Well here we are again as the weeks speed by and I guess it look as though the season will resume behind closed doors in mid-August, so we still have a couple of months to wait for some action to take place and you have to wonder how long it will be left before training commences and indeed how the clubs will get on, once the furlough scheme starts to unravel.
I’ve been hearing from quite a few of you and everyone seems to be coming to terms with the ‘new normal’ we are all facing up to and when there is anything concrete and worthwhile to discuss or report, I’ll try and discuss it here. In the meantime, for now let’s go back to the crazy life of a fanatical FC fan as this week the serialisation of the books see us revisit a fantastic John Player win against the Dobbins with the late, great, Ronnie Wileman taking centre stage, that amazing drawn Final of ’82 coming as it did amid the Falklands conflict and the unrivalled spectacle that unfolded 18 days later at Elland Road, and of course we win the Championship for the first time since the 1930’s but we start we me back at the Council were business at the City Hall continues to expand.
Slade ‘Bring the House Down’ while Charlie gets a fine!
Back then in the early 80’s the day job back t was taking up around 60 hours a week, I just had to be there when the ‘Airlie Birds’ played and the lure of a great little pub like the Punch Hotel just across the road was really all there was time for. I was living on my own and in-between I tried to look after myself as best I could and I was probably the best customer for those sloppy Fray Bentos tinned meat pies in the whole of the City. It was for me a pretty singular existence.
The City Hall programme was a relentless procession of Carol Services and Christmas Parties but, on 8th December 1981 another sell out rock concert saw Slade continue their triumphant ‘Lock up your Daughters’ tour, with their first gig in Hull for many years. Their new found popularity, after several years in the doldrums, came about after they had been the surprise successes at that summer’s Reading Festival, when they stepped in at the last minute for the rather temperamental Ozzie Osbourne.
Most of the members of Slade had by this time, ‘seen it all’ and certainly quietened down from their hell raising days of the early 70’s; most that is with the exception of ‘Super Yob’ Dave Hill. He turned up for the sound-check that afternoon in an outrageous outfit that included a voluminous purple silk blouse, a bandana tied round his shaven head and the tightest leather jeans and highest stacked heeled boots I had ever seen. As he tottered in at the back of the hall, and to screams of laughter from the sound crew and the rest of the band, Noddy Holder shouted from the stage, “Look out lads here comes Lady John Silver”.
The concert was as usual just one big party which started with a thunder flash and Noddy screaming out the first line of ‘Get Down and Get with It’ from the depths of a darkened stage. That night Slade included all their hits and some of their more recent material like ‘Wheels ain’t Coming Down’ and ‘We’ll Bring the House down’. They used copious amounts of smoke and dry ice and also featured their ‘low tech’ but long-established tradition of throwing toilet rolls from the stage into the crowd, (something that always pleased the cleaners next morning). The whole evening finished as it always did, (be it a Summer Festival or Christmas concert) with Noddy dressed in a Father Christmas outfit, belting out ‘Merry Xmas Everyone’ as the crowd all sang along. What a night and what a mess to clear up next morning! Still, I wouldn’t have minded so much had I not discovered that the toilet rolls they threw had actually been ‘nicked’ from the back stage toilets before the show. ‘Rock and Roll eh?’.
Although a totally different type of entertainment, two days later I enjoyed going to the Boulevard and watching a game of rugby lacking the stress and tension that I usually experienced when watching Hull FC. The occasion was an International between England and France which the ‘Brits’ won 37-0. The game was almost called off because of a heavy overnight frost but despite the cold, 13,000 attended and enjoyed a great encounter featuring some superb tries and our own Steve Norton being named ‘Man of the Match’.
That winter weather meant it was the only game we saw that month. In fact, we didn’t see a home game between the 22nd November when we lost to Bradford Northern, and the 3rd January 1982 when we defeated Hull KR.
The problems I discussed earlier concerning egos and discipline within the Hull FC squad were still apparent. Next to be in trouble was likeable second row forward Charlie Stone who missed training and thus selection for the next game, claiming that he had contracted the flu, only for him to appear the same night at Keith Tindall’s Testimonial Dinner at the Willerby Manor Hotel. That got Charlie a fine, a two-game ban and no doubt the ensuing loss of wages.
‘Cold as Christmas’ but a Derby victory warms us all up!
Sunday 3rd January 1982 Hull 11-Hull KR 1
While the bad weather curtailed most live sport across the country everyone in West Hull was looking forward, with retribution in mind, to another final appearance at Headingley, when Hull would meet the ‘old enemy’ in the John Player Final. Quite amazingly the two Clubs had joined forces and asked the Rugby League to put the prices up so that they could make a bit more money out of the showpiece game. They asked for ground admissions to go up by 50p and for seating prices to increase by £1-50 a request that was turned down by the governing body on 23rd December.
After the frost and snow had subsided the first game played after the long lay-off was the traditional New Year fixture against the same Hull KR at the Boulevard. The Boxing Day game at home to York had been cancelled as snow fell on the pitch and as Eddie Waring was no doubt celebrating his OBE in the New Year’s Honours List, Arthur Bunting brought the players in for extra training on New Year’s Day.
The Boulevard was finally declared playable by referee Billy Thompson on the eve of the Derby and so at last we had some rugby to watch as 17,229 people packed the Boulevard to see Hull victorious by 11-1. But despite a great confidence boosting win, all the talk was of securing tickets, arranging transport and where the ‘Mermaid’ coach would stop for ‘pre drinks’, before the big Final on the 23rd .
However, another row broke out between the two local Clubs and the Rugby League, this time about the allocation of the tickets for the game. It appeared that all the best seats had gone to the governing body and Peter Darley, Hull FC’s Secretary, ironically said, “True fans are being asked to pay too much for poor seats”. Not bad, we thought, from a Club who four weeks earlier had requested that the prices go up anyway!
Stuck in a lift with a Haystack!
Since that afternoon of the big debate in the Guildhall about me promoting Wrestling in the City Hall, the promotions by Jackie Pallo and his associates had been going reasonably well. However, I was then approached by Relwyskow and Green the famous West Yorkshire Promoters (who had traditionally staged their shows at Madeley Street Baths on Hessle Road) with a view to them also using the Hall. Their first show was staged on Tuesday 19th January and featured some well-known ‘TV’ wrestlers including, Adrian Street, ‘Kojak’ Kirk, Johnny Saint, Jim Breaks and a top of the bill pairing between Wild Angus and the legendary wild man of Wrestling ‘Giant Haystacks’. ‘Stacks’ was a ‘private’ character who didn’t like to be seen until he arrived in the ring. Most wrestlers didn’t really care much and walked through the Main Hall around tea time with a cheery smile, and a duffle bag slung over their shoulders, but Giant Haystacks thought he was too big a star for that.
So that day I waited for him at the stage door to bring him up the backstage lift to the dressing rooms. At 5-00pm a battered white transit van with the front number plate hanging on by a single screw, pulled up and out of a specially adapted rear compartment complete with ‘throne like’ chair, struggled the man himself, all 33 stone of him. He was huge and obviously had difficulty getting clothes to fit him as the ones he wore looked like they had been ‘adapted’ with a pair of scissors. His hair was thick and greasy, although he wasn’t the sort of guy that you would ask when he’d last washed it! I guided him to the lift which was pretty small and showed him the controls. He looked at me, then at the buttons, then back at me and grunted; obviously he thought he was above operating a lift and so I had to take him up!
I shut the doors and closed the sliding gates. At first the lift started to rise, then gave a judder and stopped altogether between floors. ‘Mr Haystack’ just parted his hair looked at me and said “Stuck!”. “Wow” I thought, “He’s bright for a Wrestler!” After a few minutes of me shouting and him grunting and sweating profusely, it was all starting to get a bit smelly.
Finally, we were discovered but it was an hour before the lift engineer arrived to ‘hand crank’ us back down again, and in that time we didn’t exchange a single word. Still the lift technician was brave indeed, because I remember as we finally got down again, he said to the Wrestler, “You’re a bit too fat for that lift mate”. I just looked at my shoes whilst ‘Stacks’ snarled at him and grunted again. That was the last time I ever went in that back stage lift at the City Hall with anyone.
Talking of lifts, later that year a temporary member of staff who was covering for Charlie, managed to get the whole of the Vienna Boys Choir stuck in the lift at the front of the building. I told him to “Bring the choir up in the Lift” but apparently omitted to say “but not all at once!” On that occasion the lift again stopped this time with just a foot gap at the top of the lift cage and it must have been an unforgettable experience for those 25 cherubic Austrian choir boys, as Frank the Foreman and I dragged them through the gap, one by one, by their arm pits.
Big trouble at Boothferry Park
Sport in Hull (and more particularly its supporters), was starting to suffer somewhat at the hands of the media. The memory of that Good Friday riot at the Boulevard was re-kindled when after a Third Round Cup Replay against Chelsea at Boothferry Park, some idiotic City fans ‘bricked’ the Chelsea team coach and then threw bottles at the players as they tried to get off it. One missile hit goal keeper Steve Francis in the eye and he had two stitches inserted into a broken eye socket. The national papers always loved this sort of thing and were full of it next day. However, despite what was fast becoming a real concern for the Police, the sports clubs and the citizens of Hull, the Black and White supporters had just one thing on our minds; Cup Final revenge against Hull KR.
Revenge is a dish best served … by Ronnie Wileman!
Saturday 23rd January 1982 Hull 12- Hull Kingston Rovers 4
The much-awaited John Player Cup Final was played at Headingley on a freezing cold Saturday afternoon. This venue was always chosen for these mid-winter games because it still had under soil heating, to keep the surface temperature just above freezing. We had several players out injured and on the terraces we fretted and worried about the possibility of a repeat of what happened the last time the two rivals met in a Final, in 1980. There was a lot at stake because as always with local Derby’s you just couldn’t lose. Losing to Rovers in a final is worse than death, because at least with death you don’t have to go to work next morning.
We needn’t have been concerned however because the game turned out to be both memorable and rewarding, featuring as it did two players being sent off, an amazing 50 yard try by our hooker and several Hull KR players refusing to go up for their loser’s medals at the end! That final act of petulance didn’t surprise us FC fans at all, but was, in hindsight, probably instigated after our Captain Charlie Stone went up to receive the Trophy, despite being sent off with ‘Rovers’ player Holdstock towards the end of the match. Charlie was never far from controversy and probably gained a deal of notoriety with the game’s historians that day. Afterwards he was hailed as the only skipper to have ever raised a trophy after being dismissed during a game.
The Final itself was a dour affair played out on glue pot pitch with plenty of aggression between the games two greatest rivals. The Wileman try was the only one scored and many of the national papers next day commented that unlike the Wembley Final, on this occasion it was Hull KR who appeared to be the ‘bad guys’ resorting to cynical and often ‘rough house’ tactics, whilst Hull FC concentrated on playing rugby, tactics that in the end proved to be a winning formula.
After the final whistle had sounded and as the strains of ‘Old Faithful’ echoed around the ground, the ‘sweet smell of revenge’ was everywhere, as we sang and sang well after the players had left the field. That day it was the turn of the Hull KR fans to trudge off home shaking their heads and rueing several missed chances that could have swung the game their way.
However, if I have just one lasting recollection of that match it has to be that Ronnie Wileman touch-down. That try was so special and will live in the memory of those that attended the game forever, because it was scored by a small, nuggety, ‘Pocket battleship’ of a player who, as well as being a wonderful hooker, was a real character. A tough Featherstone lad, Ron was an uncompromising competitor and a real ‘mud ball’ of a hooker.
On the day of the final, he seemed unlikely to play at all having aggravated an old injury at training that morning. However, injuries never seemed to stop Ronnie and by 2-30pm he was out there battling his way through the game in his usual manner. In the 27th minute when we held a slender 2-0 lead, Mick Crane was tackled just inside our half in front of the North Stand. Ronnie stepped forward, scooped up the ball from acting halfback and from 50 yards out, started to lope down ‘the blind-side’. Further and further he progressed with the Rovers’ cover, led by George Fairburn, gaining by the second and just as they caught him, he dived over in the corner for the most memorable of scores. It is still debatable to this day as to whether he bounced the ball but who cares!
Everyone who saw him play will have a Ronnie story but his career was probably capped by that fantastic run away try, it was simply magnificent. After the game it is said that when the lads came back on the coach to Hull for a night out on the town Ronnie, who had been celebrating hard all the way home, hung the trophy out of the coach’s rear emergency exit window and was seen to be swinging it around as they drove along Ferensway.
Wileman signed for Hull FC from York, he was a miner and had a reputation as a youngster for coming straight off shift and onto the rugby field. He was certainly talented and a great passer of the ball, although in the days when you had to win the ball from the scrums, he was also a tough individual who was never averse to an exchange of punches if the opportunity presented itself. The bigger the forward the more Ronnie liked it.
That great day when he scored THAT try after being so near to missing out on playing altogether, Hull coach, Arthur Bunting said, “You can’t stop Ronnie when he wants to play” and so it was! A hero was crowned. Wileman only played 87 first team games for Hull, but he scored 23 tries, many of which unlike the try in that final, were brave, scrambling efforts from close to the line.
I can still picture that tousle haired muddy little character, throwing himself into tackle after tackle and often scaring forwards twice his size to death! He could measure a pass to perfection and on the heavy pitches he was a real tenacious tackler. He never looked ‘smart’, even when dressed in his Wembley suite, because Ronnie always appeared more comfortable caked in mud sliding through the scrum to reach the ball, or sitting in some local hostelry after the game amusing the rest of the team with his best pal Tony Dean as they did their infamous Cannon and Ball impersonations. Our Ronnie was quite a guy!
The Mermaid Gang’s tribute to Ronnie!
For me, with Wileman, it’s not just the player himself that features in my memories but also the ritual that evolved for the members of those ‘Mermaid’ coach trips. As the Coach had broken down several times on journey’s to Lancashire in the past, the bus containing Garry, Trevor the Fish, Charlie and all the usual suspects would set off from the pub on Boothferry Estate, much earlier than was needed. Invariably, we would get to a predetermined ‘watering hole’ with time to spare and at about half past eleven you could often see 40 or more Hull FC supporters kicking their heels in the deserted car park of a public house in some far away destination in Cheshire, Lancashire or even Cumbria. Sometimes the back door of the hostelry would swing open and a hand would beckon us all in but often we just stood there staring at the sky…’thirstily’, waiting for 12 noon.
Then the shout would go up ‘Let’s do a Ronnie!’ and with great enthusiasm grown men, some in their seventies, would shed their coats and jackets and ‘set up’ to recreate that piece of action at Headingley. Every week, until in the end it had no comedic value at all, ‘Zorro’ Mortenson (don’t ask me about the name, I have no idea), who was 30 stone and well over 60 would say, “I’ll be Fairburn (Hull KR’s full back), I‘ve got his pace”, and so the drama unfolded using a duffle bag, (full no doubt with someone’s sandwiches), for a ball.
Anyone passing, on those Sunday mornings in say Leigh, Whitehaven or Widnes, would no doubt rub their eyes as they witnessed 20 or so men running up and down a pub car park shouting ‘Run Ronnie Run!!!’ and that, long before Winston Groom had even written ‘Forrest Gump’. In the early 80’s one thing was for sure, everyone in West Hull loved Ronnie Wileman.
Another signing that makes the rest of the League take notice
After that great final victory Chairman Roy Waudby treated the whole squad and coaching staff to a short break in Spain but by the time they returned, the rumours were circulating that the Club had been lining up two big signings. Roy himself confirmed that this was true, but declined to ‘name names’ until the deals were done.
We didn’t have to wait long and on 4th February Hull revealed the signing of 24-year-old International Stand-Off Half Steve Evans from Featherstone for a world record fee in the region of £70,000. Evans was probably the best young half back in the Country and only a week after he signed he was named as Captain of the Great Britain Under 24’s to play Australia. Evans achieved a unique feat by this move too because he was the only player to have ever played for a team knocked out of a Cup competition and then to win it with another, in the same season. We signed him just 4 days before the Challenge Cup registration dead-line but he had played for Featherstone the previous week against Hull KR in a preliminary round. However, Steve then went on to play in every round, the final and final replay, for Hull FC.
The Club were certainly ambitious and were still pressing ahead with their plans for a new Threepenny Stand and in the match day programme they were even advertising the price of the seats in there, for the following season.
‘Every dog has its day’
Sunday 14th March 1982 Hull 16-Halifax 10
On 5th March I went to the Westfield Club in Cottingham with Trevor, Barry and Garry to watch the finals of the ‘Humber Bridge Match Play Darts Competition’ and despite a bit of a scare in the final, we were all delighted to see ‘Super’ Alf Macklin, the FC hero of the 70’s, win the Trophy. Jim Bowen of TV’s ‘Bullseye’ fame told a few jokes and made the presentation of an imposing Cup and a cheque for £200. Macklin was a fine player and would go on to win more trophies and become a well-known personality on the local Darts scene. There was a scare on Sunday 14th March down at the Boulevard too, as Hull FC almost got dumped out of the Challenge Cup at the quarter final stage by a feisty Halifax side. On a rain soaked ‘mud bath’ of a pitch, we came close to defeat when with the scores locked at 10-10 Gary Kemble pulled off a couple of try and indeed game saving tackles. Then as the crowd of over 16,000 held their breath, Topliss dropped a goal and finally in the last few minutes we stretched our lead to a match winning seven points when Charlie Stone put Paul Prendiville in at the corner and with Sammy Lloyd landing a magnificent conversion from the touch line, we were through to the semi-finals again.
Despite one or two players being full time, many back then had other jobs and Paul Prendiville the hero in that quarter final was, I remember, getting quite an interesting reputation as a bricklayer. Although these days he is a builder of much repute, back then one of his first jobs, when he was just learning, was at the home of ex-player Barry Edwards. Barry tells a great story about the 60-foot wall at the front of his house on Hessle High Road that ‘Taffy’ built back in 1982. According to Barry the job took three days. Prendiville built 30 foot on the first day, another 30 foot on the second and on the third day, according to Barry….it fell down!!!! Great winger but back then, a questionable bricklayer!
Back in the 60’s and 70’s, as I recorded in my first book, Hull City were certainly top dogs as far as sport in the City was concerned. However now they were ‘hitting the buffers’ in a big way. That April in fact, City fans had to endure the spectacle of the famous old North Stand (or the ‘The Clock End’), at Boothferry Park being bulldozed to make way for a Supermarket and worse was to follow as Hull FC’s Chairman Roy Waudby and City’s Chief Christopher Needler started informal talks about the two Clubs getting together, redeveloping the Boulevard and sharing our Stadium in future seasons. However, Needler then appeared to run out of patience (and money) and put the Club up for sale, whilst at the same time calling in the Official Receivers.
Music wise, things at Hull City Hall were always quiet at the start of the year, however no doubt starved of live entertainment the public of Hull turned out in force on 18th March when Judy Tzuke appeared as part of her ‘Shoot the Moon’ tour. She has always been an amazing performer and her rendition of ‘Stay with me till Dawn’ that night is still one of the most atmospheric and touching live performances I have ever seen. The concert was staged by promoter Phil McIntyre who was just starting out on his way to becoming one of the country’s top musical entrepreneurs.
Phil later moved on to manage many of the top British comedians and is now often identified as the producer of some of the top comedy on British TV. Back then he was a keen young businessman and dressed in overalls and looking more like a painter than an impresario, he was to bring several big acts to the City Hall in the future months.
We’re back at Wembley again….just!
Saturday 27th March 1982 Hull 15-Castleford 11
That March, after battling our way through the early rounds, Hull FC arrived at another Challenge Cup semi-final which was a listless, close, affair that in the end we just won 15-11. It was a torrid match which prompted ex Castleford player Steve Norton to comment as he left the field at the end, covered in blood and bandages, “I’m just glad I was playing against my old pals!” Castleford were intent on scrapping their way to Wembley and the crowd of just over 20,000 at Headingley looked on as Norton and O’Hara scored early tries for Hull. A late Prendiville touch-down put paid to a strong Castleford come back and once again we were back queuing in Airlie Street for tickets, with all the camaraderie and humour that involved. I honestly believe that probably honed by years of wartime rationing, the British ‘queuing gene’ ensures that we are often at our happiest in that state of united anticipation. We were going to Wembley again this time to face the much acclaimed ‘Cup Kings’ of Widnes.
The ‘Falklands Conflict’ which in essence started in a dispute between Great Britain and Argentina over the sovereignty of two pieces of British rock in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, was to reach boiling point that Spring as Margaret Thatcher put on her breastplate, the talking stopped and we went to war.
A massive flotilla of ships of all shapes and sizes headed by HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible set sail for the little islands and on 21st April the Passenger Ferry ‘The Norland’, left Hull after being hastily converted into a troop carrier. Captain Ellerby and his crew bade farewell to the folks on the quayside in King George Dock and set off to war wondering, I guess, whether they would be coming back again in one piece. It was a surreal feeling for everyone and of course, a tough time for the loved ones left behind. It was also moving to see so many folks on the dockside in their Hull and Hull KR shirts and scarves as they waved goodbye to the lads on board, and many tears were shed that day.
Kensington, Harrods and the Prince of Wales in Drewery Lane….’Wembley Weekends’ with the Mermaid.
It was a long way to the Falklands and a strange calm descended across the nation as the ‘Task Force’ made its way across the equator and into the South Atlantic, whilst back in Hull everyone tried to get on with life as usual. Nothing was usual for us lot though and despite these national distractions most of West Hull was gripped with Cup Final fever. It was, along with the imminent conflict, the only topic of conversation there was and once again the queues for tickets stretched down Airlie Street and onto the Boulevard, as day after day the fans lined up to get their ‘passport’ to watching their team walk out on the hallowed turf of the National Stadium. Personally, I didn’t have to do any of the queuing stuff because since the 1980 season I had been a member of first the Half Way Hotel’s ‘Wembley Weekend Club’ and then, when Landlord and Landlady Barry and Joan Nicholson moved onto the Mermaid Hotel, I joined the annual outing from there.
There was a great tradition of these trips to the Challenge Cup Final being organised by the pubs and clubs of the area and it was estimated that back then around 100 of them, of varying sizes, were organised each year in the region. Of course, when you started to pay your weekly subscription in June, you had no idea whatsoever who would be playing but in the six years that I went, I was really lucky because on four occasions, it was my team Hull FC that featured.
However. these trips were not always enjoyable for everyone and every year you would hear or read of some unfortunate band of fans left waiting outside their pub or on Paragon Station for their transport and tickets which never materialised. Usually, the person organising the outing had absconded with the members’ subscriptions or more likely spent them throughout the year as they collected them.
Our trip, which included a three-night stay in the Capital, was popular and attracted around 75 members. Each Sunday Joan and Barry would sit at a table in the pub collecting our £2’s which were recorded on our payment cards and in a large leather-bound ledger. The trip was certainly good value for money because for your £100 you received train travel to and from London, good tickets for the game and three night’s accommodation in a 4 or 5 star hotel. The local travel agents in the City had identified these trips as a good source of business and so Thomas Cook and Matador Travel to name but two had staff specifically dedicated to dealing with the needs of these ‘Wembley Clubs’
We always stayed in a top hotel, and the fact that we never ever seemed to go to the same one twice probably indicated the proprietor’s dislike for some of the antics the ‘Mermaid’ gang got up to. That year we stayed in the International Hotel in Knightsbridge, which was an imposing building with a giant rotating globe on the forecourt. The look on the faces of the Bell boys, Reception Staff and Porters as we arrived, some with leather luggage, others with plastic carrier bags, probably indicated that this would be our last visit to ‘The International’ too.
After seeing the team off from the Boulevard on the Wednesday, the whole adventure started on Thursday 29th April as our party congregated on Paragon Station ready to board ‘Wembley Special No.4’ that departed at 9-30 from the Excursion Platform adjacent to Anlaby Road. The bank rate had been kind to us that year and as was the custom any surplus finance from interest gained on the account was spent on cans of beer and bottles of wine for the train. That day we had six porter’s barrows full of the stuff and a jolly and entertaining journey was assured. Travelling with us that year were Hard up Harry, Trevor the Fish and Garry. Trevor was his usual self, drinking copious amounts of beer and then having his customary snooze. However, when we arrived at King’s Cross some four hours later he was first out of his seat and sporting the usual cigar he got to the carriage door and jumped onto the platform to start his assault on the alcohol reserves of the Capital.
As he landed on the platform his foot was instantly crushed by the metal wheel of a porters four-wheel cart that was passing stacked high with those cases (and plastic carrier bags). Trevor was obviously in pain but fortified by a couple of swigs from a can a passing ‘well-wisher’ offered, he hobbled off down the platform singing, with the throng “We’re the Famous Hull FC and were off to Wembley…..Wembley….WEMBLEY” as the ‘FC Army’ began their quest to take over London. What a great feeling that was as we marched up the platform, banners unfurled and flags waiving. Trevor was obviously in some discomfort throughout the weekend but never missed a session or the game, although when we returned to Hull on the Sunday he went straight to Hull Royal Infirmary and was diagnosed with a broken ankle. If ever there was a better testament to the anaesthetic power of large doses of alcohol, I have yet to find it!
That afternoon, once we had checked into our rooms and marvelled at our tiled bathrooms, where Garry didn’t quite get the bidet, until Trevor quickly explained, “It’s French for Bum shower”, we all walked down the street to Harrods. There we whiled away the hours until opening time, marvelling at the ‘knobs’ doing their shopping. We all bought a sausage roll each, at some ridiculous price, just to obtain the Harrods bag that we insisted it came in. After tea at the Aberdeen Steak House, everyone crammed into taxis’ and went to what was to be our second home whilst we were in the Capital ‘The Prince of Wales’ in Drewery Lane.
Those readers who have endured this rambling journal, will remember that I first visited that establishment aged 14 when I travelled to London with some pals from St Matthew’s Youth Club, to watch the a Great Britain v Australia International at Wembley. I then suggested in 1980, on the occasion of the Hull v Hull KR final, that it was a hostelry worthy of a visit and it was now our accepted ‘London’ base. Two years previously there had been a brilliant blind piano player to entertain us. Vernon could literally play anything although on the occasion of that previous visit I think by the time we left to make our way back ‘Up North’, he was sick and fed up of playing ‘When the Red, Red Robin’ and ‘Old Faithful’. Still that Thursday as we opened the door and made our entrance, there he sat at the upright piano and as he thumped out the first bars of our spiritual anthem, we knew we were ‘home’! Meanwhile, as we drank the hours away towards the Final the Hull team made their own preparations, well out of the way, at the Runnymede Hotel in Windsor.
The strangest Final ever
Saturday 1st May 1982 Hull 14-Widnes 14
The final itself was one of the strangest games I think I have ever attended although the imminent conflict in the Falklands made the pre-match singing of ‘Abide with Me’ led by Ken Dodd very moving, particularly as some people attending no doubt had friends and family out there in the South Atlantic on the Norland. In fact, people who watched the game at home told me that the broadcast even included an unprecedented interrupted for a News Flash by Jan Leeming, about the ‘Falklands Conflict’ while the BBC even did a special relay to the Norland for the exiled FC fans sailing into the theatre of War.
There was also the first appearance of a short-lived hero back then, a guy dressed in a gorilla suit and Hull FC scarf who joined in the half-time marching display with the Coldstream Guards. However, the fact that the game ended in a draw left me and everyone else there, whoever they supported, at a loss for what to do next! On the field the players were confused too and wandered about shaking hands whilst the officials clarified the situation and the announcement was made that there was to be a replay at a ‘date and venue to be confirmed’.
In fairness when Wright intercepted a Hull pass on his own line and ran the length of the field to touch down and make the score 14-6 to Widnes, a draw seemed highly unlikely. We looked doomed until a Steve Norton ‘Special’ saw him scythe through the defence to touch down for a converted try and with the scores at 14-11 the Hull ‘Faithful’ found a new voice and roared on the team to a great finale. With time running out a break by Lee Crooks put Dane O’Hara away and he scored in the corner with some ease, only for Sammy Lloyd’s conversion to drift, according to the Touch Judges, past the upright. To this day, Sammy will tell you that he believed it was so high the two officials got it wrong and the ball actually went in. Shortly after that action the game was over and a strange uneasy calm descended on the National Stadium. Next day, after a heavy night of revelry in the Prince of Wales, we arrived back at Paragon Station at noon and it was straight back to work, whilst Trevor went straight to the Casualty department at Hull Royal Infirmary. There is little doubt that what the inteligencia today brand as Binge Drinking’ was, back then in the early 80’s, simply referred to as a ‘Wembley Weekend’.
Fancy Dress at the Premiership Final
Saturday 15th May 1982 Hull 8-Widnes 23
The Challenge Cup Replay was scheduled for eighteen days later at Elland Road. That delay was down mainly to the extended season and the Premiership Trophy games that had to be accommodated in between. The players like the fans seemed to have that replay on their minds and as a team, although we beat St. Helens 23-8 and Warrington 27-7 in quick succession we were outplayed by Widnes in the Final on the Saturday before the replay, 23-8. However, the fans decided that game was to be a fun event and just part of the build-up to the ‘Big One’ at Elland Road and hundreds turned out in fancy dress that day.
After that defeat the national and local media made the opposition big favourites for the ‘Final Replay’ the following Wednesday and I guess Widnes were pretty confident too as they were seen out Bowling in Leeds on the Monday and at Pontefract Races the day prior to the game, whilst at the Boulevard Arthur Bunting had everyone in the first team squad training every day, for the last and most important game of the season.
Panic, apprehension and a forty-mile traffic jam
That famous Wednesday night in May 1982 I was (like thousands and thousands of the Black and White Army) to experience one of the longest traffic jams the M62 Motorway had ever seen. It was caused by 25,000 people all trying to get to Leeds at the same time. Most had just left work and were desperately trying to make the kick-off. The whole motorway was gridlocked with one of the worst jams that Humberside Police had ever experienced, stretching as it did from South Cave to the Leeds turn-off, a distance of around 40 miles!
I thought that we would be OK, as Barry, Ian, Trevor, Harry and I crammed into my lime green Opel Ascona to make what we thought would be the relatively short journey to the game. We started well, but hit heavy traffic at about 4-30pm on the A63 at South Cave. We made slow progress to the North Cave turn-off, a distance of 3 miles that took around 35 minutes and from a position where I thought we had loads of time, I was starting to panic. I would have no doubt consulted the others had they been awake, but as they had been drinking all afternoon they weren’t, and so I took the decision to leave the Motorway and go down the old A63 through Newport and Howden, and over the toll bridge at Selby.
Several others had decided on the same course of action, but at least we kept moving and finally we arrived at the Outer Ring Road in Leeds. We worked our way around it until we got parked in Pleasant Street about a mile to the north of the ground and continued from there on foot to Elland Road, where we arrived at the turnstiles at about 7-15pm. The detour had certainly proved to be a good move as afterwards there were many stories about fans not getting to the game until after half-time.
Touching the Dream; A glorious night and a famous victory
Wednesday 19th May 1982 Hull 18-Widnes 9
After drawing at Wembley in such dramatic fashion and then getting drubbed by Widnes the previous weekend in the Premiership Final we were quite understandably a bit apprehensive as to the outcome of the replay. That was stress enough without being stuck in traffic for hours before we even got there! We had a few injuries from that Premiership Final too and Ronnie Wileman, the hero of our last Cup success in January, was replaced at hooker by veteran Tony Duke. However, the biggest surprise was on the wing where Clive Sullivan, now ‘A’ team Player/Coach and another at the veteran stage of his career, replaced the injured Dane O’Hara. In addition to these enforced changes we found that Coach, Arthur Bunting had made a couple of tactical moves too. Terry Day was dropped to the bench and in came Tony Dean, for Kevin Harkin at scrum half, whilst Lee Crooks and another veteran Keith Tindall, started in place of Sammy Lloyd and Mick Crane.
The match kicked off with hundreds of people still arriving and numerous announcements being made for people to move to the front of the ‘Kop’ end. This action caused the crowd to spill onto the pitch on several occasions during the first half. Widnes kept faith with their full Wembley line up and were visibly surprised by the tenacity and spirit the patched-up FC side displayed in the first few minutes of the game. On 20 minutes Widnes took the lead. Mick Burke kicked an audacious penalty goal from well inside his own half and as the ball flew through the posts the crowd, craning their necks to see the outcome, again tumbled onto the field behind the dead ball line.
As the half wore on and the crowd settled down, we started to exert some pressure which culminated in Hull producing two tries that will be seared forever into the memory of everyone who was there. They were actually that good that they will stay forever in this fans top ‘Desert Island’ tries of all time. Seven minutes from the break we were awarded a scrum inside the Widnes 25. This broke up and our adversaries were penalised. Dean, ever alert to the situation took a quick tap behind the collapsed scrum and passed the ball to Norton. ‘Knocker’ quickly linked with Dave Topliss who found Gary Kemble on a superb inside run and he touched down before some Widnes’ forwards could free themselves from the remnants of the scrum.
The next try came just on half time and featured that famous, ‘Wrap round move’ that was, back then, a trademark of Dave Topliss. Tony Dean who was already winding up the Widnes halves, snatched the ball from a scrum and fed Leuluai, he passed to Topliss and then ran around the back of him and gathered a return pass. This ‘switch’ move completely ‘wrong footed’ the Widnes defence and finished with Leuluai touching down without a hand being placed on him. I can still see it now and will no doubt be able to until the day I die. Young Lee Crooks converted the first try but hit the post with his second attempt as, to the surprise of every one, we went in 8-2 up at half time.
The second half started with the expected Widnes pressure which led to a successful penalty by Burke and when Wright overlapped on the wing they scored a try wide out although this time it was Burke’s turn to hit the post and forfeit the two points. We looked down and out and as fans we feared the worst, however a pulsating chorus of “Come on You Hulllaaarrr” circled the ground and the team responded brilliantly as great hands and a dummy from Norton sent ‘Toppo’ in from 15 yards out for another try. The capacity 41,711 crowd were then treated to some thrilling rugby as both sides tried to settle the game in their favour.
Dean antagonised the Widnes forwards while Topliss tried everything he knew to get the line moving, but in the end it was down to 18-year-old Lee Crooks to fain a drop goal attempt and then lumber over under the posts. The crowd behind him in the Kop went ‘bonkers’ and once again spilled over the fences and onto the pitch. Hull had won the Challenge Cup in one of the most exciting games I had ever seen.
For me the original game at Wembley was an anti-climax, that I rarely re-watch but over the years I have relived that game at Elland Road over and over again and I still do particularly when I feel a bit down in the dumps. Despite traffic jams, a weakened team and chaos on the terraces we had witnessed one of Hull FC’s finest hours!
As Dave Topliss raised the Trophy aloft, the first Hull Captain to do it since the 1913/14 season, I was in pieces. It was then that I experienced that strange sensation of laughing whilst crying that only the sports fan (who thinks he has seen everything there is to see in his sport and who has so often been abused, goaded, broken hearted and disillusioned) really understands. It was a magical moment in a lifetime of following my Club, when just for a few hours I felt as though I was actually ‘touching the dream’. In the dressing room afterwards a BBC TV audience of around 5 million saw Tony Duke respond to the question, “How did it feel as the final whistle went”, by replying in his distinct Hull accent, “I bust out Roooring”. Didn’t we all Tony, didn’t we all!
It was a great season…. and we didn’t want it to end!
That 1981/82 campaign had been one of the most successful that our illustrious Club had ever experienced and I was honoured and a little humbled to be there at Elland Road that night to experience its amazing climax. The players were on a bonus of £1,200 a man to win the final, whilst a draw would bring them £500. In the end because of the replay, they got both payments; they all had a few beers and the Club made a fortune.
With all those spectators packed into Elland Road it was amazing when after the match West Yorkshire Police stated that despite all the traffic problems and congestion in the ground there was just one arrest that night and that for drunkenness well away from the ground. Broadcaster Simon Kelner probably witnessed this arrest as in his great book about Rugby League, ‘To Jerusalem and back’ he states that the only incident he saw, was a minor fracas in the Town Centre before the game when, “A Hull supporter dressed in a homemade black and white cape and a striped top hat tried to push into a taxi queue, claiming he was the Minister for Sport”
We all went to the Guildhall a couple of days later and watched as our heroes, many of whom had obviously ‘had a few’, raised the Cup in turn under the watchful eye of Lord Mayor Councillor Phyllis Clarke. I then went around to the ‘Watchman’s Entrance’, bluffed my way into the Reception and ducking a few flying bread cakes coming from the direction of Sammy Lloyd and Steve Norton, managed to get a souvenir menu card signed by all the players. Then it was time to reflect on an excellent season. Barry, Trevor, Garry, and a few of the other guys came back to the City Hall Flat where we watched the game again, raised a glass in celebration and savoured a moment that some fans never ever experience in a lifetime of supporting the team they love.
There was so much to celebrate as Hull FC had won two of the three principal trophies in the British game. On Friday 21st May we all went to the Boulevard for a Friendly game against Carlisle, which was Keith Tindall’s Testimonial game. It was memorable because of a final appearance by that ‘Gorilla’ who had marched with the Coldstream Guards at Wembley and because ‘joker’ Tony Dean took over from the referee for a while.
Steve Norton was voted ‘Truemann’s First Division Player of the Season’ and reached his 100th career try, while Arthur Bunting won ‘Coach of the Season’. The average home gate was 13,190 and a new aggregate attendance record for the Boulevard of 197,844 was attained. We played 45 matches and lost just 7 and the Colts won all three of their trophies at junior level. What a year to be an FC fan, particularly if you had endured those barren and bleak 60’s and 70’s. Of course, in the end it was experiencing those bad times that made that magnificent campaign, so, so sweet.
As a foot note, winning all those trophies did cause a few problems for the Club because when Hull FC had those Cups in Hull, the security at the Boulevard was so bad that the Police advised them to make ‘alternative overnight arrangements’ for their storage. Ivy and Ernie Mason those great stalwarts of the Club who lived just across Airlie Street in Graham Terrace, came to the rescue and ended up sleeping on numerous occasions with the Trophies ‘under the bed’.
Adventures with Bucks Fizz and Worzel Gummage
That summer the City Hall was reasonably quiet, but on the 22nd July there was a concert promoted by local radio presenters Tim Jibson and Steve Massam that featured kid’s favourites of the time Bucks Fizz. Although there seemed to be children everywhere and the show was brilliant, sadly only 1300 tickets were sold and the lads lost a deal of cash that night. Still I managed to get sat next to female singer Jay Aston in the tour catering area and that made it a memorable night for me! Mind you, all she did was complain, about the hotel, her uncomfortable shoes and the quality of the cup of ‘Council’ tea she was drinking. She was certainly a bit ‘pop starish’ and even asked me what I knew about her and her career, I replied, “Not a lot but I do know that your middle name is Hilda”, I don’t know where I dragged that up from, but it certainly shut her up!
That year at Hull Show, I was again drafted into East Park this time to run the Entertainment Tent. As a new departure and to try and arrest flagging attendances, the Council decided to feature a ‘celebrity’ and settled for kids favourite and popular TV personality Worzel Gummage played by Jon Pertwee. Charging the princely sum of £1,800, he arrived with a massive entourage of minders, managers and assistants and took two hours to get made up. However, he walked around the showground frightening the children and amusing most of the adults and at 2-00 pm appeared in the Entertainment Tent which was packed with kids, prams and Mums and Dads.
I was backstage and as the compere Councillor Brian Petch, (a kid’s entertainer himself) announced, “Here’s Worzel Gummage” and the place went wild. Pertwee however seemed reluctant to go on the stage and when I asked, “Are you OK” he turned to me and through a face full of straw and makeup said, “Ok?….OK?? I would be if it wasn’t for all those f*cking kids”
This attitude extended onto the stage too and as the kids persisted in chanting, “Where’s Aunt Sally?” (His girlfriend from the TV show) in exasperation he shouted, “The Council couldn’t afford her!” Still, his presence at the show had the desired effect and attendances increased with over 35,000 people attending East Park over the two days.
Hull’s ‘White Star’ is destined not to be in the ascendancy
Around the same time at Hull FC, we appointed our first full time Club Secretary and General Manager in Mike Dooley, who took over from new Vice Chairman Peter Darley. A tireless worker for the Club, Peter is probably best remembered by most Hull FC fans for an incident when the admissions from one match were stolen from the boot of his car! Dooley however came from Leeds United and brought a lot of new commercial ideas with him. He subsequently announced that the Club was thinking of launching a new team in the Second Division called Hull White Star (our Club’s original name) in which all our Colts and ‘A’ team players would feature. The Rugby League however took a dim view of this idea and blaming the possible implications of players being registered for two Clubs at the same time ensured that the idea never got off the ground.
August saw us play the newly formed Cardiff City in Clive Sullivan’s Benefit Match at Boothferry Park while on the 23rd (on our way to play a game at Barrow and to solve our current ‘hooking’ problems) we signed Barry Bridges in the public bar of the Trafalgar Hotel in Blackburn.
We also had an interesting night at the Boulevard when there was an evening in aid of the ‘Stadium Development Fund’. Organised by new Secretary Dooley, it was a floodlit Cricket Challenge between a Freddy Trueman XI and a Brian Close XI and included several big-name players like Clive Lloyd, Colin Croft and Desmond Haynes. It’s said that two windows were smashed in houses behind the Best Stand in Carrington Street, as Clive Lloyd cut loose and 6000 turned up for what was an enjoyable, if somewhat bizarre night; for me cricket and the Boulevard just didn’t seem to go together at all.
The Yorkshire Cup Final and its Bradford Again
Saturday 7th October 1982 Hull 18-Bradford Northern 7
That season threw up some interesting statistics none more so than the fact that we met Bradford Northern a total of five times, twice in the League, twice in the Cup (including a replay) and once in the Yorkshire Cup Final. We might have been going well but after we had fought our way through to the Yorkshire Cup Final at Headingley we met a Bradford team who were going through tough times. We in fact stood third in the First Division table whilst Northern were second from bottom.
For my part I travelled to the game on the ‘Mermaid’ coach that as usual visited ‘The Three Horse Shoes’ on Otley Road in Leeds, before the game. We were really confident that day and with about 8000 FC fans making the trip out of a record Yorkshire Cup final attendance of over 11,000, no one gave Bradford a hope. However, nobody told their players that!
Although we had a couple of withdrawals before the game, Bradford had real problems. Despite their first choice scrum half Alan Redfearn being withdrawn with a broken rib Bradford did however have one secret weapon, their Coach, the wily and controversial Peter Fox. He was certainly a character, who when he came to the Boulevard with the Northern ‘A’ team would often exchanged insults with the regulars in the ‘Threepenny Stand’, expletives and all! That day ‘Foxy’ put together an excellent game plan that was almost Hull’s undoing.
From the start it was apparent that the Bradford lads had decided that they would, by fair means or foul, stop everything or anybody that handled the ball. Their rugged defence led by full-back Keith Mumby had to be seen to be believed and despite an excellent Paul Rose try, another by Paul Prendiville and a drop goal from Crooks we only led 7-6 at half time. I remember the shock of that half time score sobered me up no end! The second half started with both teams exchanging drop goals and then Arthur Bunting brought Steve Norton on from the bench and the rest as they say is history!
‘Knocker’ immediately drew the defence to the right before firing out an immaculate inside pass for Rose to crash in for his second try, “There’s only one Knocker Norton” resonated around the South Stand and we were on our way to winning another Cup Final. Crooks converted and added a penalty before Evans completed the scoring in the last minute and we lifted the Trophy!! We had really had a scare and as supporters we were drained by the end, but as always the celebrations were long and very loud and the feeling fantastic.
Sleeping rough in Leeds!
What a party we had afterwards as the team joined us in the bar under the Main Stand where Paul Prendiville led the ‘choir’ in several renditions of ‘Old Faithful’. We filled the cup with Tetley’s Bitter and were all still singing at 8-00pm. It was then, through an alcoholic haze, that the terrible truth struck me; I had forgotten to re-join our coach at 6-00pm as arranged and so, with the lads from the ‘Mermaid’ now back in Hull, I’d been left behind.
Abandoned by my mates, ‘alcoholic logic’ pointed me towards a night out in Leeds and having been told by a couple of ‘sage like’ Leeds supporters who were obviously ‘Only there for the beer’, that the last train home was at 11-00pm, I accompanied these ‘new found friends’ around the City Centre pubs. We had a great night and I arrived back at Leeds City Station with five minutes to spare before my train left. However, when I enquired of the chap at the barrier which train went to Hull he said, “There’s an 11-00 o’clock train every weekday night mate, but the last one on a Saturday goes at 10-22!” I was stranded. Meandering down the platform in an alcoholic daze, I suddenly felt tired and, drained by all the emotion of the day, I staggered into a darkened railway carriage and slumping on the first seat I could find, I was asleep in seconds.
Perhaps it was just luck, or more likely the fact that it was Sunday next day, but when I awoke, the train and I were still in Leeds Station, although it was 7-30am on a chilly, bleak morning. I got off the train, (which I noticed had started its engine and had ‘Skipton’ displayed on the front destination board), and got home by a scheduled service to Hull. Everyone was enthralled as I reached the Mermaid (to pay my Wembley money) that lunchtime and commenced to relate the details of my adventure in Leeds. In the end, I finally arrived home at about 4-30pm, almost 24 hours after the final whistle had sounded at Headingley.
In the entertainment world, things were decidedly slow at the Hall but even worse over at the Hull New Theatre and I witnessed a long and vociferous debate in a Cultural Services Committee meeting at the Guildhall, when it was announced that ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ had lost a staggering £30,000 on a three-week run at the Theatre. One Councillor near me named Richard Barry, shook his head in disgust and under his breath muttered, “I reckon that we could have just about afforded JC in person, for that!”
Welcome to the Home of the Tubi-grip Bandage
(If you see the sign for Oldham you know it’s going to rain, if you can’t see it….. it’s already started)
Sunday 7th November 1982 Hull 5-Oldham 2
You’ll remember no doubt my earlier reminiscences about those dreary trips to Leigh? Well now it’s time to talk about another dank and dreary place and the highest ground in the Rugby League, ‘the Watersheddings’ in Oldham.
Games in the 80’s were never entertaining affairs over there as the quality of rugby seemed to match the gloomy surroundings. I remember a game in late 1980 when we had all travelled to Oldham to witness a dire 2-1 defeat and we all knew that we could expect little different, when we visited that November. We travelled over the Pennines as part of the usual away day outing, sipping our tinned Hansa Lager and peered through the steamy windows of the coach at the pouring rain outside. As we drove beneath the railway bridge that announced, ‘Welcome to Oldham, home of the Tubigrip Bandage’ we reflected on the fact that things must be pretty grim, if a bandage was the mill town’s only real claim to fame.
If the place itself was dour, then the ground was even more stoic. Devoid of any signs of modernisation and precious little running water, it had a grimness of aspect that made Thrum Hall at Halifax look like ‘Old Trafford’. The last improvements had been made twenty years previously, when apparently a new score board was erected, but otherwise ‘The Watersheddings’ was a memorial to the austere post war era of flat caps and whippets with which our great game had invariably been associated. It was always freezing cold too. Sometimes when you left the M62 you could see pedestrians in their shirt sleeves but by you reached the stadium everything was shrouded in mist.
I suppose it probably had a lot of character, with one stand, although long since renamed, keeping its post war knick-name of ‘The Penny Rush’. That afternoon we all had a few beers in ‘The Standard’ pub before taking our places in the ancient Herbert Street Stand which leaked like a sieve and always seemed to face the rain and sleet. That day by the kick-off the rain had abated, but a dank ‘Baskervillian’ mist had descended over the ground and although you could see all four corners of the pitch, the tops of the goal posts had disappeared altogether.
Hull FC arrived in Oldham gracing the top of the League, having won fourteen games and lost just three. Oldham were in fourth spot and as with most Clubs back then, they saw this game as a chance to shine against the ‘Big Spenders’ from Humberside. They boasted some good players too, and it was with a deal of trepidation that we huddled together, sang ‘Old Faithful’ and waited for the kick off.
Oldham started in a lively fashion and it was obvious that they intended to frustrate us and knock us out of our stride. Our defence had to be at its best too as Props, Goodway and Hogan and second rower Worrall, ploughed into our line. Garry Kemble was I remember outstanding at full-back that day, stopping everything that came towards him.
Then Mick Parrish put the home side in the lead with a penalty awarded for off-side after just 6 minutes. Shortly afterwards however Hull’s Dave Topliss looked certain to score until Referee Mr. McDonald brought him back for a forward pass, something the official repeated with Dane O’Hara just five minutes later. It looked like it was not going to be our day, when just before half time Oldham got some possession and all McCurrie had to do was fall over the line to score under the post, but he dropped the ball. As the rain started to fall again, the teams tramped off for the break with the ‘Rough’yeds’ of Oldham in the lead 2-0.
The second half started with the home forwards battering our pack again, then, in an attempt to suddenly open the play out, Platt threw out a long pass in the direction of Vigo. Had it landed in his hands the winger would have gone the distance and scored against us, but from nowhere up popped Dave Topliss, hands at full stretch over his head, to intercept.
So intent on pressing home any advantage were the whole of the Oldham team, that Full-Back Taylor was up in the line and so when ‘Toppo’ sidestepped his marker and hit open ground there was no-one in front of him. It was then down to one of those spectacular ‘sprints’ where everything for the watching fan goes into slow motion. With our off-half haring down field and wingers Vigo and McEwen flying across the ground to try and cut him off, we all held our breathe. However, Topliss just got to the try line first and planted the ball between the posts, before both the chasers hit him and forced him to the ground over the dead ball line. It was another one of those memorable tries that stays with you forever. Crooks made no mistake with the ‘extras’ and we led 5-2.
Then it was ‘backs to the wall’ as wave upon wave of Oldham attacks ‘floundered on the rocks’ of our brilliant defence and we were still protecting that flimsy lead as the game ended in torrential rain which was now driving under the front of the Herbert Street Stand and into our faces. Still, before a handful of beleaguered stewards could do anything about it we were over the fences, onto the field and slipping and sliding on the greasy turf to congratulate the lads. I was drenched that day and developed a heavy cold the following week which all the regulars in the ‘Mermaid’ christened “Oldham Flu”, but it was all worthwhile after having experienced such a hard-fought win.
Garry anoints the crowd in the Threepenny’s
Wednesday 10th November 1982 Hull 24 Featherstone 15
After that trip to Oldham we were back at the Boulevard for a mid-week game against Featherstone Rovers. It was a memorable encounter on two counts, firstly it was the first match at which the Club banned alcohol on the terraces and secondly, it was one of those games that you expect to win easily before, that is, fate takes a hand in the proceedings.
The alcohol ban followed some well publicised ‘happenings’ in the crowd at a couple of games which led to the RL deciding that the bringing of alcohol into the Boulevard should be banned. This was not met with much enthusiasm by the regulars on the ‘Threepennies’ who enjoyed the odd ‘tinny’ during a game and so we all put our minds to ways of getting around the new regulations. That night fans were searched on their arrival at the Division Road turnstiles and any beverages were duly confiscated by the stewards (who could later be found drinking them, behind the Stand, as the game progressed).
Of course, Garry, John, Ian and I laid our plans and decided to solve the problem ‘scientifically’. Garry, who was always the most inebriated after our pre game sessions, was sent down the little Avenue of houses in Division Road that backed onto the pathway behind the Threepenny Stand. There he stood, in the dark, with a carrier bag full of Kestrel Lager whilst the rest of us paid our admission, and then, when level with the Avenue, shouted to Garry to throw the cans over the wall.
As the curtains twitched in the houses down the Avenue, over the wall it became apparent that all that pre match Bitter on an empty stomach had affected our ability to time our ‘catches’ properly and although we caught most of the cans of Beer, we dropped a couple too. Those, we decided, should be Garry’s cans. Once he had paid and joined us on the Stand, (which was absolutely packed), we presented him with his cans of beer. You can imagine the consternation that ensued when Garry tore the ring pull off his first can, only to soak everyone with his ‘Shaken up’ beer. Punches were thrown and curses exchanged and we all had to move, only for Garry to then repeat the episode with his second can, another ten yards down the Stand!
The match against Featherstone, who had won just three of their 12 games (whilst we were unbeaten at home in over a year), was seen by many as just a formality. Featherstone’s fixture the previous weekend had been postponed because the pitch at Post Office Road was waterlogged and so, having had a weekend off, they started the sharper and brighter of the two sides. That tough match at Oldham the previous Sunday’s had certainly taken its toll on our forwards but I remember they kept plugging away and in the end we came out winners on a very heavy pitch, 24-15, but it was very close.
Keith Bridges had a brilliant second half at hooker and Mick Crane set up all five of our tries. A standout moment was when the doctor went on the field and heralded by two loud screams, pulled two of Tony Dukes dislocated fingers back out again, right in front of us lot in the Threepenny Stand. As for the ‘Mermaid’ contingent, well we were thankful to get a result, but freezing cold and of course thanks to Garry, soaked to the skin in beer.
Sporting our ‘beer shampoos’ and sticky clothing, we went back to the pub for a ’Night cap’ where Garry declared, “In the future, if it was all the same to you lot, I’ll manage without a beer at the game”
15 unlikely heroes……the Aussies get a real scare
Tuesday 16th November 1982 Hull 8- Australia 13
Big games were coming thick and fast and just a week later the Australian Tourists came to town. The touring ‘Kangaroos’ of 1982 were all conquering, as they literally steamrollered teams into submission. This style of ‘total’ rugby meant that they arrived at the Boulevard having played 11 games on the tour without coming close to a defeat. We were top of the League and had ourselves won 14 of our last 15 games, and although the Second Test was only 4 days away, the Aussies paid Hull the ultimate compliment by fielding their full Test team. There had been a big controversy in the City too, as forged tickets were circulating everywhere and extra checks were carried out at the turnstiles by Police and stewards. This caused a delay that saw queues stretching right down Airlie Street to the Boulevard. I’d bought my ticket from the recognised outlet in ‘Ewebanks’ the furniture store in the City Centre, so I was confident it was alright, but several dozen people were turned away or ‘detained for questioning’ by the bobbies.
I remember on that night having a feeling of foreboding as I hurried down Airlie Street through the 16,000 other supporters trudging to the game. A tough match against Carlisle had robbed us of half our team through injury and missing were heroes like Charlie Stone, Trevor Skerrett, Knocker Norton, Ronnie Wileman and Sammy Lloyd. That meant we brought in veterans Mick Harrison, Mick Crane and Keith Bridges and youngsters Lee Crooks and Wayne Proctor. In fact, hooker Bridges was the only player in our forwards that night who wasn’t born in Hull. It hardly helped that this Australian team had just beaten Great Britain 40-4 in the First Test Match either. After leaving work late, a capacity crowd meant I had to give up my usual spot in the ‘Threepenny’s’ and I ended up standing, at times on tiptoes, on the terrace at the Gordon Street end.
The game started ferociously with Crooks seeking out the tourist’s notorious hard man Les Boyd, Lee just walked straight up to him, said something and followed through with a perfect left jab! Both teams joined in a spectacular brawl that was so heated Referee John Holdsworth had difficulty keeping order and it was five minutes before he was able to restart the game. I vividly remember just how inspirational Dave Topliss was that night as he completely outplayed their star player Brett Kenny. ‘Toppo’ scored a great first half try from a little kick through and the dominance of the Tourists was clearly illustrated when you consider that it made Dave one of only seven British players to score against the Tourists on that whole 15 match tour. Man of the Match Mick Crane was also prominent that night, producing one of those heroic displays that completely belied his off-field reputation and lifestyle. We were really put to the sword late in the first half, but hung on and following some brilliant tackling we went in 7-0 up!
Within five minutes of the restart the Aussies were back. The mercurial Peter Sterling sent Kerry Boustead in at the corner and then Mal Menninga put Grothe in on the other side. As the crowd tried to rally the home side with rounds of ‘Old Faithful’ there followed a hotly disputed, disallowed ‘try’ by Dane O’Hara, which many, including me, believe to this day should have won us the game. After a broken jaw for James Leuluai, Grothe scored his second touch-down to give the Tourists some ‘breathing space’ and although we pressed and pressed, after one of the best 80 minutes of tenacious rugby I have ever seen, it was all over and we had lost 13-7.
We hadn’t tasted victory over the Aussies as a Club side since 1908 but that night we took them to the very edge of defeat. Our ‘make shift’ pack was awesome, meeting the touring six head on and never giving an inch throughout. The Australian’s went on to win all their matches on that Tour, with that game at that Boulevard giving them their only close call.
‘The Two Degrees’ visit ‘The Punch’
That month the City Hall paid host to the ‘Most Successful Female Group in the World’. The band that warranted that title at the time was ‘The Three Degrees’ and they arrived on the last night of a 25 date British Tour that had sold out in advance everywhere.
The show itself was a big American production akin to those Krugar Organisation events in 1980 and at 6-30 just an hour and a half before the concert was due to start, I was summoned to the Dressing Room by the Tour Manager Zak Wadlinski. When I opened the door, I was confronted by three of the most beautiful women in the World. “Hey Fella”, said Zak, “The girls are finishing their tour tonight but there is one thing they haven’t done here in England and you can help!!”, “What’s that” I said clearing my throat and wondering what was coming next. “Well” said Zak “They haven’t been in a real British pub”. So, although Sheila Ferguson declined the invitation, preferring to stay gargling in the Dressing Room, some ten minutes later as the queue waited patiently at the front gates of the City Hall, I sat with two of the Three Degrees in the bar of the Punch Hotel.
Mary the landlady said behind her hand, “Who are them two?” gesturing towards the two beautiful women in full length fur coats sitting at a chipped formica topped table in the corner. “It’s the Three Degree’s” I said, to which Mary replied “Nahhhhh…. can’t be, there’s only two of em!” Zak indicated that they would both have a Martini Rossi, and Mary disappeared to the depths of the cellar to see if she had any. Then it all got even more bizarre as Valerie Holliday took some darts from the bar and had a few throws at the dartboard. This scene was witnessed by just four other people that night, Harry the shoplifter (“If you want it I’ll nick it”) and three of his pals. They all just looked round to the dart board, rolled their eyes and turned back to the bar to finish their pints. What a memory. The concert was a great success and enjoyed by everyone who attended, but few people ever knew what had happened beforehand.
Cliff Richard rides in and ‘Rolls’ out!
There was another ‘historic’ promotion at the City Hall that December when we staged the biggest concert the venue had seen in years. For about a year I had been working with the local chairman of the Hull Branch of ‘Tear Fund’ to bring a big fund-raising event to the venue.
These concerts had started back in 1971 at the Royal Albert Hall when their senior patron Cliff Richard performed to raise cash for projects in Africa. Since then he had done a mini tour each year but in much larger venues than the City Hall. However ,we had hatched a plan to have a concert with two ‘Houses’ that would mean 3,600 people could attend. Although it was a Gospel Concert as opposed to a pop event, it still sold out in 6 hours, as the punters queued all night long outside Gough and Davy in Savile Street to get one of the cherished tickets.
Cliff arrived that afternoon by train at Paragon Station and the crew were superb and a pleasure to work with, particularly when compared with the normal touring company’s I had experienced. However, the logistics of getting all those fans in and out of the Hall with just a half hour between shows was a nightmare. We had as many ‘Bouncers’ on duty as there were at the Judas Priest concert the previous year, but this time they were in suits and acting as stewards, litter pickers, and catering staff. Still everything went well, although the Police did stop all the traffic around the Hall between shows as hundreds of people spilled out onto the streets.
As for the concert itself, Cliff sang his gospel songs, including his Christmas hit of that year, a reworking of ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ but the crowd went wild when he ended both shows by performing his big hit and Number One from 1979, ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore’ followed by an unaccompanied rendition of ‘Silent Night’. Always the gentleman, Cliff came and thanked me in the City Hall Office before leaving by the side door, only to find 200 fans crowded round his next mode of transport, a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. He did however manage to keep his ‘overnight hideaway’ under wraps, but the patrons at the regular Wednesday night dinner dance at Willerby Manor will have no doubt looked twice when they saw who was checking in at the Hotel Reception that night!
Soaked at the Boulevard and a “Ho Ho Ho” of a Christmas!
Sunday 19th December 1982 Hull 2-Oldham 8
At the Boulevard despite the continuing efforts of the ground staff, there was little change in the condition of the pitch and in pouring rain and a game that resembled a mud bath, we were defeated 8-2 by a poor Oldham side in front of an atrocious gate of 5,300. It was a shocking day and despite watching from the Threepenny Stand, I was so wet when I got back home to the City Hall, it soon became apparent that I had managed to wash my underwear without taking it off.
That Christmas was also a bit of a bleak affair too. I was on my own and Willis Ludlow’s, the department store across the road from the City Hall flat left it’s laughing Father Christmas Window display switched on right through the holidays and after 60 hours of it incessantly declaring “Ho, Ho, Ho, Welcome to Willis Ludlows” by Boxing Day I’d had enough of Christmas spirit as had Mary and Albert across the road at the Punch.
The other reason for my seasonal melancholy was that both the rugby fixtures over the holidays, away at Leeds on Boxing Day and at home to Wigan on New Year’s Eve had been postponed because both the opposing teams were to feature in the John Player Trophy Semi Finals the following weekend. To amuse myself over the holidays I read the then cult novel, ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and three quarters’, which I had bought myself for Christmas. All across the country this book was inspiring people to keep journals, although I dare not admit to the fact that I had actually maintaining a diary for years for fear of someone asking to see it, and discovering that they were all full of nothing but rugby!
On 1st January, following its success in Australia, the ‘sin bin’ was introduced to British Rugby League and the first Hull player to go in there, in a game that we won against Halifax at the Boulevard on 16th January, was unsurprisingly, Lee Crooks.
It’s always a GOOD Friday when you beat the Robins!
Friday 8th April 1983 Hull 21-Hull KR 3
The first part of 1983 passed pretty uneventfully and after two periods of unusually heavy snow, it was just starting to look a bit like spring as our traditional Good Friday Derby game arrived and I walked down Anlaby Road to the Boulevard a bit later in the day than usual. The new idea of playing the seasonal local Derby that evening certainly seemed to have worked because by the time I got to the Stadium the queues at the Division Road turnstiles came snaking across the little car park and out into the street. Once inside, the ground was already buzzing with anticipation.
The Division Road terraces had been taken over by a sea of Red and White as the other side of the City had their annual ‘day out’ and as the Threepennies were already overflowing, I made my way through the Well of the Best Stand and took up a position on Bunker’s Hill at the Airlie Street end of the ground. The pre match atmosphere was fantastic as to great adulation several red and white scarves were burned in the Threepenny Stand and there was an even bigger response when the Rovers’ fans tried to do the same with a black and white one, on the open terracing and set fire to the crowd as well!! By the time the teams ran out an amazing 20,569 fans were packed into the Stadium, to register the biggest home gate of that memorable decade. Before the game started the tense and intimidating mood was lightened somewhat when a Hull KR fan ran onto the bare and muddy centre of the pitch carrying a plastic carrier bag. To emphasise the poor condition of the playing surface, he then commenced skipping around the half way line scattering grass cuttings he took from out of the carrier. The Police escorted him off the playing area, but not before he had received a big cheer from both sets of supporters.
The ‘Robins’ arrived on a five-match winning streak and the game looked to be evenly poised as we had ourselves only ended a nine-game unbeaten sequence four days earlier with a narrow defeat at Castleford. With just four games of the season to go Hull KR were still 5 points behind us in the League whilst we sat at the top, level with Wigan.
As Lee Crooks was missing that night ‘the Sidewinder’ Barry Banks, who had been playing ‘A’ team rugby of late, was brought onto the bench. Billy Thompson must have felt the tension as he ran out to a chorus of, “Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh what a referee” (complete with the usual final flourish containing a string of expletives) as he called both Captains to the centre spot, to give them a lecture before we had even started. Kevin Harkin kicked off and after an early scare when Terry Day dropped a ball near the corner flag, the game settled down with Hull KR camped in our half and pressing our line.
Then we got the ball and Bridges drew a perfectly positioned Rover’s line before passing to Norton. The visitors defence was arranged ‘man on man’ but they had forgotten to cover Garry Kemble who stormed up from full-back onto a beautiful Norton pass to score wide out. In an atmosphere akin to a ‘Pressure Cooker’ Prendiville, who had been handed Lee Crooks’ kicking duties, missed with the conversion but we were in the lead.
Then on the 29th minute we saw a dazzling try. Back on our own 40-yard line Dave Topliss got through the first two defenders with ease and as the cover came across he passed to a rampaging Paul Rose. The ex-Robin swatted a couple of tackles away before moving the ball to Harkin who immediately sent Leuluai galloping downfield. The centre drew the defence, before passing onto the unmarked Prendiville, who squeezed in at the corner, to then brilliantly convert his own try. The rest of the half was typical cut and thrust Derby fare and as the whistle went for half-time a brawl broke out as Hogan and Hull’s Charlie Stone ‘exchanged complements’ .
This was Mick Cranes type of game because the unlikely hero, who loved fish and chips and a smoke and hated training, revelled on ‘the big stage’ of such occasions. The second half was only three minutes old when ‘Craney’ ran into acting half as Bridges was tackled fifteen yards out from the try line. Immediately he dummied to the blind side and ambled through the defence to touch down in his typical matter of fact style. Then it was Bridges and Crane again, as this time the pair linked superbly for Harkin to finish off with a magnificent long pass that put Dane O’Hara in at the corner.
Although ‘Taffy’ Prendiville missed both goals he made the next try for James Leuluai. That score was perhaps the only one of the night which had an element of luck in it as Prendiville came inside looking for the ball and got a short pass from Steve Norton. He looked up and seeing four Rovers defenders bearing down on him kicked a mighty ‘up and under’ that caught in the wind and rebounded off the upright straight into Leuluai’s hands. Hull KR looked a dejected team as they awaited the conversion and argued amongst themselves behind the try line. With just 4 minutes to go Hall got a consolation try for the Robins but then Referee Thompson blew for the final time to herald a great victory over the old enemy, which left us on the threshold of the title.
What stays in my memory from that win was the all-round strength of the Hull side. The Man of the Match award went to Norton and Rose jointly, but for me that night it should have gone to Kevin Harkin, who had probably his best ever game for Hull FC.
Afterwards the Club announced that they had signed Patrick Solal, a winger from the French Club Toinneins and as Wigan lost to St Helens, a win at Leeds on 13th April all but guaranteed us the title, but just to make absolutely sure that a monumental point’s difference could not be over turned, we needed to win our final game at the Boulevard against Barrow on Sunday 17th April. As he couldn’t speak a single word of English when he signed, Club jesters Tony Dean and Ronnie Wileman offered to teach Patrick, the rudiments of ‘Queens English’. Apparently they soon had him communicating in his rich deep French brogue, with a strong West Riding accent!
There was certainly a really good team spirit in the camp at that time, as the unrest seemed to have disappeared and those two weren’t the only two jokers in the squad, as was perfectly illustrated when Trevor Skerrett, recognising that Dave Topliss was a bit depressed after being out injured for two months, had a T shirt produced that stated” I’ve seen Dave Topliss Play” on the front and “Once” on the back!
We ARE the Champions!
Sunday 17th April 1983 Hull 31 Barrow 13
That afternoon Barrow desperately needed to win because defeat would see them relegated to the Second Division. There was however no sign of any sympathy, as Hull FC set about the visitors from the off. Barrow started well despite us taking a lead in the second minute from a Lee Crooks penalty but they actually played some neat rugby as Hull struggled to get their hands on the ball in the first ten minutes. Soon however that clinical, slick rugby that had bemused and bewildered much greater opposition all season, started to come to the fore again.
Trevor Skerrett opened the try scoring for Hull with what was the props first try of the season. Then almost straight from the re-start Crooks and Evans created an opening for Crane and Leuluai to engineer an overlap which saw Prendiville scoot in at the corner untouched. Five minutes later Les Wall the Barrow centre ran 35 yards to touch down for a score that momentarily delay the inevitable.
Harkin fed Topliss who then produced that wonderful, trademark ‘run around’ move with Evans and ‘Toppo’ took the return to score again. After the restart, and before Barrow had time to ‘catch their breath’, we won a scrum against the head and Crane took the ball and in his usual carefree manner, dummied twice and sauntered in to score. Crooks added all the conversions and Hull were ‘out of sight’ whilst we the fans spent half time dancing on the terraces.
More drama followed as the second half started, as referee Peter Massey tumbled over and collapsed in a heap clutching his leg. He had pulled a muscle and had to be replaced for the rest of the game by touch judge Henry Mason. The stand in official was soon being berated by the Threepennies with shouts of ‘Get back on the Touchline’ as he awarded two quick penalties to Barrow and the visitors reduced the arrears when Wall scored his second try.
Tickle added the goal but then came the best try of the game. Crane broke and linked with Rose and as so often happened back then, from nowhere steaming through a gap from Full-Back came Kemble. He ran towards Tickle, swerved round him and on to the try line without changing pace. Leuluai then scored and despite another try for Barrow by David Cairns, the demolition of the now relegated opposition was completed when Crane again supplied a peach of a short pass to Banks who characteristically ran right across the field before putting O’Hara in at the corner. A brief skirmish between Charlie Stone and McConnell was the final act of the game, as the relieved stand-in referee blew the whistle and the party started.
The Trophy was presented amid frantic appeals for the fans to “Get off the pitch” and after some semblance of order was restored, the players paraded the Cup around the Stadium. There was singing, chanting, cheers and tears. I was doing well until Kemble and Stone came past, but then my eyes filled up and my emotions took over, as they so often have at moments like that one! Laughing and crying again; what a great feeling that is and what a great season we had experienced!!
We’d finished top of the League for the first time since 1935/36, I watched as Hull’s New Zealander’s led the ‘Haka’ and the rest of the team followed suit or at least tried too. In the middle of the semi-circle was Arthur Bunting, cigar in mouth, doing it with the best of ‘em! Those who attended will have cherished what was one of our Clubs greatest ever moments and will have told their sons and daughters, (as Max Boyce who was a popular Welsh comedian back then always said) “I know ‘cos I was there!”
Great times eh and what a team that was. But just as is always the case with Hull FC, disappointment was just around the next corner!!
Thanks as always for reading the Diary and following the serialisation of the books which I hope have at least kept you amused and remembering some great times. I hope to be back next week with another ‘Covid 19 edition’ but in the mean-time, thanks for your support, stay safe and …