Hello Everyone, I hope you’re all hanging in there. As the virus stuff continues and we all self-isolate, it’s all getting a bit tedious isn’t it and even with my most optimistic head on it’s hard to see when life will ever be the same again. There is little doubt that at such times, some things are much bigger than rugby but across the various sports in this country everyone is just trying to survive as best they can and as such rugby league certainly has its challenges.
At such a time it truly was a masterstroke for the RL to secure that £16m loan for the Government. The money is clearly a crucial lifeline and will certainly help all clubs in the months ahead. What’s more Sky TV have now pledged to support the game for the last two years of their contract which is great too.
Looking at cost cutting, it also appears that there seems to be a growing move from many in Super League to scrap the two-tier system of administration so that the two bodies unite again. I know it’s a case of needs must but for some of us, the shambles that ensued before Super League split away still hangs heavy in our memories. However, Ralph Rimmer who has done so well to secure the funding, but who didn’t exactly covered himself in glory on several occasions in the past, has other problems to sort now, including the one that could be the most problematic yet: promotion and relegation.
Lots have been calling for there to be no relegation in 2020 due to the unusual circumstances under which the competition currently finds itself. There is little doubt that the fixture list could look very different to how it was originally planned, with so much uncertainty about whether Catalans and Toronto will even be able to travel. Although, as I always said in the diary, any format that involves loop fixtures and Magic Weekend is flawed and open to accusations of inequality anyway. So, those in favour of scrapping relegation have a powerful argument given the unprecedented chaos Covid-19 has brought. But that won’t bode well at all with those in the Championship and League 1 who are striving to earn promotion. They have set up working groups to sort it out, but most Super league clubs will be averse to relegation after a truncated and disparate season.
However, the likes of Toulouse Olympique, London Broncos and Leigh Centurions to name three have invested heavily in their bid to reach or return to the elite. If it is decided there should be no promotion or relegation (and one is almost certainly not going to happen without the other) the owners also won’t have one up but no-one down, as no cash strapped Super League club will agree to the money pot being reduced to include 13 teams in Super league will they?
Conversely, any suggestion on no movement at all will probably fall on deaf ears for those in the Championship and League 1 striving to earn promotion as without it, their season will effectively be a write off. Furthermore, if it all does eventually start up behind closed doors, as is expected, it is hard to envisage how many Championship clubs will be able to make any money at all. That £16m only spreads so far and a lot of clubs will simply be intent on surviving into 2021. Undoubtedly all of this will be a minefield which will involve some careful negotiating by Rimmer in the weeks ahead. In many ways it’s a tough one and some owners including Neil Hudgell, who are against relegation in a manufactured fixture list, want a definitive answer shelving relegation, before play resumes and they invest anymore. What’s more they are right, for you need to know exactly what you are playing for before you get underway. It’s a tough situation and someone is always going to be unhappy, so there are certainly interesting times ahead!
In the meantime, here we go again with the next part of the ongoing saga of the life of a fanatical FC fan as we look at the 1970’s, at the departure of Johnny Whiteley and the Coaching of Ivor Watts and Clive Sullivan, Saturday nights on the town, annual general meetings, ginger groups, tall tales on wet afternoons, Magic sponges and the lack of any sort of political correctness on the Threepennies!
A new decade and for Hull FC its uphill all the way.
As the 1970’s arrived, back at the Council new employment legislation deemed that the minimum age for a worker being paid as an adult was to drop from twenty one to eighteen and so although I had not completed my full five year apprenticeship, at the age of twenty I was moved back to East Park to take up the position of Assistant Gardener. My wage shot up to over £20 a week and I felt like a millionaire. In fact it was to transpire that those of us actually caught in the gap between eighteen and twenty one were to be the last ever apprentices in horticulture at the Authority, and so I guess I was really lucky to actually come out of this period of work with a ‘Trade’ as a ‘time served’ gardener, a profession that was to be something, as far as local authorities were concerned, that would be a thing of the past.
On a weekend I continued to travel to dances at South Hunsley High School and Brough Village Hall, where I enjoyed some great local bands like the Strollers, The Mandrake (featuring the soon to be famous Robert Palmer) and The Amazing Blondel, there, in addition to listening to excellent music there was also a bit of dancing and a deal of fraternising with those beautiful East Riding girls too. At Boothferry Park Hull City under their new manager Terry Neil were doing well, although the banter between the football supporters and us rugby lads was a fierce as ever. We did all have a laugh though when two City fans were prosecuted by the magistrates in Sheffield for throwing oranges at Ian McKechnie the City goal keeper at a Sheffield United v Hull City game. It was an accepted part of the tradition at Boothferry Park but a tradition that was obviously completely alien to South Yorkshire Police.
As far as rugby goes little was changing, well not for the better anyway. Saturdays (or increasingly Sundays) were still spent down at the Boulevard although times were hard and destined to get harder. In fact, looking back it’s fair to say that those first seven years of the 70’s were some of the toughest we had ever seen at the club. I accept there were some good times and some great wins but they were borne out of the principle of passion and determination overcoming adversity and ability, for we were certainly far from being a great team or likely to get anywhere near the top of the league. Despite the undying passion of us fans and the efforts of the administration at the club the latter scenario was simply never going to happen.
Admittedly in that period Hull FC, my club, broke lots of records but sadly they were always for plumbing new depths in the level of our attendances, or for larger than ever losses of income, overdrafts at the bank or the number of points we conceded. The Boulevard itself was looking really run down as well and most weeks when the floodlights, which had been lit with such pride a few years earlier, were used, there were as many bulbs that had failed as there were those that were lit.
However, despite dwindling interest on the terraces, and a rundown Stadium, Hull FC did reasonably well. Money was really in short supply and there were few new faces coming into the team. But despite that we still had ‘Sully’ and Arthur Keegan, Chris Davidson, Brian Hancock, David Doyle-Davidson, Terry Kirchin and Eric Broom and we finished in a very creditable 8th position in 1970/71, a standing that owed much to the determination of these senior players and a great start to the campaign. The problem was possibly our forwards who were lighter than most in the League that year, so when the pitches were hard we were fine but we faltered when the going got heavy.
However, despite the poor wages that the players got, falling attendances and dim floodlights we started the season reasonably well winning seven of our first ten games. That bright start was followed by four straight defeats and that lack of weight, some injuries and poor form in mid-season saw us sliding down the league table when the grounds were heavy, before 8 wins in the last 10 games, when the pitches got hard again, saw us finish in the top half of the table, and so we finished on a positive note. My main memory of that year was of the two Derby game’s, in these we managed to beat Rovers twice and one of those wins in particular saw us pull off a fantastic 26-12 victory at the Boulevard.
There was also a massive blow for all the fans however when after rumblings that there were problems between the Board of Directors and the coaching staff, Johnny Whiteley departed as coach. The distress of the supporters was further heightened by the fact that our greatest hero of the last 20 years did the unthinkable and crossing the river to take up the reins at Hull Kingston Rovers. Even though my parents rarely ever attended games it was a real blow for Mum and Dad and it was the first time I had ever heard my Mother have a bad word for Johnny, and safe to say, when the move was announced in the Hull Daily Mail, in Potterill Lane we ate our evening meal in silence.
Ivor Watts: the rise and fall of the ‘Magic Sponge’ man.
The demise of Johnny however did give our ‘trainer in waiting’ Ivor Watts the chance to take over the coaching duties and he certainly deserved what was to turn out to be a bit of a ‘poison chalice’. Ivor who has featured a lot in my story already had been with the club since the early 50’s and after retiring from playing he had done just about every job off the field at Hull FC with the exception of tea lady. In fact, it was normal in the late 60’s to see Ivor who was then trainer, running onto the pitch with in one hand that battered enamel bucket that contained some freezing cold water and that ‘cure all’ ‘Magic sponge’ in the other.
He was always there when someone was injured, it was the most primative of treatments but the effect it had on every player whose face came in contact with the freezing cold water was miraculous. If the sponge did not work then the loyal, and somewhat aging members of the St John Ambulance Brigade that sat crouched with their stretcher, vulture like, ready to pounce from the touchline, would be called into action. The Threepennies used to whistle and sing the ‘Laurel and Hardy’ theme as they enthusiastically stumbled across the field to load the injured player onto the old canvas stretcher and carry them off. On one memorable occasion the usually ‘boisterous’ Jim Neale was pole axed by a stiff arm from a big Whitehaven forward and as he didn’t move after the sponge treatment Ivor summoned the St John lads.
As they carried the comatose Neale off the field with Ivor administering the sponge to his face, all of a sudden the old stretcher fabric rent asunder and our second row forward dropped straight through the stretcher and landed still out cold on the pitch. One wag in the Threepenny’s shouted out immediately ‘If the stiff arm didn’t quite finish you off Jim, that stretcher certainly will have!’
Speedway, Doyle-Davidson and Hot Dogs, to the rescue.
Saturday 21st February 1971: Hull 7 Featherstone 7
In early 1971 the Boulevard became for the first time in many, many years a multi-use stadium. In the distant past its illustrious history had seen, greyhound racing, cycle racing and athletics held at the ground, and so, once again, prompted by the lack of finance coming into the club, the Board took the controversial step of sharing the place with another sport for the first time since the greyhounds were there back in the 1920’s. Keen to increase revenue our always resourceful Chairman Charlie Watson had talks with Workington Speedway bosses Ian Thomas and Wally Maudsley and as the season ended the perimeters of the pitch were ripped up, the touch lines moved in about 5 yards and a shale Speedway track laid around the perimeter of the playing area.
The new club, the Hull Vikings, started really well with a couple of attendances of over 7000 and even when things settled down and the novelty wore off a little, they regularly got more fans through the turnstiles than the rugby ever did. In that first year the club got a well needed £510 from a ‘part year’ of that speedway franchise, which was in the next few years to realise thousands of pounds that probably saved Hull FC from bankruptcy. All credit to Hull FC too as with the American craze of Hot Dogs sweeping across the country, the Board also invited tenders for the right to sell them on match days and made another much needed £300 from the franchise in that first year. Westler’s hot dogs were a real experience in the seventies and were already sold on most street corners in the City centre by vendors with illuminated hand carts.
The sausages used in these hot dogs were slimy in appearance, briny in flavour, and served with or without ‘rubbery’ onions. This gastronomic delight was completed by being served wrapped in a finger shaped bread cake which was invariably the best part of the deal. As soon as it was possible to get these wonderful examples of early ‘Fast Food’ at rugby, it was hot dogs and Bovril at every game for me and my pals on the Threepenny’s. That season also saw David Doyle-Davidson granted a benefit and a name that was to feature as both a hero and a villain at the club in future years, Mick Crane, joining the club as a young player from local amateur rugby.
That spring of 1971 we played Featherstone at Post Office Road in the Challenge Cup, the date was 21st February and it was always a tough game at the home of the ‘Colliers’ but on this occasion Hull had several injuries with Arthur Keegan, Clive Sullivan, Terry Kirchin, Brian Hancock and Chris Davidson all missing from the starting line up so it appeared that it was going to be almost impossible to get anything at all that afternoon. Back then though we had a ‘Super sub’ who was regularly on the bench in the form of David Doyle-Davidson. He had throughout his career at the club been a good ball handler and runner and a great tackler. He had played in every position in the backs and so his versatility had made him an ideal candidate for the 14 or 15 shirt.
On this occasion as our injury jinx struck again David came on from the bench after about 20 minutes when we were already 7-2 down. ‘The Doyle’ then commenced to literally tackle everyone on the Featherstone side at least three times and his ‘one man show’ of defiance was such that we fought back to attain an unlikely 7-7 draw. A one-man performance is in actuality almost impossibility at any level in rugby league, but on this occasion the media hailed David’s efforts as just that, and having been there myself I will vouch for the fact that it was a worthy accolade.
David was cheered from the pitch at the end and carried off by his team mates. This was a good thing for the hero of the day because the injured Clive Sullivan and Arthur Keegan had to take his boots off in the changing rooms after the game because his ‘Super Human’ effort meant that he simply couldn’t stand up. At the replay, which we won 12-8, word of his amazing performance at Post Office Road had spread through the ranks of the Hull supporters, and no doubt we gave David Doyle-Davidson a standing ovation as the teams entered the field of play at the Boulevard, but despite all his efforts three days earlier……. he was still on the bench!
They caught me dribbling in the chapel.
In winter, when there was little to do in the Park, I was often sent to help out wherever there was work. You can therefore imagine my dismay when I was drafted back that winter to Eastern Cemetery to help with some drainage work, but I was relieved to learn that the previously mentioned ‘Mud Ball’ had taken exception to someone in a public house and was currently spending some time at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’. When I got down to Preston Road it was obvious why they were having drainage problems as most of the Cemetery was flooded. The first day I was there it poured and poured and after about an hour working in a trench in the torrential rain we were all saturated. Frank the foreman at the Cemetery, then gestured to us all and we retired into the chapel at the back of the burial ground.
Once inside the regular workers cleared the chairs to one side and someone produced a football from behind the pulpit and we had a great game of 5 a side football. Great that was until there was a loud knocking on the front door. ‘It’s the area Foreman’ said someone, ‘No he’s in the big meeting in town this morning’ said Frank, ‘Come In’ he shouted. With that the big oak doors flew open and there outside was a full funeral cortege, (black top hats the lot), headed by the Chief Mourner who had knocked on the door to gain entry. Although the Council managed to keep the incident out of the local paper, there were a couple of disciplinary hearings and warnings issued after that adventure, but luckily as the new comer I was not one of them.
Wet days in the Bowling Pavilion.
As for the tempo of life back in East Park, well little had changed and although Billy had retired, Sid and the other FC fans were still there, as were ‘Thick ear’ Harry and Big John Hatfield. The FC crowd were still talking about their adventures supporting the club they loved and although Sid’s retirement was looming, he still seemed to be the one person that had more Hull FC stories than anyone else. It was becoming a tradition that when it rained it would be time for one of Sid’s now famous stories. Sid always seemed to be able to denote different games in the past by remembering that he had his bike stolen whilst he was at one game, or lost his cap when he threw it up in the air to celebrate a score at another.
There were so many tales which were usually related on wet afternoons in that same Bowling Pavilion where I attended my first East Park Christmas Party six long years earlier. When you got ‘rained off’ everyone descended on the Pavilion and sat around on old crates and piles of seed boxes drinking tea and talking. Then Sid, sat in an old rocking chair in the corner, started with his usual introduction of, ‘Did I tell you about the time that………’ These tales ranged from the unlikely to the absurd but as the story ended there was always an impromptu round of applause from the gathering of gardeners as Sid sat back in his chair with a contented smile on his face. It was certainly great to hear these stories of 60 odd years of supporting Hull FC, of Bruce Ryan, War time Rugby and the ground being bombed, and what Sid related was just the sort of folk law that surrounded the rugby club back then, there was always rumours and stories which was all part and parcel of following ‘The Cream’.
Talking of Sid I once remember him being caught returning from the barbers at around 11-30, one Tuesday morning, when he was supposed to have been digging a shrubbery. Unfortunately, ‘Norman the Foreman’, our new manager caught him sneaking back with an obviously recent short back and sides and a clean-shaven neck. Usually Sid would have denied any knowledge of having his hair cut, but this time he was caught red handed. However, when asked if he had been to get his hair cut and realising that any ‘fabrication’ of the truth was futile, Sid exclaimed, ‘Well it grows in works time so I thought I would get it cut in works time too’ Sid always had an answer for everything.
Saturday night with Ricki Dodds.
At 21 my social life revolved around rugby and my Friday and Saturday nights out in the town. I still spent a lot of time watching live music but there was a gang of us from Sutton and a couple including Jenksey from the Boulevard area, who used to ‘go to town’ and as well as enjoying the same sort of music and pubs we were all Hull FC supporters which helped no end when the conversation died. Fridays were usually reserved for some serious drinking in ‘The County’ in Charles Street, ‘The Manchester Arms’ in Scale Lane and ‘the Black Boy’ in High Street.
Saturdays were a different matter as resplendent in our latest ‘trendy’ outfits we would hit the town. These fashion accessories usually consisted of a Ben Sherman shirt, Fair Isle jumper, Stay Press trousers, brogues and a Levi jacket. ‘Hitting the town’ usually entailed a few beers for ‘Dutch courage’ in the ‘Corner House’ and then onto a night club, either Bailey’s on top of the Co-op in Jameson Street or the Locarno Ballroom in Ferensway.
That August a new night spot was added to the City Centre scene in Hull when ‘Malcolm’s’ opened in George Street. This was a plush place indeed and became our regular venue for meeting girls and having a few beers and a lot of laughs in our Saturday night ‘finery’. Often we would see Hull FC players in there sporting black eyes, bandages and the scars of the previous afternoon’s battles. The music provided by resident DJ Ricki Dodds and his crew, was engineered to create a great atmosphere but even though it included David Bowie and T Rex we all definitely drew the line at sporting anything ‘Girly’ like these icons of the time were wearing.
The club itself was well furnished and the height of luxurious surroundings back then, although licensing regulations meant that it was only open between 7-30 and 11-45 on a Saturday. Malcolm Backhouse who owned the place often used to pop in for a chat and just four months after he had opened what was now the City’s top night spot, he and the owners of other two city centre clubs applied to the Courts for an extended license to stay open until 1-30am on Sunday morning. There was a massive uproar and letters a plenty to the Hull Daily Mail but Mally was successful and so at last ‘proper’ nightlife came to Hull and we loved it!
Malcolm’s was also used a lot for mid-week concerts and I remember going to see amongst other bands of the day, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Vinegar Joe (who featured Elkie Brooks and Robert Palmer ex of the Mandrakes from back in the East Park free concert days). But, for four years most Saturdays were not complete without finishing a night out at Malcolm’s. Of course, after a few beers there was no better a way to finish proceedings that to partake of a good ‘carpet’ Burger (named because that’s what it was like chewing!!) from the catering caravan outside and a long walk home to Sutton to sober you up!
The return of Roy Francis
That summer and after just one unsuccessful season in charge, coach Ivor Watts, had his contract terminated by the club and he retired to run his sweets and tobacconist’s shop in Woodcock Street not too far from the Boulevard, where his loyalty had seen him ‘part of the furniture’ for over 20 years. That was the end of an almost 40-year association with the club, although Ivor still came back a time or two to help out. He was always rumoured to be a fiercely passionate employee who hated fans wearing replica shirts, believing them to be the ‘privileged uniform’ of the players. He also disliked any player who switched allegiances and moved across the river to Hull KR and when Whiteley went to be their coach, it was said that Ivor ‘cut him dead’ a time or two, but that was maybe just an urban myth of the time. Then, in a surprise move by Club Chairman Charlie Watson, Roy Francis returned from Leeds to coach the club. Again, as so often happened at our club across the years this came as a complete surprise as far as the fans were concerned although looking back I suppose it was all planned before Ivor was relieved of his duties. Roy brought a lot of discipline and some rugged training methods with him and did his best to strengthen the team despite the meagre finances available.
On the playing side of things we were certainly struggling and one of the first things that Roy had to sort out was the situation surrounding our scrum half and local hero Chris Davidson. His plight illustrated the state of the game back then, as he threatened to quit the club because he had been injured for around six months and although his right knee, which had been ‘pinned’, was getting better, he was trying to manage financially on sick pay of just £6 a week.
He had been unsettled for a while and had asked for a transfer before he was injured. After that request he had been placed on the transfer list at the end of the previous season for £10,000, but now with the State paying him £4 a week and the club just £2, Chris was on the breadline and finding it hard to survive. He said at the time, “No one is going to pay £10,000 for me in this state and I have to get some money from somewhere, so I might as well throw the towel in as far as rugby is concerned and head off to London to find a job” Whether this was just a threat, or a real plea for help, is hard to know, but somehow Chris soldiered on until he got back playing again and eventually came off the transfer list to continue starring for his home town club.
He was in fact to play some pivotal roles for the black and whites in the coming years. Still, looking back it’s not difficult to see how so many players found it hard once they were injured and why many played on despite bad injuries, (and suffered for it in later life), because they quite simply needed the money to survive.
What the hell is a ‘Ginger Group’?
If things on the field were tough then the Hull FC Board of Directors appeared to be in a bit of turmoil too and had to fight off a ‘takeover bid’ from Joe Latus and his ‘Ginger Group’. Joe the proprietor of a Socialist bookshop in Hull City Centre formed the group out of concern for the falling gates and lack of interest that there was in the club from the fans. They name is a strange one but was probably derived from the expression to ‘Ginger things up a bit’ or revitalise them. He was a tremendous supporter who really loved the club and was I guess, like all of us, worried about the state of our beloved club at the Boulevard. This takeover attempt took place at Dads last meeting as a shareholder, but he came home that night talking of a real battle that had seen 17 potential board members vying for just nine places. On this occasion, Watson and the current board had gained enough votes to keep going, although dad made it clear that he had voted for Joe. The current Board of Directors won through that night, but changes were just around the corner.
The shock of this opposition to the current Board, which was certainly popular with the fans, saw Charlie Watson and the Directors trying hard to support their new coach and a young prop from amateur rugby Keith Tindall followed in his Father’s footsteps and signed for Hull FC, this was followed by the capture of Full-Back Mike Kendal, Centre Steve Portz and Welsh wingman Ron Cowen. Sadly we lost some of the ‘old guard’, and although neither Mum or Dad made the journey from Sutton to watch the lads anymore, there was a deal of sadness and more silent meals at home in Potterill Lane when Arthur Keegan asked to be released to became assistant player-coach at Bramley, he was quickly followed by ace goal kicker John Maloney who went to York, (he did however return a couple of years later for two more seasons), and Forward Chris Forster who left for Huddersfield.
It was particularly sad to see Keegan go and my Dad and many others at the time said that they believed Arthur had hoped to get a crack at the coaching job at the Boulevard but when Roy Francis was brought back in he started to look elsewhere. The travelling every week to training and games at the Boulevard from Dewsbury was certainly another factor in his decision and it must have been tough travelled three times a week from the West Riding often on the train. In fact in the end it was a great move for our captain and full back as he was by early 1973 promoted to the West Yorkshire clubs and was to become the only coach to take the great little West Leeds club to a final victory, when at the height of the Miner’s Strike they won the 1973/74 BBC Floodlight Trophy Final against Widnes.
More tough times.
The hard times really started to bite at the club once the 71/72 season began and the Boulevard was starting to look a real mess with the shale for the Speedway track covering all the seats in the Best Stand with a thin layer of red dust after every meeting. Several season ticket holders complained and there were a couple of letters in the ‘Sportsman Say’ column in the Hull Daily Mail so the club reluctantly bowed to public opinion and employed someone to wipe all the seats before home games took place. The famous stadium, despite being run down was still a valuable asset which the club clung to, and no doubt borrowed money against. It was valued in the annual accounts that year as being worth £30,000. Shortly after his appointment Roy Francis was named Team Manager which meant that for the first time it was he and not the Board who was responsible for ‘all team matters’, which included for the first time the actual selection of the team. We fans didn’t realise it at the time but this was a fundamental change to the way that things were done at the club.
Surprisingly enough Roy had only been in post a short time when he requested and was granted four weeks off for ‘Family’ reasons during which time, Ivor Watts was ironically called back from the Old Holburn, Park Drive and Arrow bars to look after things. It was thought by all us fans that the return of Roy to the club after his success at the Boulevard in the late fifties and a great spell at Leeds would perhaps turn our fortunes around, but despite his obvious charisma and technical knowledge mistakes like bringing over nine ‘hopefuls from Australian rugby, (which proved costly particularly as only two played any games at all in the first team), were to see Roy just lasting in the job for a short time.
Breaking records……. but all the wrong ones!!
However, the Speedway was doing well in 1971/72 and made the club £3213 with TV income from the Floodlit Trophy raising another £3673, which in the end saw the club make a profit of £3,699. Despite this the playing side of things was literally haemorrhaging money. On the field itself it was a poor season when we finished 19th out of 30 teams. There cannot be a worse sight than to see someone who is healthy, happy and fit slowly deteriorating before your eyes and the same can be said of your rugby team. Our attendances reflected this slow demise too and as the Hull fans voted with their feet Speedway regularly generated bigger gates than rugby and it was possibly that only the Speedway franchise, the TV money and perhaps those hot dogs were keeping the club afloat. In August just 1243 turned up to watch a game against Dewsbury and two months later the visit of Huyton attracted only a slightly better 1450.
These were the lowest gates ever recorded at the Boulevard in our long history of playing there, but worse was still to come. There were many forgettable games at the Boulevard that year but we did have a couple of memorable wins over Warrington in October and Huddersfield in March and we beat Hull Kingston Rovers twice at home 7-5 in February and at Craven Park 10-9 at the end of March. There were, I remember, a lot of close games that season mainly down to the fact that the shale from the Speedway track was starting to block the land drain’s under the rugby pitch and it was at times in mid-winter like playing on a swamp, which is always a good leveller.
There was one particularly great performance which just shows what adversity we were in and indeed how the fixtures used to pile up for our part time heroes in those hard, cold winters. The game I refer to was a televised BBC 2 Floodlit Cup game away at Huddersfield.
I will try and retell the happenings on the field a little later, but it was the circumstances surrounding it and indeed the build-up to the game that was so different to anything we see in Super League rugby these days. November that year was a particularly wet month and pitches around the league were in general like ‘pudding’. Often matches were played with standing water on the pitch, but back then it’s was necessary to make sure you got games played because the revenue they generated was critical to the cash flow situation at all the clubs. So, despite it being relatively early in the season Hull had to play 4 games in eight days that November. On Saturday 13th we played away at Dewsbury in the Players No 6 Trophy and after a sterling backs to the wall defensive display we came away with a 5-5 draw.
The following Tuesday we played the game I refer to away in the BBC Floodlit Trophy at Huddersfield and then two days later there was the replay against Dewsbury at the Boulevard which we won 22-10. Then finally two days further on, at the Boulevard on the Saturday, we got beat by Wigan 20-8. 320 minutes of Rugby League in 8 days with just two substitutes allowed at each game and all our player’s semi-professional with most, with the exception of Chris Davidson, working full time as well.
Four games in eight days and a bag of chips for Craney. It’s just another November at Hull FC.
Tuesday 16th November 1971: Hull 15 Huddersfield 7
That brings me to another difference in our game 40 years ago, and that was the ability of some players to get time off work to travel to away games mid-week, whilst others found their bosses less understanding. The game I want to feature was played at the Fartown ground in Huddersfield with the second half broadcast live on BBC 2. However, on the eve of the match disaster struck when Alf Macklin our regular winger cried off with a thigh injury. He had been injured at Dewsbury in that drawn game and although he had reported fit to play in the West Riding three days later, he broke down at work, 24 hours before the game.
His obvious replacement was our speedy winger signed from local Rugby Union Howard Firth, but he was a school teacher and could not get time off to travel or indeed miss a night class he was to take that evening. So, the replacement fell to Terry Devonshire who had been dropped from the first team 3 weeks earlier to allow Ken Huxley to play. The problem was though that Terry was working out of town in the West Riding and staying over there in a boarding house throughout the week. It was long before the luxury of mobile phones and it was virtually impossible to get hold of him. The Club Secretary Cyril Fowler, tried everything and finally got hold of Terry’s boss at 11-00 on the morning of the game. The bus picked Devo up in Leeds in his work clothes and in borrowed boots he played that night.
That was not the only problem that the club had that evening either because they were also twenty minutes late setting off from the Boulevard. At 4-00pm the coach was parked next to the club house on the car park in Airlie Street with as usual the Directors sat at the front and players at the back, when a head count indicated that we were one player (plus Devonshire) short. It was quickly apparent that new young ‘sensation’ Mick Crane was missing and no one seemed to be aware of why. He had been at training the previous night and passed fit to play, so there was a bit of panic amongst the Directors, when it looked like he was going to be a ‘no show’. The talk got around to who they could call up at short notice when thankfully Mick came into view sauntering down Arlie Street with his kit in a paper carrier, smoking a cigarette and eating a bag of chips.
As anyone who saw ‘Craney’ play will tell you he was a fantastic rugby player but he could never ever have been classed as a ‘Model Athlete’. In fact, during a game he was not averse to wondering over to the Threepenny Stand and ‘cadging’ a few puffs of a fans cigarette whilst a conversion was being taken. Still, that day, onto the bus ‘Craney’ climbed giving a casual wave to the lads at the back and muttering something about getting stuck in the bookies before sitting down to finish his chips. Meanwhile the Coach drivers started the coach’s and set off to search the West Riding of Yorkshire for Terry Devonshire. All, I would say, a bit different to the slick, well organised and sanitised workings of a Super League club today. Only 40 years ago, and yet light years from modern rugby league.
So, to the match that I believe may well have been Dick Tingle’s first reporting on Hull FC for the Hull Daily Mail. I say that because we bumped in to him looking lost on the car park and he introduced himself before we indicated the direction of the officials turnstile. We had already attained an unlikely win at Huddersfield that season in the League but the Fartowners were a formidable outfit on their own ground and it was ‘a big ask’ to go there and win although a victory would have meant a place in the semi-finals of the BBC Floodlit Trophy and some much needed income, so the match was certainly an important one. It was thankfully one of those games were that master of the art of releasing the ball, Terry Kirchin, had a blinder.
Unconcerned about two more games coming up in the next 4 days we ripped into the fancied Huddersfield outfit from the first whistle. Hull took just two coach loads of us fans and at a game that had only attracted 3000 spectators that night, we probably looked lost in what was a cavernous ground. After Devonshire had been fouled by Senior and Pickup in the 5th minute, from around 30 yards out Kendal coolly stroked over the kick and we were already two points in front. After 16 minutes however Eric Broom tripped Loxton and the home side’s kicker Hooson levelled the scores. A faultless piece of cover defence by Devonshire when he tracked back to flatten Senior, was followed by our stand in winger (in borrowed boots) breaking away after darting through a pack of Huddersfield players. He ran 30 yards and fed Huxley who was just held short two yards out from the try line by a brilliant last-ditch tackle from full-back Bedford.
Then Devonshire was at it again this time having a try disallowed for a debatable forward pass from Hancock. From the resulting scrum we won the ball ‘against the head’ and Kenny Foulkes broke from behind the collapsed pack to feed Kirchin, (who had been instrumental in collapsing it in the first place) who peeled away from the second row. With three players on his back he crashed in near the corner, but Kendal missed the goal. Then came the best try of the game as Kirchin our man of the match, made some space and from a knot of players he somehow smuggled the ball to Harrison, he passed to Ibbotson who fed straight onto Hancock. Our captain sped away and using the strangely ‘quiet’ Clive Sullivan as a foil to his left, he dummied and roared in to score under the posts. This time Kendal made no mistake and at half time we were in the lead by 10-2.
As Hull ran out for the second half the wind had stiffened considerably and we had to play into it. The little band of FC Faithful huddled together on the massive terrace behind the sticks were then treated to 40 minutes of great tackling and solid defence as the home side charged towards us and our line. The home team tried everything to break our defence and half backs Chamberlain and Loxton worked hard to break through the middle and get their big forwards running.
Time and again these two tried that old scissors movement favoured by half backs in those days, but not once did Hull’s defence ‘buy it’, however a period of intense pressure finally bore fruit and after ex Hull Forward Chris Foster had made a break, Evans shot onto the ball to score and Hooson converted. It was then just 10-7 to Hull FC. A string of scrums with head and ball to the home side could have sunk us, but some inspired ‘shovelling’ against the head from our hooker Roy Firth kept the ball away from Huddersfield’s attack although Bedford did try two rather desperate drop goals, (worth two points that season), both of which he screwed narrowly wide.
As the home side pressed again we needed the last score and one final effort saw us take play down field with a tremendous run from ‘that man’ Kirchin, who having handed off three players sidestepped one way then the other before releasing Doyle-Davidson (who had come on as usual from the bench), on the other side. After running about ten yards David took the tackle and got up to play the ball quickly enabling Foulkes to spread it wide the other way to Huxley, who switched it back inside for supporting full-back Kendle to dive over with just three minutes to go. He missed the kick but made up for it in the last minute with a late penalty goal.
As the game finished it was the Hull heroes covered head to foot in Fartown mud that were celebrating as they, to a man, leapt in the air on the final whistle and then walked off to the bath, steaming in the cold November air. It was a great victory in a hectic period for the club and after a bath a couple of drinks and a sandwich it was back on the bus and home to Hull for work next morning and Dewsbury the day after! How things have changed eh?
I become a Shareholder.
I just cannot emphasise really how depressing these times were for the average Hull FC fan and of course there was nothing average about me, I was fanatical if not a little despondent. At the start of the 1972/73 season they were tough times and the incidence on a win was something of a rarity at the Boulevard. We did however witness a brilliant Man of the Match performance by a young ‘Chip eating’ Mick Crane in the season’s ‘Curtain Raiser’ the Eva Hardacker Trophy game against Rovers on 12th August which we actually won by a staggering score of 43-5. It wasn’t so much that we were good but Rovers were shocking, still it gave us the bragging rights over the old enemy until they beat us at Craven Park on Boxing Day.
It was a sad time though for FC fans in general and Mum and Dad in particular, as we lost ex-Chairman and architect of the great team in the late 50’s and early 60’s Ernie Hardacker, who died in a car crash and not long after that the deaths also occurred of two other hard working ex Directors Frank Giblin and Reg Lee. Mum and Dad attended all three funerals!
I still saw my boyhood pal Bill Jenks a time or two on the Threepennies where it was a case of everyone being on first name terms with everyone else, because there were so few fans who continued to turn up. Bills Dad Bert had started going to games with us but as a Docker he missed quite a lot early on in the season, because he was travelling daily on the Humber Ferry to picket the unregistered wharfs on the Trent. This was because there was a massive Docks dispute going on between the Trade Unions and the National Dock Labour Board. They were certainly militant times, and on 18th August 1972 Bert and another 2,500 Dockers packed the Best Stand at the Boulevard for a mass meeting about the Dock Labour scheme and the ‘Strike Breakers’ at the independent wharf’s on the Ouse and the Trent.
The season started badly and before a ball was kicked we had 12 players side-lined with injuries, a situation that led to the worst start (four straight defeats) for 40 years. We didn’t play that badly but it was the constant mistakes that our young stand in players made that really let us down. A defeat at Doncaster was the last straw for my Dad who, now that we lived in Potterill Lane, only went about once a season, if that. One night as we sat gloomily at home talking about the position our club was in he left the lounge to return a short time later with an old tin Pears Soap box that he had, for as long as I could remember, kept under the bed.
With great ceremony he lifted the lid and handed me a faded dog-eared envelope which had obviously seen better days. ‘There you are son’ He said, ‘There’s your inheritance!’ What was this I thought, had he given me his life savings to buy Hull FC, which was even when you consider the value of the ailing club and his circumstances, a pretty unlikely scenario. I opened the envelope and there was something he cherished almost as much as his savings; it was his shares in Hull FC and he promised next day to get them transferred into my name.
These were of course worthless in monetary terms but just like the act of purchasing a season pass every year, here was something that saw me ‘buying’ even further into my club. These bits of faded folded paper were of no value to the average person but to me they were priceless because of one very important fact: They got me into the annual general shareholders meetings that Dad had spoken so intently and interestingly about since I was a lad. These meetings were to be something that I regularly attended for years after that, but I will never forget the first one I went to on Wednesday 23rd August 1972.
I witness a boardroom coup d’etat
That night I presented my share certificate to the man on the door at the meeting which was held at the Central Libraries Theatre in Albion Street in Hull City Centre. The room was buzzing with conversation as shareholders huddled together in ‘pre-meetings’. I waived at Billy and Sid in one such ‘confab’ at the other side of the room, that was now thick with the smell of the dense clouds of cigarette smoke that rose from each small gathering. For the previous two weeks I had been receiving telephone calls from prospective board members, most of whom I had never heard of, who called me Mr Allen and asked if they ‘Could rely on my vote’. Quite frankly, it was all pretty confusing. The meeting itself started well with an immaculately observed minutes silence for the three ex directors that had died during the year and then Charlie Watson the current Chairman lit up his pipe took two long draws on it and opened the preceding. Thereafter however the whole thing descended into farce as the voting and movement of motions was constantly questioned from the ‘Floor’.
It seemed too that other shareholders were tired of the proxy vote system that the club used because like me they had been constantly hounded for their vote over the telephone. Accusations flew back and forth and I just sat back and enjoyed every minute of it.
In the end Charlie Watson was voted off the Committee as he along with Albert Walker got the least amount of votes out of the 11 candidates. When the announcement was made it was first met with abject silence and disbelief before mayhem broke out with papers being thrown across the room and oaths a plenty being aimed at some of the successful directors. Apparently one holder of a stack of proxy votes had thrown them behind every one but Watson and in the wake of this action, Joe Latus, who had a year earlier formed that ‘Ginger Group’ to criticise the administration and ‘Ginger’ them up a bit, was again a Director. Mr Latus said he was against ‘Proxy votes’ whilst Watson retorted that ‘Well It was you who started them when you were last on the Board’ and so it went on! Utter chaos but great fun.
Fans of the modern game would find it interesting to note at this point that there was also a long debate about a motion from one shareholder that suggest that the fans would prefer to watch their rugby on a Friday night, rather than a Sunday afternoon. Some things it would appear, never really change! In the end a fan’s ballot was suggested to solve the match day issue which actually in the end saw a massive majority plumping for games on a Sunday.
Still at least some of the news from the meeting was positive as the club had finally managed to pay £6000 off the ‘Floodlights loan’ they received from the Rugby League, in the previous decade. All in all, as I left the meeting and walked into the street with the shouts and accusations still ringing out from the room behind me I thought that one thing was certain and that was that these meetings would be a must in the future. As a foot note I would add that Charlie Watson was soon back on the Board of Directors, but Joe Latus did not survive long at all, although the bookshop owner was soon to leave his mark on the history of our great club by penning a book on the life of Clive Sullivan entitled ‘Hard Road to the Top’ which is still a good read to this day.
Almost immediately after the meeting new Chairman Charles Clegg announced in the Hull Daily Mail that the club would look to sign some new players and after four defeats ‘on the bounce’ they were certainly needed. Francis went after the first of his Aussie targets a full back, winger and loose forward whilst it’s a little-known fact that the club also went after ‘Big’ Jim Mills the ex-Bradford Northern Forward who was at the time playing in Australia, and who was to become the most sent off player in British Rugby League. Sadly, we missed out on him.
After the ‘light relief’ of the shareholders meeting the quality of our rugby was starting to really get me down. I well remember being out on a date at Malcolm’s one particularly gloomy Saturday night when even the party atmosphere of my favourite club could not lift my spirits after we had lost again. Out of the blue my ‘companion’ said, ‘If it bothers you so much when they lose why don’t you stop going?’ Needless to say, I ditched her pretty quickly; she just didn’t get it at all! Whilst I am on the subjects of girlfriends another a few years later told me that I should not let rugby get to me and ‘learn to manage my emotions’. Have you ever met a true rugby fan who could manage his emotions? This is not life or death’, I told her ‘This is Hull FC you’re talking about, it’s a family thing’. She didn’t last long either. As I have said in here before some, probably lucky, people just don’t get it do they?
‘Bad Finger’ at the Locarno.
Music was still a real sop to the indifferent rugby I had to endure every week and I remember that the occasional concert certainly acted as a temporary distraction. One great night out was on 6th November when a packed Locarno Ballroom in Ferensway greeted Liverpudlian Band ‘Badfinger’ who were just back from their victorious American tour. The band, of whom I had always been a big fan and who were mentored by Paul McCartney, played a great concert which included hits like, ‘Come and get it’, ‘No matter What’ and ‘Day after Day’, and that night I particularly remember them returning to the stage to do three encores which including the Beatles’ ‘Love me Do’ and Little Richard’s ‘Lucille’. It was certainly a memorable night.
I need a car, so it’s a ‘crash’ course in driving.
In April that year my Mum and Dad encouraged me to learn to drive and so I enrolled at Quick Pass school of Motoring who were based next to Furman’s shoe shop on Queens Dock Avenue in the centre of Hull. The company was owned by a Mr Leech who took my £5 when I presented myself for my first lesson. Back then that payment secured six one-hour lessons and it was considered that after about twelve lessons you would be ready to take your test. My Driving Instructor Malcolm was a massive guy who barely fitted into the duel control mini’s that ‘Quick Pass’ used and with his massive frame squashed into the passenger seat I took my first tentative steps towards my driving license. I suppose when I look back Malcolm was a good driving instructor although I would have got on a lot better without his horror stories of other pupils who had crashed into walls rolled their mini’s over and collided with other vehicles. Mum described him as ‘A bit of a Romancer’ when I related Malcolm’s tales to her and I think she was probably right.
After ten lessons I took my first test from the Park Street Test Centre at 10-30 on a Monday morning and despite giving it a good go, after about twenty minutes my examiner a Mr Christie said, ‘I think we’ll go back to the test centre now Mr Allen’. However four lessons and several more horror stories from Malcolm later, I took a second test this time from a different centre in Salisbury Street, in the leafy Avenues area of the City and despite reversing up the kerb in Alexandra Road and stopping over a double line at a junction, the examiner a nervous looking man called Mr Sellars, passed me and I had my licence.
Then of course there was the question of a car and with 10 Potterill Lane proving a costly place to run, money was certainly a bit tight at home. However as always when the chips were down, good old Mum and Dad somehow came up with the goods and lent me £200 with which I bought a great little 998cc Ford Anglia in Spruce Greens. LAL 707E was my pride and joy and I had soon taught myself to change the plugs tighten the fan belt, gap the points and adjust the tappets. Tight finances rendered garage services out of the question back then and so it was a case of if you couldn’t afford it, you did it yourself. The world was now my oyster I had my own ‘wheels’ and I would cruise round the streets of East Hull with the window down and the radio on just like those American guys I had seen on the TV. I even rigged up a portable tape recorder to play through a couple of second hand speakers on the back shelf, and rode around the neighbourhood with my favourite Lindisfarne album ‘Fog on the Tyne’ blasting out till the tape recorders batteries ran down.
Things were actually much tougher than I knew at home and whilst I was doing my best impersonation of ‘Happy Days’ in the Ford Anglia, Mum had found some lumps under her arms and behind her ear which were to prove that her cancer had returned, and there were to be a few tough years ahead for all of us.
A new Board at the Boulevard but for the fans little seems to have changed!
Down at the Boulevard there was a lot of talk about improvements on the field but talk was all it was and few came as the new Board and Chairman settled into the same old routine that we had seen from the previous administration and results went from pretty predictable to predictably disastrous. The quality of our playing staff was without doubt the problem but quantity wasn’t and you couldn’t say the Board and Coach didn’t try to ring the changes as we used forty-eight different players that year. Mally Walker, Tony Wardell, Brian Waltham and Tony Salmon were amongst that plethora of players that joined the club.
Sadly, my big hero Terry Kirchin had gone in the early part of the campaign, signing for the enemy across the river Hull Kingston Rovers. Hull received a much-needed transfer fee but his transfer to the opposition was as I remember a bit strange, because although he was always upfront with Rovers and informed them from the off he was about to take up a post with BP in London, they still signed him. He subsequently lasted just a couple of games before he moved off to work, I think, in Scotland and that was sadly the last we heard of the big fellow with long arms who could release a ball like no one else in the game.
‘Clive Sullivan…..This is Your Life’
For many Hull FC fans the high spot of that New Year’s celebrations came when we tuned in, as everyone did, to BBC 1 on 3rd January 1973, to see the appearance of Clive Sullivan on the national BBC show, ‘This is Your Life’ hosted by Eamonn Andrews. This followed our winger captaining a GB team managed by Johnny Whiteley who had recently won the Rugby League World Cup. A few weeks previously he had been welcomed back from France with the Cup and paraded it with Johnny Whiteley in a lap of honour around the Boulevard. I watched the show with Mum and Dad who were visibly proud to see our unassuming hero receiving all those accolades from famous sportsmen and people from within the game. My Parents may have thought that all the distance they had put between themselves and the club both mentally and physically had let them off the belonging and caring bit, but deep down in the end the passion was still there gnawing away at them.
Years afterwards at a benefit dinner I got the chance to speak to Clive about the lead up to the show which of course relied on the participating subject knowing nothing about him featuring until compere Andrews’ appeared with the big red book and said, ‘Clive Sullivan, this is Your Life’. Clive said that the actual day had caused his wife Ros’ some problems and the cloak and dagger goings on that actually got him in a position to meet Andrews’ with that book were nothing short of hilarious. Clive was called down to London to participate in a ‘Sports Forum’ and once she had seen him off at the front gate at home in Brough, Ros had then to follow him down for the surprise in London, without Clive knowing what she was doing.
She waived him off in her working clothes and then had to race upstairs to change into the ‘Glad rags’ she had bought especially for the occasion and hidden away at the back of the wardrobe. Ros then left for Brough station to catch the train that departed for London twenty minutes after the one that Clive had caught. It was all tense stuff for everyone involved but the show was hailed as a great success and Clive became a national sporting personality over-night. However, no doubt after all this celebrity status it was back down to earth with a bump as he returned to the Boulevard to continue the struggle that was our league campaign that year.
For those of us who were still very much involved emotionally, (possibly more by habit than anything else) in a team that appeared to be going nowhere fast, it was all pretty bleak, but as always despite a poor showing that season, we could still find one or two pluses. These included beating Rovers in the Derby, and gaining a creditable 18-18 draw with Leeds in the John Player Trophy only for us to predictably lose the replay.
‘Even the Daleks’ had seen enough!
Saturday 17th February 1973: Hull 2 Oldham 24
With falling attendances, apathy amongst the fans and poor results the new Board ran out of patience and in an effort to make a show of strength Roy Francis was the fall guy and left the club in February 1973 to be replaced in the short term by stand in coach David Doyle-Davidson and then national media personality Clive Sullivan. However, we failed to fair much better for the rest of our games mainly due to a mountain of injuries and whilst Hull Kingston Rovers finished tenth and stayed in the top flight, we finished 24th out of 30 teams and well down in the bottom half of the table and therefore moved into the newly formed Second Division for the 1973/74 season.
Once again the Rugby League was tinkering with the competitions format and this time we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, without the resources or luck to get us out of it. Player coach Sullivan was next to go, despite struggling with no real financial backing, he had to take the rap for that poor season end. Boards and administrators need scapegoats when the fans close in and Clive was handily placed to deflect the flak from the Board, so before the next campaign was underway David Doyle-Davidson was back at the helm whilst ex player/captain Clive Sullivan was expected to revert to just a player again. It was a bad year indeed and with three coaches, dozens of injuries and relegation to the new Second Division, it is hardly surprising that the balance sheet that year showed a loss of £9,500.
Before I leave that season though, there was one game that year that brought a particularly poor performance from Hull FC and which was perhaps a pointer to the general malaise of the fans and things to come. It was against Oldham in the Challenge Cup at the Boulevard on 17th February when we were beaten 24-2. For as long as anyone could remember the club had allowed invalid carriages and sometimes supporters in wheel chairs onto the apron behind the goal posts and dead ball line at the Airlie street end of the Boulevard and in ‘Ryan Corner’ (named because the famous Bruce Ryan of the late 40’s scored most of his tries there) at the Gordon Street end. That day things were so bad that the five light blue three-wheeler carriages started to move off ten minutes before the end. As they slowly processed in single file along the dead ball line towards the exit one particularly disenchanted fan in the Threepenny Stand shouted out, ‘Bloody Hell we must be bad, even the Dalek’s are leaving’
The return of the Spider from Bilton Grange.
I obvious hadn’t seen anything of him for years but I followed keenly the career of Mick Ronson and although finding the femininity of the Spiders from Mars’s act a bit difficult to comprehend, I was really proud that a lad from Bilton Grange had done so well, and the Ziggy Stardust album is still one of my favourites to this day. Mick was one of the nicest guys you could wish to meet and although by now he was one of the most famous faces on the world music scene, I suddenly heard from him again.
If an indication of his kindness and consideration is needed, then it was amply displayed when around the beginning of June 1973, I was working on a project on Queens Gardens which involved planning the planting of a new avenue of trees. One of the female office staff from the Guildhall sought me out and walked over and handed me an envelope which was simply addressed to ‘Pete Allen, Gardener, Hull Council’. On opening it I discovered a ticket and a Back-Stage Pass for David Bowie’s concert at the Royal Hall at Bridlington Spa on 28th June. It came with no explanation, except for a piece of torn white card with ‘Mick’ scribbled on it.
I of course attended the concert, that had sold out weeks earlier and after a fabulous performance, clutching my pass, I managed to get myself backstage. I never actually got to see David Bowie, but I did see Mick and we talked for about ten minutes about the old times at Alderman Kneeshaw Playing Fields. We were in the company of another guy who I think was called Mike Garson and who was, at the time, the bands off stage keyboard player. We had of course both moved on and the conversation soon dried up after a few ’Remember when’s…’, however my lasting memory of Mick was of a lad that never really let stardom get to him, he was always the same and always just ‘one of the boys’. That concert was for me a fantastic occasion and remains as a very happy memory, but however much I loved the music, all the camp glam stuff was not really for me, it was not really Mick either I didn’t think, and it was certainly not ‘Rugby League’ was it?
Things had moved on and despite being pleased to see ‘Ronno’ again, I found it all a bit awkward really! Still, my backstage adventures meant that I managed to miss the last train home and so I slept, curled up, under a set of wooden steps that led onto the beach, before enjoying a brilliant sunrise over the North Sea, a pot of tea at an early morning cafe on the Pier and a ride on the first train back to Hull and my gardening.
I never saw Mick again, and as I said previously, he tragically died of cancer in 1993. However as a footnote to this excursion into the world of ‘Glam Rock’, I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time some twenty four years later when as a Senior Officer at the City Council I was able to help manage, with Maggie, (Mick’s sister) and record producer Kevin Cann, the Mick Ronson Memorial concerts at the Ice Arena and on Queens Garden on 9th/10th August 1997. This event led to the creation of the Mick Ronson Stage which the City Council has treated so badly in recent years. That fell into disuse and although there has been talk of a statue to Mick, at the time that I am writing this, nothing has been forthcoming.
Still as a lasting memorial there’s always Ronson Close named by the council in his honour and where he worked and lived on Greatfield Estate
Enter ‘The Doyle’, an unlikely saviour?
Down at the Boulevard it seemed that the end of the club was in sight as we moved from crisis to crisis, until that was, an unusual and unfashionable “Messiah” came along in the shape of our most recent coach, the ubiquitous David Doyle-Davidson, who took over the reins at the end of the 1973/74 season. After 3 years of wallowing in abject mediocrity in the doldrums of the Second Division, David took the club by the ‘scruff of the neck’ and with our old second row hero Cyril Sykes as his assistant all of a sudden things started to look a little brighter.
We were not much better in attack because we didn’t have the class of player, but all of a sudden we became a lot harder to beat. Having made his last appearance as a player in a game at Castleford in 1972, David Doyle-Davidson had ended a playing career that spanned 11 years, during which he had made184 appearances and since then he had helped behind the scenes at the Boulevard just waiting his chance to take over.
You’ll no doubt remember that David had already etched his name in the history of the club when in 1964 he was the first ever substitute to take the field of play in the game of Rugby League and he had already served as a Stand in coach prior to Clive Sullivan having a go, before, probably as a last resort, he was officially made first team coach in May 1973. It turned out to be a very shrewd move on the part of the club though because ‘The Doyle’ had great man management skills and soon started to make a difference both in the passion and in the discipline the players showed on the field. That year the team, despite consisting of basically the same core of players, were running on pride and passion again and although we were still way behind the standards we had seen twenty years previously, as fans we couldn’t really ask no more.
Despite some poor results at first, the atmosphere in the changing rooms back then was excellent and there was a tremendous team spirit. David was renowned for his passionate motivational speeches, which he delivered at great length before each game. Sometimes, I remember, the team came out late because of the verbosity and passion of these ‘Churchillian’ speeches, which reminds me of one of Hull Daily Mail Correspondent at the time Dick Tingle’s favourite stories about David. He relates how before one game all the players waited patiently for David to deliver his speech.
When he got into full flow, the joker of the team Alf Macklin said, “Don’t worry boss there’s no need for that I’ve got last week’s here” He then produced a then state of the art portable tape recorder and played the previous weeks speech back to the assembled group. The place erupted with laughter and Dick said afterwards that it was probably the only time he had seen Doyle-Davidson lost for words. Of course, the significant thing about that story is that it proves that instead of all the falling out and disruption there had been in the dressing rooms, the elements of passion and fun was back there now.
Be Bop De Luxe at the Duke of Cumberland in Ferriby.
So, if the 1973/74 season started with a new coach and a bit more passion, then everything else was much the same. That same Alf Macklin still turned up for training on a bike with no doubt a tin of paint for one of the lads on the handlebars and the Speedway franchise was still doing really well. As the season got under way our coach was looking around to sign some new blood and we made an audacious approach for Salford’s star player Bill Kirkbride which floundered on the usual problem of the distance Hull was from his home in Lancashire. Then we got a new winger for a month when a ‘wayward’ Mick Crane was allowed to go to York on loan, whilst their winger Clive Hill joined Hull for the same period, although he never made the first team. All the while Clive Sullivan was not too happy at the way that he had been treated by the board when coach and was looking for other options as far as his playing career was concerned.
That year away from the rugby there was still a thriving ‘Grass Roots’ music scene in the area and particularly out in the surrounding East Riding! I was still going to dances at Welton and Brough but there was lots of live music about and although by then I was not playing in any bands myself I loved watching these ensembles whenever I could. At that time, it was usually the case that the lads and I would head off on Friday and Sunday nights for a few beers and then on to watch both local and regional ‘breaking bands’ at various clubs, pubs, village halls and schools around the county.
One of my most memorable excursions was to the Duke of Cumberland pub in North Ferriby on Sunday nights, here there was a big concert room at the side of the hostelry and the band we usually went to see was Be Bop Deluxe a four-piece outfit from the Selby/Pontefract area. Their blend of space pop and a fantastic liquid gel light show, created a great atmosphere and really captured our imagination and myself Ted and Bill (a couple of my guitar playing pals) were actually there in October 1973, when the band were watched for the first time by an A & R man from the Derram record label. Bill Nelson who fronted the group, a tall skinny ‘Bowiesque’ guitar hero, was an excellent song writer and a ‘flash’ guitarist and was soon to lead the group to international fame and millions of record sales; although in fairness he ditched the rest of the original line up along the way to becoming that internationally acclaimed act.
Two years later in June (1975) the band headlined at East Park at one of the frequent free Sunday ‘Rock in the Park’ events that local musical entrepreneurs Rick Welton and the late Barry Nettleton promoted to vast crowds sometimes totalling over 8000 people. In the first few years of the decade we had seen we had seen bands like Juniors Eyes, Wishbone Ash, and The Edgar Broughton Band and of course the late great Robert Palmer who back then was still the singer of the Scarborough based ‘rockers’ Mandrake.
They were fantastic times although that afternoon when Be Bop Deluxe were to perform was the last time we saw them around these parts for a few years, as they soon hit the big time and toured the world. In fact, the next time I saw them was supporting Cockney Rebel at the Mecca Ballroom on Ferensway and after that headlining their own ‘Modern Music’ tour at the City Hall in 1977. After those nights at the ‘Duke’ it was strange seeing them in such a big venue but with albums Like ‘Live in the Air Age’, ‘Modern Music’ and ‘Axe Victim’ they were certainly a good band with their own unique sound and one that we found so distinctive even when we first heard them in Ferriby years earlier.
Sully leaves for Rovers and dogs and cats across West Hull start to disappear.
But back to 1973 and soon we were to read the terrible news in the Hull Daily Mail that Clive Sullivan had absconded to the ‘Dark Side’ and joined Hull Kingston Rovers. Most of us knew what had gone on and realised his unhappiness about the coaching position would probably lead to his departure but no one thought he would move across town, to the ‘Robins’. Mum and Dad were devastated as once again their inborn passion for the club came to the fore and all-over West Hull, dogs and cats called Sully started to mysteriously disappear. What Jenksey did with his cat I’m not too sure, although I can probably guess?
If that year was significant for rugby in Hull, it was also an important time for the game as a whole, as it was then that the member clubs of the Rugby League finally agreed that the accepted regular match day should be changed officially to Sunday. The Sunday Observance Act was still a big hurdle to this progress though, and was still being circumnavigated by all us fans having to buy a very expensive programme to get in!!! No sooner had that decision been made, when back in Hull there was more significant transfer news at our club as despite Doyle-Davidson’s protestations Mick Harrison who I personally think is the best No. 8 I have ever seen in the Hull shirt, left for Leeds, in a £10,000 deal that just about kept our club afloat.
It was hard for the coach but we as fans stuck with David because I suppose to us lot stood shivering in the stands, the team spirit was so much better than we had seen for years and in the end although it is always great to see expansive flowing rugby, all the average fan wants first and foremost is to see a bit of honest endeavour and pride in the club shirt. The high spot I remember from a largely forgettable season, was when we beat a resurgent Bradford team, (who only lost twice that year), 11-2 at the Boulevard. As was always the case with night games under floodlights we played that match with a white ball. Chris Davidson launched a towering up and under towards the wing and as Bradford’s black winger Keith Barrends ‘lost’ the ball in the floodlights it swirled in the wind, hit him smack on top of the head and shot off into the Threepenny Stand.
Now it should be remembered that back then the outset of political correctness was still some way off and anyway the guys stood in the Threepenny Stand were certainly no respecters of anyone who had an opposition shirt on, whatever their colour or religion, and so quick as a flash someone near me towards the back of the wooden terracing shouted, ‘White ball in off the black: seven away!’ How times have changed eh?
So much more than rugby to be worried about, disaster strikes the West Hull community again.
If things were difficult at the club on the field for Doyle-Davidson and his charges then February 1974 was a bad time for Hull in general and in particular the fishing community in the west of the City. For it was then that the deep-sea factory ship the Gaul sank some time on the night of the 8/9th February, in storm conditions in the Barent Sea off Norway. No distress signal was received and her loss was not realised until the 10th following the vessel twice failing to report in. An extensive search operation was launched but no trace of the ship was found, until a lifebuoy was recovered three months later.
Thirty-six crew members from Hull were lost in the worst peacetime disaster to befall the UK fishing fleet. Back then the conspiracy theories and espionage links that were to leave question marks hanging over the disaster for a couple of decades were still some way away but the whole city was plunged into a state of mourning and most folks who lived in the Boulevard area knew someone whose family had been touched by this unforgettable turn of events. At the next home game against Blackpool a minute’s silence was immaculately observed. In fact, I remember that the only sound that could be heard on the ‘Threepenny Stand’ that day was the occasional sob emitting from some of the toughest and most hardened members of that great fishing community with whom I was honoured and humbled to share the moment and that terrible sense of loss.
‘Sportsman’s Say’, the ‘message board’ of the 70’s.
It was to take the local community a long time to get back to something like normality after those tragic days but as always many sought solace within their close-knit families and some of course used their weekend trips to the Boulevard as a distraction and I suppose part of the healing process. Things were not going well at the club though, mainly because our gates were nothing short of appalling and those who did go certainly gave the Board of Directors some stick both in the form of taunts from the terraces and also by way of abuse shouted from the well of the Best Stand directly at our officials sat up in the Directors seats. Others, like the anonymous message boarders of the present -day fans sites, who didn’t want to be so forthright, ‘vent their spleens’ in the ‘Sportsman’s Say’ column of the Hull Daily Mail.
Every night there seemed to be a letter from some disapproving disenfranchised fan and at times, ex Directors had a go too. In February 1974 so upset was ex board member and local scrap metal dealer Dave Bassett that he said in the paper that the current Board would never be successful because they would not get their hands in their pockets and finance some signings. In response our Chairman Charlie Clegg said that his experience of ‘moneyed people’ on the board was that they usually kept their hands deep in their pocket which was a strange comment indeed. Dave like many fans loved the club, although hundreds had now just simply lost interest, something that was all the more galling because the football team down the road were still doing well and attracting good gates.
To be continued …………
So, there we are, thanks for sticking with the diary again and stay safe. All being well the Diary will be back next week.