So, at last this week, we saw some news coming out of the club, but all of it not good really, as we heard that both Ratu Naulago and Albert Kelly won’t be with us in 2021. Ratu for me is a massive loss because, he has real potential to be another Vianicolo type player who could have been a real sensation in the game, but thankfully he had the decency to reject at least one approach from another British Club, in respect for what Hull FC has done for him.
He had everything in his armoury that you can’t teach a naturally gifted player and that just needed working on, whilst his explosive speed is something that had at times to be seen to be believed for such a big bloke. I’m convinced we will see him starring at Bristol in RU but perhaps not as much as he would have done, (with two less defenders on the field) in League. So, for me as I say, he is a big loss.
Albert has been threatening a move to Australia for two years now and after what has been going on across the world of late who wouldn’t want to be at home? But as Kelly departs we lose a real old-fashioned maverick of a player who can make the big play and turn a game with one shuffle of his feet or flick of his wrist. He’s had his moments disciplinary wise, and also been rather prone to suspension and concussion of late so perhaps the time is right, but he’s an enigma that it will be virtually impossible to replace. In saying all this, as if they are gone already, I guess it looks like I am writing this season off and in effect if I’m honest I think I probably am. For normality seems as far away now as it did when the game was suspended all those weeks ago. Who’s next for leaving? Well we’ll just have to wait and see.
Also this week, the Challenge Cup Final was ‘postponed’ and despite all the hoo haa that accompanied its announcement that was something that was always going to happen. Fact is, I think it is a competition that is unlikely to be enacted at all this season, particularly if we are intent on cramming in the rest of this league campaign as well.
Personally, as things stand now, I’m for scrapping relegation as well, because even if we get started and try to cram games in, perhaps at 3 a week and through the winter weather, with postponements etc. the ‘playing field’ will not be even at all, so I think that to retain relegation in such a scenario will be a travesty.
But now back to the story of my lifelong passion for Hull FC and you know, I have been amazed (when I have read back these chapters for the first time for 6 years), just how tough those years in the seventies were and just how much we celebrated anything even a gallant loss. They were such tough times, but this week’s episode ends with one such great day all be it a losing one. So here goes and I hope you find something to enjoy in it!!
673 The Dentist Diary
A close shave against Halifax
Saturday 23rd February 1974: Hull 24 Halifax 22
For me, the game of that season was one against Halifax. I particularly remember this match because in the end it was not one that we deserved to win, in fact we were lucky to come out on top at all and it was against a team that over the past few seasons had started to become the ‘new’ nemesis of Hull FC.
The game was played at the Boulevard when although it was quite a barmy afternoon for the time of year, the pitch was surrounded with great pools of water that had been cleared from the playing area following a heavy overnight snow fall some six days earlier and for most of the preceding week the ground had been flooded. It was the 23rd February and we were as usual suffering with injuries and so fielded a ‘cobbled together’ team, but thanks to ‘Mr Motivator’ Doyle-Davidson we were still doing reasonably well and even on the fringes of the promotion pack in the Second Division.
I was late for the game that day and all my usual pre match rituals and preparations had been thrown into turmoil, when as ‘Stand By’ Parks Foreman for the weekend an outbreak of vandalism the previous night in Pickering Park had seen me out with the Police all Sunday morning, surveying the damage. So, after racing down Anlaby Road and leaving my Council van in West Park I had a real dash to get to the ground, just arriving in time to see the referee blow the whistle to start the game. One ‘Wag’ who I only knew to ‘nod to’, shouted out across the Stand, ‘It’s nice to see you could make it, can we get started now?’
The match kicked off in front of an abysmal gate of just 1,583 and as soon as I had collected myself and had time to scan the players we had out on the field I realised that we were missing another key member of the team, our captain Brian Hancock.
Against Halifax I thought ‘This is going to be tough’. However, we started to pass the ball around crisply and after just five minutes a fine move between Casey and Hicks sent Davidson through a gap. As our scrum half brushed tackles away, he crashed into the open and ran 20 yards to touch down and open the scoring, before converting his own try. At 5-0 we were well on top and Davidson returned the compliment to his team mate when ten minutes later he sent Hicks in, wide out on the left and added the two points himself from what was a tight angle from the touchline in front of us in the ‘Threepennies’. It was all Hull now with Terry Devonshire, (who was now approaching veteran status), shining at off-half and young Stenton in the centre giving his best performance to date.
Chris Davidson then converted a penalty when Pitchford tried to decapitate Alan McGlone and although Brown scored a lucky touchdown for Halifax, when the ball shot out of a tackle like a bar of soap and he cantered in to score, Wardell charged through on a typical run and using McGlone as a foil he dummied and dived in for Davidson to again add the extras. Wardell was everywhere for Hull and having a great game, with prop Jacklin not that far behind him for endeavour and running. Then ‘The Fax’ came storming back with a Burton try, but at half time we were comfortably in the lead at 17-6.
We were to say the least, all a little surprised at the ease by which we had attained that advantage but as usual things started to go wrong as soon as we re-started the game after the interval. After just five minutes Hicks threw out a speculative pass toward winger Gibbons, the ball hung in the air and was intercepted by Hoyle, who ran 60 yards to touch down and give Halifax new heart. Then Len Casey, who sensed that the visitor’s forwards were getting on top went for Mark Watson with a shocking head high tackle, that left the Halifax loose forward pole axed face down in the mud. Referee Ronnie Campbell had no hesitation in sending Casey straight from the pitch, which I guess meant that the following Thursday, along with both Wardell and Hick, he would at least make up a car load for the trip to the monthly Disciplinary Meeting in Leeds. Hull FC was usually able to fill a car for those meetings!
Fired up by Len Casey’s departure, Hull roared back at the visitors and Chris Davidson with another FC try, this time straight from the scrum, re-established our lead but it was obvious with twelve men that the cracks in our defence were starting to show. The visitors brought on Phil Davis to play scrum half who immediately scored but another goal from Davidson made the score 24-14 and we looked home and dry. We were neither ‘Home’ or ‘Dry and as the rain started to fall, Halifax’s Brown scored a try that looked like a knock on over the line, and then in the dying minutes Brown kicked ahead and touched down again and with a goal added from the touchline Halifax were just two points behind as the final whistle went. Another couple of minutes, and no doubt we would have lost, so stretched was our defence in that second half. Still we won 24-22 and got two precious points.
There was no doubt either who would be awarded the title of man of the match because with two ties and six goals the very player who had threatened to quit a few years earlier, our battle wearied scrum half Chris Davidson, had sent us all home happy that day. The players would no doubt get into the bath, sing a few rounds of ‘Old Faithful’, and then experience a bottle of Beer or two and one of Ivy Masons post-match Teas. These feasts were prepared by Ivy and a gang of volunteers after each game for many, many years, and their quality was famous throughout the Rugby league.
At Easter I remember proudly taking Mum and Dad to Bridlington in the ‘new’ car. Mum was really struggling by now and everything was becoming an effort for her as she had to go back to the hospital more and more for treatment. However, one of her greatest pleasures was to sit and watch the sea rolling up and down the beach so that’s what we did that Easter. Sadly, even though she appeared to enjoy sitting there on the promenade and the fish and chips we ate in the car for lunch, it poured and poured with rain on what was later announced to be the wettest Bank Holiday of the century. In fact, by the time we had got back home to Sutton it was apparent that certain places were starting to flood and later that night on the local news we heard that Chanterlands Avenue and Boothferry Road in Hull were under over a foot of water and in the village of Cottingham, King Street and George Street were flooded too.
Partings, ground improvements and a beer in the Boulevard
These memories of the 1974/75 season end for me with a chance meeting I had at an ‘A’ team game with my old pal from Division Road Billy Jenkinson, who had strangely been missing from the terraces of late. Never a fair-weather fan, I presumed he must have been ill, but he informed me, as we watched the young hopefuls on the pitch get muddier and muddier, that following a short courtship and an even shorter and unplanned pregnancy, he had got married. Apparently Melissa his wife was from a rather well to do family in Hessle and her mother and father had set them up in one of those £5000 bungalows they were building up on the Sutton Park Estate, north of Sutton Road. Jenksey had moved to the very place where, he told me years earlier, all the snobs lived and although I said that they would have to come and see us in Sutton, somehow I knew that he wouldn’t, because it was apparent at this point, that we had both moved on and in pretty different directions.
For the first time I could ever remember, Jenksey, the eternal optimist and FC fanatic looked sad and I could tell that he was not that enamoured with married life, Sutton Park, missing rugby or being a Daddy! I decided that the usual retort of ‘why the hell didn’t you wear one’ would have little resonance in this situation and I remember making a mental note that if ever there was a glowing endorsement for birth control Billy’s face that day was probably it! Despite his new living arrangements, for Billy, who worked for the Yorkshire Electricity Board, money was tight and with another baby on the way, his season pass had, it seemed, disappeared over the horizon, particularly as his new arrival was shortly to be confirmed as twins. Talk about a prize every time, poor old Jenksey must have been more fertile that the Nile Delta!
I only saw him a few times after that and on each occasion, trailing a procession of kids, he still looked permanently depressed. However, he always seems to become invigorated when we talked of the good old days at the Boulevard, with Sully, the Flying Dentist, Howard Firth and those Hot Dogs. It was that day, in the divorce lawyer’s parlance, a case of irretrievable breakdown and the end of a long FC friendship with someone who had been through a lot with me. Together we had lived the dream and more often than not, suffered the nightmare’s too so it was still, for me, a really sad day. Of course in such revelations, ‘only the names have been changed to protect the innocent’.
Back at the Boulevard, the Board at Hull FC needed to raise more cash, and in May 1974 they managed to obtain a license from the local Licensing Magistrates for a new bar to be built on the terracing at the Airlie Street end of the ground, just in front of the Speedway pits. Arthur Sanderson and Co the local builders were commissioned that summer to build a new club house with a glass front overlooking the pitch, from which, I suppose, the club hoped to make their fortune. Whilst for us fans the thought of getting a pint inside the ground was certainly appealing and helped to justify (if justification was ever needed) investing our money in a new season pass and our time, energy and emotion in another season at the famous old ground!
The hardest season of all?
The Seventies continued with the local and national music scene’s in what is called these days that pre punk glam rock era that still saw men dressed up like women and wearing glitter and tight jumpers, whilst Mud, The Sweet and T. Rex dominated the national pop music charts. As always, whatever was happening out there in the wider world the Boulevard continued in its consistent (if not depreciating) and timeless state. We all felt that in David Doyle-Davidson we did at least have an inspirational coach who despite limited resources was trying to bring players in and changing things around as far as training and tactics were concerned. He certainly struggled at first but I detected a willingness in the fans back then to give him a chance and they seemed to have more patience with him than they had with Ivor Watts or Clive Sullivan.
Of course, the Board’s main priority was to make sure that the club was kept afloat financially and so from time to time we had to sell what we on the terraces considered to be our best players and that didn’t help our overall morale, but with fans it never does. So, I think despite the green shoots of optimism that could be found in the hearts and minds of the fans who were left on the terraces, it has to be said that 1974/75 season was probably the all-time low for me as a supporter of the club. It was arguably, in my life time at least, the worst season we’ve ever had.
‘If you want entertainment, then go and watch some clowns’
Still as a rugby fanatic and an average sort of guy in his twenties, back then and indeed now, hard times are all part of the ongoing learning process that is life and supporting a sports club. In fact, if there is one thing that being a fan of professional sport teaches you, it’s that you never stop learning. It’s at times like those grim days in the 70’s, when you realise that the relationship between entertaining rugby and the fanatic is a strained one indeed.
You appreciate the entertaining stuff when it’s not your club you’re watching, or when you’re winning by a big score but when it is your team, in the end if you’re honest, rugby that is pleasing to the eye is a bit secondary. When considered in its rawest state, loving your club is all about winning or at least not failing and whatever happens you still go, simply because when you’re hooked there is nowhere else to go when your team is playing. There are a few lucky people who have chosen the club they support but most of us, for better or worse, have just had our club thrust upon us, or at the very least we have inherited it through our family’s loyalties.
So as your team slips down to a lower division, gets knocked out of the cup by the ‘little’ club, or when your Board sell your best or your favourite player, you just turn up, curse a bit, grumble a lot, usually lose, go home and turn up at the next game to suffer it all over again. Don’t get me wrong over the years I have lamented long and hard about the Board, the players, the coach and anyone else I can blame but deep down as a fan, entertaining play has always been the last of my considerations, in fact for me personally it’s a bonus if we are winning and an added frustration if we’re not! To this day I still go to rugby for loads of reasons but being entertained is sadly no longer one of them!
It’s just the same now as it was back in the 70’s, in fact when I look around me today during a game at the KC Stadium little in the crowd has changed. It’s all very much like it was on the Threepenny Stand in 1974. The fashions, haircuts and shirts are different but I still see all those harassed and worried faces that make me realise that I am not a special case and certainly not on my own. I have to say though, that it was probably back then in the depth of the depressing 70’s that I learned what that ‘suffering for your sport’ stuff was all about.
Winning in the end is the important thing and as Alan Durban the outspoken football manager of the 80’s once said, ‘I want to win and only win; if you want entertainment, go and watch some clowns’. However, should I have met Mr Durban I would, as a lifelong follower of Hull FC, have respectfully replied to that statement by explaining that perhaps when you’re a sports fan who cares about his team, clowns are not exclusively reserved for circuses. He should have seen some of the players, boards, coaches and indeed fellow fans, I have endured over the years.
Of course, some folks are a lot luckier than the fanatics like me because some can walk away when the going gets tough and in those dark years in the mid 70’s many did. It must be great if you are able to treat your weekly sport as some do their local pub, they love the place and the company but by and large if the beer goes off, you go somewhere else. When you love your team you simply can’t do that because there is nowhere else to go and you suffer and suffer, until eventually the ‘beer’ that is watching your club, kills you, or at the very least it kills completely your will to have any rational thoughts about it. Strong words perhaps, but over 60 years of following my club leads me to believe that they are true ones just the same.
Breaking records of the worst kind……again!
That season of 1974/75 we certainly had the worst gate we had ever seen at the Boulevard, when just 983 turned up for a game on 15th March against Huyton. I won’t bore you by telling you I was there, or that I still have the programme because by the end of the decade you could find at least 18,000 ‘loyal’ supporters who claimed they had been there on that day. Not many of us are real fanatics but when the ‘going is good’ everyone wants to prove they have always been one!
That game became part of Hull FC folklore and was widely used as a benchmark of your loyalty to the club. Despite all the ‘Johnny come lately’, ‘Only here for the Beer supporters’ that were to follow Hull FC and pack the Boulevard in the early eighties you were only really a ‘Proper’ fan if you had been to that Huyton game of which there is more a little later.
As fans, back then we were down to the last remnants of blinkered loyalty and those who attended games were either, like me, so conditioned in that it was ‘just what you did’ or completely numbed by years of disappointment and more often than not the latter was a prerequisite of the former. Our beloved Hull FC battled on with diminishing resources and often, it was rumoured, players not being paid at all. Our coach did his best in the transfer market too and had some limited success bringing the great prop forward Bill Ramsey to the club from Bradford Northern and centre or winger George Clarke from New Hunslet. We also managed to do OK in the early rounds of the Yorkshire Cup, but there was a glimmer of hope, if only a slight one, because it was becoming apparent to us all on the terraces that although the resources he had at his disposal was making it tough in league games, David Doyle-Davidson had that certain something when it came to ‘lifting’ our performances for cup matches
Tuesday 10th September 1974: Hull 12 Leeds 8
Back then there were three cup competitions as well as the League to play in, although we always seemed to get drawn against the same teams in the knock out tournaments and so there were few surprises for us as the draw was made for the second round of the Yorkshire Cup in 1974, because who should come out of the ‘hat’ against? Yep you guessed it; Leeds again as usual. We always seemed to be drawn against the ‘Good time Charlies’ from the West Riding but we always gave them a good game, so much so that the RL newspaper at the time, the ‘The Rugby Leaguer’, called us the ‘Loiners’ bogey team.
The match was played under floodlights at the Boulevard on a barmy late summer evening in front of a very respectable attendance of over 4000 people. That was certainly a good gate for that season and there can’t have been too much going on in Hull that night! One wag commented to me before kick-off that, ‘Perhaps most of this lot thought it was Speedway tonight’.
I watched the game from the Best Stand, which was a rarity for me, and quite why I wasn’t in my usual position on the Threepenny Stand escapes me now. The match day programme’s listings reflected Doyle-Davidson’s efforts to build a viable team as it included a few youngsters that were the first green shoots of what was to be a great team in the latter years of the decade. It was a game that I have to include here in this journal simply because of the amazing circumstances surrounding it and the referee that night Mr. Lawrenson. We were the team floundering in the Second Division whilst Leeds had won that same Yorkshire Cup for the past two years and were, as usual, the top club east of the Pennines and so ‘dead certs’ to win it again. Their line up back then included familiar names like Langley, Holmes, Syd Hynes, Keith Hepworth (late of Castleford and soon to be of Hull FC), Mick Harrison (ex of Hull FC) and a great flying winger called John Atkinson.
The pundits had us down for a good hiding but we shot into a surprise 7-0 lead in the first half hour, however it was just before half time when the whole thing kicked off. Hepworth tackled our captain, the usually mild-mannered Brian Hancock, and much to the delight of the fans a fist fight involving six players immediately broke out. Referee Lawrenson sent Hancock straight off the field, for what was the player’s first ever dismissal. His Hull FC team mates crowded round the official to object and Len Casey must have said a bit too much, because off he went too, as the referee again pointed to the dressing rooms.
Our blind side prop forward that day ‘Big’ Jim Macklin, who never had that much patience, had by this time, clearly had enough! The fiery front rower motioned to the players and pointed to the tunnel as most of them started to trudge defiantly towards the dressing rooms. Now this was a real surprise for the fans who had never ever contemplated seeing the players walking from the field in protest. It was simply unheard of and we were all stood in absolute amazement.
The official, who clearly had no idea what to do next, (nothing new there then) told Leeds to ignore our players and get on with the penalty, Syd Hynes tapped the ball and set off arrogantly jogging down the pitch towards the Airlie Street end, with a wide grin on his face.
Alf Macklin, Jim’s brother who was stuck out on the other wing and not part of the walk off, shouted to the lads and pointed to the Leeds player whilst mouthing ‘F*cking get Him’ a call that was taken up immediately around the terracing. Our players turned around, and in a fit of rage ran back across the field and Jim Macklin and Don Robson sunk the now fleeing Syd Hynes with one of the biggest crash tackles I have ever seen!! The referee had by now completely lost control and the game continued to the break by which time the eleven players of Hull FC, playing like men possessed, had somehow managed to tough it out, and keep the marauding Leeds forwards from scoring any points.
However, the excitement was not over yet because after the referee had blown the whistle for half time, a Hull fan, obviously enraged by the earlier dismissals, vaulted the hooped top fencing in front of the terracing at the Airlie Street end and ran towards the match official. Spotting this, referee Lawrenson, who obviously fancied himself a bit, set off toward the supporter to confront him, head on! It was all happening, and as fists were raised the crowd roared their approval as two policemen rugby tackled the fan, whilst Chris Davidson, our scrum half, held back the referee and escorted him off the pitch. That was a real reversal of roles because with Chris it was usually the other way around. This unique occurrence was something that was not lost on the crowd who were buzzing throughout the whole of the half time interval.
If the first half was pure circus, then the second half was possibly the best display of ‘backs to the wall’ rugby I have seen on any field of play anywhere in my lifetime. The crowd, who had come along to watch an anticipated drubbing, were treated to the best dogged, gutsy exhibition of Rugby League most of them had seen, and in fact would probably ever see! The “flash” Leeds team ripped into the 11 men of Hull from the kick off but the home defences somehow stayed intact and then when Davidson kicked a penalty and a drop goal to move the score line to 10-0, what we were witnessing was almost impossible to believe.
Leeds numerical superiority brought them two quick tries, as they threw the ball around and after 60 minutes they were trailing by just 2 points at 10-8. For the last 10 minutes they bombarded our line but somehow we held out! In those days of unlimited substitution our coach rang the changes so many times in the last fifteen minutes that the referee stopped the game on a couple of occasions just to count how many players we actually had on the field.
I have witnessed some great gritty and passionate performances since, notably winning at Castleford again with 11 men in the early 80’s, but no display was greater than that one!
Looking at the record books for that year Hull finished the season 6th in the Second Division whilst Leeds were the first ever winners of the Premiership title! But I bet they and their fans remembered that September night at the Boulevard for a long time afterwards, because it was simply unbelievable.
Ain’t superstitious? Lucky steps, toilet breaks, Wagon Wheels and ‘Adams lucky conker’.
After my brief excursion into the Best Stand I returned to watching games from my usual place on the Threepenny Stand. I loved it in there, because it had always been the ‘Home’ I returned to when times were hard, but I had also some great memories of some equally great victories watching with my pals in there. We had a certain position at a certain height towards which we all gravitated before the kick-off. We all agreed that it was our lucky place on the Stand and was the only position that we would stand in. Later when I went back to watching games from Bunkers Hill at the Airlie Street end of the ground, I adopted a lucky step. Why exactly it was ‘lucky’ is shrouded in the misty memories created by Hull Brewery and Mansfield Bitter, but it was lucky none the less and woe betides anyone who stood on it! I suppose I had once stood there when we won a memorable victory but despite its origins being beyond my recollections, standing there was a ritual that started when I left the Threepennies for ever in the mid-eighties and it continued until we all left the Boulevard in October 2002.
Over the 50 years I have supported my club there have of course been dozens of other similar bits of nonsense all designed to guarantee that we won, and that have come and then been discarded, usually when we have lost. There have been lucky socks, lucky hats, lucky scarves and even lucky underpants, and to this day I never wash my Hull shirt after a victory, my wife says that I’ll smell but that’s hardly likely with my teams record of wins on the trot is it?
Years ago, probably in the late 60’s, I tried eating a ‘Wagon Wheel’ biscuit after our first try and even had some success after I realised that we had scored a winning try in the last minutes of the game whilst I was in the toilet. After that every time we were behind I was dispatched by my pals to the ‘Little Boys Room’ where I awaited the roar of the crowd that heralded a try.
Amazingly this seemed to work for a while but I was glad when it stopped inducing tries, because whilst it was working, I was ‘sent to’ the toilet several times a game and subsequently missed some great scores. It seems that you’re not really a sports fan if you don’t have a few rituals and superstitions. Listening to games on local radio is far worse though and sometimes I switch off altogether when we are just winning in the vain hope that when I switch back on again nothing will have changed. In more recent times I even stopped recording our televised games because we always seemed to do better when I had forgotten to ‘tape’ a match. It must have now become obviously apparent that I am just an incurable obsessive when it comes to Hull FC.
If I am honest about these superstitions nothing has ever been any good but it is at least heartening to know others suffer the same way that I do. Take my pal Adam who sits near me at the KC stadium. He found that a lucky conker was the talisman that made us win and sure enough it seemed to work. Every time he took the conker to games, we won, until that is, a fateful night at Wigan when in just 80 minutes it seemed to lose its magical power.
Two weeks later at the KC we were pressing the Bradford line with two minutes to go and I manically shrieked, ‘Have you got the lucky Conker’, to which he replied ‘No I slung it on the pitch after the game at Wigan’. We lost that Bradford game and so we’ll never know whether the Wigan experience was just a hiccup and whether that mystical fruit of the Aesculus Hippocastanum could have won us that game against the Bulls.
Its just superstition isn’t it? Or is it, who knows, but there is a nagging doubt lodged at the back of my brain that perhaps that conker, was after all the much sought after ‘Holy Grail’ of the world of sporting talisman but now we’ll never know. However, if there’s a Horse Chestnut tree growing out of the pitch at the away end at the DW Stadium next time you visit, then you’ll now know who is responsible.
I would say as a footnote on rituals and ‘Lucky Charms’ that we might as well keep looking to find the one that works because what else can we do? As sports fans we spend our lives, month after month and decade after decade investing our time, money, energy and passion into something that we have absolutely no control over whatsoever. We have no chance of changing things, picking the team, signing the players or even deciding on the flavour of the pies and what will be, will be. However, we should never stop searching to find that one thing that might just give us that advantage and control over the outcome of a game, let’s face facts here, it’s only what primitive communities have from the year dot done to try and protect themselves from dark times.
The possibility that one person carrying out a specific act can change the course of a game of rugby is rather farfetched to say the least and goes against everything we would claim to be common sense, still it is not going to stop me leaving my shirt dirty till we lose! I once asked the club chaplain if he prayed for a victory during games and if he did, how did God decide between his prayers and those of the opposing club Chaplain. He said that if he prayed it was for ‘An honest and satisfactory outcome’. ‘Great’ I thought, ‘Stock answer! He must have been asked that one before, what he needs is a conker!’
Seven hours there and seven hours back; Barrow on a Friday night.
Friday 29th November 1974: Hull 7 Barrow 21
When writing a journal such as this it is rewarding to be able at times to feature happenings that show how much different sport and life were back in the mid-seventies. One game of rugby that illustrates just that was played on Friday 29th November 1974 under the floodlights at Craven Park, Barrow.
I didn’t go to this particular game, Barrow on a Friday back then was a fourteen hour round trip!!!! However, the game did have some strange circumstances surrounding it! Friday night matches didn’t happen back then, well not that often anyway, but Barrow had a major employer in the Vickers Ship Yard, with whom half the population was employed. The rugby club insisted that because of the strange shift system that major local employer operated, the game would have to be played on a Friday. I would not have minded but in the end, only 1400 of the North West’s ‘Sons of Stevadores’ turned up anyway.
This was a major problem for Hull FC though, because many of our playing staff were in full time employment and would find it hard to get off work for a full day to take the long and winding bus trip to such a Lancastrian outpost stuck there up on the edge of Cumbria. You see back then the pay for playing for the club was way below what the players could expect for a day’s work in their regular jobs and as match fees were performance related, that was particularly the case if you lost! No one could risk being sacked for not turning up for work either and although some employees were sympathetic to the demands of the game, others certainly were not.
The Rugby League Board of Management ruled that the game had to go ahead as they said that it was Barrows decision as ‘they were the home team’ and so seven of our first team players had to withdraw because they could not get released or afford to miss a full day at work. The squad we took all that way was certainly a strange one. Tony Banham, only half fit and just signed from Keighley was at prop, whilst the club signed young Ray Butler from the amateur game to make up the numbers in the second row. Incidentally in the second row that night too was Barry Kear, a big name signing, who promised much, but who in the end had a poor game, (but then those who saw him play will remember, he usually did).
Apparently, Kenny Foulkes and Brian Hancock tried really hard at half back that night and Barrow’s winning margin of 14 points flattered them but in the end our inexperience and a long bus trip the same day meant that we were never going to win and we came home empty-handed losing 21-7. Hull gave half back Steve Lane his debut that night and according to the papers next day, Boxall had a good game too. But with players like Alf Macklin, Len Casey and Howard Firth missing it was always going to be a struggle! Good old Chris Davidson was missing as well but he was in the middle of a six-match suspension for scrapping, (nothing new there then) but that as they say is another story!
The lunatics have taken over the asylum: The Council put me in charge of the Boulevard!
It was around that time that gardening on the City Council changed forever as the authority introduced an incentive bonus scheme to improve the staff wages, cut the work force and make the cultured art of gardening into a mechanical process. For us horticulturalists it was a real change as we were followed everywhere by a man in a raincoat and trilby who would be incessantly scribbling on a clip board and timing everything we did.
This procedure was aimed at having a standard time for every job there was, be it pruning a rose, tying up a tree or cutting a piece of grass. Once this time had been ascertained, the ‘Time and motion’ men then told us how many roses we had to prune and pieces of grass we had to cut in an hour, day and week.
Anyone who has done any gardening at all knows that it just isn’t like that, every rose is different every piece of grass has varying amounts of rubbish and old arm chairs on them and every tree a different amount of pruning needed. However, the rewards were very good and if you did your fixed rate of jobs a week then you could earn up to half the total of your weekly wage again. I suppose I was quick to prostitute my beliefs because I really liked the money which increased considerably the frequency of my Saturday visits to my favorite record shop Sydney Scarborough’s under the City Hall, but I didn’t like the ideology at all. Still I got on with it which is more than could be said for many of the older gardeners like Hubert at Pearson Park and Lenny at Sutton Golf Course, for whom the change in methods was all too much, and so sadly after years of loyal service many of these old hands retired or left the authority.
In addition to this instead of having work place based gangs of staff in parks, playing fields and cemeteries the whole City was split up into nine districts and I was recruited to train for one of the new district managers positions; they must have been hard up! This management trainee position meant me being based at the new organizations offices in Pearson Park wearing a suit and riding around in a van all day. I was sent to check that the boys on bonus were actually doing what they were supposed to be and not just booking jobs they hadn’t done to make sure they got their full bonus. The first change this brought about was the fact that the lack of any sort of manual work saw me put a stone on in weight in just two months.
In those early days of being a manager I was never really suited to being ‘A Boss’ and took every opportunity I could to socialize with my old pals from the gardening staff. However they looked on me differently now and I suppose it was then that I realized that there was no going back, with all the change that these people had experienced they just didn’t trust anyone from the ‘Management’ anymore and it was ‘us and them’; those great days of hoeing rose beds, whistling at the girls and talking rugby had gone forever.
In early 1975 I received my first ever salaried wage and was promoted to Area Manager for North Hull. By summer had arrived I was promoted again to the same position in the central area of the city which included Queens Gardens and the City centre. Things were going reasonably well, the staff who I was now looking after were mellowing to me and my new position and the money I was receiving for the job I was doing was good, however things were about to get even better.
One morning I was called into the offices in Pearson Park to be told by the Managing Director that we had taken on a new contract on behalf of a private company in my area. ‘So what’ I thought, we were doing this sort of thing all the time. However, I was then told that this contract was to reinstate and develop the pitch at the home of Hull FC ‘The Boulevard’. ‘Perhaps you should go down there and familiarize yourself with the place’ said the Boss, ‘I don’t think that will be necessary’, I thought out loud, ‘But I’ll definitely go down there and have a look’
As I drove away for the offices I remember that I felt that it had to be an amazing co-incidence that I would not only be attending my spiritual home every other weekend through the next winter, but I would also be responsible for the upkeep of that most sacred of playing surfaces too. When I told Mum and Dad they were so happy about my new responsibilities back there in what was I suppose still the families spiritual home, just off Anlaby Road.
It was around that time too that I went to the City Hall in Hull again, this time I went with Ted my pal from the Parks Management team to see ‘Procol Harem’ in concert. The band, of whom I had always been a fan, had by that time moved on a long way from their initial hit ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ and were now touring and featuring songs like, ‘The Devil came from Kansas’, ‘Bringing home the Bacon’ and ‘A Salty Dog’. It was a fantastic night when everyone sat in their seats and listened, which made a big change from more traditional pop concerts that I had attended when the fans went clambering over the chairs to get to the stage.
Rock bottom (with at least 20,000 fans at the game)
Saturday 16th March 1975: Hull 17 Huyton 15
So, we now arrive at that very unglamorous game that is so significant in the history of the club, it would be totally wrong if I were not to include it here. Any older supporter will know what is coming next because it’s the Hull FC game everyone knows about and remembers, for all the wrong reasons. It was played on Sunday 16th March 1975 and what was so significant was the fact that we played in front of just 983 fans in a league game against lowly Huyton. This was officially our lowest ever gate at the Boulevard and although there didn’t seem many there at the time, few if any of the fans that did turn up knew that they were about to make history. Before the 70’s our previous lowest attendance was 1700 for a game against Doncaster in 1966. There were low gates in the early seventies as I have already indicated, however this was the day when we were to plumb the very depths of rock bottom, attendance wise.
Looking back, it was probably only the Speedway Franchise and perhaps those hot dogs that was keeping us going. We had already played Huyton over in Liverpool in November and lost 32-10 in a poor game that had the national Daily Mail’s journalists talking of ‘The beginning of the End’ for our club, however this game was to be an equally dire affair but for everyone at the club it was not so much about playing well as about averting a second humiliating defeat. We found out after the match that over on Merseyside the media were claiming that this was Huyton’s chance to get a very, very rare away win and their predictions almost proved to be right.
Anyone who was there (I’ve been through that already) will first of all remember the shocking condition of the pitch. Despite the best efforts of the Parks Department and yours truly, the shale from the speedway track was now well bedding in everywhere, so much so that it had started to silt up the land drains under the playing area. The whole pitch was a morass of mud, described pretty descriptively by the Hull Daily Mail the following evening as a ‘gluepot of a Pitch’
The roar of the grease paint the smell of the crowd.
The Threepennies were so sparsely populated that day that when the team ran out onto the pitch several people were using the steps as seats just as they did for A team games. I watched from there because it was one of those games when you felt you needed to be amongst friends rather than isolated on the vast expanses of the deserted end terraces. It was our lucky spot and the place to be particularly when the chips were down and everything was against your team, you could suspend reality for a while as you clutched your Bovril and drank in the unmistakable odour of cheap cigarette smoke, and that ‘uriney’, sweaty smell that said you were home.
Although the drama was usually reserved for the playing area, there were always plenty of characters about on the stand and at that time it often seemed that only they remained. A pair that were well known around we stood went by the nick-names of Cuckoo and Graffiti. Why they had these titles no one really knew, but Cuckoo stuttered really badly and although able to sing ‘Old Faithful’ flawlessly, he was the constant butt of amateur impressionists across the stand, whilst Graffiti had an amazing ability to misuse words. He would say things like ‘I went out for a lovely meal and afterwards I gave my condolences to the Chef’, and ‘On Sunday last week I took the neighbours ‘Al Stat chon’ dog for a walk down to Mini Vera Pier’. However, his best ever effort came one wet half time when we noted that he had been missing for a few games. He said this was because his wife had been in hospital for a serious operation which he described as her having had an ‘Hysterical Rectum’ No doubt on that bleak afternoon these two kept us amused whilst we waited for the serious business on the field to start.
It was all so predictable and ‘safe’ in that stand back then, there was the ritual welcome for the team, the cheap jibes and resulting laughter for the opposition, the shapeless roar when we looked to be making a break, the bemoaning of the referee, the chanting when we scored, the round of applause as the scorer walked back up the pitch and of course the choruses of ‘Old Faithful’ just when the lads were flagging. It was always fun to spot a female newcomer in the form of someone’s wife or girlfriend who had obviously never been on the famous stand before, because the look on their faces when the regulars started their choruses of ‘Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, what a referee’, with the string of expletives at the end, was simply priceless. Distress flares ‘sneaked’ off local trawlers were at times thrown onto the field stopping play, anyone in the ranks of the opposition with fashionably long hair would be instantly christened Marilyn or Freda, Rovers scarves were burned in the wooden rafters above our heads and linesmen religiously and mercilessly abused, it was all just a ritual really, but nevertheless it was ‘Home Sweet Home’ for the ailing FC fans.
If you’re a ‘real’ fan, a wins a win, whoever you’re playing!!
That particular day, once we had eventually kicked off there was little surprise around me when we went behind to a ‘shock’ Huyton try after just 6 minutes with the score going to their star back Don Preston, who they were soon to sell to Warrington.
We needed a response and it came from a dependable source when some good work in the mud by Bill Ramsey put Tony Salmon through into the clear and he just managed to crash over the try line for Keith Boxall to add the goal. Back came Huyton and an offence against Salmon for ‘laying on’ too long in the tackle saw the visitors goal kicker Watts make no mistake and it was 5-5.
It was then a case of lots of dropped ball and crunching tackles from both sides until, the local hero of the day, ‘The Rhino’ Keith Boxall received an inside pass from our ‘recalled’ scrum half Steve Lane and in typical fashion he shrugged off two tackles and set off on one of those ‘barreling’ runs that made him such big favorite on the terraces. He was caught but managed to just plunge over the line, in the midst of a pile of Huyton players. So, we were at least ahead at half time as the teams trooped off steaming and appearing, as was usual back then, to be playing in a strip that was brown shirts, brown shorts and brown socks. As my pal Steve commented rather crudely after the game, it would probably have been more appropriate had the fans been supplied with brown trousers that day!
After the mandatory changing of shirts at the interval, Huyton stormed straight back with a try from Prescott and a penalty goal from Watts. With the scores tied we all thought that Huyton were to get that much desired away win as they mounted wave after wave of attacks in our half of the field. Then, as the rain lashed down, we watched as Mally Walker, who had come on as substitute, stepped out of a tackle and gave a good ‘switch’ inside pass to Salmon who ran over three would be tacklers, American Football style, to end up over the line and with Boxall converting we were again in the lead. As you looked out at the pitch that day, it was a sad and depressing site. There were pools of water starting to form, whilst the half-illuminated floodlights picking out two teams of steaming players, plodding about in muddy, faded shirts, on a bog of a pitch in front of a pitiful crowd!
Some really sloppy play in the visitor’s half saw Hull knocking on 5 times in about ten minutes and this put us under pressure again. Then we conceded another try, this time Trevor Lloyd went through three would be Hull tacklers and scored with some ease for Watts to kick the goal. The game was now all level at 15-15 and on ‘a knife edge’ with not much time left to go to the final whistle.
We did at least mount some pressure on the visitor’s line in those last few minutes and a head high tackle on Brian Hancock, that was a bit lucky as it was caused by a Huyton player trying to get his balance in the slippery surface, meant that Boxall got a late, late penalty to put us back in the lead. In those final minutes the visitors came back to pepper our line with forward runs, but by then it was almost impossible to tell who was who, so dark and dreary was the weather, the floodlights and the shirts and after what seemed like an age the whistle went and we had won…..just!!!!
An almost ironic cheer went up from the supporters in the stands, whilst the steaming player’s mud splattered faces grinned at us as they punched the air in triumph before tramping off for a few beers and one of Ivy’s teas. It was a hollow victory in the bigger scheme of things and did little to cheer up this fan, although as many people said as they trudged out of the ground, the rain pouring down their necks, ‘A win is a win’.
When you’re struggling in the League, if there is anything better than a cup run to get the fans minds off what’s really happening, then I’ve yet to find it!
Sunday 23rd November 1975: Hull 9 St Helens 8.
As a 25-year-old trainee manager surrounded at work by ‘bandwaggoning’ Hull City supporters clambering aboard the ‘Promotion’ train, it was tough being an FC fan in 1975. Still as a club we continued to soldier on in ever dilapidated surroundings and beset by despair, shrinking gates and a lack of finances.
However, we needed to get some cash together and in sport there is nothing like a good cup run to do just that, perhaps here it is worth trying to describe just what a successful run towards a trophy final is all about for the success starved fans. The Players No 6 Trophy later to become the Regal Trophy was in its infancy as this was only the fifth year that it had been contested. The prize money saw but the winners get £6000 and the losers £3000.
It was during that cup run that as fans we finally realised what a great coach David Doyle-Davidson was. He had come to power at a time when we were at rock bottom and despite being given little financial encouragement by the clubs Directors, he had slowly but surely cobbled together a handy looking team, full of guts, passion and spirit and probably in the end, although it wasn’t pretty to watch and there were certainly still a few ‘clowns’ on show, his style of ‘full on’ rugby was pretty effective in the sudden death arena of a knockout competition.
In the first round of the tournament we had scraped an unconvincing win at Doncaster, then following a 9-9 draw at the Boulevard we went on to beat a highly fancied Leeds outfit in the replay at Headingley. That was a great game which we had not been expected to win but from which we came out victorious by 23-11. Then the draw for the quarter finals was made on regional TV and as I watched with Mum and Dad at home in Sutton we came out of the hat to face Saints at the Boulevard that November. That day I was joined by another 4500 of the Faithful and what was estimated to be well over four million on BBC TV, to experience a truly great Hull FC performance. The fact that at the time 4500 was a good gate shows how our expectations had declined. But then again it was a step up from that attendance against Huyton and it was on TV, so I guess a few watched at home and therefore at that time, this was as good as it would get.
We were certainly getting our share of exposure on the TV that year as only the previous Tuesday on BBC2 we had gone down by 36-13, to the Saints, this time in a televised Floodlit Trophy game, so this time around few neutrals watching at home, gave us a chance. Our Prop Forward that night Alan Wardell once told me that Doyle-Davidson hammered on at the players before the Regal Trophy return game, saying ‘after last Tuesday night everyone expects us to get a drubbing, so let’s show those folks watching at home what we are really about here in Hull‘. It was even more of a surprise in the end when it leaked out afterwards that the Board had also refused to pay a cup bonus to the players and they were instead playing just for the usual league winning pay. Our coach had somehow managed to watch the Floodlit game again, which was a rarity in the days before video and coaches reviewing tapes and it was revealed later that ‘The Doyle’ and his coaching team had studied Saints tactics that night and totally changed the FC game plan; in just three nights of training.
From the first play of the game we had the Saints tactically beaten. Every time they tried to move the ball wide our cover came up into the line and broke their play up. After about three set plays in which Saints dropped the ball a couple of times, they tried to change their tactics but visibly failed as Hull just drove on at them. Then, on 10 minutes, Keith Boxall broke through a three-man tackle and set Alf Macklin haring for the corner. Alf was caught 5 yards short, but pushing two much bigger tacklers off, he dived in under them and over the line. This battling action, by probably the smallest player on the field, was to a set the scene for the rest of our performance.
Despite that hard game just four days previously our tackling was of the highest order but so too was that of the Saints and so the game settled into a ‘slog’ of big hits and crunching tackles. Then after 12 minutes when he looked to be covered by Pimblett, Kenny Foulkes dummied his way through the Saints cover straight from a scrum and as he stepped over the 25 he found Hunter with a little inside pass. He ran for the line with three defenders chasing him and arcing towards the corner flag he just got the ball down before being hammered to the ground by Saints winger Roy Mathias. Although Kendle missed both conversions it was a dream start and a lead we were not to relinquish.
The Saints pack that day was five stone heavier than ours but our six, brilliantly led by the great Bill Ramsey dominated the exchanges, with Cunningham, Chisnell, Nichols and Mantle rarely breaking our defensive line and recent recruit from Rovers, Peter (Flash) Flanagan ‘shovelled’ the ball out for us, beating international hooker Liptrop 19-12 in the scrums.
The game settled down somewhat after that lightening start but just as Saints started to get a foothold in our territory, Hancock picked up a loose ball, spilled after a massive Ramsey hit, and set off towards the Saints half. He was tackled some thirty yards out but two more forward drives, one a blockbuster from Boxall, saw Chris Davidson open on the left, and he dropped a perfect goal to stretch our lead further.
We went in at half time leading 7-0 but as the TV coverage went live, any thoughts of an easy victory were quashed when Saints came back with a quick Mathias score in the corner, which Pimblett converted and then we were under sustained pressure as the Lancastrian First Division team sniffed a win. Then on a rare sortie up field Mally Walker broke a tackle and panic reined in the Saints ranks, until that was, centre Les Jones strode into the collision and punched our second rower in the face. After missing three pots at goal Kendle at last placed the resultant penalty between the uprights and despite an unconverted try by Wilson in the corner in the last minute we held on and recorded a memorable 9-8 victory.
It was a thrilling cup tie that I best remember for some titanic defending and last-ditch tackling. After years of struggling us fans loved it and ran onto the field at the end as usual to congratulate our heroes. The fact remains for me and other ‘old timers’ to ponder that although much maligned in some quarters David Doyle-Davidson was certainly a good coach particularly in Cup matches, and in hindsight I guess, did a lot of the spade work and recruitment that Arthur Bunting was to capitalise on in those fantastic golden years of the late 70’s and early 80’s.
I then travelled across the Pennines with the supporter’s club motor coach again this time to watch a superb game at the Willows, when we took on the star spangled Salford side in the semi-final. Salford were just starting to crank up the off-field stuff back then and had a wonderful club where you could get a top class meal and watch international artistes after the game. There was a lot of razz-a-ma-tazz about the old place back then! I know it’s hard to believe it these days, but back then The Willows was quite a smart stadium. Their team was top of the league and full of household names being lead by that Welsh wizard and RL legend, David Watkins. To everyone in the game’s disbelief, we won that semi-final by 22-14. I remember that Boxall, Tindall and Bill Ramsey ripped the Salford pack apart that night, and sticking rigidly to the Doyle’s latest ‘master plan’, we ran out easy winners and were into the final!
‘Misfits and under achievers’? But heroes just the same!
Saturday 24th January 1976: Hull 13 Widnes 19
As you can imagine the build-up to our first final in seven years saw cup tie fever return to West Hull. You know even now when I look back at the team photograph taken on the pitch at Headingley on the day of the game I have to wonder how a Second Division team of such varying size and stature could ever expect to get to the last two in the competition never mind think they could win it. David Doyle-Davidson had put together a team of players of various sizes, shapes and abilities and we looked, if I am honest, like a raggle-taggle band of unlikely heroes.
One supporter once described them to me as a band of misfits and under achievers and although I would not go that far, I think I appreciated his point. However, once on the pitch the tenacity and passion for the black and white shirt they wore was there for all to see. Why in fact should it not have looked that way because that year we were in the end the Second Division underdogs who were destined to not even finish in the top four promotion places in our league, and on that day we were facing the First Division ‘Cup Kings’.
Still the club certainly took advantage of the public relations opportunities the game provided and milked the situation for all it was worth. There were pull outs in the local paper and banners in the front room windows of the fans that lived around the ground. More bizarrely still the team even made a mid-week personal appearance and photo call at ‘Boyes’ the department store on Hessle Road that features so heavily in my recollections of early life ‘on the Boulevard’. The squad were also taken back in time by the coach, when he used Madeley Street Swimming Baths for two indoor fitness sessions before the final and there is little doubt his inspirational speeches and rhetoric in the dressing room was of great significance as far as Hull’s performance on the day was concerned. Whatever else our current coach was, he was an excellent motivator of men.
For my final build up to the big game I met with a few pals and some of my work colleagues on the Friday night, for a good session of ‘Hull Brewery’s Best’ at the County Hotel in Charles Street in the City Centre. To the accompaniment of rousing cheers we watched as the 10-30 regional news on the pub TV featured our squad and coach, who interviewer Keith Macklin described as the ‘undoubted underdogs’. There were a few words from ‘The Doyle’ and Keith Boxall and then as the short news item finished a rousing chorus of ‘Old Faithful’ rang round the bar and saw the old pub shaken to its foundations. The scene was set for a big day out in the morning.
Obviously of course, Widnes were the definite favourites having already won two trophies in the previous ten months, whilst we had been in the doldrums and not won any sort of title for six years. So it was that on Saturday 24th January I made my way to Paragon Station to catch the 10.10am train to Leeds City, which was, when I managed to board it, restricted to ‘standing room only’.
Once in Leeds it seemed many of my fellow ‘Black and White’ travellers had the same idea as everyone went straight around the corner to the Scarborough Hotel for what was becoming our ritual pre match drinks. When I finally got to Headingley the snow was blowing in the wind and it was a bleak and cold afternoon which saw the bars packed so tight it was futile to even try and get inside for a drink and a warm. As we entered the ground the Players No 6 Promotions girls shivering in their high boots and mini-skirts as they distributed plastic bowler hats in black and white. Literally hundreds of these could be seen in both factions of the crowd, as of course both club’s traditional strips are the same colour. In fairness the tournament had not really captured the public’s imagination and although the final was televised and well publicised, the bad weather meant that only 9035, our lowest gate ever in a senior final, were in attendance, in reality of course at least 7000 of those were from Hull.
The FC fans already assembled in the South Stand amused themselves by singing along to the public address system as it blasted out ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the number one record at the time. When the record finished the massed ranks of the ‘FC Army’ re-sang the middle section through to the end unaccompanied, to the great amusement of the Widnes supporters gathered under the score board, who gave a warm round of applause to the Hull fans when they finished. We took over the South Stand and ‘Old Faithful’ rang round the ground as the teams ran out.
As the snow flurries continued the pre match predictions of an easy Widnes win seemed to be spot on as the favourites swept into a 7-0 lead in just 8 minutes. Firstly, Walker was penalised when he got in between his own player and the Widnes defence and Ray Dutton landed a penalty goal from 30 yards. As the opposition swept back down field, Mick Adams strolled in to score a try from a Jim Mills pass. At this point the gulf in class between the two teams was really apparent. In that move I remember ‘Big Jim’ swotted off three Hull tacklers on his way towards the line, whilst Dutton added the conversion and then after twelve minutes in which we had hardly touched the ball, Bowden dropped a goal to extend the lead to 8 points.
Things looked pretty grim for the FC but we fans did not let up the continuous chanting and singing as slowly but surely the team got a bit more of the ball to play with. It was sort of desperation rugby really but our willingness to keep the ball alive in such windy and cold conditions saw Widnes a little taken aback. The two players that stood out for Hull in that first half were without doubt veteran prop Bill Ramsey and the ubiquitous Mick Crane who always saved his best performances for the big games. It was these two who combined brilliantly to put our first points on the board as Ramsey made the break and slipped out a smart inside ball to Craney who romped in to score our fist try, juggling with the ball as he crossed between the posts. Boxall kicked the goal and we were just 3 points behind. As we stamped our feet and sang our hearts out Hull were level before half time!
This time a period of pressure for the FC saw a scrum formed 30 yards from the Widnes line. Veteran hooker ‘Flash’ Flanagan shovelled the ball out against the head and the Hull three- quarters used ‘fast hands’ to move the ball and run it into the oppositions twenty-five-yard area, before Jimmy Portz was stopped by a crunching tackle from Dutton. A quick play the ball sent the play down the ‘blind side’ and winger Paul Hunter just squeezed in at the corner for us to go in at half time drawing 8-8.
The second half began as the first had, with a confident Widnes attack keeping the ball and pressurising our line, we were struggling to keep them out and eventually their mercurial Welsh winger David Jenkins shot in at the corner for two brilliantly executed tries and although Dutton failed with both conversions we were trailing again by six points. Widnes then settled into a period of ‘Fancy Dan’ type rugby no doubt in an attempt to emphasise their title of ‘Cup Kings’ and at 14-8 they would now surely run away with the game. Well they might have if it were not for that man Mick Crane. As Widnes rumbled out of their twenty five a try looked certain as Hughes opened the game up and flashed out a long looping pass towards their centre George, who was well clear of his marker, but from nowhere, all of a sudden, Mick was in between the two players intercepting the pass and galloping down the field to touch-down.
The Boxall conversion meant that with just a quarter of the game left we were just one point behind. This rattled the Widnes side and the next fifteen minutes were played at a frenetic pace and a bit more guile and enterprise would I believe have seen us win the trophy. Finally, the loss of hooker ‘Flash’ Flanagan injured with fifteen minutes to go, saw Hull starved of possession at the scrums and unable to turn up the heat on the Widnes defence as much we would have liked.
However, victory to the gallant under dogs was not to be and as if to epitomise the class player that he was, from nowhere Reg Bowden shot out of the line and nipped in, as all great number 7’s do, to score the decisive winner. As the final whistle sounded the ‘tannoy’ PA system announced that Bowden had been made ‘Man of the Match’ and so impressed were the sponsors with what was in hindsight a fabulous display, they had doubled his prize money to £100. We didn’t care of course and as Widnes received the Trophy you would have thought that we had won, so loud and proud was the singing and chanting for Hull FC.
In fact, it was only after the teams had disappeared into the dressing rooms and we were making our way round to the Best Stand bar that abject sadness and disappointment started to kick in. We had as a humble second division team, been so close to a magnificent win and yet we were leaving in the position that everyone expected us to be in as losers. It was a great performance by a team of real ‘heroes’ and to finish the day off the snow fell thick and fast as I travelled on the train back to Hull. However, for me more than anything, it’s the memory of that feeling of pride mixed with despair that makes it a game I’ll remember forever!
So, there we are, as the pandemic and its consequences rumble on with little or no real end in sight, that’s it from me for another week. Thanks for all the comments from those of you reading this every week and particularly to all those who enjoyed the bits about being an apprentice and the work stuff which many of you could relate to. All this rubbish will be back again next week as my story approaches a monumental season in the history of Hull FC but in the meantime stay safe and keep smiling!!!