Well we are almost there at the ‘Big’ kick-off and things still seem to be anything but clear. At least the game is facilitating a way by which all season ticket holders across the game can watch all the action, through a live stream, but it’s going to be a strange old carry on, although the lack of relegation at least means we can all sit back and enjoy some rugby and do it largely stress free. It’s certainly a big few weeks for Andy l
Last and I wish him well. It must be hard for him having been Radford’s assistant and although the players are making all the right noises, it will be interesting to see if they can deliver for him.
The Challenge Cup draw was a strange old carry on as well wasn’t it? Still it is what it is and we have to fit in another game against Castleford, probably mid-week, so who knows what will happen there.
During lockdown, about 500 of you have followed the books right through the last 19 weeks as I have serialised them here and I have to admit to enjoy reading a bit about our past myself now I’m not so close to writing it all anymore. There’s just this week and another edition, to finish up the story with that wonderful day in Cardiff in 2005.
To ensure its out of the way, you get a chance to finish the story and so that I can start the old-style Diary again next week after our first game, I’ll slip an extra edition in this Wednesday or Thursday to finish the second book off. Thanks for all your support with this as over the last 20 odd weeks it’s been tough going for us all and I hope that in reading it you at least found something to enjoy.
Before we get going again a big good luck this week to regular reader Brain Chapman over in Spain. Brian has been a reader from the start of the Diary and is at present doing it tough after a recent operation and good luck to him in his forthcoming Wedding as well. So, onto episode 19 of the story of this ordinary fan and his life supporting the club he loves.
684 The Dentists Diary
Selling 700 shirts in two hours!
The fact that we had survived a season in the Super League and that Hull KR were continuing to struggle across the River made for a Happy Christmas that year. David Lloyd was keeping a low profile and Chief Executive Brian Callum and newly ‘reinstated’ Chairman, David Kirkwood, seemed to be able to secure the cash needed to make signings. The team looked a lot stronger than the one that had finished the 1998 campaign, conceding almost 180 points in the last 6 games and our faith in what was happening at the Boulevard was further consolidated when it was reported that we had turned down a £30,000 bid for winger David Baildon.
On Tuesday 15th December, I left the Guildhall at lunchtime to attend the Princes Quay Shopping Centre where Hull FC launched their new kit. It had been designed by a fan through a competition in the local newspaper. It was great to see about 1000 supporters crammed into the Central Atrium and I watched with Chris Davidson and Alan McGlone, two of the Club’s heroes from the 60’s and 70’s. Everyone was delighted to welcome the return of the irregular hoops and a shirt that sported the logo of JWE who had paid, we were told, a record amount for the sponsorship. Vince Groak from our seminal fanzine ‘In Any Kinda Weather’ who was stood near us commented, “At last we look like Hull FC again” and he was right!
The players, wearing the new strip, descended the escalators to a resounding cheer that broke into a hearty chorus of ‘Old Faithful’ and within two hours the initial supply of 700 shirts had sold out. When you add to that, the fact that the Club were selling around £5000 worth of season tickets a day, it was easy to see how I and many fans thought we had at last turned the corner and perhaps better times were on the way.
Hull 700; Celebrating the Past, Pioneering the Future
Friday 5th March 1999 Hull Sharks 6-Wigan Warriors 56
Throughout these ramblings I have tried to reflect my career at Hull City Council. This had started with my recruitment as an apprentice gardener and more by good luck than good management I was now in the heady position of Head of Entertainment, Events, Design and Marketing. Quite how I got there is anyone’s guess, including mine. As the City prepared to Celebrate the 700th anniversary of the granting of the Royal Charter that had added the ‘Kingston upon’ into the City’s title, I was tasked with my biggest challenge so far by the Leader of the Council, Pat Doyle, to head up the celebrations and provide events to compliment the landmark year.
We put together a steering group that included the Bishop of Hull, various local industrialists, the Editor of the Hull Daily Mail and the President of the Chamber of Trade and despite a limited budget we promoted around 100 events throughout the year. With two Royal visits, an open air lecture by Desmond TuTu, and historical re-enactments, it was certainly my biggest test so far and the fact that I was only able to employ one additional member of staff, meant that I needed to inspire and motivate the rest of the local authority and the people of the City to do the rest. If ever my love of Hull FC was put on ‘the back burner’, this was that time and the pressure of delivering the festivities meant that I missed one home game and seven away fixtures that season which proved in the end, to be a blessed relief.
New Season and a new hope, (there’s nothing new there then!)
Sunday 17th January 1999 Hull Sharks 20-York Wasps 20
It was certainly a seminal year in my career however I make no excuse in the next few dozen pages, for relating in detail what was a historic and almost catastrophic year for Hull FC. It all started so hopefully only to end with my beloved Club peering over the abyss at extinction.
There was certainly no shortage of supporters attending the Boulevard on 17th January, when we faced York in our first pre-season game. However, despite a plethora of new names and a deal of hype around the place, we could only draw 20-20 with the team from the bottom division and that only after being rescued by a stunning performance in the snow, from Chico Jackson, who was now in fact a part-time player.
I remember that day thinking that the players looked over-weight and under skilled, as they did a week later, when we were beaten at home on a frozen pitch by lowly Dewsbury, 14-10. It was pretty chaotic off the field as well and a pre-season ‘Bonding’ trip to Majorca had to be cancelled when Peter Walsh couldn’t get his passport back from Immigration. Already the hope and hype of pre-season was draining away and it was business as usual at the Boulevard.
As we signed Martin Hall, the Wigan hooker on a two-year deal and the much travelled Simon Cawkhill took over as our Commercial Manager, things were already falling apart and a third ‘Friendly’ saw another defeat, this time at Sheffield Eagles. However, 28th March 1999 was a significant day for our Club which went by almost un-noticed, as at the Guildhall the first meeting of the Super Stadium Project Board took place to make the first tentative steps toward the City building its own Sports Stadium. The group included Ian Blakey as Chairman, Pat Doyle, former local Olympian Pam Piercy, Hull FC Chief Executive Brian Callum, City Chairman Tom Belton and my boss John North, Head of Industrial Development at the Authority. It was certainly a weighty body that was some four years later, to deliver a dream.
Meanwhile the Sharks first League outing saw a real drubbing at Wigan when the home side scored 11 tries as after a bright first ten minutes, we fell apart. The patience of the loyal travelling supporters, who had made the trek to the JJB Stadium was severely strained and next day, following their protestations and booing at the end of the game, the Hull Daily Mail headline read “Hull Fans are Insane”. This was a quote of what Hull Coach Peter Walsh had said at the post match press conference and it whipped up such a storm amongst the fans that he had to publicly apologise about it later in the week.
Still, Hull 700 was going well as we hosted ‘Question Time’ at the City Hall and welcomed The Duke of York to the City on Charter Day, 1st April. His was a flying visit and but after attending a packed ‘Charter Service’ at Holy Trinity Church he spent time talking to the thousand or so residents that had gathered in the Market Place outside the Church to listen to a relay of the service.
“Down with your Trawlers”. Is there any wonder ‘We all hate Leeds!
Friday 16th April 1999 Hull Sharks 18-Leeds Rhinos 22
At the start of that 1999 season Hull Sharks went 12 games in all competitions without a win. In fairness at times we did play some good rugby and several games were settled by narrow margins. We lost 8-3 to the Bradford Bulls at home, 12-10 to the London Broncos away and then 23-21 to the Sheffield Eagles at the Boulevard, in a Rob Roberts inspired performance where we were really unlucky. There was an occurrence of note at half time in that London Bronco’s game on Friday 2nd April 1999, when a couple of young players were signed to great ceremony on the pitch, one of them a 15-year old half back from Myton Warriors called Kirk Yeaman, was destined to become a real hero in future years. Next we went to Headingley on 16th April where Leeds narrowly defeated us in a great game that I watched from the South Stand and where I witnessed youngster Richard Horne making his debut at full back. Aged 16, Richard, for whom Hull had just turned down a Wigan bid of £25,000, was the youngest ever player to make his debut for the Club.
Two other youngsters Craig Poucher and Richard Fletcher also made their debuts that day in a fine ‘backs to the wall’ defensive performance. It was a sizzling game, played in front of a thrillingly rowdy crowd, in a Stadium where the excitable, razzamatazz of the ‘Sky’ machine had already been a recurring theme for several years.
However, the over exuberant home fans certainly disgraced themselves when they started singing “Down with your Trawlers, you’re going down with your trawlers” on what was the day after the latest report on the ‘Gaul’ tragedy was published. This action prompted several comments in the national press next day and letters to the Hull Daily Mail. There was a deal of self-control from us Sharks’ fans that day and there is little doubt as to why over the years since then much animosity has prevailed between the two Clubs. However, in the end we were still defeated, Leeds got the two points and Hull Sharks remained rooted to the foot of the Super League table.
Things just get worse………..and the tennis balls are back!
Then David Lloyd, who had been quiet for a while, again became the centre of attention as rumours swept the City that he was about to put Hull FC into administration and/or sell it to South Yorkshire businessman David Caddick. When chased about this by Dick Tingle of the Hull Daily Mail, Lloyd was (as usual) not available for comment, whilst Chief Executive Bryan Callum said antagonistically, “I speak to David Lloyd every day and I know nothing about this at all. Who do you think is buying Hull FC, Alice in Wonderland?” They were certainly tough times for us committed fans and one thing was for certain; things were getting ‘curiouser and curiouser’.
The month ended with local Chris De Burgh impersonator Ian Moore winning the popular TV show ‘Stars in Their Eyes’, Hull FC bottom of Super League, the Tennis balls reining onto the pitch in protest everywhere we played and Coach Peter Walsh animating what everyone else was thinking by declaring “My job is on the line”. Despite Hull 700 providing a massive year of celebration in the City of Kingston upon Hull, at the Boulevard Hull FC was in utter turmoil. Even the mascot ‘Sharkey’ was in dispute with the Club, being sacked and then mysteriously re-instated a week later and the only thing that was consistent at our beloved Club was the fact that we always lost!
Injuries didn’t help either with Steven Holgate out for the season there was little hope of recent casualties Martin Hall or Matt Calland getting back for months either. Still as always we fans were driven on by our unrequited love for our team, although that was something that seemed to have been lost completely on our owner. A predictable home defeat to Saints, which was marked by Paul Cooke’s debut and a Man of the Match performance by Paul King followed and then amidst rumours that David Lloyd had said that, should we be defeated at fellow strugglers Wakefield, then Peter Walsh would go, The Sharks actually managed to get their first two points in the 1999 competition. We all travelled to the game expecting to see the back of our Coach and instead witnessed a scappy 29-22 victory of which I have few memories besides the incessant singing of the Hull contingent in the crowd. As it meant that our Coach kept his job I guess I have to admit to being disappointed to win that day, however it was a short rest bite because having gone 12 games without a win we were destined to struggle through another 10 before we saw another victory.
By mid-May, after another defeat this time at Gateshead Thunder, Bryan Calum was appealing for the players to play for the Coach because, “His very existence at the Club depended on it”. However, despite the players coming out with a vote of confidence in Walsh, (could things get any weirder?) the following week we were defeated by Castleford at home in front of just 4,500 fans. Even Steve Roberts and the guys at our Fanzine ‘In Any Kinda Weather’, who had supported Peter Walsh, turned on him and declared that it was time for a change and headlines like “Shambolic Sharks” in the Daily Mirror, at last prompted Calum to suspend Walsh. Sadly, as one fan commented to me, “ ….just from the Club rather than the rafters of the Stand!”
It transpired that amazingly our Coach had no written deal with the Club and was working under a verbal contract he had made with David Lloyd. As Sam Goldwyn’s famous quote that, “A verbal contract is not worth the paper it isn’t written on” came to mind, Walsh was sacked that Wednesday. We had a single victory to our name, gates dipped below 4000 and all hope of anything but relegation into the lower Division had long since disappeared. The names of several potential Coaches like Neil Kelly at Dewsbury and Lee Crooks (who had publicly pleaded to be given a chance), were touted around by the fans, but possibly because of diminishing resources the Club swiftly installed second team Coach and ex Hull KR supremo Steve Crooks in a ‘Caretaker’ capacity. Although he faced a daunting task, it was to prove an inspired appointment. Bryan Calum had obviously had enough by this time and walked out of the Club, to be replaced as Chief Executive by Brian Johnson.
While all this was going on, David Lloyd who still owned Boothferry Park as well as the Boulevard, refused, in a very public argument, to sell the football Ground to the new City owners Nick Buchanan and Stephen Hinchcliffe. Instead he insisted on only working with ex City Chairman Tom Belton who the two afore mentioned City Directors had just sacked. At the Council we knew that Lloyd’s master plan was to try and buy New Craven Park from a beleaguered Hull KR, sell all three grounds to firstly pay off his debts and to then try and build a new Super Stadium to house all three teams with what was left.
To cut costs Steve Crooks immediately released injured players Hall and Calland and in a game against Salford at the end of May he played two Hull youngsters Paul Cooke and Richard Horne together at half back for the first time. Meanwhile at the City Council I was now attending the Stadium Project Board who were appointing project consultants to look at potential sites for a Council owned Stadium, but capital support was always the issues when critically, on 3rd June Kingston Communications the City’s own Telephone Company that was part owned by the Council, was floated on the stock exchange.
Probably one of the biggest days in the history of Kingston upon Hull
In a career at the City Council that spanned 37 years there is little doubt about the one day that I will always remember as being, I guess, the pinnacle of my career. 1999 was, as I said before, the year that I headed up the City’s Hull 700 celebrations with no time for days off or holidays! The zenith of those celebrations was without doubt 4th June when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the City. However, in an attempt to get more impact in the national media we included on the same day, arguably one of the world’s most influential civil rights campaigners, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Months earlier we had sent a speculative invitation requesting that he consider delivering the 5th Wilberforce Lecture in the birthplace of the slavery abolitionist and to do it outdoors on Queens Gardens. Back in 1998 when we suggested a combined event it seemed a good idea but as the day drew closer and I spent all my time with the Queens press secretary Dicky Arbitor, representatives of the Palace, Special Branch the bomb squad and the local constabulary, I wasn’t so sure.
On a cloudy 4th June, the Queen arrived on the Royal Train at Paragon Station and made her way by car to Holy Trinity where a row of Civic dignitaries, (with me on the end), were presented to Her Majesty; I don’t remember much about it really, except for the fact that this time I at least managed to bow without falling over. After the service, at which the Queen had presented Desmond Tutu with the Wilberforce Medal, there was a walkabout amongst the thousands that had gathered in the Market Place. Those crammed against the barriers to get a glimpse of the Royal Party were of course unaware of marksmen positioned out of site on the surrounding roof tops as I walked the route in front of the Royal Party with two representatives of MI5.
We led them through the newly refurbished Indoor Market, (where the Monarch declined a gift of a bag of potatoes), and back to their cars to head off for lunch at the Guildhall. That was a fine affair when we were all organised into groups in the Reception Room to meet the Royal Party. Afterwards the Duke went off to the Daily Mail and the Queen went up to Bransholme to inspect the new Garths Development before they left together and we switched our attention to preparing for the Lecture on Queen’s Gardens.
The Wilberforce Lecture Series was the brainchild of Councillor Colin Inglis who appeared to be as nervous as I was about the whole thing and just about smoked himself to a standstill that afternoon. We started the evening’s proceedings in warm sunshine with a set of songs from Labi Siffre, before Desmond Tutu, a man of great presence, humility and humour, took to the stage.
On a normal day Queen’s Gardens were invariably a safe haven for those lucky folks who seem to be able to afford to sit on the grass all day, drinking Cider and shouting at passers-by and so the possibility of some ill-informed heckling was always at the back of my mind. However, despite almost 5000 attending, a stunning silence fell over the crowd as he spoke for around 30 minutes about the alleviation of World debt and his beloved South Africa. I sat with him before he went onto the stage and he joked about his hotel and the train journey from London, before treating me to a parable about the difference between the Velt in South Africa and the rather scotched grass in Hull on Queens Gardens. I was much too preoccupied to really appreciate what he said then, but afterwards I think he was intimating that the varieties of grass were like the people of the two countries, and although they are continents and cultures apart, they are in essence exactly the same. However, it all went right over my head because by then my brain was totally addled.
It was career wise a life changing day and I guess I apologise for the detail in which I have described it here. However, I do look back with some pride on what we achieved that day and that year in general because lots of people came away with fond memories, while nationally we made a lot of people sit up and take notice of the City of Kingston upon Hull.
David Lloyd; ‘the louder he talked of his honour the faster we counted the spoons!’
While all the headlines in the local press spoke of celebration and merriment, on the inside pages David Lloyd’s very public dispute with just about everyone raged on unabated. He even made an official bid to Receivers ‘Price Waterhouse’ for the purchase of New Craven Park and threatened to close all three local grounds if he was not allowed to build a Stadium. This challenge however thankfully came to nought as the East Hull ground was sold to the City Council and the Game Group before they leased it back to Hull KR. Every week it seemed there was a change of direction from our owner as far as Hull FC was concerned. Talk of rescue packages was everywhere and a consortium of ex-players led by Alan McGlone came up with a scheme by which 500 people were asked to come forward with £2000 each to buy out David Lloyd.
This got off to a good start with ex-players like Johnny Whiteley, Mally Walker, Tony Dean, Brian Hancock and Len Casey all pledging their support, but of course it was impossible to sustain that interest amongst the rank and file of the fans and with only 40 people coming forward, nothing more was heard of it.
We were as fans totally dejected and not surprisingly crowds continued to decline. Attendances at home games were now below the level of season ticket sales and a game against Huddersfield, where both Steve Prescott and Craig Murdock were stretchered off the field, attracted just 4,066 fans. Worse was to follow with an attractive televised game at home to Leeds (who were unbeaten for 11 games and which after we had led 18-10 at one point, we lost 26-18), drawing just 3,522 spectators. The terraces looked terrible on the TV, with most of us sitting down for the duration of the game. With season ticket sales reported to be around 4,200, as we looked around the stadium that day, it was obvious that even people who had invested at the start of the season, were now staying away.
Still one of the only plus points for us long suffering fans was the amount of young players Steve Crooks was forced to promote to the first team and on 16th July, Richard Horne, one of our great hopes for the future, signed a professional contract at the Club amidst rumours of interest from Leeds, Bradford and Wigan.
Making the headlines again, as the players go on strike
Wednesday 4th August 1999 Hull Sharks-12 Gateshead Thunder 40
Several of our players were on wages of £80,000 per year and by the end of July with falling gates, Lloyd was obviously running out of both patience and cash. In an unprecedented move he capped all the wages to £2,000 per month which in essence affected around 11 players, who were not amused at all. The playing staff then announced in the local newspaper that they were contemplating going on strike. They threatened this action for two games that week against Gateshead and Halifax, and with the national media ‘camped’ on the Boulevard Car Park, a meeting involving Maurice Lindsay of Super League, Abi Ekoku from the Players Union, Hull Sharks and the players themselves was convened. Lloyd and Calum didn’t turn up but joined Brian Johnson in a three-way telephone conversation and after two and a half hours the situation was resolved and the games went ahead.
Just 3,200 turned up for the Gateshead Thunder match which was played in an eerie silence. I remember, as I left the game envying the mobility and strength of the newly created Gateshead team and thinking how good it would be if we ever had a group of players like that.
Mergers are back and this time the Rugby League means business.
As the fans kept the faith as best they could and rallied behind the now campaigning fanzine ‘In Any Kinda Weather’, Chief Executive Brian Johnson seemed to accept defeat and announced that “The drop out of Super League would not be a bad thing for the Club”. While in a final desperate move the Ex-Players Association, the Black and White Association and the Vice Presidents got together to fund the purchase of Ian Pickervance from the Huddersfield Giants. He was a big rangy ex International second rower and although the move was a worthy effort by all concerned, to us lot on the terraces it was all too little, too late.
Then, in late July, just as we all thought things couldn’t get any worse the shortage of money across the Super League in general saw a ‘secret’ behind ‘closed doors’ meeting of all the member Clubs and the Rugby League take place in Leeds.
After this meeting some very worrying rumours were starting to emanate from Rugby League headquarters which implied that should Hull and Rovers combine, then over £1m would be made available for the new Club. In fact in reality, when all was revealed a few weeks later, the deal was that “Should any two Super league Clubs merge before 30th September 1999 then they would get £1.25m for the new Club, or towards paying off the debts of both the participating Clubs, but after that date, the deal would remain ‘on the table’ but the payment would drop to £1m”.
In addition, the games administration had also introduced a new ‘points’ scheme to rate grounds, financial suitability and youth development which was, I guess a crude forerunner of the licensing scheme, introduced almost 10 years later. As the more artistically minded younger members of the ‘FC Army’ were pinching their mothers bed sheets to make “No to The Merger” banners in time for the upcoming Halifax game, you could almost hear David Lloyd salivating at the prospect of getting this unexpected handout. Of course, as fans we were going to fight this proposal but how to do it was a question that no one seemed to be able to answer.
A ‘Lazarus like’ comeback makes Steve Crooks a hero!
Sunday 8th August 1999 Hull Sharks 24- Halifax Blue Sox 21
On the field we had managed to scrape another two wins at the Boulevard against Salford and Wakefield but with just 3 wins in 27 games, the bookmakers had stopped taking bets on us being relegated, with only Wakefield and Huddersfield anywhere near us at the bottom of the Super League table.
Steve Crooks had decided to rely on the enthusiasm of the young players at the Club and we certainly had some real prospects (Parker, King, Poucher, Cooke and Horne) who had certainly taken their chances to replace a few of the ‘Roll over and Die’ brigade I have always hated at my Club!
That Sunday, as we clambered to get our copies of the Fanzine which was fast becoming the clarion call for the ‘revolution’, a sort of picket of banner waving fans had formed across the car park. We were to face an in-form Halifax side, while the Sharks were still smarting from an embarrassing 74-16 humiliation at St Helens, which was the biggest defeat in the Club’s long history.
I attended the game after carefully planning a week in Tenerife between fixtures. Coming home from holiday that same morning, I remember the aircraft descended through the thick Manchester clouds as a feeling of despondency and gloom gradually enveloped me too. After 7 days of sea, sun and sangria it was with a heavy heart, that I dumped my cases and made my way straight to the Boulevard.
That’s the problem you see, in those situations you don’t want to go, but you can’t stay away; the greater the adversity the more you have to be there. There’s always a chance of a win, but the banners and chanting outside before the game made me realise that in general hope was running out fast. Just 3,400 other fanatics were there that day, as the crowd at the Airlie Street end, totally disillusioned, sat on the terracing and didn’t even get up when the teams ran out.
It was one of those rare games when, because of other folks still being on holidays, the uncertainty of my arrival back and a lot of the casual crowd having already run out of patience, I found myself on my own, sat there in glorious isolation on Bunker’s Hill as the drizzle started to fall. After about 20 minutes everything was ‘going to plan’ and we were 18-0 down. I had moved from my ‘Lucky Step’ at the Airlie Street end, to the Threepenny’s, in part to shelter from the rain, but mostly to see if a new viewing point would bring a change of luck. Already the visitor’s props Broadbent and Mercer were dominant, whilst as usual, exiled ‘local lads’ Hodgson and Pinkney had scored their annual ‘Boulevard’ touchdowns.
At half time I was so frustrated and angry, I left the Threepenny’s, collected a burger from that awfully nice lady in the little caravan, who had the bouffant hairstyle and those unforgettable black fingernails, and went and stood on my own on the sparsely populated terracing at the Gordon Street end. There was only the Best Stand left now! I just wanted to grieve on my own, if we lost this one we were down, and that first half had been like sitting at the bed side of an old friend, watching helplessly as they slowly slipped away.
I remember at the start of the second half Halifax’s Mercer barrelled in for another try, only to be pulled back by the referee for a ‘double movement’, but they converted a penalty, while amidst chants of “You’re on the P*ss”, from the Threepenny’s Hull’s Michael Smith dropped the ball twice, when it appeared easier to score and it was little different to the first half, as Halifax piled forward again. Then, after 60 minutes things started to change. Logan Campbell ‘fed’ young Richard Horne who went over in the corner and ‘Two Bobs’ Rob Roberts added the goal. Before we could even talk of this being a consolation try, Hallas stole the ball and sent Gary Lester flying away on a 60-yard run for a gasping Steve Craven to score our second. All of a sudden the tiny gathering of ‘pilgrims’ was sounding more like a ‘proper’ crowd and I hurried back to the ‘New’ Threepenny’s to join in the fun. Our excitement was tempered when Halifax’s Holroyd dropped a goal, but soon after that Michael Smith actually caught the ball before stumbling over the line on his knees and amazingly we were just three points behind!
Then, of course, as always happens when you’re down and there’s a glimmer of hope, the unbelievable and then the inevitable happens to extinguish it. Firstly, with just two minutes left, Richard Horne belied his years to brilliantly kick ahead, collect and score, we went barmy before of course, Referee Connolly disallowed the try. Why? Well to this day I’ll never know, but that was it, or at least it should have been. With just seconds to go Horne took a ball from a scrum, kicked a desperate up and under and Graham Hallas somehow got underneath it, to cruise through a gap and over the Halifax line, ‘Two Bobs’ goaled and we were victorious 24-21.
It was an amazing scene, we’d not won anything but 2 points and a game against the ridiculously named Blue Sox and we were not even safe from relegation, but women danced, children screamed and grown men wept!!
I remember years afterwards my pal Kathy said that by that time all her family had given up hope and so she attended by herself. At the end she was overcome by the drama of it all and searched desperately to find someone to dance with and hug. At half time the win seemed impossible! The question is of course was it all down to my constant moving around the ground or was that perhaps a lucky burger? Well I’ll never know, but years later I asked Steve Crooks about that game and he told me that he can never ever remember shouting at a team like he did that day in the half time break, and he added, most of what he said was totally unrepeatable.
The next few games were ‘business as usual’ and as the banners were unfurled and the local shops sold out of tennis balls, we lost by big margins to Castleford, Bradford, Wigan and London, luckily however Huddersfield who were now also marooned at the bottom of the table, couldn’t win either, but as the last game approached they were still two points above us in the table. It all came down to a final round showdown that was to determine our survival in Super League and the very existence of Hull FC.
Happy days are here again…well almost!!!
Sunday 12th September 1999 Hull Sharks 33-Sheffield Eagles 16
Throughout the week leading up to that history defining game I’d been tense and listless, unable to concentrate on work, with my head full of thoughts about that last, desperate, 80 minutes which would decide our destiny. All I wanted was a Club to support by the following Monday morning. As far as closing the Club down was concerned David (the Fat Lady) Lloyd, (despite the offer of £1000 a man win bonus), had not exactly started to sing but he was certainly clearing his throat. The thought that perhaps the very existence of Hull FC depended on just one game of rugby haunted my waking hours, as did the Hull KR fans in the Guildhall, who came looking for me, verbally ‘rubbing their hands’ in anticipation of our demise.
In fact, that week I probably dreamed about it too, because that’s just the way I am at times like that. I certainly woke up in a cold sweat at 3-00 a.m. that Sunday morning, with the sheets round my neck and commenced to have a good worry about the day ahead. I knew from my contacts in the Council that Lloyd had said in several meetings that if we didn’t stay up, then he would walk away and as I couldn’t reveal this knowledge to anyone, having to bottle it up made it even more difficult to cope with.
We had a lot of injuries too. The previous week we had lost to London and witnessed a bizarre incident when Bronco’ Dom Peters had run the width of the pitch, side-stepping referee Nick Oddy on the way, to smash Hull’s Steve Craven on the jaw and depress his cheekbone. We had also lost Grahame Hallas who had missed the game in London because of a couple of “Dodgy meat pies” and was then expelled from the Club after allegedly having a slanging match with Steve Crooks at training.
In addition things were further complicated by the fact that the actual drama was left to the ‘bitter end’ with the game being staged on Sunday night, so as to run concurrently with a critical game over at the McAlpine Stadium. Earlier that week the Club had moved the kick off time when Sky announced that they were to broadcast the Huddersfield v Castleford game, which, had we played at our pre-arranged 3-15pm kick-off, would have left our nearest rivals knowing exactly what they had to do to survive. There in West Yorkshire, whatever happened at the Boulevard, the other basement club only had to win or draw to survive. So, the equation was quite simple really; we had to win and Huddersfield had to lose.
Throughout the day as the clock crept round and counted down to the match, I played those stupid games that had haunted me for years, like the one where I tell myself, “If the next car to come round that corner is a blue one, we’ll avoid relegation, but if it’s a green one we’ve had it” (I always choose green because there aren’t that many green cars about, however it’s surprising how many you encounter when you play that game). It was in these most frenetic of circumstances, that I partook of a pint or three of ‘Dutch Courage’ in the Eagle, before the game. In the pub that Sunday tea time I remember that the crowd resembled a family gathered to have a quick beer, before they went off to the funeral of an old friend.
Few could be found that offered any sort of odds on Hull winning, with even fewer backing a Huddersfield defeat to Castleford. We had lost so many games, accrued so many injuries and had our fill of David Lloyd’s threats, mood swings and posturing. We were all numb and totally convinced that we would never ever see anything that resembled a bit of ‘good luck’ ever again.
So, it’s safe to say everyone felt that we were doomed, but as at any funeral gathering, we were determined to do our bit to honour the occasion and if it were to be the last rights of the Hull Sharks then we would give our ‘loved one’ a good send off, full of passion, pride and fighting spirit.
The ‘FC Army’ were not to be found wanting that night. As I left the pub an urchin dressed in a Hull KR shirt shouted, “Good Luck” and as I smiled, he added, “You’ll need it”. Typical, I thought and wouldn’t we say the same, were the circumstances reversed? As we took up our place on the now famous ‘lucky step’ at the Airlie Street end of the ground suddenly, as if someone had blown a whistle or dropped a chequered flag, the whole place was alive, it was just like the ‘Glory Days’ all over again, I couldn’t remember the last time I had experienced an atmosphere like it. Garry my pal watched the game with a radio tuned to Radio Leeds pressed to his ear, from which he would provide a constant running commentary of what was going on over in West Yorkshire. What a cauldron of emotion the 5,437 ‘Faithful’ created that night. If it hadn’t been in such dire circumstances, l would have loved it, but although I chanted and sang (and of course booed as Sheffield came out), I knew that like me, no one was smiling and that we’d all experienced a torrid week and an endless Sunday which had now culminated in a final 80 minutes of destiny deciding rugby. It was, after all those years of fanatical support, my Club’s ‘High noon’ and we just had to win.
Sheffield had already beaten us twice that year and as they kicked off I felt physically sick. In the first set of six, twice Michael Smith crashed into ball carriers Steve Molloy and then Simon Baldwin, leaving both the Eagles players laid out on the turf. Then after just two minutes Rob Nolan, playing his last game for Hull FC, took the ball, dummied to the left and released Lester on his right. As the crowd roared the diminutive number 7 brilliantly zipped inside, then back out again and evading the grasping arms of Mark Aston he flew in to score. The ground rocked as Garry reported “Still 0-0” and we watched as Steve Prescott converted from a narrow angle. At 6-0 a nervously subdued chorus of ‘Old Faithful’ radiated across the terraces and immediately after that score, Sheffield’s Mick Slicker dropped what looked like an easy pass and then, as we regained possession from the scrum, we saw a really memorable moment of action.
Paul King our young hooker, who was tackling everything and timing some great passes from acting half back, got the ball in the line and released rangy prop Pickervance. Ian roared onto the ball, before curving into a gap in the defence and going off on a 30-yard run to the line. His progress went into ‘slow motion’ as the chasers gained on him, but in the end he just got there for a wonderful touch-down.
Shortly afterwards, before Sheffield could get the ball back, Logan Campbell had scorched down the wing in front of the New Threepenny Stand to be stopped by a high tackle from the Sheffield full back Dave Watson. Stuart Cummings, the referee, immediately gave a penalty which Steve Prescott dispatched between the posts to further increase our lead. We cheered every pass and tackle until Garry said, “4-0 to Huddersfield” and my heart sank and as the news transmitted itself across the crowd like an unwanted infection, worried and fretting faces were everywhere.
Sheffield couldn’t get their hands on the ball at all, but after Molyneux and Gareth Stevens had combined well to move play into the Hull 20, Paul King wrestled the ball from Johnny Lawless in the tackle and play went back up the field through a flowing move featuring David Baildon, Craig Poucher and Paul Parker. This set up a good position near the Sheffield line and after Hull were awarded another set of six tackles after a Sheffield player had got a hand to the ball in a tackle, Lester mesmerised the visitors defence again and Karl Harrison crashed in for a rare touchdown next to the posts. Prescott’s conversion made the score 18-0, just as Garry announced, “8-4 to Cas.” which brought a resounding cheer from everyone as the crowd came alive again.
Sheffield tried to play some rugby but the effort that they had put into stopping the rampaging Hull forwards meant they had little energy left and on 23 minutes Rob Roberts drove them back again with a brilliant 40-20. Straight from the restart Lester fed Campbell, he drew three tacklers before slipping the ball to Prescott, who passed on to Paul Parker to score wide out. Sheffield brought on young Chris Thorman, to replace hooker Chris Molyneux and just before half time Mick Slicker came on for Michael Jackson who was ‘Blood binned’ with a nasty looking cut across his forehead sustained in a Paul King tackle.
A try by the Eagles Jeff Hardy after a great breakout by Matt Crowther proved a brief hiccup, but as Garry announced that Castleford were 20-4 up at the McAlpine, Lester and Nolan inter-passed down the middle for Campbell to brilliantly finish off and as we led 30-4, the party started.
We simply could not believe what we were seeing and as Vince Groak the Editor of the Hull FC Fanzine commented at the time, “It was almost worth all the heartache and previous defeats to experience that feeling” Of course this was Hull FC and it was always going to be hard to maintain that sort of pressure. We were certainly not helped by Referee Cummings who awarded a string of ‘unfathomable’ penalties to Sheffield in the second half which saw tries from Bright Sodje and Chris Thorman, but our lads, on this occasion at least, were not prepared to crumble.
Firstly Sodje tripped substitute Steve Barrow and Prescott stroked over the penalty (something that prompted the first real ‘relaxed’ comment of the night from my pal Garry, who said “That wasn’t very Bright Sodje”) and then ‘Two Bobs’ Rob Roberts dropped a goal and we were home.
“Survival is triumph enough”
As the final score from Hudderfield was announced just before our game finished (32-10 to Cas) the whole place erupted and although we all knew it should never have come to this, the final hooter saw old men, women and several stewards climbing over the perimeter fence and racing onto the field to celebrate with the players. It was utter and absolute heaven, as we sang and danced on the hallowed turf.
Eleven Super League Clubs had tried to kill us off and failed. It was however now the turn of David Lloyd, Hull KR and the Northern Ford Clubs to do their best to finish the job.
However then, at that time, it was a wonderful moment and there were fine words afterwards from all concerned, including the ubiquitous David Lloyd. He said he didn’t mind paying the £1000 bonus, (something that prompted Karl Harrison to comment “You bet he doesn’t”), and that he would make sure we were “Never in this position again”.
Little did we know what he was to try and do, to ensure that was the case, or that our ‘Evil Uncle’ was in fact just happy that the win gave him a more saleable commodity to tout around the Rugby League. But that night who cared? We stood on the field till the stewards asked us to leave and then went back to the pub and got wrecked!!!!
A tip-off concerning Halifax.
At this point I should reiterate that as we enter one of the most complicated and yet critical periods in the whole history of our Club I tell it as I remember it, like everything else in this book I might not have got it exactly right but I was a bit on the inside of it all and so I’ve had a go.
On 21st September I was sitting in my office up to my eyes in Hull 700 stuff when the phone rang and I was speaking to a pal from Bradford City Council who was a Bull’s fan, but otherwise a really nice guy. He told me confidentially that Bradford Councillors were saying in private that Halifax were about to merge with Hull FC and were to do it before 30th September so as to be able to claim the maximum ‘sweetener’ of £1.25m from the Rugby League. Like everyone else of a Black and White persuasion in the City, I didn’t trust Lloyd and yet I was in a quandary because I had been told this in absolute confidence.
However, this was my Club and although professionally I couldn’t really say anything, I had to do something! It was the first time I had ever used professional information for my own end, but this was Hull FC, and we were in danger. I made a couple of phone calls, not to the boys at the fanzine, but to a couple of folks who knew them well. The main thing we had to do was get this out in the public domain so that as fans we could do something about it.
By lunch time the word was out across West Hull although thankfully no-one knew where it had come from, in fact to this day I don’t know whether it was my intervention or that of another ‘Whistle-blower’ that had got the word on the streets. By this time there were so many rumours circulating it was hard to know what was founded and what was pure mischief making. That evening I remember, Vince Groak from our Fanzine was on Radio Humberside and next day it was all over the Mail. No one from the Club would comment of course, but there was little doubt that things were moving and moving fast.
Seven weeks of anxiety, grief and sleepless nights as we stared over the abyss – the battle to save the Sharks.
But the fans were now mobalised and eventually a Club spokesman intimated that, “It was a no to Halifax, but if the right deal comes along then we will have to look at it”. We were all digesting that statement when the moment we had all feared arrived, late on the evening of 30th September, the last day that the £1.25m was on offer from the Rugby League for mergers.
That night Hull FC officially lodged an ‘Intent to Merge’ with the Gateshead Thunder Club. The Hull Daily Mail immediately took on its best crusading guise and on behalf of the fans, launched a ‘No to the Merger’ campaign, printing a poster for us all to put in our front windows. Vince Groak was the first to break the stunned silence when he said on radio Humberside, “This is not a Merger we are simply selling our Super League place” and he was certainly right about that.
It was indeed ironic that the announcement should be made on that day because as the news appeared on the front page of the local paper on 1st October it was superseded by a headline that read “£36m Circle of Dreams” and a photograph of Ian Blakey the Stadium Project Board Chairman and Pat Doyle Leader of the City Council as the preferred site for the new Super Stadium was announced. For once even the Council didn’t know what Lloyd was about to do and the Gateshead link came as a shock.
On 7th October, as placard waving Huddersfield and Sheffield fans besieged Rugby League Headquarters, the RL Council met to ratify the merger between those two clubs, but thankfully didn’t have time to discuss the Hull/Gateshead alliance, so that was deferred to their next meeting on the 27th October. In just 6 days, 7000 people had signed the Hull Daily Mail’s petition against the merger and it became apparent behind the closed doors of the Guildhall, that the deal would only go through if the City Council were prepared to buy the Boulevard to pay off Lloyd. The whole City was in turmoil and I know as well that independent of the Hull Board Roy Waudby was in and out of the Guildhall trying to broker a deal that would save the Club he loved.
As time passed towards the fateful meeting, there were a few worrying developments. David Kirkwood, the beleaguered Club Chairman, said that having seen the perilous position of the Club’s finances, a merger was, “The only way to save my beloved Club”. While in a surreal development Brain Johnson our Chief Executive announced that if a new Hull Club was formed in the lower division then Jon Monie the ex-Wigan maestro and most successful Coach in the modern era, would take over, assisted by David Topliss in the position of Football Director. That was intended as a ‘sweetener’ to the fans; of course Lloyd had badly judged the FC Faithful and it didn’t work at all!!
The merger plan was for both Hull and Gateshead to get £1.25m, Hull to lose its Super League status and apply to start again debt free in the Northern Ford Premiership. However then already battered and down hearted, we were dealt the cruellest blow of all as on Wednesday 13th October 1999, the man who was battling to save the Club our Champion, Roy Waudby, passed away. It was for many the final blow, because it was believed that Roy was on the verge of completing a deal to buy out David Lloyd and return the Club to local owners.
At a passionate meeting at the Charleston Club only a week previously, we were all told by Roy that he would put up £200,000 to buy the Club if anyone would match that sum. The day after his death, a meeting had been convened at the Boulevard where all the associates of the Club, the shareholders and several members of the press were briefed by Johnson on the Gateshead buy-out, but it was all so muddled that the meeting raised more questions than it ever answered.
The end of an enigma; Roy Waudby bows out
On Tuesday 19th October amidst all the turmoil and uncertainty there was surrounding the future of our beloved Rugby League Club and the excitement and anticipation at the Council that surrounded the embryonic advent of the new Stadium, everything paused. Time stood still as we all paid tribute to the passing of a father figure in the history of Rugby League in the City. It was in some style that I travelled down to St Matthews’ Church on the Boulevard, where all those years earlier Dad had been a Church Warden and I had sung in the choir. Councillor Pat Doyle the Leader of the Council and I were invited to travel down with the Lord Mayor, Councillor Brian Wilkinson, in the Civic Car KH 1 and we arrived to find the area around the church packed with dozens of fans who had turned up to stand and pay tribute.
As the Cortege arrived everyone was dressed in black and white, and stood hats removed in silence as the family entered the Church. St Matthews was packed and I joined the Civic party and other guests in the choir stalls whilst people stood in the side isles and the porch-ways. I am sure that I will do an injustice to someone here, but I can only list those I remember being there on that sad occasion.
In the front pews there was Tony Dean, Arthur Bunting, Dave Elliott, Dave Topliss, Gary Divorty, Charlie Birdsall, Trevor Skerrett, David Kirkwood and Brian Johnson. The Rugby League was represented by Neil Tunnicliffe and Rodney Walker and they were sitting with Maurice Lindsay and Chris Caisley from Super League. Colin Hutton and Barry Lilley represented Hull KR, whilst from more recent times Lee Jackson, Andy Dannett and Steve McNamara were sitting on the left. I am sure that there are many that I have missed out in what was a wonderful gathering of Rugby League luminaries brought together to remember ‘Mr Hull FC’. The rest of the church was packed with favour wearing FC fans. The service was conducted by Club Chaplain Allen Bagshawe and there were certainly several poignant moments, none more so than when Maurice Lindsay described Roy by saying “He was a man who loved the game, in fact no one loved Rugby League more than Roy. Whenever you needed advice Roy was always someone you could turn to because his word was his bond”.
Then Roy’s son Roger, flanked by his brothers spoke passionately about his Dad, his love of Hull FC and the way he fought right up to his death to save the Club. He described him as “A great man” and coming as it did as the Club was about to fold, it seemed to all of us there that day that the funeral was not just to honour Roy but, because he was so instrumental to our survival, perhaps it would also mark the passing of our Club.
The last hope we had was gone, or so it seemed, because it was only those meetings at the Charleston Club with Roy that had kept us believing Hull FC would survive the wrath of David Lloyd, Roy was a patriarch and our champion and now he was no more. Still, rather like Clive Sullivan’s all those years earlier, we didn’t just give Roy a good send off, we gave him a Hull FC send off, it was, without doubt, the least we could do.
Why doesn’t anybody like us?
Without Roy at the helm, things went from serious to critical. It transpired that the problem with the merger idea was that the Northern Ford Premiership Clubs were not that keen on us joining them. Super League had refused to admit the NFP’s Grand Final winners, The Hunslet Hawks, that year and so the member Clubs were not that keen on conveniently admitting any remnants of a ‘Super League’ merger into their competition. There was certainly a whiff of mutiny in the air and it looked as if it was to be the Hull Sharks that were to ‘walk the plank’. As the meeting at Rugby League headquarters approached, Brian Johnson dramatically warned the Super League Clubs that they must, “Back our merger or Hull Sharks go bust!”
On the day of the meeting I couldn’t work, it was just impossible and I spent the whole day listening to Radio Humberside expecting a News Flash or something of that ilk that would confirm our demise. When it came it was a bit of an anti-climax because, although the Rugby League Council confirmed the merger was to happen, they added that it would only be ratified if Hull were accepted into the Northern Ford Premiership. Thankfully it appeared that some of the other senior Clubs did not wish to see the end of Hull FC and, no doubt, their lucrative band of travelling supporters. Once everyone concerned had been consulted and the actual ramifications fully considered, the Rugby League were to make a final decision at their next meeting a fortnight hence.
Someone sticks the boot in!
There is little doubt that we were caught in a political battle between the Super League and the Northern Ford Clubs and some of the latter saw an opportunity to make a point by making an example of the Sharks. Barry Lilley the Chairman of Hull KR made a curt statement about the situation in the Hull Daily Mail after the meeting and in the late edition on 27th October 1999, he said, “There is no way that they (Hull FC) will be allowed to take a place in the Premiership and Hull KR will be the only Club in Hull with their own identity”. That went down really well in the West of the City and is something that many remember to this day.
As I was drowning my sorrows on a regular basis, others were better employed as unbeknown to most of us, Vince Groak, Steve Roberts, Pete O’Connor, Jimmy Gardiner and a few other fans had convened a ‘secret’ meeting with Gateshead’s Chief Executive Shane Richardson in the Rugby Suite at the Boulevard. Vince said afterwards that ‘Richo’ stated at that meeting that, “If I was thinking with my heart instead of my head, then I would be moving down here and trying to turn this Club around”. It was hoped by those present, that Richardson took from that meeting just how much Hull people love their rugby and how utterly dejected they were about the actions of the Rugby League and the Northern Ford Clubs. Perhaps the seeds of doubt had been sown, or the germ of an idea had been planted in Shane Richardson’s head, although if perhaps it had, then it was going to take a couple of weeks to manifest itself.
Ironically on the same day, (with my radio secreted on my knee and headphones at the ready for any new news) I had to sit through a Council meeting that ratified the use of £38m of the KC shares windfall that had come the City’s way, to on building the new Stadium at the Circle on Anlaby Road. This in essence swept away the last hurdle to the ‘Super Stadium’ dream becoming a reality, although for us Hull FC fans what was happening to our Club was more akin to a nightmare.
Cometh the hour, cometh the heroes.
A couple of days later there was a hastily convened meeting of the NFP Clubs after which it was stated the discussions about admitting Hull FC had ended as ‘inconclusive’, as some wanted us included, whilst others were dead against it. We were left to wonder which Clubs they were! It was generally believed that the Rugby League put a deal of pressure on some of the member Clubs to ensure that Hull FC lived on for at least another week. Our beloved Club was in limbo and owner David Lloyd was running out of patience. We had few players and even fewer Directors; we had merged with a Club and were about to lose our identity, but had wanted to start another to keep it, in a lower division but couldn’t and we were all but bankrupt. They were tough times for everyone in the Black and White family.
As part of my ever burgeoning duties at the Council I was now responsible for the operation of the Press Office and every morning I would go down there and furtively search the statements and releases coming out of the Leaders office for any news, but all was quiet as the Council made not a single statement about what was for me the most significant occurrence in the City since the war.
Bugger Hull 700, this was serious! Of course, behind the scenes a lot was happening about which, even this ‘Senior Officer’ who had his nose into most of the ‘Intrigue’ going on in the Guildhall, knew nothing.
On 5th November the City Council staged a massive Hull 700 Firework display on the Marina and despite the fact that I was, I guess, responsible for the safety of over 30,000 people that night, all I could think about was Hull FC, it had totally taken over my life. I couldn’t eat properly, I felt sick and no doubt like hundreds of other ‘faithful’ Hull fans, every night I would lay awake tossing and turning and going over all the various scenarios in my head until dawn broke.
That day too, questions were asked in Parliament about the “shambles” that was the British game of Rugby League. The MP’s present came to the conclusion that there was a need for “a sweeping review of the Rugby League’s governing body”. I think we could have told them that. I knew that the Leader of the Authority, Pat Doyle was a big Hull FC fan and that he wouldn’t just let us go down without a fight, but try as I may to get a word with him, I couldn’t because he was always in meetings, in fact, I got the distinct impression that he was avoiding me!
At the Club no one had been paid for over 5 weeks, sponsors JWE had withdrawn their last two monthly payments of £10,000 and wanted out and as pre-season training commenced, only 7 players, Murdoch, King, Poucher, Ireland, Holgate, Schultz and Fletcher, turned up. The Hull Daily Mail headlines announced, “Monday is D Day for Sharks” and intimated that on that day the now aligned Northern Ford Premiership Clubs were prepared to vote ‘en bloc’ against Hull’s entry into their competition. We were on the very brink of extinction as every Hull Sharks’ fan waited for that next critical meeting and held their breath.
After another sleepless night on Sunday, Monday really dragged. I couldn’t work and just fretted away the morning waiting to hear from the meeting in the West Riding. As was my habit, around lunchtime I once again wandered into the Press Office and riffled through the Releases. To my amazement at last I found one, which had ‘Embargoed until 12-00 midnight on Monday 15th November 1999’ emblazoned in red ink across the top. The title of the release was ‘Hull City Council welcomes the management of Gateshead Thunder to the City’. I had to read it three times before I realised what all the meetings that had been going on in Pat Doyle’s office, had been about.
Vince, Steve and the Boys from ‘In Any Kinda Weather’, The Hull Daily Mail, Hull City Council, Shane Richardson, the Council Leader (and FC fan extraordinaire) Pat Doyle and the fans of Hull FC had between them somehow, combined to deliver a miracle.
‘Super Tuesday’; back in business, back in the hoops and back as the FC
When the Americans talk about the big day in their primary elections as being ‘Super Tuesday’, they don’t know the meaning of the word. When the news broke that famous morning, the whole City and indeed the whole of the sporting world was talking about it. The official statement from the Rugby League read:
“Super League clubs yesterday gave their unanimous backing for a merger between Gateshead and Hull Sharks. The move brings to an end Super League rugby in Gateshead as the newly-formed club will play in Hull. The mergers acceptance means the new club will receive £1.25m over two years. These payments will satisfy the creditors of Hull and Gateshead. As a result of the merger, David Lloyd no longer has any involvement with or ownership of the company. The merged team will play Super League matches in Hull, initially at ‘The Boulevard’ and then at the planned new stadium in the West of the City. The existing playing squad and administrative staff from Gateshead will transfer operations to Hull and join forces with the remaining players and staff there”.
The first comments from our new owners made it perfectly clear that the ‘Sharks’ were no more, the ‘fancy dress’ was gone forever and Hull FC were back, playing in Black and White hoops. All I did at work that day was field an endless stream of telephone calls from pals and visit other fans who were just as relieved as me. There was little productivity of note that day in many places of work across the City, but that’s acceptable when you’re faced with such a life changing event. At 49 years of age I was as elated as a kid on Christmas Day and after weeks of despair and worry, nothing could have prepared me for the wave of unmitigated joy that overtook me.
However old you are, when you’re a fanatic you never learn do you, and so I went to seek out one or two Hull KR followers who had spent the past 6 weeks taunting and ‘ragging me’ about how they as a Club would soon be the only team in the City. That day, the look of disappointment on their faces was pretty sweet believe me. My case was assisted by the front page of the Hull Daily Mail that showed an old photograph of Stanley Gene, sitting on a bench on Hessle Foreshore eating fish and chips. The hero of New Craven Park who had left just two months earlier for the Thunder, was making a quick return to the City where he was idolised, but ‘sadly’ (for the Hull KR fans) for the wrong team! I remember pointing out to those same Hull KR fans that what had happened was little short of a miracle and how ironic it was that the Northern Ford Premiership Clubs who included Hull KR had, by refusing our admission, actually facilitated the whole process.
We might have seen The Queen, Desmond Tutu, the Duke of York, Civil War re-enactments, firework displays and rock concerts in a very special year in the City of Kingston upon Hull, but for this particular rugby fan there is little doubt what was the best thing to come out of Hull 700.
Of course, there were casualties in all this change and the fans of the Gateshead Club were certainly unhappy about the outcome, threats of legal action were made and even, allegedly, a brick thrown through Shane Richardson’s garage window at his residence in the North East. They may have been few in number but a thousand or so Gateshead followers signed a petition to stop the merger going through but it was too late, the deal was done. The City Council had played a big part in the ‘revolution’ and the payment they would make to the new owners of the Club for the purchase of the Boulevard Stadium, ensured that once they had received the £1.25m that the merger provided from the Rugby League, both Hull FC and Gateshead Thunder would be debt free.
Two nights later, on the Thursday, we all went back to the Charleston Club, this time not for a crisis meeting but rather to celebrate and meet two Directors of the Gateshead Club, who were now on the Board of Hull FC. The place was buzzing that night as we discussed the 15 strong Australian contingent of players that had suddenly become our new ‘heroes’. It was then that Vince Groak and Steve Roberts reiterated the idea of forming an Independent Supporters’ Group and so HISA (Hull Independent Supporters Association) was born. We all signed up on what was a great evening particularly as Olga Waudby, Roy’s widow, took pride of place at the front of the crowd. How proud and relieved Roy would have been that night and how sad it was that he couldn’t be there to see it.
The following Monday season tickets went on sale for the forthcoming Super League campaign with over £50,000 worth being sold on the first day, a total that rose to £100,000 by the weekend. That first day of sales I joined a queue that snaked across the Boulevard car park and the ‘buzz’ as we all waited patiently to invest in our new dream, was akin to what we experienced years earlier, before those great Cup Finals.
However, it was not all plain sailing and as on the Stock Exchange KC shares started to lose value in Hull, Shane Richardson had to move quickly to quash rumours that the Club was being liquidated.
This was just another rumour borne out of the fact that the first instalment of the £1.25m from the Rugby League would not be forthcoming until 1st January so cash flow was a problem. The City Council came to the rescue with an advance on the sale of the Stadium and Willie Peters, our talented Australian Scrum Half, was sold to Wigan for an unlikely £100,000 which helped to balance the books.
There were benefits to the merger on both sides. The big plus for the ex-Gateshead administration was the quality and depth of young players they had inherited and it was certainly no surprise when Richard Fletcher, Andy Last and Richard Horne were called up to play for the Great Britain Youth team against the touring Australian Secondary Schools at the Boulevard in mid December.
While the Club was busy securing accommodation for all the players and staff that had to move down from Tyneside, over at New Craven Park the enemy across the river were licking their wounds as the details of their own rescue became public. As Shane Richardson (the new hero of at least one side of the City) left to fly back home to Australia for Christmas, the Council put in £450,000 and the Gain Group £200,000 to allow Hull KR to enter into a Creditors Voluntary Agreement which, although they were owed well over £1m, at least guaranteed that their creditors would get something.
The ‘new’ Hull FC Board get down to business
Sunday 23rd January 2000 Hull FC 27-Halifax Blue Sox 12
As Christmas and the Millennium celebrations in Hull came and went, I was certainly relieved that Hull 700 was over and that the year of events had been such a success. It was estimated that the 12 months of celebrations generated an additional £40m for the local economy and there is little doubt that the people of the City enjoyed the festivities. What was even more important was that I still had a rugby team to follow and a group of people in charge who seemed to feel as passionate about them as I did.
Shaun McRae our new Coach was sorting through the players that had been retained from the Sharks and although we were allowed to keep Gateshead’s enhanced overseas player quota of 14, there was a deal of horse trading going on, both at the Club and outside it, to keep the squad within the salary cap.
At the turn of the year as half the team were training at the Boulevard and the rest at Gateshead, Rob Roberts, Craig Murdock and Steven Holgate were put on the transfer list. However, by 4th January everyone had moved to Hull and preparations for the new season started in earnest. I couldn’t wait, and it was great when the man who did so much to try and rescue the Club, the late Roy Waudby, was honoured by having the first pre-season game against Halifax dedicated to him. His family later also sponsored the Threepenny Stand which from then onwards bore his name.
More good news saw David Kirkwood (the man who had fought Lloyd and made more comebacks in a 17-year career at the club than Frank Sinatra) become Honorary Club President. David was a great bloke and was followed back by David Topliss who after he had retired and sold his engineering business, returned as Head of Youth Development. It seemed that Richardson and the rest of the Board were making all the right moves and 3,306 turned up for that Roy Waudby Memorial Trophy game against Halifax when Hull FC came out easy winners.
Hull, back playing in the most famous strip in the game, played some great rugby although at times I found it difficult knowing who was who, but at least we all gave our old nemesis Stanley Gene a great welcome and he obliged by scoring two tries. He said after the game, “The fans gave me a great reception for which I thank them”. Good old Stanley, always the diplomat.
Super League begins with disappointment at Halifax
Friday 3rd March 2000 Hull FC 27-Halifax Blue Sox 30
Trish Goldsmith who had followed the Club down the A1 from Tyneside as Head of Marketing was being innovative in attracting sponsorship and despite having pulled out in the Lloyd era, JWE were lured back to the Club as shirt sponsors while player sponsors included organisations as diverse as The Yorkshire Bed Centre (David Maiden) and The All Electric Fisheries (Craig Poucher).
As was the practise back then, the Challenge Cup rounds started before the regular Super League season and two good home draws saw us matched firstly with Lancashire Lynx and then Rochdale Hornets. Both games were one sided affairs in which we scored over 160 points in total, but then we were drawn at home in the quarter finals against the then Cup Kings the Wigan Warriors.
Before that we had to travel over to the still unfinished Shay Stadium at Halifax for our first Super League game. The ground had an incomplete look about it as building work on a new Stand at the east side of the Stadium had been abandoned when the cash ran out and it stood empty with just 37 seats fitted in the centre block. In fact, the score board that night was a piece of hardboard onto which the scores were chalked.
Undeterred by a frosty, misty March night, 2000 of us travelled to the West Riding, where we were goaded by two coach loads of Gateshead fans who had gone to the game to protest about the merger and who seemed to find it difficult to decide whether they wanted to back their old heroes, or Halifax.
The game was a personal victory for winger Brian Carney who scored a brilliant hat trick and although we had trailed by 16 points at the start of the second half with just four minutes to go a brilliant drop goal from Craig Wilson saw us leading 27-26.
However, with almost the last move of the game Stanley Gene, who had found the step up from lower league rugby tough, fumbled a short kick from Moana right in front of the Hull fans, and Florimo crashed in to win the game.
The good old days return and the Boulevard is buzzing
Saturday11th March 2000 Hull FC 14-Wigan Warriors 4
The week leading up to that Cup quarter final was one that was fraught with injury problems that threatened to scupper any slim chances we had of winning a game that all the pundits and bookmakers had down as a ‘banker’ for the competition’s favourites. In came youngster Paul King at prop and after Australian Adam Maher had been taken ill and withdrawn on the morning of the game, McRae had to call up an even younger Richard Fletcher onto the substitute’s bench. In the presence of the BBC Grandstand camera’s we all awaited our first really big game since the merger. Referee Russell Smith blew the whistle and Radlinski struck the ball deep into the Hull half, prompting a massive roar from the 7700 crowd. This seemed to be counter-productive and appeared to surprise the Hull players waiting to receive the ball as Broadbent fumbled it forward and Maiden retrieved it in front of him in an off side position. This left Farrell with the simplest of penalties, to give Wigan an early two-point lead.
That really poor start didn’t deter Hull, who immediately started to make inroads into the Wigan defence. The home team’s enthusiasm was certainly apparent when Robinson kicked into the corner where Wigan’s Dallas fielded the ball only to be swamped by five chasing Hull players. Youngster Richard Horne was certainly prompting and probing around the ruck and he almost got Jenkins in after 7 minutes as Hull pushed forward. Then an over-worked Wigan defence conceded a penalty for off-side and Sammut, from 30 yards out and to the left of the posts, hammered home the kick. Wilson sustained a head wound after a high shot by Dallas and went to the blood bin which saw youngster Fletcher come into the second row but then on 15 minutes, Hull took the lead.
Richard Horne again made a half break and fed Will Robinson. The scrum half immediately stepped inside and then superbly passed to Maiden, who crashed over near the posts and as Sammut had landed the conversion, to our amazement we led 8-2. We were standing on the Airlie Street terracing that day and the place went wild as Will Robinson shot in again after a brilliant move involving a defence splitting break by Collins, however on consulting the video referee it was decided that Will had lost control of the ball as he put it down and the try was disallowed. Still the crowd sang and cheered and at regular intervals ‘Old Faithful’ rang around the old place; it was just like the Brian Smith years all over again.
Next however Carney was sin binned for what was described by the referee afterwards as a ‘deliberate offside’, but as the half came to a close Wigan started to come back into the match. With an amazing 7 minutes of injury time being added, Hull FC had to cling on before Jason Robinson went close for Wigan, but his grubber kick was brilliantly tidied up by Matt Daylight. Then Renouf intercepted a wayward pass from Hull’s Felsch and the Wigan centre looked certain to score. However, Carney, straight back on from the sin bin ran directly across the width of the field to cut the Australian international centre off, 10 yards out, and as half-time arrived, we were all elated and physically drained.
The second half started with Maiden kneeing a loose ball forward and almost recollecting it, but in general Wigan were starting to exert the pressure again and although the crowd did their best, much of the dominance we had shown in the first half had disappeared. However, despite all their pressure Wigan could not penetrate a resolute FC defence led by Fletcher and Broadbent and in the end had to settle for a penalty when Fletcher was accidentally caught off side.
In what was developing into a titanic battle, twice we lost possession in our own half as several Hull players looked to be feeling the pressure. Felsch and Robinson went off, to be replaced by Stanley Gene and Wayne McDonald and Mick Cassidy and Dennis Betts both went close for Wigan. At the Airlie Street End we just stood stressfully on our lucky terracing and prayed.
Then with 10 minutes to go and Hull hanging on resolutely, the whole place suddenly erupted as the game took another dramatic twist. A couple of fortuitous penalties at last relieved the pressure and we found ourselves in possession in the Wigan half. Firstly, the returning Robinson managed to work a gap in the defence, but was injured again as he was tackled by Terry Newton and Willie Peters. Straight from the play the ball Stanley Gene sped away down field in a mad dash for the line. He fell to a good tackle but this set up a position some ten yards out and two tackles later Gene, operating at acting half back, brilliantly supplied a short pass to 6ft 7ins Wayne McDonald who somehow hurled his body over the line. Sammut added the conversion and as they stood behind their try line, gasping for air, it was obvious that Wigan were shattered.
We then all held our breath as Wigan threw everything at us. However, to rather premature chants of “We’re the famous Hull FC and were off to Wembley” we now had some ‘steel’ in our defence and as the game wore on the young players took their opportunities. Horne made a great break, only to be felled by Betts in an illegal tackle and then both King and Gene were held inches short of the line. Then a dropped ball saw Wigan sweep back down field and Renoulf sent Newton away to be stopped a foot from the Hull line by a mighty tackle by Deon Bird. However, after Sammut had to be alert as Farrell’s kicked through, the hooter went and on the terraces the celebrations began.
The scenes that followed were reminiscent of those great days in the early part of the previous decade when against all odds Brian Smith steered us to the Premiership Final. There was the same sort of high emotion everywhere and I remember having tears in my eyes, as all the tension and pressure of the Lloyd years ebbed away on a tide of rejoicing and euphoria.
“HELLO, HELLO, FC are Back FC are Back” echoed round the ground and we all stood there and applauded the team as they completed a lap of honour. Although Wigan were to score over 120 points against us in our three other meetings that year, after all that had gone before, it was great to be watching Hull FC win such an epic encounter. It was certainly a famous victory for us all and one that will live in my memory forever.
That was followed the following Monday by Hull FC being drawn to play the Leeds Rhinos in the Cup Semi Final at the Galpharm Stadium at the end of the month. But it’s never dull at Hull and no one knew what a disaster that was to turn out to be, for sport in general and my beloved Club in particular.
A great performance, a bitter disappointment and a hoard of morons!
Sunday 26th March 2000 Hull FC 22-Leeds Rhinos 28
Shortly after that wonderful victory and as Shaun McRae’s renaissance continued, Craig Murdock left to join his old team mate Brad Hepi at Salford City Reds while Rob Roberts joined the Halifax Blue Sox. Although there was League games to consider, most of us FC fans could think of nothing else but that semi-final because it seemed impossible that a club that was literally hours away from going out of business was now 80 minutes away from the Challenge Cup Final at Murreyfield. I remember wondering what those small-minded Northern Ford Clubs that had refused us entry felt about it now, because had it not been for them turning our application down, all this would never have happened.
At last the day of the Semi Final arrived and I joined another 9000 Hull fans as we journeyed over to Huddersfield to face Leeds Rhinos for a place in the final. However, from the moment I arrived I sensed that all was not well. I travelled to the game with a couple of pals from work that day but on arrival in Huddersfield we were amazed to see dozens of drunken Hull fans cavorting on the road outside the pubs and shouting at the passing cars heading down to the Stadium. I saw one idiot roll over a car bonnet, whilst others ‘mooned’ at passing Leeds coaches and then as we walked past ‘Ricky’s’ pub we had to scatter as a man covered in beer and completely naked (except for a hull scarf round his neck) was paraded out of the door and into the street, on the shoulders of one of his ‘pals’.
What was even more worrying was the way that four policemen on horseback sat across the road watching and laughing as all this was happening. I just hoped that there would be plenty of police and stewards inside the Galpharm Stadium, because this lot had obviously been drinking for hours. We hurried along to the game but my heart sank as I got inside and saw that the stewards policing the perimeter of the pitch were at least 20 meters apart and there wasn’t a policeman in sight.
As a gigantic silk FC flag was passed over the head of the Hull fans the usual “We all hate Leeds” chants rang round the Stadium, but that day they had an even more vitriolic edge to them. Down the terracing in front of us, most fans were standing behind their seats, and many were stripped to the waist. A fight broke out between two Hull fans who seemed to be arguing about a youngster waving a flag in front of them and everyone seemed angry and wound up. It appeared to me that a small but vociferous minority of the Hull crowd were out of their heads with alcohol or ‘whatever’, and intent on making a nuisance of themselves.
It was therefore a relief when the game finally kicked off and we could concentrate on the rugby, rather than the antics of the idiots in front of us. In the first minute a Sammut penalty put Hull into the lead, before some sloppy defending out on our right-hand flank allowed Richie Blackmore to score for the Rhinos. Back came Hull as Paul Cooke and Deon Bird linked brilliantly for Matt Daylight to scoot in at the corner but then a pass that was suspiciously forward freed Leeds’ Francis Cummins and Ryan Sheridan stole in for a try. In that first 30 minutes we received a real battering from the Leeds forwards who led by Barrie McDermott were intent on ‘softening up’ the Hull pack. The atmosphere in the crowd was certainly ‘white hot’ and not for all the right reasons. However, Daylight scored his second try as Will Robinson made the initial break, Paul Cooke brilliantly engineered some space for Tony Grimaldi and his inch perfect long pass found our winger unmarked and able to canter in at the corner. At 14-10 at half time, despite being on the back foot for a lot of the game, we were certainly still in it.
Youngster Paul Cooke was having a great game and it was he who was involved in getting the first try of the second half. Having just stopped Blackmore in full flight, Cooke hoisted a steepling up and under towards the corner flag and with a huge leap Matt Daylight beat Leroy Rivett to the ball to grab his hat trick try and level the scores at 14-14. However almost before we had finished celebrating a shrewd kick to the corner by Sheridan evaded Carney, and Cummins touched down to restore the Rhino’s lead. Bird then had a try disallowed by the video referee, when Rivett had lost the ball over the line, before Harris and Sammut both kicked a penalty apiece.
The game was set for a tense finish but Anthony Farrell broke through the Hull defensive line to touch down and at 28-16 it seemed all over. Back came Hull in the last few minutes and after what looked, from where we were sitting, as a perfectly good try to David Maiden was disallowed for a forward pass, it was left for big Wayne McDonald to power over near the end. That score was too late and as the hooter went the Hull players sunk to their knees, whilst the Leeds outfit joined their fans in dancing for joy at the other end of the Stadium. It was I guess, looking back, all really a question of goal kicks. Iestyn Harris having landed all six of his goal attempts while Ben Sammut had much more difficult kicks and missed three, despite two of those hitting the posts. Of course, after what had been a really exciting game it was what happened next that everyone remembers!
“I will not let these yobs destroy this Club”
As we got to the end of our row of seats on our way out, the teams were just leaving the field. Then dozens of Hull FC fans climbed onto the pitch and started to antagonise the stewards who were trying to confine them to the terracing. We all just stood in disbelief, as fans poured onto the field and several attempted to scale the goal posts, which saw the cross bar at the Leeds end soon smashed in half. Another group of hooligans tried to rip the post out of the ground as others started ‘running battles’ with the police who had now arrived belatedly on the scenes, to confront well over 100 fans standing in front of the Leeds end. These hooligans were goading and threatening the children and families that had, a few minutes earlier, been celebrating the Cup holders return to the Final.
We simply couldn’t believe our eyes and we all shouted “Get off the pitch” but of course we couldn’t be heard and as the tannoy announcer mirrored our sentiments to little effect, it was obvious that the situation was well past any sort of reasonable resolution. Shane Richardson is said to have been in tears after the game, and said, “I will not allow these yobs to destroy this Club”. 17 fans were arrested that day and it was in disgrace and disbelief that we drove back to Hull in complete silence.
The story in all its graphic detail featured on the national TV news that night and next day the Sunday newspapers were full of all the wrong sort of publicity for the great game of Rugby League. Once again a small minority of the fans of the Club I loved, had brought scorn, shame and loathing on all of us, just when we looked to be in the ascendancy and getting back to the standing we deserved in the game. Of course, the Hull Daily Mail on Monday was full of it and the following week they mounted a ‘Shaming our City’ campaign to name and identify the culprits. I was so embarrassed and saddened by it all. You always love your Club but at times like that, just like in any relationship, that love is certainly tested. There is little doubt that the entire population of Hull had been disgraced because outside the City we were all seen as thugs, hooligans, drunkards and bad losers. No one said that supporting Hull FC would ever be easy and at that time like that it certainly wasn’t!
True fans, true colours!
Saturday 2nd April 2000 Hull FC 32 Warrington Wolves 16
As the week wore on, my personal shame hadn’t abated much and the thought of accompanying that rabble to, of all places, ‘The Zoo’ at Warrington the following Saturday, was not a pleasant proposition. Of course, there was little doubt about me attending because I felt I had to out of a sense of duty. That week the Club launched a Fans’ Charter, which was designed to ensure that Hull FC were seen to be valuing the average, decent supporters whilst ostracising the hooligan element who had done so much damage at Huddersfield. I signed up on the Thursday and the Hull Daily Mail got 1000 fans registered in just 48 hours. Then we all went along to a Rally at the Boulevard that Saturday morning.
I was certainly surprised how many turned up that morning as around 1500 FC fans packed the Threepenny Stand. Some arrived pushing prams, others in wheelchairs but everyone wore their colours, although the mood was certainly a sombre one. I sat and listened to Shane Richardson, Shaun McRae and Steve Roberts of the Independent Supporters’ Association as they talked of restoring the pride, outing the culprits and of the true fans “leading by example”. We all listened sitting behind a massive banner that proclaimed, “From the True Supporters of Hull FC….. SORRY” and a final, sombre, chorus of ‘Old Faithful’ affirmed everyone’s commitment to the cause.
I went home feeling a lot better but certainly concerned about what would happen that night, on TV, at the worst ground in the country for antagonistic fans and potential trouble. If ever the problem was to reoccur again it would be there.
We arrived in Warrington early, but already the town and its inhabitants were prepared! As we walked towards the ageing Stadium we passed ‘The Royal Oak Branch’, a pub we had frequented in the past, where the walls of the Public Bar were always heavily decorated with rugby memorabilia and reminders of the home town Club’s past glories. A guy walking with me pointed in the direction of the front door and said “Look at that” as outside were hastily prepared signs announcing “No Away Supporters” and on the front door ‘Bouncers’ asked everyone “Are you from Hull”
At the turnstiles we were frisked by the police for cans of beer and we were asked to empty our pockets.
But, we were strong now, the Lloyd stuff had made us strong! On the terraces in the ‘shed’ Stand at the Railway End there was a fabulous turnout of singing and chanting Hull supporters and right in the middle of them was the man himself, Shane Richardson, standing with the FC fans, singing and chanting. The ‘Sorry’ banner that had been displayed at the Boulevard earlier in the day was again spread out over the perimeter barrier no doubt for the benefit of the TV cameras and as the teams ran out few of us could ever remember when so many cameras had been pointing away from the pitch and at the fans.
Later the behaviour of us Hull FC fans was described as “A rousing display of well-behaved bravado” and I was proud to be part of the ‘FC Army’ that day. There was still a couple of rounds of “We all hate Leeds”, and down to our left, it was great to see Shane joining in as we chanted, “Are you watching Hull KR” and gave ex Sharks ‘star’ Alan Hunte some stick. It wasn’t the end of the disgrace, but perhaps that night, it was the beginning of the end.
Although it was almost academic in the bigger scheme of things, we beat a well fancied Warrington that night, in a rousing display that showed the team wanted to do their bit to rectify things too.
The massed ranks of Hull fans sang the lads home and despite some stylish play by Lee Briers we completely outclassed the ‘Wolves’ in a six try performance, that completely over shadowed the home team’s big-name signings, Allan Langer, Andrew Gee and Tawera Nikau. It was a fine way to end a terrible week and all the way down the motorway home fans tooted their horns and shouted out of car windows, as if we had just won the Cup!
The following week local fan Dave Dosdale was appointed Hull FC’s first ever, ‘Away Fans Liaison Officer’ and the Fans’ Charter ended up with around 7000 signatures. In spite of the fact that the semi-final was held on a neutral ground, Hull were eventually fined ₤25,000 by the Rugby Football League for “Having inadequate security”, and an additional ₤10,000 two days later after ‘a Club official’ described the League’s decision as “absolutely disgraceful” and threatened to withdraw Hull from the 2001 Challenge Cup. It was the end of a sad episode in the illustrious history of Hull FC and one that I have detailed here lest, as Rugby League fans and indeed sports fans in general, we ever forget what a few mindless idiots can do to an institution that is loved by thousands.
So there we are, don’t forget the final episode of ‘Roamin’ the Range Together’ is out in a special extra Diary mid-week and after that we all turn our attention to next weekend, Salford and the start of what can only be called a new era!
Thanks for your continued support, I’ll be back with you all next week (twice) and in the mean-time stay safe and