Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of the Diary and a further serialisation of my life as an FC fan growing up in the world of work, as I gradually develop a distinct dislike for the team at the other side of the city.
But before we get into that, thanks so much for all the feedback I got last week about what I had to say about the way our club staff and players had rallied around Hull FC and accepted pay cuts etc. It was a great effort and it looks as if it may shortly be our turn as fans to chip in where we can.
This week as the days dragged by, I was lamenting the possible future of our great club and the sport in general, because everything I read indicated that the storm clouds seemed to be gathering over British Rugby League. It is atime when depressing stuff seems to be surrounding us anyway and to lose the sport that I had dedicated my life to, would be I thought, for me and thousands of others, a massive blow.
However how heartening it was to hear that, setting us apart from all other sports in the Country, the Government had agreed to a one-off independent loan of £16m, to underpin a game that I have always believed is fundamental to the sporting tapestry and indeed the life of the North of England. Many people have worked tirelessly for this development,particularly the MP’s for East and West Hull Karl Turner and Emma Hardy and they should be heartily commended for their efforts.
But you see, for me, this horrible crisis the country finds itself in, isn’t a political issueat all, for what is happening is far above politics and the sooner a handful of cheap shot politicians and the majority of the ‘stirer’s’ in the media learn that the better!!At present everything has to just be totally about saving lives and trying to ensure something of the life we knew before, is left for those who are lucky enough to come through this disastrous and shocking time intact. So, you have to welcome a move to save our game such as this is, wherever and whoever it is coming from.
So, you’ll understand I think, that what struck me most was the comment of Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, when he said: “From my first sports visit as Secretary of State to Leigh Centurions, I could see how important these clubs are to the communities they serve. They are the beating heart of their towns and cities, and their impact goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Sports across the board are facing unprecedented pressures, and we are supporting them through wider Government measures. In this case we are intervening as an exception, not to save an individual business or organisation, but to protect an entire sport, the community it supports, the World Cup held here next year and its legacy for generations to come.”
That said it all and it has to be good news for the game we all love and indeed for Adam and our beloved Hull FC. However, it also reflects a growing understanding of what the game means to communities and the populous of the north of England and in this instance at least, it animates the current Governments promise to look after the North.
However, in the game itself, the big test of integrity now is to see if any clubs try to ‘poach’ players who are now free agents from other teams. Some Clubs are simplynot at present in a position to secure contracts with those players, although in an ideal situation they would want to keep them. Let’s hope everyone the clubs, the players and the RFL play fair (although rumour is already that one or two ain’t) so that we can hold the line and get through all this together as one game. The RFL had better get the allocation right too, because their record of late hardly engenders faith in them, does it?
Still, we all have to welcome this intervention in the hope that we have a professional sport to support again one day, when we can all get back to the KCom and back with the great family that is Hull FC. What a day that will be eh !!!!
But now, back to the 60’s when you’ll remember we had just moved from my spiritual home in Airlie Street to Sutton, deep in the heart of enemy territory………
Living with the enemy
Our new home at 10 Potterill Lane, was like another world compared with that little ‘sham four’ in Aylesford Street. There was a garden for starters and a long one at that, with apple trees, bird tables, a Larch lap garden shed and a chicken house (minus any Chickens) at the bottom of the plot. The front gate had a yellow Laburnum tree growing over it and there were three bedrooms and a bathroom and a toilet upstairs! Mum and Dad had ordered some new furniture, two rocking type armchairs for the back room and a leatherette suite for the front and because Rediffusion did not extend its wired vision service that far; they bought a ‘new’ second hand telly which obtained its signal from an TV Ariel on the roof! One of our first visitors after moving in was Granny Allen who, taking a lot of credit for the move herself, asked me what I thought.
I must have said something about the distance it was to the Boulevard and even to Boothferry Park, (where I had on occasions taken to watching a game when it did not clash with Hull FC’s home matches or an ‘A’ team game), because what sticks in my mind was her announcement that I could, “Always pop onto Holderness Road and watch ‘The Other Team’. I can’t remember my answer but it was probably something like ‘I’d rather cut my own head off’. Jessie, bless her, just didn’t get it at all.
I either had to go to school on my bike which took around 40 minutes, or take a seventy-minute bus trip on two buses through the centre of Hull. It was all ‘very inconvenient’ for what was fast becoming an angst filled adolescent and I remember one wet windy morning suggesting to Mum and Dad that perhaps they had not thought all this out properly. Still it was too late now and number 10 was our new home although the first few times I travelled back to the Boulevard for home games I always went to the front of No. 23 Aylesford Street to pay silent homage to a place that was, to this lad at least, a sort of shrine to everything that was happiness and Hull FC. Other people had moved in by this time of course and it all looked very strange through the faded net curtains that they had put up at the windows, but this ritual continued for ages and it became something of a fortnightly pilgrimage.
The long trek back to my spiritual home
Saturday 11th December 1965: Hull 25 Hunslet 5
I think the first game I travelled across town to see was a home encounter against Hunslet which we won easily, but the following week we played a dour affair in driving rain and clinging mud against Castleford which despite a rare Doyle-Davidson try, we lost 6-3. The journey home sat on the bus in soaking wet clothes was endless that day. Then of course we faced our first festive season in our new home and I celebrated on Christmas Day as you do, by catching the first no 34 bus from Sutton to Hull to get to the Boulevard for an 11-00am kick off and the annual Christmas Day fixture against Hull KR. The pitch that day was an absolute morass of mud but that did not seem to affect the supporters who turned up in their droves to watch the game. I believe there were over 12,000 there that day for a Christmas Day institution that was for me part occasion, part tradition, part pilgrimage and part purgatory. Why do they always schedule Derby’s at times of celebration.
What did you get for Christmas?….. I got a defeat and a long walk home!
Saturday 25th December 1965: Hull 0 Hull Kingston Rovers 2
For me, the lasting memory of watching those Christmas Day matches in the Threepenny Stand was the camaraderie and friendship that was everywhere as the hip flasks were passed round and the ‘Wife’s’ mince pies handed out. In fact,to this day whenever I smell Rum and cigar smoke it takes me back to those great Christmas lunch times at the Boulevard. That day the game was a really hard affair which we lost 2-0 to a solitary Cyril Kellett goal. It didn’t seem to matter much to the rank and file of fans if you lost to the old enemy back then but I know that I will have been totally ‘gutted’ by the result. After the game I called on Barry in Ena Street and he showed me the new Selmer Amplifier he had got for Christmas. It had reverb and an independent switch pedal, however before I knew it, the time had crept onto 3-00pm and I decided to head for home. The buses on Anlaby Road that Christmas Day were certainly few and far between and I eventually arrived in the City Centre at five minutes past four. To my horror the last bus to anywhere that Christmas Day went at 4-00pm, and so I set off to walk back to Sutton via the heavy industrial areas of Bankside and Wincolmlee.
I got home around six, and after a defeat to the old enemy and a six mile walk home, as you can imagine, Christmas spirit was at a premium for this fan, and as I ate my warmed up Christmas dinner and congealed sprouts the prospect of having to live in the midst of the Rovers imbeciles meant that I was not that keen on ‘Decking the Halls with boughs of Holly’ either.
Its official, I’m educationally subnormal.
With the return to school after Christmas my GCE’s loomed large and you know it’s a fact that there is something really strange about the year which sees the end of school and the prospect of life at work. It’s the period of your life when you realise that at this time next year you won’t be here, safe in the confines of Bill Pattinson’s ‘Home for the educationally challenged’, but instead you will be out there expected to earn a living. It was miles too late for me to change anything now though; well it was as far as GCE’s were concerned anyway. It was a fact I had come to accept after 5 years of idling my time away, but it was one that was certainly broiught home to Mum and Dad when a letter from school dropped through the letter box in late January. This piece of official correspondence was from Bill himself and indicated that I would only be entered for the GCE examinations in Maths and English (which were compulsory for even the ‘village’ idiots amongst us) and a rather bemusing Biology plus I would be allowed to sit two CSE’s in German and General Science.
‘OK, OK, I ain’t gonna be a brain surgeon!’
There was a state of shock in our house in Sutton for several days. Dad tried shouting at me, but that didn’t seem to make me suddenly more intelligent, so he then went into a silent mode, which in the end lead me to favour his first option because at least I knew what he was thinking. I even turned on him at breakfast one day and said, ‘ OK Dad I think you had better get prepared for the fact that I ain’t gonna be a brain surgeon’ Mum, just said that perhaps, ‘I was good with my hands’, (Ah that old chestnut) and that, ‘Not everyone can be brainey’. I was however, in an effort to ‘get out of the house’, spending more and more time in the garden weeding and digging away my frustrations.
The prospect of Study Leave from March till the exams in May certainly appealed to me, although it was not so much the ‘study’ as the ‘leave’ that was attractive.
Still there was always rugby, and I was thankful for what appeared to be the one stable thing left in my life, you could always depend on it. Well you could in as much as it did at least offer you either a first team or an ‘A’ team ‘shelter’ from the pressures of the world for at least an hour and a half every Saturday afternoon. For me over the years it has always been there in the hard times as a sort of ‘Comfort Blanket’ to use against the worst that the world could throw at you. You can get absorbed in it, and a great try or a massive tackle can render you totally elated and numb to an extent that makes you just for a few moments forget everything that going on in your life. In fact, with all the nervous illness and stress there seems to be in the 21st Century I am surprised that you can’t get an obsession for your sports club on prescription.
There is a certain consistency about being fanatical about Hull FC even when on the field the team are anything but consistent because most times it’s just good to be part of it.
‘Sully’ and ‘The Doyle’, ‘Brothers in arms’
Saturday 26th February 1966: Hull 11 Salford 2
As a team we were certainly not ‘consistent’ that year as, for the third year running, the papers described the 1965/66 campaign as yet another ‘transitional’ season. However as always there are a couple of games that spring to mind from that period, the first was a home game against Salford when Clive Sullivan scored a memorable try, with which he sealed a win by 11-2. That afternoon I remember ‘Sully’ raced in from 30 yards, eluding defender after defender to score under the post, which added to the two unconverted tries that John Maloney had already scored. Two weeks later it was David Doyle-Davidson that shone out in a game against Batley that we won 23-10. It was Maloney that got all the plaudits in the media with 7 goals from 12 attempts but ‘The Doyle’, as he was starting to be known by the fans, stamped his authority on the game with four or five massive tackles and some creative centre play. I also recall that Charlie Booth and Brian Clixbyplayed well on that particular day too, in a good forward performance.
However, that year did at least see dependable, week in week out hero, Arthur Keegan made club captain and a popular one he was too. He had now developed into a masterful full back with a great attacking style and a wonderful step, whilst both under the high ball and as the last tackling last line of defence he was the best there was. His last-ditch tackling style which involved a grab round the legs or him smothering the ball and pushing the player to the ground in one go, is a lifelong memory burnt onto the brain cells of this fan. He was just a fabulous player who was becoming a sort of ‘Captain Marvel’ character too, as he took most of the penalty kicks for touch and could still double up on the goal kicking if asked to do so.
In addition to Arthur another top performer that year was again our international winger, ‘The Black Flash’, (as certain members of the media had taken to calling him) Clive Sullivan, he again continued to play consistently well scoring 23 tries. Times were hard though and our total wage bill for players, staff and coaches that year added up to £8,147. The A team, was a joy to watch though and Steve, Kenny and the rest of the lads who went often talked more about them than the first team. The squad still full of promising local youngsters was destined to again raise the Yorkshire Senior Competition Challenge Cup that year and this time they kept hold of it.
In examinations its generally accepted that those who know the most usually finish last.
The time of my Exams finally arrived before ‘I’d had any time to revise’ and I entered a couple of weeks that were for me an absolute nightmare. However hard I tried to cram a few morsels of information into a brain that was stuffed with try scorers, league tables and guitar chords, in the actual examinations I always seemed to finish first and write the least, and I guess I knew in my heart of hearts that the eventual outcome was to be disastrous. Still I gave Mum and Dad glowing reports of how I was getting on with them, and how I had ‘revised all the things that they were asking in the questions’, but as soon as I had managed to get through the actual ordeal of the examination process, I started to dread the results and prepared for the fateful day by planning how I could ambush the postman before he arrived with the ‘glad tidings’. It was time I decided to think about getting a job…..quickly.
I was still spending a lot of my spare time helping out at home in the garden. It was a long thin expanse of land bordered by low hedges on each side, which had originally been reclaimed from an old orchard that had once been behind an imposing house owned by local entrepreneurs ‘The Sewell’s’. It was good fun getting my shirt off and being out in the sunshine and as I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do as a job of work, I decided to find out about the possibility of doing a bit of gardening to earn some money. One night in mid-June whilst on my way through the paper in search of the sports pages, I noticed an advert in the ‘Situations Vacant’ column which invited applicants for 10 posts of Apprentice Gardeners at the City Council, the wage was the princely sum of £2-15s- 6d a week and so I applied, and soon got an invitation to an interview on Tuesday 25thJune at Ferens Chambers, 79 Ferensway in the centre of Hull.
My ‘googly’ gets me by.
I bought a suit, well Mum bought me a suit from Johnsons on Holderness Road and I presented myself as indicated at 2-00pm. The office of The Parks Cemeteries and Baths Department of the City Council was in Ferensway Chambers and on the top floor and I was quizzed by the receptionist about my name and age before I was ushered into an office which announced on the door that it was occupied by of A.T. Hawksley Assistant Director of Leisure Services. Tom, as everyone knew him, was a really nice guy and completely different to the executive I had expected to meet for my interview. He sat, with his feet on the desk as the sun streamed through the attic style windows of his office. I had tried to best guess what I would be asked but his opening gambit certainly caught me completely off guards as he asked, ‘Now then lad, do you play cricket’. I nodded and added just what Mr Jones at Kelvin Hall had told me; that I was a ‘Right arm slow medium bowler and at best a middle order batsman’. ‘Great’, said Tom, ‘The Parks Department’s works sports cricket team is struggling for players’.
We chatted a bit about my experiences in the back garden at Potterill Lane and my studying Biology at school (although I omitted to mention that I only answered two of the five questions on the exam paper) and then, quite amazingly, it was agreed that I would start work on 1st August 1966, at East Park. Of course Mum and Dad’s reaction was a cross between ecstasy and relief, as they greeted the news with a big hug and a handshake, and the announcement of how much my ‘Board’ would be from week one at work.
I got washed and changed and headed off for a pint. After a few drinks in the ‘Duke’ around the corner, where there seemed to be a rather lax regime when it came to the sale of alcohol to ‘juniors’, I went home and probably slept easierthat night, safe in the knowledge that, providing I kept my nose clean, my career until the day I retired was now ‘In the Bag’ and that when the dreaded results arrived in mid-August I would be secure in my chosen profession. With no ambush now required, the Postman was safe again!
A working man……. adventures with Billy and Sid.
As I stated previously 1966 was a big year for soccer, not just because of England’s victory in the World Cup but alsodown on Boothferry Road where Hull City, under local millionaire and gravel pit mogul Harold Needler, were‘buying’ their way towards some really big gates. They never really achieved the ultimate success that they craved, First Division football, something that was to take another 40 years to arrive, but with signings like Wagstaff, Houghton and Butler, this ongoing team rebuilding had certainly captured the imagination of the local sporting community.
These happenings up the road certainly made it difficult for Hull FC to attract anything like the attendances that they had enjoyed at the turn of the decade and the club found themselves down to if not the bare bones of support, then struggling to maintain attendance levels year on year. As the bulk of the City’s floating sports fans were gravitating towards Boothferry Park, our situation wasn’t helped by the fact that we played in the same winter season as the Football club and their Saturday afternoon fixtures were often in direct competition with our games. Often I remember you could stand in the well of the Best Stand watching some dour game of rugby and see, quite clearly, the ‘Tigers’ new floodlights in the distance as they twinkled and shined over the rooftops of the houses in Division Road.
However, attendances apart, coach Johnny Whiteley, the Board and the players did quite well and we finished a very commendable ninth in that 1966/67 season, with Sullivan not only once again topping the club’s try scoring charts, but also with 28 touch downs being crowned for the first time as the top scorer in the British professional game. Another national accolade was gained when Arthur Keegan, who was our club captain, and again Player of the Year, was picked to tour Australia with Great Britain.
Despite us rugby fans trying to dismiss it as a passing phase the World Cup was the big news across the nation and football was a sport on the up, although at 10 Potterill Lane in Sutton the talk was all about my new job, which was to start at East Park on the first day of August. As I have already stated, I was destined to be employed for the next five years as an apprentice gardener with the City Council and it was on that Monday morning that my journey to manhood started in the leafy and verdant surroundings of the City’s largest park.
On that morning it was with some trepidation and a deal of nervous foreboding that I rode my bicycle down Summergangs Road and into the service yard in the Park for a 7-30 start. On arrival the place was in turmoil, with bales of straw, piles of rubbish, discarded tables and chairs, and paper everywhere. It was the first working day after the Hull Show, a ‘Town meets Country’ sort of event that was staged every year in the park and attended by thousands. Despite therefore my dreams of digging and pruning, it was pretty inevitable that my first couple of days as a trainee horticulturalist would be spent picking up paper and other rubbish as an army of council workers executed what was called ‘The Big Clean Up’. I managed to get through the first day without any of the initiation ceremony’s my pals had warned me about, until, that is, I arrived back in the service yard at 4-30pm to find my bicycle had been hoisted to the top of the flagpole at the front of the park.
If the work was tedious and the surroundings strange it only took me a couple of hours to recognise a few friendly faces from the Boulevard as I quickly reacquainted myself with two familiar characters from my spiritual home. Sid and Billy were in their early 60’s and Billy was poorly sighted, wearing what were then affectionately referred to as ‘bottle bottomed glasses’. On the Threepenny Stand everyone knew Billy as the always laughing, dumpy little guy who stood on the fence on the touchline at the very front of the terracing giving the match officials the benefit of his thoughts on their parenthood not that he was a loud guy because he certainly wasn’t and he had sat for years in the best stand at the other side of the ground in seat H32 above the players tunnel, but moved over to the ‘Threepenny’s’ when he’s eyesight worsened. Still he was a real fixture at every home game and just one of literally dozens of characters that the game attracted in those days.Before moving to Greatfield housing estate in the east of the city, he had been a lifelong resident of Gillett Street on Hessle Road, deep in the bosom of the fishing industry and in the heart of black and white territory.
Sid was less well known, although I still remembered him from home games at the Boulevard. At work he wore faded blue overalls and a flat cap that he never seemed to be without. It was like that with folks who wore flat caps in the 60’s you either had one or you didn’t, but if you did you just about slept in it! Sid though always referred to Hull FC as ‘We’ and not ‘They’. I instantly loved him for this because to this day, anyone who speaks about my club as ‘We’ shows that extra caring and belonging that I feel myself, so Sid was fine in my book.
Both these stalwarts had been watching Hull FC since well before the Second World War and throughout my stay at the park, as soon as work started, whether it was digging in a wintery shrubbery or sweeping leaves on the perimeter roadsin autumn, the conversation soon got onto Colin Hutton, Bruce Ryan, Bob Coverdale or any one of dozens of ex Hull players about which they both seemed to have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge.
Billy seemed to be on first name terms with many of the current and past players, so the stories were many and varied and the days flew by in those first few weeks of my working life. My pay of £2 15s 6d, meagre though it was, seemed to cover amply all my needs and after the rigours of Kelvin Hall, East Park was a happy introduction to the world of work.
Encouragement to work and learn; wellington boots, latinplant names and ‘snickling’
Although I am sure when I look back now the outcome of my first steps on the road to being a working man may not have been as my Mum and Dad had hoped when I passed my 11+, they were still tremendously supportive and at the end of my first week my Dad returned home from work with some new wellingtons and gardening gloves for me to use at East Park. However, being an apprentice meant there was an element of learning to the process and so, no doubt believing I was enjoying myself too much, Percy Brown the Park Foreman ‘attached’ me to the ‘Rock Garden gang’, where I met my new supervisor Harry.
He didn’t like rugby, or football for that matter, and was completely steeped in his gardening. He seemed to know the Latin name of every plant there was and once he had told you them he expected you to remember them forever. He used to march me down into the rock garden every morning and give me six botanical names of plants which I had to memorise and repeat next morning before learning the next six.
His main teaching aid was a swift clip across the back of the head if you didn’t get them right and believe me whatever the politically correct ‘brigade’ of more recent times would thinkabout this incentive scheme, I became a fast learner. Harry was certainly a dour character, with a round weather beaten ’gardeners’ face, who didn’t smile much unless I fell down a muddy embankment, or into the fish pond in the rock garden, which I did managed to do on several occasions. I certainly learnt a lot from Harry and not all of it was about gardening.
One day I remember some young ‘urchins’ (as Harry called them) had been fishing in the boating lake and caught a smallish pike. They had, we found out later, run all the way with it in a ‘Keep Net’ to the lily pond in the rock gardenwhere, unknown to any of the parks employees they surreptitiously liberated it! Of course, at that time the fish was only about two foot long but it was about to get bigger.
As the weeks went by, slowly but surely, the Koi Carp, Rudd and Chebumkins that Harry cherished so much, started to disappear from the pond. This baffled him no end until one day he spotted the culprit lazily basking in the sunshine on top of the water, no doubt licking his chops after eating another fine specimen of my bosses celebrated fish collection. Next day at my supervisors request I brought an old steel guitar string from home and after looping it and attaching it to the end of a long bamboo cane, he settled down behind a bush next to the pond to await the appearance of his quarry.
Sure enough, as the sky brightened and the sun beamed down on the water out came ‘Pikey’ and as he basked after his breakfast in the warm spring sunshine, Harry deftly dropped the circle of steel into the water and slowly slipped the loop over the tail of the Pike. I watched from a distance in quiet admiration as, quick as a flash, he tugged at the cane, the wire tightened round the fish and with a flick of the wrist it was catapulted clear of the water and through the air, to land in an instant, high up on the rockery besides the pond.
Harry was up there in a flash and as I scrambled up the rocks behind him he was bashing the fish’s head against a big flat stone in manic fashion, whilst muttering curses of celebration under his breath. He had soon bashed the living daylights out of what had grown to be a 40” Pike. This sort of cemented in my brain the fact that perhaps it was wise for me to remember, in that whether you were, a young lad who was slow to learn plant names, or an unsuspecting aqarian predator, it was not advisable to mess with Harry.
Who killed all the fish?
Talking of fishy tales and those first few months on the Parks Department, I remember that they always used to put some sort of preparation into the big boating lake every spring to retard the growth of pond weed so that the rowing and motor boats that were there for hire, could operate across the whole expanse of the water throughout the summer. Canadian Pond weed used to wrap itself around the screws of the petrol driven motor boats and rendered them inoperative usually, I found, in the middle of the boating lake with a couple of young girls aboard, if I was lucky!
That year, the ritual of applying the ‘Aquacide’ water weed killer was the responsibility of the character who looked after all the boats on the lake, an Irish guy called ‘Duffy’. His job was to disperse the diluted herbicide into the water, something that he did with a watering can whilst stood up in a large power boat. The craft was specially equipped with a large galvanised tank which held the solution that was to be applied. Now Duffy, a swathe looking character, who always wore a red neckerchief, had an ear ring in one ear and was never seen out of wellingtons that were turned over at the top, liked a drink or two, and had on several occasions according to the parks popular mythology, fallen out of the boat and into the lake whilst performing this task. He should really have been taken off the duty altogether, but because the stuff they used was rather heady and the fumes could burn your arms and face, there was only Duffy who would attempt it. The year I was at East Park though, this often-inebriated Irish ‘mariner’ went a bit too far.
Although he vociferously denied it afterwards, his post night out ‘state of health’ that morning dictated that he had probably put too much of the neat solution into the lake and within two days of the application, hundreds of fish were being washed up dead! I remember going into work at four o’clock one morning to shovel dozens of dead Roach and Rudd into an antiquated dumper truck, before we secreted them in a big hole we had dug in the nursery plot in the service yard. We had, for obvious reasons, to complete this task well before the public were about in the park! Despite his protestations of innocence Duffy got the sack for that!
However, my best recollection of the whole episode was of the bigger fish that survived. They may not have been killedoutright but they were severely anesthetised by the deadly solution and for a couple of weeks after the mass genocide of the smaller fish, if you looked carefully you could see Pike sometimes up to six foot long floundering or just lying there on the surface of the lake, stunned.
‘The Hearth Rug Karma Sutra’.
Back at the Boulevard the Hull FC fans suspected that all was not that well in the board room, although to their credit the members of the executive did their best to project a united front. However barely six months after his appointed new chairman J.L. Spooner announced his resignation and at the same time Cyril Fowler was appointed as Club Secretary. Reg Lee was then appointed as Chairman, but the rumblings behind the scenes continued and although it was hard to find much out, to the average fan it appeared that at the very top the club opinions were divided. Clive Sullivan had a good year again though and possibly the most memorable game for our flying winger was the only one he missed against Bramley on 1st October 1966. Hull won the game 21-6 but more importantly it was the day that Clive married his girlfriend Rosalyn and the whole team went straight from the game to the reception. What a night that must have been! The Welsh flyer that was now a fixture on the wing saw his year culminate with selection to the Great Britain World Cup squad.
Although I had already had a good introduction to strange folks, at Chiltern Street, on the Threepenny Stand and on ‘Bunkers Hill’ there was never a more diverse, or odd, collection of guys than those I experienced at East Park. The mechanisation of farming and the demise of small holdings,meant that many farm labourers from the surrounding countryside had moved into town to work in the parks. The head ’Flower’ gardener, who whatever the weather was another that seemed to live his whole life in Wellington boots, was the spit and image of a character called Uncle Fester from the popular American TV comedy, ‘The Adams Family’. He was short, tubby, and balding and always had a big toothless grin for anyone he met. Every lunchtime in the mess room, he used to wait until everyone had settled down with their sandwiches, before regaling us with his stories of his sexual exploits with ‘The Mrs’ on the hearthrug in front of the fire the previous night. These graphically described acts, even more bizarrely, were apparently carried out to the accompaniment of ‘Criss Cross Quiz’, on the TV.
My first chance to bring home the fish and it cost me… big time.
As well as gardening and learning my ‘Latin’ there was other duties for a young man in the first throws of his apprenticeship to worry about too. It was my job to go for everyone’s Fish and Chips on a Friday and so early in my stay at the Park I was duly instructed about the location of the fish shop, what everyone wanted, who wanted salt and vinegar, pickled onions, Cod Roe etc etc. My final instruction was to ensure that when I got back I put the fish and chips in the oven to keep them warm until the lads got in for their lunch. I followed these instructions to the letter, and triumphantly that first Friday brought my first dinner order back to the Mess Room in two big bags on the handlebars of my bike.
I remembered my peer’s instructions and duly deposited the various lunches in the Oven, turned it on and went off to wash my hands. Ten minutes later as I walked out of the wash house shaking my hands to dry them, I witnessed a strange sight indeed. There were blokes running about hither and dither waving their arms, or carrying buckets of water, in the general direction of the mess room. A couple were shouting about ’Fire’ as they passed me to disappear into the dining area.
My step quickened, as I thought about the fish and chips, let’s face it after all that work, I didn’t want my efforts to be scuppered by a fire. However, in the end it was my fault anyway. No one had told me to take the outer newspaper wrapping off the fish and Chips before I put them in the ‘gas’ oven had they? I was popular that day I can tell you, it cost me half my first week’s pay to reimburse everyone for their ruined lunch’s and if that humiliation was not bad enough, I knew having burnt his Cod and Chips it was only a matter of time before I got another clip round the head from Harry. Perhaps that was the first signs of my apparent lifelong inability to tackle anything that could be loosely described as culinary.
Christmas in East Park.
If a few months in the midst of these ‘hair arsed gardeners’ was full of surprises for an impressionable 16 year-old and believe me, Christmas was a revelation. Days before the big day arrived these hardnosed, traditional ‘Sons of the Soil’ would show a real change of character, carols where whistled by some whilst they worked, whilst others decked out the Bowling Green Pavilion with holly, yew branches and paper chains. Even ‘Uncle Fester’ entered into the spirit of the season, and substituted his usual extracts from his ‘Hearth Rug Karma Sutra’ for licking a few paper chains’ after his lunch.
On Christmas Eve, things took an even stranger turn. At around 11-00 everyone finished their work, washed their spades and marched to the highly decorated Bowling Pavilion which by then resembled a ‘full blown’ Santa’s Grotto. This was the East Park staff Christmas Party for which the lads had been saving all through the year through weekly subscriptions collected by Sid. It was an unbelievable sight as what looked like hundreds of bottles of beer were spread out in the corner of the room.
Soon members of the staff who usually rarely said a word, were all singing ‘O’ Come all ye Faithful‘, plus standard ’Pub’ songs like ’Pal of My Cradle Days’, and ‘Dear old Pals’ ( all of which, this youngster who preferred the Kinks and Beatles thought, were sickly sentimental twaddle) Then ‘Uncle Fester‘ smiling with his toothless grin through a tatty cotton wool beard, appeared as Father Christmas and gave everyone a present, although even in his brightly coloured outfit and freshly washed and polished Wellingtons, I still found it hard to dispel completely the terrifying vision of thehearth rug, the ‘Mrs.’ and Criss Cross Quiz. However, as the afternoon wore on, things just got stranger and stranger.
Being ‘A lad’ I was only allowed two bottles of beer, so I remained reasonably sober, whilst all around me got ‘wasted’ as the conversations got louder and louder. At 4-00pm with everyone legless, and several asleep, the lights were switched off, and by the illumination of the Christmas Tree, we all sung ‘Silent Night’ Some hummed, others mouthed the words but they all swayed in tune with the music and to this day it was probably one of the most bizarre situations I have ever been in.
As I was the apprentice and the only person left who was in a fit state to get onto a bicycle never mind ride one, I was sent off with the foremen’s big bunch of keys, to lock all the gates around the Park. When I got home, Mum asked me what Christmas Eve in the Park was like, but I just said, “Fine” because I doubted she would I have believed me anyway.
Let there be Lights!
In the sporting world of 1967, the live spectacle of Rugby League was being eclipsed by televised sport in general and football in particular. This was not just happening in Hull, where Hull City were still doing well and mopping up any ‘floating support’, but across the heartlands of the game in general until that was someone thought of the BBC 2 Floodlit Trophy. This was a competition the Rugby League and the Broadcasting Corporation manufactured to meet the needs of TV, (something, sadly, that seems to have happened countless times in our game since then). BBC 2 was the corporation’s new second channel, which had started two years earlier in April 1965 and since its launch it had gained something of a high brow reputation.
This had not pleased a section of the licence payers, particularly those of us who lived north of Luton. In their search for programming that would popularise the channel in the north of the country, the Governors of the BBC decided that sport should be introduced to their programming and so the then Controller, David Attenborough, came up with the idea of incorporating a bit of ‘Northern Culture’ in the form of a rugby league tournament, which I guess in their ‘southern’ eyes at least, fitted the bill exactly.
Ironically enough the idea was one that had been tried by the fledgling ITV networks ten years earlier when eight clubs took part in a tournament that toured football grounds in the London Area. The City of Hull was not represented and in the end Warrington beat Leigh in the final at Loftus Road the home of Queens Park Rangers Football Club. Rugby League recognised the fact that they needed to raise the profile of the game nationally, but having decided that it was a good idea to work with the BBC they suddenly realised that few Rugby League clubs actually had any floodlights.
Many clubs and supporters had reservations when the BBC’s idea was first muted and there were several strong letters in the ‘Rugby Leaguer’ which was the game’s only weekly newspaper back then. However so successful was the exposure the tournament gave to participating teams, it caused no fewer than twenty-one clubs to install floodlights in pretty quick time. In 1967 the competition experimented with limited tackles for the first time, and this proved to work so well that a ‘four tackle and a scrum’ ruling was adopted for the full League programme the following year.
The series of games were staged in the autumn and each week at least one match would be played under floodlights, on a Tuesday evening; the second half of this match would then be broadcast live on BBC2. Non-televised matches were played at various times, depending on clubs’ fixture lists and quite ironically the only condition for inclusion was that the club had to have floodlights.
In typical Rugby League fashion and quite bizarrely, the rules did not stipulate that these lights had to be good enough for TV cameras to be able to film the proceedings and so despite the title, many matches in the early rounds didn’t even take place under floodlights and when they did, it was under training lamps and it was hard to see what was going on out on the pitch at all. Clubs such as Barrow and Bramley, whose lighting was sub-standard still took part in the competition but their games at home, could not be televised.
It was just another outlandish chapter in the catalogue of such shambolic happenings that litter the history of Rugby League and its administration.
So it was in 1967 that floodlights first arrived at the Boulevard being introduced solely to allow Hull FC to compete in the new competition. The then chairman J.L. Spooner and his Board decided, along with a lot of other clubs, that they wanted a piece of the TV action and so some floodlights were ordered and paid for by a loan from the Rugby league. The new lights were housed on eight columns four in front of the Threepenny Stand and 4 in the well of the Best Stand where holes had to be cut through the asbestos roof to accommodate the pylons. The total cost of the installation was according to that year’s account’s £7,138. Ironically In front of over 6000 fans Hull lost their first game under floodlights 8-12 to Rovers, at Cravan Park, in the preliminary round of the new competition. However, nine days later we beat Leeds in a Yorkshire Cup semi-final in our first home game under lights, but more of that in a moment.
I have a vivid memory of that first Floodlit Trophy game which saw 14,000 fans packed into Craven Park to see their new lights for the first time. The incident in question concerned a tackle by David Doyle Davidson on the Robins new hero the dynamic scrum half they’d signed from Castleford Roger Millward. Although afterwards all the players agreed it was an accidental tackle from where I was stood at the Tote End of the ground it looked horrendous, as Roger fell to the ground pole axed and had to be stretchered off the pitch.
Years later David related to me, a story about how the referee realised straight away that it was an accident but as the Rovers fans went wild and demanded blood, he called our player over to him to have a word. Doyle-Davidson had only been moved to number 6 that day to mark the mercurial Millward because he was accepted as being Hull FC’s best tackler at the time and so understandably the crowd suspected foul play. The referee told ‘The Doyle’ that he realised it was an accident but as he could see how the crowd were taking it, he would point to the Dressing Rooms several times and David would nod his head, he added, ‘If you do anything else you will be off’. So, as the crowd screamed for him to be sent off our player stood hands behind his back nodding as the refereeing motioned towards the dressing room and the situation was defused. How times and referee’s in particular have change!
Several years later in 1974, under player coach and ex Hull hero ‘Mr Reliability’ Arthur Keegan, Bramley beat Widnes in the final of the Floodlit Trophy and it was to be the only senior cup competition the famous old West Yorkshire club would win, however, with another twist to the story of the competition, that final had to be played in the afternoon because of power cuts and the three day working week that was introduced throughout a period of national industrial unrest.
I would, no doubt, have been taking a great interest in the day to day work taking place at the ground to install the lights, had I still lived at number 23 but as I was now living in Sutton, I felt a bit removed from all that was happening down at my old stamping ground. If I was perfectly honest although Mum and Dad were happy living in the rural surroundings of Sutton my heart was still in Airlie Street and I missed the nearness of the Boulevard a lot.
Annie Robson’s curtains.
Although there was no indication as to just how much electricity these new lights actually used one thing is for sure and that is that when they were switched on they lit AirlieStreet, Carrington Street and Division Road with an eerie sort of half-light which created a strange and perhaps spooky effect for the folks who still lived around the stadium. A lady who lived in Carrington Street, Mrs Robson, actually wrote to the Hull Daily Mail claiming she felt she needed reimbursement for the cost of having her front room curtains lined, because she claimed, when the lights were on they were so bright and misdirected that she could not see her television properly.
Despite the new attraction of the floodlights, times were hard for the club and good gates hard to come by particularly with football still the talk of the country and the growth of the popularity of other distractions like television, pop music and motor cars. Whilst my pals and I were wearing beads, hipsters and Caftans, and growing our hair to ensure that we complied fully with Hull’s own version of the ‘Summer of Love’, it was the season in which Clive Sullivan scored 5 tries in one game away at Doncaster, something that was heralded in the media the next day as, ‘Five of the best from the Black Flash‘. It was also the year that we lost to Rovers in the Yorkshire Cup Final at Headingley when, as a rare honour for the losing side, Chris Davidson was awarded the White Rose Man of the Matchtrophy. I didn’t go to the final for reasons I can’t now recall and I guess feeling as I do about Derby games, that was probably a blessing in disguise.
The first match under floodlights at the Boulevard.
Wednesday 27th September 1967: Hull 31 Leeds 6
As I alluded to earlier the first game that was played under our new lights was not actually in the Floodlit Competition but a really memorable semi-final game, on our way to that Yorkshire Cup final defeat. The game itself saw us produce a wonderful performance as that night we ran Leeds off their feet and we as fans absolutely loved it. Although the chants of ‘We All Hate Leeds’ were still some 40 years away, there was no doubt that back then, the sentiment of the home crowd was little different!
The game took place on 27th September when we came out winners by 31-6 in an epic match in which once again, Chris Davidson shone. The Leeds team, packed with quality players like Bev Risman, John Atkinson and Mick Shoebottom, were red hot favourites to march on to the final, but our little scrum half took them apart with a marvellous display of terrier like tenacity, to which the much fancied ‘Loiners’ had no answer.
I enjoyed every minute of the game as did the rest of an amazing 14,000 crowd, many of whom it was suggested had been attracted by the novelty of the new floodlights rather than the anticipation of a good game of rugby. Any victory over Leeds was always massive for us kids back then, there was a pitch invasion at the end and we ‘chaired’ our victorious heroes off the field that night!
Looking back to being a supporter in those days Leeds were in fact the one team with the exception of Rovers that we classed as our ‘arch nemeses. What it was that motivated our players so much when we played Leeds, is something to his day that still confuses me but there is no doubt that even in the darkest days of the 60’s and 70’s we always had a real go at Leeds when they visited the Boulevard. Their fans were always portrayed as a little ‘superior’ when compared with the working-class core of FC supporters, an image that their apparent arrogance certainly perpetuated.
They were also a club that always seemed to have pots of money to spend on players as well and the ‘Threepenny Stand Choir’ liked nothing better than to chant (to the tune of Camp town Races) ‘Spent a Fortune won f*ck all Leeds, Leeds’ as invariably we overcame our West Riding adversaries in the Boulevard mud.
A busy Festive season? Well, Father Christmas has nothing on the FC players.
Saturday 23rd December 1967: Hull 22 Castleford 6
As I said we lost the final of the Yorkshire Cup that year against Rovers and before we had, as fans, got over that embarrassment the year was drawing to a close. The festive season was always a busy time for players and fans alike and at Christmas 1967 it was no exception. Whilst the Beatles were in the middle of a seven-week run at number one in the charts with ‘Hello Goodbye’ and ‘Spirograph’ and ‘Action Man’ were the top toys in most kids stockings, it was a great time to be living close to the Stadium. However, now I was based in Sutton there was a lot of travelling backwards and forwards involved in any busy yuletide fixture list. At least this time I manage to avoid getting stranded by the Christmas bus time table, but looking back there is little doubt that it was a Christmas that certainly emphasised how much different the game was in the late sixties.
Players worked full time and only trained when they could and because many of them needed the money they played whatever the circumstances, often despite suffering bad injuries and sometimes playing several games in a week. These situations driven by the need to earn as much money as possible may have led to the health problems some of them experience later in their lives. That festive season was no different either with the FC playing a staggering three games in four days and all of them at the Boulevard. Can you imagine that happening now? OK some folks will say that its more physical and intense these day, but it’s all relative because modern professional players are fine-tuned sporting machines, whilst back then I would describe them as ‘hard as nails’ part time heroes, who gave their all every time they pulled on the black and white shirt.
Thankfully at least the festive period was milder than the previous three had been but the Boulevard pitch was a real mess before we even started and of course that frequency of games did little to improve it but it was just the way the fixtures fell, because that year Christmas Day was on a Monday. The previous Saturday the 23rd, we played an ‘awkward’ looking game against Castleford and a good gate of 6,500 gave the Christmas shopping a miss and despite an East Yorkshire Bus strike, there was a great festive atmosphere at the Boulevard that afternoon.
The game started at 3-00pm and the new floodlights were on again but if I remember rightly they were on all the time back then, whatever time the kick off, something that was probably down to the novelty value of our new equipment. Still this was to be our best performance over the holidays, Jim Neale won the man of the match accolade after a masterful display in the second row and Keegan put in a great stint at full-back joining the line in fine style whilst at scrum half, Chris Davidson scored a great try. He was put through the Castleford defence by Nobby Oliver who cut in from the wing to feed a perfect ball inside to our scrum half. John Maloney could not get the day off work and so Davidson took on the goal kicking as well and landed four beauties from wide out. Willett the Castleford stand-off half kicked three goals in the first half, but tries from Terry Devonshire, Nick Trotter and Arthur Keegan saw us home, as we came out winners 22-6.
Then on Christmas Day, despite a skeleton bus service and no trains at all, 11,800 attended the local Derby against the old enemy which kicked off at 11-00am and turned out to be a ferocious game in which there were no fewer than 7 fights as a few old scores were settled. A brilliant first seventeen minutes by the Rovers in which Flash Flanagan scored and Holliday kicked 4 goals saw the Robins put themselves in an unassailable position on what was a really heavy ground. Dick Gemmell our centre was mysteriously unavailable and we really missed him and as the cigars were smoked and the brandy swigged on the ‘Threepennies’ we finished on the wrong end of a 15-9 score-line. Davidson had three skirmishes with Bill Holliday the last of which saw him land a ‘pearler’ of a right hook on the Rover’s second rowers jaw for which he was immediately ordered off the pitch near the end. Alan McGlone ‘planted’ a brilliant right hook on Barry Cooper who was carried from the field in the last minute and in spirit of Peace and Goodwill the final whistle saw skirmishes break out right across the field. Joe Oliver pulled back a try for us and Maloney who replaced Gemmell kicked three goals, but in the end we lost. The game had promised so much but as one ‘hack’ said after the game, ‘it had promised so much but ended up a damp squib’.
Next day, Boxing Day, there was no let up as we played our third game but the time of year, the 2/9d admission fee or maybe even Cool Hand Luke and Dr Doolittle premiering at the Cecil and ABC Regal meant that just 3000 turned up to see what should have been an easy game against lowly Doncaster but in the end it was anything but easy. Two really hard games had taken their toll and as we made just two changes, it was certainly hard going. The men from Tattersfield ‘stuck it to’ us in the first half and it was 30 minutes before John Maloney got a penalty to open the scoring. Gemmell was back in the team and broke several times but tired legs meant that there was no backing up and several chances were lost.
Otherwise the only other player to do his reputation any good at all was Arthur Keegan who had another fine game at full back but then again he always did. Devonshire and Davidson got tries for us and we were cruising toward victory, when in the last quarter of an hour the unfancied visitors roared back inspired by the try of the game, a brilliant 75 yarder by winger James which led to a ‘jittery’ last few minutes, but in the end we came out winners by 10-3. So, it was 4 points out of 6 but the one we lost was as always the only one we the fans were most interested in winning. We played at Bramley four days later and lost again but that was what the game was like back then and you have to wonder just how the players managed to keep going.
The biggest disaster of them all.
As for the rest of the 1967/68 season it was by and large a quiet affair really, although I do remember that we signed Ken Owens an Aussie hooker who was not that good at rugby, but who the ladies really seemed to take to. However, in the City of Hull and the fishing community in general the winter was to feature one of the worst tragedies’s that our brave, resilient people had ever seen. Hull FC being based in the heart of the fishing community was closely allied to the trawler industry and many of those who stood on the Threepenny Stand and ‘Bunker Hill’ back then worked either off shore on the trawlers or in the ancillary industries which ranged from the fish houses and ice factory to net mending and trawler repairing. Everyone it seemed was involved in some way and before just about every home game the announcer at the Boulevard would even read out telegrams sent from the crews of Hull trawlers wishing the team good luck that afternoon.
Then on 11th January 1968 disaster struck with the news that the Hull trawler the St Romanus had gone down in the North Sea just 110 miles off Spurn Point, with the loss of all 20 crew members. No sooner had everyone started to come to terms with the shock of that loss that on 26th January the Kingston Peridot sank off Skagagrunn on the Icelandic coast, again with the loss of all 20 men. A superbly observed minutes silence before the Wigan game on 3rd February was followed almost immediately by a further disaster.
The final tragedy of what was to become known across the world as the Triple Trawler Disaster was the sinking of the Ross Cleveland on the 4th February as it sought refuge from a storm in the natural inlet of Isafjord in Northern Iceland. The three trawlers sank with the loss of 58 lives, with just one person surviving the disasters.
The whole City went into a state of mourning. Jenksey my pal lost two cousins in the St Romanus and an uncle on the Ross Cleveland and Jim a lad who always stood with us on‘Bunkers Hill’ at the Airlie Street end of the Boulevard, lost his Dad. The Hull Daily Mail was full of the grief and sadness that the City all felt at the time, and at two separate home games at the Boulevard an immaculately observed minutes silence was conducted before the matches began, grown men cried, and afterwards the usually bumptious and animated fans on the Threepenny Stand were strangely subdued and quiet.
The residents of the area were not prepared to just sit back and wait for more deaths to occur and the fantastic community spirit that pervaded the Hessle Road area back then led to a campaign for better safety at sea being launched by the wives, sisters and daughters of trawlermen. The campaigners met with trawler owners and government ministers, and some wives picketed the dock and even jumped onto trawlers as they went through the lock pit, in an effort to make sure no ship left without a radio operator.
These determined women, led by Lil Bilocca, affectionately known to everyone on Hessle Road as ‘Big Lil’ also travelled to London and met ministers to discuss better safety and fairer working conditions in the fishing industry. The campaign really seemed to capture the nations interest too and it was strange to see images of Hessle Road and the Fish Dock featuring on the six o’clock news as we watched back home in Sutton. Nationally this action became known as the ‘Headscarf Campaign’ after that phrase was used on the front page of a national newspaper. Whether conditions improved that much is I suppose hard to say as already at this time the industry was starting to decline, something that was going to hit the community surrounding the Boulevard hard in the coming months and years.
The Curse of ‘Mudball’
After Great Britain came back from the Mexico Olympics with 5 gold medals, the start of the 1968/69 season was a quite affair on the rugby field, whilst for me as an 18 year old it was still largely a question of all work and rugby with the odd girlfriend, (many of my pals would say that my girlfriends were usually ‘odd‘) and a few nights out with the lads, drinking, dancing and flirting with the ladies. I also attended ‘Night School’ at the Hull Technical College on Queens Garden in the town centre two nights a week, and went on a pleasant bus ride out to Bishop Burton College of Agriculture every Tuesday afternoon, to train for my City and Guilds Examinations in Horticulture.
As I continued as an apprentice Gardener, I was still regularlymoved around the City by the Council gaining experience and meeting more characters on the way. It was around that time that I worked a couple of three month ‘placements’ in Eastern Cemetery on Preston Road and at Sutton Golf Course on Saltshouse Road. They were interesting places to work and both hold special memories of a time when things at work were a bit less hectic, and certainly a lot more relaxed than they are today.
There are stories too numerous to relate from this period of my life but I have selected one from each establishment, to give a flavour of the times and the backdrop to a life supporting the team I loved.
Firstly, I was sent to work at Eastern Cemetery, where I was employed to cut the grass and look after the flower beds. Working in Cemeteries, I soon found out, attracted a wide and varied set of often strange and morbid people, the most unusual I encountered in that cemetery being a grave digger called Harold, who was known on all occasions except when he was actually present as ‘Mudball’. He was a giant of a man, totally bald, who was usually covered from head to foot in mud and seemed to arrive at work in a morning as muddy as he had left the night before. Folklore had it that once when working down a deep grave the walls threatened to collapse and as they started to crumble he held the clay up with his back whilst his pals escaped up the ladder and out of the grave.
He was certainly the strong silent type. He would work in all weathers getting sometimes soaked to the skin, and was always the one that the boss asked to dig the ‘difficult’ graves, particularly those in ‘Swamp Corner’ which was a particularly wet end of the burial ground. Funerals in this area were knowto the staff as ‘burials at sea‘, because the ceremony often had to be performed quickly before the grave, that had been pumped out right up to the cortege arriving, filled up with water again. It was all very serious stuff but there was great humour in those places too and a good camaraderie amongst the staff, let’s face it there had to be, because if you couldn’t laugh they were dour places indeed.
Everyone got on pretty well with each other except for ‘Mudball’, who kept himself very much to himself. I was often advised by the other gardeners to, ‘Keep away from him, he is a real odd bod’ and although I tried on several occasions to make conversation, all my efforts failed miserably. That was until one particular day!
On this occasion he had just finished opening a deep ‘10 footer’ and was sitting next to the hole about to finish cleaning his spade and go to lunch. I was walking by and heading in the same direction, when he asked me if I would do him a favour and just pop back down the ladder to the bottom of the grave because he had, left his ‘baccy tin’ down there”. I, seeing an opportunity to strike up a repoire with the grubby giant, shot down the ladder only to find to my horror, that the bottom of the grave was actually the pierced top of another casket that had been buried there years earlier. There were bones, shroud and a skull to be seen through the broken coffin, and the sight of this turned me white with fear. I had heard a lot of horror stories from the other guys working in the cemetery, but this was, at just 18 years old, my first experience of something that the rest of the workers took as commonplace.
Then, before I could even let out a shriek, Mudball, had pulled the ladder out of the hole and left me down there. He then took one of the big sections of boarding that they used to cover open graves to ensure that no one fell in, and put it over the hole. I was immediately plunged in darkness with only the rotting remains of a long dead decomposing citizen of EastHull for company. I could hear ‘Mudball’ laughing as he walked away, and so there I sat for the next hour with just a skeleton and an empty ‘bacca’ tin for company! To my horror the hole then slowly started to fill up with water until there was about a foot of water with bits of bone floating in it, lapping round my legs. He let me out without saying a word when he returned after his lunch, but as I walked off to find some dry socks I just laughed it off, because if I hadn’t, it would surely have happen again and again.
Making money was par for the course at Sutton.
Sutton Golf Course was of course a much jollier place to work and I was there, according to the ‘Movement Letter’ I received from the Council, to learn ‘green keeping and fairway maintenance‘. My mentor was a chap called Lenny Hunter who was a hyperactive, slender individual who always wore blue overalls and who had a friendly word for everyone. He had been Head Greenkeeper so long he seemed to know everyone who played the course and would share a joke with most of them as we met them around the fairways.
Within days of being there, the staff presented me with a battered golf bag with a shoulder strap, an old driver, a putter and a ‘two’ iron, and every lunch time after we had eaten our sandwiches we played the first five holes. I had never hit a golf ball in my life but believe me by the time I moved on, I knew every blade of grass on those first five fairways and had an almost mechanical knowledge of the lay of the greens. I always remember that it was quite a lucrative time too, as we all used to make a bit of money selling golf balls back to the golfers. The ironic thing was that often these were their own balls that they had lost but they didn’t seem to mind. There were two ponds on the course and once balls had gone in there the players used to give up on them, and continue with a new ball.
Unbeknown to them we had large wooden rakes with 12ft handles secreted in the bushes and trees near these water features, and early in the morning when it was quiet, we would dredge the ponds, and retrieve the lost balls, before cleaning them up and selling them back to the golfers. We would have been in trouble if we were discovered, but we never were, and at 6d each we were happy, as were the golfers who got a supply of balls much more cheaply than buying them from the resident Golf Professional. However, one incident does stick in my mind, which I will relate here as a cautionary tale about how it’s not always a good idea to help other people.
Worm killer – strictly for the worms.
Today following the rules and regulations of the EU there are few proprietary brands of worm killer on the market; in fact,there are only a couple of industrial remedies, and none at all available to the amateur gardener. Of course, back then as now, the one thing you don’t want on the velvet sward of a pristine golf green are worm casts because they can ruin the run of the ball. Indeed in 1968 it would not have pleased the mixture of local business men and ‘un hired’ Dockers that used the course every day, if their long putting game was spoilt by the remains left by some itinerant nematode.
Luckily for Lenny and the hundreds of other Green Keepers around the country back then the EU was still a way off, and the problem was easily solved, because in those less cautious days the accepted method of ridding the greens of worms was to use large amounts of arsenic. This was just one of several deadly poisons that the gardener had in his armoury back in the 60‘s and when used twice a year as far as killing worms was concerned, it was terminally effective. We always warned the golfers with signs at the gates telling them that there was poison on the greens and Len used to jokingly shout ‘You’re not a dog, so don’t lick your balls’, which always got a laugh. The deadly stuff, in the form of a white powder used to be supplied in big black drums about two feet high that carried a large white label with a skull and crossbones motif on it.
On one particular day in the late afternoon when Lenny and I were busy cleaning the grass off the blades of the gang mowers we used to cut the greens, we were interrupted by a regular golfer and eminent local businessman who we will call Rob. He put his head round the half-closed door of the Machinery Shed at the side of the first green, and after an exchange of pleasantries, bemoaned the condition of his garden at home which was located at the more affluent end of West Hull in Kirkella. My ears pricked up as I thought that perhaps here was an opportunity for me to get myself a lucrative ‘Govey‘ job, doing a bit of private gardening to supplement my wages. However, the talk quickly switched to his lawn and putting green, and the trouble he was having with worms. He said to Lenny, “Can you let me have some of that white stuff you put on the greens Len, the little blighters are driving me mad”.
Now Lenny would help anyone, he had a great disposition, and often decanted small bottles of weed killer etc. to help folks out and I could see that he was tempted to oblige Rob.
However, having thought for a few minutes he refused to supply any worm killer, alluding to ‘Council Rules’ as an excuse to avoid the request. That was certainly a surprise because it was possibly the first and only time he had ever been anything but obliging. With that Rob got really upset, saying something like, ‘Bloody typical, don’t expect anythingfrom me in the future Hunter’, before storming off. Lenny looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I don’t think he has anything I need really’ and grinning got back to cleaning the mower blades. As for Rob, well the next we heard about him was in the Hull Daily Mail when the headline, Local Bankrupt West Hull Business Man Commits Suicide’ informed us that he had finished his life by gassing himself in his garage two weeks later. I don’t know to this day why Lenny refused to supply that worm killer but at the time as you can imagine it made us all think a bit.
At last we see a few more new faces at the Boulevard.
The 1968/69 season at Hull FC was as always full of expectation from this fan, although logically it has to be said that our poor financial state and transitional team meant that major success was highly unlikely. Still we had a new Chairman, Reg Lee, in place, and had signed Len Casey, Don Robson and Keith Boxall from local rugby, and Howard Firth from Hull and ER the top Union club in the City who were based in Berrisford Avenue. Howard was an exciting playerwho played at the opposite side of the field to the great Clive Sullivan in the position once occupied by my hero Wilf Rosenberg and as a try scoring winger Firth really looked the part. He was a teacher by trade, and had a physique built for speed; sleek and angular, with a shock of flowing blonde hair. He soon settled in and proved to be an elusive winger who could score the long range efforts but was particularly potent from 20 yards out and when stepping inside the defence. The media often described him as a ‘mercurial’ winger which pretty much summed him up.
Filling your face at half time and devouring the ‘Pies’
Saturday 5th October 1968: Hull 20 Wigan 9
Keen to move with the times in the 1968/69 season our Board soon introduced a new culinary experience to us gullible followers of Hull FC when they accepted a hot dog franchise for the first time, which the accounts for that year show raised £250 in concession payments to the club. As for the season on the field, well it’s safe to say that my usual initial optimism was predictably short lived and we fared poorly in all competitions, being knocked out of all the cups and the league play-offs in the first round.
The team was, some of us thought, just starting to emerge a little from the doldrums of the previous years and although we lost a lot of games we seemed to be starting to play a bit of decent rugby. The most memorable game in the early part of the season saw Wigan, the then elite of the league, visiting the Boulevard in early October 1968, for a game that came just one week after we had secured a tremendous 25-6 win away at Widnes. That campaign, as I said previously, was in fact destined to tail off badly towards the end but in those early weeks that rare victory at ‘The Chemics’ certainly raised our hopes for the visit of Wigan to the Boulevard, a fixture that always got everyone talking.
That 5th October it was one again ‘proper Hull Fair weather‘but in front of a crowd of around 9000 we gave ‘The Pies’, who were accepted in those days as one of the greatest exponents of flowing open rugby, a real lesson in how the game should be played. In fact by the end they could only look on and admire what was a tremendous display from the Airliebirds. Our coach Johnny Whiteley’s attempts to beef the team up a couple of seasons earlier was starting to pay off and the new forwards we had gained like Jim Neale and Eric Broom coupled with some great local youngsters, like Macklin and Edson, were starting to lead the team around the field whilst the backs certainly had the speed to capitalize on some better organized play and score the points.
That misty Saturday Brian Hancock kicked off into a stiff breeze and just two plays later Chris Davidson felled Johnny Jackson with a real haymaker of a high tackle that got our scrum half penalized and set the tone for the early exchanges. Jackson in fact spent the next ten minutes staggering around in a daze and was soon replaced by Keith Mills coming off the bench.
Our backs were faster than the Wigan outfit and with Firth on one wing and Sullivan on the other, our centre’s got the ball out wide at every opportunity with Dick Gemmell having a superb game and scoring our first touchdown. Interchanging passes with stand in Hooker Jim Macklin he used Firth as a foil before dummying to outpacing the Wigan cover for a superb score out wide in front of the Best Stand at the Airlie Street end. The ‘Pie eaters’ didn’t like that at all and tried their best to use some muscle to get back into the game but as Terry Foggerty, more intent on landing a punch, dropped the ball on our 25-yard line, Arthur Keegan was on it is an instant.He accelerated away from the Wigan defenders and drew the full back Tyrer, before a looping wide pass released ‘The Mercurial’ Firth to run, hugging the touch line, to score in the same corner. Once again Maloney converted and we were 10-0 up.
There then followed Wigan’s only real period of pressure and they scored a try themselves when Maloney missed a tackle on Ashton and he released Foggerty to score under the posts a touch-down that was converted by Colin Tyrer and so despite more pressure from our forwards and John Edson dropping the ball over the line as he stretched out to score, we went in just ahead by 10-5.
The second half was all Hull. Hancock and Davidson taunted the Wigan forwards and opened the game up at every opportunity whilst prop Jim Macklin, playing as a make shifthooker, thrilled us all with some barnstorming runs down the middle. It was one such excursion into the heart of the Wigan defense that set up the next try. Macklin drew several tacklers before releasing the ball to Jim Neale who ran straight back into the heart of the Wigan resistance before passing on to Maloney. He turned inside to find the now released Macklin again and the big prop rolled over the line next to the posts. Macklin’s tenacity and persistence won him a standing ovation from the Best Stand seats as he walked back from scoring the try, just as the Threepenny Stand broke into a resounding chorus of ‘Old Faithful’. We were not finished yet either and Joe Brown made a break from the kick-off, which left Wigan’s centre Ashurst grasping thin air. Joe was finally tackled by full back Tyrer but got up, played the ball forward to himself, and ran in to score another try which he also converted.
Wigan ‘huffed and puffed’ but just got more and more frustrated with our solid defense and in the end resorted to kicking the ball, usually straight to our full back Keegan, who returned it ‘with interest‘. There then followed some rough treatment by the Wigan front row forwards on Howard Firth when the winger moved inside, and then right in front of us, Ashurst stood on his hair in the tackle which prompted Man of the Match Dick Gemmell to race in and drag the Wigan player away.
However for this fan, enjoying the game from the Airlie Street terracing the most memorable part of the match came ten minutes from the end when the ‘Big time Charlies’ of the league decided that they had experienced enough of trying to beat us by playing rugby, and Ashurst once again took out his frustration on young Howard Firth. This time he dragged him back by his long blonde hair and ‘all hell’ broke loose. Edson, who had looked like ‘losing it’ on a couple of occasions already, ran straight to the melee and tried to punch Keith Mills, he missed completely but connected with Chris Davidson’s elbow and fell pole axed onto the grass.
Rather than calming things down this just made the whole situation worse, and to the cheers and goading of the ‘Threepennies’, Macklin crowned a brilliant game with a superb left hook that laid Fogerty out cold. As both he and Edson laid side by side on the pitch unconscious, several scuffles broke out and at one-point referee Naughton waded in himself to try and separate both sides.
As it eventually did calm down, the two comatose players received the ‘magic sponge’ from ‘trainer’ Ivor Watts and his Wigan counterpart, the referee lined both sides up facing each other and went down both lines of players shouting in their faces and wagging his finger at them. It was all very school boy like and comical, and the fans loved it. Sending offs for fighting were still very rare occurrences back then and all that eventually happened that afternoon was that both captains gota warning and we got on with the last few minutes of the game.
In the end the final score was 20-9 and we all went home happy. The tries scored and general play from the black and whites was great, but it was always something special when you beat Wigan, and there was no doubt what was the topic of conversation in the pubs and clubs of Hull, that night; Jim Macklin, (who left a few years later for Bradford), was long remembered for that left hook!
To be continued …..
So, there we are, we’ve all got through another week and hopefully we are a bit closer to having some rugby to watch. Thanks for all yours support, although I realise this isn’t anything like the usual Diaries we have produced over the years. However I hope you appreciate how hard they would be to sustain for me at this time and I hope you found something at least to enjoy this week. See you next time.