Hello again and wasn’t it heartening this week to see Adam Pearson going into print, reaffirming his backing for the club and his commitment to it and looking forward to our games starting again. Then in chimed James Clark, with more interesting, heartening and reassuring stuff as the pair of them battle to keep the club we love afloat and look to restarting our season.
I guess there are troubled waters ahead though and with so many Rugby League clubs run on a shoe string in the first place, I simply can’t see everyone coming through unscathed. Neil Hudgell over in the East painted a bleak picture in the Mail on Wednesday and I guess we just all have to await what happens next.
One thing that is strangely in our favour at Hull FC is the fact that we don’t own our own ground or have any sort of long lease on it, because in effect we are just tenants of the SMC. Normally that’s a disadvantage and it’s fair to say that we have often envied Clubs who have the ‘security’ of owning their own stadiums, or leasing them long term. Indeed, having our own home has always been the dream of everyone from Adam to ‘Joe Public’ sat on the terraces, but now perhaps the lack of such a facility, is a bit of a god send.
You see, for now, those owners and tenants have to continue with the upkeep of their grounds, whilst they also have balance sheets that depend on functions, bar takings, room hire and out of game-time activities to stay afloat. Their maintenance and upkeep costs will be escalating, with no income coming in and as is now happening at Rovers, the debts are totting up.
Owning your own stadium, or having a long lease means that you can spread your wings a bit, but you then come to depend on that income and you can see how the loss of those lucrative rock concerts, that they were so proud of attracting, have hit Hull KR hard, as they revealed this week that they have caused a £500,000 hole in their 2020 balance sheet and that’s without the Corona Virus stuff. At Hull FC we have had to live without such income streams and hone our business around playing rugby on game day, selling shed loads of merchandise and attracting large amounts of sponsorship, memberships and external income. As a Club we have long lamented not owning our ground and not being able to do such things as others could do, but now conversely, I guess that it’s an advantage of sorts.
Still as I have said for weeks now, we can only await developments and as fans, see what we can do to help when we are asked. This Covid thing is far from over and, with the irresponsible actions of the few, who knows what spikes and surges will be upon us in the coming months. In the mean-time things move on, slowly, and so for now we return to the mid 80’s when we had other troubles at Hull FC, as the great days of the Arthur Bunting reign were fast disappearing and the debts were again beginning to mount.
Another replay, A brutal battle and Wembley again!
Wednesday 10th April 1985 Hull 22-Castleford 16
On Saturday 6th April we played Castleford full of expectation, believing that it was a formality with Sterling at the helm and that later that afternoon we would all be preparing for another trip to Wembley. However, no one told Castleford all this and in a dour encounter we ended up drawing the game 10-10, with Peter Sterling who was truly outstanding for us at scrum half, scoring a brilliant late try. Two Cup Final appearances that season were starting to take their toll and we were in the middle of a really tough fixture ‘pile up’, and so we had to play Barrow in between the two semi-finals where, despite sending a full ‘A’ team, we still managed to draw 12-12.
So, the ‘Mermaid’ bus was back on the road again the following Wednesday and I was back on it, having decided because of the abject fear and concern I had for the outcome, to break from my now more customary car travel and partake of ‘pre drinks’. By 4.00pm we were back in the ‘Three Horseshoes’ on Otley Road, before taking our places on the East Terracing at Headingley in a crowd of over 20,000. There must have been at least 12,000 spectators from Hull, most of whom had learned their lessons from the traffic chaos before the Elland Road Final replay a couple of years previously and set off early. It was certainly turning out to be a season of replays after our heroics against Widnes in the previous round. Castleford had obviously noted the important role that the wonderful Peter Stirling played in the first game and targeted him from the off.
However, it was Ian Orum, the Cas’ scrum half, and recent convert from Rugby Union, that literally drew the first blood. Whilst we had started slowly, Castleford had scored an early try, but then Orum took Gary Kemble really late with ‘a coat hanger’ of a ‘stiff arm’ tackle which left the New Zealand International Full-Back severally concussed. The game was stopped for about 4 minutes whilst Gary was carried from the pitch to play no further part in the proceedings, or the next four games. With the referee taking no action from the terraces we were ‘baying for blood’ and were not disappointed as, in the very next play, John Muggleton laid out their centre Hyde. It was then the Castleford fans’ turn to go ballistic!
The referee did nothing and had literally lost it and so began to unfold one of the most intense and brutal halves of rugby I have ever seen. The Hull players were clearly enraged by the earlier foul by Orum (for which he got four games when it was reviewed by the Rugby League afterwards) and tore into Castleford.
Sterling started to dictate the play as Lee Crooks broke their line and passed to Dane O’Hara who raced in just below us for Crooks to convert from the touchline. Four minutes later, with Castleford concentrating on retribution; we were ahead from a great Peter Sterling try. He ducked and swerved his way towards the line, before straightening up to score a brilliant try.
This prompted Castleford to bring on their secret weapon, Mal Reilly, their veteran Player/Coach. It was only his second game of the season and although he could hardly raise a trot, at the very next scrum he ‘stiff armed’ ‘Sterlo’ as he broke away; the hit was of such force that you could clearly hear the impact echo around the Stadium. The Aussie’s feet left the ground and he was out cold on his back. Smelling salts brought him round before Timpson repeated the treatment a minute later and Sterling was carried off in a daze.
Back roared Castleford to equalize through David Rookley who shot through from Full Back to plant the ball between the posts. The conversion was successful and the game was ‘all square’. Miraculously Sterling returned to the fray ten minutes later as Crooks broke through and sent Muggleton away, he passed to Kevin James who scorched into the corner to score. Next, ‘Man of the Match’ Crooks broke again this time sending Leuluei through, to ‘shimmy’ round the full back and in for another great try, which increased our lead to 22-12.
It was almost half time, but the ‘action’ wasn’t over yet because after the hooter had sounded the linesman down on the touchline near us spotted a Castleford infringement and walked out with his flag held high. Hull took the penalty which Crooks dispatched into touch. He fell onto the ball after he tapped the restart and was immediately penalised for the very rare offence of a ‘voluntary tackle’ and all hell broke loose. Reilly hoisted a ‘bomb’ which Sterling caught behind the posts and six Castleford players piled in. There followed a massive fight behind the Hull try line which lasted well over two minutes and involved everyone, with the majority of the players openly brawling. Gary Schofield was pinned against the perimeter wall as two Castleford players pummelled him, whilst young Lee Crooks picked on probably the hardest man on the field Malcolm Reilly. The referee stood his ground to separate the teams and he was just happy to get the players off the pitch.
In comparison the second half was a ‘tepid’ affair as Hull’s fine defence restricted Castleford to a couple of breakaways and it ended as the first had begun with a solitary Castleford try leaving the final score 22-16. So, singing “we’re the famous Hull FC and were off to Wembley, Wembleeeeeey Wemberleeeeeey ” at the top of our voices, we all tramped back to the buses, having witnessed one of the most brutal games most of us had ever attended, but looking forward to Wembley and Wigan. It had been a dour but sweet victory with a fracas the scale of which made for a lasting memory.
Rick Wakeman ‘drains’ the Punch Hotel.
On the 2nd May the Hall hosted a sell-out concert by Rick Wakemen who was to perform excerpts from his ‘Rock operas’, ‘The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth’, ‘King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table’ and ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’. It was a real ‘boy’s night’ audience made up of ‘Ageing hippies’ and long haired ‘Muso’s’. Rick himself walked on stage at the start to say, “Ok, Ok, quieten down guys, tonight I have a special treat for you all as the support act is none other than the Top of the Pops dancers ‘Flick Colby’s Ruby Flipper’. They’re good dancers and pretty raunchy too and perhaps, the louder you scream, perhaps the more the girls’ take off. (Loud cheers). I’ve arranged that treat for you because myself and the Hall Manager Mr Allen are off to the pub to get pissed”. AND we did!!!
Well I did, as I have never ever drunk so much beer in half an hour in the whole of my life, but Rick was superb company and bought everyone in the bar a drink. We had around 6 pints and Mary the Landlady thought he was “A lot better than those Two Degrees women!” whilst Rick went back to the Hall and played a superb set, which I watched before going home to bed with headache. There was no way I was going to the after-show party that night. I‘d have probably drowned!!!
The greatest Challenge Cup Final of all time? Well, it’s scant consolation when you lose.
Saturday 4th May 1985 Hull 24-Wigan 28
So, we were at Wembley again for a showdown with the mighty Wigan, but few would have thought that the Hull FC team could have been anything but exhausted. The game followed an amazing ‘fixture pile up’ that had seen us play 10 games in 18 days, including three on consecutive days and a period of 5 matches in 7 days. The week before the final we had played Wigan at Central Park in a Premiership play-off semi-final game and not surprisingly lost 46-12, in fact previously in that amazing month as the fixtures piled up, we had lost to them again, this time by 40-4 and therefore few outside West Hull gave us a ‘prayer’ of winning the Final.
Undeterred by all that, all around the City shop windows were decorated and the Hull players were becoming real celebrities, opening events, pressing the flesh and ‘kissing babies’. When the big day came I travelled down by train just as I had with Mum for my first Final, all those years before in 1960. For the first year in six, I hadn’t paid into the ‘Mermaid Wembley Trip’ as it seemed at 35, I was starting to grow out of the boozy entrapments that went with those great years of watching the team I loved. I expect I had a few cans on the train, but remember thinking that the final was possibly the longest I had ever seen, no doubt down to the fact that I was reasonably sober when I watched it.
The old Stadium looked wonderful, graced as it was by an amazing 99,801 fans, as the capacity was increased and the segregation abandoned following an unprecedented demand for tickets. The Final also featured, a then record, 10 foreign players with six starting for Hull FC. All the match reports after the game praised both teams and billed the game “The Best Cup Final Ever Seen”. It might have been, and I am sure many pundits who were around back then will tell me that it was, but there is simply nothing to compensate for getting beaten at Wembley, and a few statistics are not going to change the fact that for me and thousands of other Hull FC fans, it was an unmitigated disaster. There is no greater day in the Rugby League calendar than the Challenge Cup Final at our National Stadium, unless of course you lose…..again!
The history, the occasion, the pomp and the circumstance, the colour and the noise were all there in abundance at that 50th final at Wembley, but it was still nothing if you hadn’t won.
It was absolutely packed in the North East Corner of the ground where, Barry, Hard up Harry and Trevor the Fish joined me having travelled from the usual Knightsbridge Hotel (that no doubt the ‘Mermaid lads’ were ‘terrorising’) by taxi. Our team included Garry Kemble back for the first time since that injury in the Semi-Final, but he was strangely quiet that afternoon and looked to still not be fully fit. We pinned a lot of our hopes that day on Peter Sterling and John Muggleton who had both been in scintillating form of late, and the “Sterling Silver” and “Arthur Bunting’s Black and White Army” banners were all around Wembley that day.
We started so well too. Despite our previous five Finals being hampered by slow starts we were straight out of the blocks, taking play immediately into the Wigan half. Crooks stroked over a 2nd minute penalty and then after 9 minutes we went further ahead. Sterling handled the ball twice in a flowing move before Kemble’s deft inside pass found Kevin James who triumphantly planted the ball down near the corner flag, but as we sang “We’re the Barmy FC Army” Crooks was wide with the conversion. Back came Wigan who started to make an impression on our defence and soon they were level with a try by Ferguson, who had been flown back from Australia by the Lancashire Club, for the game. He skipped round O’Hara to touch down, for Henderson Gill to convert.
The opposition were now starting to dominate and after 27 minutes Kenny just seemed to be cantering as Mick Ford put him away near half way. He then accelerated past Kemble, to give Wigan a lead they were destined not to lose. By Half Time it was 16-8 after a brilliant try by Henderson Gill had the Wigan fans dancing on their seats and the ‘FC Faithful’ crying in our beer.
Half time was a sombre affair, and unlike many times in the past I was even finding it hard to find any solace in the bottom of a plastic pint glass. Subdued and depressed I stood with the other Hull fans around me and faced some considerable taunting from the ‘Pies’ supporters who were already celebrating. I had in my mind that first Cup Final defeat against Wigan, the one I watched with Mum in the little front room at 23 Aylesford Street all those years previously when we had been thrashed 30-13.
Three minutes into the second half and things got worse. Brett Kenny twisted his way round Sterling and released Shaun Edwards who had a clear 25-yard run to the posts and at 22-8 the game certainly looked be up for Hull FC. Then straight from the restart Sterling broke free and went on a dodging run downfield which saw him get within ten yards of the line, as the cover came in, he sent out a looping pass to Steve Evans, who crossed the whitewash in the corner but Crooks missed again with the conversion.
Back came Wigan as Ferguson broke away from a tackle by Divorty and Schofield and careered downfield for a spectacular 60-yard touch-down. Then, the impossible happened; well at least it almost happened. On the 51-minute mark with Wigan leading 28-12, we produced three great sets of attacking rugby as James Leuluai started what was to be an historic fight-back. A big thrust into the line by Paul Rose saw our second rower release a great short ball which Leuluai grabbed out of the air to score an unlikely try but Crooks missed again. Next up it was the turn of Sterling as ten minutes later he fed a superb delayed short pass to Divorty who scored again, but despite it being nearer the posts, this time Schofield missed the conversion.
Then two minutes later as the flagging Wigan defence gave James Leuluai too much room in the centre of the field, he skipped through a gap, ghosted past two players and ran off to score one of the tries of the season to put us within 4 points of the opposition but again Schofield missed the goal. The hooter went and all the Wigan fans who had been dancing at half time breathed a massive sigh of relief as dejectedly we sunk to our knees.
We had come so close to the greatest come back the Final had ever seen and had we kicked our goals that team would forever have been known as the ‘Comeback Kids’. Sadly, it was not to be and I travelled home on the train in a deep depression with my only consolation being the thought of the lads from the ‘Mermaid Wembley Weekend’ trying to dodge the Wigan fans and make the best of the rest of the stay in the Capital. At least on the long journey home I was able to do what I have always done best in those situations and grieved on my own. It’s somehow so much easier to take when you don’t have to listen to other like-minded passionate souls trying to explain it all away and make you feel better.
I wondered if I would ever get over it, but at least I wasn’t Lee Crooks the local lad who I had seen at the end of the game in amazing isolation sat crying inconsolably on the pitch. He said years later in his excellent autobiography ‘From Hull to Hell and Back’ “I was the Captain and I was on goal kicking duties. I missed four goals and yet if I had kicked three of them we would have won. Blaming myself for my team losing a Cup Final is the hardest thing I had ever had to deal with”. The man who’d been destined to never be the youngest captain ever to lift the Challenge Cup was castigating himself, he was distraught, desolate and crestfallen and that afternoon around 45,000 Hull FC supporters knew exactly how he felt. It was going to take a long time for Lee Crooks and I to get over it! Wembley eh? It’s a wonderful place to play and support your team, but a shocking, shocking place when you lose.
Sad times, as Charlie Watson bows out and ‘Sully’ is taken ill
That summer was busy at work with a full outdoor entertainments programme in the parks and on Queens Gardens but tragedy struck for all Rugby League fans in Hull with the news on 6th July that a collision between a car and an articulated lorry on the M62, led to the untimely demise of Hull FC’s revered ex-Chairman, Charlie Watson. He was rushed to hospital with his wife, but died shortly afterwards. Charlie had figured in our Board Room in one capacity or another since the early 70’s and of course lead the team out as Chairman in the famous 1980 all Hull Final. It was the tragic end to a life dedicated to Hull FC, which I hope I did justice to in here.
As the rest of the world was enjoying the excitement and razzamatazz of ‘Live Aid’ and Bob Geldof was demanding “Give us your ‘Fuckin’ Money” on live TV, in Hull the City Council was trying to save some money and we were working on a replacement for the now outmoded Hull Show entitled the ‘Hull Summer Spectacular’. This new event, still held in East Park, saw the outlay by the Council cut by half and featured a host of stunt teams, bands, dancers, entertainments, dog display teams, fairgrounds and even a Rugby League Sevens Competition. 23,000 attended over the two days which was still 5000 short of the figure that was needed to break even, but it was generally hailed as a success. There was bad news circulating amongst the rugby fans of Hull too, with rumours rife that Clive Sullivan was in hospital in Leeds having tests for a serious illness. Everyone thought he would be fine, he was a model athlete with a statuesque sporting physique and anyway he was only 42!!! Nothing could ever happen to Clive, could it?
So what of the season ahead? Well, when the news broke that ‘Sterlo’ was not to return it certainly didn’t do anything to engender confidence. Still, Arthur Bunting and Roy Waudby had flown off to Australia to try and sign a couple of players with, it was rumoured, Scott Gale and Geoff Gerard on their ‘shopping list’. The latter was subsequently to sign on a two-year deal, whilst the former decided to go back to college, for now!
You can’t close the Threepenny Stand!
Sunday 1st September 1985 Hull 10-Widnes 33
A few chapters ago in this chronicle I described in detail the first ever shareholder’s meeting I attended at the Library Theatre in 1973. Since that day, when Dad got the old tin box from under the bed and handed over the envelope that contained his shares certificate, I hadn’t missed one. However, the meeting that took place at The Station Hotel that year, was one of the strangest I have ever attended. As I arrived at 6.45 on Friday 26th July, it was as if no one cared about the balance sheet or the Chairman’s Reports because everyone seemed preoccupied with one burning issue. Just six hours before the meeting was due to start, it was announced by Chairman Roy Waudby that following the Bradford City fire disaster and the creation of the Safety of Sports Ground Act, the Threepenny Stand had, because of its wooden construction, been condemned, and from the start of the season it was to be closed.
Everyone at the meeting was stunned by this news! Not one question was asked on the accounts (which showed a massive deficit of £191,000) as the shareholders sat in disbelief. Was the timing of the announcement a tactical ploy? Well we’ll never know, but if it was it worked, because all the talk was about the demise of the old edifice that was central to our history, while no one seemed to care about the fact that we were in financial meltdown. There was even talk from the floor of the meeting of starting a ‘Threepenny Stand Rescue Fund’. In addition, to this announcement, once the meeting had finished, Roy Waudby informed those present that Clive Sullivan was seriously ill and that he had liver cancer, which was “Causing a great deal of concern”. That news was even more serious!!
For the first game of the new season against Widnes which we lost 10-33, the old Stand was indeed shut; the atmosphere within the Boulevard was best described as ‘Flat’ and the gate of just 7,027, the lowest for five years. The following week we travelled to York and beat them, but the only point of note from that game is that on a thundery night, in gathering gloom ewe finished with the Wiggington Road Stadium, which had no floodlights, in almost complete darkness.
A hundred wins against the ‘Dobbins’
Sunday 6th October 1985 Hull 28-Hull KR 6
That season I just turned up every week at the Boulevard, but it was obvious that a lot of the ‘new comer’ supporters that had now gone missing had detected that perhaps as a Club we were slipping backwards. Finance was obviously a problem at Board level, as players who retired or left the Club were not replaced. Our form was certainly a bit ‘inconsistent’ however on 6th October we witnessed a real ‘red letter’ day for Hull FC, and indeed for Rugby League in the City of Kingston upon Hull. That day we played the ‘old enemy’ at the Boulevard and in doing so recorded our 100th victory over Hull KR. However, it was not just that ‘milestone’ that made the game so memorable because Hull KR stood undefeated so far that season. For once we beat them comprehensively and in so doing, we knocked our arch rivals off the top spot in the League. The wind howled across the pitch and right into our faces as we stood in the only place to be on such occasions, the slightly improved and now newly re-opened Threepenny Stand. It might have been deemed a lot safer having just received a few crush barriers and a new fire certificate, but that didn’t stop two fans from being ejected for burning a Rovers scarf in the rafters.
From the moment Garry Schofield scored his first ‘Derby try’ the result was never in doubt and it was one of those rare encounters when after about half an hour you could enjoy the occasion, because there was no way that the opposition were going to get back into the game.
In the 15th minute Paul Eastwood picked up a bouncing Fred Ah Kuoi pass and took it headlong into a three-man tackle before popping out a great one-handed pass around the man for Schofield to fly in and score. Seven minutes later Lee Crooks set up Schofield for his second, both of which were converted by Crooks from the touchline. Rovers then started to wilt and from that point onwards the score was never in doubt, but it took us until the 65th minute to score again.
Steve Norton picked up a loose ball, strode into ‘the Robin’s’ defensive line and released a pass to Schofield. He passed on to O’Hara who shot down the wing brilliantly wrong-footing Andy Kelly and crossed the line without a hand being placed on him. By now the whole re-populated Threepenny Stand was in full song, demanding ‘their father’s gun’ in that popular chant that, to this day, still graces these occasions. It was also the first time that I can remember our ‘Friends’ from across the River being referred to as the ‘Dobbins’.
The Hull pack were terrorising the Rover’s six and the great Gavin Miller had to be substituted after one mighty crash tackle from Gerard and Skerrett. Five minutes later we were again deep in the Rover’s half and Gerard put Ah Kuoi through a big gap in the floundering Rover’s defense, before he passed onto Gascoigne to touch down to the right of the posts. This was followed by a rare Rovers attack in which Chris Burton the Hull KR second rower squeezed a ball out to Robinson close to our line and the centre scored in the corner.
However, it was Hull FC’s afternoon as Garry Kemble came into the line and onto a Divorty pass, before switching play back inside to Stuart Vass, (a substitute who had only been on the pitch for thirty seconds) who scored under the posts to leave Schofield another easy conversion. As referee Allett blew the final whistle the crowd clambered over the fences and onto the pitch to celebrate a great afternoon’s work, as we saw off our deadliest rivals in fine style.
“One of the greatest men I have known”
There are occasionally times in the life of a sports fanatic when that daily ‘pain’ of expectancy, joy, worry and anxiety is eclipsed by events that involve the sport but that take place away from the sporting arena. Times, when you are made to realise that winning that next game and getting one over your rivals isn’t everything. Back in the late 70’s I had experienced that feeling when Mum and Dad died and that October I was to feel it again when we lost someone who had been an institution in our game, our City and our community. Clive Sullivan was an iconic character, who had been seriously ill with Liver Cancer for a couple of months and although he had fought hard and valiantly, on 8th October it was announced that he had died leaving the rugby communities from both sides of the City, united in their grief.
The Sullivan family wanted a quiet funeral and their wish was of course respected, but the people of the City needed a Memorial Service to say a final farewell to one of the greatest and most honest sportsmen Kingston-upon-Hull had ever seen. In addition to that, with the new south orbital road across the western dockland almost complete, there was a gathering opinion that it should be named after Clive.
As the local newspaper led with the headline, “The Man who united the City”, the two Club Chaplains, Allen Bagshawe and John Leeman, were working with Gerald Bridgeman the Vicar of Holy Trinity on a Memorial Service that was to touch the whole City, as it celebrated the life of a legend and a giant in local sport.
We all met early in the Market Place to ensure that we got into Holy Trinity Church in good time on that darkest of Friday’s, 18th October, and although there was an hour to go to the start of proceedings, the famous ‘Mother Church’ was already three-quarters full, with the great and the good from both sporting and civic communities. I knew that the Lord Mayor of Kingston upon Hull Jim Paton, (a good pal and great Hull FC fan, who usually stood on the terracing at the Division Road end of the Boulevard), had worked hard for days behind the scenes with the Council Planning Department to ensure that the new road could be named after Clive.
That day Jim took his place in the front pew flanked by the Directors of the two Hull teams, (for both of whom, Clive had scored over one hundred tries). Roz, Clive’s wife was with them, whilst I sat with Frank and Bill from work and ‘Hard up Harry’ and Garry from the Boulevard. Both sets of supporters were bedecked in their famous colour’s and there was even a banner outside the Church draped on the railings which simply read, “Night, Night Clive: We’ll never forget you”. Many in that congregation shed a tear as like me they became enthralled in the celebration of the life of a great man, whilst at the same time, despairing at the futility of his untimely and early demise.
The service, which was relayed outside into the Market Place for the thousand or more fans who couldn’t get into the church, was as much a celebration as a Requiem, and a high point was reached when the Reverend Bridgeman announced, to a deal of spontaneous applause, that the new south orbital road would, as we had all hoped, be named ‘Clive Sullivan Way’.
There were several speeches and memorials and Hull Chairman Roy Waudby read the lesson from ‘Corinthian’s’, which included the line, “Every-one who competes in the game goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever”; at which point you could have heard a pin drop. Ex Player, Coach and Broadcaster, David Doyle-Davidson also delivered a passionate address which had the whole congregation spellbound.
He concluded with the words, “He was one of the greatest people I have ever known” and the famous old church fell silent. The Great Britain team named their new mascot ‘Sully’ in Clive’s memory, as at just 42 years of age, the game of Rugby League in this Country lost its first black National Captain and the last British RL player to lift the World Cup. That was the day that the City of Hull and every supporter in it lost a role model, a gentleman and a legend.
Africa (and Hull City Hall) in Crisis
In that month of October, the ‘Live Aid’ effect finally reached the City of Kingston upon Hull. The Country was totally captivated with Bob Geldoff’s effort and this euphoria prompted the City Council’s Cultural Services Committee to attempt to ‘do their bit’ for the starving millions in Africa and it was decided that we would stage a concert at the City Hall to raise funds to help the cause. Alice Tulley the Committee Chairman was a revered member of the Quaker Community so there was none of Bob’s “Give us your F*ckin Money” stuff, but it was down to me and local promoter Anne Spellman to make the necessary arrangements for what was to be Hull’s own ‘Live Aid’ event.
Anne, who was a larger than life showbiz ‘character’, with a heart of gold, threw herself into the production and had soon contracted 24 acts to perform at the concert; that was already way too many, but there was no going back now!!
The people of Hull responded well and on Monday 28th October 1985, 1300 people sat down in Hull City Hall to enjoy an eclectic mix of music, comedy and dance. Appearing, most bizarrely, in a Frogman suite, Local MP John Prescott hosted the event, accompanied by that ageing stalwart of TV’s ‘Junior Showtime’ back in the early 70’s, Bobby Bennett. He wasn’t greatly appreciated by the typical Hull crowd whist in my youth when he was popular, I could understand kids’ shows like ‘Joe 90’, ‘Thunderbirds’ and even ‘Trumpton’, but Junior Showtime always had me hiding behind the settee. Quite how Bobby got on the bill that night, heaven knows, but we sat through ‘turns’ by several local pop groups, a singing Rabbi, (singing ‘If I were a Rich Man’) several dance troupes and many, many aspiring singers.
One 13-year-old girl that appeared quite early in the show that night and did a very polished impersonation of Margaret Thatcher, was in fact Debora Stephenson, who went on to win Independent TV’s talent show Opportunity Knocks and subsequently starred in ‘Coronation Street’ as Frankie Baldwin. I guess in some small way the staff and I gave Debbie a helping hand, because we first spotted her earlier that year when she got up on the Summer Entertainments stage on Queen’s Gardens and did a fine impersonation of Maggie Thatcher. It was that appearance and her obvious talent that prompted us to offer her a spot on the show that night.
As for ‘Africa in Crisis’, well looking back the show itself was a bit of a shambles, mostly due to there being far too many acts to cram onto the stage and in the end it over ran by two and a quarter hours. When it finally finished at 12-15am, with the full cast singing the American ‘Band Aid’ single ‘We are the World’, there were more people on stage than were left in the Hall. Still they received a standing ovation from Councillor Tulley, Jim Payton the Lord Mayor and the 30 strong audience that were left in the auditorium. A ‘pledge line’ (Crisis 25252) set up that day by Hull Telephones and staffed by local dignitaries, including the Bishop of Hull and Jim the Mayor, raised £11,000 and when this was added to the takings of the concert, it made for a very worthy donation of £15,000 to the ‘Live Aid’ funds.
It had certainly been a long day for my pal Jim, the Lord Mayor and he commented as he left the Hall, “If Africa’s in Crisis, then after sitting there for over 5 hours on those City Hall seats, I think we have a few issues of our own here in Hull, Peter. I’m away to my bed” As for me, well I went home, had a glass of wine and mused on the fact that after co-ordinating that lot, reducing some performances and dealing with irate ‘artistes’ and in some cases their even more irate parents; at Wembley, Bob Geldoff had it easy.
Sunday 17th November 1985 Hull 10-New Zealand 33
As a sports fan occasionally you remember a game for no other reason than the abject inability of the officials. A match that animates that perfectly was one of the most infamous and controversial matches that the Boulevard ever saw. It was played on a cold and blustery afternoon and completed the New Zealand tourists 1985 Tour. In an astonishing first half when Easingwold referee Gerry Kershaw completely lost control, five players were sent off and Hull’s teenage sensation Garry Schofield left the field on a stretcher. Four of the players that were dismissed went off in pairs. Firstly, Lee Crooks exchanged punches with Clayton Friend and they were both sent off in the 11th minute, to be followed by the two hookers Shaun Patrick and Howie Tomati who emerged from a scrum a little later exchanging blows like two demented boxers. Then in injury time the Kiwi half back Olsen Filipaina was dismissed for dangerous kicking; as he stood on Gascoigne’s head.
We led 10-6 at half-time but the 10 man Kiwi side stormed back to win with an amazing 33-10 score-line. Our first half try was scored by the soon to depart, Garry Schofield, whilst the Kiwi’s scored 6 tries in that second half. Both coaches complained about the refereeing after the game and said that Mr Kershaw had been “Over-zealous” and a hastily arrange Disciplinary Panel after the match made up of English League chairman Joe Seddon and New Zealand Tour Manager Jim Campbell confirmed that opinion. They found all five players guilty, but ruled that in each case their sending off had been sufficient punishment. Strange times indeed!
When challenged about his display, after the game by the Press, Referee Kershaw said, “I had to do it, if I hadn’t, then the game would have been a farce, it was ‘Kershaw’s Law’ that won the day in the second half, quite simply it was up to me to guarantee the game did not become a succession of brawls and fist fights”. At least he explained his actions, back in the days when referees were allowed to answer back and not ‘gagged’ after games, as they are today.
Too many balls spoil the draw; it’s another Rugby League embarrassment.
Wednesday 11th December 1985 Hull 14-St Helens 57
Having been knocked out of the Yorkshire Cup in the semi-final by Hull KR, our bad luck continued that December without a ball being kicked in anger. Despite some patchy form in the League campaign, having beaten Swinton and Salford at the Boulevard in the first two rounds, we had reached the last eight of the John Player Trophy, and so, we eagerly awaited the draw for the quarter finals.
On Monday 2nd December, the day that local poet Phillip Larkin died, I got up early to watch the draw being made in front of a massive TV audience on the new and ground breaking BBC Breakfast Show. In those days each Club in the competition was, before the first-round draw, allocated a number in line with their position in the alphabet. They kept that number throughout and it was included in the bag for each draw, until they were knocked out.
We should all have realised that something was wrong when the first ball out of the bag that morning was number 1, which was Barrow, who had been knocked out the day before. However ,despite this, the draw continued and we were allocated a home match against York, whilst Hull KR were drawn away at Warrington. There was however one too many balls in the bag, which was certainly apparent when David Oxley the Chairman of the Rugby League, (a man knick-named by the Threepenny Stand ‘The Cheshire Cat’ because he could smile through anything) got to the end of the proceedings with a ball still remaining.
40 minutes later, amidst much confusion, the draw was retaken ‘off camera’ with, this time, the right eight balls in contention and Hull FC were drawn away at Saints whilst Rovers ended up with another away tie, but this time at lowly York. There were complaints a plenty, but the second draw was endorsed by the Governing Council of the Rugby Football League, and so we made our plans to travel to Knowesley Road, St. Helens the following weekend.
Then the frost descended in Lancashire and the game was postponed 18 hours before it was due to be played. It was rescheduled for the following Wednesday when after I had taken a day off work to travel over to Lancashire, we were ‘demolished’ 57-14. It was our biggest defeat ever and followed a shambolic performance which epitomised our growing plight that season. We struggled to contain a rampant Saints attack, dropped lots of ball in our own half and had nothing left energy wise with which to counter attack. I guess, once again at a time of utter disappointment, and a new, unwanted record, I could say “I was there”, but there was little doubt that the magic of the last 5 years was fading fast, and the reality was that after a good start to the season my team was falling apart.
The end of the ‘Golden Era’ as Bunting bows out
Sunday 22nd December 1985 Hull 8-Swinton 16
There were plenty of protagonists and ‘doom and gloom merchants’ around back then and everywhere you went fans were full of their own theories about what was happening at the Club. The Board, the Players, referee’s and even the Rugby League were blamed for our demise but most folks who had a theory placed the responsibility squarely, but perhaps unfairly, at Arthur Buntings door. That’s what usually happens with fans when the chips are down, everything has been tried and you’re still struggling; the coach always gets it ‘in the neck’. Despite his past exploits, it had to be the Coach’s fault. On the Sunday before Christmas I drove over to Manchester in my Opal Ascona, for a game at Swinton, with Harry, Garry and a friend of mine from Garden Village called Andy.
Station Road was a once great Stadium which had fallen from grace and several sections of terrace were closed altogether. The weather was dire too and as the rain poured down from a leaden sky, we stood for 80 minutes with water running out of our shoes and lost to a poor, but physical ,Swinton side 8-16. At the end a disheartened chorus of “Bunting Out” rang out from some of the 600 or so diehard fans that had made the trip over the Pennines, but of course I didn’t join in, although as we all got back to the car and wrung out our Hull Shirts and ‘bobble hats’, we could probably see their point.
It was already a well-known fact that the Board of Directors had scheduled a special meeting to discuss the Club’s plight with Arthur and his Assistant Kenny Foulkes for that Monday, and it was there, to herald the end of a ‘Golden Era’, that Arthur Bunting resigned as Hull FC Coach. His Assistant Kenny Foulkes was asked to take over and although rumours were rife around the City about Arthur’s replacement, Club Chairman Roy Waudby made it clear that Kenny was there until the end of the current campaign.
Fast diminishing financial resources, falling gates, ageing players and struggles in the Boardroom, meant that the coaching role was a ‘poison chalice’ although at least Foulkes still had a job and stated afterwards, “I arrived at the meeting expecting to be sacked and walked out as Head Coach”. Fred Ah Kuoi became his Assistant and although in hindsight perhaps Arthur Bunting’s tenure at the Club had run its course, it was sad when he left, but of course now he is recognised for what he did and is acclaimed as a legend and an all-time greats of Hull FC.
In the New Year things went from bad to worse and the anticipated ‘new coach effect’ that the Board had pinned their hopes on, was certainly not materialising. Injuries continued to plague the team, whilst there was now an obvious aversion by the Board to spend any money, which indicated things were getting tough off the field. We were knocked out of the Cup in the early rounds by Hull KR, this time by 22-6 and a three-week period of inactivity due to some heavy frosts and snow did nothing to help the Club’s finances either.
As an aside from the rugby there was sad occurrence on 22nd February 1986 when local Cottingham Cartoonist Ern Shaw died at Hull Royal infirmary. Ern had produced several cartoon strips in the daily morning papers including the award-winning Dingbats and also illustrated a famous set of playing cards featuring Disney characters. Of course, for all FC fans he is best remembered for those pen and ink sketched cover illustrations that adorned the Hull FC match day programmes in the 50’s. When photography was expensive his caricatures of the Hull team were a regular feature of the 40’s and 50’s and his passing was marked by the City and the Club.
As the end of the season approached we were beaten away from home 57-14 by Saints, 44-6 by Wigan and 43-16 by Warrington and despite Kenny Foulkes’ best efforts, things continued to decline. Home gates were still dropping and it was as if some fans had just had too much success. Although they still ‘supported’ the Club they certainly didn’t do it with their feet or their cash, as average attendances at the Boulevard went down to 6,245 and by April 1986 we were mid table, a situation that we weren’t used to at all. Things were not helped by the fact that Rovers had just beaten Leeds in an energy sapping semi- final which saw our mortal enemy progress to Wembley, where thankfully and to the relief of everyone in West Hull, they were beaten by Castleford.
Lee Crook’s attempts at marketing go a little wrong!
Sunday 19th March 1986 Hull 16- Warrington 43
There was a good story doing the rounds back then about that defeat at Warrington on 19th March when, at the end, a small group of fans protested at pitch side and Lee Crooks went across to talk to them. He said how sorry he was about the performance and said he would clear it with the Board so that if they said at the turnstiles at the Boulevard the following week, “We were at Warrington”, they would get in free. Lee then added “But don’t tell anyone else” Of course word spread like wild fire amongst the Hull fans and the Directors were not happy when they were told after the Salford game that dozens had been admitted free, using the ‘secret password’. A larger than usual gate of near 5000 for that game, which we won 34-16, certainly added some credence to the story and I bet Lee was popular in the boardroom that day!
Tough times, but we always beat Leeds
Sunday 6th April 1986 Hull 35-Leeds 18
By April my support away from home was on ‘auto pilot’ I just went, not expecting anything and I was usually not disappointed. On a breezy spring Sunday, I went along to Headingley for an encounter against the ‘Loiners’ which took place the weekend after the cup semi-finals. I drove over to Leeds having just changed my car and bought myself an Opal Manta which I found could really motor. In those days Leeds was not particularly well supported and 500 or so FC fans made up a gate of just 5,829. It was a windy afternoon and the assembled ‘FC Army’ took up position in the South Stand where despite our demise, the rafters rang to the strains of ‘Old Faithful’. The fact that we were all pretty disgruntled didn’t matter because when you’re away from home, you always sing no matter how you feel. In the end we came out unlikely winners that day. Savoy Tyres, who back then sponsored the Hull FC Man of the Match, gave the award to Lee Crooks who was superb all afternoon in a game in which referee Mr Kershaw of Easingwold had little to do.
It was a tremendous win, but although we were to beat Leeds again at home the following week, the rest of the season was poor fare which saw us lose to Widnes, Warrington, Oldham and Halifax however we beat Hull KR 28 -2 at Craven Park in the penultimate game and as always, that made up for a lot.
If easily offended……don’t accept tickets as presents!
As summer approached business remained brisk at the City Hall. A few months previously I had received a call from George Foster the Manager of the infamous Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, a comedian who had built up quite a reputation in ‘Clubland’ for being the lewdest around. He was, it was reported, even giving Bernard Manning a run for his money. George suggested that he hire the Hall for Roy’s first ‘auditorium performance’ in the region, and so, against my better judgement, I agreed providing that there was sufficient warning as to the content of the evening’s ‘entertainment’. We agreed on the abrupt, pointed and rather succinct phrase on the posters of, “If easily offended please stay away”. It was a scary proposition for a Council promoted event, made all the more worrying after a conversation I had with George Foster just after he had signed the contract.
I asked how Chubby was going down with audiences and he said his reception had been mixed. In fact, read later in the Daily Express that one gig at a Roman Catholic Club had ended after it had only just begun, when he was booed from the stage. Apparently the Club had just been burgled and Chubby walked on stage looked up at the ‘occupied’ Crucifix hanging above it and said, “I see you got the bloke who pinched the telly”. Chubby was, there is little doubt, a pretty controversial character.
On the night of the event Monday 12th May, I was surprised to note that although it was a predominantly male audience there were several large parties of women, obviously intent on having a good night out. When you got over the ‘language’, from the moment he walked on stage and said, “I like Hull it’s so well laid out, it’s hard to tell how long it’s been dead” Chubby was very funny. However, before the show started I became concerned when a couple in their sixties ascending the stairs to take their seats in the balcony area directly opposite the stage; he was dressed in tweeds and she wore a long evening dress and short fur stole. “Very strange customers for this event” I thought, as I began to worry a little. I don’t think that ‘The Watch Committee’ still existed then, but had it done so, then they were both prime candidates to be members.
Ten minutes after the show had started they were back descending the stairs and making a swift exit. Fearing some adverse publicity in the Hull Daily Mail the next day, I shouted after them, “Didn’t you like it then”, to which the lady blushed and replied, “Not quite what we expected, I’m afraid”. The man strode over to me and looked from side to side, in lowered tones said, “It’s our bloody son, he thinks it’s funny I suppose, sending us two tickets for tonight for our Wedding Anniversary and telling us Chubby Brown was an American Jazz Trumpeter” I produced a relieved laugh, they smiled back and left by the side door never to be seen again.
I actually remember the same thing happening about six months later when a couple somehow got into the Hall for a Wrestling promotion when they had tickets for the Opera which was on the same evening at the New Theatre. People often got the venues mixed up! But, there was not much difference there then was there !! However, I still wonder to this day why it was well into the third bout before they eventually left and went across to the Theatre!
As a foot note, I had obviously had a few problems justifying the booking of Chubby Brown to certain of the more straight-laced Councillors in the first place, but one prominent ‘elected member’ really liked Chubby and used to ride around his Ward on a bicycle listening to Mr Brown’s tapes on his headphones and laughing in a demented fashion. He (to save embarrassment we’ll call him Larry) felt that it would not be good politics to attend, but asked me to get him a signed poster and to hang it, as a joke next day, in the ‘Member’s Room’ in the Guildhall, which, as a ‘good officer’, of course I did. Apparently it didn’t stay up on the wall long! It was swiftly removed when some of the other councillors saw it hung there portraying a grinning Chubby in his patchwork jacket, flying helmet and shin length trousers and signed across the bottom in felt tip pen, “Bollocks Larry, Regards Chubby” That incident could have got me in big trouble, but the Councillor concerned, and in fairness several other members of Hull City Council, thought it was hilarious.
That event was quickly followed by Jim Payton the Lord Mayor opening the new bar at the City Hall as two years of ‘working’ on the local licensing magistrates finally came to fruition and Cameron’s the Brewers constructed the first purpose-built bar at the venue and I was the first ever Licensee. As Mary across the road in the Punch commented about me to some of the regulars, “Talk about a poacher turned gamekeeper!”
‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’ as Kenny Foulkes is shown the door!
Despite scant resources Kenny Foulkes our Head Coach had done his best since Christmas but the Board of Hull FC decided in the words of Chairman Roy Waudby that “A complete change was needed”. That was the signal for Kenny to leave the Club he had been associated with since the 1960’s as we the fans, awaited developments.
We didn’t have to wait long either because the next day, (no doubt in another cost cutting exercise) the Club withdrew their contract offer to James Leuluai and said that they were open to offers for International centre Steve Evans. One by one the great team was being taken apart simply because they were now unaffordable. Whilst all this was going on, Lee Crooks was over in Australia playing Club rugby and writing a weekly column in the Hull Daily Mail, in which he was advising the Club about everything from who they should sign, to who should be in charge in place of Kenny, which no doubt went down well.
We were pretty underwhelmed when a week later the Board announced that our new Head Coach was to be the unproven ex FC and Rovers stalwart Len Casey. Lee Crooks said in his column, “Len will take us back to the top”. Although a great player, ‘Crooksey’ was about to be proved a poor judge of Coaches.
Around that time, I appointed a new City Hall Manager when after several interviews I finally settled for Tony Ridley who had little experience in the entertainments industry but was certainly keen and had, I thought, the precise temperament needed for that often crazy environment. His background was in the building industry and I was soon to realise just how useful a Manager who could do a bit of plumbing would be.
County Cricket returns to the Circle and we all get drunk
It was an important day for local sport when on 27th July One Day County Cricket was staged at the Cricket Circle for the first time since 1978. I went with Trevor and we started drinking at noon and finished at around 6-00pm, well I think that was the time anyway. I went along purely to experience that sense of suspended animation Cricket always brings upon me, aided as it always has been with a few pints of warm lager. The thing was my old mates from the Hull Cheese were running the Beer Tent that day and so it was free samples all afternoon. As the sun beat down before the game (quite an uncharacteristic occurrence for Cricket in Hull), the 5000 folks in attendance observed an immaculate minute’s silence for the 10 people who had died in a train crash at Lockington, on the Hull to Bridlington line just the day before.
We sat on the grass just over the boundary rope enjoying our beer and trying to appreciate the cricket which understandably got more difficult to follow as the afternoon wore on. It was a great performance by Yorkshire who scored an impressive 255 for 6, with Jim Love top scorer with an unbeaten 104. In their innings Nottinghamshire were bowled out for 153 (Score courtesy of the Hull Daily Mail next day, because I fell asleep) and I was awoken by great scenes of jubilation at the end, before settling back down on the grass to finish my beer. I was shaken awake an hour later by a ‘litter picking’ steward and told to leave!
Still, I do remember that the old Pavilion looked superb that day packed with spectators and sporting a new coat of paint, whilst all around the Boundary ropes the kids played their own games of cricket as their Mums and Dads got steadily drunk. It was a great day, followed predictably by a throbbing headache next morning.
‘Casey says Relax’
We started the season at the Boulevard lacking in depth on the playing roster with a few injuries pre-season adding further to our woes. The great team of the early 80’s had all but broken up and although ‘The 1985 Society’ had run a pre-season Sevens competition at the Boulevard to raise some much needed cash, we were in trouble. Skerrett and Gascoigne were staying away from training and while Lee Crooks had returned home from Australia, Garry Schofield was held up over there, playing in the play-off series for Canterbury-Bankestown. Steve Evans then left for Wakefield for £28,000, although we did sign 24-year-old Australian sensation Brett Clarke, a brilliant young Scrum Half who then four weeks later changed his mind, tore up his contract and signed for Western Suburbs.
After wins were gained against Bramley, Wakey and Batley at the Boulevard without really playing well, we then lost to Halifax and Castleford away and little seemed to have changed really. Len Casey, who took on ex-player Keith Hepworth as his Assistant Coach, announced in the Green Sports Mail, “Relax, by Christmas we will be firing on all cylinders”but none of us really believed him. However, we were pleased and surprised when Aussie International Prop David Brown signed on, as did Steve Crooks a second rower from Hull KR, but by then, many of the fans had already decided they’d had enough.
The problem was a lack of half backs, and creative players, something that seems to have haunted our great Club for decades. Then, unexpectedly the Board went out and bought three players in two days, and on Sunday 21st September, Hull paraded them all in a game against Leigh at the Boulevard. We first signed Mick Gibbons on loan, but the big news was that we had captured wily scrum half Kevin Dick from Leeds, and former Welsh RU international stand-off Gary Pearce, a rather dumpy looking kicker and play maker, from Welsh Club Llanelli. The Dick deal saw stay away stars Andy Gascoigne and Trevor Skerrett move in the other direction to Leeds and as our new acquisitions were hailed in the local media as heralding, ’A new Dawn’, we all went to see if it was just that, as an improved gate of over 5,700 populated the sunny terraces that afternoon.
Gary Pearce and Kevin Dick take a bow!
Sunday 26th September 1986 Hull 31-Leigh 26
With plenty of early season injuries, and despite the debutants, the team we fielded that Sunday was still a ‘scratch’ one, but it was not long before Pearce had opened his account for the Club with a 6th minute penalty. After 12 minutes Pearce, who was showing no signs of only being a professional ‘League’ player for two days, dummied to the right and ran off to the left to release Dane O’Hara on the wing. He shot in near the corner flag to score a great try. Pearce converted from the touchline before a mistake by debutant Dick at the back of a scrum saw Leigh number 7 Davis snap the ball up and feed Prop Cotterell who made the line with Peppi Brand and McCoid on his back. Johnson goaled and after a confident start we began to look a bit wobbly.
Dick though then showed what was to come in the next two seasons as he ‘cheekily’ stole the ball from the rampaging Schubert and fed Brand who went on a typical surge to the line. Peppi was an exciting player to watch, as he evaded one tackler and pushed another into touch, before diving over in the corner. Pearce’s conversion attempt just failed, and the Lancastrians got two points back after Steve Crooks had punched Gelling, before we witnessed a vintage Mick Crane try that brought the house down.
In typical fashion the evergreen loose forward found a bit of space around the play the ball. He chipped ahead, the ball bounced perfectly, and he ‘barreled’ in to score a try which Pearce duly converted. However, it was not long before a Henderson effort made it 18-14, but thankfully winger McCoid scored after Lee Crooks’s ’Bomb’ bounced off full back Collier’s shoulder and straight into his arms and we went in for half time leading 22-14.
The second half was hard going and both Dick and Mallinson featured in skirmishes with the Leigh forwards. Lee Crooks settled things down with a drop goal, but that was to signal a fight back by the visitors. By the 64th minute both Gelling and Fox had scored converted tries and from a healthy situation we were trailing 26-23. It looked like the ‘new dawn’ was about to turn into another nightmare.
‘Loanee’ Gibbins was trying everything he could, within and outside the rule book, tactics that were upsetting both the Leigh forwards and Mr. Holdsworth the referee. It was however a surprising, but inspired, substitution that was to make the difference, when young Jon Sharp took to the field and came close to stealing the show, from the other more illustrious debutants. With four minutes to go he shot out a long pass to Paul Eastwood who blazed in at the corner. Then in the fourth minute of injury time and direct from acting half, Sharp himself galloped in from 25 yards and despite the previously dependable Pearce missing both conversions, we had won by a score of 31-26. It had been a close call but in what was a largely forgettable season, in Kevin Dick and Gary Pearce we had at least found a partnership that looked as if it could organize the team out on the field.
The ‘new’ City Hall Manager is ‘baptized’ in three inches of water.
Tony the new Manager finally took up his position at the Hall and his first weekend was a busy one. On the Friday there was a concert that featured heavy metal act Saxon who played to 800 people but caused Tony a lot of problems when they staged a food fight in the tour catering area in the Victoria Galleries, which culminated in the paintings on the walls, soft furnishings and even the catering staff caked in Chilli and trifle.
The visit the Hague Philharmonic Orchestra on the Saturday promised to be a more sedate affair although it wasn’t without its problems as some of the second violins got stuck in that back stage lift……… again and the concert had to be delayed by 15 minutes while Tony and the ‘Lift man’ came to their rescue. Then on Sunday the group that caused me so many problems back in 1980, ‘The Damned’, returned to the venue and although everything on stage and in the audience went well this time around, the fans, true to their ‘retro punk’ roots took all the ball cocks off the toilet cisterns in the Gents and with three inches of water covering the floor, Tony had to use all his plumbing expertise to stem the tide and avert a disaster. Quite what his wife made of him arriving home from his new ‘executive position’ with his shoes ruined and his suit trousers soaked to the knees, is anyone’s guess.
Three weeks later we staged a triumphant home coming for local heroes the Housemartins’ who had taken the single and Album charts by storm, with their high flying single ‘Happy Hour’ and debut album ‘London 0 Hull 4’, and it was a truly memorable night. Sold out weeks in advance, and interestingly supported by the then largely unknown Scottish folk-rock duo ‘The Proclaimers’, the Housemartins treated the crowd to their full repertoire of songs in an atmosphere that was electric. The final encore saw the four lads stood at the front of the stage, lit by a single spotlight, as they brilliantly sang an ‘Acapella’ version of the Isley Brothers hit, ‘Caravan of Love’. That was the first time anyone in the audience had heard, what was destined to be that year’s Christmas Number One.
Len Casey’s finest hour (and there weren’t that many!)
Saturday 20th December 1986 Hull 11-Wigan 12
There were, for us intrepid fans attending the Boulevard and tramping around the north of England every week, few games that could be called memorable in that period. However, we had done really well in the John Player Trophy that year, having managed to reach the televised semi-final at Headingley on the last Saturday before Christmas. It was again that strange format for the competition, in which we had to play all the rounds back to back from 30th November and we reached the semi -inal by beating Salford at the Willows, Blackpool at Home and Bradford Northern at Odsal. This had been an impressive run indeed, coming as it did after 4 straight league defeats in which we conceded 170 points, including a 48-0 defeat by the Australian tourists at the Boulevard and a 50-10 drubbing away at the hands of St. Helens.
The Cup run had certainly captured the imagination of the West Hull public and after we had taken around 5,000 fans to the quarter final at Odsal the previous week and despite it being the last weekend for shopping before Christmas, we all hit the road again this time to Headingley, to face Wigan. Casey made just one change to the line-up that had done so well at Odsal the previous week, resting Jon Sharp who had concussion and drafting in the aging hero of so many other semi-finals, Steve ‘Knocker’ Norton, whose Testimonial Brochure was due out the following Monday. I went with Andy and met Harry, Barry and Trevor in the South Stand.
Gary Pearce got the game underway as Hull came forward strongly and only a desperate last gasp tackle from Wigan’s Hampson saved a try. We continued to work the ball forward and a brilliant dummy and pass by Pearce found Crooks in space and from 20 yards Lee dropped a goal to give us a slender lead. Then, a good Pearce kick pinned Wigan back and a scrum was formed just 5 yards out from their line. Straight from this Windley spotted a hole on the blind side and shot over but Pearce missed the conversion. However, then, with just minutes to go to half time, it was all Wigan. Great tackles from Lee Crooks on Ellery Hanley and Garry Kemble on Russell, kept our line intact and we went in 5-0 up.
It looked like there was to be a sensational start to the second half as Lee Crooks took Hanley’s kick off and fed a great short ball to Garry Schofield who shot through the line and headed off on a 60-yard run to touch down. However, Referee Holdsworth called the play back for a forward pass which was loudly contested by the Hull fans standing in the increasing cold and gloom of the South Stand. Slowly but surely though Hanley and Edwards were wrestling the advantage away from Hull, as Wigan continued to press forward and the Referee appeared to allow some dubious tactics to go unpunished. Twice Garry Pearce stopped Hanley in full flight with brilliant tackles before the Wigan outfit finally went ahead, in controversial circumstances. Hanley shot in next to the posts, but could clearly be seen to drop the ball from his hand as he went over. However, the try stood and with Stephenson’s conversion, Wigan took the lead for the first time before revitalised by Puckering and Norton coming off the bench, Hull found ‘another gear’.
We’d not been in the Wigan 25-yard area for almost 15 minutes, when Lazenby broke and passed onto Crane. Our veteran loose forward, belying his years, showed a touch of that old magic and transferring the ball from one hand to the other, he put Pearce through a huge gap to score and as Gary converted his own try, we were back in front, 11-6. It was though, destined to be a short lived lead, as Edwards found us out again with a brilliant piece of play. He hung a ball in the air for Hanley, who this time grounding the ball correctly and scored wide out. As Gill curled in the conversion we trailed again 11-10.
Ah Kuoi grabbed a loose ball on the Wigan 25 and Puckering made a great break for the Airlie Birds, but tragedy struck when the usually dependable Pearce dropped the ball in his effort to release it to the waiting O’Hara and the chance was lost. The Black and Whites then made a tremendous last-ditch effort to grab a win and as the crowd roared them on Schofield created a lot of space for himself and passed to O’Hara, who only had to put the ball down next to the flag, but a tremendous effort by two Wigan tacklers, saw him just fail to score. We continued to press as referee Holdsworth missed a glaringly obvious Wigan knock on from a booming Hull up and under, but tragically as the final hooter went, we had lost by one point, and the dream of a Final which had been within touching distance, was gone.
That was Len Casey’s one great moment as Coach, and one that maybe ensured he kept his job into the following season. It certainly took the shine off Christmas, which was a time when once again relationships were fraught at home, as I battled to balance love of Hull FC and the ensuing disappointment it brings, with other more festive things! However, a good victory over Featherstone on Boxing Day at the Boulevard put most of that right and certainly lifted the gloom a bit.
The Searchers’ Christmas debacle!
Two days before Christmas as parents were scouring the shops for Panini Football stickers for the kids, at the City Hall we promoted the first of what was to become an annual Festive institution, the Searchers’ Christmas Concert. Completely sold out, the show also featured Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Tremeloes. Promoter Tim Jibson wanting a big finale hired confetti cannon to shower the crowd with ticker tape at the end of the evening. It didn’t seem to bother Tim that the cannon was actually ‘For outdoor use only’ and he assured us that “It’s just says that……it’ll be fine” This final effect was to coincide with the City Hall staff releasing hundreds of balloons from a net suspended in the roof high above the audience. All went well until the final chords of the last song by the full cast, ‘Santa Claus is coming to Town’ was starting to fade.
As the customers gave a standing ovation, the Confetti Cannon gave out a massive bang which had people holding their ears as it rattled the very fabric of the Building, sending years of gathered dust from inside the Hall’s Organ, showering out over the crowd. In the mean-time the string that was to release the balloons from the net became tangled up and after a couple of strong yanks from the City Hall staff up in the roof it tore the whole net from the ceiling and it fell onto the crowd ensnaring several hundred of the audience like wild beasts captured somewhere in the jungles of Africa. It all seems very funny now, but with patrons in their ‘Sunday Best’ covered in dust and frantically struggling to get out from under the net, there was certainly not a lot of Festive spirit about and in the following days, we received more complaints than Christmas Cards.
It was just after Christmas, and as rugby got in the way of another relationship, that I left the house in Garden Village and in desperation decided to move back into the City Hall Flat. It was certainly good to see Mary and Albert again across at the Punch as we renewed our nightly ‘get-togethers’ in the Public Bar. That was a cold January and I recall trudging through the snow-covered City Centre streets to the Lockwood Arms to attend a Country Music night hosted by local radio personality Tex Milne that was staged in aid of ‘Knocker’ Norton’s Testimonial Fund.
As I passed the New Theatre it was certainly a festive scene as the snow fell thick and fast on the families slipping and sliding their way into the venue to watch ‘Little and Large’ in the Pantomime. By the time I got to the pub the place was packed and I pitched into the collection and bought a few raffle tickets. The band ‘The Wild East’ were OK, but there is only so much ‘Crystal Chandelier’, ‘From a Jack to a King’ ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ you can take. I said “Hello” to Gary Kemble, Jimmy Leuluai and Steve Evans who had come along to support ‘Knocker’, wrapped myself up in my coat and my Hull scarf and set out back through the snow to the Punch.
It’s all part of being a fan, that feeling of needing to be there at any event that has to do with your Club, and although I didn’t like country music or trudging through the snow, in the end I felt I’d done my bit for Knocker! The day job was going well too with 450 different events taking place at the City Hall that year. I was back on my own in the flat, it was all work, beer and Hull FC and that I decided, was how I liked it!
After Christmas the fans of Hull FC were certainly hoping that our luck would change and that perhaps we could get a decent run in the Challenge Cup. What we didn’t know at that time was just how lucky we were to actually be. The Cup draw was made in Huddersfield and we were given an away game in Derbyshire against First Division Club, the Mansfield Marksmen. The team, another fated expansionist experiment, had played at Field Mill Mansfield in their first two seasons however they sustained massive losses and could simply not afford the rent anymore. Their final game there was on 2 February 1986 before they moved on to another football stadium, a few miles down the road in Alfreton. The first game at that venue was on 23 March, and almost a year later we were the opposition in the Challenge Cup.
Alfreton Town, the ‘Mansfield Marksmen’, ‘Nosey’ Parker and Alvin Stardust
Sunday 15th February 1987 Hull 38-Mansfield Marksmen 7
So it was that on a cold, drizzly February day we all made our way to the home of Alfreton Town to play our Clubs only ever game in Derbyshire. It was the Quarter Final of the Challenge Cup and serious stuff. Mansfield Breweries were attempting to secure a footing in the rugby league heartland of Yorkshire and Lancashire and sponsored the team (Marksman Bitter was one of their branded beers) but what a place North Street was! As probably the worst ground at which I’ve watched professional Rugby League (and I’ve been to Alt Park, Huyton) the ‘Stadium’ had three sides surrounded by grassed muddy hills, with no terracing whatsoever, whilst we crammed into the one solitary stand.
About 1000 of the 1,800 gate (the biggest they were to get as a professional Rugby League team) were from Hull and their then Chairman Dave Parker (‘Nosey’ of more recent journalistic fame) stood behind the three dilapidated turnstiles, seemingly ‘Counting us in’. I didn’t see their Honorary President Alvin Stardust (who hailed from Mansfield) but by then he had probably become disenchanted with a Club that was obviously not meeting the expectations of the good folks of the Derbyshire town. Most of us were still rubbing our eyes in disbelief at the surroundings, as the teams ran out.
The stoic Stadium was a stark contrast for the Hull FC players, who had just returned from some ‘Warm weather training’ in Majorca. The game is still memorable for me, probably because the opposition only looked like scoring once in the very last minute and that was because our defence, despite poor opposition, was simply magnificent throughout.
We kicked off up the ‘slope’ on a pitch that was like a quagmire, having hosted a football match the day before. The early exchanges were only memorable for a crunching tackle by Tomlinson and Lazenby on Mansfield centre Fletcher, who crashed over the touchline and hit his head on the bottom of a concrete perimeter fence post. The game was stopped for seven minutes whilst he came around and he actually soldiered on with a bloodied bandage round his head, before retiring from the game ten minutes later.
Then we opened the scoring. Windley was tackled and from the play the ball Pearce took the whole defence across the field before feeding Schofield, who stepped inside and shot off for the line. Following the conversion from Pearce, Mansfield huffed and puffed but simply couldn’t break our line. Then when Patrick fed a short ball to Tomlinson, our prop crashed in to make it 10-0, and when Pearce converted again it was effectively all over.
Mansfield’s full back Edgington was their star, pulling off tackle after tackle as O’Hara, Eastwood and Schofield threatened the home side’s line, but Mansfield were getting frustrated and so in desperation stand-off Willis dropped a goal. Then with three minutes to go to the break Ah Kuoi and Windley moved the ball swiftly from a scrum and Eastwood galloped in at the corner. As the hooter went and we went in search of a Bovril to warm us up, it was 16-1 to Hull.
The second half continued the ‘procession’ as Pearce scored a try he converted himself. Ten minutes later Tomlinson knocked both Stevens and Hough off in a tackle, before feeding Wayne Proctor who touched down for Pearce to convert again. Schofield got the next with a 30-yard run and then it was the turn of Eastwood again as Mansfield couldn’t cope with our consistent pressure.
With just a minute to go a Lee Crooks pass looked to have put Eastwood in again when Mansfield winger Courtney Thompson flashed onto the sloppy pass, intercepted and ran 75 yards for a try. This saw those of the home crowd that were left in the ground, cheering as if it was the winner. The game finished with the rickety score board showing a score of 38-7 which saw us through to the next round. However, as we look back on a day out at North Street Alfreton, it will be the shocking condition of the Stadium that will be remembered by those who attended.
Definitely no wet kisses!!
Sunday 29th March 1987 Hull 12-Warrington 46
The talk of the media that spring was the scourge of AIDS that was not only sweeping Africa but gathering pace here in Great Britain, with the TV full of ‘shroud waving’ advertisements for ‘safe sex’ and condoms. It was a terrible, terrible fate to befall anyone but the myths and misinformation of just how you could catch it were spreading much more quickly than the true facts about it. You could apparently contract Aids from toilet seats, coffee cups and according to the Sun newspaper using someone else’s underwear. However quite what the circumstances were in which you would be sharing underwear, was never fully explained.
The Hull Daily Mail covered a few tragic local cases on their front page but always kept names and circumstances secret, so for the man in the street it was generally a case of what you don’t know, make up! The Rugby and Football League’s were however really worried about the ‘known fact’ that you could be infected with AIDS from other peoples blood.
Both organisations’ then looked at the principle of a ‘Blood Bin’ and both came out with ‘a charter’. The Rugby League’s included such actions as banning communal baths and not allowing the sharing of drinks bottles or razors. Football had also included in their charter, “No kissing in goal celebrations”. You can imagine the laugh we all had in the Punch the night after the Secretary of the Football League was asked to explain this clause and said, “The thing is there is no evidence that AIDS can be contacted by kissing but I would say it was dangerous, particularly if it were a wet kiss”
The rest of that season was disappointing, with us winning only five of the last 14 games. Many fans thought that it was only that narrow and unlucky defeat by Wigan in the John Player Trophy semi-final that saved Len Casey’s job, but we were all pretty fed up with Len and the allegations of his ‘unconventional’ motivational methods in the dressing room and on the training field. One Rugby League paper flippantly described his tenure, as a ‘Reign of Terror’ although most of us fans weren’t laughing!
The low point was a terrible 46-12 defeat by Warrington in March, which was one of the only games that I ever contemplated leaving early. I watched from the Airlie Street end of the ground where with 15 minutes to go, with the exception of some chip papers blowing ‘tumble weed like’ across the steps, the place was deserted. I stuck it out until the final whistle and left for home wondering what could happen to make things any worse. Not surprisingly I didn’t have long to wait for the answer.
A hero exits, who is “A Friend to whom I owe so much!”
Wednesday 22nd April 1987 Hull 21-Widnes 4
Ironically, we ended that abysmal season with a resounding victory, but the significance of a game against Widnes which really held little importance for either team, was the fact that on 69 minutes Len Casey made a substitution that was to see the end of an era, if not the end of an enigma. It was then that Steve Norton left the Boulevard pitch for the last time during a senior game.
A few days later ‘Knocker’ announced his retirement, as one of the greatest ever players to grace the famous irregular hoops was consigned to the memory of everyone who watched him play.
Steve was a fantastic Rugby League player and it was a privilege to see him play. That last season saw him gain a well-deserved Testimonial which raised an amazing £41,000, a then record for the Club. It is simply impossible for me to describe in words just how good he was; you had to see it, to believe it. Knocker was one of those rare, beautiful, talents that fans only come across once or twice in a lifetime. Star quality, generosity, crowd pleasing, magical, match winner, loveable rogue, leader…the pundits just ran out of superlatives when describing Norton. He was ‘Man of the Match’ that day and deserved it too, but that accolade was nothing new for him. In his Testimonial Brochure Sammy Lloyd his Club mate and life-long pal described him as, “A friend to whom I owed so much” and believe me, if you had watched Hull FC throughout the great years that he was at the Club, we all owed ‘Knocker’ a lot too.
Norton wasn’t just a great player, or even an inspirational Captain, he was a phenomenon who will be remembered by those who saw him play until the day they die. You probably only really experience one ‘Knocker’ Norton’s in a lifetime and the day he left the club, he took what was left of the hopes and aspirations of me and hundreds of other fans with him.
Disaster strikes: Crooks leaves, ‘kicking and screaming’ for Leeds!
The news ‘leaking’ out of the Club was all about our perilous financial position and with plummeting attendances, poor results and little progress in Cup competitions, it was hardly unexpected. However, on 1st June 1987 Dick Tingle the Hull FC correspondent at the Hull Daily Mail weighed in with the exclusive headline of “Hull May Face Double Sale” and it was followed with the by-line of “Debts of more than £500,000!” The two departures that Dick alluded to were in fact our two most prized possessions Lee Crooks and Gary Schofield.
The fans were in uproar and our new Chairman John Rawlings was certainly feeling the heat. Lee Crooks was already in the news because although he was playing at Balmain in Australia during the summer break, the Mail revealed that he was wanted in Castleford on a charge of dangerous driving and next day the same newspaper dropped the bombshell with the front-page banner headline of, “Crooks moves for £150,000”. Lee was summoned back from Australia to sign for Leeds in a deal that Rawlings described as, “The only way we can save the Club from extinction”
Crooksey, who was ‘Black and White’ through and through, was mortified and in the same paper said, “I never ever thought that would happen, I’ve been forced to leave the Club I love”. Next day the nightmare continued as the headlines read “Schofield asks for a Move” and there followed an article which hinted that Gary was leaving because we were no longer “a good Club” for him to play at. The FC ‘Faithful’ went berserk!!! There were letters to the local paper, personal threats to the Directors and a spate of vandalism at the Boulevard ground. Not only had we seen the Board sell a player we loved and who obviously didn’t want to leave, we had now another young International demanding a move, because he “Didn’t want to play for us anymore”. It was a disaster!
Another AGM and as the Press are locked out, I meet the ‘Windsor’s’
Money was the big problem as player’s contracts had to be slashed and although Dane O’Hara decided to stay at Hull on a reduced salary, Garry Kemble appeared to have had enough and packed his bags and returned home to New Zealand. We all looked forward to a stormy AGM, which was that year held in the Directors’ Suite at the Boulevard. It was certainly a confrontational affair as the Board banned the Press from attending, explaining before the meeting that, “Len will want to talk about players and we don’t want the Press there”. As it transpired Casey didn’t talk much at all and anyway at the end the shareholders left and went straight to see The Hull Daily Mail’s Dick Tingle, who was waiting outside on the Car Park.
The disasters continued as sadly a few days later we lost another great FC fan when local Councillor and Head of Industrial Development in the City, Louis Pearlman, died in a road crash on a Freeway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was a major accident and his wife Rita was seriously injured but thankfully survived.
In early July I was introduced to the Queen and Prince Philip in the Ferens Art Gallery when, at a stage-managed reception, I was put in a ‘meet and greet’ group with some Doctors, a couple of ladies from the Townswomen’s Guild and three University Lecturers. They could certainly talk so ‘Their Highnesses’ didn’t have time to say much to me except “Hello”. I was, it has to be said, a bit over-come by the whole thing and as Prince Philip extended his hand I didn’t quite know whether to bow or curtsey, so I did a bit of both and fell over! As he laughed out loud it was no doubt a memorable encounter for both of us, but for contrasting reasons.
At work that summer we staged the City’s first Busker’s Competition around the City Centre, and Hugh Whittaker from ‘local band made good’ The Housemartins was one of the judges. Hull wasn’t that well blessed with buskers back then something that was reflected in the entries which included Brian Banana and the Busking Blueberry’s, Alma King a guitar playing granny, the Blue Moon Band and a fire eater to name but a few. In the end it was won by a brilliant four-piece swing guitar group called Ain’t Misbehavin’. The main thing that I remember however surrounded the Fire Eater, who everyone was talking about before he arrived. Some of the folks who knew a lot about the guy said “You’ll love Nuclear Nigel, he’s great” and “Watch Nuclear Nigel singe his eyebrows” and so by the time he arrived I was really looking forward to seeing his performance.
I was a little surprised at the expression on his face when I announced from the stage, “So Ladies and Gentleman let’s all marvel to the pyrotechnic exploits of Nuclear Nigel”. Afterward, I found out that he was actually called Nigel Johnson, but as he was a big ‘Ban the Bomb’ activist, everyone gave him the nick-name (behind his back) of ‘Nuclear’. It wasn’t his stage name at all and he wasn’t too impressed when I used it and subsequently he didn’t turn up for his second spot!
County Cricket again; £4 to watch it rain!
On August 9th with several of the lads from the Punch Hotel, I again attended the Cricket Circle on Anlaby Road for another day of ‘googlies’, ‘boundaries’ and beers. I queued at the gate in West Park, paid my £4 and went straight to the Beer Tent as it started to rain. By 2-00pm Dickie Bird the umpire was out in the middle with his umbrella up and by 3-30, Geoff Boycott was packing his cricket bag and heading home.
We had another pint and headed off to get our money back, when we were informed by a cardboard notice on the gate that “If the game is rained off, once in the ground, there will be no refunds”. “It’s funny how we never saw those notices when we came in” seemed to be the general consensus amongst the disgruntled patrons and just as the complaints about the Board at Hull FC had abated somewhat in the ‘Sportsman Say’ column of the Daily Mail, more letters were flooding in about the Cricket, or in this case the lack of it.
As Gary Schofield played in Australia for Balmain, Hull were reported to be turning down bids for him from Leeds. As fans we had mixed feelings because although we had all idolised one of the best youngsters to come through the Club, he now wanted to leave us. In any case it transpired that the Club were just holding out for more money and he was soon destined to depart amidst a hail of abuse and acrimony from the aggrieved Hull fans. It was a furore that was to follow him forever!! Garry made it blatantly obvious that he couldn’t wait to get away and rumours abounded about how much he had received from Leeds to sign and the underhand way that he had gone about things deemed that it wouldn’t be long before the title of ‘Judas’ was bestowed on him.
One rumour I particularly remember, that I found out years later seemed to have some credence, claimed that when he returned his ‘Club Car’ to Hull FC the petrol tank was full of water, as was the car itself. I don’t know if it was true, but it was typical of the stories that spread through West Hull like wild fire. Few of us were therefore surprised when Garry became established as the Threepenny Stands, ‘Public Enemy Number One’, for at least the next decade!
Although it was scant consolation, we signed Hussein M’Baki, a Moroccan winger who actually hailed from Hull, whilst James Leuluai returned from a season long loan at Leigh to reclaim his place in the centre. We also signed a young Full-Back Paul Fletcher from Salford for £30,000 and John Carroll from Batley. Not surprisingly, the numbers of Season Ticket holders was down again, but of course I bought one, because at times like that, I just have to! Sadly only 2,314 turned up for Steve Norton’s Testimonial game against Castleford and so after receiving a record-breaking benefit cheque, ‘Knocker’ departed, leaving nothing but an increasingly uncertain future for us fans. Things we thought, could only get worse!
Well they were certainly tough times and although nothing like as bad as they were back then, when reading through my rambling about the end of the Arthur Bunting years again, I see some slight similarities to our present demise. For back then, we had a team that had done so well and made so many dreams come true, but one which had also endured aging heroes, suffered financial issues, released players to survive, perhaps hung onto its boss a bit too long and then appointed a replacement out of necessity rather than choice.
Recognise anything? Well, that got me thinking that nothing is new and brought to mind that famous quote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it and those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes”. Food for thought perhaps? Well maybe it is, particularly on a depressingly wet Friday morning, after 102 days of lockdown!
Although, our own issues apart, nothing over all those years has hit the game, or our club, like the present crisis and Adam and Clarky are certainly fighting to keep us going and need all the support they can get. So, I guess, we just have to hope against hope that they and Hull FC come through all of this intact.
Thanks to everyone who has been in touch and for those of you who are sticking with my meanderings as they traverse the life of an ordinary Hull FC fanatic. I only hope that soon we will be able to start back with the old Diary’s again and how good will that be, for it will herald the game getting started again. Until then, keep believing and thanks for your support. See you all next week!