Well another week goes by and in some ways it seems to all go on and on, whilst in others it seems to just fly by, but alas we still seem to be no clearer with regard to getting back to a time when Rugby League in this country will return.
We already knew about Albert Kelly departing for his homeland and so, when that ‘broke’ this week, it was old news really, but I would repeat what I said two weeks ago, that with him and Ratu leaving, we have probably lost our two most exciting players. Both have that X factor, so sadly missing in the modern stereotypical game and they can turn a match around in an instant. They are crowd pleasers and the sort of players that people will pay to see. You need such individuals in your team and to lose two at one go is a real blow. On another front, after we had decided to reduce the length of the season, there is now talk of rule changes for the rest of this campaign which are all fine, as long as we dispose of relegation, but, for me, pretty unfair if we don’t.
As Andy Last said this week the changes such as the ‘six again’ rule and even the possibility of getting rid of scrums to stop unnecessary contact, will open the game up and make for very exciting, fast, high scoring encounters. Actually, I was slightly disappointed with his attitude to open exciting rugby, but I agree that those changes will do nothing for clubs who have built their squads around a long arduous season, played under the old rules, which benefitted more the traditional game.
If these changes are to be applied, as I say, we have to forget about relegation, for to impose such changes on clubs without disposing of it, will leave the game open to calls of fowl at the end of the season and perhaps even, challenges from Super League Clubs. It’s OK for soccer to continue with relegation and promotion, as their seasons are almost over, but we are only a quarter of the way through ours and to radically change ‘the goal posts’ at this point in the process and yet keep relegation is, I believe, a completely different situation.
However, as I always seem to be saying these days only time will tell, so next up we move onto the lockdown induced serialisation of the books, as we move into the second volume ‘Going Down the Boulevard’ and the exciting times that were the 80’s. The defeat at Wembley to the old enemy is past and we move into the new decade full of hope, growing attendances and regular additions to the squad, although as you read on you’ll discover that all was not sweetness and light behind the scenes; in fact far from it. So, although it seems almost impossible that we have reached the 12th instalment, here we go again and I hope that you find something to enjoy, that will bring back the memories.
Roaring Into the 80’s.
If you want a detailed analysis of that seminal 1980 final then I would recommend Vince Groak’s excellent book, ‘Last One Out…..”. However, come July that year, the majority of the FC fans had just about got over that crippling defeat at Wembley to the old enemy and were in August 1980, dusting off their ‘bobble’ hats, buying their season passes and declaring (as Hull fans always did at euphoric times) that they were at that Huyton match all those years ago in 1976, when in reality just 950 people actually attended.
At work in the City Hall, I was starting to find my way in a completely new career but the going was tough. In addition to the stress that created, I still missed Mum and Dad who had died within three months of each other less than a year previously and I guess if I am honest, I was struggling to find a bit of direction. Rugby and its associated drinking, banter, arguing and partying were a welcome escape from the everyday turmoil of life as once again, when I needed them most, Hull FC offered a way out of the daily grind. Rugby was a welcome distraction which certainly helped me through the grieving process.
Not that it was plain sailing at the Boulevard because the 1980/81 season, although at times successful, was still a period of transition and there was still a deal of disappointment involved. This however just went to confirm what I had already discovered over the previous 30 years, in that, although all this ‘loyal supporter’ stuff is at times gloriously rewarding, the instances when it is, are still fleeting moments in the grand scheme of things and in general being a fanatical supporter of any sports team does, for the most part, make you perennially miserable.
Living ‘over the shop’ at No.1 Queen Victoria Square.
With a background predominantly in the City’s Parks Department, the change of career which was initially only prompted by the availability of that flat, was certainly ‘stretching’ me and I often wondered if I had made a big mistake.
The sole instruction I received when taking over running the City Hall was simply to develop the business and attract more entertainment for younger people, whose needs, it was felt, the Council had neglected in the past. The music scene at the time was an interesting one. Punk was still popular, but also the lowest possible denominator as far as music was concerned, whilst there were the first green shoots of the 80’s electro revolution starting to appear and ‘middle of the road’ artistes like Glen Campbell, Roger Whittaker and Cliff Richard were still selling lots of records and concert tickets.
At that time too there was a revival of ‘Heavy Metal’ music, with bands like Uriah Heap, Deep Purple, and Wishbone Ash reliving those halcyon days of the early 70’s, on unending tours of smaller venues around the country. I loved music almost as much as I loved Hull FC and so that part of the job was pretty exciting, but The City Hall was not equipped to become a major player in the pop music industry. The ageing staff were great guys, but too few in number to cope with the revolution I hoped to instigate, and the venues electrical and staging facilities were totally inadequate and more Black Dyke Mills than Average White Band.
For too long Hull City Hall had been what some would call an ‘elitist’ venue and home to more traditional musical organisations like the City of Hull Youth Orchestra and the Hull Choral Union, while it also possessed one of the most extensive Concert Organs in the Country. This instrument at least provided me with the unlikely ‘Chat up line’ of “Come back to my place and I’ll show you the biggest organ in the north of England” which although factually correct, would inevitably lead to a unanimous sense of disappointment.
There is of course nothing wrong with a bit of culture, but it wasn’t something that the majority of the ‘rate payers’ of the City wanted. So, whilst most young people in Hull were battling with the intricacies of the Rubik’s Cube, the top toy that year, I was on the telephone to the country’s premier pop promoters, trying to get them some concerts to watch.
Big stars and Small Arms
One company from whom I got an immediate reaction was ‘The Kruger Organisation’ that was based in both New York and London to handle touring American acts. In March, for them, I promoted David Soul who half-filled two ‘houses’ and was accompanied by an all British backing band, management and road crew. However, on 21st May following hits in the previous decade like ‘Who Loves You’, ‘December 1963’ and ‘Grease’, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons took in Hull City Hall on their ‘Heaven above Me’ tour. It was their first national tour for ten years and this time the act was accompanied by an all-American management team and a huge black Tour Manager named Joshua. He hailed from Brooklyn and was a frightening man. Quietly spoken with a lyrical American drawl, he had a demeanour that immediately told you he meant business.
Everywhere he went he was accompanied by two of the biggest ‘heavies’ you have ever seen. These guys wore suits and ties, sported flattened noses, never said a word, and walked with their hands hanging from their sides, like the gangsters I had seen in American ‘B’ movies. The afternoon before the show I took Joshua, Frankie Valli and these two ‘Enforcers’ to Radio Humberside for an interview on the Steve Massam afternoon Show. Then, whilst we were waiting in the Reception I saw it! For as one of the two ‘Heavies’ (Luther) leant forward across the low coffee table to get Joshua an ashtray for his cigar his jacket fell open to reveal a shoulder holster with a small handgun in it.
As my eyes widened ‘Luther’ saw me looking and made no attempt to hide his side arm; in fact, he just smiled and winked at me. I remember during the second house that evening as the band belted out their hits and dozens of ‘Starsky and Hutch’ fans danced in the aisles, I received a visit from the ‘beat section’ of the local constabulary, who always seemed to be missing when there was trouble, but would magically appear when there was something they wanted to watch. They ask me if everything was alright and when I replied “Yes” the Sergeant laughingly added, “Still I don’t suppose you’ll get much trouble with this lot?” I ushered them into the back of the hall to watch the show and as l deciding not to elaborate any further on the sort of tour management we had in the venue and so just nodded and laughed with them.
Down at the Boulevard we started our second consecutive season in the First Division as Rugby League was doing its best to brand itself as a family sport and to distance itself from the antics of the so called ‘supporters’ we had all seen on TV, rioting in Football stadia across the Country. Sadly, however this was something that was endemic in youth culture in general and even in our game, where our crowds were traditionally ‘self-policing’, hooliganism was starting to raise its ugly head. Youth was having its ‘fling’ violence wise and it was certainly a worry for me as a fledgling Venue Manager, particularly when at Hull College a concert featuring Adam and the Ants had to be stopped and the venue evacuated when the place ‘was set on fire’, with what was, in the end, just an on stage ‘smoke bomb’, thrown by someone in the crowd.
‘Battling’ on the terraces of Post Office Road
Sunday 17th August 1980 Hull 12 Featherstone 16
Hull FC fans were ready for the new season, although after the Wembley Final, both Clubs aired on the side of caution and abandoned the usual pre-season ‘Friendly’ Derby match as there was still a lot of antagonism about. Despite having left a life of living over a pub for one of living over the City Hall, Barry the Landlord of the ‘Mermaid’ in West Hull and Ian my pal from the West Riding, who both featured in the previous book, still accompanied me to most games home and away. We were also joined by another old school pal, John, (who was by profession the Transport Manager for a local bakery) and various other characters from the Mermaid like, Trevor ‘The Fish’ and ‘Hard up Harry’. The latter was a skinny ‘bean pole’ of a man who had unmistakably enormous feet. Although Harry was a lovely guy and invariably the life and soul of the party, at away games he always seemed to run out of money shortly after getting off the coach. He was permanently on the ‘Dole’ and I remember around that time he informed us all that he was “Trying for a family”, apparently we found out later, with at least three different women.
Trevor ‘The Fish’ was different again and one of the nicest blokes I have ever met. He worked at a local newspaper as a printer, had jet black wavy hair, a ‘Jason King’ moustache, an immovable smile and in keeping with his nick name, an incredible capacity for beer.
So, it was with this gang that I travelled to Featherstone for a First Round Tie in the Yorkshire Cup. On arrival we made our usual visit to the Featherstone Rovers’ Supporters Club that was situated on the Car Park, just outside the Stadium. It was a uniquely ‘West Riding’ venue with small windows and pink walls where you could have a Pint, a pickled egg and the chance to watch a 50 year old tattooed mother of four, remove her clothes on top of a specially boarded over Pool Table, in a manner that managed to be both intriguing and mildly threatening. The old guy on the door took your fifty pence on the way in, “For the Stripper”, probably because he knew you certainly wouldn’t be willing to pay on the way out.
That afternoon we were to taste defeat as despite some heroics from Steve Norton, Charlie Stone and Paul Prendiville we went down 16-12 in a game that was best remembered for some half-hearted ‘violence’ breaking out on the terraces, just as the home team crossed the line for the winning try.
Trevor, a can of Kestrel Lager in his hand, was in his usual ‘merry’ state by this time and was soon waving and shouting to the protagonists, to “Stop being such Ars*holes and behave” before he toppled over, rolled down the terracing and ended in a heap at the bottom, whilst managing to sprain his ankle on the way. This defused the ‘aggro’ immediately and prompted a huge explosion of laughter from both sets of fans particularly when he picked himself up at the bottom of the embankment, dusted himself down and bowed ceremoniously to the crowd. Trevor felt no pain…well not until next morning, when the alcohol had worn off!! I never actually saw him ‘rolling’ drunk, but I did catch him a time or two in the toilets trying to dry his hands under the contraceptive machine. It was also a bad day for another set of Hull supporters on the Concorde Club trip who left the game to find that their coach had been stolen and after a heart-breaking defeat, they had a three hour wait for a replacement to arrive from Hull.
On 19th August, six Hull men (excluding Trevor) were in court, charged with affray at the game, and, as I said earlier, it was becoming increasingly apparent that ‘hooliganism’, the bane of the round ball game, was spreading into Rugby League.
Following some high-profile signings Hull FC were now gaining a reputation for being the big spenders in British Rugby League. We were linked with every player who was available and some that weren’t and if Hull FC showed the slightest interest in signing anyone, the price immediately shot up, as Clubs that were suffering financially got the scent of a bit of cash. That August we went after Harry Pinnar the great St Helens’ loose forward, but he didn’t want to move over the Pennines.
Of course, the whole of the City of Hull was ‘Rugby barmy’ as over in the east of the City, the Robins were still full of their great victory at Wembley which was something some of their obsessive followers were to never let us forget. That cross City fanaticism was well illustrated around that time when a Hull FC fan called Mervin Wood put up a set of rugby posts (painted in irregular hoops just like those at the Boulevard), on a five-and-a half acre piece of land on Great Gutter Lane, just so that his son Richard could play there with his pals. Those posts, usually leaning to one side, were to remain a well-remembered landmark for passer’s by, for many years to come.
Pie Herbert’s, Fazil, Lumb Lane and ‘a belta’
Sunday 31st August 1980 Leeds 21 Hull 17
After that first round Yorkshire Cup defeat at Post Office Road, the Division One season began with a defeat to Leeds at Headingley. Despite it being a great game, it’s a fixture I remember best for what happened afterwards.
Ian who, as I stated earlier, hailed from the West Riding, decided that it was time that John and I sampled the many delights of Yorkshire hospitality and so with a warning that we should have nothing to eat in advance of the trip, we left Hull in John’s company car at around 11-00am for our gastronomic adventure in Bradford.
First stop was a cafe called the Saddlery Bar, on Carlisle Road, which was known locally as ‘Pie Herbert’s’. It was there that I sampled the best pie and peas I had ever tasted. However, our culinary experience had only just begun. After the game in Leeds and the usual few pints in ‘The Three Horseshoes’ on Otley Road, we travelled back to Bradford, where we were to be treated to that most traditional of West Riding cuisine….a Curry. Ian directed John down the back streets of the City until we got to a bleak district of derelict factories and shabby back to back terraced houses.
This was Lumb Lane, which shatred a lot of the characteristics Waterhouse Lane in Hull and was frequented on every street corner by the same ‘clientele’. We parked on a piece of derelict land next to an establishment with grease ‘caked’ windows, a hard board covered front door (with a sealed-up letter box) and a roughly painted sign written in Urdu. “This”, Ian declared, “Is the ‘Lahore’, the best Curry House in West Yorkshire”. As two scruffy looking felines jumped onto the warm car bonnet John looked at the sign and muttered under his breath, “So few cats, so many recipes”.
Once inside, for anyone in our inebriated state the place was fascinating, however what our sober, ‘designated driver’ John made of it all, is anyone’s guess. Lit by two plastic chandeliers with half the bulbs missing, the tables were well scrubbed but devoid completely of any cloths or cutlery. The proprietor, wearing a greasy ‘pinafore’ and a turban, only seemed able to bow incessantly and say “Welcome to the Lahore” in English, as he shuffled about and motioned to enquire as to what we wanted to eat. It soon became apparent that there were only two things available as you could have either a ‘Balti’ or a ‘Belta’. Not liking the sound of the latter at all, I settled, along with John, for a Balti whilst Ian, an old hand at this sort of stuff, ordered a ‘Belta’.
Our convivial host lifted the phone on the counter and started babbling away in Urdu. “He’s probably ordering the Chapatti’s” Ian said, and as the place was unlicensed, we amused ourselves until the food arrived by playing the juke box over in the far corner, on which every title was written in strange indecipherable squiggles. Our intoxicated state deemed that we all took a liking to 27A, and as there were only a few customers in the place, we played it incessantly throughout the evening. When our Curry arrived, it looked more like a thin soup with pieces of meat floating in it, it was quickly followed by the Chapatti’s, delivered by an Asian lady in slippers and a housecoat, who had obviously made them at her nearby home. As we settled down to our meal we dipped our Chapatti’s in the Curry, before slurping it down, …. as our throats caught fire!
Suddenly, as John and I scrambled for a jug of water, the door burst open and in rushed a rather plump Sergeant and several members of the West Yorkshire Constabulary who, completely ignoring us, marched straight up to the proprietor to demand his name. He replied, “Fazil” to which the Sergeant replied in a broad West Yorkshire accent, “Fazil what”. At this point my alcoholic state got the better of me, as I retorted in a loud voice, “Brush?” The ‘fat jolly policemen’ didn’t appreciate my somewhat misguided attempts at humour at all and ambled over to warn me that “Any more of that and your nicked son”.
As the juke box blasted out the umpteenth rendition of 27A the police tried to explain to poor Fazil that they had come to impound his juke box, because he didn’t have a music licence. Personally, I think the implied fact that he didn’t understand English too well suited Fazil down to the ground, but in the end after several aborted efforts to explain, “We have come to arrest your juke box” seemed to do the trick. The four Police officers then unplugged the offending piece of equipment and as 27A ground to a scratchy halt, they huffed and puffed as they slowly edged the bulky ‘Rockola’ the length of the restaurant, to the front door.
To our unbridled but definitely stifled amusement, uniform jackets came off, ties were loosened and brows were mopped and by the time they reached the front door, all four officers had florid, glowing faces. Imagine their dismay when they found that however hard they struggled, the juke box simply wouldn’t go through the door. In the end, after watching this drama unfold for around ten minutes and to the raucous laughter of the ten or so people who were now awaiting their ‘Belters’, Fazil finally offered the advice (in impeccable English), “So sorry gentlemen, but it came in through the back door!”
What a hero he was, what a night and what a laugh, although it took weeks for the skin in my mouth to recover and that night in Lumb Lane, it’s a good job I decided against a ‘Belta’!!
That adventure wasn’t quite finished yet either because three nights later after John had just arrived home from work and was having his tea, there was a knock on the door and yet another member of the West Yorkshire constabulary confronted him on the doorstep. It was soon made apparent to him that whilst we had all been in the ‘Lahore’ enjoying the drama, the police, cruising the area as part of the Yorkshire Ripper surveillance operation, had taken John’s car registration number, parked suspiciously, as it was, in Bradford’s ‘red light’ district. They had traced it back to his employers at the Bakery and so to John. That took some explaining, not so much to the Police, but more to John’s wife, who he had omitted to inform that our meal the previous Sunday, had been in one of the seediest districts of Bradford!
As far as rugby was concerned, the following week we got back to winning ways beating Barrow at home, which set us up for an away trip to Leigh, and a difficult looking encounter against a strong Lancastrian team that had yet to register a win that season.
The ‘Dark Satanic Mills’ of Leigh
Sunday 14th September 1980 Hull 23 Leigh 20
What I remember most of those trips to darkest Lancashire was just how dour a place Leigh was. The town centre didn’t appear to have changed for years, although I remember that did notice a sign that indicated “Leigh twinned with….” and then nothing, it was as if the town was open to offers and everyone was waiting for a name to be chalked underneath. Doesn’t anyone want to twin with the good people of Leigh?
We arrived at our destination, as always, a little the ‘worse for wear’ and descended from the coach in that misty, drizzly half-light that seemed synonymous with that area of the ‘Duchy of Lancashire’. On accessing his premises at 11-00am by the back door, we were pleased that Bill Bendick the Landlord of the ‘Our House Inn’ had put on some food to sustain us weary travelers. The place was lit by several yellowing plastic lampshades that hung from a green ornately plastered ceiling and of course the curtains were drawn because it was still well before ‘opening time’. It was yet another shrine of sticky carpets, cheap beer and nicotine stained old people, who obviously thought that smoking 40 Park Drive a day was a good workout for the lungs. However, we were soon tucking into some great cheese and pickle sandwiches and leathery Savaloys, all washed down with frothing pints of Thwaite’s ‘Best’ Bitter. Then at 12-00 noon, the curtains were thrown back, the front doors opened and in walked the regulars, only to find copious amounts of empty plates and us lot, bedecked in black and white, devouring the last vestiges of Bill’s buffet and grinning over the top of our half empty pint pots. Their humiliation was not over yet either, because I recall we had some fun taunting them with talk of Hull FC making a bid for John Woods, Leigh’s charismatic and much coveted half back.
Looking out of the grimy window and through the now driving rain, you could see the stark outline of a pit head looming out of a misty grey sky and just across the road the Stadium itself, which looked a cold and inhospitable place, with just three cars on the car park and a couple of yellow jacketed stewards huddled in the doorway of a turnstile trying to keep dry. Thankfully by the time that the game kicked off, it had stopped raining and a watery sun was shining through some rather threatening clouds. We stood on the open terrace behind the posts where we were separated from the pitch by a low concrete wall, whilst the brash and loud home support in the Tommy Sale Stand to our left, harangued us about our defeat at Wembley and being the ‘Money bags’ team of the competition. A ritual we were used to by now, as it happened everywhere, we went.
Hilton Park was certainly a dour place with at one end the edifice of the ‘Parsonage Pit’ and ‘The Victoria Mill’ looming through the mist like leviathans from a bygone age. It’s certainly understandable as to why it was a vista that was referred to by Eddie Waring as the “Dark Satanic Mills end of the ground”.
However, the crowd of 4,500 made for a great atmosphere and as we kicked off, Leigh hit us with some dazzling rugby as Hull’s defence gave them far too much freedom. Each time we tried to set up any pressure on the Leigh defence, we were faced with some great field kicking from Alan Fairhurst and Tom Gittens who drove us back time and again. In fact we had two narrow escapes in the first four minutes before a towering kick from John Woods caught in the wind, went straight up in the air, fell into a melee of players and bounced off someone’s head straight into the open arms of Gittens, who cantered in under the posts for Fairhurst to goal. This shock turn of events certainly pressed Hull into action but as both Walters and Dennison were guilty of high tackles on Leigh players, Fairhurst landing the penalties and we found ourselves 9-0 down after just 16 minutes. As yet we hadn’t even ventured over the opposition’s twenty five yard line.
Then in the 25th minute Leigh struck again. As a raking downfield kick found touch, the home team won the scrum against the head and John Woods somehow smuggled the ball out of a tackle near half way and released Bilsbury, who shot down field on a dazzling 40-yard run to the line. As Fairhurst added another goal we trailed 14-0 and were already facing defeat. A good ‘lecturing’ to our players from Norton and Birdsall behind the posts saw us come back to the half way line with some determination in our stride and as our defence closed ranks, our attack started to fire. Norton was as usual the instigator, having a hand in two great attacking moves in the next three minutes.
On 28 minutes he sent Dennison away for our stand-off to swerve round Donlan and pass onto Wilby. The rangy three quarter ran on through the centre channel before getting Prendiville in at the corner flag. In last ten minutes of the half Leigh began to ‘wobble’, as Skerrett, Stone and Birdsall ripped into the home side’s forwards and they in turn started to show signs of fatigue. Just before the whistle went, Charlie Birdsall crashed in for Lloyd to goal and at half time we trailed by 6, although it was obvious to me, queuing for a cup of Bovril, that the last twenty minutes of play had left us visiting supporters a lot happier than the now rather ‘grumpy’ home crowd.
The second half started much as the first finished with Hull pressing and Leigh desperately trying to cover up. Then after seven minutes Norton broke brilliantly from a three-man tackle on the left, he fed on to Wilby who ran straight at Hogan, before releasing Prendiville, for the Welsh flyer to cruise in at the corner for his second try. To chants of ‘Super Taff, Super Taff’, Lloyd landed a brilliant touchline goal and as the rain started to fall again we were just one point behind. Next Pickerill broke from a play the ball and a neat reverse pass sent Skerrett charging in under the posts and another Lloyd goal saw us 19-l5 in the lead. The rain was now lashing down but our rampaging style continued, as Robinson joined the line from full back and the supporting Wilby shot down field to touch down. At 23-15 we looked to have it won but in the last ten minutes Leigh bombarded our line. As our early failings crept back into our game, we needlessly conceded an incredible 6 penalties in the last 9 minutes, and Leigh sensed the possibility of a comeback.
It was ‘backs to the wall’ stuff until with just 3 minutes to go Gittens broke through again and Fairhurst scored. At 23-20 we were struggling to hold on, but Hull’s pack brilliantly led by Norton just withstood the home team’s onslaught. Prendiville finally relieved the pressure by intercepting a desperate pass on our ten-yard line and, kicking ahead, he was just beaten to his hat-trick in the last action of the game, when, as ‘Taffy’s’ hand went down towards the ball, Dave Bullough the Leigh winger stretched to kick it dead. Mr McDonald the referee blew for time and as the hands of all the Hull players shot in the air, the FC Army clambered over the low concrete perimeter wall and onto the pitch to celebrate in the rain and the mud. It was a great victory in which everyone played a part, although looking back it was almost totally dominated by the man through whom everything that day was channelled, the great ‘Knocker’ Norton.
As for John Woods well he had a fantastic game and right on cue the following Wednesday it was announced that we had offered Leigh £100,000 for their ‘talismanic’ number 6. However, despite us being the ‘Big spenders’ of the competition, Leigh turned us down, and so, unbeknown to us supporters, our Board of Directors turned their attention to another great number 6 who was plying his trade over in Wakefield.
‘Trevor the Fish’ and the blazing anorak
Sunday 5th October 1980 Hull 10 New Zealand 33
As I stated in the last book, the folks who went on the ‘Half Way’ and ‘The Mermaid’ bus trips to away matches, were certainly a crowd of characters, but no one was more colourful or entertaining than ‘Trevor the Fish’. A passionate cigar smoker, Trevor, as I said earlier, could drink an amazing amount of beer which seemed to have little effect on him until the game had started, when, without any warning, he would suddenly fall asleep in a coma like state, from which it was hard to rouse him. He almost caused a riot at the match against the New Zealand tourists on 5th October which incidentally we lost 33-10. Trevor was enjoying his usual cigar in the second half when all of a sudden he was ‘gone’, out like a light and snoring profusely. He slumped forward in his seat as at the same time, the cigar rolled from his lips and into the hood of the anorak worn by the guy sat directly in front of him. Trevor was oblivious to this and Ian, John, Charlie and I, despite witnessing what had happened, were in fits of laughter and could do little to help.
The lad in front had no idea either, although when a thin strand of smoke started to curl up from his hood it was time to take some action. Quick as a flash Charlie threw the remains of his half time ‘cuppa’ straight at the back of the guy’s head at which point he sprung to his feet and went ‘ballistic’. It was mayhem! The guy hopped from one foot the other with smoke rising behind his head and although he was still unaware that he was on fire, we couldn’t tell him for laughing, or in Trevor’s case, snoring.
Two weeks later after a victory against Leeds we couldn’t rouse Trevor at all and so we left him sat there on his own in his seat after the game had finished. I can still picture the scene as we turned at the top of the South Terracing before descending to the gate. There was this beleaguered figure, sat in the gathering gloom, slumped in his seat in the now deserted Stand. That night though, as was usual at opening time, he walked into the pub whistling away, just as if nothing had happened, he just commented on the win, grinned that infectious grin and ordered a pint.
It was certainly apparent that the visit to Wembley and the Floodlit Trophy victory the previous year plus a great first season in the First Division, had captured the imaginations of the fans and attendances were on the increase. That October the Board at the Club announced a £22,468 profit for the previous season, generated by an extra £86,000 from season ticket sales which had accrued £200,000 in total. It was hard to believe that they hadn’t made a lot more profit after Wembley, but who knows? Speedway still helped too and the Hull Vikings paid the Club £10,900 which was an increase of £2,000 on the previous twelve months trading.
Ozzie bites the head off a chicken and it’s ‘Fanx Tara’ from Sad Cafe
Back in the day job, it was certainly still difficult getting the major national rock promoters to consider Hull for a date on their tours. However, after some ‘arm twisting’ and offering a lucrative introductory deal, I did manage to get a big concert from top promoters ‘Wasted Management’ of Birmingham, who in mid-November brought ‘The Ozzy Osbourne Blizzard of Oz’ tour to the City.
With the sweet smell of patchouli everywhere, a sell-out crowd of ‘ageing rockers’ in leather jackets, bandanas and ‘Engineer’s boots’, enjoyed a great concert that finished with covers of Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’, ‘Children of the Grave’ and the final ‘anthemic’ encore, ‘Paranoid’. At one point the show included Ozzie biting the head off a chicken and throwing the entrails into the crowd. Actually, it was a rubber chicken and the entrails were pieces of liver purchased that afternoon by the Tour Manager, who got them from Dads old butcher’s shop in Saville Street. The crowd absolutely loved it, particularly the chicken bit!
This success was followed by our first concert with the agency that handled most of the Manchester bands back then. Kennedy Street Artistes was owned by the charismatic and flamboyant figure of Danny Betesch, who had for many years, before he set up on his own, been personal assistant to the world-famous impresario Harvey Goldsmith. This show again sold out and featured current chart band ‘Sad Cafe’ who included in their set their hits ‘Every Day Hurts’, ‘My Oh My’ and ‘Strange Little Girl’ from their latest album ‘Fanx Tara’.
The Colts run riot in the rain
Saturday 29th November 1980 Hull Colts 73- Widnes Colts 0
Around that time, I decided to go and ‘run the rule’ over the much-celebrated crop of youngsters we currently had playing for the Club. It was the general consensus that Coach Dave Elliott was doing a great job developing our highly acclaimed Colts team, who were that year, taking their competition by storm. Before the game I downed a few pints in the Lion in Redbourne Street, a smashing little pub that was on weekday lunchtimes the haunt of many a young seaman doing his ‘tickets’ at the Nautical College around the corner in the Boulevard. When I got to the Stadium it was pouring with rain and standing on the Threepenny Stand I witnessed a real one-sided game on a heavy pitch which had none the less attracted around 1000 other curious onlookers. We won the match against Widnes Colts easily, 73-0. Young Paul Redfearn scored five tries and there were great performances from Keith Foster, Mike Ridsdale and Kenny Jackson but amazingly it was only Wayne Proctor, playing in the second row, who was destined to ultimately make the grade into the first team. Having a great ‘A’ and Colts team was fine and very commendable, but the fans (and it appeared the Board) were hungry for success and if any position needed strengthening there seemed to be no time for the youngsters to be ‘blooded’, as invariably we just went out and bought someone, a philosophy that was great for us fans at the time, but one that would lead to financial problems in the future.
In early December, as work got more and more hectic I had a couple of beers in the Punch Hotel with one of the nicest guys I met during my time at the City Hall. Eminent trombonist and comedian George Chisholm whiled away an hour with me, talking about his appearances on ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’ and with ‘The Goons’. Then three days later, I promoted the first Professional Boxing show that the venue had seen for years. On an exciting night attended by over 1,200 boxing fans local hero Ricky Beaumont lost a Final Championship Eliminator to Dave McCabe, while another local lad Steve Pollard won on points and Bobby Welburn knocked out Glen Rhodes in just 47 seconds! The place was packed and despite the proliferation of ‘No Smoking’ signs around the venue, by the time the last bout was over, the whole place, toilets, corridors and vestibule included, was enveloped in an atmosphere heavy with a fog of acrid cigarette smoke.
‘Mud, Mud Glorious Mud’; enter the Sports Turf Research Centre
Sunday 7th December 1980 Hull 11-York 10
Down at the Boulevard it was John Player Trophy time again although we had certainly experienced little joy in that tournament since our heroics at that 1976 Final against Widnes, when we just failed to lift the Trophy. In the first round we drew York the then leaders of the Second Division and so on 7th December, on a cold and frosty afternoon, almost 11,000 fans turned up to witness Hull FC and the ‘The Wasps’ being literally buried in the Boulevard mud. The pitch gradually depreciated and as both teams had to change shirts twice, any semblance of open flowing rugby was impossible. Although we just won it was apparent to all of us that Arthur Bunting was producing a rugby team suited to fast, open, exciting play, that was now performing on a pitch better suited to mud wrestling.
The Club called in the Sports Turf Research Centre to ascertain what could be done to improve things and immediately received a stark warning from their Managing Director Mr Eskritt that if they persisted with that pitch, “The club could be in danger of causing serious injury to their players”. This was a real concern and the Club immediately set about trying to rectify the problem. By the next home game against Wakefield three inches of the mud in the centre of the pitch had been scraped away, dumped behind the terracing at the Gordon Street end and replaced with one hundred tons of sharp sand. It wasn’t the first time we had used sand in this way, far from it, and in the past it hadn’t worked at all, but this time we had at least removed the mud first. These actions however left the whole area between the 25 yard lines resembling a beach.
Dick Gemmell goes scouting for Kiwi’s
At a time when thousands of us felt like we had lost one of the family as we mourned the tragic and premature death of John Lennon, we learned that the Club had dispatched Director Dick Gemmell to France to meet up with the New Zealand touring team in an attempt to sign three of their International players, Fred Ah Koi, Dane O’Hara and James Leuluai. One of the problems he faced was that Hull KR were interested in O’Hara too and had made him an offer, however nothing was signed and Gemmell was apparently still in with a chance of enticing the mercurial winger and his fellow countrymen to the Boulevard. These three had really impressed during the recent Kiwi Tour and although Gemmell still had some work to do, it seemed that the players were interested, although it was to be another 6 months before any of them donned a black and white shirt.
At work life continued with a host of Christmas services, Carol Concerts and Winter Proms but I had at least managed to get some rock music into the venue for the festive season and first up were the Undertones who played to a full house. The Irish pop/punk band were quickly followed two days later by a concert featuring Sheffield heavy metal band Saxon who helped by the use of bass bins on the floor of the Hall to enhance the ‘bottom end’ of their sound were loud…..really loud. In fact, when you opened the doors at the rear of the main hall the thumping of the bass and drums made your chest vibrate and next day the Manager of ‘March the Tailors’, a shop under the City Hall, complained that on arrival that morning he had found that his ceiling had collapsed. He stormed into my office shouting, “It’s showered my best bloody suits with fuck*ng plaster”. Still, ‘it’s an ill wind’ and that same day Sydney Scarborough’s the record store a few doors down the Street ran out of copies of Saxon’s latest CD, ‘Strong Arm of the Law’, as at least someone in the local economy was benefiting from my attempts to bring the City Hall ‘kicking and screaming’ into the 80’s.
Not a Happy Christmas, if you’re a welder
Sunday 28th December 1980 Hull 1 Oldham 2
Christmas came around at the City Hall and as was to become the norm, I was exhausted after a really busy year. Following the final concert, ‘Christmas with the Choral Union’ I took all the staff to ‘The Punch’ where we had a drink to celebrate the end of the busy autumn season and I have to admit that I was just amazed that my aging ‘crew’ had made it through at all. It was however a tough festive period for many in the City as over at the soon to be completed Humber Bridge, 400 welders were laid off after completing their work, as they joined the other 24,000 who were out of work in the region that December. When ‘Father Christmas’ arrived at the City Hall Flat that year he brought a copy of the first ever Rothmans Rugby League Year book, which kept me occupied until ‘The Punch’ opened at tea time on Christmas Day. As the only customer that night, Mary the Land Lady presented me with a bottle of wine. “Not very original” I thought, “But kind all the same”
254 minutes without a try!
Sunday 5th January 1981 Hull 10 Leigh 9
That festive season Hull FC was struggling. Having beaten York 11-10 at home in the mud and Whitehaven 13-0 away, we lost 5-2 at the Boulevard to Wakefield Trinity and suffered a 2-1 loss at Oldham. What was worse still was the fact that throughout that period we didn’t cross the try line once, with all our points coming from penalty or drop goals. This produced an unwanted record of having played 254 minutes without scoring a single try.
It was not until after 68 minutes of the Leigh game at the Boulevard that we finally scored with a try that was superbly engineered and executed. It started when scrum half Clive Pickerill linked with Steve Norton at the base of a scrum 20 yards from the Leigh line. ‘Knocker’ who had caused the visitors problems all afternoon, suddenly stepped right to carved out a huge opening. He ran on, turned inside and found Gaitley open on his left and he barrelled in next to the right hand upright to the jubilation of his team mates and the fans on the terraces.
You could feel the sense of relief throughout the ground and the spectator’s reaction could not have been more vociferous had Gaitley scored the winning try at Wembley. In the late stages of the second half Clive Pickerill got a real slap across the face from a Leigh forward and it looked like he might have sustained a broken nose. After a lengthy spell of treatment on the side line he returned to the game to feed a scrum in front of the ‘Threepenny’s’. Immediately one of the great orators’ in that famous Stand shouted, “Hey, Pickerill, with a nose like that you look like a f*cking parrot, shouldn’t be sat on the cross bar”. A late try by that man John Woods almost snatched a victory for the visitors, but in the end we held out and won the game 10-9.
There were a host of problems off the field too and although we all look back at those ‘good old days’ of the early 80’s as some of the best times we experienced as a Club, we should never forget with so many big name players in the squad there were a lot of egos in the dressing room too. Thankfully one of Arthur Bunting’s strongest qualities was the fact that he was a diplomat, a good talker and a great ‘Man Manager’ so most of the problems that raised their heads behind the scenes, were kept right there…….behind the scenes.
That was however not the case when on 8th January 1981 the ‘backstage’ rumblings spilled out into the media and the players threatened to go on strike over the win bonus they had been offered (£300) to play in the upcoming John Player Semi Final against Barrow. Knocker Norton was as usually the spokesman, but Chairman Charlie Watson backed by his deputy Roy Waudby stood firm and retorted that, “Should the players ‘withdraw their labour’ the Board and Coach will play the ‘A’ team in the semi-final at Headingley”. Within twenty-four hours and after a deal of ‘talking round’ from Bunting, the players backed down and agreed on the original bonus payment offer, which was inconsequential in the end anyway, as Hull lost the game 10-13. As we will see in the coming pages, this was not the last dispute between the players and the Club, in that most glorious of eras.
The return of John Newlove, Mick Crane and Lenny the Lion
Across town at the Hull New Theatre the Pantomime featured Lenny the Lion and ventriloquist Terry Hall, who had come out of retirement, especially to do the show and he wasn’t the only one returning to ‘perform’ in Hull either. At the Boulevard our continuing injury crisis in the half backs saw John Newlove, (who had by this time been retired for 5 months), come back to help out a depleted back division. At work I was trying my best to get more and more touring rock shows into the City but whilst the country was celebrating the announcement that Princess Diana and Prince Charles were to marry, we FC fans were more interested in the ‘engagement’ of Mick Crane, the enigma who had left us to join Leeds and then moved onto the enemy across the River. He had now walked out on the ‘Red and Whites’, and so for a fee of £15,000, he made a welcome return to the Boulevard.
‘Craney’ was exactly what we needed, because his off the cuff and unpredictable style would add some unpredictability to our squad. However, it was certainly still not all ‘sweetness and light’ in the dressing room as a deal of unrest continued. Tim Wilby and Graham Walters were both sanctioned for, “Discussing Club business outside the Club” and the Board put both players straight on the transfer list. The unrest was however tempered somewhat by us signing another new player. Tony Dean, who had been a thorn in our side for years when playing for New Hunslet, signed for £8,000, to offer a more long-term solution to our half back problems. Tony was to prove a very astute purchase and his arrival was all the more significant as far as the Hull fans were concerned when Dick Tingle in the Hull Daily Mail revealed that Hull had beaten Hull KR to his signature.
The season continued and wins at home to Bradford, Widnes, Leeds and St Helens saw gates soaring past the 12,000 mark with the Club installing two new and faster turnstiles to cope with the pre-match demand. Speedway was still helping the finances too but their input, which for so many years had kept Hull FC afloat financially, was now far outstripped by the Club’s own income streams. Still, on Wednesday 1st April, in front of 5,430 spectators the Hull Vikings rode their 300th meeting since being formed back in 1971, when they arrived at the Boulevard as part of a desperate attempt to keep Hull FC afloat.
Mayhem, carnage and shame….the long Good Friday
Friday 17th April 1981. Hull 16-Hull KR 17
So, we come to one of the most significant events in our Club’s recent history and to one that is sadly remembered for all the wrong reasons. Those were dire times for the workers of a region when the decline of both the Docks and the Fishing Industry saw the local economy in decline. This situation was well illustrated in early April when the popular local bakers ‘Mackmans’ went into liquidation shedding 180 jobs over-night. Still the residents of the City seemed able to afford their rugby, as the rivalry between the two Clubs, (fuelled by the goings on at Wembley a year earlier), reached ‘fever pitch’. The game that saw this antagonism and pseudo-hatred reach it’s zenith took place on Good Friday 1981. That Spring afternoon there were 18,500 packed into the Boulevard for a Derby game that saw the old rivals clash in an encounter that created an atmosphere that was, from the moment you entered the Stadium, supercharged with tension, emotion and a deal of menace. I was tempted to omit this game altogether because quite frankly as a Rugby League fan I am still ashamed to talk about it. However perhaps the old adage that “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is pertinent here and so I include it ‘Lest we ever forget’. It was probably one of the blackest days in the history of our great Club. What happened was nothing short of a disgrace to the game, both Clubs and the City!
On that fateful afternoon I settled in my place, in the ‘new seats’ at the South end of the Best Stand, to join what was the biggest League attendance the British game had seen since the inception of two Divisions back in 1973. I have already mentioned the bane of football hooliganism and that day it was all around, as the atmosphere in certain factions of the crowd was fuelled with antaganism and it felt like we were sitting on a powder keg.
The match started well and we witnessed an exciting first quarter. From the kick-off Hull KR pressed our line but after 9 minutes it was Hull who took the lead when Tony Dean picked up a loose ball, ran thirty yards and put Graham Walters away. Paul Woods converted and we led 5-0. Back came the opposition with two quick tries from Hogan on 12 minutes and Hartley 3 minutes later. Both conversions were missed and Woods restored our lead and pushed us further ahead with two penalties. Leading 9-6 Hull were starting to get on top when on 22 minutes the unthinkable happened.
In what was dubbed by the National Press “The Long Good Friday” and “The Battle of Bunker’s Hill” by the local media, all hell broke loose at the Division Road end of the Ground. All of a sudden the unseasonably blue skies were blacked by a hail of flying debris as thousands of innocent supporters ran for cover. Initially there was no fighting, just a bombardment of bricks, mud, rubble and wood from the ‘Building Site’ behind the embankment.
It all seemed to start when 30 or so Hull and Rovers supporters who were standing in the middle of the South terrace started throwing missiles at the policemen on the Speedway track below. The regular, ‘decent’ fans on that part of the terracing soon stopped this happening, but the protagonist’s then moved around the back of the embankment and started throwing bricks and rubble over the terracing and into the section of the crowd that had thwarted them earlier. The Club were undertaking some improvement work to increase the capacity of the Boulevard and the Police had been warned about the debris, but they couldn’t stop a handful of ‘idiots’ leaving the terracing and congregating behind it, to launch the onslaught.
As referee Laughton took the players off the field, the St John Ambulance staff led old people, children, and young women along the touchline in front of us. Many had head wounds streaming with blood whilst others staggered about aimlessly, apparently suffering from shock. On the Gordon Street terrace many fans from both sides who were desperate to escape, swept over the fence and onto the pitch leaving two small factions of ‘idiots’ battling it out on the steps behind them. Then as we watched from our seats in the Best Stand a Policeman went by on a stretcher, obviously unconscious, and elsewhere mothers shepherded their children away from the melee and out of the ground. We were all just sat there stunned as we witnessed what was later described as Rugby League’s ‘Blackest day’
In the 14 minutes that the teams were off the field 40 people were reported to be hurt and 13 more arrested as the Boulevard started to resemble a battlefield. Amazingly, slowly but surely the Police got control and shepherded the fans back onto the terraces and the game eventually restarted when the referee led the teams out and ordered a scrum to Rovers on the centre spot.
If we the fans had lost our appetite for the game on the pitch, Hull had, as a team, lost all the momentum we had before the stoppage. We all just looked out at a surreal scene, as the game went on with people still being treated on the grass behind the posts, in front of the Gordon Street terraces. The incidents I describe here were I suppose a shameful blot on a game that, looking back now, had many exciting pieces of action and some nerve tingling moments. Rovers had used the enforced break to collect themselves and tore back at us for the rest of the first half.
Within seven minutes evading both Norton and Woods, Hubbard crashed in at the corner and at half time the scores were tied 9-9. Tony Dean almost got over after just two minutes of the second half and then we saw Hull’s best move of the game. Dean beat Sanderson to the ball when Rovers had won a scrum and as he was tackled he got up quickly, played the ball to himself and shot in under the posts and as Woods converted we were 14-9 up and in command again. Woods the man who had back at Wembley in 1980, asked the Queen Mother for her autograph, tried to have a laugh with the lads in the Threepenny’s as he walked back but everyone was, in general, just too ‘shell shocked’ to respond!
However, Hull KR’s International second rower Phil Lowe crashed through two tackles and despite a valiant effort from Mick Crane he scored another try and Hubbard landed his only goal to level things up again. A high tackle by a young Steve Crooks on Hull’s Steve Norton saw Woods edge us ahead and with ten minutes to go we looked to be hanging on for a win. Unfortunately, with seconds left Lowe broke through again and right in front of us he kicked through and touched down in the corner and Hull KR were victorious 17-16.
If that defeat and those terrible scenes were not enough, imagine the shame we all felt, when the ‘riot’ featured as the headlines on the BBC’s national Nine O’Clock News that night. There we all were, as the shameful scenes of a few hours earlier were laid bare ‘in all their glory’ for the whole country to see.
Next day the headlines in the Hull Daily Mail read “Hull’s Revulsion in Wake of Riot” and there followed a catalogue of local politicians, Churchmen and MP’s all decrying the actions of those few idiots that had brought our City into disrepute. Much retribution and condemnation of the goings on that Good Friday followed, as did a RL hearing, but for me it’s a memory that is perhaps best forgotten however I feature it here for future generations of sports fans as a warning about what can happen when banter and rivalry cross that thin line and turn to hatred!!!
So much coverage was given to the ‘Riot’ that most of us FC fans missed completely a piece in the local paper that indicated that over in New Zealand, Fred Ah Kuoi, had decided to turn down Hull’s offer of a contract and had instead joined South Sydney. That fateful Friday that was anything but Good, was also significant for something that was actually only revealed as part of a TV interview two decades later. Ray French, BBC TV’s Rugby League match commentator, then revealed that on that occasion he had been match summariser with the legendary Eddie Waring.
That terrible day the pair climbed down the ladder from the rickety scaffolding gantry, accompanied by the usual hoots of derision and goading from the Threepenny Stand below. Once back on ‘terra firma’ Waring turned to French and said, “Well that’s the last time you’ll get me up there, Ray!” and sure enough the Challenge Cup Final a few weeks later was Eddie’s last game for the BBC. He had one of the greatest voices the game has ever heard and it was then that he passed into folk-lore. Eddie was a character that was loved by some and hated by others, although he certainly possessed some memorable defining characteristics.
He will always be remembered for his occupancy at the Queen’s Hotel, his appetite for copious amounts of grapes to ‘keep the vocal chords clear’, that famous trilby hats (an impersonators dream), his numerous ‘grating’ catch phrases, that camel coat and his constant and proud grooming of a full head of wavy hair.
‘Toppo’ arrives and Charlie Watson departs
Saturday 16th May 1981 Hull 7 Hull Kingston Rovers 11
The rest of that season was pretty nondescript really, we had promised much but in the end it all fizzle out, although we did get into the Premiership play-offs at the end of the season. Hull KR actually reached Wembley, something most of us in the West of the City purposely ignored, but as a member of the ‘Mermaid Wembley Weekend Club’, I’d paid my £2-00 every week and so I went down to London as usual, wearing my black and white scarf and hat and of course supporting Widnes. I always think that those people that say you have to support Rovers because they’re a Hull team really don’t get it at all!
As if to steal a bit of our rival’s thunder on the eve of the final Hull announced that they had signed Wakefield stand-off David Topliss. ‘Toppo’ was snared for a fee of £15,000, which was a small outlay for the contribution he was to make to my Club in the forthcoming seasons. Our Premiership campaign was a pretty successful one really and although Toppo was ‘Cup Tied’ we played and beat Warrington at Wildespool and Castleford at Wheldon Road in a fantastic game in which Steve Norton starred and after trailing 10-0 at half time we eventually came back to win 11-10. So, the stage was set for a Final against Hull KR which we lost 11-7 at Headingley. It was not a great game and I don’t intend going into the details of it here, but sufficient to say that the winners went to a Council Reception, while the rest of us went looking for counselling. However, two interesting things surrounded that last match of the 1980/81 season.
Firstly, 3 days before the final there was more trouble about bonus payments, which led to Clive Pickerill asking for a transfer. He was promptly dropped from the starting 17, and he and Graham Walters were soon on their way to Wakefield. It was also the game that was to see the end of the tenure of Chairman, Charlie Watson, who decided to stand down after the defeat.
Some said that he was under pressure from his deputy Roy Waudby, whilst others pointed to the trauma and disappointment he faced after the events surrounding that Good Friday debacle. However, I think that having brought Hull FC from the Second Division to a Wembley appearance and a Premiership Final, he had decided he had ‘done his bit’. It is said Charlie cried that day, but it’s unclear as to whether it was because of a defeat to the old enemy or the fact that he was leaving the Chairmanship of the Club he loved, or even because at the Final his day was finally crowned when he actually lost his wallet. Perhaps it was a bit of all three?
Roy Waudby takes over as Chairman
Within days Roy Waudby, whose business acumen and financial clout had been behind much of our revival and who was gaining celebrity status with the faithful fans, was named the new Chairman. Roy immediately announced a plan to spend £1.4m to revamp and improve the Boulevard Stadium. This controversially included the proposed demolition of the Threepenny Stand at the end of the next season. However, the Threepennies had survived bigger threats than that, including one posed by the constant visits of Mr Hitler’s Heinkel’s in 1940/41 and needless to say, it was to survive again; for the time being at least.
Around that time, I got myself one of those ‘new-fangled’ video recorders and having wrestled with the instructions, one of the first programmes I recorded was a documentary shown on Yorkshire TV called ‘Another Bloody Sunday’. It was a fabulous insight into the game in the lower divisions and featured Doncaster, a Club whose run of defeats the previous season had got them into the Guinness Book of Records. The hour-long feature followed the ‘Dons’ fortunes on and off the field and their colourful and at times controversial prop forward, ex Hull FC player Tony Banham, who features in a previous episode of this tale.
Wrestling with the Cultural Services Committee.
Meanwhile whilst the City Hall was quiet during the summer, I was having a real battle with the Council’s Council’s Cultural Services Committee which was responsible for the running of the venue. Some of the more, shall we say traditional members, including Alice Tulley the Chairman, (who was a kind and gentle lady), were up in arms about what I wanted to promote there. What was it that had them so outraged? Was it Strippers or indoor hare coursing? Well in fairness it was nothing so controversial and more to do with an approach I had received from Jackie Pallo the famous TV wrestler who wanted to bring his touring show to the venue. The debate in the Guildhall that Tuesday afternoon in June went on for about an hour and had the Hull Daily Mail’s Committee correspondent scribbling away until his pencil was blunt. Concerns expressed included, “What will happen if we get blood on the walls?” to “Men in leotards in the City Hall, it’s immoral and hardly conceivable”. Still in the end it was agreed that it could go ahead for a trial period, even though a couple of councillors had at one point threatened to resign over the issue.
The thing was of course wrestling was an absolute ‘picnic’ compared with that ‘Damned’ concert, (which turned out to be the ‘Night of the fire Extinguishers’), that I described previously and then there was Ozzie Osborne’s gastronomic antics with that chicken! It was certainly a good job, I thought, that the worthy members of the Cultural Services Committee were not in the habit of attending anything but Orchestral Concerts at the City Hall.
The Kiwi’s are coming as Dick Gemmell gets his men!
On 6th June we all discovered from the Hull Daily Mail that Director Dick Gemmell was in New Zealand. The interview, conducted by Dick Tingle over the telephone and reported in a special late edition of the broadsheet, was exciting news indeed. The lead article told how Gemmell had gone to the Southern Hemisphere to finalise the contracts of both Dane O’Hara and James Leuluai who Hull FC had now been pursuing for six months. On arrival Dick found the players were not at home in Auckland, but actually at New Zealand’s International Training Camp some 60 miles away. Dick travelled there by train to see them and was told that although both players wanted to join Hull they also wanted to first speak to North Sydney for whom Fred Ah Kuoi had signed, just in case they were wanted there.
It was Wednesday and Dick, having travelled half way round the world in good faith, gave the ultimatum, “Sign before Friday or its all off!” Within an hour of him arriving back at his hotel, he received a phone call to say, “Bring us the forms and we’ll sign right now”. Back he went, again, by train, to the Training Camp and at last secured the signatures the fans had craved for so long. Within ten days Garry Kemble, the New Zealander’s full back had also signed to join his pals and it was the start of a golden era at Hull FC, when these three antipodeans and the recently acquired David Topliss, would etch their names into the history of the Club forever.
The news had economic repercussions in West Hull too and in the first week of going on sale, Hull FC sold £35,000 worth of season tickets, which was, by any standard, a phenomenal achievement and a new club record. In addition, the Club, despite their high hopes and plans of earlier that year, reviewed their finances and decided to abandon the idea of building a ‘new’ Threepenny Stand’. That decision was something that we the fans applauded, but one that in future years and in the wake of the Bradford City disaster, the Board of Hull FC would need to revisit again!
The opening of ‘A bridge to nowhere’
During that summer the Council took the opportunity to have the City Hall redecorated and we followed that refurbishment with another ‘smoke filled’ professional boxing promotion at which, in front of 1000 partisan fans, Steve Pollard got a fine points victory in a North of England Eliminator bout.
Then the region made history! After eight years in the building at 12-04pm on 24th June 1981, the Lord Mayor of Kingston upon Hull, Councillor Alex Clarke drove his battered Triumph Herald Estate across the Humber Bridge to open the longest single span suspension bridge in the World. We all crowded round the windows on the top floor of the Council’s Leisure Services Offices in Ferensway to see if we could see the first lorry go across, and although it was just a dot in the distance, we actually saw it and accompanied the sighting with an impromptu round of applause, after which we were all immediately embarrassed. On a more sober note, three days later at an independent tribunal at Rugby League Head Quarters, Hull FC were fined £1,000 for their part in that Good Friday riot and the whole affair was thankfully finally confined to the history books.
Dave Topliss shines as the Kiwi’s fly in.
Sunday 27th September 1981 Hull 42 Castleford 24
As things were quiet at the City Hall during the summer I was asked to do a bit of work in the Entertainments Tent at the Hull Show in East Park, where I had started my career with the Council 26 years earlier. It was mostly a day long programme of kids’ participation stuff, (which included endless renditions of, ‘The Birdie Song’) and the Miss Hull Show contest. I will leave you to guess which I found the most entertaining!
Then at last the new rugby season kicked off with the Eva Hardaker Memorial Trophy game played at Castleford. The decision to stop playing Hull KR in this fixture was something that perhaps, after the happenings the previous Easter had been, with hindsight, a fortuitous decision. We all went to Wheldon Road to watch Hull field a makeshift team with second rower Sammy Lloyd at centre, winger Paul Prendiville at stand-off and try scoring debutant Barry Edwards on the wing as we won an entertaining encounter 24-23. A second friendly was hastily arranged against Featherstone, again away, and again we won. This match also saw the long-awaited debut of Dave Topliss in the number 6 shirt, however the next week we were dumped out of the Yorkshire Cup at the first-round stage by Leeds at the Boulevard.
Two days later the first of our three Kiwi signings flew in, as Gary Kemble arrived in the Country. He made his debut in an ‘A’ team game (which I missed) at Featherstone and was reported to have been the ‘Man of the Match’ in his first outing, during which because of our mounting injuries ‘A’ team player/coach Clive Sullivan was forced out of retirement.
Val Doonican goes off his rocker! While there’s an eventful debut for Dane O’Hara
Sunday 24th September 1981 Hull 42-Castleford 24
The new season at The City Hall was booking up well as we started off with a great gig by the Scottish rock band Nazareth. They were touring a live album they had recorded the previous year call ‘Snaz’ and despite a terrible day when the groups equipment was brought into the Hall in pouring rain, and the lift broke down three times, almost 900 people attended the concert. We also had a bit of an ‘incident’ at the Val Doonican Show three days later when the cardigan wearing Irish singer famed for his singing from a ‘Rocking Chair’, refused to go on stage. Apparently he was less than impressed when my pal Charlie, who was working back stage, said to him, “If you’ve got any old ‘Pullovers’ to give away I’ll have them”. Obviously the laid-back Irishman had no sense of humour and I had to go and intervene and calm the rather irate troubadour so that he, and his rocking chair, eventually went onto the stage. There was however no cardigan for Charlie and ‘our Val’ turned out to be a bit of an awkward sod all round really.
The Hull FC ‘publicity machine’ had certainly learned their lessons from the almost stealth like arrival of Gary Kemble and heralded with much ceremony the arrival of both Dane O’Hara and James Leuluai on 24th September 1981. It is said that Kemble had written to the two newcomers before they arrived to tell them what it was like in Hull. He is reported to have said, of Mick Crane, “We have a player who stubs out his cigarette in the tunnel before he runs out onto the pitch”.
It was an interesting day on other fronts for FC fans as well, because it was also announced that afternoon that we had put in an unsuccessful £80,000 bid for Featherstone second rower Pete Smith and that Paul Woods, ‘Psycho’ to the adoring ‘Black and Whites’ fans, who had recently left for the new Cardiff Club, had been sent off in his second game in Wales and was banned for a record 13 matches. With Gary Kemble already making the Hull FC No.1 shirt vacated by Woods his own, the scene was now set for the other two Kiwis to make their home debuts against Castleford at the Boulevard the following Sunday.
We won the game easily by 42-24, but disaster was to strike for Dane O’Hara in his first match. Following several good breaks that had us all applauding, the left winger was tackled on halfway and failed to get to his feet. He lay on the ground in front of the Threepenny Stand completely motionless for several minutes whilst the medical staff and St John Ambulance boys swarmed around him. ‘Dane O’ had sustained a punctured lung, which was to see him side-lined for the next 6 weeks. All three newcomers had played their part in a good victory but the loss of O’Hara so early in his Hull career, certainly took the shine off the afternoon.
A new Music Venue arrives down the road
Since the ‘Adam and the Ants’ ‘inferno’ at the Queen’s Gardens Technical College there were, with the exceptions of The Lawns in Cottingham and the University Student’s Union, few venues in Hull besides the City Hall willing to host rock music. However, in October that year everything changed as the derelict Tower Cinema was bought by local entrepreneur Wally Mays and reopened as a venue catering for 1,000 people and ideally suited to standing rock concerts. I had met and advised Wally’s son Robert about setting up the place as a venue, because I thought that with its size it would complement rather than conflict with the City Hall and thus improve the local music scene. Which I think in hindsight it did.
The Tower opened to much publicity with concerts by ‘Starfighter’ and punk outfits ‘Theatre of Hate’ and ‘Tenpole Tudor’. At the City Hall we countered with a concert by the Shadows on 7th October which had sold out in a single day. That night was a great success and Charlie, Frank and at the back of the Hall, the rest of the ageing City Hall staff were falling over their feet as they attempted to do the Shadows’ distinctive stage ‘walk’ along to the music. The band were certainly great people to work with and at the end of the Concert Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch came down to the staff ‘Mess Room’ and gave signed copies of their new album, ‘Change of Address’ to each of the lads. Nice guys!
As Speedway ‘hits the boards’ there’s a first win at Wigan for 59 years!
Sunday 25th October 1981 Hull 18-Wigan 5
Hull FC was having a really good season and the crowds were packing the Boulevard for every home game. That success was probably behind a controversial move by the Club when, on 12th October, directly after the last meeting of the Speedway season, they rescinded their lease to the Hull Vikings, claiming that the Speedway promoters had breached the terms of their contract.
At the time, as rugby fans, we were all sick and fed up of the mess that the motor sport left around the place and the thin film of red grit that it deposited everywhere. In fact, the boggy state of our pitch was often blamed on the Speedway shale blocking the land drains under the playing surface. Although popular with their own fans there were, I think, few Hull FC supporters who mourned the passing of Speedway in the City.
That was strangely ironic really, because it was only through the income gained from Hull Speedway that the Club had managed to keep afloat at all in the 70’s, but things were progressing at Hull FC and Speedway had to go. Their promoter Ian Thomas threatened Court action and with claims and counterclaims being exchanged in the local media, it all got very messy. However, the FC fans were all engrossed in a superb run in the John Player Trophy which was good considering we had been decimated by injuries but at least Dane O’Hara had recovered after that serious injury sustained on his debut and was now back in full training.
Dane had his comeback game at Wigan on 25th October when we won at Central Park for the first time in 59 years. That day the Hull fans were still singing on the terraces long after all the home fans had left the ground, for it was a memorable victory. After 30 consecutive defeats over there in darkest Lancashire the famous old ground rocked to the sound of ‘Old Faithful’, being sung after the game by 1000 Hull fans who simply wouldn’t go home. Instead we remained and sang “Hello, Hello, FC are back, FC are back” till we were hoarse and the stewards threw us out.
Up to the final ten minutes, when we only led by 5 points, we were all convinced that Wigan would come back to snatch a victory from ‘the jaws of defeat’. However then, everything clicked into place and Leuluai, playing out of position at stand-off half dominated the final action. Firstly, he scored a fabulous individual try after bursting clear and rounding the Wigan full back Birts with ease and then he put O’Hara in for his first try for the Club, after on the previous play, Paul Prendiville had run 50 yards downfield with Wigan chasers in his wake. In the end we won 18-5, and everyone in the Rugby League started to sit up and take notice.
Judas Priest hit town with a ‘Hog’ up the stairs
I hardly had time to celebrate after that great win before I was thrown straight back into work. Although we still saw artistes like Max Jaffa and Billie Joe Spears visiting the City Hall technical improvements had certainly made the big Rock Promoters of the Country start to consider us. We staged our biggest concert so far on 6th November when heavy metal giants ‘Judas Priest’ took the stage. They were real ‘Rock Stars’ and all arrived in separate black limos which were parked in a row on the pavement outside the venue in Paragon Street; much to the consternation of the local traffic wardens. Their dressing room ‘rider’ included, “12 dustbins filled with ice, with ten bottles of ‘Moet and Chandon’ in each”. The event was promoted by local Grimsby Promoter Steven Stanley’s Solid Entertainments agency and the stuff he was asked to supply for the band was quite unbelievable and included Venison, Quail, boxes of Turkish Delight with the icing sugar removed and 10lbs of grapes ‘stripped from their stalks’. Afterwards, in the dressing rooms as usual most of this was left untouched.
It was the first date on the tour and the stage show itself was spectacular to say the least, with dry ice (delivered from A. J. K. Cold Stores on Hessle Road by men in protective suits, who looked like they would be better placed at Cape Canaveral), and seven smoke machines. In the song ‘Killing Machine’ the band actually shot real machine guns (loaded with blanks) into the air and in ‘Hell Bent on Leather’ lead vocalist Rob Halford rode a Harley Davidson onto the Stage. Getting that into the building was challenging to say the least, it wouldn’t fit in the old parcel lift and so we ended up allowing one of the ‘Roadies’ to ride it up the red carpeted foyer stairs into the Hall. That was certainly a sight I will never forget.
It was great night of Rock ‘opera’ but sadly the public didn’t share my enthusiasm and only 1,200 people attended leaving Steven Stanley, who as local promoter was certainly at the end of the financial ‘food chain’, severely out of pocket. The drama didn’t end there either, because during the concert, several people walking past outside the Hall thought the place was on fire because of the amount of ‘stage’ smoke coming out of the windows. They rang the fire brigade who arrived ten minutes later……in six fire engines with sirens wailing!
The show was just too big for the stage and directly afterwards the group’s management made the decision to scrap a lot of the lighting rig and effects for the rest of the tour. Two days later we promoted the greatest Jazz violist there ever was, when 78 years old Stephan Grappelli took to the stage. The guy was struggling and although I don’t remember his Dressing Room rider, it probably included Sanatogen, haemorrhoid cream, support stockings and a bath with a door in it!!
A naked lady doesn’t hit the headlines
Later that month, still on the Heavy Metal theme, we hosted the last night of the ‘Gillan’ tour which featured the ex-lead singer of Deep Purple on his third solo outing around the World. He demanded an equally extensive and bizarre ‘Rider’ which included Jacob’s Cream Crackers and “Three tins of Carnation Milk”, as well as the mandatory, crates and crates of beer. The last night of most tours is always a nightmare for venue managers. The crew are tired, bits of the kit are starting to fail and the whole proceedings are notorious for the staging of pranks and jokes both on and off stage.
That evening however it appeared that we had got away without anything untoward happening. In fact the only mishap that had occurred was when the drummer Mike Underwood first struck his drums to be confronted by clouds of talcum powder which had been placed on the skins by the road crew.
However I had heard that there was to be a surprise during the band’s final encore (a rendition of Deep Purple’s famous anthem ‘Smoke on the Water’) and so, in an attempt at self-preservation, as the iconic opening riff rang out from the stage, I escorted the Hull Daily Mail’s reporter, and then ‘Mail Beat’ columnist, David Blows to the bar, seconds before a beautiful young lady wearing only high heeled shoes and a smile walked onto the stage.
Those were more conservative times but thankfully for me, such was the draw of a free beer to the local ‘Journo’, he never got wind of what had happened, the appearance didn’t make the front page next day and the venue and the Authority again got away with its reputation intact.
Meanwhile at the Boulevard, the Board were as always on the lookout for new players and despite being in the middle of a 9-game winning run, we signed centre Terry Day from Wakefield and scrum half Kevin Harkin from York. These announcements and our recent results, meant that our administration were certainly popular with the fans and that led to me attending my shortest ever Shareholder’s Meeting, when the whole proceedings at the Royal Station Hotel, lasted just 29 minutes. After much success on the field the Club announced increased profits of £60,000 but this was tempered by Roy Waudby who also announced a new share issue to assist, he said “With the further development of the Club”.
I was certainly perturbed to hear in his closing remarks that at the end of the season the Club were reviving their plan to pull down my old spiritual home the Threepenny Stand. Still the sweet smell of success was in the air that night and this, as with everything else discussed, went by unchallenged from the ‘floor’ of the meeting.
The road to revenge
Saturday 14th November 1981 Barrow 12 Hull 14
The John Player Trophy had, as a competition, certainly gained a lot more popularity since our last appearance in the Final back in 1976 when David Doyle-Davidson’s ‘raggle taggle’ heroes ran the cup kings of Widnes, so close. The competition was now receiving good coverage from the BBC on Grandstand and although the luck of the draw (as far as home games were concerned), seemed to have deserted us that year, it was inconsequential really as we beat Halifax and Castleford away but then just when we needed a home draw in the quarter finals we were drawn away at Barrow. So, it was on Saturday 14th November at 7-00am that bleary eyed and still half asleep’, the ‘Mermaid’ coach with me on it, left Boothferry Estate and headed off towards North West Lancashire and the Rugby League outpost of Barrow.
Barrow had been the ‘surprise package’ of the tournament thus far and really fancied their chances at home in front of a partisan crowd who always made it a hard place for other teams to visit. We arrived in Barrow-in-Furness at around 12-00am and went straight to the British Legion Club with whom Landlord Barry had made one of his ‘prior arrangements’. I remember little of the drinking or eating that day but ‘Hard Up Harry’ actually took some money for a change and even won the Club’s raffle which was a £20 meat voucher for the local butchers. He promptly sold it to a barmaid for £10 and so with a little arm twisting actually bought the one and only round of drinks I ever remember him purchasing!
The game itself was to be a tense bruising encounter which certainly had the whole of the crowd of over 9,000 on their toes throughout. From the start Barrow pressed towards our line and in the first five minutes their prop Herbert twice shot through our defence, scattering tacklers as he went. Onward poured Barrow and from a tap penalty Mason broke free of a tackle by Tindall and Crane and dived over under the sticks as with just five minutes gone the home side took a deserved 5-0 lead. Things looked ominous too as from the re-start the Hull defence had to race back to tackle Hadley who had been put through a big gap by scrum half Cairns, who was controlling things for the home team. Then at last we started to find some space and after some enterprising play from centre’s Leuluai and Harrison, Barrow were penalised and young Lee Crooks landed a good straight penalty to reduce the arrears to 3 points.
Hull then started to turn the screw and with 25 minutes gone our pressure finally paid off when Duke shovelled the ball from the scrum, Norton took it forward to the line, but lost it backwards in the tackle, Day had the presence of mind to pick it up and dive over under the posts and a Crooks conversion saw us leading 7-5.
The second half started with Barrow pressing again but with 9 minutes gone Norton spotted an opening and shot through it. We all thought that the break was in vain because no one appeared to be backing up, but as ‘Knocker’ hung a high looping pass in the air for what seemed like an age, from nowhere Terry Day snatched the hanging ball and beating the cover, touched down near the corner flag. Crooks missed the chance to improve the try but at 10-5, we all started to breathe a little more easily.
However, our relief was short lived as Tindall was penalised by referee Mr Fox for stealing the ball and Tickle reduced the deficit to just one try with a ‘steepling’ penalty kick from 35 yards. A great break by the home sides centre McConnell had try ‘written all over it’ but somehow with no one anywhere near him he dropped the ball and Charlie Stone picked it up to defuse the situation, but we were struggling to keep Barrow at bay.
At the back Barrow’s Tickle seemed to be able to field everything we hoisted towards him and so Norton decided to run the ball at the end of a ‘set’ on the 63rd minute. He drew the defence and sent Crane running towards the Barrow winger who had dropped back anticipating the usual kick. As the defender approached, Mick passed back inside to Norton who sent Leuluai racing away to score in the corner and with seventeen minutes to go we led 13-7 but again Crooks failed to improve the score. That was the signal for Barrow, roared on by a partisan home crowd, to make one last desperate effort. ‘Barrowvians’, with a fierce sense of community fostered by their isolation, are proud people and as the gloom gathered they certainly let us know that they were there doing their bit for their heroes.
We had to defend three sets of six before a Kemble break relieved the pressure and Mick Crane dropped a goal to stretch our lead to 14-7. With 6 minutes to go and both our substitutes, Lloyd and Banks on the field, the game took another twist when Barrow’s Lupton made a break and was just held by Stone before Tickle almost got in but was tackled by Duke at the foot of the post. From the play the ball Cairns shot through and following an easy conversion, there were just two points in it.
In what must have been an exciting encounter for the television audience, on the terraces as the rain started, we were all now very nervous with many unable to watch at all, as a perfectly good shoulder charge by Mick Crane on Szymala saw Referee Fox award the home side a penalty to the left of the posts 35 yards out from the line. After taking an age to prepare the kick, up stepped Tickle to stroke the ball inches past the left upright, and we all breathed again. In the final minute we faced another Barrow onslaught after Harkin was penalised on half way for feeding the scrum, but we survived and hung on for a great if not fortuitous win.
The Cup draw took place that Monday evening on BBC Look North when we were pitted against Oldham thus avoiding Hull KR and setting up a possible ‘return’ final at Headingley. The formalities of an easy win over the Lancastrian side were played out at Headingley on Saturday 28th November, when we were victorious 22-8. Rovers got through too and so the stage was set for a ‘revenge mission’. That Final was to be against the team we all ‘loved to hate’ and the one that had broken our hearts at Wembley just a year and a half previously. Retribution was in the air and the City of Kingston upon Hull was ‘bouncing’.
So once again that’s it and I hope that brought back some memories for you. It was a great time to be an FC fan and thanks for all the E mails texts and other correspondence and calls I’ve received this week. Thanks’ as well, for sticking with the Diary and for all your support, hopefully soon we will be able to get back to something like normal service.
Try to keep believing!