Well another 7 days go by and it seems this difficult and at times baffling situation just goes on and on.
I know we are lifting the restrictions but it’s hard to see when we will ever see rugby league back to normal again. I have watched a bit of the NRL and have to say that I like the new 6 tackles rule for infringements at the play the ball, but overall their administrators and indeed their government seem to be so much more organised than we are. However even they are doubtful about getting fans back into the grounds again, although with their saturation TV coverage and the money that the Clubs get from that, attracting crowds back to the game seems to be a long way down even their agenda at present.
It was sad this week to hear of the death of a real stalwart of the RL fans message Board and a reader of the Dentists Diary, Chris Jones, AKA Chris28. He was a guy that I was in contact with quite a bit over the years, a great person and a real good ‘died in the wool’ FC fan. He had been ill for some time, but it was still a shock when I heard the news and my thoughts go out to his family and friends at such a difficult time. As another true fan passes on R.I.P. Chris28.
On another tack I bumped into Steve McNamara the other day in Beverley where he was out for a bike ride. He stopped for a chat and told me how tough things were during lock down in France and how he had to drive across the country to get home to England and have special papers, tests etc to get back. It was so good to talk rugby again, although he, like all of us, was unclear as to what would happen and when it will come to pass. As I have said in here many times I really do fear for the game, still, it was great to chat to Steve and I wished him well for the future.
So back to the serialisation of my story of Hull FC, as it enters one of the most exciting times we have seen in the last 60 years. As I said before, these are not the final drafts which are with the publishers, but are some pre-proof copies of my own, so I apologise if they are a few mistakes here and there, but I hope that you finds something to enjoy.
Arthur Bunting makes his mark.
That closed season, before we even got started playing in the Second Division, the papers were rife with rumor, conjecture and occasionally facts about future signings for the club. Chairman Charlie Watson certainly led from the front and Roy Waudby was without doubt instrumental in sourcing the finance necessary to get us a reputation as the big spenders of the Rugby League, whilst they and the rest of the board which included Warren Weintraube, Peter Darley, Keith Moses, Mike Page and Dick Gemmell worked hard behind the scenes to build a winning team. The club got the cheque book out again and brought in Sammy Lloyd and Clive Pickerill from Castleford, Charlie Stone from Featherstone and Paul Prendeville from Welsh Rugby Union. It was also ‘Super’ Alf Macklin’s Testimonial Year and so we were certainly all looked forward to the Division Two opener against Bramley away, before which we dispatched Rovers in the pre-season Friendly game and beat both Featherstone and Bramley away in the Yorkshire Cup.
Confidence on the terraces was sky high and even the most skeptical of fans could see nothing but a return to the top flight at the first attempt. Our intention was it seemed to build a pack worthy of the top flight while we were in the Second Division and then to use it to get back up there.
On Supporting your Team away from Home.
In that amazing season I saw every game home and away and as it meant that I was part of an historical event in the annals of Rugby League worldwide, I am so pleased that I did. I learnt some lessons too because every other week we travelled the North of England like a massive mobilized army and it was then that I started to notice the subtle differences that there is between the fans attitude to their team at home, as opposed to when they are playing away.
For example, to this day when you’re behind at home after half an hour, everyone’s moaning and when you’re in front they are all panicking because you probably won’t be that way for long. However, I find that travelling fans seem to be always right behind the team. Generally speaking, it’s all one big happy family when you’re away and everything about it promotes a sense of ‘us’ all being in it together; the strip, our colours, ‘Old Faithful’ the banter during the warm up, those great celebrations at the end when you have won and the usually warm applause when you haven’t. That season really did confirm for me that standing in the ‘Away’ end in alien surroundings, supporting the team you love, is a great place to be.
We of course, as supporters, could not have guessed what was to follow when the season started with another pint or two at the Barley Mow pub in West Leeds and a tight 17-9 win over Bramley. That victory was followed the following week by a comprehensive 61-10 defeat of Oldham at the Boulevard. In that game Sammy Lloyd actually equalled the clubs all time record for goals in a game which had stood since 1921 when Jim Kennedy set it against Rochdale. Lloyd went on to attain the club record for goals kicked that year, with a massive total of 170, which is now unlikely ever to be equalled. He passed that milestone on a wet afternoon at Blackpool, but more of that later.
Waiter Service on the Pitch.
Sunday 17th September 1978: Hull 28 Doncaster 7
One highlight I particularly remember that year was a trip we all made to Doncaster early in the season. The FC ‘Faithful’ were there in force and we took over one side of the ground and sang the ‘FC Aces’ song, to the tune of Blaydon Races, as the teams ran out. The struggling home club had not seen their Tattersfield ground so full for years, nor were they prepared for the 4000 fans that travelled from Hull that day, as the security, I remember consisted of just two policemen! A couple of things were memorable about that game, firstly we got to cross swords with Tony Banham who had of course been a Hull player of some ‘repute’, both on and off the field, but who had also been a victim of the clear out that had to take place to make way for all the new signings we had recently brought into the club. He managed a couple of trademark blockbusting runs down the middle before going off injured!
The second was the fact that we won the game by 28-7, a score that did more to reflect Doncaster’s valiant defensive efforts, as it did our attacking prowess. We played the majority of the game in the home team’s quarter and they rarely got out of their own half. The bar however was right across the other side of the ground in the club house and I will always remember the sight of one FC supporter obviously fed up of walking all the way round the dilapidated terraces in his rather inebriated condition, taking advantage of our incessant pressure on the Doncaster line and walking across our twenty five line with a tray of drinks as the game continued up the other end. Dressed in flared trousers and suede safari Jacket he captured entirely the ‘Bodie and Doyle’ look from the popular TV series ‘The Professionals’ whilst his waiters act was accompanied by loud cheers for the Hull fans, who watched on in amazement as he continued on his way back to the Stand. It’s a priceless memory, in a year when there were so many.
A New Watering Hole and a new Home from Home.
Sunday 6th August 1978: Hull 28 Hull Kingston Rovers 24
But, let’s go back a bit to us being just three games into the 1978/79 season and going down to the Boulevard to watch a game against Batley. It was 1st October, and we won 42-9, but for this fan the game and the result paled into insignificance when the importance of what happened before the game is considered. Ian, a good pal of mine who hailed from the West Riding, who had married a Hull lass and been converted to the cause of Hull FC (as much I would now suspect, for the social aspects that was such an important part of the proceedings that year, as for the quality of our rugby) and I were riding down Hessle Road on the No.73 bus intent on our usual four or five ‘pre-drinks’ in Raynors the pub at the corner of Hessle Road and West Dock Avenue. This was a short-lived tradition which started with the need for a pint or two before the campaigns opening game, the old Eva Hardacker Memorial Trophy match against the ‘Old Enemy’ which we had won that year 28-24!
Ian was, I remember, extolling the virtues of his other great love Leeds United and commenting on the poor state of the Elland Road pitch (and the Boulevard), when we noticed that we had missed our stop and before we realized, we were a couple of stops and six hundred yards further down Hessle Road, and well past the our intended destination. We alighted from the bus and were contemplating the walk back to Raynors when Ian spotted a pub at the other side of the road and we decided that with just two hours of drinking time on a Sunday lunchtime, there was little point of wasting any more of it walking about and so we had our first encounter of the hostelry that was to be both my spiritual, and actual home for the next year.
The Half Way was a traditional West Hull pub, frequented by the remnants of the fishing industry that had not yet been moved away to the newly built housing estates that surrounded the City. It was also we soon discovered a regular meeting place and watering hole for the ‘travellers’, or gypsies as they were known in those days, that lived in caravans on the open spaces and pieces of spare land where some of the dwellings in the area had been demolished. These streets with famous names like Subway, Gillett, Havelock and Scarborough had formed the heart of the fishing community and of course, in the past, Billy my pal from my apprenticeship days had hailed from Gillett Street. He was in a minority however, because for generations few who lived there worked anywhere besides on the trawlers or in the industries that surrounded St Andrews Dock.
Sadly, these homes had been demolished under a scheme that the council disparagingly called ‘Slum Clearance’. This not only coincided with the demise of the fishing industry but also decimated the fabulous community spirit that existed in the area. Occasionally families that really wanted to stay in the area would arrange what was called an ‘Exchange’ which saw a family from a condemned house taking over someone else’s home in say St George’s Road or Hawthorne Avenue with those people moving to the first family’s designated new home on an estate. However, generally folks moved out of the area which not only saw an end to that great community spirit that once existed, but also meant that a large proportion of the Hull FC ‘Family’ that had for generations been concentrated in the area, were scattered to the four corners of the City.
The Half Way Hotel was a welcoming place where the smell of hops mingled with that of strong disinfectant from the toilets. The juke box in the lounge included, the mandatory singles and pub classics like Pete Smith and Wildwood County’s ‘Hessle Road’, Dean Martins ‘Little old Wine Drinker Me’ and of course the most selected record in all the pubs on that most famous of thoroughfares, Hank Williams ‘The Crystal Chandeliers’. Back then Joan and Barry Nicholson were the landlord and landlady and we were made welcome the moment we crashed through the front door! They both chatted to us and Joan, treated us both to a free drink before the ‘session’ was over. By it was time to leave for the game, Barry, a big FC fan himself, had got us signed up for the pub bus, that was going to the game at Station Road Swinton the following weekend and in fact our new pal accompanied us to the game at the Boulevard, as he was to do to many matches in the next few years.
Travelling with the Half Way ‘Fun Bus’
Our bi-weekly coach trips to away games with the Half Way bus were some of the greatest times I have had in my life. They attracted all manner of people. Some couples, some folks who were out of work, others who had never worked, those who were single, divorced, rich and poor, in fact all of life was there, but for six or seven hours on a Sunday all those personal circumstances and differences were suspended in a haze of pure fanaticism and alcohol! I say six or seven hours however there were times when it was a bit longer than that. Occasionally the bus would break down, invariably on top of the Pennines and there were always lots of ‘toilet stops’, (particularly on the way back), to slow us down too. The regulars on those trips had knick-names usually linked to their favorite ‘liquid’ pastime, like ‘Trevor the Fish’, ‘Sauce’ and ‘Stagger’ Lee but they were all ‘Black and White’ rugby fans and as passionate about their team as they were about their beer.
The toilet breaks were usually taken on the hard shoulder of the motorway with nine or ten individuals ending up covered in mud at the bottom of some moor side motorway embankment! It was a ritual acted out time and again because the participant’s inebriated state would usually dictate that once back up at the road level it was a good idea to push someone else down the bank, and so it went on!!
Food for thought at away games, whilst sampling the local delicacies.
Barry had always telephoned ahead during the week to some pub or other in the town where we were playing that Sunday. This ensured that there would be an ‘Early Opening” and usually the unparalleled reputation of the Half Way bus trip to consume vast amounts of alcohol in the hours before a game, prompted landlords to not only welcome us with open arms, but more often than not, they would throw a free buffet in too.
It was funny really because each destination seemed to have its own gastronomic specialties. It was always Crab sandwiches in Keighley (in the Sam Smiths pub next to the brewery), Savalloy’s in Widnes and St Helens and Curry (which was quite a departure for some of the lads from the Half Way) from Mr. Sing who was landlord of a little pub just off the main road into Dewsbury! The latter was always looked forward to with great relish and enjoyed on the day, but often blamed for any sort of gastric problems that were experienced in the following weeks and months. In fact, it was not unusual to pass the Gents toilets in the Half Way and to hear, “That’s bloody Mr. Sings curry for you” drifting out of the door.
Mum and Dad were managing alright at home and after a brief sortie into the world of co-habiting with a lady which was great whilst it lasted, but didn’t work out when the rugby obsession started to hit the home economics, I moved back into Potterill Lane but was, I felt, getting a bit in the way. The last thing that a couple who are spending all their time looking after each other need is someone coming in at all hours drunk or at least merry. Mum always used to lie awake until I got in, as Mums do, but her condition, which was certainly deteriorating and the fact that I had got used to living away from the family home, made me feel that it would be best for everyone if I moved out and got my own place.
One rather quiet night when Ian and I had made the trip from East Hull to Hessle Road for a few quiet drinks, we were invited to stay for the mandatory ‘Lock in’ at the Half Way and the discussion with Barry and Joan got around to how things were at home. At once Joan asked me if I would like to lodge with them and with what was probably an element of undue haste, that was decided upon. To let Mum and Dad down gently I told them that I was helping out at the pub which I guess, with the amount of my Council wages I was putting into the till, I was in a way. A week later I took up residence in a massive room with high ceilings and faded grey walls on the first floor above the Lounge. Living in a pub, it was like a dream come true.
In that amazing year, whilst I lived ‘over the shop’ and went to work at the Council bleary eyed every morning, we experienced a truly great season and they were great times indeed. We appeared invincible and the fans had a ball, none more so than those who travelled to away games on the Half Way coach trips. I got left by the coach at Oldham, congered out of the supporters club at Blackpool, got drenched to the skin at Whitehaven, and then there was Mabel the bar maid at the Barley Mow at Bramley. But then again, she’s probably best left unwritten about! Looking back I was perhaps going off the rails a bit, but if that was the case, then that was the season to do it.
Beating Leeds again this time in the Floodlit Trophy.
Tuesday 10th October 1978 Hull 14 Leeds 8
The season was up and running, and despite a narrow defeat in the Yorkshire Cup at Bradford, the First Division team that actually booted us out of all the Cup competitions that season, we were to go on and never see a “L” against a fixture in the Division Two list that year.
Of course getting back up to the First Division in one season was the fans and the clubs top priority, but the cup games had to be played and so it was in October that we all boarded the coach from the pub and set off for a night match at Headingley in the first round of the Floodlit Trophy. It was Leeds in the Cup again and as we drove out of the City along Boothferry Road we passed lines and lines of cars queuing in the other direction all going to Hull Fair. In those days no area of the Leeds ground was sacrosanct as far as visiting supporters were concerned, and so having called for a swift three pints in the Three Horse Shoes on Otley Road before kickoff, we took up a vantage point in the South Stand.
Despite the fact that the second half of the game was televised and it was Hull Fair back home, around 2000 Hull fans made the trip and soon the strains of ‘Old Faithful’ were drowning out the shouts of ‘Leeds Leeds’ that was the only chant the home team seemed to know. Headingley was pretty devoid of chants or atmosphere back then, it was just accepted that, as the ‘Mighty’ Leeds they won at home, simple as, particularly when, as was the case that night, they were playing a team from the lower division.
We started badly with Charlie Stone being penalized and a penalty success to Leeds, but shortly after that Crowther sent the whole of the Leeds line the wrong way with an outrageous dummy and walked in to score and put us in front. Sammy Lloyd converted and when he planted over a wind assisted ‘Lloyd special’ penalty from fully 52 yards we were 7-2 up. Two players with strong Hull connections were apparent in the next Leeds move though, when down in front of us, clever play straight from the kick off by Mick Crane, sent Kevin Dick in to the right of the posts and the conversion leveled the scores. Just before half time a Ward drop goal edged Leeds in front and we were a point down at the break.
It was likely that we had Bovril and a Wagon Wheel at half time, as the bar was right round the other side of the pitch and usually packed to the doors by you got there. For those confused gastronomes reading this, Wagon Wheels were a marshmallow biscuit that you only seemed to be able to get at rugby grounds and right up to just a few years ago, the Leeds refreshment stands always had a shelf full of them.
Our half back pairing of Newlove and Hepworth combined quickly at the start of the second half and Knocker Norton was twice held up close to their line. The wily skills of our veteran scrum half Hepworth were to the fore throughout the half, as he tried everything he could. As the rain started to fall and with just ten minutes to go, he kicked through the Leeds defense and was just about to re-gather the ball on half way when Oulton stepped in front of him. It was an obvious obstruction and despite facing the elements Sammy Lloyd banged over the penalty to put us back in front.
The game was sealed just three minutes from time when Macklin sent the Leeds fans pouring towards the exits. Knocker Norton started the move; Boxall gave a long looping pass to Lloyd, who then found ‘Super’ Alf with a short outside pass that put him one on one with their winger Atkinson. He then did what he had done so many times for us over the years and turned him first inside then out to score in the corner. Lloyd’s tremendous touchline conversion broke the Leeds player’s hearts as it sailed through the posts, the final whistle went and we had won 14-8, in a game where Farrar, Stone, Tindall and Sammy Lloyd were towering figures in our defense.
I have said in here many times that despite often being well below them in the rankings, in those days we had the ‘Indian Sign’ over the ‘Loiners’ both at Headingley and the Boulevard and this was a season when although we were ourselves outside the top flight we actually beat the high fliers twice. Later that year, in February, we were draw against them again, this time in the First Round of the Challenge Cup and we knocked them out of that competition too.
Were you at that Huyton Game? Everyone else was!
Sunday 22nd October 1978: New Hunslet 6 Hull 18
I was taking Mum to hospital for all sorts of treatment, on a regular basis now, and it was obvious that her Cancer was spreading. We still talked a lot on those trips about rugby and she regularly related the details of that day at Odsal when the miner ‘saved her life’ and to her being carried out of the Boulevard without her feet touching the ground. At the ‘Half Way Hotel’ life was understandably, a bit of a blur really, in fact it seemed more money was made after time in those nightly ‘lock in’s’ than it was in regular trading hours. So it was, that I would regularly find myself going to bed at around 2-00am with the strains of ‘The Crystal Chandelier’ or ‘From a Jack to a King’ still thumping through the floor from the Lounge Bar below.
Another game that was a memorable occasion was when we played at the Elland Road Greyhound Stadium in Leeds against New Hunslet on 22nd October. That day as it got dark towards the end of the game, one by one the Floodlights went out until the game ended in the gloom illuminated by just 4 of the 8 columns surrounding the ground. However, whenever we played and whatever the surroundings, we appeared invincible and the thousands of travelling fans had a great time.
It was around that time that some of us die-hard supporters were starting to pinch ourselves a bit as to what was happening with the team building and the increasing gates. No doubt, we would in our quieter moments look back fondly to that day in 1975 when 980 of us were in attendance at the Boulevard for that Huyton game, but we were not on our own, because by now everyone you spoke to had been there! It was a sort of measure of your loyalty to the team and if you hadn’t been there you weren’t a fan.
It was not all plain sailing in the league and some games were tight, as hosting Hull FC, or a visit to the Boulevard, was seen by most of the rest of the clubs in the Division as their “Cup Final”. There was a gulf between the ‘have’s’ and ‘have not’s’ too and a couple of teams (Huyton and Batley) even transferred their home game to the Boulevard, so they could make more money out of them.
Beating Leeds (the Cup holders) again!
Saturday 10th February 1969: Hull 17 Leeds 6
With Leeds, the Cup winners from the previous two seasons and Hull now up there at the top of the Second Division undefeated, the BBC recognized the importance of this game and no doubt sensing an upset, decided to broadcast the second half of the match from the Boulevard as their featured First Round Cup game. The proceedings started in the usual fashion with the traditional haranguing of Eddie Waring and the BBC commentary team as they paraded around the touch line and up the ladder to the gantry built over the Threepenny stand. They were always greeted with the traditional ‘Welcome’ which featured hoots of derision and much doubting of parenthood, from the assembled ‘Faithful’ in the tin roofed edifice below.
The place was packed that day and I watched this ritual as it unfolded, for a change, from the South End of the ‘Threepennies’. I remember too, the regulars wolf whistling and hooting as three ‘Fashionable Punks’, were walked by the police along the front of the stand. They were dressed in vivid pink T shirts over laid with string vests and sporting necklaces made for safety pins (the punks not the police), but things were still very traditional on that Stand!
The game started with Hull making all the running, in fact as far as I can remember George Clarke and Brian Hancock were both held up inches short of the line in the first seven or eight minutes. Sammy Lloyd finally opened the scoring after ex FC favourite Mick Harrison lost his cool and was penalized for a high tackle on Keith Tindall, who had ‘accidentally’ hit Mick twice under the ribs in previous tackles. The game then settled into a typical end to end blood and thunder Cup-tie. Finally, Leeds took a great chance when another FC exile Mick Crane scored after Kevin Dick and Adams had carved out an opening on the left. So, with the conversion being missed we turned around at half time and welcome the BBC Grandstand audience watching at home trailing 3-2.
As I have said previously in this tome, Leeds were always seen as the big spenders, or “Toffs” of the competition and predictably, as many of the Loiners fans changed ends at half time and walked behind the Threepennies, they were met with the usual chants of “Spent a fortune Won F*** All, Leeeeeds Leeeeeeds”. Even though they were the cup holders it made little difference to the Hull fans. Where it not ever so?
As the BBC Grandstand viewers looked on, we soon reclaimed the lead. Knocker very uncharacteristically put a kick straight into touch, however Clive Pickerill who had moved to a makeshift hookers role, won the scrum against the head, and a flowing move saw ‘Taffy’ Prendeville bundled into touch inches from the line near the corner flag. This time Tony Duke who had by now recovered from a knock and returned to hooker, won the scrum against the head, and the pressure was just too much for the Cup holders, as Pickerill himself almost got over, wriggling like an eel in a three man tackle to be held inches short. However, from a play the ball, he played a great one/two with ‘Knocker’ Norton who ran in unworried between the posts. Lloyd made no mistake with the two points and it was 7-3 to Hull FC. From the restart we surged up field again with a great Tindall drive and on the 5th tackle ‘Knocker’ Norton dropped a goal to extend the lead.
As usual Leeds were fine whilst they were bossing things, but opposing teams knew that once they got ‘ruffled’ they started to drop the ball and this game was no exception. We could not capitalize on this panic however, but a foul on Tony Duke led to a penalty and once again Lloyd slotted it over to extend the lead to 10-3. As has happened so many times once we had got ourselves into a lead, we became sloppy and forced the ball a bit too much in the tackle and back came Leeds, as somehow we all knew that they would. They got a quick unconverted Les Dyl try following a flowing move between Joyce and Ward that made it 10-6. On the terraces we started to doubt that we could finish them off and the crowd started to get at the referee and the officials every time a decision went against Hull.
It was then panic time as Pickerill, Hancock and Norton tried drop goals, which all flopped and fell well short of the mark. As Hull coach Arthur Bunting stood arms aloft besides the dugout, victory to the ‘black and whites’ was confirmed by the referee granting us an obstruction try, when Sammy Lloyd kicked through only to find his way to the line blocked by an elbow in the face from Keith Hague. The referee that day Mr. Naughton, no doubt fearing a lynching from the already antagonistic home crowd, immediately awarded an obstruction try and that was it.
The game was completed when Knocker tricked Bryan Adams at the play the ball, causing the Leeds player to be adjudged to have moved off side and Lloyd kicked another penalty and won £500 from sponsors State Express for kicking 5 out of 5 goals in one game. We had won a memorable cup tie against the cup holders in what was turning out to be the most memorable of seasons.
Skating on thin Ice; Mount Pleasant comes to the Boulevard.
Tuesday 20th February 1979: Hull 20 Batley 0
Anyone who watched the club that year will remember that the Batley away game was transferred from their Mount Pleasant home and played at the Boulevard in February. But, it was almost called off ten minutes before it took place, because of ice on the pitch.
We all left the Half Way wrapped up in scarves, ‘Bobble’ hats and big coats, but by we reached the Division Road turnstiles we were nithered!! There was an on-field inspection as the pitch glistened in front of the Threepenny Stands but the referee took one look at the size of the crowd, no doubt hearing their baiting cries in his direction and decided to go ahead anyway. The game was played in conditions more akin to ice-skating than rugby, and the players at times seemed incapable of keeping their feet, but we won 20-0. There were some close calls too that year. We had just scraped past Blackpool at the Boulevard in November 14-13, we just beat Bramley 8-5 at home in January and we went on to just squeeze past Oldham at a rain sodden Watersheddings in our penultimate game of the season in May. Boy the weather was bad that day!
Oh we do like to be besides the seaside!
Those great Half Way’s trips to away games continued unabated and there are many stories of the bus getting lost, people being left behind, folks losing their wallets and even their false teeth, that are just too numerous to catalogue here. However, there was one great day out when we set off at 7am from Hessle Road for a day out at Blackpool to enjoy the sea, the sun and a game against Blackpool Borough that would not only extend our unbeaten run but also guarantee us the championship and promotion.
We arrived in Blackpool at around 11am having consumed an ample amount of canned beer on the way and as the pubs and clubs were still shut we got ‘Fishy’ our regular bus driver to drive up and down the promenade as we all waved ‘affectionately’ to the locals with various gestures and salutes!!! At 12 noon on the dot we rolled up at the rugby ground which I have to say was decidedly run down. It had in fact doubled as a greyhound stadium for the past few years. However, if Borough Park was a sad looking place, the Social club under the stand was well furnished and decorated to resemble a tropical beach with giant plastic palm trees, table umbrellas covered in synthetic grass etc. whilst in the middle was a small dance floor that was for this occasion covered with tables and chairs.
One old timer in an orange Blackpool football scarf told us that the club had only survived over the past years from the takings of this Social club which was a draw for locals and holiday makers alike, particularly, he said, when they had their Sunday night Hawaiian evenings!! I can still remember one young lad who was around twelve and who had purchased a latex ladies bust from a joke shop on the promenade, having to explain this regalia before he was let through the turnstiles, yet once inside he walked straight past the security and into the Social Club unchallenged!
By 12-15pm the place was crammed with the ‘Black and White Army’ who, anticipating a historic occasion had travelled in great numbers for a day by the sea. 2,500 fans made the trip most of whom appeared to be in that one clubhouse singing along with the Jukebox to ‘I will Survive’. We had to start ‘doubling up’ on rounds so difficult was it to get served, and the atmosphere of excitement and anticipation was fantastic. It was however a lot better than the weather outside because when you looked through the one long panoramic window that stretched down the pitch side of the room you could clearly see the rain lashing down and several seagulls strung across the centre line, looking like beleaguered players waiting for the kick off.
Fancy dress….not for me thank-you.
There were quite a few fans in fancy dress that day and there was a crocodile, a couple of Beef Eaters and several Hawaiian ‘Beauties’ who fitted in well with the decor. One bus load, I think from the Tiger Inn in Cottingham, were dressed up as ‘St Trinian’s’ girls, which was not a pretty sight at all.
Now a quick note on fancy dress; I never get involved in that sort of stuff at rugby and my philosophy is pretty simple. You see it’s OK as long as you can guarantee you are going to win, but when you follow sport and particularly when you follow Hull FC there are just no guarantees on that at all, so for me it has to be avoided at all costs. I mean to say there is simply nothing in the world to compare with the humiliation of being stood at the JJB Stadium in Wigan, losing 34-0 with 15,000 ‘Pies eaters’ chanting ‘Who are you’ when the answer is ‘Donald Duck’ or ‘Batman’. As for grown men painting their faces, dear oh dear that’s not for me either, let’s face it we’re following rugby league not bloody Braveheart!
Anyway, after a rather good session and a bit of ‘flirting’ with the St Trinian’s crowd, we finally got outside, (where the rain had stopped) and into the stand where we stood in the Well with hundreds of other FC fans. Those of us who worried about those sort of things knew that this game was not going to be easy, Bak Diabera their player coach and main play maker (who was the only Moroccan playing in the RL at the time), had been born in Hull and his enthusiasm and will to get one over his home town club had never been more obvious than, in the home game at the Boulevard earlier in the season, when, as I said earlier, we just managed to scrape past ‘The Seasiders’.
In addition to all that, the local press in the week leading up to the match had made us painfully aware that Sammy Lloyd, our prolific goal kicker, was just 12 points short of toppling Mike Stacey’s Division 2 point’s record of 266. So that game, in a somewhat sleepy Blackpool, had quite a lot riding on it.
Blackpool’s rocking; Champions! Champions!
Sunday 29th April 1979: Hull 27 Blackpool 7
A strong wind was blowing down the ground and winning the toss the hosts elected to play with it at their backs in the first half. The game commenced with a penalty to Hull that Lloyd despatched to give us a slender 2-0 lead but then a blistering set of forward drives from the Blackpool pack pinned us back on our line. It was no surprise that when we eventually managed to break out, their Loose Forward Norman Turley constantly used the wind to drive us back into our own 25-yard area with some excellent kicking. Our full back that day George Robinson pulled off a try saving tackle on Redford after just five minutes, but eventually under mounting pressure and two penalties from the referee Mr Court, Blackpool scored under the post through second rower Molyneux.
The home sides only claim to fame in what was for them a disappointing season, was their quite amazing drop goal tally, which at that point of the campaign stood at an incredible 33. It was therefore hardly surprising that first Fairhurst and then Diabera popped the ball over the cross bar and by the 29-minute mark we were 7-2 down and the travelling supporters who had started in such a confident mood, were getting a bit ’Twitchy’.
As Lloyd kicked another penalty we started to get a foothold and as the early Blackpool enthusiasm started to wane a little, we had three or four chances to score. All these we sadly spurned through over elaboration. The breakthrough came when Stone, Lloyd and Newlove combined to send Prendeville scooting down the wing, he rounded two defenders, before running around behind the sticks to touch down and with a Lloyd conversion and a penalty goal, we were 9-7 in front at half time.
During the break we all feared another onslaught from the Blackpool forwards come the start of the second half, but instead it was our six who, with the wind at their backs, pulverised the opposing pack. Farrar led well as captain and Tindall and Stone drove into the host’s ranks time after time. After 50 minutes a rib injury saw hooker Tony Duke leave the field but our reorganised front row of Tindall Farrar and Stone took complete control. Boxall started to get some space and three times broke out down the middle with those spectacular runs that were for many years the second rowers trade mark. One of these storming excursions down field saw him pass on to Turner who scored a tremendous individual try, and then Newlove superbly dummied and fed Tindall who scored another which Lloyd converted.
Boxall was not to be denied and he blasted through a two-man tackle and ran right over full back Doug Robinson to go careering in under the posts for Lloyd to add on the extras again. Minutes from time Lloyd kicked his sixth goal to break Stacey’s record and so frustrated was the host’s hooker Clarke when he dropped the ball from the restart, that he picked it up and threw it at the referee. His sending from the field to a chorus of “Just because you’re losing” from the FC Faithful, was the last act of the game and we were over the flimsy greyhound fencing and onto the field as the final whistle went. With three matches to go we were Champions and promoted and just 240 minutes away from that dream of going through the season having played 26 and won 26.
After the game it being Sunday all the pubs and clubs were shut, so we walked up and down the promenade singing ‘Old Faithful’ and eating ice cream and hot dogs. It was cold but dry by then and the atmosphere from the thousands of FC fans there on the sea front was just amazing. At 7pm we returned to the club house for a couple of last drinks and to pick up the bus, as we continued the singing of “We are The Champions” much to the disgust of the regulars, who had all turned up in their finery, and garlands, for an Hawaiian evening. You sort of got the impression that they were glad to see the back of us lot when, an hour later we all ‘congered’ out of the door and back onto the bus, for a sleep and a long but happy journey back to the Half Way.
We beat Halifax and Oldham in the league and then as a way of giving the players a chance to get away from the pressure before the ‘massive’ last game of the season against New Hunslet, Bunting took all the staff away to France for a few days.
That Friday morning thirty players and officials had boarded an Air France jet at Heathrow and flown to Bordeaux. They landed at 10 at night and three hours later the whole town centre was ringing to the strains of ‘Old Faithful’, the first of many impromptu renditions that were to be heard over the next two days. Next day after a game of football on the beach, the team played a rather low key game against Tonneins and District which we won 12-10 and apparently the after game hospitality saw few of the players make bed at all that night. The rest of the trip was mostly relaxation and partying although the team had to leave early on Monday Morning to get the flight home and it was only when he got back to England and opened his case that Steve Norton realised that he had forget to pack any of his clothes in it before he left the hotel room! The game was chalked up as another win but was just academic to us fans as we all looked forward to the last game of what was already an historic season.
Touching the Dream!
Friday 18th May 1979: Hull 6 New Hunslet 1
One of the great successes of that season had been the Programme and Souvenir shop which had been started three years earlier by our vice Chairman’s son Roger Waudby. We always called into the cramped little unit before home games and joined many other fans that fought their way to get to the counter.
Still it was certainly doing well and the takings during that record-breaking year, were six times those of that disappointing First Division campaign twelve months earlier. Run by volunteers it included in its stock, signed photographs of the players, dart flights, key rings, bob hats and car stickers, whilst a replica home shirt with a 42-inch chest would cost you £10-80.
So the scene was set for the biggest game of the season and possibly one of the biggest in the history of the club. Our chance of a place in the Guinness Book of Records, and to go through a whole season undefeated. During the week ahead of the game, I couldn’t concentrate at work at all and by Friday arrived I realised that I was in the grip of some sort of madness that would be with me until our victory and place in the record books was confirmed or otherwise. I really couldn’t get the match out of my head at all. It was with me all day, when I woke up, when I went to bed and no doubt when I was asleep too. It was just so significant.
At work when people were talking to me I would drift off into a world of Knocker Norton, Record Breaking and Trophy’s. When this happens, I just can’t shake it and its simply no good trying! It’s always the same before the ‘Really Big’ games.
Although we were already promoted, I remember the Hull Daily Mail revealing that Arthur Bunting, had decreed that the team would not be parading the Second Division trophy around the ground before the kick off. He wanted nothing to take the teams minds off this last, important and possibly historic, game. Apparently Arthur had seen a similar situation when he was coach at Hull Kingston Rovers, end with the hosts losing the game and he was risking nothing this time. There were a couple of presentations already planned for the start of proceedings however as the A team were to be presented with the Yorkshire Senior Competitions salver as Champions and the Colts received the Runners-up shield for finishing second behind Hull Kingston Rovers in the Colts league.
After a couple of pints in the packed Humberside Sportsman’s Club which was then run by my childhood pal Tony Roberts we joined 12,424 people crammed into the Boulevard. I went back to my roots that night and watched the game from the Gordon Street end of a packed Threepenny Stand where the atmosphere was electric. Hunslet really did not offer much at all on attack but their tenacious tackling soon subdued even the passionately loud fans around me, as the visitors did everything they could to keep us out. Lloyd, our record-breaking kicker, missed four goals in the first half and at half time the scores stood at 1-0 after ‘Knocker’ Norton had dropped a solitary goal. The thorn in our side that night was Tony Dean, a little general and a player who was to sign and star for us two years later. He was known as the ‘drop goal king’ of British Rugby League. In fact, it’s surprising he didn’t play for Blackpool and although he missed with two attempts he slid one over in the second half to level the scores.
It looked likely that the game was going to end in a draw although Hunslet plugged away and another Dean drop goal could never be discounted. Could we lose out at such a late stage? I was ‘in pieces’ in the stand and was hardly able to watch when following a foul on John Newlove, Sammy at last found his kicking boots and slotted over a penalty. We were in the lead at last, but it was still touch and go, with the whole place holding its breath every time Tony Dean got the ball in our half! It was then left for the most unlikely of heroes to score the only try of the game and seal a place in the record books. Charlie Stone, who only scored eight tries in 200 appearances for the club, side stepped his way over the line and although Lloyd missed again with the conversion, we were home, we were the champions and now as Vince Farrar and the team paraded the trophy round the ground, we were real record breakers!
It was certainly not a classic game, but for sheer tension and ultimate ecstasy, with so much at stake, it still ranks way up there with the best. I say ecstasy again and should probably apologise to the reader for going over the top at this point, but then again, I have spent quite a bit of this tome apologising for being a fanatical follower of what is a largely unobtainable dream, perhaps that night I got as close as I ever had thus far to grasping it. That night the depression I had suffered at so many games and through so many bleak seasons packed its bags and moved out! It felt great, we were the Champions and what’s more we had done it in such a way that the whole sporting world had to sit up and take notice. We even made the BBC national news next day.
Perhaps in my short lifetime Rugby League and Hull FC has come to mean too much to me and to represent far too many things. I have probably watched too many games, spent too much money and fretted and worried far too much for my own good. Perhaps at times I should have worried about other things but just like that night at the Boulevard against Hunslet, the fact of the matter is that at times like that, there is simply nowhere else in the world I would rather have been. Perhaps all those none descript dour, heartbreaking defeats over the years make those moments of sheer bliss….. just that! That season we scored more tries than any other team in the whole competition and although only playing Second Division teams in the League, we still managed to beat Leeds twice in the Cup and draw with Bradford away in the same competition. We of course went up into the top division and thus started that ‘Golden Age’ in the history of Hull FC that was the early 1980’s!
Back up where we belong and everyone loves the ‘Psycho’
Sunday 7th October 1979: Hull 20 Hull Kingston Rovers 20
Of course, as fans we simply couldn’t wait for the new season to start but at home Mum’s health continued to decline, and we were really worried about her. She was now house bound and struggling to walk at all and although still living in ‘The upper room’ of the Half Way I was trying to spend as much time as I could at Potterill Lane. The 1979/80 season commenced with Vince Farrar again being given the Club Captaincy. The Board continued to spend money building a side that they and the fans hoped would stay up in the First Division this time around. New signings joining the club included Tim Wilby, Charlie Birdsall, Graham Walters and Trevor Skerrett. However, in addition to these inspired captures we also took on Paul Woods a Welsh full -back who I would best describe as having the heart of a lion and the looks of a bulldog and who was simply as hard as nails.
“Psycho” Woods was just mental when he was out on the field and soon became feared across the word of rugby league. A smallish guy, he was a real hero of mine, as he hurled himself at rampaging forwards without a thought for his own personal safety. Paul made his debut on 23rd September at Blackpool but it was later that year on 7th October that we drew with Hull Kingston Rovers 20-20 at the Boulevard when the fans saw just what we had signed. Woodsey revelling in the tension and passion of his first local Derby and was soon in a running battle with Rovers scrum half Alan Agar. They clashed in the middle of the field and the opposing scrum half managed, accidentally, to inflict a nasty gash on ‘Psycho’s’ leg with his studs. This prompted Woods to reluctantly retire to the touch line where he stood having his blooded leg bound with a bandage. Spotting this situation and the lack of a full back in the backfield behind our defence Phil Hogan kicked over the top of our line and chased after the ball. Woodsey suddenly made a dash towards him from the touch line, with his still unsecured bloody binding trailing for about ten feet behind him. He ran and leapt on Hogan’s back before he could collect his kick and a real fist fight broke out. From that moment onwards ‘Psycho’ Woods was a folk hero down at the Boulevard.
Woodsey was a real comedian too and I remember well in a game against Huddersfield at the Boulevard when we were awarded a try in the corner adjacent to the Threepenny Stand. Woodsy was to take the conversion attempt which was right on the touch line at the Gordon Street end. He looked at the referee who was talking to one of the injured opposition players and sneaked about six yards further in and placed the ball. The referee spotted what was happening and ordered Paul to move it back. He placed the ball with much ceremony right on the whitewash of the touchline and then took three steps back to the perimeter fence, climbed over it and continued his backwards paces up the terracing to the amusement of the supporters and indeed the rest of the players. When he returned to the pitch side he addressed the ball, looked at the muddy pitch and shouted to the crowd in a broad welsh accent, ‘Anybody got a carpet?’ Paul Woods was a ‘one off’ alright, oh and by the way, he missed the goal.
Down at the Half Way Hotel something had to give
For once for me personally the happenings on the pitch at the Boulevard were to be eclipsed by developments in my own life. Living at the Half Way was fine but you could only take so many ’‘Lock Ins’ till three in the morning before getting up for work at 7-30am and it was apparent that I needed to find somewhere else to live. I could have moved back to Potterill Lane, but Mum’s cancer was making her life very difficult and Dad was just about managing to look after her, but they certainly did not want a ‘partying’ 29-year-old rolling in at all hours singing ‘Old Faithful’, that would just not have been fair at all. A pal of mine from work was thinking of leaving the Parks Department and buying a fruit and vegetable shop over in the north of the City in Endike Lane and as there was a flat above the premises, that seemed like an ideal solution, but sadly that fell through, however almost immediately a new possibility raised its head when I read the City Councils ‘Job circular’. In there I found an advert for ‘Manager-Hull City Hall’ which outlined a myriad of duties, but concluded with the words ‘Subsidised Flat available on the Premises’.
This would, I thought, be a massive career change, I knew nothing about the business and back then, in all honesty, it took me all my time to write a letter. I probably didn’t stand a chance of getting the position let alone the flat, but I was tiring of the new management methods adopted on the Parks Department and the bonus and incentive schemes that had been introduced and my love of music in general and pop music in particular prompted me to fill in an application form.
A new job and a flat in Victoria Square
No one was more surprised than me when I got an interview that September 1979 and if that was not a shock, when I got there the panel was ‘chaired’ by Tom Hawkesley, who had all those years previously given me a job as an apprentice gardener. This time the interview was more difficult with no questions at all about my cricketing ability, but on leaving I thought that I did OK, however having seen the other candidates in the waiting room as I left, I felt that I would be best employed looking for flats elsewhere.
To my amazement three days later I received a call at work to offer me the job and without thinking I accepted. I was to start in two weeks and to collect the keys for the flat from the Guildhall reception desk. Then I had a few drinks to celebrate and panicked, what the hell had I done? When I took up my new position as City Hall Manager, I would an office in the City Hall and one in Ferensway (no doubt so that the centre of the organisation could keep an eye on me) but I couldn’t write a bloody letter or understand the accounts and ledgers and although I was fine with the staff management, timesheets, pay etc. I had absolutely no idea at all about catering or booking acts. Still the flat was nice!
It was an opportune time to move really because Barry and Joan at the Half Way had just got a new pub themselves ‘The Mermaid’ on Boothferry Estate in the West of the City and so instead of taking up their offer to go with them for more late ‘lock ins’ in perhaps what were slightly more salubrious surroundings, I moved into the flat at the City Hall.
My new home was situated on the front of the building overlooking Victoria Square and had two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and a big lounge with little ‘cottage like’ leaded windows. A door led out onto the roof where there was a patio area surrounded by high walls which I was to convert into a roof garden, complete with greenhouse and barbeque. I soon had my new flat looking like home and made good friends with Albert and Mary the Land Lord and Land Lady of the Punch Hotel just across the road. The beer in the bar there was first class and I was strangely pleased to find out that they shut at 11-00pm prompt so no more ‘Lock ins’…… thank goodness.
I did of course visit Barry and Joan at the Mermaid from time to time and often on a Sunday night they would invite the Hull team down for a buffet tea and a few beers. I had some good times back then meeting the players and having a laugh. One night just after we had signed Terry Day I remember winger Paul ‘Taffy’ Prendeville telling our new recruit that if he was to be playing at centre to the Welsh wide man he would have to be quick because, Taffy said, ‘I’m a flyer Boyyo!’. Paul was fast but perhaps not quite that fast. They were great nights, particularly a few years later when the jokers of the team Ronnie Wileman and Tony Dean used to do their brilliant Cannon and Ball impersonations to the delight of the regulars.
Learning new skills, and hitting the floor running
If it was a tough job trying to develop the City Hall business and one that was not helped by the staff I inherited. Don’t get me wrong the Foreman, Ted Puckering, and the lads were all hard working blokes and really nice guys, who all became instant friends too, but there were only five of them and their average age was 58, so when I booked ‘Suzy and the Banshees’ as my first big concert it was certainly a culture shock. Looking back, I bet after years of Choral Union and Hull Philharmonic Orchestra concerts, they wished me in hell.
I had to start from scratch and build up a team of ‘Humpers’ who brought the concerts in and ‘Bouncers’ who chucked the public out. Bob Marriott, a big Hull fan and legendary doorman and steward in the City, was in charge of the Bouncers and would bring an interesting array of staff for rock and pop events which often featured retired local boxers. There were also plenty of ex rugby players like FC stalwarts Shaun O’Brian and Allen Wardell who could be found in the ‘pit’ in the front of stage at most concerts. The following instalments of this saga, will include my adventures with pop groups, impresario’s, Councillors, Mayors, strippers, comedians and those bouncers during the next ten years.
I got drunk with Rick Wakeman, played Darts in the Punch Hotel with the Three Degrees, was propositioned by a Chippendale, got stuck in the lift with Big Daddy the wrestler, received a written agreement from the LA Centre Folds to keep their tops on, and had to ask David Soul’s body guards to leave their hand guns in the dressing rooms. It was a manic few years when the entertainments business and my love of Hull FC went hand in hand. That first autumn, although I worked most nights, the vagaries of the Sunday Entertainment laws that had years earlier had us all buying programmes to get into the Boulevard, usually meant that the City Hall was invariably shut on a Sunday and so I was able to get to most games home and away.
My ‘Old Faithful’ retires from the game for ever
After three months of working every day and most nights I was absolutely out on my feet, so I decided it would be a good time to jet off for the first time to the Canaries. I had some holidays owing, and although she had been admitted to hospital after degeneration of her bones had led to a broken hip, Mum was doing reasonably well and so I booked a week in Los Cristianos in Tenerife from Saturday 3rd. November 1979. Then disaster struck.
I remember it so well really because that morning I had finished my packing and gone down stairs to the City Hall office to make some phone calls and try and persuade the promoter of the Joy Divisions latest tour to consider bringing it to the Hall. They were on a sell-out tour with the Buzz Cocks and thinking of adding some extra dates. As it was our electrical supply was not big enough for their production and so, as often happened, my attempts to lure them to Hull were unsuccessful. I went back upstairs and contemplated leaving for the airport at around 6pm that afternoon. I must have dozed off on the settee when there was an almighty banging on the oak front door of the flat. I ran down the corridor to see what all the fuss was about presuming it was one of the staff with a problem when I was confronted by my Dad, in tears saying, ‘I’ve got some terrible news son ….Your Mother died this morning’ Apparently she had tried to get out of bed took a few steps, collapsed and died. It was I guess, looking back, a blessed relief for her but at the time it was just a devastating experience and an unthinkable turn of events. Aged sixty-four my Dad had just three days earlier taken early retirement to look after her when she got out of hospital. In an instant, just like that, half of the two things that had been so consistent throughout my life were gone.
Of course, I cancelled my holiday and helped Dad make the necessary arrangements, there was a service at St James Sutton and then it was off to Crematorium. The fact is of course that in these situation you just get sort of used to losing a loved one and then all the ‘embers are raked over again’ as you have to go through the ordeal of the funeral. Dad took it all with tremendous grace and what he had often referred to as a ‘Stiff upper lip’ although since Mum had passed away he had developed a bad chesty cough, that I just put down to him being at a low ebb with everything that was going on. I loved my Mum and it was hard to imagine that she was not going to suddenly walk into the room with a story about Odsal, Johnny Whiteley, Maine Road or getting carried out of the Boulevard without her feet touching the ground. The loss was just immense.
However, my next big worry was Dad because they had always been such a devoted couple living just about in each other’s pockets. They went everywhere together and when Mum couldn’t go out they stayed at home. They were soul mates and completely relaxed in each other’s company and that was the way they liked it. The three of us were a sort of unit, galvanised by common interests and our love of each other and our rugby team. Over the years Mum and Dad had changed their ideas and living arrangements but their love of West Hull and their rugby team was always with them, they shared it, and yet seemed very content in the knowledge that that they had passed it all on to me, the next generation of the family. It was my inheritance and I was just ‘looking after the family’s heritage’. At least I had my work and rugby to get me through, but Dad had no work and now no wife, in fact all he had was an empty house that was full of memories to rattle about in.
Another ‘oh so sweet ‘ Victory Under the Lights!
Tues. 18th December 1979: Hull 13 Hull Kingston Rovers 3
Things on the rugby pitch continued as they always do, for the fixture list shows scant consideration for personal, local or national tragedy and a few weeks later we were in a final again, and although nothing would ever take away the sadness I felt about losing my Mum, the pressure of my new job and our continued success in the First Division were acting to at least ‘numb’ the hurt a bit.
We had done well in the Floodlit Trophy that year, and luck was with us getting home draws in all the rounds beating Halifax by an unlikely 8-1, Huddersfield 34-2, Leeds 16-9 and Leigh in a really dour encounter 9-6. That just left two teams in the Final Hull FC and the old enemy Hull KR, as once again we came out of the hat first and so the game was scheduled for 18th December at the Boulevard. The opposition, as they have so often done over the years, used the media to indicate their perceived ranking as favourites for the game, but we were playing well and all felt that perhaps this time we could beat them.
At three o’clock, on the morning of the game, I remember thinking that perhaps I was just starting to get my life back on track again after losing Mum. I awoke in a cold sweat worrying about the game that was to take place that night.
That Tuesday evening the weather was bitterly cold and I got everything up and running for a Choral Concert at the Hall before departing for the game at about 6-40pm. I was as licensee of the premises supposed to be there, but I was not going to miss this one! I ran down Carr Lane and just got on a bus that was full of FC and Rovers supporters who were packed in like sardines, with about 20 people standing downstairs and people even standing on the back ‘running board’. We all literally fell out of the bus as it pulled up on Anlaby Road at the bottom of the flyover.
As I started off down the Boulevard I remember once again experiencing that magical glow from the floodlights that lit up the rooftops all around the ground. It always reminded me of the time back in 1967 when the floodlights first arrived and we all marvelled at the effect they had on the surrounding neighbourhood. I also wondered whether Mrs Robson ever did get those curtains lined. I ran most of the way there and on arrival an amazing sight faced me, because although the Floodlit Trophy Final between the two Hull Clubs had been sold out for about 2 weeks, there were literally hundreds of folks milling around without tickets.
In the end 18,500 of us squeezed into the Boulevard with around another thousand locked outside in Airlie Street! There was an amazing atmosphere as I took my place on the terracing at the Airlie Street end of the ground. I was happy there because although I wanted to get into the ‘Threepenny’s’ it was simply impossible, in fact several burly police officers were standing at each end of the stand barring entry because the place was packed to the rafters. That night, for the first time for ages, all the light bulbs were working in the floodlights and the old place looked fantastic.
The game kicked off and was quickly stopped by the referee as a flare, probably smuggled from a trawler, shot out of the ‘Threepenny’s’ to burn and fizzled on the touchline. This was extinguished by a member of the local constabulary who executed his duty by stamping on it until only a plume of smoke was evident. However, a couple of minutes later as we let rip with a chorus of ‘Craven Park is falling down’ our concentration on the game was again interrupted, this time whilst the kids who had climbed on top of the Threepenny stand via the scaffolding of the television gantry were coaxed back down to earth by the ‘tannoy’ announcer. One lad I remember fell all of 20 foot from the tower, landing in a heap in front of the crowded terrace who all gave a hefty cheer as he got up and ran off down the touchline before the police could lay a hand on him. If the happenings off the field were exciting they were nothing to what was about to happen on it.
We went into the game as massive under dogs. Rovers had dominated the local scene for years and we had just come up from the Second Division in that famous undefeated season. Although big things were just around the corner, we were still building for that future and our ranks were described by one journalist in the National Press as being made up of “triers, and has been’s with a smattering of real class” Take our half backs for instance, they were a real veteran ‘little and large’ act. There was 6ft 2ins John Newlove who was 33 and mighty midget Keith Hepworth who was an incredible 38 years old and who played most of the second half of the game with a broken hand! In the pack we had two veterans of those tough years earlier in the decade, Keith Boxall and Keith Tindall. Added to these were some real stars in Charlie Stone, Knocker Norton and Vince Farrar. The great and sadly no longer departed, Paul Woods was also in there at full back. Incidentally Rovers half back combination that night was the fathers of two of our more recent staff at Hull FC, David Hall and Alan Agar.
From the start the game it was played at a high tempo and there was no lack of big hits and high tackles, this might have been a televised final, but it was still a local Derby! Our heroes played out of their skin, but yet despite all our efforts we only led 5-0 at half time and our try when it came was on the back of a Hull KR mistake. The ball came out of a scrum and the Red and Whites flashed it across the line only for Mike Smith to drop the ball. Young winger Steve Dennison, who at 18 years old had the most memorable game of his short career, fly hacked the ball through the line and into the space behind the Rovers cover, it stood up for him and to an increasing deafening crescendo of cheering from the crowd he ‘legged it’ to the line and touched down.
The second half started with Hull trying to press on with their advantage and after just two minutes Graham Evans (a man with a gum shield that was always twice as big as his mouth) crashed over for Dennison to convert. The lead up to this score was brilliant with Paul Woods running right over two Rovers tacklers to free our centre with the line wide open. Woods was having a great game, all aggression and suspect tackles and no one seemed to be able to stop him or indeed wanted to be tackled by him. Phil Hogan tried to stop him, but he felt the full force of Woodsy’s power and was carted off on a stretcher and straight to hospital!!!
As always the crowd applauded the player as he was taken from the field but this was counteracted by the singing of ‘Old Faithful’ by the hundreds of fans who had been locked out but who had stayed on the car park outside the ground and who had no idea whatsoever what was going on inside.
Next the Rovers winger Phil “Old Mother” Hubbard scored for the opposition in the corner, before our substitute forward Charlie Birdsall charged through a group of ‘Robins’ players, scattering then like skittles, to eventually roll over the line to score. This set off a continuous chorus of “Old Faithful” that lasted long after the final whistle and the presentation of the trophy; we had won the game 13-3!
What a great night that was!! Paul Woods picked up the Man of the Match award and Steve Dennison kept the match ball! The fact that we were playing our 5th match in 16 days and that the game was televised live on BBC 2 took nothing away from what was a night that everyone who was there will once again remember forever!! It was an amazing year and season with such highs on the rugby field and such lows at home and the worst was yet to come!
As the players proudly paraded the trophy round the ground and the Rovers supporters tramped away muttering, an old guy in front of me in a big grey coat and a muffler turned around and said, ‘Make the most of it son, you may never ever see that again at the Boulevard’. ‘Miserable old Bugger’ I thought but he was right, I didn’t see Hull win a trophy at our spiritual home again; well not a ‘proper’ trophy anyway. It was the last time that the Floodlit Trophy was contested and Hull got to keep it! Where it is now is the subject of a few conspiracy theories and urban myths and perhaps, as some say, it is in the trophy cabinet in Castleford the first winners, but the winning of it that night will long remain one of my fondest memories in a life time of watching Hull FC.
I remember saying over and over as I walked up Airlie Street after the game, ‘That was for you Mum!’ and at the time the feeling I got was of another instance when, just momentarily, we were as fans in touching distance of living the ‘impossible’ dream. We were the best, and all the TV watching world had seen us prove it. As I left the game, walking with the tide of singing, chanting and laughing FC fans, I looked to my left and there, across the road amongst all the smiling faces, was Tom McVie, my pal from back in those days at Bransholme Job Centre. He just smiled across the Street and gave me the thumbs up, there was simply no need to say anything else, because we knew that at last after all those years of failure and hardship, the dream was realised, the FC were back! To win the Trophy in your first year of being back in the premier league, on the last occasion it was to be contested and against the deadliest of enemies, well, it doesn’t get much better. As for the Rovers fans, well they were totally despondent and long gone, but, as is always the case with sport, their time was to come!
More Problems, more work, more illness.
At home things were not good and although I was now living in the flat at the City Hall, Dad was still struggling to cope with the loss of his life time companion, and so whenever I could I used to get him down to the Hall and he used to ‘help out’ by tearing tickets at Wrestling Promotions, stewarding at concerts and I think that and mixing with the staff who were all of his own age group, at least kept him occupied. His chest and bad cough was giving me cause for concern because it was getting worse and at times he was coughing incessantly. I felt he should go to the Doctors and get it checked out. At last after much coaxing he agreed to go, but the outcome of his visit was not good at all and the doctor sent him straight to Castle Hill Hospital in Cottingham. Within days I was taking him back for more tests and by the end of January he was diagnosed as having gone through, in a couple of months, the symptoms that Mum had endured over about 14 years. He too had terminal lung cancer.
Within two weeks Dad was admitted to Castle Hill to undertake a course of Chemotherapy which crippled him, in fact in the end when the doctors said that there was no hope of him pulling through I asked them to stop the treatment and let him have some peace. Everything had happened so quickly and it was hard to take it all in really. I was living in a sort of twilight world where despite everything that was happening around me nothing seemed real.
Once the treatment stopped he was usually conscious and enjoyed talking rugby and following it in the local paper. On my daily visits I used to bring him up to date with what was going on at the Boulevard and the City Hall, and he enjoyed that, although it was obvious to everyone that he was failing fast. Radio Humberside was great for him, and he loved to follow games and listened every time Hull was playing.
I was really busy at the City Hall too, where my first big marketing initiative, aimed at bringing more pop groups to the venue saw concerts by Showaddy-waddy and Doctor Feelgood taking place as well as a frenetic evening when the venue played host to the Damned in a concert that resembled a riot. In fact, I had to stop it before the end when someone discharged a fire extinguisher on the balcony sending the foam all over the side of stage mixing desks and everything shorted. There was feedback, flashes, bangs and chaos and although that night I wished I was back gardening, afterwards I mused that the whole scene that night was akin to the early days of The Clockwork Chicken.
The Cup run begins.
Sunday 13th February 1980: Hull 33 Millom 10
As for rugby well, I went when I could but that and even work was secondary behind looking after Dad. At the Boulevard, the Daily Mail was telling us, Arthur Bunting had targeted the Challenge Cup which after League survival, (that was by February practically assured) was to be the club’s main priority. Firstly, in that competition we played Millom an amateur side who hail from Cumbria and as expected we beat them 33-10 on a cold February afternoon. That date might be seen as unlucky for some, but that year it proved very lucky indeed for Hull FC as we went on to beat York at the Boulevard 18-8 and then, when our amazing run of home cup draws finally came to an end, we still managed to beat Bradford Northern at Odsal in a thrilling quarter final game 3-0. It was a hell of game full of tension, passion and excitement and the crowd had a great time once the final whistle had gone.
It was a time that homemade banners were all the rage too and a lot of mothers and wives were missing bed sheet that season. That day, as well as the usual, ‘Arthur Buntings Black and White Army’ and ‘Bank on Lloyd’ there was one that appeared at all the rounds of the cup games that year that simply said, ‘Hissing Sid is Innocent’. This referred to a campaign by Radio One DJ Noel Edmonds to exonerate the villain in a piece of poetry ‘Captain Beaky and his Band’ that had reached number 5 in the music charts in February that year. What it had to do with Hull FC is anyone’s guess, but it was always there and sticks in my mind to this day.
So, after that great win at Odsal it came to pass that on Saturday 29th March 1980, I joined around 12,000 of the FC Army who made the journey over the Pennines to Station Road Swinton to play Widnes in a Cup semi final that, once again, few of the pundits thought we could win.
Station Road again… with so much at stake.
Saturday 29th March 1980: Hull 10 Widnes 5
For us the prize was to be more ‘history making’ with a clash at Wembley against the old enemy Hull Kingston Rovers, who had already reached the final having won their semi-final the previous weekend. It was a game filled with expectation but one to which I did not travel as usual with the Half Way coach party, but instead, so that I could get back to Dad who was still in Castle Hill Hospital but now in a coma, we went by car.
The build-up to the game was marred by the loss of two of our best players late in the week prior to the match. Stand-off John Newlove and Winger Paul Prendeville had been injured the previous week in a 20-4 victory over Workington at the Boulevard and the back-room staff had been working all week to get them fit. It was thought that Prendeville at least would make it but he failed a fitness test the night before the game. This meant that our Full-Back, famous hard man and talismanic champion ‘Psycho’ Woods, had to switch from his usual position, to fill in down the middle and so at the last minute, George Robinson, local hero, ex ball boy and ’100% Black and Whiter’ was called up. It’s funny what you remember, and one thing that sticks in my mind was George saying to the Daily Mail, ‘I was at home watching the Muppet show with my family, when Peter Darley our club secretary came round and told me I had to be at the team’s training camp at Mottram Hall in two hours’.
Arthur Bunting who was fast becoming the games master tactician had decided that the only way to beat the ‘Cup hardened‘, flamboyant Widnes outfit was to meet them head on in the middle of the park and stop them from playing any sort of expansive game. Of course, we the fans didn’t not know this was to be our tactics as we arrived at the great old ground in Station Road. The stadium had for years been Manchester’s Rugby League answer to Old Trafford and had seen numerous, semi-finals, Lancashire Cup Finals and Internationals. However, the demise of the Swinton club as a force in rugby league and difficult financial times for the game itself, meant that it was quickly falling into disuse and the crumbling terraces and antiquated turnstiles that met us that day were a sad, if not accurate, reflection on the state of the game in most parts of the North, away that was from Humberside.
The place had several areas of terracing that could not be used and with almost 19,000 in attendance, the rest of the ground was packed, with several brave Hull fans even climbing the flood light pylons to gain a better view of the game. As the chants of ‘Station Road is falling down’ rang out from the Hull fans, we positioned ourselves at one end on the open terracing towards the corner, as ’Bunting’s Master Plan’ was implemented straight from the kick off.
It was one of the most stunning displays of power rugby I have ever seen, and when the Widnes team got a bit of space and tried to used the wind that was, in the first half, at their backs, it was ‘Muppet Fan’ George Robinson that was fielding the towering kicks of Mick Adams and Mick Burke as if he were a fixture in the team. The first half was a real arm wrestle and Hull hustled and smothered a Widnes team that was famed for their open flowing rugby. In the first period Widnes’s defense stood tall as it repelled wave after wave of Hull counter attacks. They used the strong blustery wind to great effect and put us under periods of sustained pressure, but we swept back at them with hooker Ronnie Wileman and Knocker Norton a constant thorn in the opposition’s side.
It was certainly an indicator of the strength of the Hull FC defense that during the entire game Widnes only got within five yard of our line three times, on one occasion they scored and on the other two they were thwarted by Steve Norton hammering Les Gormley as he went for glory, and Ronnie Wileman pulling off what turned out to be a match winning tackle on Brian Hogan. After all their pressure in the first half Widnes finally broke our line and Gormley scored despite the attentions of George Robinson clinging to his back like a limpet and that and a Burke conversion saw the much fancied ’Chemics’ go in 5-0 up at half time.
The second half was all Hull though. With the wind behind us we laid siege to the opposition line and on one occasion it took 17 tackles for the Widnes lads to get out of their own 25, even then, on the next play, they were pushed back again to the resounding continuous choruses of ‘Old Faithful’ that rang round the old ground. In that second half we got just the start we needed as Norton passed onto Walters who first went outside, then in, to open up space for his winger Graham Bray, who shot in at the corner right in front of us. Sammy Lloyd missed the goal and as Widnes tried to come back, Bowden broke down the left, but that last ditch Wileman tackle on Hogan just saved the day. The Widnes player was grounded just short and then penalised for making a double movement, as he strained to get over the line. From then on it was all Hull. Firstly, Woods hoisted a massive kick, which caught in the wind and looked to have gone too far, but it was Paul himself who was blatantly obstructed as he chased the ball, and Lloyd was able to level the scores at 5-5 with the resultant penalty.
Widnes returned to the centre spot to kick off, kicked the ball deep toward Bray, and chased it down. Our winger caught the ball and immediately cut inside the approaching Widnes cover. Walters, and then Wilby took up the running, before Dennison raced down the wing, but as he fly kicked forward, he was halted in his tracks by Keith Bentley with a good old fashioned ‘stiff arm‘ and Sammy Lloyd knocked over the resultant penalty; we were ahead for the first time, 7-5.
With two minutes to go, and our finger nails down to the knuckles, the game was sealed when from nowhere Charlie Birdsall broke the Widnes defensive line to shoot out a great pass to the waiting Bray on the wing. Graham drew the whole of the Widnes cover, as he headed all the time towards the corner flag, before passing back inside across that defense for Ronnie Wileman to score, again right in front of us.
That was another of those ‘remember it forever’ moments, in a year that was stuffed with them, when the action seemed to go into slow motion. The crowd went mad though, and although Lloyd again missed the conversion at 10-5 the game was almost won. However, there was a bizarre end to the match that most people who were there will no doubt, like me, still remember.
A sensational final minute saw Walters and Widnes’s Hughes ordered from the field. What happened was this. Mick Kendall FC’s ‘Physio’ was treating Walters on the floor after being floored by a late tackle, when up came Hughes to lay a couple of punches on our ‘sponge man’. This made the prone Walters jump to his feet to retaliate and both players were sent from the field by Referee Fred Lindop. It was a disappointing, if not exciting end to a game that had lived up to some of our expectations, and surpassed most of them.
This frenetic, controversial ending saw the massive army of FC fans on the field, celebrating with the players, as once again Arthur Bunting had got his tactics absolutely right. The roads were alive with waving fans and decorated busses and cars all with smiling faces pressed against the windows as ‘Old Faithful rang out across the length of the M62. It was one of those joyous ‘convoy’ moments that we have experience on such occasions over the years as the FC Army return home from a major victory. Supporters ‘tooted’ their horns as they passed each other and some even leant out of the windows and sang ‘Old Faithful’ as they passed the hordes of fans having a ‘comfort break’ on the hard shoulder. I bet the Half Way coach was amongst that lot.
Famous Last Words
We drove back through this melee of happy fans and went straight to the Hospital where Dad, my pal, my mentor and a lifelong “Airliebird” had laid in that coma for the last few days. I sat, as you do in these situations, in a dimly lit side ward and told him what had happened at Swinton in as much detail as I could. Whether he could hear me or not, I really didn’t know but when I got to the bit where I said, ‘So Dad we’re playing Rovers at Wembley on the 3rd May’, he amazingly came around, stirred and momentarily open his eyes. Taking my hand he said, “Hull and Rovers at Wembley I don’t believe it!” and then he drifted away again. He stopped breathing later that night without gaining consciousness, and so true to everything he had believed in and cherished throughout his life the last words he ever spoke were about our team and his team, the ‘Airlie Birds’.
So, it was back to St. James Sutton and the Crematorium as within four months I had lost both my best pals, my mentors, parents and the people who introduced me to my ‘wonderful obsession’, that has, I am proud to say, stayed with me all my life. There was no doubt at all that life was going to be really tough without them both but on reflexion I guess there is little doubt about why I am like I am and I am so thankful even to this day, that they gave me such a rich inheritance. Even now as I write this I am just following in my Mum and Dad’s footsteps, because they were both fanatics and as for Dad and that last conversation at Castle Hill, well he certainly was ‘FC till he died!’ I guess Hull FC has always been in my family and it always will be. God bless then both!
Dads Funeral was a sad affair with plenty of representatives from the butchery trade, Hull FC and of course St James Church in Sutton in attendance. His urn was interned with Mum in the family grave in Western Cemetery on Chanterlands Avenue and that was it, finished, it all seemed so final and pointless really. It was then that I decided to make a will and request that my own ashes be spread on the Boulevard (Something that I had to change years later to ‘Wherever Hull FC are currently playing’) at least they might do a bit of good there, just like no doubt Bill Stamps had done all those years earlier when I tasted his ashes at the Boulevard. After the funeral I didn’t have a ‘do’ I just returned on my own to my flat at the City Hall, poured myself a drink, remember just what Mum and Dad had given me and the tremendous sporting legacy I had received from them and contemplated life without my two best friends.
The Final to end all Finals?
So now we finally come to the big one! It was the final that would see a monumental day for the game of Rugby League when around 60,000 people from the City of Kingston upon Hull would travel down to London for the biggest day in the history of the Challenge Cup, and a game that would even lead to some ‘small minded’, yet no doubt in their own way passionate individuals naming a club ‘The 10-5 club’ after the eventual score line. However I think that if you have got this far in this journal of an ordinary supporter of a very special rugby team, you must have some perception and indeed understanding as to what all this is about and therefore appreciate, I am sure, that there are just some things that this simple lad from West Hull finds it impossible to write about. I can only presume too that you really don’t want to read about it anyway. Sufficient to say, it was to be a set-back, but for Hull FC and this particular fan the best was yet to come!
To be continued………………………
So next week we move into the 80’s and some more great times to be an FC fan, if not a Hall Manager!! As I say I hope you found something to enjoy in there and I know even I enjoyed reading about that unbeaten 78/79 season again, and I wrote the bloody thing in the first place!!! Thanks to everyone for sticking with the Diary again and for your feedback and support, which is all really appreciated. Please do your best to follow all the guidelines and rules of social distancing because we all want to be out of this as soon as we can be and I guess we all have a part to play. All being well, the Diary will be back next week.