Welcome along again to a new Diary, in a week when the disaster that was waiting to happen with the Toronto Wolfpack came to fruition, as at the last minute the best laid plans of Super League were again thrown into disarray. Yet we are still encouraging new clubs in Ottawa and New York to join up!!! Man, is that just plain Madness!! Will we as a sport ever learn eh?
Globally, any sort of date when the Covid 19 crisis mighty be a thing of the past seems to be disappearing further and further over the horizon, whilst we as a country just seem to be waiting for it all to come surging back again and we just have to hope that our game, as it is now, can survive.
This week as fans starved of the game we love, we also heard how the percentage number of people allowed in grounds is likely to severely inhibit some clubs who are desperately waiting to get folks back in stadia to get some income. In fact, even if that return happens in October as they plan, I think it will be a mix of small live gates for the brave attending games and subscription live streams for the more apprehensive sat at home.
Your probably all a lot braver than me and I guess I’m maybe on my own in the fact that I’m still pretty apprehensive about attending games anyway, even with social distancing in place.
I see myself as an extremely young 70, (although others might disagree) but none the less for me I suppose, it’s the issue of toilets, getting in and out and folks regularly pushing past you to go to the lieu throughout the game (which was the norm where I sat) that scares me a bit. Still, who knows, come October things might all be different. Although the way things are progressing they might not be as well!! There must be a few lower division clubs out there that look at the cessation of the furlough scheme with great trepidation and wonder as to how they are going to survive after it, until next March! It’s all a real mess isn’t it!
Still, as the almost farcical situation concerning the Championship, relegation and promotion etc. has at last been resolved in part, all the players are back in training and the time when we can at least watch some rugby will soon be here. It will be interesting to see what the Clubs do about getting access to games for those who don’t have Sky TV, but with the sword of relegation no longer hanging over the Clubs heads at least the players can enjoy themselves a bit and produce some stress-free rugby that will be good to watch. When you list the changes ranging from the lack of that relegation, through to there being no scrums and the new 6 tackle again rules, it’s certainly going to be different isn’t it?
Who knows though, often good things come out of adversity and just as the country seems to have found a bit of humanity one for another and people seem to be caring for others more than ever before, these new rules and structures etc. may lead to long term changes for the good in our sport as well.
You certainly appreciate how lucky we all where when we used to turn up at the KCom with only the quality of rugby to worry about don’t you? However, often out of adversity comes change for the better, but what legacy’s actually eventually come out of all this for Rugby league, we’ll just have to wait and see.
But, we’ll all come through and make the best of it because that’s what we do, for when you step back from it all, as human beings we are a resilient old bunch really!! So, onto the books and the serialisation of my life as a sad old FC fanatic. We are now in the mid-nineties and sort of in limbo, in a calm before the storm situation which at the time seemed to be terrible, but even then with the advent of Mr Lloyd (David not Gwilym!!), perhaps we didn’t know just how lucky we were!!!
683 The Dentist Diary
Simmons survives the curse of Swinton
By mid-February we had made progress in the Challenge Cup with a narrow win at Third Division Swinton in what was a real ‘banana skin’ for Coach Royce Simmons. I say that because history dictated that it was a big hurdle for any Hull Coach to get over. By that point in the season we were making steady if unspectacular progress and the squad led by Des Hasler were starting to develop into a strong unit.
Rumours however abounded that the Board were again finding it tough financially and perhaps becoming impatient for success. On average around 5000 attended home games, but the commercial and sales side of things were in decline. The game away at Swinton saw the chance of a good Cup run and we had to win. In the end we did, but in a tight game a score line of 18-12 was hardly acceptable. However, despite the amazing statistic that previously Coaches Arthur Bunting, Len Casey and Noel Cleal had all left the Club after games at Swinton, Simmons survived.
Edwards breaks our hearts
Sunday 13th February 1994 Hull 21 Wigan 22
When the draw was made for the next round, Hull got the pairing that no one wanted against Wigan the ‘Cup Kings’, a team that had won their last 32 Challenge Cup matches. They were a team full of recognised stars and the tie certainly captured the imaginations of the people in West Hull. As I arrived at my, by now, lucky step about 30 minutes before kick off a load of folks we had never seen before were standing all over it. “At least”, I thought, “That gives me an excuse if we lose!” I remember that I had a really bad cold that day but that was inconsequential really because I have battled to the Boulevard over the years with most ailments that don’t require a toilet….and indeed, some that do.
The game saw the best first half home performance by Hull since the Brian Smith days. We certainly meant business from the off and after a foul by Wigan’s Kelvin Skerrett on Paul Sterling, Tim Street punched Skerrett and both players ended up in the sin bin. After a scare when Wigan’s Connolly stepped in touch before crossing in the corner, Hull took the lead when Hewitt chipped ahead and the mercurial Hasler touched down. Frenchman Daniel Divet ran through the Wigan defence and scored with ease and then the 10,200 crowd rejoiced as Steve McNamara stroked over a penalty and a drop goal. At 15-2 we had the ‘Cup Kings’ on the rack.
On 35 minutes Wigan brought on International half back Shaun Edwards although at first it seemed to make little difference as Paul Sterling intercepted a wayward Wigan pass on his own 20 meter line and went tearing down the front of the Threepenny Stand with the desperate Wigan cover tracking across. They caught him 10 yards out but from the play-the-ball McNamara crashed in and although Barry-Jon Mathers scored a late try for the visitors, at half time Wigan were trailing Hull FC 21-6 and as usual at such extraordinary times, I just wanted the game to be over.
Predictably the second half was a different story as Wigan came roaring back and tries from Panapa, Farrell and another from Barry-Jon Mather which saw us trailing 21-22 with just five minutes to go. It was an amazing performance by Edwards who mesmerised the Hull defence and was well supported by Lydon, Offiah and Andy Farrell.
Still we could have won it, when with two minutes to go Sterling broke away and in desperation, Edwards hit him with a high tackle and Eastwood prepared to take a match winning penalty kick just 30 yards out from the goal posts. Of course, as is the luck of Hull FC on these occasions, Paul watched, as we all did, as the kick dipped and veered to the right-hand side of the posts. The game was lost and the media hailed the Wigan performance and the game itself, as one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the Challenge Cup, but that was absolutely no consolation to us lot at all, we had lost and whether it was by 1 point or 50 it was pretty inconsequential. I was inconsolable that night, I declining the opportunity of a drink with the lads in the Eagle after the game and went straight home.
I was gutted and even now it’s a game that I find it hard to write about. Neutrals love the glorious theatre that are games like that, but I just want to go home grieve on my own and somehow start the process of getting up for the game the following week. When you’re a fanatic there is simply no substitute for winning and when you lose in those circumstances, however long you have been in love with your team, whether you’re a one year’ or a fifty year fan, its soul destroying.
Lest the People of Hull ever forget Mick Ronson
As you’ll know if you have read what went before, Mick Ronson has weaved in and out of my life and so I guess it was no surprise when that Autumn I was sitting in my office in Ferensway when the phone rang and a female introduced herself as Maggie Ronson, Mick’s sister. Maggie asked if she could meet me about financing a tribute to Mick in the City Centre and a date and time two weeks hence was agreed. When the day arrived, we had a bite to eat at the Guildhall, I talked old times and she told me of her plan to stage a Memorial Concert for Mick at the Hammersmith Odeon the following Spring. She wanted to raise some funds to thank the Macmillan nurses who had looked after her brother and to commission a statue of Mick to stand on Queens Gardens where he had once worked as a gardener.
It was an exciting idea, particularly when she told me of the many artists that had already said that they would get involved. At the time I was doing a lot of work with the Cities young rock musicians in the newly formed Hull Musical Collective and suggested that rather than a statue, perhaps something that would help them, like a stage, would be a good idea. Before we got to the jam roly-poly we had hatched a plan and if Maggie could raise the cash, the Council would do the design work, donate the land and generally help with things in Hull. The seeds of an idea began to germinate, but more of that later.
‘It’s an ill wind’ at Odsal as Fox misses the point!
Sunday 4th April 1994 Hull 32-Bradford Northern 30
Hull FC’s were poor away from home that year although travelling out of a sense of duty rather than anything else, I had managed to see most of our away games. That April just 4,641 attended the ageing, crumbling, relic that was Odsal Stadium, of which around 1000 were from Hull. However, the usual poor atmosphere was reduced to no atmosphere at all and it was like playing in a Cathedral and, a pretty draughty one at that.
It was one of those times when I felt that trips away every week were becoming a little onerous, but you know how it is, just as you are about to decide to give a game a miss that feeling of duty, much as some must feel about church on Sundays, comes over you and off you go again. I had moved on from those boozy bus trips (probably because of a nagging worry that the pace would inevitably start to get to my liver), and so I drove over to Bradford for a game we certainly did not expect to win. Our ‘away day Blues’ was a worry and a draw at Leeds and wins at Swinton and Salford were all we had to show from 12 away games, while Bradford had only lost twice at home all season and sat proudly on top of the League.
That day as we stood as a beleaguered group of ‘FC pilgrims’ on the North End Terracing, a storm force ‘South Westerly’ blew round the bowl in a clockwise direction and straight into our faces. With the ferocity of the wind it was always going to be ‘a game of two halves’ and having won the toss Bradford decided to play into the wind in the first half. Almost immediately a brilliant one on one tackle by Hull prop Mark Jones was mysteriously penalised, and as Bradford quickly tapped the ball Greenwood put Cordle in at the Corner. When eventually we got into the Bradford half our first attacking move of the game saw Dixon and Busby exchanging passes to send Rob Wilson crashing over near the posts. However, Bradford’s Deryck Fox then slotted a perfect grubber kick through our right side which held up well in the wind and Cordle again beat the retreating Eastwood to the touchdown. Fox failed again with the conversion but against the wind the home team held an impressive 8-6 lead after just 18 minutes.
From that point onwards however the first half was all FC. Paul Sterling snapped up a sloppy David Heron pass to completely out-pace the cover and score a brilliant try which Eastwood converted, and then Divet popped out a pass to Richard Gay who plucked it out of the air and shot in wide out.
Then Northern’s Paul Grayshon knocked on and as the Bradford players set themselves to form a scrum, referee Mr Connolly waved play on, Divet picked up the loose ball, ran wide, drew centre Karl Hall and then found Sterling who flew in again at the corner for Eastwood to again convert. Next up, a sweeping move between Divet, Doyle and Hewitt left the Northern defence mesmerised, before substitute Nolan took a pass to score in the corner. Eastwood missed the conversion but in blustery conditions we led 28-8 at the half way point.
Of course, as has always been the case with Hull FC you’re never ‘home and dry’ until the final whistle and as if scripted, just when we needed to keep our line intact at the start of the second half Bradford’s Cordle scored again. Luckily Fox was still having trouble mastering the wind and he missed the conversion, something he was thankfully to repeat throughout the rest of the afternoon. We needed a response and we got one when Hewitt hung a kick in the wind, which completely confused Summers, allowing James Grant to gather it and score. Eastwood again converted the try.
For the rest of the half Hull were under constant pressure. Newlove again got free and put the stretching Trevor Clarke in, despite a brilliant attempt at a tackle from the retreating Grant. To the cheers of an increasingly agitated FC contingent huddled on the terraces, Fox missed the kick again but with just five minutes to go another precision grubber kick from Fox saw Eastwood slip as he turned and Cordle pounced for his fourth try, only for Fox to miss again, but it was 20-32. A minute later Hall scored for Northern and Fox missed again! As the wind howled around us we all knew there was more to come and in the fourth minute of injury time Fox kicked again, the ball bounced, shot up in the air and straight over Full Back Gay’s head, for Hall to score. Thankfully the hooter went as Hall celebrated, and with just 4 points separating the teams, with the final kick of the match, Fox got his first conversion of the afternoon, and we’d won….just…32-30.
It’s funny what you remember isn’t it and that was the day that we got in the wrong lane at a roundabout at Odsal Top and ended up driving towards Leeds on the A647 when we saw a great sign on some gates that had us laughing for years afterwards. We would often take a detour that way, just to show ‘newcomers’ a board that read ‘Singh and Son’s Builders, You’ve tried the Cowboys now try the Indians’.
Heaven and Hull
On April 29th 1994 a year to the day after Mick Ronson’s death I travelled down to London with Councillor Fred Beedle ( the necessary civic presence) to attend the Mick Ronson Memorial Concert at the Hammersmith Odeon. It was a fantastic evening with stars and personalities of the music business too numerous to mention giving their time to honour the life of a great guitar hero. The ones I remember include Roger Daltrey, Roger Taylor of Queen, Rolf Harris, Captain Sensible, Steve Harley, Bill Nelson, Dana Gillespie, Bob Harris, Joe Elliot, Garry Brooker and Ian Hunter. Towards the end of the second half Maggie came up to our seats in the centre block of the balcony and invited us to the after-show party.
Held at the Embargo Club this was real ‘showbiz stuff’ and as a great David Bowie tribute band entertained the crowd of celebrities present, Garry Brooker fiddled around with a piano in the corner and gave an impromptu performance of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, I had a chat with Bill Nelson about the Be Bop Deluxe days 20 years previously at the ‘Duke of Cumberland’ in Ferriby and Fred and I got ‘wasted’ in some excellent company. Well it was ‘Rock and Roll’ and despite the sadness there was around, everyone agreed it was the sort of informal gathering Mick would have loved.
At that party Maggie announced to tremendous applause the release of Mick’s last album which was to be named ‘Heaven and Hull’. Mick had ‘Come Home’ but was sadly not around to enjoy it. There was a lot of hard work and fund raising ahead before the Memorial to a local hero came to fruition and it was to be the Summer of 1997 before the Mick Ronson Stage and 600 Japanese kids came together on Queens Gardens, but I’ll come to that. The rest of the rugby season was a mix of some good performances and a shocking 52-10 loss at St. Helens, before we won our last three games against Sheffield, Featherstone and Leigh. This saw us eventually finish in a credible 9th position in the League Table.
Roy Waudby comes to the rescue while it’s ‘all boys together’ in bed with Royce Simmons
Sunday 24th April 1993 Hull 70-Leigh 16
That Spring, with gates floundering and finances again a worry we were once again saved by Roy Waudby who put another £100,000 into the Club. He offered another £50,000 if someone came forward to match his proposed investment of £150,000, but as usual they didn’t and the Waudby family had doubled their stake in Hull FC to once again save the day. As we all laughed about Hull KR being relegated, at our last home game, an amazing 70-16 victory over Leigh, there was a treat for the kids when they were all given a free meal voucher to use at the new McDonald’s restaurant in the town centre. We obviously liked to encourage healthy eating back then!
Under difficult circumstances Royce Simmons had done a fabulous job at the Club and we all hoped that he would be our Coach for a long time to come, but trouble at his ailing restaurant business in Penrith meant that he had to return to Australia and with Tony Gordon immediately announced as Simmons successor, things were already moving on. That season end was a significant one as both Simmons and Geoff Doyle returning home (the latter to play for the new Perth Club, Western Reds) while it also heralded the end of the Daniel Divet who left for Featherstone and Club joker James Grant who went out with a bang. After that last game everyone was celebrating in the Dressing Rooms when Grant, who had scored 5 tries that afternoon, secretly lit a jumping cracker and threw it into the crowd of players. So intense was the noise that some players turned visibly white with shock, while Tim Street jumped up so high, he cut his head open on a girder in the roof.
Tim had only been signed a few months, but he was already a big fan’s favourite. Rough tough and always looking for confrontation he had been a big hit that season, but like most of us, he liked a few beers. There is a great story about Tim being invited to Royce Simmons’ house with a lot of the squad for a few goodbye drinks after the Vice Presidents’ ‘Farewell Royce’ dinner that May. The story goes that the players had several large ‘night caps’ in our Coach’s front room as they talked into the night! Once everyone had left, Royce locked up and went to bed and without bothering to take off his dinner jacket etc. he climbed in and was asleep in seconds. During the night he awoke, to find a loving arm wrapped around him. He rubbed his eyes and to his amazement there next to him cuddled up to keep warm and also dressed in his full dress-suit and even patent leather shoes was Tim Street. Apparently the last thing that Street could remember was curling up for a nap behind Royce’s settee, before he got cold in the night and decided to go up to bed.
Tony (The Tank); Good at fundraising not so hot at Coaching!
Once our new Coach Tony Gordon had arrived from the London Crusaders he decided that he wanted to make import Maea David his first big signing. For some reason and to this day I don’t understand why, it was to cost £10,000 to get David here and of course we simply didn’t have the money. Gordon certainly didn’t have the stature to replicate the ‘Marathon’ efforts of his predecessor, so instead he devised a game called ‘Tony Gordon’s Parachute Gold Rush’ (only at Hull FC!). That August he sold ‘squares’ on a giant grid on the Boulevard pitch for £100, with a prize of £1000 for the winner.
The idea was that once the grid was laid out and all the squares sold, a sky diver would parachute down and by landing on the grid, selects the winning square. I went down there on the Club’s Open Evening and although it was raining we left the Club House to watch the fun. Typical of Tony Gordon’s short but exceedingly eventful stay at the Club the whole thing went ‘mammary’s skyward’ when the low cloud deemed it impossible for the Skydiver to leave the plane and so, in the end, the winning square was drawn from a hat. Happily, the winner was Wally Simpson who had actually bought ten squares, so at least he got his stake back.
Mergers, Money and Super League; the Rugby League world goes mad.
That August 1994 saw the culmination of British Rugby League’s attempts to keep pace with the burgeoning game in Australia when the RFL published its ‘Framing the Future’ document which called for a ‘soccer style’ Premier League and controversially club mergers. Information of which Clubs were involved and how the whole new system would work was rather vague, but all would become much clearer very quickly. Meanwhile things were already going downhill for Tony Gordon. He was certainly a meticulous planner and drew up a comprehensive play book which he expected every player to digest and learn. The problem was that although supposedly ‘Top Secret’, soon copies were circulating the City and everyone seemed to have one and be reading it in the pub! As I remember there were a lot of ‘Turn ball back inside’, in the one I saw, something that the players were to get monotonously right as the season unfolded!
A dismal time for everyone as the ‘Tank’ grinds to a halt!!!
Sunday 11th September 1994 Hull 12- Halifax 46
In the bar at The Punch we were all looking forward to continuing the progress we had made over two seasons under Royce Simmons, we signed Steve Craven from Ryedale-York, Lee Richardson on loan from Hull KR and young winger Leroy McKenzie. Gordon was backed by the Board to bring in talent from ‘Down Under’ and Hull welcomed three players from Canterbury in New Zealand. Mae David, Tevita Vaikona and Shaun Endecott arrived in October by which time we were rooted to the bottom of the League Table, in the midst of a run of defeats.
The worrying thing for all the fans was the fact that we were simply not performing. I went to Halifax on an East Yorkshire Motor Services excursion with some pals where we witnessed one of the worst and most inept performances I have seen in over 50 years of watching Hull FC. Gordon was doing his best but he was losing the players’ faith as quickly as he was losing the Club’s tenure in the top Division. In fact, after a loss at Sheffield in early October I remember he said, “We have hit rock bottom, it’s hard to see where our first win will come from”; as you can imagine we were all really inspired as no doubt were the players!!. However, they say that every cloud has a silver lining and although we all searched desperately to find one, at least out of the adversity came the introduction of the Black and Whites Association who were to become a great partner to the Club through some really hard times.
Our second win after scraping past a poor Wakefield side, didn’t materialise until 13th November with victory over a struggling Salford team. Mark Hewitt was the star at scrum half, with Paul Sterling, Tevita Vaikona and Tim Street not far behind. At one point in that match things descended into farce as during a stoppage in the game, Stan Pickering ran on the field with a mobile phone and motioned to Shaun Endecott that it was ‘for him!!’ The call was actually from Tony Gordon (ringing from up in the ‘Crow’s Nest’ high over the Best Stand where he had decided to watch, hoping no doubt that some of ‘Smithy’s’ luck would rub off on him).
Apparently so broad was his accent, that on the touch line Pickering couldn’t understand Gordon at all and so in the middle of the pitch he handed his mobile phone to Endecott for whom the instructions were intended, and left him to figure it out! It was developing into a a real farce and something had to give! Meanwhile over at Craven Park in the East of the City, Hull KR were following the example set by our Directors back in 1971, as Speedway was re-introduced to the city, to raise some much needed cash.
Sport in Hull at a low ebb as ‘Tony the Tank’ rumbles out of town!!
Sunday 4th December 1994 Hull 26-Barrow 16
In 1994 sport in the City of Kingston upon Hull was suffering across all three professional teams. Phil Lowe stood down as Chairman of Hull KR to be replaced by Barry Lilley and at Hull City the Board was still trying to stave off the Official Receivers. Even the Ice Hockey team, the County Council owned Humberside Hawks, was struggling and after a massive 12-4 defeat to the Fife Flyers the Chairman of the authority Terry Geraghty adopted a new motivational technique by sending every player a ‘Written Warning’ as to their future conduct! Terry was however proved quite the visionary, as during a Council debate about the demise of Sport in the region he suggested that a “Super Stadium” be built to accommodate all three Hull Clubs, to help them survive and kick start regeneration.
However, it seems that at least his warning letter seemed to work, as in their next home encounter at the Humberside Ice Arena the Hawks beat Basingstoke 19-3 and thus ironically, they managed to stave off any Council disciplinary hearings.
However, following an unconvincing win at home over lowly Barrow which attracted just 2,300 fans and after a total of just three wins and a draw in 14 competitive games, Hull FC announced on Friday 9th December that they had “Parted company” with Tony Gordon.
As ‘Perfect Day’ hit number one in the music charts, it was apparent that Tony hadn’t had many of those and the man who when interview on local TV always looked like he had just soiled his trousers and hadn’t yet decided whether that was a good or bad thing, was gone. At the Boulevard we were down to the loyal few supporters as I counted just 42 other hardy souls standing on the Airlie Street terracing at that Barrow game, with even less on the banking at the Gordon Street end opposite me.
Tony Gordon had done his best amidst more financial turmoil and the ensuing disputes with players over wages it brings, but amidst rumours of player unrest and dissatisfaction in the dressing rooms, his departure was in the end pretty inevitable. Bringing in a recognised Coach was simply not a viable proposition so the job was given (until the end of the season) to current staff members Russ Walker and Phil Windley.
I’m given a run for some money!
Twelve months previously the sudden demise of a colleague of mine, who was the Hall Manager at a famous West Riding venue, had frightened me. We were the same age and he enjoyed the same ‘beer, pies, curry and fatty foods’ sort of life style as me. Jim had tragically collapsed and experienced a sudden heart attack on the way back to his establishment from a quick ‘mid performance’ trip to the pub and that was just a bit too ‘close to home’ for me!
So, I started attending the gym at the Trust House Forte Hotel on Hull Marina and inspired by Royce Simmons, I slowly started to build up my running with the intention of getting fit. This I hoped would do something about the 15 and a half stone of flab and beer belly that I had managed to acquire without much effort and it was a period which was described by some of my chums in the public bar as my “Holding back the Years phase”.
Jokingly, after a pint or two, my pals goaded me into entering a Marathon, which seemed a great idea at the time, but not such a hot one next morning. So, in an effort to keep everyone quiet, I applied for London, knowing I was likely to be unsuccessful in what is one of the world’s most over-subscribed races. However, no one was more surprised than me to be accepted for the 1995 race. When I started running I could barely manage a hundred yards on a running machine, but I stuck at it and despite keeping up a fair intake of beer, I shed around two stone. By November 1994 I could huff and puff for around 12 miles, much to the amusement of any pals I saw whilst out pounding the streets in my old ‘Wembley Bound Third Time Around’ T shirt. Still the dream was at least alive even if at times I wasn’t!!
At the first game under the new coaching team against Halifax, a better crowd of over 4,800 watched a narrow defeat and an improved performance. In general however, the fare was poor and I’d again started to choose my ‘away trips’ a little more carefully.
As the New Year dawned and the Hull Daily Mail delighted in the fact that the prisoners at Everthorpe had welcomed it in with a festive riot, it was Challenge Cup time and the big news in the area surrounded the exploits of the Beverley Amateur Rugby League team. They had beaten Runcorn Highfield away in the fourth Round, which saw them lauded as the only amateur team to beat a professional outfit in 86 years of the competition and now they had been drawn at home to Second Division Batley.
The game was staged at the Boulevard and as we had all decided against a January trip all the way to Workington with Hull FC, we instead went along with another 3,275 folks, to watch a thrilling encounter which the gallant East Riding team eventually lost through two late tries.
Beverley had trailed 14-0 before unbelievably leading 20-18, with just 10 minutes to go. In the end they lost 30-20 but it was a close thing. No one who was there will ever forget Scott Sullivan starting that revival, when he took an inside pass near his own line and streaked downfield to score a brilliant 80 yard try with the whole of the Batley defence trailing in his wake.
Coached by Len Casey and Martin Dunn, it must have been a strange afternoon for the former FC supremo and then licensee of the Wassand Arms, as he returned to the Boulevard after his acrimonious departure 8 years earlier. He still got a few boo’s as he left the field, although his charges received a standing ovation from a crowd that remained until the very end of a rip-roaring encounter. As for Hull FC, well, they lost 30-12 in the same competition up in Cumbria and as the Club’s supporters Coach caught fire on the way back, our decision not to travel all that way and instead watch Beverley, was certainly justified.
A narrow victory that’s simply too little too late
Sunday 19th March 1995 Hull 11-Wakefield Trinity 10
We were still struggling as the New Year progressed and that situation wasn’t helped by Mark Jones our Welsh Prop Forward asking for a transfer and Dean Busby ‘going on strike’ over his contract. We only won one game in a run of 12 and ‘Bunkers Hill’ was certainly thinly populated that particular afternoon as 3,460 turned up to watch us try and rescue something from the season. We played Wakefield who had been on the wrong end of our only away success that year, when we beat them 29-22 at Belle Vue back in October. Sitting at the very bottom of the League, and without a win since 6th January at Featherstone, it was clear by the size of the gate that few expected us to get anything but another drubbing!
This game however holds two really strong memories for me, another fine performance by Tim Street, and the ‘Golden’ boot of Steve McNamara. Street was an uncompromising player with massive strength and determination. He also possessed a short temper and as one pal observed, “The face of a pit bull terrier chewing a wasp” but, as I stated earlier, he was also a big hero of the fans and quite a comedian on and off the field. When we travelled to Oldham in February to watch another defeat (this time by 19-14) Street was dispatched to the sin bin for a swipe at Oldham’s Redfearne. The Oldham fans booed and jeered him as he left the field while Tim, to the delight of us Hull fans, blew kisses in their direction.
By this point, in a disastrous season with relegation looming the fans had, quite frankly, had enough and as Johan Windley lined up the ball to kick off against Wakefield, it blew over twice, which just added to the total sense of anti-climax. The second time this happened a general groan went around the sparsely populated terraces as the referee summoned our mascot ‘Manda the Panda’ onto the field with a bucket containing sand, to support the ball.
After twenty minutes, the ‘same old dross’ had us all reading our programmes and stamping our feet to ward off the effects of a cold, damp afternoon, when Hull finally came to life and suddenly and inexplicably cut loose to play some of the best rugby we had seen for ages. We completely stifled the Wakefield attack gaining our first defensive half time clean sheet of the season, but with the number of chances we created in that spell, we should have been well in front by half time. Firstly, Tevita Vaikona turned back inside when it would have been easier to score in the corner, then Leroy McKenzie also looked to have scored before he was brought back by the referee for an obstruction in the attacking line.
Finally however Windley dropped his shoulders and went round Daio Powell to release Mike Dixon who careered through a gap and just as he was tackled Gary Nolan took the ball to score besides the posts. McNamara added the conversion and then a penalty and with a well taken drop goal by Windley, the score moved onto an unexpected 9-0 at the break.
Predictably Hull FC started the second half sluggishly and looked nothing like the team that had cut loose in that first half. As usual Tim Street continued to use every opportunity to bash his way up field, but conceded two penalties in quick time which Nigel Wright dispatched between the posts, the second of these saw Street sent to the sin bin for arguing with the referee. It looked like it was going to be the same old story, when ex FC favourite Ian Marlow slipped out a ball to Wakefield’s Nigel Wright who sent in Lee Childs at the corner. A towering conversion by Wright put Wakefield Trinity into the lead 10-9, as the now traditional air of despondency descended over the crowd. Street though was having none of it and once back on the field he was waving his arms frantically at the players as he demanded some action. Twice Kevin Gray at Full-Back stopped certain tries while Richard Gay, who played at 6 that day, managed to somehow get a hand on Steve McGowan as he reached out to put the ball down and to a sarcastic cheer from the crowd, it spun loose.
Wakefield were streaming forward sensing a win, but to our credit we showed great determination and even managing to go close through McKenzie and Maea David. The introduction of Chico Jackson from the bench certainly livened up the forwards in which Street continued to shine, before a head high tackle left Chico sprawling on the forty-yard line as referee Holdsworth immediately indicated the penalty. This was the moment when Steve McNamara’s hours of kicking practise on the training field came to the fore, and with a face caked in mud and just 11 minutes to go, he slotted the kick over and we were back in the lead 11-10.
Strangely Wakefield showed little in those remaining minutes, although Kevin Gray had to scramble back as he spilled a towering up and under from Gary Spencer, but we battled on and as the hooter went we all broke into ‘Old Faithful’ as for the time being at least our fight against the drop was given a little bit of credibility. In the Rugby Leaguer next day Steve McNamara said, “I have never been so glad in my life when the ball went over, I was really nervous, my legs were shaking and I even slipped in the run up, but it went over and that’s all that counts” And it certainly was!
From then on as the season drew to its conclusion we did a little better as we recorded fine wins over Widnes, Featherstone and Doncaster but it was not enough to save us. A 66-12 defeat at Wigan heralded our departure from the top flight, although our fate had been sealed weeks earlier with a defeat at home to Widnes watched by just 2,540 people. Still at least in my private life things were looking up. After a catalogue of relationships featuring females who had gone from finding my devotion to Hull FC rather ‘charming and cute’ to it being (as one told me), “obsessive, corrosive, selfish, childish and immature”, I had settled down with the future and final Mrs. Allen, who took me for what I was…. poor woman!
It was a far, far better thing I did that Day!!! Sore feet, aching bones and a sea of mini Mars Bar wrappers!
So, after what had started as a sort of ‘dare’ in the pub, with over £1500 of sponsorship pledged from friends and colleagues I had to succeed, and so, running in aid of The Lord Mayors Charity Appeal, I went down to London to run the Marathon. The date was 5th April 1995 and no one was more apprehensive or terrified than I was that day as I stood in a park in Blackheath in South London. The whole race was an unforgettable experience, but I have to say here and now that since then I have majored on the philosophy that if you run one marathon you’re a hero, if you run anymore you’re an idiot, because in the end, quite simply, it’s a bloody long way. I had trained and got myself up to 20 miles, but that last 6 seemed to go on forever. However, having walked the first mile because of the crush, I waded through thousands of discarded mini mars bar wrappers, experienced temperatures in the low 70’s, poured Isotonic drink from a drinks station, instead of water, over my head and watched as a 76 year old lady, keeled over and died on the Thames embankment in front of me, before I finished in a time of 4 hours 17 minutes.
That really wasn’t bad at all and I became a bit of a hero with all my beer swilling mates, who couldn’t believe I’d actually started, never mind finished. Some even suggested that I had got someone to assume my name and run for me, but I’ve kept the running up over the years and although I can’t now do anything like that sort of distance, I still run every few days, as a sort of ‘counter balance’ to the excesses, that even at 62, my life continues to embrace.
Protests, Mergers and the long shadow of Rupert Murdoch
Although at the Boulevard, Hull were having a torrid time, as I hinted earlier there was a lot going on nationally back in 1995. As Rugby approached the Easter programme, after months of ‘behind closed doors’ discussions between the Clubs, ‘Super League’ was announced and sure enough, there it was again, Rugby League’s dirtiest word – Mergers. To the horror of every right-minded Rugby fan in the Country on 8 April the British clubs voted unanimously to accept a deal from Sky TV worth an unbelievable £77 million over five years. The plan included up to 15 clubs merging, summer rugby and a 14 team Premier Division made up of these ‘cloned’ Clubs. The storm that greeted these proposals was perhaps unprecedented in British sport.
Of course, Hull and Rovers were prime candidates for one of these proposed unholy alliance’s but it was never going to happen, as fans across the City threatened to ‘cut their own heads off’ rather than have to support a Club in ‘red and white irregular hoops’. Down the M62 Castleford were told that they would have to amalgamate with Wakefield and open warfare broke out as the good folks of both proud West Riding strongholds of the game, pulled up the ‘Draw Bridges’ and prepared for war. The new Super League would include two French teams, Paris and Toulouse, Saints, Halifax, Wigan, Bradford, London and Leeds plus 6 merged teams. This last assumption was where the problem lay as far as the fans were concerned. The proposed new team of Hull FC and Hull KR was to be known as Humberside, Warrington and Widnes were to become Cheshire, Castleford, Wakefield and Featherstone – Calder, Salford and Oldham – Manchester, Whitehaven, Workington, Barrow and Carlisle- Cumbria and Sheffield and Doncaster – South Yorkshire.
To say that these suggestions proved controversial was an understatement and the announcement was met with supporters’ protests in town centres, at Rugby League Headquarters and even on the pitch during games. The story at the time was that a lot of clubs were dubious about the whole thing but that the game couldn’t survive without the money. At the Boulevard supporters invaded the pitch and a couple of fans scaled the rugby posts to unfurl a ‘No to the merger’ banner which was to re-appear a few years later, in even more dire circumstances. Across the game, over the next few days, the deal began to unravel.
One by one the clubs that had ‘backed’ mergers began to back away from them. However, the ‘troops’ on the terraces were mobilised and never more strongly than in Hull where Hull FC were destined for the Second Division while Hull KR would sink eventually to the Third. On 30 April 1995, almost 100 years since the birth of the game, and under tremendous pressure and outrage from the fans, the merger proposals collapsed. The Rugby League withdrew them and although that wasn’t the last time the idea was raised, at least for now common sense prevailed and we returned to three Divisions. To sweeten the deal and calm things down Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB agreed to a 12 team Super League, instead of the originally proposed 14 team set up, and threw in an extra £10 million to placate the Clubs that missed out.
Looking back, I guess it was all ill-conceived and no one on the terraces at either side of the City of Hull would have countenanced it for one minute. However, that said in hindsight, one or two might have worked. A strong Cumbrian team, (none of the 4 teams in that region were particularly strong at that point) with a guaranteed Super League spot and a bigger pool of players, offered something. Whereas Workington entered Super League, and were relegated in 1996, while ironically Carlisle and Barrow merged anyway in 1997.
In the end however the outcome was a distinct victory for common sense and ‘Supporter Power’. I guess now, looking at some of the teams that survived and their plight in the modern game, a few Clubs’ administrations might wish they had dug their heels in a little more and stuck a little longer with the idea.
Stephen Ball rides into town to ‘rebuild the Boulevard’
Summer rugby was about to go ahead because that’s what Sky TV wanted, but fans of the game in the City of Hull had a problem because as the 1994/95 season ended with us in a relegation position, it was apparent that the new Super League would not contain a Club from the famous east coast Rugby League stronghold. However, in the short term there was still a few months to go until the new ‘Super League’ started the following February. Clubs could not sustain such a long period of inactivity and lack of income, and there were serious concerns that the fans would drift away from the game. It was therefore agreed that a truncated season running from August to December would fill the breach and so Hull FC’s newly appointed Coach Phil Windley set about rebuilding our team to meet that challenge.
Over at Batley the Club Chairman Stephen Ball had certainly made a name for himself in the past two years. He had raised the little West Yorkshire Club from near bankruptcy to being solvent and built a new ground for them in the process. It was therefore a real surprise when Hull FC’s Chairman David Latham announced that Ball had joined Hull to become our Chief Executive, with a mandate to do the same at the Boulevard.
Within weeks he obtained planning permission for a new East Stand to replace the ‘Best Stand’ the only problem being the ability to raise the £2m needed to complete the scheme. In fact, the whole overhaul of the famous old ground was to cost £6m but sadly it was to mean the demolishing of the last remaining quarter of the old Threepenny Stand, which was in any case no longer legal under the Safety at Sports Ground Act. However, there was another short stay of execution for the old structure as a grant application for the £200,000 needed to replace it was considered by the Sports Ground Trust.
In the City of Hull in general, ambition and grandiose schemes were everywhere as the newly formed ‘City Centre Action Group’ announced plans for a Super Tram system, Gondola’s on the River Hull and a Convention Centre on Ferensway. However, their problems were little different to those of the City’s three professional sports Clubs in that, grand though they were, there was simply no money to deliver these schemes, and so one by one, they floundered on the ‘rocks’ of a lack of finance.
The lure of Super League proves too much for some
Sunday 24th September 1995 Hull 56 –Wakefield Trinity 6
Of course, the introduction of the new Super League meant that the player’s agents were all sensing a bit of cash for their protégés and Hull FC, being now in the ‘lower’ Division, were soon struggling to get players to sign new contracts. Mark Jones left for Warrington for a fee of £50,000, whilst Phil Windley, despite bringing in Olympic athletics coach Brad McStravick and taking the team to Aldershot for some ‘Army’ training, was struggling to prepare his depleted forces for the season starting that August. St Helens then lured Busby to the new League, Jon Sharp went to Featherstone and Paul Eastwood who could not agree terms, was released from his contract. It appeared to all us fans that although great for the ‘Big Boys’ the newly introduced format, was seeing all the hard work team building that we had done over the years, come to nought! However, we did at least sign Andy Fisher from Dewsbury and Gary Divorty returned to the Club from Halifax for a fee of £58,000. But we all wondered where the new ‘Super League’ was going to leave the Club we loved.
The most memorable game for me in that strange curtailed and largely forgettable season was one against Wakefield when as usual, out of adversity we produced a brilliant performance that showcased the skills of several FC players, and Phil Windley’s (soon to be questioned) ability as a Coach. I remember Dick Tingle’s headline in the Hull Daily Mail next day stated, “Trinity Cut to Ribbons” and that just about summed it up. Having rattled up 46 points away at Dewsbury in mid-week, in a game I couldn’t get to, Hull took their ‘points for’ tally, beyond 100 in a week, in a game that they totally dominated. Andy Fisher was the star but Gary Divorty and Richard Gay were not far behind as we scored 9 tries and everyone there left the game believing that we were contenders for the new Centenary First Division title.
Music in Hull still prospers even if Rugby doesn’t!
At work there was a lot going on at the City Hall during that strange rugby league autumn of 1995 and live music in the City in general was experiencing a revival. In early October following a massive concert featuring Boyzone, ‘Smokie’ appeared at the venue as part of their National Tour. Previously a tragic accident on the German Autobahn had seen the Tour Bus skid into a Crash Barrier causing the death of singer Alan Barton. I mention this because his replacement at short notice for that tour was Hull born singer Mike Craft. That Concert on 10th October had a very special atmosphere, but the following night there was further indication of just how strong patronage for good music in Hull was, when Squeeze played at the Hall to a full house while at the Tower a return for one night to pop concerts saw Cast entertain 1000 people and new chart entrants, ‘The Lighthouse Family’ played another sell out gig at the Blue Lamp Club in Norfolk Street.
That night I went to the City Hall to ensure that everything was going well before going to ‘Blue Lamp’ to see what all the fuss was about this new Tyne-side duo who had just entered the national music charts at thirty-four, with their first single ‘Ocean Drive’. I went with my pal Gary who had, he said, ‘blagged’ the tickets from a pal, which meant I got in for free, which was nice and it was a great concert as well.
A final farewell to the ‘Threepenny’s’ and the advent of the mysterious ‘Mr Brown’.
Wednesday 14th November 1995 Hull 42-Batley 8
That Wednesday another little bit of history was to unfold at the Boulevard as we all met in ‘The Eagle’ on Anlaby Road, as clutching our special entry tickets, we abandoned our regular spot on our ‘Lucky Step’ on the Airlie Street terracing to go back in time. That night we watched our last ever game from the most famous viewing area in the game of Rugby League. Steven Ball had at last secured the £200,000 needed to demolish what had been our spiritual home for so many years and replace it with an extension to the current structure that ran along the rest of the west side of the Stadium. Ironically in the end the old Stand was not as full as people had expected, as the special entrance tickets appeared to have put some people off, in fact in the end just 2,628 people attended the game which was in essence a wake for the remains of the great old wooden edifice.
Little did anyone know but huddled in a big sheep skin coat in the Best Stand that night, was a certain mysterious Mr. Brown, but more of him later.
The game itself was another easy win for Hull FC, with the one real standout moment for me a brilliant try by Tevita Vaikona. We had made a blistering start and were leading 16-4 when Full Back Richard Gay caught a ball over our try line and ran it out for ten yards before finding Tevita with an inch perfect pass. The Tongan burst down the touchline closely followed by winger Paul Sterling and as the cover came in they interchanged passes in devastating style before Vaikona finished off a 100-yard move with a brilliantly taken try. I also remember that teenage Half Back Chris Kitchen showed some quality finishing with two excellent tries.
This good performance was delivered despite the City being awash with rumours about the tenure of Hull FC Coach Phil Windley, who was doing pretty well in difficult circumstances. There were stories about certain Board members (led it was claimed by Steven Ball) wanting a new ‘high profile’ Coach to make one last effort to get us back into the ‘Big Time’ before the cash ran out altogether. Names that were circulating include Des Hasler and even the return of Garry Kemble but what we didn’t know was that an unknown Australian Coach Phil Sigsworth had travelled to this country at his own expense and was staying in the Royal Hotel under the pseudonym of ‘Mr. Brown’. He had watched the team play that game against Batley and when Phil found out what was happening, he resigned as Coach on 17th November citing that, “I have known for two weeks that the Club has been talking to Australian Coaches behind my back” it was a time of change again at the Club, as Phil Sigsworth was destined to bring some short but much needed success back to the ‘Faithful few’ loyal fans at the Boulevard.
The gloom of Whitehaven, the advent of ‘Tingly Dick’ and the origin of Manda the Panda!
Sunday 14th January 1996 Hull 32-Widnes 24
So, Phil Sigsworth was our new Coach and after he had returned home to sort out his domestic arrangements we were all inquisitive as to what difference he would make to a team that was already playing reasonably well. In his first game in charge we beat Widnes and I remember standing in the Well of the Best Stand that day looking across the pitch to admire the final part of the New Threepenny Stand as it neared completion. I was soon also rejoicing in the fantastic play of Tevita Vaikona and Gary Divorty in a 32-24 defeat of the much-fancied Cheshire outfit.
It was a time of local government reorganisation and pretty tough financially as Humberside County Council which was to disappear from 31st March 1996 and the City had to take over most of the services it provided. For a time even the City Hall was under threat of closure but as the Cultural Services Committee wrestled with the problem, a ‘public outcry’ helped ensure the venue stayed open.
It was always the practise at the end of each campaign for my pals and I to attend the last game, wherever it was played. That year this meant travelling all the way to Whitehaven for the finale of that strange shortened Centenary Division One season. After a five-hour drive to Cumbria the team performed terribly and the only lasting memory was the awful condition of the floodlights at the Recreation Ground and the lads incessantly grumbling in the back seat all the way home.
We had witnessed a dreary 22-14 defeat where the only bright spot was a brilliant performance from Chico Jackson, in a match that was almost indiscernible after half-time because the pitch was lit with an eerie half-light, as the rickety pylons displayed more broken light bulbs than illuminated ones. As the small gathering of 50 or so Hull fans huddled together at the ‘Kells End’ sang, “Put a-n-o-t-h-e-r shilling in the meter” to the tune of “Is this the way to Amarillo”, we took the wrath of a handful of the most inhospitable fans in British Rugby League. Over to our right the new Main Stand that had just been opened boasted 500 gleaming new seats, most of which were empty as both teams finished the season with a whimper rather than a roar and Phil Sigsworth must have wondered just what he had signed up for.
I remember a couple of days later bumping into the Hull FC writer from the Hull Daily Mail Dick Tingle, (who was fast being known by all the Hull FC fans as ‘Tingly’ Dick) and after lamenting a shocking display in the twilight of Cumbria, for some reason the conversation got round to what was behind the introduction of our laughable mascot ‘Manda the Panda’ who like Albert Walker on the tannoy and Graham Holmes our pitch announcer, had become something of an institution at the Boulevard.
Our first real ‘mascot’ was an amazing sight as ‘she’ ran out onto the pitch to bring the sand for kicks or to ‘get the crowd going’ before games. Looking more like a reject from a fancy dress shop than an actual Panda, she was adored by the kids and ridiculed by everyone else. Dick said that as for the ‘the origin of the species’ the original idea of using a Panda was all down to Chief Executive Steven Ball who had a thing about Panda’s and Bears when he was young, (It’s hard to believe I know, but ‘bear’ with me). He apparently had a favourite Panda named Manda that he took everywhere with him, except when ‘Bad’ step-brother, and now esteemed players agent, David Howes threw her downstairs!!
With the season finishing early, we were certainly all a bit disorientated. The players trained on, getting no break at all, because the new Summer Rugby extravaganza was just two months away and as the prospect of inflated full-time contracts unsettled the aspiring players in the lower divisions, the new ‘Super League teams’ were snapping them up. Sky TV and our poor form had seen Hull FC excluded from the top tier of the game and so as fans we stood like school boys with our faces pressed against the sweet shop window of Super League, while the ‘Big Boys’ inside pinched all the jelly babies!
Paris San Germain captained by ex-Hull FC hero Patrick Entat, had been ‘manufactured’ as the token French team and featured in the first televised game that year. In the spirit of the revolution, all the lads came around to Wensley Avenue on 29th March 1996 to watch the first ever game of Super League rugby courtesy of my newly acquired satellite TV set up. The match took place at a very well attended Charlety Stadium in Paris where Paris St Germain beat the Sheffield Eagles 30-24.
In the weeks that followed it became apparent that the majority of that crowd had received free tickets and gates in the French Capital soon fell to well below 10,000.
As ordinary fans who felt aggrieved by our club’s exclusion from the new ‘Elite’ competition, most of that first Super League season passed us by, although I did watch at least one game every weekend on TV. I guess, with Manda in mind, my lasting memory has to be the mascots. Who could ever forget Ronnie the Rhino standing for Parliament and getting 47 votes, and of course the sight of a man dressed in the guise of a meat pie on legs as Wigan’s ‘Pie Man’. He made our Panda seem almost ‘life like’.
After 6 years loyal service our Captain Steve McNamara left for Bradford in search of ‘fame and fortune’ and flying winger Paul Sterling followed him out of the door for Leeds after complaining about the problems he had travelling from his home in the West Riding.
Still Sigsworth signed Aussie forward Dave Moffit, half back Dave Webber and unknown Papua New Guinea centre Marcus Bai who was to go on to have an illustrious career, (not the least at Leeds where years later in Cardiff he was to gift Richard Whiting with what was to be a fundamentally important try in our Club’s history).
For our first game in National League One, we completely demolished Wakefield 52-2 at the Boulevard, on a day that the new extension to the Threepenny Stand was opened and we all stood in there to mark the occasion. A healthy crowd of 3,800 was in attendance and it was Vaikona and Kevin Gray who starred for Hull FC, with the former scoring two ‘scorching’ 80 yard tries.
The Winter Olympics come to East Yorkshire
As I alluded to before on 31st March Humberside County Council disappeared forever when two new unitary authorities, Kingston upon Hull City and the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s were created. For us at the City Hall is was an easy transition but one that was filled with intrigue after our Chief Executive the well-liked Darryl Stephenson, left his role in the Guildhall, to take up a similar position at the new East Riding Council. Still, in Hull we all had the last laugh as on his first day in charge he was the victim of a massive hoax which had the whole region laughing.
An ‘official’ Press Release was issued from County Hall in Beverley that announced that the new Authority had made an audacious bid to host the 2006 Winter Olympics. The ‘authentic’ looking document contained quotes from Darryl Stephenson and the boast that if successful the Games would create 10,000 jobs, ironically just as the demise of Humberside had created 100 redundancies. Mr Stephenson said in the Release that Hornsea Mere would be ideal for speed skating, the Wolds for Ski Slalom and so it went on. One early edition of a local paper got caught out and carried a story entitled “Possible Big Jobs boost for the Region” before the next hastily change it to ‘Red Faced Councillors caught in April Fool’s Day Prank”.
Hull FC merge with Rovers; but only for a meeting!
Every rugby fan in the City had only one word on their lips at that time and it was once again “Mergers”. The new ‘Super League’ was doing quite well as the coverage on Sky TV saw satellite dishes springing up on houses everywhere, but with only 12 teams taking part, there was already a deal of unrest from some Clubs about the lack of income that just 11 home games a season provided. Attendances for teams like Oldham, Sheffield and Workington were really poor and despite a good ‘Hand out’ from the proceeds of the Sky TV deal, several clubs were already starting to struggle to pay their players.
Rumours were rife that there were secret talks going on about co-opting more teams into Super League and about merging some Clubs to produce ‘Hybrid’ outfits to geographically suit the requirements of the top Division. The Hull Kingston Rovers’ fans who were that year watching their team play in the third tier or National League Two, were particularly upset about this rumoured development and even staged a sit in after a game against Swinton in June. Before that, in a move unprecedented in the City, the Rovers’ supporters group invited the Hull fans to join them in a meeting to decide on a joint strategy to stop any such moves.
The gathering took place in the Hull KR Supporters Club on Wednesday 5th June and although none of my pals would join me, it was the one and only time that I have been in there. In fact, about 50 Hull FC fans joined me to brave uncharted territory to attend, and we heard some passionate stuff from fans of both Clubs. I remember Syd Hynes the Chairman of the Rovers Supporters Group addressing the meeting and stating “Make no mistake about it, this merger talk is the work of just three people, Roy Waudby at Hull FC, Phil Lowe at Hull KR, and the Rugby League”.
As a spontaneous burst of applause broke out I found myself cheering along with the rest. We were told (and whether it was true or not it didn’t seem to be of any consequence, once folks ‘got going’) that the Rugby League had offered the two Boards of Directors in Hull £1m to amalgamate and would guarantee that the new team would be fast tracked into the Super league for 1997.
How much of all this was true of course was open to conjecture and we will probably never know, but it seemed to us that the Rugby League had missed the point because few Rovers or Hull FC supporters would be the slightest bit interested in watching an amalgamated team, choosing instead to probably drift away from the game altogether.
However while all this was going on, at the Boulevard, under the stewardship of Phil Sigsworth, we were experiencing a decent season with gates up 20% on the previous year. Chief Executive Steven Ball was doing well too and seemed to be able to raise money from various Charitable and Government sources as we found ourselves, for the first time for years, in a pretty healthy situation both on and off the field. This development was probably instrumental in the Hull Board eventually coming out and publicly discounting the ‘proposed’ merger and so the ‘No to the Merger’ banners were put away, our beloved Club had its autonomy intact and we were safe….for now.
Back to Featherstone, where ‘Irish eyes were smiling’
Sunday 9th June 1996 Hull 22- Featherstone 20
In a month when I went to the Odeon to see the premier of ‘Independence Day’ to marvel at the way that Bill Murray beat the aliens on his own, Hull FC were again concerned about the condition of the playing surface at the Boulevard. The dry summer had baked it hard and it was badly worn in the centre area. Ever resourceful, Steven Ball raised the finance to install a state of the art irrigation system which included a futuristic looking water tank at the Gordon Street end of the Stadium. This construction, I concluded, looked from a distance like one of the alien space craft from the film had actually landed on the South Terracing!
So it was back to Featherstone again as we travelled early to sample the excellent hospitality of the Supporters’ Club and although the age old practise of covering the Pool table and having a performance from a couple of strippers, had now passed into the mists of time, we had a great afternoon with the home fans who always made us really welcome.
I enjoyed the first half of the game from the open terrace at the South end of the ground, with the usual array of locals watching from their bedroom windows or from the tops of their loft extensions on the row of terraced houses behind me. Featherstone was one place behind us in the table at 5th but we had won our last five games and had annihilated Batley the previous week at the Boulevard 68-12, so we were hopeful of an upset. Featherstone ran out, bizarrely, to soccer anthem ‘Three Lions’ the current Number One in the charts, and they were certainly fired up. They drew first blood after just 10 minutes when Darren Hughes sent Steve Molloy over and this effort fired the home fans into some chanting although at least half of the meagre 1800 crowd had made the journey from Hull. With Molloy and Derek Fox running the game for the ‘Colliers’, only some resolute defence from Chico Jackson and Andy Fisher kept the home team at bay.
Then a sweeping move down the field saw Chico Jackson pass to Tevita Vaikona who brilliantly beat Owen Simpson to motor into the open and ex Featherstone favourite Fisher took his perfectly weighted pass to steam over the line for our opening score. Under 21 International scrum-half Mark Hewitt at hooker tagged on the points and we were level.
Just 4 minutes later after Dave Webber had been tackled 20 yards out, it was Chico Jackson who ran into acting half back and brushing would be tacklers Gibson, Pearson and Summers aside, to score in spectacular fashion. Hewitt then landed a difficult penalty from wide out on the left and despite Pearson reducing the deficit with another penalty for the home side, we went in at the break leading 14-8.
At half time most of the Hull fans changed ends to stand in front of the score board and as was expected Featherstone came out all guns blazing. Hull were struggling to hold the big Featherstone front row of Malloy, Roebuck and Tuffs and it took a last ditch high tackle from our full back Peter Fitzgerald, to stop Eddie Rombo going in at the corner. Pearson converted a penalty and after a great downfield move by the Featherstone backs, Fox touched down and after 60 minutes we trailed again, 16-14.
Hewitt levelled with a penalty when referee Mr Taberne decided that Fox had strayed off side in the defensive line, but then disaster struck as the official Mr Taberne sent Hewitt to the sin bin after he held Summers down in a tackle near our line. While he was off the field Featherstone capitalised on their extra man advantage and Molloy stormed in after a long spell of pressure to make it 20-16. At that point our forwards were performing heroics in defence and in one five minute spell ‘Irish’ Dave Moffat (who held an Irish passport) pulled off nine tackles which was pretty amazing for a second rower.
Tackling everything that moved, he and Jon Aston kept us in the game in that torrid spell, but then as Hewitt returned with 9 minutes to go we managed to wrestle our way back into the game. Chico Jackson almost got over and Marcus Bai was forced into touch inches from the line. It was a bit of magic from Gary Divorty that found the home defence tired and flat footed. He stepped outside two players and finding Moffat with a smart pass back inside which left the big forward a clear 10-yard run to the line. With a Hewitt goal we took a 22-20 lead which we clung onto, to record a great victory.
It was a victory that registered Featherstone’s first home defeat of the season and brought Moffat his third consecutive ‘Players player of the Match’ award, although Chico Jackson must have pushed him close that day. Mark Hewitt did well that afternoon too and didn’t miss a single kick at goal.
98 points at Spotland and no Mr Patel
Sunday 4th August 1996 Hull 58-Rochdale 40
As a good season continued, there was certainly no problem with us scoring points and at Spotland we beat Rochdale in a 98 point thriller in which, if I remember correctly, Glen Liddiard, who was on a short 5 match contract, scored 4 tries. Rochdale, stalwarts of the Rugby League were struggling financially, gates were on the slide and that day the Hull supporters outnumbered the home fans around 3 to one. After my past exploits with the pies, I both stayed well clear of having anything to eat or drink while in the ground. That said there was no sign of Mr Patel’s Pies and it did cross my mind that the great reduction in the number of home fans over the past couple of years could well have been down to him!
Why we all owed a lot to the Keighley Cougars
Sunday 1st September 1996 Hull 28-Keithley 41
In the end we finished fourth that season and as was tradition we went to the last game, a hard fought play-off match at Keighley. The little West Riding Club, whose stadium nestles in the foothills of the Pennines and overlooks Ilkley Moor, were in crisis, although a year earlier they had been on the brink of Super League. Then, as the infamous ‘Cougar Mania’ swept the town, the little club had harboured big ambitions. They invested in good players, played an expansive exciting style of rugby and their crowds had increased from an abysmal 350 in 1989, to an average of over 4,000 in 1995, which was not bad for a town with a population of only 67,000.
The Cougars had developed their stadium in Lawkholme Lane, built a new club-house and appointed a new coach, ex Great Britain supremo Phil Larder. They even changed the name of the Ground to Cougar Park as the team went full-time in 1994. All this effort led to Keighley winning the Second Division Championship in 1995 and therefore presumably promotion, however, when Super League was created for the following 1996 ‘summer’ season, Keighley were not included. The disappointment of being denied promotion cost the Club both fans and sponsors. They took out an injunction to try to stop the new competition kicking off and only withdrew their legal threat when Super League released more money for all the lower division clubs. That was money without which many would have gone to the wall so, despite their personal disappointment, in the end all those in the lower divisions that survive to this day, owe a lot to the stand that the Cougars made in 1996.
We lost that game in the play-offs 41-28, despite a big fight back by Hull in the second-half, however what I remember most was a safety barrier collapsing in front of us which saw us all fall forward with some fans spilling onto the pitch. It followed Keithley scoring from a blatant double movement, just after they had been awarded another try after what appeared to all of us to be a ‘dodgy’ forward pass. In anger at the decision the Hull crowd surged forward and the wooden advertising hoardings gave way, resulting in a broken leg, a few arrests and a brief pause in proceedings while order was restored.
I think also at that point, an amateur photographer who was taking pictures of the Hull fans on the field, was chased by one FC supporter who caught him in the in goal area, grabbed his camera and stamped on it just under the posts. He was the only Hull fan that was arrested that day, although a few were pretty dazed and confused. It was a serious incident which was investigated by the West Yorkshire Police and their findings led to the already struggling Cougars having to find another £30,000 to replace barriers right around the perimeter of the Stadium.
So, the season ended with Phil Sigsworth heading back home ‘Down Under’ for a break before bringing the team back for training in November, in preparation for what was destined to be an exciting and rewarding season. Tevita Vaikona who was becoming a much-coveted player was our top try scorer that year with 15 and Mark Hewitt was top points scorer with 152, thanks mainly to an 82% success rate with his kicking.
Over at Boothferry Park it seemed the ‘Fan power’ that both the Hull Rugby League Clubs had used with such success to avert the dreaded merger was catching on as on 5th October after an embarrassing 2-0 defeat by local rivals Scunthorpe, a mass sit in was staged by fans demanding the resignation of Chairman Martin Fish and Coach Terry Dolan.
Sigsworth does his homework
Sunday 9th February 1997 Hull 16- Huddersfield 16
In the Eagle at the corner of Coltman Street, which had now become our regular ‘watering hole’ before games, we were all Phil Sigsworth fans and our Coach had left nothing to chance as far as our bid to get up into Super League was concerned. It was of course too early to tell whether we would be successful, but there was little doubt that the new Premier Division needed us if only because we were a rare commodity in those days; a team that could regularly take in excess of 2000 fans to away games. Super League was certainly meeting the requirements of Sky TV, but the change to summer hadn’t suited all the fans and many clubs struggled to get comparable attendances and there was already stories circulating about teams in Super League being in dire financial straits, mainly because of the pressures of sustaining a full-time squad of players.
At our regular ‘meetings’ in the Eagle we all felt that the signings Phil had made prior to the season were good. We now had a full ‘quota’ of 6 overseas players which was made up of Tevita Vaikona plus new imports Liddiard, Boyd, Lester, Wheeler and Holmes. However, there were certainly mixed feelings amongst the fans when the Board of Directors announced that the Club, in an effort to be fully prepared for Super League, would change their name to the Hull Sharks. Luckily, at least for that season, all the Club strips and leisure wear (in traditional hoops), had been on sale for a while so it was a just a change in name; the ‘fancy dress’ shirts and ‘cringeworthy’ mascots, were yet to following.
The season started with an easy Challenge Cup victory over Castleford amateur’s Lock Lane and then we were drawn in a difficult looking game at Huddersfield. I travelled by train that day and after a few beers at the George Hotel I enjoyed a hard-fought Cup-tie in which it looked like we would be defeated before just on the hooter, a late try by new stand-off Gary Lester saw us secure a draw. We won the replay and then travelled to St Helens for an almighty drubbing by the Super League Club, 54-8. Almost 3000 of us made the trek to Lancashire and although we were well beaten no one could question the team spirit that Phil Sigsworth had engendered, particularly when it became apparent that to ensure they were properly prepared the whole squad stayed overnight in Manchester, the night before the game; at their own expense!!
We opened our League campaign with a home win over Swinton in front of 3,300 fans, Chico Jackson shone that day and scored two great tries, whilst Tevita Vaikona who was now a real hero, had another superb game, something that prompted our Board to issue a ‘Hands Off’ warning to Leeds, who were believed to be interested in obtaining his services. We beat Keighley in our next game which saw Hull already sitting at the top of the League. I also remember that around that time Sigsworth’s wife Julie was providing ‘Friday pasta nights’ in the Club offices for the players as they watched videos of that weekend’s opposition. Although prospects were good at the Boulevard, in general sport was poorly attended in the City with the total combined average attendance at Hull FC, Hull KR and City fewer than 10,000.
A Philanthropist appears……and that’s the start of the trouble!
Saturday 16th March 1997 Hull 54- Widnes 6
Next we absolutely annihilated Widnes at the Boulevard but all the talk in the Eagle and on the terraces that day was not so much about the game, but more about an article that had appeared in the Hull Daily Mail the previous day. Rumours had been circulating for a couple of weeks concerning a ‘secret’ benefactor being about to offer to finance the Club although there were always rumours of course, this was Hull, but this time the Hull Daily Mail announced that it believed the person involved was Tim Wilby the ex FC player, who was reported to now be a businessman of some repute in London. The reality was that he was actually a caretaker of a block of flats in Lewisham, but unfortunately that information was not to become apparent for at least another year.
The article indicated that Wilby was to put £300,000 into the Club and to become senior shareholder and Chairman. The man himself was even reported to have watched the Widnes game in the midst of the Hull fans in the Threepenny Stand, but whether that is true or not, we will probably never know. By Tuesday that week the appointment of Wilby and the injection of his money into the Club was confirmed and everyone including the players, the current Board and Phil Sigsworth hailed it as ‘The last piece of the jigsaw’ as far as promotion to Super League was concerned. All we now had to do was win our matches. It wasn’t exciting times everywhere however, as at Hull KR they were struggling in the hands of the Official Receiver and at Boothferry Park, Hull City was facing a winding up order in the High Court. Hull FC was however going from strength to strength at the hands of a potential ‘Messiah’, although history was to prove that I should perhaps use those words reservedly!
“Boxing Show Ends in Punch Up”………Hull Daily Mail
So read the headline in the Hull Daily Mail after a night of mayhem at Grange Park Hotel in Willerby. That Thursday I had dug out my dinner jacket and patent leather shoes to attend an amateur boxing evening as guest of a local engineering firm. From our ring-side table we certainly had a great view of an event that featured boxers from the Kingston Amateur Boxing Club and as the beer was free on our table that night, I certainly had a few! As the fights unfolded there was some great boxing on view, one in particular was a really ‘brutal’ affair, after which a lad was led from the ring blood streaming from his nose.
The guy I was sat with commented, “It’s a lot safer sat out here with a pint and a steak, rather than in there with a bloody nose ” but how wrong he was about to be proved!
I noticed that at the back of the room family, friends and supporters of the boxers had been allowed to attend in an area separate from the diners. On the next table were a few representatives from Hull City who sponsored the event and the senior officials of the Kingston Club. All was going well until just after the 8th bout when all hell broke loose.
I had just started on a third bottle of wine when the trouble began quite innocently. A guy on the Hull City table who had obviously had even more to drink than we had, offered a teenager (who had wondered down from the ‘public’ area at the back), £5 to pull down the shorts of the young lady who was carrying the ‘Round Boards’ around the ring. To howls of laughter he obliged, but when he demanded his £5 the guy who had made the bet refused to hand it over. A heated argument ensued between the two, which saw Geoff, the Secretary of Kingston Boxing Club, move in quickly and ask the youth to leave.
Then as if from nowhere, a man ran from the back of the room and punched Geoff on the jaw, in waded Reg Lewis the President of North-Eastern Counties Amateur Boxing to try and stop the melee, as another five or six men ran from the back of the room to join in. As shouts for the Police to be called rang out and I sank onto the floor and under the table to drink my wine in safety, bottles flew across the room and glasses crashed on the table above us. Around us it was like the final scene from ‘Blazing Saddles’ as dinner jacketed guests rolled around the floor, wrestling with guys in jeans. The Tournament was abandoned, four men and a youth of 15 were arrested and Reg was admitted to hospital with a broken nose. Geoff followed him in the next ambulance, suffering from a dislocated jaw and as we left, the place resembled a ‘Wild West’ bar-room with broken furniture everywhere and shattered glass crunching under our feet.
It was, looking back, an experience not to be forgotten and a night when you were probably safer in the Boxing Ring, than you were in the audience.
The first sign of trouble, but we’re blinded by success.
Friday 28th March 1997 Hull 18-Hull KR 14
As March progressed our new Chairman started to exert his authority and we were all impressed when Wilby brought in Andy Ireland and Jason Donaghue from Super League Club Bradford Bulls, action that was followed by the appointment of Peter Walsh as Team Manager, something that Sigsworth certainly welcomed at the time. Phil said, “I know Peter well and I certainly need some help and he has an impressive track record”. It transpired in the end, that few people actually knew Walsh or indeed Wilby very well at all.
I suppose we should have wondered a bit really when as Hull City faced a £240,000 winding up order from the Inland Revenue, Wilby commented that he might be able to ‘Bail them out’ in exchange for them agreeing to play in a new Super Stadium he had planned for both Clubs. It was a strange comment for someone so new to the managerial game, but as fans we just glossed over it as we continued on through the season with a draw at Whitehaven and a good win against Hull KR in the first Derby of the year at the Boulevard.
That game on Good Friday was watched by a superb gate of over 12,000 and the kick-off had to be delayed whilst everyone got into the ground. It was so busy that I only managed to get in thanks to Club Director, Brian Tindall who had been pressed into action as a temporary turnstile operator. The game itself was a strange affair really as Hull completely out-played the Rovers to shoot into a 18-0 half time lead. However, in the second half Hull KR wrestled their way back into the game and in the end we were pleased to come out 18-14 winners as we held on to get the two points. As we left the Boulevard that day, some ‘Robins’ fans had daubed Graffiti all over the wall of the Supporters Club and the legend of ‘FC are Shight’ said a lot, we all thought, for educational standards over in East Hull.
The first signs that perhaps the Walsh/Sigsworth alliance was not working too well became apparent in early April, when despite us still being unbeaten, Wilby announced a ‘Vote of Confidence’ in our Coach saying his position was safe, but that it would be reviewed at the end of the season. There were rumours of a rift in the Boardroom, (as Peter Tonks came in as Chief Executive to replace the departed Steven Ball) and of a secret financial backer supplying Wilby with the wherewithal to run the Club. Still as I said earlier, success on the field covers a multitude of intrigue off it, and as fans we were just enjoying a great season where we appeared to be sweeping all before us.
Graham Hallas arrived at the Club from Halifax while Peter Walsh was now being talked about as Coaching Co-ordinator. Still, it appeared that an increase in gates of over 1000 on the previous year was impacting on sales in the Club shop.
Frank Killeen ex local Ice Hockey player and now Commercial Manager reported that we had sold over 4000 shirts that year, as opposed to the previous season’s 500 and this success and Mr Killeen’s friendship with Princes Quay Manager Mike Killoran, prompted the Club to re-open a City Centre retail unit in that shopping centre. At that time promotion looked a distinct possibility and business was booming.
A monument to ‘Ronno’
After several delays the City Council started work on the Mick Ronson Stage on Queens Gardens with a low-key ceremony as Maggie, the guitarist’s sister, ceremoniously cut the first piece of turf. She had worked tirelessly for 3 years to ensure that the memory of her beloved brother would never fade and we all agreed that a stage would be a more appropriate solution when compared to a statue. In hindsight the way that the Council has let it fall into disuse since then, dictates that perhaps a statue might have at least survived. The idea was to provide a stage in Mick’s memory augmented with some changing rooms and a small Cafe to the rear. The total cost of the structure was around £30,000 which had been raised at the Concert at Hammersmith, from the proceeds of a live album of that event and a big donation from the Japanese group who Mick had produced, Yellow Monkey.
Tevita hypnotises the Robins!
Sunday 8th June 1997 Hull Sharks 32-Hull KR 25
That season had many highlights, none probably more significant than the 40 tries Tevita Vaikona scored in 32 games! This statistic meant that the centre was second only for the Club to Jack Harrison’s who had scored 52 tries some 82 years earlier. In fact, in one seven match period Tevita scored 16 touch downs. It was a tremendous record and one that was to get him the title of Division One Player of the Year.
As the season continued Hull had a difficult looking game at New Craven Park against Rovers in early June where the home side were in disarray and their desperate financial position was fuelling more rumours of a merger. Of course, on the terraces we were all making our feelings on the subject very clear and anyway we were going well, undefeated in 15 games, with only a draw tainting an unblemished record. We didn’t need a merger!
There already appeared to only be two teams (Hull and Huddersfield) in line for the title, but Hull KR always proved hard opposition in Derby games. With a normal attendance of around 1000 for home games, the little ground was rocking as almost 6000 people packing the place as the Hull fans completely took over the East Stand. It was to be a memorable match and well before the end the chants of “‘O Aah Vaikona, I said O Aah Vaikona” were ringing round the ground and could probably be heard in Withernsea!
Rovers opened up in whirlwind style and were unrecognisable from what Dick Tingle described next day in the newspaper as the “Rag bag outfit of the previous week”. They shot into a 7-2 lead and had us on the back foot before over confidence and a couple of silly penalties saw the Sharks storm back. In the 17th minute Hull KR’s Stanley Gene was in two minds whether to end a set with a deep kick or a short grubber and in the end he managed neither as a sloppy punt was easily picked up by our full back Steve Holmes. He made ground down field to our 30-yard line, before releasing Tevita who ran a full 70 yards crashing straight through a tackle by Rovers full back Bob Everitt as if he wasn’t there. Holmes converted but Rovers charged back from the kick off and within 6 minutes they carved out a golden opportunity. Ex Hull player Rob Wilson hurtled towards our line and looked to be over but the forward was stopped in his tracks by an amazing last-ditch tackle by Vaikona and the chance was lost.
Within a minute the Sharks were back as Fisher dummied twice to beat the cover and put Garry Lester in under the posts and four minutes later we were on the scoreboard again this time Fisher swung out a great pass to Vaikona who crashed over the line again, this time wide out on the right. Then just as we grabbed the initiative the Sharks dropped a couple of balls and Rovers hit back through Wilson. As the second half started another lucky effort when the home side seemed to lose the ball over the line brought Hull KR right back into the game. In the 59th minute it got worse as a mix up in our defence released Bob Everitt who shot in under the posts and after he converted his own try and a drop goal was scored, the scores were reversed with the Rovers leading 21-20.
However, Holmes completely out foxed the Rovers cover with a short kick which he collected to score a simple try on 68 minutes and the conversion put us back in front 26-21. Then in the 77th minute, Stanley Gene seemed to have won the game for the Robins. He set off on a 70-yard run which saw him round Holmes and beat the oncoming cover by arcing out towards the touchline to score. Just one point behind and with the conversion to come we all held our breath as Everitt’s kick just slid to the left of the post, but we need not have worried, for it was the Sharks who were to have the last word.
Deep into injury time, with Hull KR desperately trying to get the ball back Peter Wheeler made a great break out from our own half. He ran downfield with all the Rovers cover chasing him before passing onto Holmes who produced a sweet inside pass which Vaikona gleefully took as he strode in for the clinching try. The Rovers fans protested that Wheeler had been tackled and that the last pass had been forward, but to no avail.
Like all good teams we’d taken our chances when it mattered and we remained on the EastStand singing and dancing long after the Rovers fans had gone home. They had been outplayed on the field and out sung off it.The Hull fans had been amazing that day andgoaded the Robins who had recently won the Rugby League Plate Trophy at Wembley, by waving paper plates at them all afternoon.
Shortly afterwards Jim Leatham signed from Leeds and we also signed local 16-year-old, Paul Cooke on a two-year deal. Mark Hewitt was, I remember, making a big name for himself as one of the game’s most accurate goal kickers and probably prompted by these claims Wally Simpson promoted the Simpsons Seafood’s Goal Kicking Challenge at half time in the Dewsbury Rams on Friday 13th June at the Boulevard. In this former FC favourite and now Bradford Bull star Steve McNamara, top Aussie kicker Ryan Girdler from Penrith and top amateur marksman Dave Roe from West Hull joined Mark in the contest.
Each player had three kicks from the touchline in front of the Threepenny Stand and the only one to kick all three was Hewitt who was crowned the winner and received a cheque for £100. However, it was disputable whether it was Mark, or the baiting of the other kickers by the lads on the Threepenny Stand that won the day. McNamara in particular got a real lambasting from the fans which led to him slicing one attempt yards wide. Girdler, on the other hand, simply looked bemused by all the abuse he was getting. But success and then desperate times, were just around the corner
To be continued ……..
So, there we are and can you believe that its 18 weeks since we started this journey through the books? Hopefully we will get through the second one before the Diary returns to something like its old format in a couple of weeks’ time, to coincide with our first game back against Salford. If not, then I’ll put out a separate edition of the Diary to finish it off.
One things for sure, I’m going to enjoy watching some live rugby again even though it will be in the sanitised conditions in which it will be broadcast.
Thanks for sticking with me for another week and for your kind comments about the continuing saga of an FC fanatic. I’ve done my best over this period to keep going and I’m just looking forward, as I’m sure you all are, to a bit of normality (whatever that is) returning. Well done and good luck to Adam, Clarky and everyone who is battling to keep our club going and …..
Stay safe, keep believing and I’ll see you all again next week.