Well here we are again, as another week passes and the crowd at the RFL continues to drag their feet on sorting out what will be happening for the rest of what is to be severely truncated season. As well as the whole campaign being reduced by seven games, teams will lose home advantage for certain fixtures and new rules have now been introduced during the campaign, rather than at the start of the season as is usual.
Several games have already been played under the old rules and Toronto will probably not now play a game at home at all, whilst the Catalan position is still unclear. Plus of course, if any player gets the virus, you can see all his team mates and indeed the players he has opposed on the pitch, isolated for 14 days and perhaps missing two or three games, and that through no rugby injury or fault of their own. A level playing field 2020 is not!!
Add to that the fact that half the Championship clubs are for restarting the season and half are dead against it, primerilybecause of the escalating cost of Covid testing, whilst some clubs are still in dispute about wages and it’s a real catalogue of issues. So, at present for me, the whole thing is a mess and needs someone to grow some and make a few decisions somewhere and to do it quickly!!
Relegation and promotion has to be scrapped simple as! In fact, it’s been indicated this week by one of the country’s top sporting lawyer’s, that so many things have changed mid-season that any club who were relegated would have a good case to take legal action against the RL, because of all those circumstances. But typical of the governing body, they are still trying to please all of the people, all of the time and as usual that’s solving nothing. We haven’t even got the fixtures agreed yet! So, it goes on.
On another tack I was wondering this week if, in my serialisation of the first two books, we’ll get right up to the glorious 2005 season finale where the second book finished, before the season restarts. I’m not sure we will, but I’ll press on, as this week the 80’s draw to a close, we lose big Len Casey as coach and start to experience the start of three great seasons of Brian Smith being at the helm at the Boulevard.
Scott Gale breezes in……and out again!
Sunday 4th October 1987 Hull 22-Leigh 21
The 1987/88 season, the second of the ‘Reign of Terror’ of Len Casey saw the Club’s Board of Directors helping our beleaguered Coach by bringing one of Australia’s best young players to the Club. You will remember we had been interested in Scott a couple of years earlier, when Roy Waudby and Arthur Bunting had travelled ‘Down Under’ scouting for players to bolster the squad. They brought Geoff Gerard back on that occasion, but Scott Gale had decided that he would be better off staying to finish his studies.
Gale arrived in October, a week before his fellow countrymen Dave Brooks and Terry Regan and he made his debut against Leigh at the Boulevard on Sunday 4th October 1987. The 22-year-old from the Balmain Club slotted straight into the stand-off berth that day beside regular scrum half Phil Windley, with our usual number 6, Gary Pearce, moving to centre.
The weather was breezy but sunny as we kicked off towards the Gordon Street end of the ground and I watched proceedings from the relative ‘comfort’ of the Threepenny Stand. A crowd of 5,051 looked on as Gale started his Hull FC career perfectly when after just three minutes a fine move started by Nicky Elgar and Paul Fletcher saw the young Aussie send out a perfectly flighted pass to Paul Eastwood, who stormed in at the corner.
Twenty minutes later after a period of Leigh pressure Gale was involved again. This time he made a break leaving the Leigh Centre Henderson grasping thin air. He fed onto Divorty who sent out another magnificent pass between two advancing defenders, to put Gary Pearce in for a try. Pearce failed to convert both scores but was successful with a penalty and after 23 minutes we led 10-0. Cottrell scored for Leigh before we lost the ball and Ian Jeffries waltzed his way round Fletcher, Eastwood and O’Hara to round off a brilliant 60-yard run to the line, which levelled the scores. The conversion gave the visitors a 12-10 lead at half time.
Leigh were on top but at the start of the second half a break out of defence by that man Gale, gave us a rare foothold in the visitors half. Divorty ran a beautiful scissors move with Phil Windley which had us all wondering where the ball was but he passed onto Pearce who was, by now, having a brilliant game. He stepped one way then the other drew Round the Leigh winger and released Eastwood on a free run to the line. A brilliant Pearce conversion saw us back in front 16-12.
Back came Leigh with a well worked Henderson try which Johnson failed to convert and thankfully their full back went on to miss two penalties after that and as the Threepenny Standers ‘got on his back’ it became apparent that he was losing his confidence.
However, the visitors went into the lead when Johnson dropped a goal from 30 yards out. The young Hull forwards battled on and eventually got their reward as a brilliant solo effort by Scott Gale (which saw him cut inside and beat three players with one step), followed by a conversion from the touchline from Pearce, took us into a 22-17 lead and all we had to do now was hang on. However, in the dying minutes Kerr got free for Leigh and released Ford, who ‘danced’ his way over just 15 yards to the right of the posts. All Johnson had to do was convert the try for the visitors to win but, his confidence shattered and to a crescendo of boo’sfrom the crowd, he sliced the kick well wide, and we held on to record a great, if somewhat fortuitous victory. Scott Gale sadly only lasted another game before being seriously injured and returning home, to be replaced by another Aussie, Paul McAffrey.
Rather like Rugby League, Wrestling was certainly experiencing a difficult time attracting audiences something that was apparent at the bouts we promoted at the City Hall. Earlier that year Big Daddy had tragically killed ‘King Kong’ Kirk with his famous ‘Splashdown’ move (Kirk was later found to have been carrying a serious heart condition and Big Daddy was duly exonerated of any blame) which didn’t help the ‘sport’ at all. Still ever resourceful the promoters Relwyskow and Green resorted to a new gimmick, and on 27thNovember we experience a completely new concept when Klondike Kate fought Rusty Blair in the first female contest to be staged in the City. Once again some of the worthy Members of the Cultural Services Committee were not too impressed, especially as I didn’t tell them about it until after the contracts were signed.
Tim Wilby’s (second) debut lasts just 4minutes!
Sunday 13th December 1987 Hull 20- Halifax 16
I remember well a game at Halifax that year, when about 1000 made the trip over from Hull, most I guess like us, travelling more in hope than expectation.
After 4 years away from the Club at Leeds we had re-signed Tim Wilby and he made his return to the first team that afternoon on the substitute’s bench. However, his ‘debut’ was to be a short one. We started badly that day as Andy Dannettlost the ball in a suspiciously high tackle by the ‘Fax’ second rower Paul Dixon and although Referee Mr. Hague waved play on, Andy was carried from the field of play and took no further part in proceedings that afternoon. Four minutes later the hosts opened the scoring with a well taken try by centre Wilkinson which Whitfield goaled, but our break came when Divorty sent out a long pass to Pearce. He stepped his way to a half break before passing to Regan who flipped the ball out of the tackle and Fletcher’s superb ‘show and go’ saw him crash in wide out. A Whitfield penalty five minutes later after O’Hara had tripped Taylor saw the home team go in at half time leading 8-4.
Amazingly within 15 minutes of the restart we were 8 points ahead. Firstly on 51 minutes McCaffrey found Pearce who stood in a two-man tackle before releasing a great inside pass for Shaun Patrick to dive in and score. Then a superb piece of inter-passing between Puckering and Divorty sent Stuart Vass hurtling down the wing before he released winger Paul Eastwood who crossed the line near the corner flag and we led by 8 points. Halifax’s Dixon then wrestled his way to the whitewash with three Hull defenders on his back for what was a fine try, that cut our lead again.
Six minutes later and just three minutes after Wilby had come onto the pitch for the injured Welham, MacCallionbroke our line. As Paul Dixon stormed through, he passed onto Robinson who was immediately elbowed in the face by Wilby and after just 4 minutes he was sent off, reducing Hull to twelve men. We conceded again on the 64th minute when Taylor got an unconverted try and with the scored tied 16-16, I feared the worst.
Neutrals present that day were certainly being treated to a great end to end game, but that was little consolation to us lot shivering and fretting on the terraces. On 71 minutes some great work by Divorty and Puckering set up Pearce for the drop goal. Out of the Halifax defensive line charged both Neller and Pendlebury to try and stifle the kick but Pearce dummied, stepped to the left and wriggled through two tackles to release O’Hara who shot in at the corner to re-instate a 4-point lead. Although Pendelbury went close in the last minute, a brilliant last-ditch tackle by our full back Fletcher saved the line, and as the ball was spilled the hooter went and we had won. As we drove home down a now snowy M62 we were happy after a great team performance which we had fought forthe last 20 minutes, with just twelve men.
However, things were still tough on and off the field, but the New Year’s fixture against the Old enemy from across the river was an ideal opportunity to put a smile on the fans faces. Unfortunately, we lost again and after the match in his press interviews Casey, who was never slow to apportion blame said, “The players let me down today, Pearce and Divortyfailed to perform or produce the goods”. Rumours soon spread of a post -match fracas in the dressing room which ended with promising young loose forward Jon Sharp asking for a transfer.
It was also a sad time for the community of West Hull at large as the last side winder Trawler to operate from the Port, the ‘Arctic Corsair’, landed its last catch. Gates at the Boulevard also dropped to around 5000 and in an unexpected move the Club called an extraordinary general meeting with the view to trying to increase the maximum shares any one person could hold from £20,000 to £50,000. This took place in March and I attended as usual. The motion was passed unopposed, although it didn’t really affect my meagre shareholding of just £100.
Len’s ‘unconventional methods’ finally see him walk
Wednesday 17th February 1988 Hull 2 St Helens 64
‘Cast Iron’ Casey, seemed to be managing the way that he had played, with brute force and not a small amount of ignorance. I guess you would say that Len’s ‘forthright nature’ was also a problem, as he was never short of an opinion, particularly when openly blaming certain players when games were lost! In February 1988 though, that inclination to blame everyone else besides himself, was to be his downfall. We went to Saints (for a game which I have to admit I luckily missed), and were beaten 64-2. So incensed was Casey by this performance that in the post-match Press Conference he went through the entire team, player by player publicly ‘assassinating’ them, starting with the full-back, Fletcher who he observed, “Couldn’t tackle his own Granny”.
Things couldn’t continue in this vein for long and it was rumoured that a deputation of players went to see the Board to demand the Coach be sacked! After more placing of blame on everyone he could think of, (besides himself) Len stood down on 11th March 1988 and so another unfortunate chapter in the history of the Club came to a close.
However, it wouldn’t have been Len to go quietly as he said of his demise, “I have been badly let down by the Board of Hull FC; it has been a constant daily battle for me to continue”. In fact, in an unprecedented move he even gave his letter of resignation to the Hull Daily Mail, who gleefully printed it on the back page of the paper. One well known player at the time said to me afterwards, “Good old Len, blaming everyone else to the very last” which I guess just about summed it up really! The job of rescuing us from a perilous position just three off the bottom of the League table was handed to Len’s assistants Tony Dean and Keith Hepworth, as we all wondered what would happen next.
Probably the greatest end to a game that the Boulevard has ever witnessed!
Sunday 20th March 1988 Hull 18- Wigan 12
In those days every morning I was woken to the sound of pile drivers and hammering as outside the windows of the City Hall Flat the first concrete supports of the Princes Quay Shopping Centre were rising from the muddy depths of Princes Dock. Meanwhile at the Boulevard ‘caretaker’ Coaches Tony Dean and Keith Hepworth were doing their best to stave off relegation.
Despite their efforts in mid-March we were just two points clear of bottom team Leigh, although we had been really lucky in the Challenge Cup draw with games against some of the ‘easier’ Clubs seeing us amazingly facing a Cup Semi Final against Halifax at Headingley. Before that game however we had to face table topping Wigan at the Boulevard. The previous week, in our new coaching partnerships first home game we had managed to scrape a win against Halifax but as we trudged down to the Boulevard a victory over the high-flying Lancastrians seemed almost too impossible to even contemplate.
So it was that the league leaders, who were chasing a league and cup double, came to town and I watched the game from the terracing at the Airlie Street end. This was to be the game during which I was to discover the infamous ‘Lucky Step’ where I would religiously watch games until the Boulevard finally closed in 2002. Wigan was always a good draw and that coupled with the victory the previous week and the end of Len Casey saw a very encouraging gate of 6,371 attending that afternoon. With ‘Popeye’ Andy Gregory, Nicky Kiss, The Iro Brothers, Joe Lydon, Henderson Gill and Andy Goodway in their ranks, the trade mark of the Wigan side was fast open rugby and only the previous week they had scored over 50 points in West Yorkshire against a more than capable Castleford outfit.
The game kicked off and immediately Referee Haigh had to separate Regan and Wigan prop Adrian Shelford as they traded punches. Regan as usual got in the last ‘slap’ which infuriated Shelford who in the very next play pole-axed our forward with a ‘copy book’ stiff arm tackle that saw Regan stretchered from the pitch. As the ‘Faithful’ bayed for a red card the Wigan forward was sin binned, while Regan sat on the grass over the touchline, counting his teeth. On twelve minutes Wigan opened the scoring. Gregory had pushed play wide and Byrne, un-marked on the wing, shot in at the corner, although thankfully Lydon, (who was to have an uncharacteristically poor afternoon with the boot) saw his conversion go well wide, bouncing as it did so, into the terracing just in front of us.
Ellery Hanley, who was showing why he was hailed as the best player in the British game, took a pass from Hampson in the 33rd minute to go in at the corner and Lydon missed again. It was exhilarating stuff if you supported Wigan, but tough for us as Hull just managed to stay in touch. When the hooter went for half-time we were relieved to see that the score was still only 8-0, because we had been totally out played. As the Wigan supporters chanted “Champions, Champions” and we replied like a peel of bells, “Same old Wigan, always cheating” the two teams trooped off for half time.
Playing towards the Airlie Street end it was Gary Pearce who led Hull’s revival. We pressed the visitor’s line and Tomlinson threaded an inch perfect kick through to the corner where veteran James Leuluai pounced to score. Then in a ‘watch and learn’ moment, Pearce showed Lydon just how to do it, as he slotted the conversion over from a position right on the touchline.
Nine minutes later in total disbelief, the crowd went absolutely wild as after a spell of Wigan pressure Hull took the lead. Prop John Carroll who was probably the pick of a hard-working Hull pack, slipped the ball out of a three mantackle and Kevin Dick took it on. He shot through the scattered defence, drew full back Hampson and sent Divortyin under the posts. Another Pearce conversion gave us a four-point lead and we all started to believe that the unthinkable could be a possibility.
Referee Haigh then awarded Wigan seven consecutive penalties and eventually their pressure told as Henderson Gill shot in at the corner. It was the sort of bad luck you get when you’re struggling, because not only was Gregory’s pass forward but all the fans in that corner of the ground believed that Eastwood had Gill tackled into touch well before he got the ball down. However, the try stood and as Lydon missed the conversion yet again, the scores were locked at 12-12. In the dying minutes Gill raced back to fly hack a ball into the Best Stand as Fletcher homed in on it, but that seemed to be the final act, however the stage was set for the best end to a game that I have ever seen in 60 years of supporting the Club.
A simply magical passage of play
I make no excuses for this narrative going into ‘slow motion’ now, as the next few seconds were breathtaking and perhaps beyond imagination. Frankly it is just impossible to do the whole thing justice, but this is how I remember it………….
With the hooter about to sound for full time, Terry Regan, who had come around from his concussed state and heroically rejoined the fray, shoulder charged Andy Goodway and the ‘whistle happy’ referee called foul. We all felt aggrieved, but being just in the Wigan half, we felt reasonably confident that nothing would come of the penalty. However, with time up, from 55 yards out from the posts, Lydon decided to go for goal. Our hearts sank, surely he would not miss another one and surely a great draw and a precious point wasn’t to be snatched from us at this late stage? It was a straight kick and as the boo’s mounted from around the ground Lydon hit the ball hard, straight and true, but, as was his luck that afternoon, it fell just 5 yards short, right under the cross bar.
At this point, Dick Tingle of the Hull Daily Mail, who was in the Press box, will tell you the two time keepers next to him said, “Next tackle and we blow for time”. This play would be the last of the game and with finger on the ‘claxon’ button, they all watched as the drama unfolded.
The ball was taken under the posts by Pearce who began to run it out. Gary was not the fastest of players, and, as if in submission, he ran straight at Wigan prop Adrian Shelford who was, with the rest of the Wigan team, chasing after the aborted conversion to try and get a hand on the ball. With his last ounce of energy Pearce produced a massive and audacious side step, went past the grasping arms of Shelford and found himself behind the advancing Wigan line. He ran on for about 50 yards, slowing as he went, probably little knowing that just one tackle would see the game end. He started to visibly flag as the chasing cover got closer and closer and just as he was being caught by Hanley and West, out of the blue and on his shoulder appeared veteran scrum half Kevin Dick to take the ball on. How Pearce got that far and Dick managed to keep up with him are to this day, two of the great unsolved mysteries of the Boulevard.
Visibly gasping for air the veteran number 7 then drew full-back Hampson and passed hopefully to the outside where substitute McCaffrey, (who had only been on 5 minutes) grabbed the ball and had the legs to outpace the defence. As he ran towards us those final twenty yards to the line seemed to have gone into ‘slow motion’. McCaffrey, at last, placed the ball over the whitewash and we all went wild as at the same moment the hooter sounded and we had won!!!
The Wigan players to a man fell to their knees in anguish and Pearce had to wait while the pitch was cleared of rejoicing Hull fans to tag on the two points, but who cared, certainly not the lads round me, who danced and sang like we had won the League. No Video Replays, no television recordings, no evidence, all we can now trust to is our mind’s eye and the memory. It was simply fantastic and one thing’s for sure and that’s that anyone from the 6,371 who still survives, will like me, never forget the greatest finish the Boulevard probably ever saw in its long and distinguished history.
Cup–tie Fever Returns to West Hull!
That great win saw a wave of expectation and excitement sweep West Hull as the Cup Semi Final the following weekend at Headingley approached. After the draw was made on Regional TV the Bookmakers immediately posted a 20-point start for Hull over the Cup favorites Halifax. Wins over lowly opposition at Doncaster, Sheffield and Hunslet had got us to that Semi Final as the Club enjoyed a little bit of good luck in an otherwise depressing season.
For a set of fans who had some fond memories of the Twin Towers of Wembley and who had struggled so much that year, this was the sort of daydream situation you never believed you would see again. We were on the threshold of an unlikely Final appearance and everyone was going to Leeds for that game.
David Brookes our Australian centre who should have been back home by that time, was granted an extension to his stay to play in the game, whilst a long telephone call ‘Down Under’ by Director David Kirkwood ensured that Scott Gale was flown back to Hull from Australia for the match. The scene was set for one of those legendary days at Headingley, which we all still remembered with so much fondness.
At last a Semi Final, but once again we miss our chance
Saturday 26th March 1988 Hull 0-Halifax 0
We all travelled to the game with much excitement and a deal of trepidation and even though we no doubt felt at home as the ‘FC Army’ took over the South Stand, it was certainly a big ‘ask’ to expect us to beat a Halifax side packed with exciting, international players. It was a sunny day and it felt as if this might just be our chance of a little bit of glory, after several depressing seasons. That ethos had certainly captured the public’s imagination as we attended in great numbers, making up at least two thirds of a 20,000 plus crowd.
The game kicked off in an almost deafening maelstrom of noise and from the first tackle it was obvious that this was to be an epic duel. Carroll and Regan in our second row were crashed to the turf in quick succession and both were left shaking their heads and needing attention after tackles from Holliday, Pendlebury and Neller in the Halifax pack. Twice Dane O’Hara broke away down the wing in front of us, only to be dragged back in desperate tackles by Eadie and Anderson and then we witnessed a great break by Kevin Dick, which saw an easy pass to Pearce go to ground with the line open. After a tense and close first half, the scores were locked at 0-0 at the break.
The second half saw Halifax probably win most of the exchanges, as with a massive amount of possession they started to press our line. However not to be denied we still had our chances, most of which came from the impressive Divortywho broke away on three separate occasions. ‘Man of the Match’ Terry Regan was always in the middle of the cut and thrust of a half that had us all on our toes one minute and biting our finger nails the next. He made one superb break down the left, but lacked any support and that was it, as both the defences were at their best and cancelled each other out.
Once or twice Pearce considered a possible drop goal but decided instead to turn the ball back inside and the chance was lost. As the final hooter went it was the Hull side that was celebrating a 0-0 draw, while Halifax coach Chris Anderson ‘locked’ the favorites in the dressing rooms and gave them a real ‘bollocking’. On the journey home I remember musing on the fact that, for the average fanatical fan like me, success always seems to exist just to be tantalizingly out of reach, as the stage was set for a replay the following Wednesday at Elland Road.
Another Replay at Elland Road but this time our luck runs out!
Wednesday 30th March 1988 Hull 3-Halifax 4
One of my strongest memories of the replay was, once again, the difficulty we all had getting there. Few lessons had been learnt from the mayhem that prevailed when the battalions of ‘Black and White’ fans had descended on the North Leeds ground for that Challenge Cup final replay against Widnesyears earlier and our experience that March evening six years later was little different. 25,000 people attended that night, of which around 18,000 were from Hull. We travelled by car and we just got into the ground as Gary Pearce kicked off. Many others not so fortunate missed half an hour of the game because although they managed to get to the ground, the queues were horrendous as the limited number of turnstiles that were open, simply couldn’t cope. The problems had started with long tail-backs on the M62, but at the Ground, a third of the 75 turnstiles were closed despite Hull FC making a much publicised offer the previous Monday to provide 12 extra turnstile operators to ensure they were all open. With 20 minutes to kick-off there were only around 500 Hull fans inside with 8,000 stuck in traffic, and another 10,000, who had actually got there, queuing to get in.
The game finally kicked off at 8-10pm with hundreds still outside, and although some areas in the Stands were full, folks were still being directed into them. Women complained afterwards that children had to be lifted over fences to prevent them being crushed, as once again Elland Road was the scene of chaos.
At last however the Replay started and for the first 26 minutes it was just as if the previous Saturday’s game had never finished, as both sets of forwards tore into each other and there were few running chances for the backs. In fact, 104 minutes of the semi-final had passed before drives by John Carroll, Terry Regan and Alan Tomlinson saw the ball finally flipped back to Gary Pearce. He effortlessly slotted over the sweetest of drop goals and at last as we all sang “He’s fat he’s round he’s worth a million pounds Gary Pearce….GaryPearce” the deadlock was broken.
Another 26 minutes of ‘biff and bash’ ensued and half time had passed before Halifax’s Bob Grogan ran in front of his own player (Whitefield) and referee John McDonald immediately indicated an obstruction. From the resultant penalty Pearce slotted over the goal at 3-0 our Wembley dream was alive.
Halifax looked to be wilting, but then what was initially a bit of bad luck, ended in disaster. Two penalties took the West Riding outfit 60 yards down field, but we tackled heroically until they ran out of plays and it was the end of the set. Confusion reigned in the opposition’s ranks as prop forward Nellar found himself with the ball. Panicking he sliced a typical ‘Props kick’ off the side of his boot. The ball skewed up into the air, came down again, bounced around a bit, and FC Forward David Brooks, who was having a ‘barnstorming’ game, dived for it. Sadly, though he was just not near enough to reach it properly, and as it trickled away from him and over the line and full back Paul Fletcher moved in to kick it dead, from nowhere up popped Halifax centre Anderson to get the lightest of fingertip touches on the ball. The referee immediately awarded the try.
Suddenly from looking a beaten side Halifax grew in confidence, whilst Hull were visibly shaken, and it took us a full ten minutes to slowly scrap our way back into the game. Dane O’Hara got a great ball from Patrick but having stepped out of two tackles he was just grabbed by the collar by Wilkinson, as substitute McCaffrey took it on and passed to Divorty. Tragically his last pass to Kevin Dick was too low and our Scrum Half dropped it! We were now into the final 60 seconds as we all remembered that great last-minute win against Wigan the previous week ……and prayed.
Pearce suddenly found himself in front of the sticks with space and time for the drop goal which would have forced extra time. As we all bayed for one point, he feigned to kick, but then inexplicably passed the ball to Scott Gale. Scott dummied and passed onto Eastwood, who was tackled inches short of the whitewash and the glory! All it still needed was a drop goal and we were set for it, as Pearce went into the ‘pocket’ behind the attacking line. As the 25,000 crowd held its breath, and before Eastwood had time to play the ball, the hooter went and it was over. For Hull FC, the tears flowed both on and off the field because but for one wretched moment of bad luck, we would have been at Wembley. I sank onto the terracing, too sick to stay on my feet any longer, whilst behind me a pair of teenage girls sobbed inconsolably. I was just dizzy with anger, pain and self-pity. I hated times like that and the burden that loving a Club brought but once again there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it.
Poor old ‘Brooksey’ he was gutted.
Friday 1st April 1988 Hull 21-Hull KR 14
David Brooks, was a typical tough Aussie who had come to this country having always dreamed of playing at Wembley and in his last ever season, that game was his last ‘throw of the dice’. That night he had found himself just minutes away from “Living that Dream”, but in the end he fell tantalisingly and dramatically short. After the game, in floods of tears, he showed his true emotions. In Dick Tingle’s book, “Beards, Buttons and Blue Movies” he tells of his conversation with David after the game, when he said, “I don’t believe it Dick, it is over, my chance of playing at Wembley is gone. I know I will never ever get another chance, I have never ever felt so low in my life. It is so unfair, I know someone had to lose, but why, oh why, couldn’t it be them”.
Before the game Brooks had said, “If only we can win this one I can retire a happy man, I don’t think I have ever wanted anything so much in my life, not even when I was a kid and it was Christmas”. His last words to Dick before he got on the plane to Australia are reported to have been, “I don’t think I can ever watch another Challenge Cup Final because I will just keep thinking of what might have been!” That, as most of us fanatics know, is exactly how it gets you!!!
The journey home from Leeds was all hold ups and traffic jams and was, in our car at least, conducted in absolute silence. However for the players there was no rest and two days later it was Good Friday, and we were playing at Craven Park. There, despite the disappointment and six team changes, to the credit of the whole team, we raised our game again and beat Hull KR 21-14 to ensure Hull FC stayed in the First Division. I don’t know whether the buses were on strike that day but I do know that Billy and I walked all the way back to the Punch from Craven Park. Triumphantly, after helping to carry Coach Tony Dean shoulder high around the pitch at the end of the game, we marched home through East Hull, singing ‘Old Faithful’ at the top of our voices. It was a massive win for the Club and as so often happens in sport, just two days after being totally deflated, circumstances had transpired to drive the disappointment of that ‘freak’ try at Headingley out of all our systems, to replace it with the warm glow that comes with beating relegation and defeating the ‘Old Enemy’ on their own patch.
Happy days are here again; enter Brian Smith
Although the season had finished and we had survived in the top Division, as is always the case with sports fans, we were not satisfied with that at all and the customers in the nightly ‘debating Club’ that was the Public Bar of the Punch Hotel were soon grappling with the interesting subject of who would be our next Coach. Of course, we wanted the best there was in the World, you always do, and even back then that usually meant an Australian, but the Club were keeping tight lipped on what was happening. Unbeknown to the fans however, Director Mike Stanley was heading to Australia to interview a young Coach, who was currently doing well at the IllawaraSteelers.
All the while the Club said that they were looking at British candidates including Tony Dean who had shared the job quite successfully at the end of the season. On 4th May it was announced that there was a short list of two; Dean and that Australian, who was revealed to be Brian Smith. A day later Smith was named as the new Coach of Hull FC and so began a new era at the Club that was to thrill and delight us diehard fans and see the “Where were you, when we were crap” crowd flocking back in their thousands. Having noticed his potential a couple of years earlier when Smith managed a touring Australian School side, Mike Stanley paid Smiths air fare over here and was very much the ‘mastermind’ behind his arriving.
‘Smithy’ at a very young (for a Coach at least) 32, arrived in July and immediately started to change things. On 7thAugust we went along to the Boulevard to watch the first ever Hull FC ‘Open Trial’, as players from across the country came along to try and impress our new Coach. There were a couple of Welsh Rugby Union players, several lads from West Riding Amateur League teams and a lot of local amateur players, making up a total of 48 hopefuls. To help in his quest to find new talent Brian enlisted the support of Hull legend Johnny Whiteley and the two ran the rule over the candidates. Whether we found anyone is unknown, although the rumourat the time was that Ian Marlow (a player Smith was to sign from Beverley Rugby Union twelve months later) took part.
Smith also signed four overseas players, Craig Colman, David Moon, David Boyle and Neil Henry, the latter being taken on as his Assistant. It was certainly an exciting time for the fans and also for those of us who liked a beer or two, when on 1st September the Government finally relaxed the drinking laws, to at last introduce 12-hour licensing.
The Punch Hotel was still home from home, particularly on a lunch time when the regulars included retired seamen, shop lifters (who could nick you anything to order), reformed and retired ‘Ladies of the night’ and a great Juke Box that included an eclectic mix of classics from the past like, Queen’s ‘Seven Seas of Rye’ and ‘Killer Queen’, Lindisfarne’s, ‘Meet Me on the Corner’ and Dean Martin’s ‘Little Old Wine Drinker Me’.
One particular shop lifter who used to drink at the end of the bar was well known by everyone including the local constabulary. ‘Any Size’ Eddie used to steal to order, and would often be asked by someone to ‘supply’ a shirt of a certain size or a pair of trousers with a specific inside leg measurement. He would drink his pint, wipe his mouth with the back of his sleeve and head off across the road to Willis Ludlow, one of the City’s major Department Stores. Five or so minutes later he could be seen returning across the ‘zebra crossing’, with said shirt or pair of trousers carried at arm’s length on a hanger taken straight from the rack. From time to time Eddie ‘went missing’ for a while and the usual explanation was that he was ‘On a training course’ which was code for a short stay at ‘Her Majesties pleasure’. However, it never stopped Eddie ‘taking orders’ the minute he was back.
At least the new drinking laws meant no more ‘poking’ pints down before 3-00pm on a Saturday afternoon or racing from the Punch, to the Club House at the Boulevard on a Sunday, as at last the calming hand of sensibility descended on the Drinks Trade and although we still got drunk, at least now we did it at a respectable pace.
Despite these changes the pubs still closed at 11-00pm, so there was no alteration to our late-night eating habits as we continued to frequent The Khyber Restaurant on Lowgate on Saturdays after closing time. It was then that I discovered something very important about Curry in general and the Khyber’s Dopiaza in particular, in that, next morning, you realized that it wasn’t just your mouth it burned.
At work it was getting busy again, with Hull Fair just around the corner and the Autumn Concert Season starting to take off. On 13th September, Tony and I promoted a concert by ‘Goth rockers’ (the Hull Daily Mail’s description not mine) The Fields of Nephilim who were a strange crowd indeed. Their main claim to fame was that they were still wearing the same clothes they wore three years previously, on their first tour. The thing I remember most though was the fact that before they went on stage to perform their own unique brand of ‘slash your wrists’ depression music, they covered each other with flour…. bags and bags of it! I didn’t ask whether it was Self Raising or Plain but this was supposed to give a gothic ‘cobwebby’ sort of feel to the act. When I looked round the audience that night they were all covered in flour too!!! It took days to clear the place up but they all seemed to enjoy it!
Meanwhile down at the Boulevard things were not going too well for ‘Smithy’, either, because after all the pre-season hype, his Australian imports were arriving later than expected and we lost the first four League games of the 1988/89 season. After the third a 10-16 defeat at the Boulevard to Wakefield, our Coach said, “The fans must hold their nerve, as must the players, I am confident things are improving”.
He then proceeded to drop Gary Pearce, Wayne Proctor and Alan Tomlinson into the ‘A’ team, which certainly seemed to concentrate their efforts and so it was that after another close defeat away at Warrington, we recorded our first win of the season at home to Leeds by 14-12. It had to be Leeds didn’t it; however badly we were playing we could always overturn them. At last ‘Smithy’ started getting some cohesion into our play as slowly but surely, the results started to come. A close defeat at Bradford was followed by an amazing win at Saints after which, full of new heart, we all set off for a game at Halifax. Still smarting from that Cup Semi Final defeat the previous year, it was a game where a win would see us out of the bottom three of the First Division for the first time that season.
Young Windley steals the show!
Sunday 6th November 1988 Hull 14-Halifax 6
The ground at Thrum Hall had a massive slope that usually worked to Halifax’s advantage, it was on an incline tapered towards one corner and it was said the home Club trained at least one night a week on it, practicing their kicking both up and down that ‘hill’. That day we all stood at the Hanson Road end of the ground just next to the score board. It was as I said earlier in this tome, a fine old stadium constructed of dour, craggy local stone, which often mirrored the tactics of a Halifax pack that was always tough and uncompromising.
I drove over, passing as we went, cars and buses full of the ‘Faithful’ who made up around a third of the gate that day. I remember Brian Smith supervising an on pitch warm up, which back then was certainly not normal procedure. As the teams ran out our Coach was at the end of the tunnel encouraging each player as they ran by.
The first few exchanges were fast and furious as the two packs ripped into each other. Andy Dannett had a real go at Pendlebury and following this bout of ‘slapping’ we went ahead with an Eastwood penalty. Then Eastwood scored our first try, as Craig Colman released him and he scampered in and round behind the posts and after just 9 minutes we led 8-0.
The whole crowd was silenced when Hull full-back Paul Fletcher was knocked out as his head collided with the knees of winger Mike Taylor as he moved in to smother the ball and there was an eight minute delay while the medical staff of both Clubs attended to him. Paul was finally carried from the field with a suspected broken neck. That injury saw young Phil Windley take to the pitch. He was usually a half back but had to go straight to full-back, a position in which he had never played before. Immediately Halifax’s Staines ran straight at him, but somehow Phil clung on until Dannettarrived to floor the big forward.
Then, as Halifax tried to use the wind, Windley could only stand under the crossbar and watch as a Pendlebury bomb hit first the upright, then the bar and then the other upright, before finally going dead. Hull hung on although Whitfield kicked two penalties, for the score to be 8-4 at half time. Halifax were famous back then for a novel if not uncompromising defensive pattern which comprised of a ‘gang’ of players running across the field and tackling everything in its path. The second half began with Halifax using this to great effect to stifle our playmakers but it was then that ‘Super Sub’ Windley took a hand in things.
As the game wore on Phil started to gain in confidence before Paul Dixon sent the ‘Aussie Flyer’ Bob Grogen haring down the wing for what looked a certain try. However, Windley just managed to push him towards the touchline and away from his supporting centre before somehow getting to him and with one last ounce of effort, forcing the Australian flyer into touch. Two minutes later, in almost the same position at the other side of the field, Windley repeated his heroics on Scott Wilson. Those two tackles had the Hull fans in raptures and were the turning point of an uncompromising encounter. A penalty by Whitfield reduced the arrears to just 2 points and despite a 12-2 dis-advantage in the scrums and Hull surrendering the ball seven times, somehow, we held out.
In the ‘Casey years’ those errors and the Halifax pressure would have seen us capitulate, but with Smithy (until warned by the referee) running up and down the touch line barking encouragement, we held out. For me the best memory was saved for the last second of the game as Divorty drove the ball into a ruck of Halifax forwards. As the hooter went several of the home team’s players started to walk, heads bowed, towards the changing rooms. Quick as a flash Divorty handed the ball out of the tackle and some neat passing from Moon, O’Hara and Boyle saw Price cross the line and Eastwood add the conversion, by which time half the Halifax players were probably in the bath.
It was a great victory and well before Eastwood could take the final conversion we poured onto the pitch to congratulate our players, First on the field was of course Brian Smith, who shook everyone’s hand and saluted the supporters before the players left the field. It was the start of a great sequence of results, however with Windley’s heroics, that surreal ending, and that awful injury to Fletcher, it was a game that holds lasting memories for me. As for Brian Smith it heralded the start a great three years at Hull FC.
You have to play to the end!!!
Sunday 27th November 1988 Hull 12-St Helens 16
By late November we had just climbed into the top half of the League table although we had already experienced a few of ‘Smithies’ ‘never say die’ last gasp wins and were all starting to believe that our new Coach had the makings of a real hero. However, not many neutrals held out much hope for us as we went back to Saints in the Second Round of the John Player Trophy.
We travelled over the Pennines more in hope than expectation and although we lost, it was one of those rare occasions when despite a defeat the ‘FC Faithful’ stayed behind and sang ‘Old Faithful’ long after most of the 5000 Saints’ fans had gone home. Disaster struck in the fourth minute, as an ordinary looking St Helens move between Bloor and Dwyer saw Holding easily break the line as Wilby and Sharp missed a tackle, a pass to John Fieldhouse sent Les Quirk speeding in at the corner and already we were behind.
It looked like it could be a landslide win for the hosts, but for the rest of the game Hull stuck to Brian Smith’s game plan and kept the Saints at bay. Eastwood landed a penalty after 12 minutes and Laughlin replied with another for Saints three minutes later. The referee Mr. Volante went ‘whistle mad’ in that half awarding a penalty every two minutes (of which 16 went to the Saints, while the Hull pack brilliantly led by Dannett, Boyle and Jackson, tore into the home side completely knocking them out of their stride.
Although we missed the ‘in form’ Gary Divorty, whose wife went into labour four hours before the game, his deputy Jon Sharp was everywhere, and behind the pack Craig Colman organized and encouraged the play brilliantly. On the 20-minute mark we scored. Lee Jackson fed Coleman, who dummied twice before sending a superb long-range pass to Sharp who turned it back inside for Welham to force his way over the try line. Eastwood missed the conversion wide out and a Loughlin penalty ten minutes later saw the scores tied at 8-8, before Eastwood re-established our lead as he converted the games 20th penalty, after Haggerty had almost pulled centre Moon’s head off, on the stroke of half time.
In the second half the referee only awarding 5 penalties in the whole 40 minutes, although 4 of them still went to Saints. After 61 minutes we broke out in our own half and Pearce dummied his way through the line to free Wilby who galloped 30 yards before turning the ball back inside to put Sharp in under the posts. Somehow, as we celebrated, Mr. Volante decided there had been a forward pass and the score was ruled out. As the game wore on ‘Porky’ Pearce (as Brian Smith had inadvertently christened him in a radio interview the previous week) dropped a great goal, while Eastwood got another penalty and Laughlin grabbed two back for the Saints. So we went into the last five minutes one point in front at 13-12.
Then fate took a hand! Finishing the stronger we had the home side on the rack as we laid siege to their line. However Sharp failed to take a Dannett pass that would have seen him score, the ball went to ground, and Fieldhouse pounced. Quick as a flash he fed Bloor who rifled the ball wide where, despite a valiant chase from four Hull players, O’Connor outpaced everyone to score a heartbreaking try in the corner.
With just 4 minutes to go we just couldn’t get back at the Saints and in the end we lost a titanic battle16-13. I remember well the way that Alex Murphy the Saints Coach, so obviously relieved at the outcome, ran on the field at the end whilst we sang and sang and were surrounded by police who, used to football crowds, didn’t understand that from a defeated set of fans at all.
Pies, Orwell, Fictitious Pubs and Wallace and Grommit
Just after Christmas that year we took the long trip over the Pennines in cold windy weather to attend Central Park Wigan,a place where we had experienced little joy over the years. The Cherry and Whites were riding high at the top of the League and I went in the car that day. For most of the journey we were all debating exactly how we could keep the score down, because although we had done well under ‘Smithy’since that shaky start, we still knew that trips to that part of Lancashire rarely reaped any rewards. That night we parked in our usual place in a side street behind some back to back houses about four hundred yards from Central Park.
Wigan’s second greatest civic hero was of course author and raconteur, George Orwell who entitled his most famous piece of literary brilliance; ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’. This was, of course, a real conundrum in itself, the irony being that there was no pier at Wigan `and never had been. Of course, the accolade of greatest civic hero of the Lancashire mill town is held jointly by Wallace and Grommit who actually live there,in another fictitious location, 62 West Wallaby Street, which I always felt when I watched the animated TV shows, resembled closely the street where we had parked for all those years.
Occasionally on our visits to Central Park, (although not this time), we had called in at the famous premises of ‘Poole’s Pies’ after which it is generally believed the local citizens get their nick name. It was always hard to get parked there however and there was invariably a long queue and an even longer wait, but you were rewarded in the end by what could only be described as ‘exceedingly good pies!’ As for a drink, well we tried a few pubs around Central Park over the years including ‘The Park’, with its large framed pictures of famous Wigan games and personalities, but we never found Orwell’s famous pub, ‘The Moon Under Water’ which is hardly surprising as it never actually existed either, (Well it didn’t until Wetherspoon’s named their new establishment in the Town centre after it, in the late 90’s). So, I guess what I do know is that when it comes to a history lesson centered on Lancashire, you could say Wigan is famous for several things, most of which never existed.
‘Stuffing’ the Pies and the advent of the ‘Wigan walk’
Wednesday 12th January 1989 Hull 35-Wigan 20
Central Park was a grand sight back in those days, and ‘doing what it said on the tin’, was smack in the middle of Wigan. It had massive terracing on three sides and a lower seated stand that had a roof painted in red and white stripes, down the other. If a great sight during the day, under floodlights it was nothing short of magnificent and a great example of a traditional Rugby League stadium. As we stood on the ‘SpionKop’ there were around 12,000 braving the elements that night and they created a great atmosphere. In fact, the roar that greeted the Wigan team as they ran out led by Andy Gregory, struck fear into the hearts of the 500 or so Hull fans, that had made the long trip over the Pennines. We had every right to be fearful too, because Wigan were on a run of six straight wins, the last of which had been a victory the previous week in the John Player Trophy Final and the team that ran on to parade the Cup before the game read like a ‘who’s who’ of Rugby League. Although we had actually won our last five games, it seemed like we faced an almost impossible task as Andy Gregory rolled his sleeves up to his shoulders, took a divot out with his heal, and placed the ball on the centre spot to kick off.
The first half turned out to be a tight affair with both sides defending well. Wigan looked the stronger, so it was quite ironic that it was Hull that took the lead with Garry Pearce landing a great penalty goal after Iro had upended Moon 30 yards from the line. To return the compliment, Wilby then tripped Bell as he ran past him and a Gregory penalty tied the scores. A sweeping move down the left-hand side saw Ellery Hanley dance between Price and O’Hara to set Wigan’s winger Preston flying down the touchline. When Hanley broke through like that he was a wonderful sight to see, providing you weren’t playing against him. Preston then passed back inside and there was Bell to scoop up the ball and fly in 10 yards from the corner flag. Gregory missed the goal but at 6-2, things looked to be turning against us.
Straight from the restart and as the rain came down, Moon broke away down the centre, outstripped the defence and touched down near the corner flag, too wide out for Pearce to convert. However, back came Wigan through a Preston try two minutes later, when he seemed to juggle with the ball for ages before touching down, and with a Pearce penalty for a trip by Betts on Wilby just before half time, we went in just two points down, which was seen as a ‘moral victory’ as far as the travelling fans were concerned!
If the first half had been tense and nervy, then the second was a revelation and will be remembered forever by anyone who made the trip that night. Craig Colman, a masterstroke of a signing by ‘Smithy’) started the second period in fine style as he proceeded to give Great Britain number 7, Andy Gregory, the run around. The game however took a truly dramatic turn after Pearce had kicked a superbly angled penalty from the 40-yard line to level the scores. ’Porky’ then took the ball on the third tackle and without a player near him, struck a massive drop goal from 38 yards out, to edge us ahead. What followed however can, only in truth be described as 20 minutes of some of the most remarkable Rugby League I have ever seen.
On 53 minutes Wigan’s Shelford knocked on and from the ensuing scrum Pearce broke magnificently, stepping first to the right then to the left, leaving Hanley and Edwards ‘for dead’. Colman shot through behind him, took his inside pass and floated a fantastic looping ball to Divorty out on the right. As the defence ‘funneled’ back and caught him, Gary stood in the tackle and popped a pass out to Colman to score under the posts. Pearce converted and it was 10-17.
The home side were visibly shaken so much so that they dropped the ball again almost straight after the kick off. Pearce shot through the line and this time using a fantastic dummy which left the cover grabbing at thin air, passed onto Colman again. Craig handed on to Price who went in untouched to score. A further conversion saw us 23-10 in front and while a hush spread through the ranks of the ‘Cherry and White’ supporters, we were dancing on the terraces to the chants of ‘Brian Smith’s Black and White Army’.
Next it was Colman again, this time drawing Byrne and Shelford before, to a great “Ooooh” from the crowd he slippedout a wonderful pass behind his back to Divorty who hung the ball in the air long enough for Paul Fletcher to romp over to the right of the posts for his first try of the season. It was champagne stuff. A Pearce goal meant that with 19 minutes to go we were 10-29 up and scoring at a point a minute. We were coasting, but coasting for Hull FC has always been a problem! We missed several tackles and Hanley, who was always a danger, strode in to restore some of the home sides pride as the locals sensed a possible comeback.
However, any hope they had of a come-back was short lived because nine minutes later it was Craig Colman who again roared away from the defence. This time he fed Tim Wilbywho timed his run perfectly and careered down the field. As the defence scrambled back he flicked the ball out of Gildard’s tackle and as it went to ground, Pearce ‘fly hacked’ it forward and Jon Sharp touched down to end the rout. A late Bett’s try and Gregory goal added some respectability to the score line, but Wigan were well beaten and we witnessed an early example of the ’Wigan Walk’, as the rain came down and the terraces emptied well before the end. However on the hooter, as a couple of hundred Hull fans danced a conga on the terraces, the aging corrugated iron roof over the ‘Kop’ echoed to the strains of ‘Old Faithful‘, while Brian Smith, as usual, came out onto the pitch after the game to applaud the crowd and we all sang and danced until the stewards moved us on towards the exits.
The wizardry of Coleman and Pearce swept us into 4th place that cold night at Central Park, and after two years in the doldrums, Brian Smith and the Hull lads had posted the ‘FC are Back’ signs across the Rugby League world. What a night, what a performance and what a memory. Wigan ‘Star’ Shaun Edwards was interviewed afterwards and, talking about Hull, came up with the classic quote… “I knew they were good, but I didn’t know they were that good”. That night the depression that had descended on my life since the demise of Arthur Bunting packed its bags and moved out and it is without doubt a moment in time that I will cherish forever.
One in the eye for a Wrestling fan and an umbrella up the backside for Fit Finlay!
Things at the City Hall were still going well and Wrestling was still surviving despite falling attendances. I mention it again not because I like the ‘sport’ but simply because it was always a source of stories both serious and comical. In 1989 wrestling still featured the same old heroes and villains that had been around for years. That January it was the turn of perennial bad guy ‘Fit’ Finlay to be the star of the show and he won his bout quite easily in the end. As he sat in the corner before leaving the ring, he was harangued by the usual irate females, one of whom stuck the pointed end of her umbrella firmly up his back side actually drawing blood. Finlay reacted as anyone would and flailed behind him with his arm, catching the now animated fan smack on the cheekbone.
With a scream she ran off to find Tony the Hall Manager, closely followed by an entourage of shrieking women in shell suits and trainers. The lady who had been caught in the face was quickly developing a black eye and Tony immediately summoned the promoter. In the mean-time the women wasshouting to everyone there “Finlay hit me and I’m going to sue him for a million pounds”. Soon Anne the promoter arrived and settled the woman down by saying that Finlay was “Sorry for what he had done, but it was just a reflex reaction to the umbrella incident” To this the woman screeched, “I’m suing him for a million quid, so there” to which Anne replied, “Well ‘Fit’ has sent you a signed photograph and here are two free tickets for the next show” She looked at them and screeched “Are they Ringside”, Anne nodded, and the irate fan just said, “Fine” and nothing was ever heard about it again.
Back in the Shed Again!
Sunday 5th February 1989 Hull 18-Salford 6
That February I again made the trek over the Pennines to Salford. Hull had been on a great run of 8 league games without defeat but had suffered a disappointing reversal in the Challenge Cup to Castleford, in a low scoring game at the Boulevard the previous week. I made a rare regression to coach travel that week with a group from ‘The Tiger’ pub in Cottingham and watched a great victory when once again all the Hull fans took over the famous Shed Stand.
It was not all good news that day though because when we returned to our Coach elated but hoarse we found that some ‘well wisher’ had slashed both the front tyres. We sat in the cold for 3 hours that evening before a local coach company arrived to take us home back over the Pennines to Cottingham and a few pints in the Tiger Inn.
On ‘Look North’ the following night we watched a recording of David Watkins presenting Jon Sharp with the Man of the Match Trophy and a post-match interview with Brian Smith proved him to be at his ‘outspoken’ best. When asked if Hull FC were good enough to win the Championship. Smithy just said, “No”, there was a long pause and then the broadcast switched back to the studio!! At times, Smithy was a man of few words who usually preferred his actions to do the talking.
Brickman, the Play–offs and a silver salver for ‘Smithy’!
Wednesday 5th April 1989 Hull 23-Widnes 16
The newly formed Vice Presidents Association held a dinner at Willerby Manor that April and I went along with a table of supporters representing several of the pubs in Cottingham. Over 400 attending and the ‘new found confidence’ that was growing since ‘Smithy’ had arrived was everywhere. We were now fifth in the League and heading for the Premiership play-offs with just two games to go; a massive clash with Widnesthe following evening and a home game to round off the season, against Salford. That night, despite him only having been our Coach for a few months, Brian Smith was presented with a salver and gave an impassioned speech which ended, “If we’re all in this together, we will succeed” which certainly sent us all home fired up for the game the following evening. It was a sad occasion too, because it was that night that I heard of the death of Roy Francis. The Coach who invented the ‘Panzer Pack’ all those years ago in the 50’s had sadly passed away that afternoon in a Leeds Hospital.
We beat the League leaders 23-16 the next night, in a game that saw our number 6 Gary Pearce totally outplaying the visitor’s ‘Welsh wizard’ Jonathan Davies in what was anothertypical all-round team effort. Everyone worked for each other as Hull swept aside the class barrier in devastating fashion and a 12-6 win against Salford the following week confirmed our place in the play-offs!
That last weekend of the season, over at the other side of the City, Hull KR were playing their last game at the old Craven Park ground on Holderness Road after occupying the East Hull Greyhound Stadium for 67 years. That Sunday, 9thApril and just a week after we had beaten them, they entertained Widnes who were victors 13-16.
At work the going was hard and the hours long, but there was still plenty of lighter interludes to keep our spirits up, particularly at Committee meetings, which were for me, becoming an almost constant source of amusement. The latest idea that was causing a stare was a hair brained plan to get more tourists into the City by commissioning the Public Artist Anthony Gormley to construct a massive 80 meter-high ‘Brick Man’. This edifice, the Tourism sub-committee planned, would gaze out across the Humber from Sammy’s Point at the convolution of the River Hull and the Humber. A debate on this topic raged on the letters page of the Hull Daily Mail for weeks which even saw the ever growing local sexist lobby, demanding a Brick Women as well! However, it was all brought to an abrupt end when Gormley had one session with a Council Committee and decided that he didn’t want to build it anyway, saving the City a few hundred thousand pounds in the process. Who knows Hull could have been as famous for its Brick Man, as Blackpool is for its Tower…….but I doubt it!
From bottom of the League in September to the play-offs in April, Brian Smith was a hero!
Sunday 23rd April 1989 Hull 32 Castleford 6
So, the season finished with Hull FC in the play-offs and as we took on Castleford at home in the first round our Coach announced in his abrupt and inimitable fashion, “Stop Joyner and you stop Castleford”. We did both and easily progressed to the semi-final. I remember that day, young forward sensation Dean Sampson (who the Castleford fans had knick-named ‘Diesel’), had a shocking game in the wake of relentless haranguing by the Threepenny Stand, who, because of his long flowing blonde hair, ‘christened’ him ‘Marilyn’. Smith cranked up the excitement in the week following that win by announcing that he has signed Steve Folkes for the next campaign and that “at least 12 other Australians of high repute” had contacted him about coming over to join Hull.
We had finished 4th that year which only guaranteed one home draw in the play offs, but results in the first weekend of the play offs went for us and we were at home again in the semi-finals. The other surprise package that year was our next opponents, Featherstone Rovers, who had finished 7th in the League and were actually a bit of a bogey team for us that season. Under Peter Fox they had made great strides forward and were the only Club to have completed the double over Hull FC that year.
Another brilliant team performance in front of 11,169 fans saw us win again, this time by the emphatic score line of 23-0 and amazingly after starting the season so badly, we were in the Premiership Final a week later at Old Trafford. My over-riding memory of that Featherstone game is of Brian Smith coming onto the pitch after the hooter and running towards the crowd in ‘The Threepennies’ displaying with his finger that there was just one game left before we became Premiership winners. I remember saying to my pals, as we stood applauding on the terracing at the Airlie Street end, that ‘Smithy’ appeared to be every bit “As excited as we were”.Whilst all this was going on, the newly refurbished tannoysystem was blasting out, “Keeping the Dream Alive” by Freiheit and every time I hear it (usually at Christmas these days) I immediately remember that moment! It was priceless!
Craig Colman the player that Brian had brought from Australia earlier in the year, had returned home early because of playing commitments with his Club over there, but as soon as the news was out across the world that we were in the Final, he asked to come back and play at Old Trafford. We all admired Craig, but in typical belligerent fashion Brian Smith stuck by his team, declined the offer and kept faith with his replacement Phil Windley, who had stepped up so well since Colman left.
As usual, sleep was impossible in the week before the Final, something that never changes, however old I get! As a distraction however I was asked to judge the Final of the Tower’s ‘Battle of the Bands’ contest ‘Soundtrack’ on the Wednesday night prior to the big game and a Hessle band called ‘Looking for Adam’ were the winners. It was a good evening with free beer for the judges and it certainly served to occupy me for what would otherwise have been another restless evening in the build-up to that Final.
Final disappointment…… but “We’ll be back”
Sunday 14th May 1989 Hull 10-Widnes 18
So, we were at Old Trafford for a game in which no one gave us a hope. However this was a new Hull FC, this was Brian Smith’s team full of battlers and passion and anyone wrote us off at their peril. We looked hungry that season, the work ethic was fabulous and the fans knew that even if we didn’t win, we would give it our absolute all. Once again that Wednesday we queued down Airlie Street to get our tickets and the atmosphere, despite the drizzle that was falling, was simply amazing. Widnes had a side packed with stars, whose success had gained them the ‘tabloid’ title of ‘The Cup Kings’ and we were the under dogs, which suited us down to the ground.Thousands packed the M62 on the way to the game and at Saddleworth Moor the whole Motorway ground to a halt as a convoy of traffic crawled the rest of the way to the Stadium. It was a great atmosphere even in the traffic jam, as cars behind us hooted their horns on seeing my new “Don’t follow me, follow Hull FC” bumper sticker.
We parked in an Industrial Estate, which was to become my regular parking spot for future visits to Old Trafford and once inside, the atmosphere was nerve tingling. Although the Widnes fans only had a short journey down the ‘East LancsRoad’, as always, in a crowd of 40,000, we outnumbered their fans at least, three to one. In the end it was a game that was decided by three defining incidents either side of half time,these in effect dictated the outcome and the fate of the two teams that contested the Final.
From the kick off it was apparent that if we were to compete, our forwards led by Dannett, Steve Crooks and Paul Welham, had to get on top. So, in the early stages it was pleasing to see them pushing the Widnes six back at every opportunity, whilst in possession, Lee Jackson was masterful at acting half back ‘scooting’ first this side, then that, to consistently wrong foot the opposition. Of course, as often happens after such endeavour, Widnes scored first. Hull had kept ‘Danger man’, Emosi Koloto, quiet for 20 minutes until he broke a Windley tackle and started off down-field. As Fletcher came across to affect the tackle, he passed to centre Darren Wright who dissected our retreating defence to score. Next we received a real blow as, having been sandwiched in a tackle between McKenzie and Joe Grima, Hull scrum half Phil Windley was knocked out cold. He was carried off, but in his absence and for the rest of the first period, Gary Pearce stood in brilliantly at scrum half.
Back Hull came as Gary Divorty stepped out of a Hulme tackle and sped towards the line where he almost scored himself before slipping out a short pass for Welham to crash over. Pearce goaled and we were level. By this time ‘Porky’ Pearce was really controlling things, as he almost got firstEastwood and then Sharp in for tries. In the end though a penalty on the Widnes ‘twenty-five’ saw him grab two more points to give us the lead for the first time. At this point we were threatening to snatch the initiative away from our more illustrious opponents but then came the first of those three defining incidents, deep in the Widnes half.
In the last minute of the first half Pearce was contemplating a drop goal attempt when Jackson instead went blind at the play the ball and fed centre Price. The youngster sent a bullet like grubber towards the corner flag for O’Hara to chase, but somehow Andy Currier got his hands on it, knocked it in the air caught it and was away. Brilliantly, Price somehow recovered and moved in to tackle the Widnes man only for Tony Myler to step between the two players and obstruct him. The referee completely ignored this infringement, which left Price on his backside and Currier haring away down the left wing to score so at half time we trailed 10-8. The battalions of FC fans were certainly not happy and as they gave referee John Holdsworth a deal of abuse as he left the field with chants of ‘Cheat, cheat’, we went off in search of a beer.
The second half had hardly started when Widnes scored again. Paul Fletcher who sparkled all afternoon at Full Back for Hull pounced on a loose ball and ran off, only to be called back by the referee, who had already indicated a knock on and a scrum with the ‘feed’ to Hull FC. “What happened to the bloody advantage rule?” we yelled, but to no avail.
Amazingly we only lost one scrum with ‘The put in’ all afternoon and of course it had to be this one. Again, as the ball was passed across the Widnes line, Price was pulled down and obstructed, this time by Currier, and once Alan Tait had given Martin Offiah his only decent pass of the game, what happened then was a foregone conclusion, as he scorched down the wing as only he could. Another Davies’ conversion meant that suddenly we were 16-8 down and in need of a quick score. We looked to have got one three minutes later, as the third and final critical incidents began to unfold.
Paul Welham was pulled down inches short of the line and from the play the ball Lee Jackson dummied before shifting play the other way for O’Hara to cross the line and clearly put the ball down. He was immediately carried out of play by both Pyke and Wright but as we all celebrated and the Widnes players heads went down, amazingly the touch judge ruled no try and the referee pointed to a ‘25 yard re start’. By this timewe were all fuming, frustrated and struggling to come to terms with what we were witnessing.
There was still plenty of time left, Pearce landed a good angled penalty on 58 minutes and Blacker, Nolan and Fletcher all went close, but in the last quarter of the game we couldn’t add to our score, although we never stopped trying to the very end. As the hooter sounded we had lost 18-10 in heartbreaking and disappointing circumstances. At that stage I felt numb, rather like when you stub your toe and there’s that awful hiatus between the impact and the pain setting in. However, there is little doubt that after cheering and applauding the FC players who had given so much, we all made our way home believing that we had been robbed; a feeling that over the years we had grown to get used to. I remember being proud of my team and disgusted with the officials and after getting stuck in what seemed like ainterminable traffic jam, I channelled all that anger and frustration into driving fiercely in whatever direction other cars didn’t seem to be travelling in and we soon got lost in Manchester.
Next day suffering with a hangover I took a day off work ‘with cold’ and having studied the local newspaper headlines that declared, “The Try that Never Was”, I consoled myself with the words of the now ‘God Like’ Brian Smith, when he said in the post-match press conference, “We’ll be back and next time we’ll show you we can be winners”. Brian Smith that man of few words had once again said just the right thing. Three weeks later, as the pain of that defeat started to subside and from back home in Australia, our Coach announced that he had secured the signature of the biggest, roughest and hardest player there was in the game at that time. “Noel Clealwill be here by October” was an announcement which immediately made a difference to season ticket sales, as the thought of ‘Crusher’ in a Hull shirt, inspired hundreds of Hull fans to re-subscribe to the dream.
Divorty wants more money!
That summer, after having been back in the City Hall flat for a second spell, this time for 4 years, I decided it was time for another change simply because you can only take so much of being on call 24 hours a day every day of the year. I bought a house in North Hull in Wensley Avenue just off Cottingham Road and spent that summer sorting it out. The closed season was the usual drag and there was some concern when Gary Divorty, one of the great young successes of the first Brian Smith season, was put on the transfer list at £180,000 because he couldn’t agree personal terms with the Club. Jon Sharp was also in dispute, but ‘Razor’ finally agreed to stay, however it was to be the end of Divorty, at least for now.
The 2nd August was a significant date as it was then that the Club announced another signing, this time it was ‘power house’ prop forward Karl Harrison who came in from Featherstone. However, the two Clubs couldn’t agree a fee and so the recompense was eventually left to a Rugby League Tribunal. At work the City Hall was swathed in scaffolding both inside and out as the venue went through a £1.3m refurbishment, which included new seats, carpets, lighting, a rebuilt stage and a new sound system.
“Pathetic Hull in Poor Start”
Sunday 3rd September 1989 Hull 12– Bradford Northern 30
Despite all the high hopes a new season brings, on this occasion once again we were disappointed. We played Bradford at Odsal and although a young Steve McNamara scored on his debut, we lost badly, causing the rash headline above to be plastered across the local paper. Then Widnes beat us at home and we sunk to the bottom of the League with a further string of disappointing results. Brian Smith threatened “Big Changes” if things didn’t improve but they didn’t and I remember travelling back from Castleford, after another defeat by 18-10, contemplating the fact that perhaps we hadn’t learned that much, because what we were experiencing was almost a mirror image of the start of the previous campaign.
There was a lot happening off the field too as the dispute between Gary Divorty and the Club came to a head and Gary finally signed for Leeds in another ‘disputed’ deal reported to eventually be worth £80,000, which again a tribunal had to settle. More problems followed when that game at Castleford left Gary Pearce with a serious knee injury which saw the Club citing the West Yorkshire team’s hard man ‘Rambo’ Gibbs for an “illegal late tackle”.
While Brian Smith’s latest money raising scheme the ‘Go for Gold Lottery’ was raising £35,000 in just three months, ‘Crusher’ Cleal was on his way from Australia and boy did we need him! Whilst all this was going on at the Boulevard, it was hectic at work as the newly refurbished City Hall was literally bursting with concerts, dances and conferences.
The new stage and new lighting ‘Flying’ facilities, whereby you could suspend the lighting from the roof struts in the rafters of the Main Hall meant that bigger and better-quality concerts were coming to Hull. That autumn, the charismatic David Essex, Gary Newman and the rather inebriated ‘glam’ rockers ‘Dogs D’Amour’ headlined the opening month of concerts. Hull Fair was the usual ‘nightmare’ with a baby being born behind the Dodgems on the first night (prompting someone to say of the mother, that it was usual just to come home from the Fair with a coconut and a bag of candy floss) and a man breaking his leg on the Bobsleigh ride as he tried to get off whilst it was still moving. For me personally there is little doubt that those weeks in Walton Street every October were the most stressful in my career at the Council.
The biggest Hull player I’d ever seen!
Sunday 15th October 1989 Hull 44-Salford 8
In over 50 years of watching Rugby League I have seen some characters and some pretty intimidating and awesome players. It’s always been a sport where the little guy would often go after the ‘big fella’ with varying degrees of success, however once or twice in a life time you come across a player that opponents actually physically fear. Mal Menninga was maybe one such player but they are certainly few and far between.
At that time ‘Smithy’ was doing everything he could to improve the team and had introduced Glenn Liddiard and Steve Folkes from Australia, but he was still looking for some real power as well as someone who would inspire and capture the imagination of the fans. Our new arrival however ticked those boxes and, reputed to spend his ‘time off’ wrestling wild boar in the ‘Outback’, he looked like the ‘Wild Man of Boneo’.
Noel Cleal was a real phenomenon and a player that had for years terrorised everyone he played against from Club games to International matches. In 1985/86 he had come to England and played for Widnes scoring 12 tries in 16 games and you’ll remember that Hull KR had almost signed him, before he was declared bankrupt and therefore unable to leave the sub-continent.
The first game in which Noel made a real impact was against Salford at the Boulevard on 15th October 1989. That Sunday afternoon around 7000 fans witnessed a display of such power and aggression it had the whole City talking about ‘Crusher’. The National Press said that ‘Crusher’ Cleal had the Salford defence “Quaking in their boots as Hull went on the rampage”, and that wasn’t far off the mark. There is a nice tale about the day that Cleal arrived in Hull and arranged to meet the club representatives in ‘Darley’s Arms’ on Boothferry Road. Noel walked in and as he stood at the bar, his head touching the glasses on the rack above him, the Barmaid said to her colleague, “You serve those two guys in the Lounge and I’ll serve Mr Cleal”. Noel parted his tousled hair looked up and said quietly, “How do you know my name” to which the barmaid replied, “You’re in a ‘Rugby City’ now ‘Crusher’, so you’d better get used to it because you can’t hide, here everybody knows your name!”
If Hull Fair had just finished in Walton Street, the Circus was just beginning at the Boulevard. After the trials and tribulations of early season this was to be the day when the ‘jigsaw’ was to start to fit together again, with Cleal cutting an unusual figure in the centre as opposed to his more accustomed role in the pack.
The game kicked off with Brian Smith stood, up high in the top of the Best Stand in his newly erected ‘Crows nest’. Salford took the lead in the 8th minute when Jones beat Eastwood and Liddiard and put Hadley over but within two minutes we were level. At last Cleal got the ball in a flowing move when slick passing between Windley, Liddiard and ‘Crusher’ saw Eastwood head for the corner and brush Full Back Steve Gibson aside to score a try that the winger dulyconverted. Anthony ‘Chico’ Jackson made his debut that day on the wing, where he was a surprise inclusion in place of Dane O’Hara.
After an Eastwood penalty, ‘Chico’ actually got on the score sheet himself, as Folkes brilliantly switched play to the blind side and Steve Crooks sent out a precision pass to Jackson, who putting his head down, ploughed in at the corner. The experiment of using Richard Gay at Stand Off and Nolan at Full Back was working well and after a further Eastwood penalty by half time Hull were well on top, as a massive ‘ball and all’ tackle on the hooter by Cleal, saw his opposite number Bragger needing attention long after the players had left the field.
Just six minutes into the second half a quick play the ball saw Lee Jackson pass straight to Cleal, who set off towards the Salford line. Brown, Worrell and Evans all fell off him as he scattered the ‘would be’ tacklers like skittles and as two other Salford players showed unbelievable hesitation with regard to confronting him, Crusher crashed on, to cross the ‘whitewash’ for his first try for his new Club. It was a fabulous sight that even had the fans in the ‘Best Seats’ on their feet and cheering long after referee Asquith had awarded the try.
Cleal, clearly ‘blowing’ a bit, was substituted and Doherty came on and took over in the centre where he immediately dropped a ball that Evans gleefully pounced on to score the visitor’s second try. Then it was the turn of debutant Chico Jackson again. A shrewd inside ball by Dannett out of a tackle found Windley who shot away from the area of the ruck and despite it only being the ‘second tackle’, he threaded a great grubber kick through towards the corner flag for ‘Chico’ to scoop the ball up from round his boots and slide over the line for his second try.
Duly refreshed back onto the field came ‘Crusher’ to take over from the limping Liddiard and soon the giant was back in the action again. Salford had visibly lost the appetite to tackle a player that simply seemed impossible to put to ground. In fact, the referee was having difficulty calling held because Cleal kept moving forward, even with five players on his back and round his legs. The big man was now rampant and as Windley put him through again he drew an ambivalent Burgess before this time passing to Eastwood who roared over in the corner and it was starting to look like a rout. Substitute Paul Welham scored another five minutes later before the game finished with the move of the afternoon. Cleal hit Jones so hard he just crumbled in a heap before passing to Sharp who ran across the half way line and looking to open up a gap he passed to Gay who found Welham. The second rower then switched the ball back inside for Doherty to gallop in to end a glorious move under the posts and Eastwood’s 8th goal from 9 attempts made it a final score of 44-8.
We all stood and applauded the players, while Brian Smith, having climbed back down his ladder from ‘the Gods’, came out onto the pitch to join the adulation for a good win in which we had seen an amazing performance from a man who had caused mayhem and confusion and was more like a bulldozer than a rugby player.
Always on the lookout for talent, in late October, Brian Smith signed the little-known Australian scrum half Gregg Mackey from Warrington. The diminutive player had featured for Canterbury and Illawarra before joining the Lancashire Club a few months earlier. Warrington saw him just as a stop gap signing but he was an unexpected success, leading them to victory in the Lancashire Cup Final. He was reported to have just agreed a new two-year deal at Wildespool when Brain Smith swooped and signed him for Hull FC. The Warrington Board accused Hull of an illegal approach but later settled for a small compensation payment and ‘Bluey’ Mackey was ours.
We had to sadly release the injured David Liddiard to make way for him on the quota, but what a great signing he would turn out to be, as despite missing his second game at the Club, Mackey went on to play 94 consecutive matches for Hull FC before returning to Warrington in 1992.
‘Crusher’ switches on the Christmas Lights while the Reverend wins the booze!
By December Hull FC had moved into the mid table positions in the League and music fans across the nation were getting excited about a press report that the remaining three Beatles were contemplating getting back together again. However, in just one ‘sound bite’ George Harrison scotched all the talk of a reunion, when he said, “There will never be a Beatles reunion whilst John Lennon is still dead”, and that was that!
Back in Hull Noel Cleal had settled in a house in Cottingham and had been invited to switch on the village’s Christmas Lights that year. As Steve Massam of Radio Humberside conducted the ‘Count-down’ and ‘Crusher’ pushed the button, the whole village was illuminated to thunderous applause, only for the system to fuse seconds later, as the whole of the main street was plunged back into darkness. Club Chaplin the Reverend Allen Bagshawe was having better luck however, when at a Vice Presidents’ Dinner at the Willerby Manor Hotel that I attended, he scooped the first prize in the ‘sit down, stand up’ ‘Irish’ Bingo, winning 12 Bottles of wine and a bottle of Whiskey. I bet the Bagshawehousehold had a good Christmas that year!
Meanwhile at the Boulevard Hull FC had an ‘injury crisis’ and ‘Smithy’ moved swiftly to sign up winger Neil Turner from Doncaster sending both Wayne Proctor and Neil Puckering who were now surplus to requirements in the opposite direction.
The Fabulous Baker Boys open the Odeon, whilst Juliet ‘Gets them out’
That spring, Hull FC gradual improvement continued as ‘Smithy’ slowly worked his magic and Cleal just got stronger and stronger. January brought big wins over Halifax and Barrow whilst a brilliant performance saw us get the better of Wigan at the Boulevard 30-20, but we were still struggling to win away from home and most of our journey’s over to West Yorkshire and Lancashire saw us returning ‘empty handed’. However, that improved home form spurred us on to winning eleven of our last thirteen games to get into the end of season play-offs for a second year.
That April I was invited to the Gala Opening of the new Odeon Cinema complex built on reclaimed dockland adjacent to the Ice Arena in Kingston Street. My first experience of a brand new ‘Multi-Plex’ Cinema was certainly an eye openerand far removed from the Tower and Dorchester and as I watched the ‘Fabulous Baker Boys’ with the Lord Mayor, the Leader of the Council and all the other worthies from the Guildhall, I glanced around the sumptuous surroundings and pondered that whilst the refurbished City Hall was an adequate venue for live music, it was easy to see where the future leisure time of the people of the region was destined to be spent.
Two days later I went (again as a guest, I might add) to the Hull Truck Theatre in Spring Street to see local hero Roland Gift, starring in a very ‘avant garde’ interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. It was a strange adaptation which proved that perhaps the classics are best left as just that; classical.
The sight of Mercutio and Benvolio rolling drunk and relieving themselves against a wall, then appearing next day in sunglasses and taking copious amounts of Aspirin, was bizarre indeed; still I tried to enter into it. Much of it went over my head, while no doubt along with many other males in the audience, I occupied myself with observing that Juliet, played by Daphne Nayer, was certainly a ‘fine women’ and pondered on the possibility that perhaps bra’s had not been such an essential accessory in 16th Century Verona.
I was certainly not prepared for what came next! As she started the balcony speech with “Romeo Romeo wherefore art though Romeo….” slowly but surely she started to peel off her T shirt!! Stood there naked towering over us all on a raised balcony, it’s fair to say that the males in the audience, (who had up to this time been shuffling around and wondering what time the bar stayed open until), didn’t hear much of the rest of her speech, as with eyes focussed on the ’proceedings’ we all wondered ‘where to look next’. It’s also fair to say that all the ladies in the audience tried to give the impression of knowing what it was all about, while us lot just sat there transfixed in one of those communal ‘I mustn’t look, but I cannot avert my eyes’ moments.
You could have heard a pin drop as no one dare change their facial expressions, with a smirk or a titter (excuse the pun) certainly out of the question!. It’s funny the moments of high culture you remember!!
I loved the old Hull Truck Theatre in Spring Street and saw some great plays there, including the brilliant John Godber tribute to his Rugby League roots in Featherstone ‘Up and Under’. There were also some great concerts to cherish and I remember with great affection watching the late Kirsty McColl, Ian Matthews, Prelude and Bronx Cheer at various times, at the Theatre. The place spawned so many great stories particularly in the early days when John Godber and Barry Nettleton and Hull Truck were just starting out.
On one occasion Barry secured some sponsorship from BAE systems at Brough to build a new bar. In tribute to their benefactors they had it constructed in the shape of an aircraft’s wing. It was perfectly formed and looked brilliant, but it had one glaring design fault. As it was aerodynamically moulded just like a real wing if you put your pint down on it, the glass would slide toward you and spill the drink down your clothes. It was the only bar I had ever drunk in that had a sign saying “Please do not put your glasses down on the Bar”
At the Hall it was around then I met Mark Knopfler, when he took some time off from playing with Dire Straits to appear at the City Hall on 30th March with his new ‘Project’ The Notting Hillbillies. He was a really nice guy who sat and talked to us in the bar (in bare feet) before the doors opened to the public. However, if Mark was approachable, his drummer on the tour was a fabulous guy. Ed Bicknell was an ordinary chap who had met Mark at Leeds University and then become Dire Straits Manager because, he said, “They already had a drummer”. I asked him what it was like managing probably the biggest band in the world at that time and he just smiled took a gulp of his pint and said, “I guess if I’m honest it’s rather like being in a bank with a shovel”
Away with the ‘A’ Team
Friday 6th April 1990 Hull ‘A’ 33- Bradford Northern ‘A’ 10
In all my time of supporting Hull FC, I think it’s fair to say that with the exception of the odd sojourn across the City to Craven Park, I haven’t been to many away games with the Club’s Second Team. However, on a breezy Friday in April I was joined by another 1500 Hull fans in a crowd of 3,450 at Odsal Stadium in the first stage of an attempt to win the two major Trophies in the 1989/90 National Reserve League.
That night I travelled to the West Riding to watch our second string take on a big and physical Northern ‘A’ and we played them off the park. The antiquated Stadium echoed to the sound of ‘Old Faithful’ long before the end, as the team led by Player/Coach Steve Crooks, scored six tries which included a hat trick by veteran winger Dane O’Hara. Crooks himself dropped a goal and the side which included players like Chico Jackson, Mark Cass, Lee Hanlan, Mike Dixon and Paul Welham, stuck to a game plan that featured brilliant counter attacking and kicking early in the tackle count. Tactics that ensured the bulk of the game was played in the Northern half.
We all ran on the field and mobbed the team at the end before we chaired ‘Crooksey’ around the field as he proudly held the Cup aloft. Two weeks later we won the League Championship title too and that double was attributed to the dedication of Steve Crooks and of course his mentor Brian Smith. It was a team made up of some old hands and some brilliant youngsters, some of whom would form the nucleus of our team in years to come and after just two seasons all the hard work that the Club had put into selecting good young local players and bringing them through ‘the ranks’ was starting to come to fruition.
The first team met Widnes in the play-offs and the team that beat us the previous year in the Final beat us again at Naughton Park 18-8. However, what I remember most about the game was the appalling refereeing which afterwards prompted Brian Smith to report the match official John Holdsworth to the Rugby League; of course that didn’t do any good at all and Brian Smith and the Club heard nothing else about it.
A farewell to Dane
Sunday 27th May 1990 Hull 38-Hull KR 20
At the end of the season it was good to see the old enemy across the river coming over to the Boulevard to show that they had finally got over the Black and Whites signing Dane O’Hara from ‘under their noses’ all those years earlier. The game was the now veteran Kiwi winger’s Testimonial Match and over 6000 of us went along to thank a player who began his career with a punctured lung and finished being the first ever overseas player to receive a Testimonial in this Country. He played 276 games for the ‘Airlie Birds’ and went on to sign for Doncaster, where injury restricted his appearances before he retired from the game completely in 1992.
That day at the Boulevard however, despite us all waiting and clapping him after the game, Dane strangely didn’t do a lap of honour, which we all found pretty bemusing. Afterwards he explained, “As I received the Trophy, I felt my legs go and my eyes filled up with tears. I intended to do a lap of honour but I was just too emotional, I love this Club and those wonderful fans and I always will”. That was explanation enough for all of us.
So, amidst the chaos and anarchy of the Poll tax riots that raged in many Cities against the new levy launched by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory Government, the Rugby League season ended at the Boulevard on a sad note, with Widnes the team of the moment fast becoming our arch nemesis, but our day was to come in the following campaign and in the most spectacular of fashions.
Wow they were great days and what great memories eh? Sorry about the length this week, but I try to keep it in seasons and there were a lot of good games back then. Thanks for continuing to read the Dairy and for all your support! Take care, stay safe and keep Believing!