She had also knitted herself an irregular hooped scarf that had Johnny Whiteley embroidered on the white panels and Bill Drake on the black. In the early 60’s it was a case of ‘do it yourself’ rather than any sort of merchandise being available to buy from the club. Sheila Rogers was a really jolly heavily built lady who always laughed a lot between swigs from a hip flask she kept in her huge black leather handbag.
Everyone including me seemed to have a rattle. I had re painted mine in the club colours, using some Airfix model paint I found in the shed and had stuck the names of the team, cut from the Daily Mail all over it, especially for the final.
The trip down was fantastic, with singing, laughing and drinking going on everywhere. It’s a good job it was too because as was the case with excursion trains back then we were constantly stopping at signals and waiting on slow lines whilst the scheduled express trains passed, and the journey itself took over 5 hours to complete. When the train stopped at a signal for a while just outside Doncaster folks even climbed out onto the track to relieve themselves, it was mayhem but good-natured mayhem. I was still spotting trains so despite all that was going on around me I spent most of the journey ‘nose pressed to window pane‘.
The trip from Kings Cross to the Stadium, my first ever on a tube, was an amazing experience but for a young lad from Chiltern Street School whose idea of a day out was a trip to Hornsea on the train, Wembley was simply the biggest thing I had ever seen. It was massive! We found our seats that were just like the best stand seats at the Boulevard, on planking again divided by white paint lines with a number on each section. I joined in with the chanting and really enjoyed the community singing before the game got under way. Although most of these revelations will be a bit alien to younger readers, little has changed with the Cup Final’s pre match rituals except that we didn’t just sing ‘Abide with me’ but also several other songs that were printed in the programme including, ’She’s a Lassie from Lancashire’ and ’On llkleyMoor Ba Tat’. Both Hull and Wakefield supporters sang along together and everyone seemed to get on really well.
Some things never really change, and as has become usual over the years, injuries abounded and we went into the game without several first team regulars including half our mighty pack. So bad in fact was our injury crisis that we even gave a first team debut to Mike Smith who was, and still is, the only player to ever make his club debut at Wembley.
Our pre match injury crisis was not helped when a week earlier in a Championship playoff game against the same team, our star’ full back Peter Bateson was the victim of a stiff-arm tackle from Derek “Rocky” Turner and was ruled out of the final. Turner however ‘got away with it’; escaping a ban by the Rugby League and taking his place in the Wakefield ranks for the big game. We had therefore to switch our centre Kershaw to full back.
Neil Fox kicked an early penalty goal and that was followed by a try by Rollin and our worst fears seemed to be realised. But our depleted team battled on and nine minutes later Stan Cowen swerved and side stepped his way to a great try behind the sticks Sammy Evans, our replacement hooker and king of the cauliflower ears, who was soon to become a wrestler, added the goal and at half time we went in with a respectable, if not surprising, 7-5 score line.
The second half saw Harris badly injured and hobbling about whilst Cowan suffered a cracked rib. As there were no substitutes we battled on gamely but were totally outclassed by the ‘Trinity’, who scored a number of long distance tries none better than Alan Skene’s 60-yard dash towards the end of the game. Hull tried really hard but 5 tries in the last 20 minutes left us with another record Wembley defeat, this time of 38-5.
However disappointed I was at the result, I remember that whereas the post-match reports the previous year had been embarrassing, this time they were full of praise for our patched-up team, our battling qualities and never say die attitude. The score line did not do justice to our efforts and we left the field to a hero’s reception at the end of the game. I stood there in defeat and sung ‘Old Faithful’ with my Mum and I knew then, for the first time, there was certainly no escape, I was hooked.
Tommy Harris’s performance won him the Lance Todd Trophy and was generally hailed as the bravest performance ever seen at the stadium; he was floored by several tackles that left him rolling about the pitch in agony but he still broke their line time and again. He eventually left the field, with 10 minutes to go, with severe concussion. In our ranks that day were some great players that I can still picture in my mind’s eye because they were all hero’s in a lad’s eyes; it’s still hard not to marvel at the performances of Kershaw, Cowan, Nan Halifihi, Broadhurst, Finn, Harris and of course Johnny Whiteley.
Some of the above detail, I have since become aware of from reading about that great occasion and in all honesty some of the stuff about my experiences that day is a bit hazy. I don’t remember much of the journey back to Hull although Mum told me years later that it was about 4-00am before we finally got home to bed. 24 hours of excitement and I guess heartbreak for a young ten-year-old. The excitement and exertion, she also told me, saw me sleep right through the next day and the following night and it was Tuesday before I had fully recovered and went back to school!
Years later I came across a famous quote about Tommy Harris which was attributed to the Queen, who was attending her first ever Rugby League game that day. She is reported to have said to RL Council member Bill Cunningham, “It is amazing that such a small man can be at the bottom of a scrum and knocked out and then be so active a short time later”. HRH is a Hull fan?
Players that ‘Take their bat and ball home’
As a footnote and considering the temperamental nature of some of our modern-day sportsmen it was, looking back, a fine performance by 13 real heroes. However, even back then the game had its “prima donna’s”. The shock selection of twenty-two-year-old Smith to make his Hull FC debut meant that another reserve Colin Cole, who I think we signed from Hull and East Riding Rugby Union club, was left out. I knew Colin from getting his autograph at training but apparently he was so upset at not getting a place that he ‘took his bat and ball home’ and refused to play for Hull again.
That was a hard lesson for the future for me having just seen the light and been converted to the cause. Temperamental players are occasionally an unfortunate hazard when you’re obsessed with a sports club. The rest of the 59/60 season was largely forgettable as far as the league campaign was concerned, although we did give a long service award known back then as a ‘benefit year’ to Tommy Harris and Brian Cooper, and Ivor Watts our now retired Welsh winger, and of course my pal Mikes Dad, was appointed assistant coach.
‘Life’s a gas’, tripping in Mr Symonds class.
As the first decade of my life closed and the 60’s began I was looking forward to the 1960/61 season with great relish but unfortunately the great pack of those days was starting to diminish both in strength and numbers. Jim Drake went to Hull Kingston Rovers; Tommy Harris to York and others retired and moved on! That season was a poor one all round and we actually finished 16th in the league. No doubt for the seasoned fans it was a big disappointment although as a new convert to the cause, I loved every minute of it, but although I was captivated by all things Hull FC, in Aylesford Street life went on as usual. As I half-heartedly prepared for my 11+ Examinations at Chiltern Street, I was being ‘coached’ in sums by my Dad whilst Mum helped with my English. At School I was now in Mr Symons class, a nice bloke who was big in stature and who had distinctive ginger hair and freckles. He drove a Messerschmitt bubble car that led one or two in our class to say behind their hands, that he was probably a German spy. Even in those days I think that some of us kids watched too much TV.
Our classroom was at the top of the building at the Chiltern Street side of the school and looked out across the rooftops and over the Threepenny Stand. In fact when there was the odd rearranged mid-week cup replay or special training session, you could when peering out of the window see the ball rise over the roof of the stand! However, if old Symons saw you looking out across the roof tops he would get you out to the front of the class and administer his “Persuader”, ‘the Slipper’. This was an old sandshoe that, having made you touch your toes, he applied to your backside with such force that you invariably shot across the room to fall in a crumpled heap against the wall. This display of discipline was usually accompanied with roars of laughter from the rest of the class and it was difficult at the time to decide whether it was the violent pain or the abject ridicule that hurt the most.
Old Symonds was preparing our raggle-taggle band of academics for the 11+ Examination or our ‘Scholarship’ as some called it. This threat hung over us constantly in that last year at Chiltern Street. There was a bit of English and a bit of maths but basically it was an IQ test which in the end only proved who was good at……. doing IQ tests. We were just systematically programmed by the use of the ‘carrot’ and the ‘slipper’ to spot those differences, work out what was next in a certain sequence, see how quickly we could ‘fill that bath’ or decide which way the smoke was blowing if the train was going east and the wind blowing west etc. etc. etc.
All this was just part of a process that rubber stamped every youth in the country as being either ripe for grammar school or subnormal for life. There were incentives though, Margret Andrew’s Dad said that if she passed she could have a new bicycle; Billy Jackson’s Aunt offered a racing bike, whilst I was promised a bright future by my Mum and Dad, which I guess was great but not much good for getting to school on.
I remember that classroom was in fact above the boiler house, something you were actually aware of because you could see down through the gaps in the floorboards to the boilers below. In the afternoons, during periods of cold weather we all used to drop off to sleep as the fumes from the coke boilers oozed through the gaps in the floorboards and right up our nostrils! This was a sort of early manifestation of getting high on ‘coke’, but thankfully it was only the ‘smokeless fuel’ variety! I can still recall that vinegary acidy smell today. Other than these brief, soporific trips to oblivion, life at school and home went on as usual.
No one was more surprised than me!
By that next summer, I was rugby barmy and eagerly awaiting the 1961/62 season, so imagine my surprise and utter amazement when a letter dropped through the letterbox at no. 23 telling me that I had passed my ‘Scholarship’. In those day’s parents were asked to nominate in order the schools that they would like their children to go to. We had put Kingston High top of my list because Mum used to go there (with Amy Johnson, as she would always tell you) then opted for Riley High School because it was just down Anlaby Road and would save some bus fares and after that we were not that bothered. My parents must have put Kelvin Hall down next because I passed to go to my third option which was theTechnical High School, miles away in “Suburbia” on Bricknell Avenue in the north of the city. where, as Bill Jenks, who failed, commented, “The nobs all live”.
So pleased were Mum and Dad that they told everyone they met of my success, whilst I, never having thought of myself as the scholastic type, was a bit bemused by it all. They even rewarded me for doing so well, by investing five half crowns,(12 shillings and six pence) of their hard-earned cash, on a junior pass for the Boulevard! Not only was I a scholarship boy but I was also, much more importantly in my mind, a season pass holder for Hull RLFC!! Now it was official and who needed a new bike anyway. I have realised since then of course that as far as being a ‘Loyal’ supporter is concerned when you buy a season pass you are cranking up the ‘belonging’ a notch. I had my position on the Threepenny Stand, or on the Airlie Street end and that bit of card gave me the right to stand there and I would certainly glare at any big game casual fan that stood in it before I got there.
Looking back all this new school ‘stuff’, must have been quite a sacrifice for my parents and it was only when they got a letter from my new school outlining just what was needed for me to live the “Scholarship Dream”, that the full impact of my success hit them. There was then much scratching of heads as Mum read out a list of uniform clothes, sportswear, pencils, protractors and plimsolls! The major problem was I guess that the majority had to be purchased from the schools registered outfitters and suppliers, Gordon Clarke’s of Paragon Street in the city centre. The days of shopping at Boyes for my clothes were receding over our particular horizon very quickly.
Somehow they managed to get all the cash for the gear together and I found out that another Boulevard season ticket holder, Steve Mason from down the street, was also going to Kelvin so at least there was someone going my way that had sensible interests! I remember the weekend before I started school I went to Sunday School (Yes I was still going) in my full uniform. I really must have looked a Wally (in the idiot rather than the Father sense) with my little cap sat on top of my head and my socks, for the first time in my life, pulled up my legs and being held there by elastic garters! They really dug into my legs and I can still clearly remember complaining to my Mum when I got home that my feet had gone numb! The uniform idea, I guess, was a good one and designed to bring some sort of parity to everyone who attended High School, presuming, I suppose, that those middle-class kids from Anlaby High Road and ‘the Avenues’, would turn up in spats and knee boots if they were left to their own devices. The cap was the main problem though, because whenever you wore it, it became an icon of superior intellect which on the Boulevard meant that it was quickly destined to be snatched and deposited in the highest tree the ‘urchin classes’ could find.
An introduction to the fans of the other club in Hull.
Saturday 12th August 1961: Hull KR 14 Hull FC 5
The problem with a new school however was that although it was a harrowing perplexing and sometimes quite violent transition, there were more important things to worry about because by the start of September we had lost all 4 of our games in the new season. These included the traditional “Curtain Raiser” to the season the Eva Hardaker Memorial Trophy game against Rovers at Craven Park! This was the first time I had been to ‘That Place’ and despite my Dad still working at the butchers on Holderness Road; it was the first time I had been allowed to venture that far into East Hull. I travelled there with Billy Jenks by Trolley Bus, firstly to the town and then on the Holderness Road service which dropped us at the Bus Sheds next to the ground. This was all uncharted territory for both of us. We paid our dues at the turnstiles and entered the enemy’s stronghold for the first time.
What a strange place Craven Park was. I had been brought up with a distinct dislike of all things red and white anyway but the ground where they played really was a lot different to the Boulevard! There was a track all the way round that someone told me was used to race dogs, whilst at one end there was a massive score board which never showed the score, I was baffled! I later found out that this was actually the Tote Board, but what that was supposed to mean to a naive kid of 11, was anyone’s guess! When the game began it seemed miles to the pitch and I was stuck at one end on wooden fronted muddy terracing behind, of all things, a privet hedge. Now one or two folks, including ourselves, had those in their front gardens back in Aylesford Street, but around a rugby pitch?? It was baffling! We lost the game 14-5 much to the incessant gloating of an old chap in an oilskin mackintosh stood next to me, who kept making snide comments about ‘Black and White rubbish’ throughout the game; ‘What a moron’ I thought, although his behaviour did at least give me a good indicator of what I could expect for the rest of my life from those of the same ilk.
Then, as is the case today in the 21st century, I was resigned as always to being part of it all and I couldn’t do much about it. We were facing another season and no doubt there would be more of this heartbreak to come. My club exploit me, disregard my views, sell my favourite players and move in a ‘mysterious way and all I am left with is that age old conundrum for real fans, that is the eternal conflict between reality and sentiment! At school and no doubt in the pubs and club of the City, fans expound their opinions based on reality and steeped in pessimism but for me the start of a season always still has to be a time for optimism and hope; well it is until brutal reality kicks in and we actually start playing games again.
‘What’s happening at the Watersheddings? Before local radio there was only….the ‘Tannoy’ system.
With the exception of the odd safari to Craven Park we stuck to home games and anyway because of the lack of motorways, the shortage of available cars and the weather, travelling to most away games was almost impossible then, even if your parents would let you go. So, we would watch the first team one-week and the ‘A’ teams the next. I really enjoyed ‘A’ team games even at that early age, because they were so raw and basic and I loved the way that the abuse and profanities of the ‘Faithful’ few who attended, echoed around the old Threepenny Stand.
When I look back over all the years I have watched my club I have come to the conclusion that there has always been an element of purity to Reserve, ‘A’ Team, Colts or Academy games. There are none of those fair-weather supporters there; it’s down to the truly committed fanatics. Back then at ‘A’ team games we used to get a first team score update at half time and that was usually it. However, on very rare occasions we got ”The latest score from Watersheddings (Oldham’s ground) is…” but that was usually only when the Mail reporter was sat next to the only phone in some antiquated Press Box, all those miles away across the Pennines.’ The Watersheddings’, we thought, ‘What must that be like?’ It sounded like a wet dismal almost spooky place to us kids and of course a few years later we were to discover, that it was just that.
Otherwise when the first team were playing away we just stood in our latest viewing position in the Threepenny Stand huddled together against the cold, learning new swear words and watched our second string perform. All the time we wondered just what the first team lads were doing all those miles away. The second team, in those days, was usually made up of young hopefuls, ageing heroes with a smattering of ‘A.N.Others’, ‘S.O. Else’s’ and ‘T Rialist’s’ (a name used to disguise Rugby Union trialists, who if discovered playing in the rival code would be disqualified from their game for life). The ‘A’ team performed in faded shirts sometimes without numbers and were soon covered from head to foot in the famous, clinging Boulevard mud. This is probably, I guess, where the famous shout of “Up the cream” came from, because the shorts, so well washed, were just that, whilst the shirts were actually faded grey and cream irregular hoops, not too much dissimilar to an away strip we adopted, some 50 years later.
At the end of the game about 30 or 40 of us would, like beleaguered carol singers on some ancient Dickensian Christmas card, huddle together in the encircling gloom around the one tannoy speaker on the lighting pole that was situated on the very top of the “Bunkers Hill” terracing overlooking Airlie Street. There, lit by the yellow glow of the single light bulb, we waited for the final score from the first team’s away game. We would often stand there silently listening to the static hum of the primitive PA system for up to 20 minutes, before at last it crackled into life, when whoever was left in the press box, over in the best stand would announce “The final result from the Watersheddings is….” That was it, no scorer’s, no details and certainly no injuryupdate.
We knew nothing more than that until we had gone home, had our tea and the Green Sports Mail had dropped through the letterbox. There was no local radio and precious little coverage anywhere else except in local newspapers.
So, my new Technical High School beckoned and althoughrugby wise we had already lost five of our first seven games of the season, a new era was starting. Academically it was a real culture shock, almost as severe as the one unfolding at the Boulevard, were the club were entering the most difficult 20 years of its long history and this young impressionable supporter was about to endure it.
(to be continued)
The tough years of the 60’s start to unfold next week along with the advent of Wrestling at Madeley Street baths, Arthur Keegan, Clive Sullivan and the great ‘Flying Dentist’!