Here it is, a special additional episode of the Diary and it’s the first time in 17 years of doing the weekly journal that we have had two in one week. But here, for those who have followed the books in these instalments for the last twenty weeks is the final part of 55 years of being an FC fanatic. Thanks’ so much for reading my humble record of just how I saw it, how it affected me just about every weekend of my life and what happened in between.
Bringing it all back Home…the new Stadium becomes a reality.
Most of what comes next will still be pretty fresh in the mind of the reader, so it seems only appropriate that I don’t labour that much on the final five years of this yarn of an ordinary guy and his love of an extra ordinary Rugby League team. I think personally, that writing about everyday happenings from such recent times hold little in the way of revelations or entertainment but none the less in the first five years of the new Century there were certainly some significant developments and milestones.
These came both on the rugby front and in my own life as my story finally winds through the final years that lead up to that life defining and magically sunlit day in Cardiff!
At work the success of Hull 700 had left me in a strong position, and I was now operating under the rather grandiose title of ‘Head of Image and Promotion’ which saw me managing a team of over 70 people. The disciplines within that organisation ranged from the Civic Office which managed the Lord Mayor, through the Tourism, Entertainments and Sports Promotion Teams, the design staff and (probably because no one else wanted to manage it), the Covered Market in the City Centre. In addition to all that, I was also still overseeing the Council’s Press Office and had to spend quite a bit of time facing the TV cameras and radio microphones, whenever ‘the wheel came off’. Something that was, it has to be said, a pretty regular occurrence at Hull City Council. If the Authority weren’t drumming the Head of Education out of the City, we were suspending Chief Executives or facing bullying charges against the councillors, it was certainly never dull in Hull.
After 34 years of working in the Leisure Services Department, a reorganisation saw my team moved into the Economic Development Directorate, where we worked under Director, John North, who turned out to be a top bloke. John deserves a big mention here because although the concept of a Community Stadium was Pat Doyle’s, John was the driving force behind this unique vision becoming a glorious reality.
Along with his Stadium Project Manager John Topliss, he ploughed a lone furrow backwards and forwards to places like the Stadium of Light in Sunderland and the Emirates Stadium in London, gaining information and ideas and whenever there was a problem, or an obstacle, it was the two Johns and Pat Doyle the Leader of the Council, that found a way through it. I actually believe that without John North, it’s unlikely the KC Stadium would ever have existed. I think too that afterwards everyone realised that it was thanks to him (in the light of the well-publicised Millennium Dome fiasco and the overspending and over running on the Wembley Stadium refurbishment) that the KC Stadium was delivered on time, on specification and slightly under budget.
The search for unexploded bombs and a home for the lizards
Much of the interesting stuff that year for us Hull FC fans was concerned with watching as the preparatory work on our new home, began in earnest. The site was now agreed and so began the harrowing and at times frustrating business of getting through all the legislation that needed to be in place before a single piece of turf could be lifted. In May 2000 the first community consultation meetings began and I attended several in the nearby Newington Ward, where there was a surprising amount of goodwill to see the development become reality.
There were now some futuristic designs to show everyone and talk of a Community Sports Hall, Skateboard Park, a shared railway halt with the Infirmary and a remodelled West Park certainly captured the public’s imagination. By September the Council had granted planning permission and although the whole scheme was then called in by the Government, it was approved by the Secretary of State in December. So, at last and despite a colony of Common Lizards (a protected species) being discovered on the allotments behind the site, we could all look forward to work starting on Hull FC’s (and Hull City’s) new home. The Lizards needing a protected habitat has, to this day, always offered an excuse for the undeveloped areas found at the South of the Stadium.
First up it was necessary to ‘Search the site’ which was a time-consuming affair involving a lot of scanning and the digging of numerous holes to thoroughly examine the ground that the structure was to be built on. On an undeveloped site like the Cricket Circle they were looking for everything from the unlikely, such as Roman remains, to the more than likely (in Hull), unexploded bombs, but thankfully found neither. John North tells a great story about how, on that first morning of the search, he cancelled all his meetings and sat in his office watching the telephone, waiting for it to ring, as he feared yet another setback. With the site given the all clear, Birse Stadia in place as approved contractors, and all the community and legislative hurdles cleared, work at last started on site in October. I went down to a Ground Breaking Ceremony with the Council’s Press Office team, where Trish Goldsmith said a few words, while children from 5 local schools buried time capsules in the foundations of what was to be the West Stand. At last, despite our sadness about leaving the Boulevard, the dream of a new home was becoming a reality.
The last incredible journey of Charlie Rowlin
In a year when the Labour party in Hull were doing so badly that The Lord Mayor, Brian Wilkinson, lost his seat to the Independent candidate John Considine, a rumour about some very unusual happenings concerning a party of Hull FC supporters, who had travelled to Murrayfield in Edinburgh for the Challenge Cup Final, was circulating the Guildhall. We all thought it was just another urban myth, until the Hull Daily Mail featured a front page ‘scoop’ on the singular circumstances surrounding FC fan Charlie Rowlin’s last trip to a game of Rugby League.
Charlie, who was 77 and suffering from cancer, was a real character who even had his own seat, ‘Charlie’s Corner’, in the Yorkshireman Pub in Hull City Centre. He had travelled to the Final with his pals and although he survived long enough to see his 51st Cup Final contested between Leeds and Bradford, that night in his Glasgow hotel room, he passed away. According to the newspaper Charlie’s close friend John O’Laughlan, who was looking after him, didn’t know what to do for the best having tried to rouse Charlie before discovering his pal’s sad demise. After talking to a couple of pals it was decided that Charlie certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be laid to rest in a strange mortuary in Scotland and so they proceeded to dress him in his best suit and with his trade mark flat cap pulled down over his eyes and a pal under each arm to support him, they ‘walked’ Charlie outside and onto the bus home. John seated Charlie next to him in the seat right behind the driver and only told the rest of the passengers what had happened after they had been driving for around an hour.
On the journey they telephoned home to break the news and the heartbroken family in turn contacted an undertaker, who agreed to drive north to meet the bus. However Charlie’s pals refused this suggestion, preferring instead to deliver Charlie back to Hull because, “Charlie would have wanted it that way”. The Police then rang and were given the same answer as (like some Viking longboat bearing home the body of a great warrior) the Coach carrying Charlie, sped onwards towards Hull and ‘Old Faithful’ rang out from the travellers. Eventually it was flagged down by two Police cars on the A1 just outside Boroughbridge. It was a monumental and pretty unbelievable chapter of events, which I think opitomised the camaraderie that has always existed amongst those in the fellowship of Hull FC.
In the end, whatever the ethics involved, the action of those lads that day was all about friendship and doing what their pal would have wanted. Charlie’s daughter said afterwards that her Dad was loved by many people and added, “Causing a big fuss like that would have just put the lid on his life. He’d have loved it”.
If his last journey home was momentous, Charlie’s funeral was none the less sensational, as after the cortege had driven past his beloved Boulevard Ground, a New Orleans Jazz Band led a procession into the Northern Cemetery on Chanterlands Avenue, playing (as Charlie had requested) ‘When the Saints go Marching in’ and of course during the service, the chapel rocked to a rousing rendition of ‘Old Faithful’. Charlie Rowlin eh? What a story!
We beat Leeds (as usual) but injuries blight the season
Sunday 14th May 2000 Hull FC 26-Leeds Rhino’s 22
There was a particularly exciting game that May when we entertained Leeds, in a game that I remember particularly for the second half.
Over 8000 watched as Leeds charged into the lead, and we trailed 16-4 at half time. Afterwards, we were told that Shaun McRae’s half time talk was “X rated”, but it worked and by the 60-minute mark, we had reversed our fortunes to lead 20-16. At that point, led by big Wayne McDonald and half backs Richard Horne and Will Robinson, we looked to be turning the tide, before Karl Pratt crashed in at the corner to restore Leeds’ lead.
That day I watched from the New Threepenny Stand and from where I was sitting I could see Shane Richardson doing an impression of a ‘Jack in a Box’, springing from his seat, punching his hand and constantly asking the PA announcer “How long to go”. However, three minutes from time as we trailed the Rhino’s 20-22, Shane and the rest of us, were in raptures, jumping up and down and punching the air together.
We had all just witnessed the mercurial Will Robinson instigate a brilliant cross field move, which culminated with prop forward Andy Hick scoring next to the posts. A last-minute Leeds break was thwarted by a great ‘ball and all’ tackle by Hick and before the Leeds player could get up, the hooter went and the crowd erupted as once again we had beaten Leeds and once again, we didn’t want to go home.
I saw all but four away games in that 2000 season and it was certainly a better year, however the rest of the campaign seemed to pale a little into insignificance following the happenings and backlash from the Galpharm Stadium incident, although the Club, the Independent Supporters Association and the fans themselves worked tirelessly to rebuild the tarnished reputation of a Club that, as far as the sporting world was concerned, was definitely on probation. That season perhaps didn’t quite match the expectations of our new owner’s, as far as the size of the crowd was concerned and attendances certainly depreciated again towards the end of the year.
Still Hull FC finished 7th in the Super League table with 12 wins, which was a distinct improvement on what we were used to, but our efforts in an extended post season play off series were beset with injuries and we won just two games. In mid-season Andy Hick retired from the game with a knee injury, at a time when we had a total of 11 players side lined. Still at least that crisis saw a lot of good youngsters stepping up to the first team with Craig Poucher, Andy Last, Paul King, Richard Horne, Richard Fletcher and Paul Cooke all getting their chance to shine.
Rising from the Cricket Circle – the coming of the KC
For the 2001 season, because of the Rugby League’s quota regulations, the Club had to take a serious look at their overseas contingent. An amazing 20 players of the squad that started the 2000 season left the Club as we looked to rebuild the team. Our big capture was Jason Smith, who arrived to be hailed as perhaps our most significant signing since Peter Sterling. The ‘Smiths’ didn’t stop there either because we also brought half back Tony from Wigan and winger Chris from St Helens, while fans favourite Steve Prescott returned to the Club. Other additions included youngsters Gareth Carvell and Gareth Raynor from Leeds and Matt Crowther and Paul Broadbent. I’ll always remember when we re-signed Lee Jackson, that he was asked at his press conference where he was when he kicked his one and only career drop goal, to which he replied, “In front of the posts”.
Things were going well at the Stadium site until the whole project was thrown into doubt by the impending demise of Hull City. It was 6.30am on a dark and dismal 6th February 2001 when two white vans from Multi Lock Ltd. arrived at Boothferry Park. Armed with padlocks and chains the drivers secured the gates, posted ‘No Trespassing’ notices and locked the players, staff and management out of the Stadium. By 9-00am the story was being covered by the national sporting media and a few days later the Administrators moved in.
With the future of the City’s professional football team and the KC Stadium project in jeopardy, it was at a hotel at a windy, cold service area on the A1, that John North and Ian Blakey (the Chairman of the Stadium Project Board) were invited to clandestine meeting. Into the foyer that afternoon walked the confident, distinctive and charismatic figure of Adam Pearson, with whom they were to discuss the Councils plans for the Stadium. Pearson was excited by what he heard and immediately revealed his intention to buy Hull City. At the Council we were privy to these negotiations but had to keep everything confidential for an anxious few weeks until, in early March, Adam was announced as the new owner of the Football Club and the Stadium project was back on track again.
Shortly afterwards as the sale of the Boulevard to the Council for £750,000 was finally completed, I attended a meeting in the Leader’s Office at the Guildhall where in the presence of their legal teams, Adam Pearson and Shane Richardson signed up to leases which would enable their respective Clubs to play at the new Stadium for the next 50 years. We had struggled to get a regular Stadium Management company to run the place and as Shane Richardson wasn’t interested in doing that, Adam agreed to take it on as part of the football Club. Back then it was an eminently good idea as everyone got on well, but it was a decision that would be rued by fans of both clubs and the council years later!!!
Hull KR had been offered the chance to join the party and play there too, but they declined the offer citing, “Not wanting to move from their core support in East Hull, into a Stadium that would probably be too big for them anyway”
Then, as the ‘Red and White’s’ number one fan Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott hit the headlines for landing a right hook on the jaw of an egg throwing protester at the hustings, people in West Hull were more concerned about Hull FC getting a good start to the 2001 season. The team spent a week at the La Santa Complex in Lanzarote, where Coach McRae set a target of a top five finish, before we began the season with four wins and a draw.
Throughout what was a memorable campaign a major factor in our success was our ability to beat sides in the lower reaches of the League. Halifax, Salford, Huddersfield and London were all beaten home and away and our only real stumbling block was a dour Castleford side who took three points off us. In mid-season injures hit us hard again and we brought in Australian Scott Logan, who, despite playing in the Premier Division of the Australian game benefitted from having a British Passport, which meant he was able to arrive almost immediately.
That year Skipper Tony Grimaldi did a tremendous job in his last season at the Club, Luke Felsch was outstanding and Steve Prescott superb at times. A seven-match winning run completed the League season in some style. In fact, only a 3-point defeat by the Wigan Warriors and a 4-point reversal at St Helens in the Eliminator Semi Final saw us fail to get to Old Trafford and the Grand Final. The biggest disappointment however was the level of attendance at the Boulevard and an average of less than 7000 wasn’t good enough to sustain our current level of investment. It’s hard to entice fans back after years of disappointment, but we all joined Shane Richardson in hoping that the following year, our last in the Boulevard, would see a vast improvement.
As 2001 drew to a close I drove to West Park every Thursday afternoon to watch the new Super Stadium taking shape, while the Club moved quickly to secure more new signings as Toa Kohi Love arrived from Warrington, Craig Greenhill and Sean Ryan from Australia and Chris Chester from Wigan. However bad news was to follow as our charismatic Chief Executive Shane Richardson left in December to move back home to Australia, where he took up a similar position at the Penrith Panthers. It was a sad day when he left, and the Hull Daily Mail carried the front-page quote from a fan, “Thanks Shane for Saving us” which, for every Hull FC fan, just about said it all!
The last year at our spiritual home begins but we’re straight out of the Cup at Wigan!
Saturday 9th February 2002 Hull FC 10 Wigan Warriors 34
That Christmas, a web cam was positioned on the top of Hull Royal Infirmary so that we could all follow the building of the new Stadium and we played a special Boxing Day Challenge game at New Craven Park against Hull KR. On a bumpy, bare playing surface that Shaun McRae described as “Unbelievable” and with 13 players still out of the Country or recovering from pre-season operations, we fielded an inexperienced team that featured youngsters Kirk Yeaman, Graeme Horne, Matty McGuire, Dean O’Laughlin, Craig Cook and Ian Bell. Following the departure of ‘Richo’, Trish Goldsmith was appointed Managing Director and her flamboyant style saw the previous season ticket sales record of 2,400 surpassed in just 12 weeks.
My ‘Hull Tourism’ team was really busy that summer and the City was buzzing as visitor numbers rocketed, but at the Council things were changing with a new senior management structure in place that was dictating a new direction for the Authority. The latter seemed to me to shift the emphasis away from delivering services to the people (which let’s face it, is the reason for having local authorities in the first place), onto bureaucracy and paperwork. As the feedback, continuous improvement nonsense, procurement procedures, monitoring and general form filling started to mount up, I was getting a little disenchanted with the whole thing and after 36 years working at Hull City Council, for the first time since I was terrorised by ‘Mudball’ in Eastern Cemetery back in 1969, I wasn’t enjoying work at all.
On the rugby front we were all excited by the new season but our expectations were dashed when we drew Wigan at the JJB Stadium in the Kellogg’s Nutrograin Challenge Cup Round 3 and I travelled over the Pennines for a game in which we were well beaten 34-10. However, another new recruit Graham Mackey made a superb debut, as the powerful centre scored a storming try but it wasn’t enough to stop us exiting from the competition at the first hurdle. That disappointment was however followed by a wonderful home performance against London on the 1st April.
That day almost 7000 fans watched an enthralling game, with young forward Gareth Carvell and experienced Aussie, Craig Greenhill terrorised the visitors with some awesome forward play. Carvell scored a hat-trick in a game that at one point saw Hull FC trailing 26-12, before three late tries snatched an unlikely 30-26 win. Then four days later, a long trip back to Wigan in foggy conditions was all worthwhile as we ended a run of 12 consecutive defeats there by beating ‘The Pies’ 18-20 in another thrilling encounter. About 1000 of us sang Hull FC ‘home’ that night and the highlights of a fine performance were the tenacity of Greenhill and Co. in the pack, and an amazing match winning individual try by 19-year-old Richard Horne, just 7 minutes from the end.
Lee Briers ‘drops’ us in it.
Sunday 6th May 2002 Hull FC 16-Warrington Wolves 19
Things were going well, so well that the visit of a struggling Warrington Wolves to the Boulevard in early May was seen by most as a formality. We were undefeated at home, sitting 2nd in the Super League and celebrating Shaun McRae’s 200th game as a Coach in this country. Warrington on the other hand arrived in Hull after 7 defeats and were under extreme pressure from their fans (who were demanding ‘the head’ of their Coach, David Plange). The stage was set for a higher than average gate to witness a mauling, but Warrington scrum half Lee Briers had other ideas.
Three times during the game he used good field position, gifted to the visitors by some sloppy Hull play, to drop a goal. If it hadn’t have been for the constant heckling from the Threepenny Stand that tally could have been a lot higher, as he missed with another 4 attempts. Chester scored a great try for Hull when he broke, fed Deon Bird and took the return pass to touch-down and reduce the Warrington lead to just 12-15, but two minutes later, hero became villain, as Chester dropped a speculative pass close to the Warrington line, which Briers swooped on to run 90 yards to score. It was, I remember, a really disappointing performance and despite Mackey crashing in from a short Paul Cooke pass with 4 minutes to go, it was all too little, too late and we went down to our first home defeat of the season.
It was a story of missed chances, as twice Crowther saw his attempts at goal hit the post and bounce agonisingly wide and Paul Cooke could have scored had he spotted the gap to his left. Paul King lost the ball near the line and after a great break by Gareth Raynor, a possible scoring move broke down as Mackay wasted the chance with a pass straight into touch. All three Warrington tries came from Hull mistakes, including an easy score for Rodwell, as the ball bounced out of Crowther’s arms in our in-goal area and the Warrington captain gleefully pounced.
In the end it was a perfect example of how patience and tenacity often overcomes over confidence. That game was certainly a reality check for everyone and left us all coveting Lee Briers, a man who was to torment us time and again over the years.
Chesney should have known Better!
That July I had another stressful weekend when on a boiling hot Sunday afternoon East Park played host to one of the biggest pop music gatherings the City had seen. 25,000 kids turned up to watch Blue, Darius and Gareth Gates and the excitable crowd had to be regularly dowsed with water to keep them cool. As the promoters hadn’t engaged enough security staff keeping order away from the stage was difficult and several fights broke out as the lethal cocktail of sun and alcohol started to take effect. This volatile situation wasn’t helped at all by probably the oldest person on the bill that afternoon Chesney Hawkes. He decided to augment a rousing rendition of his only real hit ‘I am the One and Only’ by climbing up the lighting rig. As it swayed backwards and forwards under his weight and the security staff tried in vain to get him down, I concluded that, “I really don’t need all this!”
In the world of Rugby, Castleford had latterly become our bogey team, but we laid that ghost in 2002 following two good wins, but July was a disappointing month after we came so close to beating both Bradford and St Helens at the Boulevard.
After leading 22-6 against London at Griffin Park we went down 46-32 and results in August and September trailed off again, culminating in a 52-10 defeat at Headingley and a 64-10 defeat to St Helens. Without doubt both performances were horror shows, I know I was there, and after the Saints game Shaun McRae came desperately close to quitting, citing “A Cancer that is apparent within the team”.
We never really got to the bottom of what he was alluding to, but thankfully after a weekend of reflection our Coach changed his mind. However, in three seasons we had finished 7th, 4th and 5th in Super League and for the fans that was certainly a lot better than the trials and tribulations that had gone before.
I guess that as seasons go the 2002 campaign, the last at the Boulevard, was a successful one, although Shaun McRae did take the opportunity early on to remind us of what he said back in 2000. Then, as we started to digest the implications of merger he said it would take five years to get the Club winning trophies again and in that context, he was pleased with our progress. Shaun was of course to be proved blissfully right at the end of that ‘5-year-plan’ but our downfall in 2002 was without doubt our lack of consistency, both during games and over the season. On several occasions we established a commanding lead before becoming careless and letting the opposition back into the game. On the terraces we all agreed that our main failing was a lack of pace, when compared with what Leeds, Saints and Wigan had to offer.
As if to address our concerns and to improve our chances for the next campaign the Club brought in Aussie flyer Colin Best and iconic London Bronco’s centre Richie Barnett, both of whom were really fast players.
A Life Changing Moment
I have spoken previously about the fact that at work, things were changing and as the Liberal Democrats ousted the Labour Party to take control of the City Council for the first time in living memory, more Management re-structuring was taking place and I wasn’t too impressed. My position was fine and I seemed to be going from strength to strength, as I now added management of the City Centre to my ‘portfolio’ of responsibilities. However, years of working 50 and 60 hours a week and being on call for Councillors, the media and other public agencies 24 hours a day, had worn me down. At last I was really settled at home, content with my lot outside work and living in a cottage in Beverley. Despite only being 52 I’d certainly had enough of the constant stress and as toughing it out wasn’t really in my make-up, I just tried to put on ‘a brave face’ for the staff, when in actuality inside it had all just worn me down. The Doctor prescribed me some tablets (happy pills he called them) to help me get through, but I had starting to feel permanently tired and pretty vulnerable.
The final straw came that October as once again the worry, anxiety and pressure of overseeing Hull Fair returned. That year the Fair was going reasonably well until the Tuesday night when there was a near disaster, after a 17-year-old girl fell 30 feet from the ‘The Bomber’ ride and was rushed to Hull Royal Infirmary critically ill with head injuries. The ride was stopped with four other riders stuck at the opposite end of the rotating arm for almost an hour, and they were subsequently also admitted to hospital with hypothermia.
The incident caused an uneasy air around the Fairground that night, as some of the attractions closed early while rumours flew round the Showmen and staff like wildfire and I struggled to find out what had actually happened.
As I worked with the Police and Fire Brigade, the Health and Safety Executive inspectors from Sheffield arrived and word spread quickly as I started to field what was to turn into an avalanche of enquiries from the local and national media. There is nothing a hack likes more than an accident at a Fairground! I remember spending time that evening writing two press releases for next day one for someone who had survived and one for someone who hadn’t.
I couldn’t find anything out about the condition of the girl, and it wasn’t until after midnight that night that I arrived back home totally drained and rang the Chief Executive of the Authority Jim Brookes to inform him of the incident. He was brilliant in his support that night, but next day there was a ‘media frenzy’ and I was in the middle of it. The team that had run the operational side of the fair so brilliantly for me for so many year’s, were obviously in shock too, so it was down to me to face the music and take the heat from the media.
That day, as I stood with my legal representative and good pal, Jeff Turgoose, Sky News, BBC1’s News at Ten, the local TV networks and Channel 4 all queued up to interview me in front of a Bingo stall on Walton Street. The outcome was predictable really and despite my best efforts to highlight the insurance and vigorous testing procedures each ride at the event had to go through before it opens, it was in the end as far as they were concerned, the Council’s fault. That was certainly a stressful and defining moment in a career that had over the years been littered with many such occurrences at the City Hall, Open Air Events and of course the Fair.
The injured lady, thankfully made a good recovery and the Council were exonerated, but I knew the way I had been dragged through the media with little support from my superiors had left me deflated and uneasy and although I was still only 52, I was tired of it all. That cold wet night at Hull Fair was for me, the ‘tipping point’ and the time when I knew that if I were to have any life at all after work, I had to get out. That incident just highlighted for me where I was at as a person, and an influx of new managers, a more strategic and complex approach to delivering simple services and a change in the political focus of the organisation, (coupled with that stress) now made ‘Escape’ an imperative. I didn’t know how I would do it but with the City Council needing to reduce its workforce and the saving grace of the ‘Final Salary Pension Scheme’ that I has subscribed to since I was 18, there was certainly scope to give it a go.
As the Doctor increased the dosage of the ‘uppers’, and I looked for an escape plan, there was still one very significant game of rugby left to go and as we had been disappointedly knocked out in the First Round stage of the play-offs by Leeds, all the Hull FC lads got 10 days off before they faced the New Zealand Tourists in the last ever game to be played at our spiritual home.
A last hurrah for the Boulevard
Tuesday 22nd October 2002 Hull FC 11 New Zealand 28
As a mellow, yellowing ‘Old Faithful’ moon hung over the trees that flanked the most famous ‘avenue’ in Rugby League, I turned into the Boulevard, glancing briefly beyond the Anlaby Road Flyover to my right, at the outlines of the new Stadium looming out of the night. Like hundreds of others and not wishing to miss a thing, I arrived really early and before taking up my place for the last time on that now infamous ‘Lucky Step’ at the Airlie Street end, I had a last pint in the bar under the Threepenny Stand surrounded by the memories on the walls.
Those framed icons that had for so long been ‘part of the wallpaper’ included the receipt for the transfer of ‘Knocker’ Norton from Castleford in 1978, a picture of Dave Topliss lifting the Challenge Cup and Clive Sullivan’s International shirt. The whole evening was a celebration of one of the most famous Rugby League Grounds in the World and 12,092 Hull FC fans past and present were desperate to be part of it.
Before the actual rugby started there was a parade around the perimeter of the playing area led by the City of Hull Pipe Band, who were followed by a procession of ex Hull FC players that had come from across the world to be there that night. True to the definition that bagpipes are the missing link between music and noise, as they passed us the band played a rousing ‘Gaelic’ version of ‘Old Faithful’ and as I looked round many of the ‘old hands’ that had laughed, cried, fretted and rejoiced with us over the years, were in tears. It was certainly a moving experience as I stood there with my family, while to my left were all the gang with whom, over the years, I had shared my life-long obsession, as we all came together for one last time.
Before the current Hull FC Super League team took on the touring New Zealanders there was a game featuring Hull Ex Players who took on Great Britain Ex Players. The story goes that at 71 ‘Gentleman’ Johnny Whiteley was asked to lead the teams out for this ‘Curtain Raiser’. Apparently, despite having two replacement hips, he simply replied, “Lead them out, no chance, I’m playing”. Garry Kemble one of those famous Kiwi’s who played for the Club back in the 80’s was out there, as were many of the other favourites featured in this tome. It was a real spectacle, but with the formalities over we all awaited the teams for the last ever game at the Boulevard.
Lee Jackson, still smarting from being told that he would not be retained at the Club for the following history making season, was made captain for the night, and he put in a vintage performance. It was also ironic that after all the memorable tries that had been scored at the Boulevard the best score that night, was possibly the longest drop goal the place had ever seen. It was a fabulous 55-yard effort by Graham Mackey who was also playing his last game for the Club. While he was still stood in his own half Graham struck the ball sweetly and it soared downfield and between the posts. It was a magical moment in a magical night as ironically the only other drop goal Graham had scored in his career was in Australia 11 years earlier. His shiny bald head meant that he soon acquired the nickname of ‘Uncle Fester’ which he kept throughout his stay at the Club. That drop goal came on the stroke of half time and saw Hull go in leading the New Zealanders 7-6, our try having come from Richard Horne, who chased a short grubber kick to the line by Lee Jackson. One blemish on an otherwise excellent half was the loss of Steve Prescott in the early stages with a sprung shoulder.
The second half started with the visitors introducing hooker Richard Swain from the bench and within ten minutes they were in front through a smart try, as Hohaia kicked ahead twice to touch down. Then tries from Nigel Vagana, Fa’afili and Francis Meli saw the drama extended to the very end as the last try to be scored at the Boulevard was right on the ‘hooter’ and by Hull FC’s Paul Parker. It came just 10 seconds before the end from an unlikely kick by Prop Craig Greenhill. Parker latched onto the ball 20 yards out and rounded Vaekiki in classic wing style to touch down to the biggest cheer of the night. It was a fitting and atmospheric end to 107 years of triumph and disaster at the community’s spiritual home.
Afterwards the crowd demanded the traditional New Zealand battle cry, by chanting “Haka Haka Haka” and the Tourists obliged at every side of the Ground. It reminded me of the time it was performed by Arthur Bunting and the boys in 1983, in front of the old Threepenny Stand when we won the Championship. As the fireworks that read Hull FC 1865-2002 crackled and spluttered at the other end, ‘Old Faithful’ rang out continuously around the ground and no one wanted to go home. As I finally reached the top of the steps at the back of the terracing, I took one last look back over my shoulder to see the ball boys out on the now deserted pitch playing with the match ball, just as I had done as a kid almost 50 years earlier. Leaving the Boulevard left me saddened, empty and with nowhere to run when the going got tough!
That was it then, the “Round up Days” were well and truly over and the place that was “White with Clover” was no more. I had moved about a lot in my life both relationship and accommodation wise and although for the first time I was really settled and happy, my dis-satisfaction at work meant that leaving the Boulevard behind was a big blow. Since I’d left that little house across the street in Aylesford Street 36 years earlier, that Ground had been my emotional anchor to the past and I suppose if I’m honest, a ‘Comfort Blanket’ of sorts. It was somewhere that I was compelled to revisit every other week, if I wanted to watch the team I loved, and thus, by default, I was also constantly in touch with my spiritual home and the world in which I grew up.
The old Stadium may have changed over time but it had always been there. Coaches came, owners went, players left and ‘must win’ matches were lost, there were the highs of emotional elation and the depths of despair, but the Boulevard was constant, even if what happened there wasn’t. It always offered me security, friendship and most of all hope. It was a very powerful, evocative place which had played a significant role in my life and was for me in the end nothing less than home. Looking back, I probably felt more at ease there than anywhere else on earth and for all of us who frequented it over the years The Boulevard was the place where we’d be able to shelter from whatever was going on in the rest of our lives and where we’d been able to dream. You were always amongst friends, it was a safe haven and the only place where, for 80 minutes at least, reality was suspended and the pressures of the world were shut out.
A couple of nights later I went with Steve Massam and a couple of other mates to a dinner, in a marquee, behind the New Threepenny Stand. At midnight with Martin Dunn our then head of Junior Rugby, we all walked out onto the centre spot and raised a glass to the old place. As we walked back towards the Threepenny Stand that was it, foreclosure, The Boulevard was no more as far as Hull FC was concerned and although in the coming years I would return from time to time to stand and remember, as far as everything else was concerned it was time to move on.
The ‘Wow factor’ lives up to its billing.
So, the task of ‘flitting’ across Anlaby Road’ began. The fans were certainly up for it with £100,000 of passes being sold on the first day they were available. That was 8 times more than in the corresponding period the previous year and on that first morning I was there queuing at the Boulevard for mine, as usual. We had to pick our seats from a photograph of the new stadium and I chose to sit in the East Stand, where we remain as a family to this day. It was certainly a new dawn for the City of Hull as the skyline now included the Stadium and the Deep and there was a feeling around the place that the whole area was going places.
My next big project for the Council was to manage the opening of the KC Stadium. On Sunday 15th December, ironically whilst millions of pounds were dropping off the price of KC shares on the stock exchange, the doors of the Stadium that bore that organisations name were flung open to the public. Thousands, dressed in their Hull City and Hull FC favors, queued in a light drizzle to get a first glimpse of their new home. Before they were admitted, the first fan to actually experience the place was blind-lifelong Hull FC supporter Donald Marshall and as the crowds started to file into the Stadium, I sat with him in the West Stand with another Hull FC fan, Lord Mayor, Councillor Terry Geraghty. In the lead up to that opening much was made by the media of the ‘Wow’ factor but for many, as they walked out of the access tunnel and into the Stadium for the first time, ‘Wow’ was for once a bit of an understatement.
New beginnings, as 11 men see off Halifax
Sunday 9th February 2003 Hull FC 24- Halifax Blue Sox 16
The Hull players experienced their first taste of the new Stadium at a training session on Thursday 6th February and then the waiting was over as we all made our way to the KC Stadium for our first game, a Challenge Cup tie against Halifax. It was amazingly (for someone so young) Richard Horne’s 100th game for the Club and 15,310 attended that day to witness one of the most bizarre starts to a game I had ever seen. Within 28 seconds of the kick off skipper and loose forward Jason Smith had left the field, sent off by referee Steve Ganson. It was only the second tackle when, to a stunned silence all around the ground, Jason trooped off having been found guilty of a high tackle on Halifax’s Chris Birchall.
Roared on by the crowd, the shorthanded home team took the game to Halifax and in the 7th minute everyone was out of their seats as Colin Best flew in at the corner, to become the first person to score a try at The KC Stadium. Crowther converted, but back roared the ‘Fax, as loanee Dane Dorahy scored near the posts and his conversion and a penalty, saw the scoreboard soon reading 8-6 to the visitors. When Scott Logan was felled by a high shot Crowther converted a penalty to level things up and a further exchange of penalties made it 10-10, heading for half-time. Then a superb stadium was graced with an equally superb try engineered by Paul King and Steve Prescott. They made ground down field and broke the line before a magical piece of touch-line running by new signing Richie Barnett completely fooled Halifax full-back Finnerty and Barnett touched down in the corner.
We led 16-10 at half time and just two minutes into the second half we scored again when Toa Kohe-Love crashed in after Richard Horne had made the break. Then Greenwood scored a try for the opposition before, eight minutes into the second half, Hull’s Richard Fletcher was also sent off for a high tackle on Andy Hobson. Down to 11 men and just leading 20-16, Hull FC, roared on by a fanatical support, really had to dig deep to hold out wave after wave of Halifax attacks.
Dwayne West ruptured his ligaments in the next move; an injury that was to keep him out for the rest of the season, but undeterred our defence was simply awesome, as tired and battered bodies were continuously put to the test. A 61st minute penalty by Crowther calmed our nerves and as the visitors started to get frustrated, he landed another one just before the hooter to seal a memorable win. That victory was later likened to another fabulous performance years earlier in 1974 when after a proposed ‘walk off’ by the Hull players, we beat Leeds again with 11 men.
Shaun McRae stood at pitch side after the game and applauded every one of his player from the field, he said afterwards that he was, “The proudest man in the Stadium” but that was debatable, because we all felt proud that afternoon having witnessed a dramatic and fitting ‘christening’ for our new home.
The young ‘guns’ shoot down Wigan
Friday 4th April 2003 Hull FC 20 –Wigan Warriors 4
Another memorable game that year was when Wigan arrived at the new KC Stadium, on a night that 12,000 fans would roar our heroes home to a famous victory under the KC lights and in front of the Sky TV cameras. We’d won all our League games so far that year having been victorious over Wakefield and Warrington away and Widnes at the KC, but now we faced our biggest test in the shape of the Wigan Warriors. The visitors were rocked just before kick off when their out of contract star Julian O’Neill walked out of their hotel, to sign for the Widnes Vikings. From the start of the game Wigan put us under some pressure and Richard Horne, playing that day at full back, twice relieved the pressure by fielding a couple of big kicks hoisted by Lam. However, Chris Chester twice lost the ball in our half to give the visitors good field position from which they pressed forward.
A short kick towards the corner by Lam looked to be ideally placed for ex FC hero Brian Carney who was now playing for Wigan. He raced downfield to be thwarted by Prescott as he slid in to take the ball at Carney’s feet. Then Wigan’s Hock and Mark Smith stole the ball from Greenhill and from the ensuing penalty Prescott added the two points, for Hull FC to take the lead. Our defence was holding up well but our attack lacked variation and it was unfortunate when our best chance so far went to ground as a Colin Best pass was intercepted. Another penalty by Prescott made it 4-0, before we scored our first try. A Jason Smith kick spiralled in the air allowing Best, under great pressure from Dallas, to rise above the defence and bring it down over the line to score. David Doyle-Davidson, commentating that day on local radio, declared that Best “Rose like a Salmon”, but Referee Kirkpatrick wasn’t so sure and referred the decision to the Video Referee, who eventually awarded the try and we went in at half time, 10-0 up.
Jason Smith who was left hobbling in the first half after a crash tackle on halfway, didn’t re-appear in the second, but after just a few minutes Adam Maher, who was having a superb game, took a kick through by Chester and beat Carney in a chase to the corner, where he scored his first try of the season and Hull’s second of the night. Leading 14-0 and looking reasonably comfortable, Hull then had to endure some Wigan pressure. The visitors attack charged forward, but a fierce tackle from Chester caused Carney to fumble the ball and then shortly afterwards, a big hit from Richie Barnett saw Brett Dallas pushed into touch, as, on their feet, the crowd broke into another round of ‘Old Faithful’.
However, after a great move orchestrated by Richie Barnett and Fletcher, disaster struck. The latter made a blockbusting run and fed Logan who barrelled downfield trailing tacklers in his wake and was just inches short of the line when he eventually went down under two Wigan forwards. He stayed on the ground as the players waived for medical assistance and after a delay of around 8 minutes Scott Logan was stretchered from the field with a broken leg. Just three minutes later Kohe-Love looked to have sustained a serious arm injury in the tackle and he had to go off too. The visitor’s pressure was starting to tell and on 64 minutes Wigan teenage sensation Gareth Hock stole in for a try after he had dummied the Hull defence at a play the ball and dived through. With injuries disrupting things and Wigan on a roll, we needed a try badly, and we got one.
The injuries meant that we now had several of our young players on the field, and they showed their worth straight away as Graeme Horne ran down the blind side, Paul Cooke took on the defence and Yeaman side stepped twice, before crashing in to score. Kirk had done well in the centre of late and as always his score was particularly popular with the Hull fans. Prescott missed with the kick but was successful with a penalty shortly afterwards when a Maher break led to Graeme Horne being tripped, when he would have scored. At 20-4 the Wigan side had obviously had enough and the dejected Cherry and Whites played out the final minutes in midfield before the hooter was greeted with a cheer you could probably have heard in Wigan!
We played the Bradford Bulls early in June in a game that pitted second against first in the table. The match was attended by 3000 Bradford fans and the interest the Hull Club were generating since their move to the KC saw the biggest gate in nearly 30 years of 19,539 in attendance at a game that we eventually lost 26-20. Once again we were reduced to 11 men, (again by referee Steve Ganson), when Treister was sin-binned and then Fletcher sent off. Some referee’s it seems do enjoy being in the centre of things don’t they?
That summer on the City Council was another interesting one as Labour regained an overall majority in the local elections and immediately suspended Jim Brookes the Chief Executive.
That was another national TV and radio nightmare, which, as head of Media, I was right in the middle of, and as the Authority appealed for volunteers to come forward to make up a total of 2000 people that needed to be made redundant to balance the books, I decided that it was time to launch my ‘Escape plan’.
Getting out while the going was good!!!
At the Council even after 38-years-service, the process of getting a release on ‘early retirement’ was a long and convoluted one, particularly if you were any good at your job. The Voluntary Severance Scheme was often used to free the Authority of staff that they wanted to see the back of and for me at first as many obstacles as possible were put in my way, as everyone told me, “We aren’t letting you go”. However, following an appeal through the Trade Union and an interview with the new Leader, Colin Inglis, (who played a blinder) I obtained the necessary signatures and a leaving date of 6th August 2003 was decided upon. I was still taking the tablets and totally disillusioned with the culture in the Council and the fact that many of the new Managers that I sat with at Senior Management Team, were not even from Hull and seemed to have little interest in it as a City.
They simply didn’t seem to understand the issues, seeing their positions as career moves rather than a vocation, and that made my decision all the easier. What was really hard however was leaving the staff in the Image and Promotion team, because most of them were my pals and although sometimes I had to be ‘The Boss’, we all got on well as friends, as well as colleagues.
So it was that at 1-00pm on 6th August a gathering of around 200 people formed in the Reception Room of the Guildhall, as Councillor Dave Gemmell presented me with some gifts from the staff and the proceeds of a quite voluminous collection. Then we all went across Alfred Gelder Street to ‘The Three John Scotts’ and there I stayed sustained by a constant flow of friends, colleagues and beer, until after 11-00pm. That day, it is said that I broke the ‘Council Retirement (All Comers) drinking record’, as all those years of practising at away games and in the Half Way, The Mermaid and The Punch came to fruition. It is still said in the hallowed portals of the Guildhall that I celebrated by consuming well over 30 bottles of Budweiser in one session and still ‘lived to tell the tale’. What a shame it is that you work all those years, you retire, and the only lasting memorial to you is based on the amount of ale you drank on your last day!
I needed to make a fresh start and to try and get the Council out of my system so before that presentation I asked my good friend Ian, with whom I had worked (and laughed) for a lot of years, to accompany me and help as I bought my own mobile phone. As an officer famed for the fact that I wrote all my E mails out long hand and gave them to my secretary to send, I had always resisted owning a mobile phone and instead, (when I had to) I used the instrument that had been forced on me several years earlier by the Council.
This done, in a sort of ritualistic cleansing of all things Hull City Council, I went down to the Pier and threw the remains of my latest course of ‘happy’ tablets and my Council phone into the River. Next day I continued this process by throwing out most of my work suits, shirts and ties, and as if to demonstrate a weight being lifted off my shoulders, I shaved off my moustache. I think the rationale behind the latter action was due mainly to the amount of alcohol I still had in my system, after that mammoth session the day before, however it’s removal was to prove a talking point for weeks.
While all this was going on in my life, at the KC, Adam Maher announced his retirement with a year of his contract left and because the ‘Overseas Quota’ rules were changing again, Craig Greenhill and Sean Ryan were allowed to leave for Castleford. Toa Kohe-Love had also refused a new contract when it was offered in June, and he was replaced by Michael Eager the ex-International Centre from Castleford.
A bigger squad and the arrival of Richard Swain
Flush with the increased income from the ever-increasing gates at the KC, the Club decided that to succeed they needed to increase the squad from 22 to 30. Richard Swain, Paul McNicholas, Shaun Briscoe, Richie Barnett Jnr. Ryan Benjafield, Peter Lupton, Ewan Dowes and Alex Wilkinson all signed up for the 2004 season. These additions were joined in early January by two youngsters from Featherstone, Richard Whiting and Andy Bailey, who completed a squad of 31. There was however a shock before the campaign even began when, following an ugly incident the previous season, the Club received a heavy fine from the Rugby League.
We were cited for an incident after a League match when on Anlaby Road Flyover a Leeds supporters’ coach was ‘bricked’ by youths. The fact that our mascot Airlie Bird wore a bandana that proclaimed ‘We all 8 Leeds’ that day didn’t help our case much either, as the old prejudices between the two Clubs surfaced again.
The Players then flew to their pre-season training camp in Spain, but only after their flight had been delayed whilst Paul King was removed from the plane, suffering from a severe case of claustrophobia. Still there were some fine performances that year none more than a great win at Odsal against Bradford on 23rd April, when after failing to beat the West Yorkshire Club for 10 years, 4 tries from Shaun Briscoe produced a memorable victory.
Despite the increased size of the squad the injury jinx continued and by May, after we had beaten Salford 82-6 in a Super League game, we were playing Warrington with 7 of our starting 13 players out injured. We won the match 24-18 but tragedy struck when Richard Fletcher was carried off with a double fracture of the leg after just 11 minutes, in what was a game that was his ‘comeback’ after another serious injury. Paul King also broke his hand that night but played on with it bandaged up.
Scott Logan was still struggling after that broken leg sustained the previous season and became so frustrated with his demise that in May he tore up his contract and headed home. Whilst across the City Neil Hudgell took over as Chairman of a struggling Hull KR, Jason Smith at last returned from injury and with Richard Swain driving the team forward, things started to look up.
However the injury toll continued to mount and in an effort to bolster our front row Nick Scruton a young prop forward joined us on loan from Leeds as many of the youngsters got their a chance and Rich Whiting and Kirk Yeaman really went well in the centres, which was quite surprising when you consider that ‘Yeamo’ had asked to play in the second row at the start of the year!
In June tragedy struck when Shaun McRae’s Father Jack was taken seriously ill in Australia and ‘Bomber’ headed off to be by his side. In his absence John Kear took charge and we won 4 and drew one of our 6 games that month. When McRae returned on 2nd July he immediately announced that he was to leave Hull FC at the end of the season and join his old pal Shane Richardson as Coach at South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Three days later as torrential rain closed schools and roads across the region, Rich Horne denied that he was going with McRae, although that didn’t stop the rumours circulating until in the end they were proved to be unfounded. We had all been impressed with what John Kear had done in Shaun’s absence and so were the Club, who immediately announced that John Kear would take over as Head Coach for 2005.
On the same day that Hull City signed Nick Barmby and Steve Prescott returned to the Hull FC to coach the under 16’s team, Kear said, “If we don’t win a trophy in 5 years believe me, I’ll have failed”. The last month of the season saw Hull FC rise to second in the Super League, only to be shifted into third place by St Helens on the last weekend of the competition but injuries continued to blight the year and a shortage of goal kickers prompted McRae to say, “We have a new tactic now in that, whoever scores the try has to kick the goal”.
This injury situation was in the end to prove too much and we failed miserably in the play-offs. In an exciting game at the KC on 24th September (where half the side were sat in suits in the Stand), a sprightly Wakefield outfit beat us 28-18 in a game I remember best for a storming kick-off return run by their massive prop Korkidas from deep in the Wakefield 20 at the start of the second half. He must have run through four tackles and for around 50 yards to set the tone for the second half, and our exit from the play offs. The following week 12 players faced surgery and a season that had promised so much but was ruined by injuries, drew to a close.
On 27th September I went to Shaun McRae’s farewell dinner when 400 attended The Willerby Manor to hear Mike Stevenson and Eddie Hemmings as guest speakers, but there was hardly a dry eye in the place at the end of Shaun’s farewell speech. As he circulated the tables afterwards, we asked Shaun why his nick-name was ‘Bomber’ to which he replied, “Only about four people know that and that’s how it will stay” Having sold out that dinner in just three days, another event was staged the next evening for another 400 guests. Later that week John Kear announced his Assistant Coach would be Richard Agar a part-time joiner from the West Riding, who was currently coaching the York City Knights.
Kear had some strong thoughts about having his own team and playing his own way and he started to gradually change the style of play we had, as fans been used to since we moved to the KC. In came New Zealand legend Stephen Kearney plus Motu Tony, Nathan Blacklock, Tommy Saxton and Danny Brough. While Paul King again missed the pre-season training camp in Spain because of his continuing claustrophobia and trained alone in Hull as he got over a knee reconstruction.
17,000 of us packed into the KC for the first game against Leeds when we were narrowly beaten by the World Champions 16-12, in a game in which Richard Swain again starred.
That February at a fans forum John Kear told us all that he had a real love of the Challenge Cup, which he had won in acclaimed circumstances when he Coached Sheffield Eagles back in the 1990’s. He said that night that you need a bit of luck in the Cup draw and that it was probably the best chance Hull had at that time, of winning a Trophy. If it was luck we needed in the Cup draw, then we got little of it, and after 4 wins in 7 games in the Super League we were drawn away at Wakefield in a difficult looking first round tie. 4000 Hull fans travelled to the West Riding that day and we amazingly won 36-12 as Shaun Briscoe, playing at full back and scoring two tries, had a great game. April however brought more injuries and a dip in form as we battled to get a 22-22 draw at Leigh in torrential rain. However, towards the end of the month, with props Paul King and Gareth Carvell back in the side we were unlucky to be defeated 36-34 at Warrington, in a game when we all thought we could have just snatched a rare victory in the last ten minutes.
Brilliant attack, superb defence, “Someone up there wants us to win the Cup!”
Saturday 7th May 2005 Hull FC 26 Bradford Bulls 24
Then it was back to the Cup and a daunting tie at home to one of the favourites, the Bradford Bulls, at the KC. In front of 11,350 fans I have seldom heard anything like the reception that Hull FC got that day as they ran out onto the KC turf. If the first half was a sensational attacking performance then the second was as good a defensive display as any of us could remember. It was our best performance of the season against the heavily tipped pre-match favourites from Odsal. In fact, it was 25 years since our last meeting in the Cup, when Hull won 3-0 away on our way to the final. By half time, this time around, we had shot into an unexpected 20-0 lead after some glorious attacking play that had the visiting fans scratching their heads in disbelief.
Stephen Kearney was superb in defence and constantly hit, hurt and sickened the Bulls ‘Big name’ players, Harris, Fielden, Peacock and Robbie Paul. Shayne McMenemy, I remember, resembled a run-away train as he battered the opposition and made yards every time he had the ball, and Jamie Thackerey and Ewan Dowes were not far behind him. Young Richard Whiting in the centre also had a big game and constantly stopped the attacking thrust down the Bulls centre channels. Four first half tries saw us well in control but a half time talk from Bradford Coach Brian Noble certainly changed things as the visitors re appeared after the break to immediately score through Peacock. Back Hull roared as Motu Tony slid in after good work from Man of the Match Paul Cooke, but then for the final 30 minutes it was all Bradford, as Vainikolo grabbed two tries and then two minutes from time Pryce scored in the corner. This reduced the arrears to just 2 points and set up a frantic and desperate finish. As I left the Stadium amidst scenes of adulation, I bumped into my pal The Rev. Allen Bagshawe the Club Chaplin and said, “Someone up there must want us to win the Cup”, to which he just smiled and said, “Let’s hope so”
In the draw for the quarter finals at last luck was on our side, as another home draw against another Super League team, saw us playing ‘basement’ Club the Leigh Centurions. It was a game that we won easily 46-14 and so we were into the semi-final and drawn to play the Cup favourites St Helens, at the Galpharm Stadium on 30th July. Although we had climbed to the dizzy heights of 2nd in Super League with several good wins in June, no one gave us ‘a hope in hell’ of winning this one.
“White Hot Hull”, probably the best displays I’ve ever seen.
Saturday 30th July 2005 Hull FC 34-St Helens 8
It was certainly a big task against Super League’s most successful team, the Competition favourites and a Club that was undefeated in their last 10 League and Cup games. Amazingly in addition to that, Hull hadn’t beaten St Helens in a Challenge Cup tie for 70 years and that in Round One way back in 1936. Who was going to back us against those odds?
We arrived to totally different scenes to those that greeted us in Huddersfield five years early, before that fateful Semi-final against Leeds as the pubs and Clubs were thronging with Hull and Saints fans. Everyone had a great time as the opposition felt confident that the game was a foregone conclusion and the ‘FC Faithful’ were just intent on having a good day out.
In the Stadium as the Hull fans raised the roof and the teams ran out into bright sunshine, the script may have been written but our players hadn’t read it and immediately the Hull pack tore into the St. Helens forwards. The season had seen highs and lows, but all the while Kear had stressed the importance of peaking at the right time and this was it. Hull’s defence was superb as they ‘crawled all over’ the favourites and Richard Whiting gave a brilliant display as he completely snuffed out the threat of Gardner, Talau and Wellens. However, it was the kicking of Danny Brough, Richard Horne and Loose Forward Paul Cooke that won the day as the Airlie Birds pinned Saints back in their own half, forcing a total of five goal line drop outs.
On the rare occasions that their defensive wall was breached Hull re-grouped valiantly, no more so than when Richie Barnett (Jnr) scrambled back to pull off a brilliant tackle on Gardner just before the break when Hull held a slender 8-2 lead. It was in fact quite amazing that Saints rarely threatened our line and their only try came from a mix up between Gareth Raynor and Shaun Briscoe when Jamie Lyon latched onto a Sean Long kick to go on and touch-down for an easy try.
Hull had started the game brilliantly as Cooke carved out an opening for McMenemy to charge in, before we exchanged penalties and went in at half time in the lead. However after a half time break when we fretted and worried about a St Helens backlash, the crunch came on 54 minutes after Whiting had brilliantly chased a kick to force a fourth drop out. Horne provided quick service for acting half back Cooke, McMenemy worked a run-around that Dave Topliss would have appreciated and Cooke backed himself to stretch out and score. At 16-8 for the first time we were two scores ahead and 4 minutes later we were in again when McMenemy dropped on a loose ball that Richard Horne had dribbled through the favourites defence.
Saints had often been dubbed the comeback kings and as ‘Old Faithful’ rang around the Stadium no-one could relax. With 6 minutes to go Whiting made a stunning break out of our own half and set up a position from where Motu Tony, who had come on for the injured Barnett, crashed in to score and as we stood in disbelief with tears in our eyes Stephen Kearney brilliantly opened up the tiring St Helens defence to send in Richard Horne and a remarkable victory was complete. Richard Swain, Kearney, Cooke, Brough and Horne had masterminded a sensational win and as “We’re the famous Hull FC and were off to Wembley” rang around the ground the players celebrated, John Kear ran around punching the air, and I sat and cried.
Leaving the Ground, we were met by one of the most unusual sights that I have ever seen in 50 years of watching the game of Rugby League as hundreds of Saints fans lined the pavements and even got off their buses to stand and applaud us! That was so unexpected and a lot less predictable than the cavalcade of cars, with fans hanging out of the windows, that tooted their horns all the way back along the M62 to Hull. It was without doubt the most complete and best performance I have ever seen, and believe me the one that followed it was pretty good!
After years of heartache and disappointment; catharsis in Cardiff!
The week before the final all the old anxiety was back! I couldn’t stop thinking about the game for a minute; it was in my mind when I woke up, when I went to bed and when I was asleep. It was no longer a case of thinking about it every few seconds because I was never, not thinking about it. Finally, Friday came, although the journey to the Millennium Stadium is all a bit of a blur really, as five of us travelled down to South Wales crammed into a Ford Fiesta. We journeyed along with hundreds of Hull fans overtaking and being over taken by buses, coaches and on one occasion a furniture removal van all festooned in black and white. We were in good spirits as only a week earlier we had just lost 24-28 to Wigan at the KC in a game that one point we had trailed 26-8. In fact, most of us believed we would have gone on to win had a Danny Brough conversion, ten minutes from the end not bounced up off the cross bar and gone wide.
Once we got south of Birmingham we encounter quite a few cars full of Leeds fans. Some waved, others gave us the thumbs down whilst many flicked V’s and gave that ‘masturbatory’ sign with their hands. However, all in all, unlike that of some others, mine was an uneventful journey. My pal Ian was not so lucky and almost spent Saturday afternoon in hospital instead of at the game. He had stayed in the Forest of Dean on Friday and on the morning of the game offered to give two Leeds fans that were stopping at the same hotel, a lift to the match.
On the way there at Newport another Leeds fan in a Range Rover, who was having a dispute with his wife about the direction to the ground, (‘Sat Nag’ I think it’s called) did a U turn and crashed into Ian’s car. The four occupants had to be pulled from the wreckage and were consigned to hospital. The Leeds fans agreed to go, but Ian and his son fearing that they would miss the game, somehow ‘dragged’ themselves to the Stadium. When Ian got home he was found to have a broken sternum. He always claims that he had survived the car crash unscathed, but after the final Hull try, his son hugged his dad so hard, he sustained the injury!
A chance meeting on the proudest day of my life ….so far!
Saturday August 27th 2005 Hull FC 25-Leeds Rhino’s 24
When we arrived outside the Stadium there were a few long Hull faces as word spread through the crowd that on the night before the game, Shaun Briscoe had been rushed to hospital with appendicitis. A victory that seemed unlikely suddenly looked impossible and when we heard that instead of bringing in Motu Tony as a straight replacement, winger Nathan Blacklock was to play at full back, there was some concern. Still everyone was there to party and many donned fancy dress and there seemed to be Skeletons, Big Baby’s, Gladiators and Clowns everywhere as young and old made the most of that rarest of occasions.
When we got inside there was plenty of antagonism going on out on the terraces between the Hull supporters and the already gloatingly, confident Leeds fans. Tin foil replica Cups glinted in the sunshine, scarves were waved and flags sprung up everywhere. The atmosphere was certainly charged with emotions as Katherine Jenkins led the singing of ‘Abide with Me’ and one Hull fan, Kevin Short, became quite a national celebrity as he was caught by the BBC TV camera’s crying through the moment, as he remembered his FC supporting Grandfather.
The baiting wasn’t just reserved for the terraces either and in the tunnel there was an altercation between Stephen Kearney and Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield. The latter had joined other Leeds players in shouting “Here come the losers”, as Hull left the changing rooms. Kearney certainly put them right in the tunnel, the fans put them right on the terraces and the players put them right on the pitch.
After the Hull team had been led out by ‘Number One’ fan and brave Cerebral Palsy sufferer Scott Walker, the game kicked off in a cauldron of emotion, as the Hull fans did what they do best and easily out sang a smug Leeds contingent. Sinfield soon tested Blacklock but then following a towering bomb, a mix-up ended with Gareth Raynor trying to prevent Mark Calderwood touching down, by pulling him back by his shorts. The video referee awarded a penalty try and Sinfield converted to give his side a 6-0 lead.
Midway through the half a couple of Rhino’s handling errors allowed Hull to apply some pressure as a speculative kick to the right wing by Shayne McMenemy was brilliantly flicked on to Tony by Richard Whiting. The winger chipped over Marcus Bai and despite being crash tackled over the line, he beat Ali Lauiti’iti and Richie Mathers to touch down. Danny Brough completed a fine touch line conversion and we were level. However, despite a number of near misses, that’s how it stayed until half time.
During the interval, I didn’t know what to do with myself and I was in a trance like state as the tension really got to me. I wandered around aimlessly, before being approached in a refreshment area by a guy I had never seen before in my life. Sporting a Hull scarf and speaking in a broad South African accent he asked me if the Rosenberg which was emblazoned across the back of my shirt, was my name. I replied that it was actually name of my first FC hero, Wilf Rosenberg, ‘The Flying Dentist’, who I had watched at the Boulevard back in 1962. He immediately shook my hand and introduced himself as Wilf’s nephew, who had made the trip over from South Africa to watch the game. I lament to this day the fact that I didn’t speak longer with him, but my condition dictated that I didn’t want to speak to anyone, and yet afterwards one of my only regrets from that wonderful day, was that I didn’t get a contact number. It did however bring a strange symmetry to this story as an echo from the very earliest parts of this sojourn came back out of the blue right there under the East Stand of the Millennium Stadium, on such a significant day and as my story comes to a close.
The gamble by Leeds to play centre Keith Senior with a painkilling injection in his injured ankle, came to an abrupt end when he didn’t re-appear for the second half and soon a couple of loose passes by the Rhino’s again put Hull on the attack. This time we took full advantage as Motu Tony, intercepting a pass from Mathers, set up a good attacking position. Blacklock squeezed out a superb pass for Raynor who scored in the corner, for Brough to again add the conversion.
Leeds drew level again when Sinfield put Danny Ward over and then converted, but then the Leeds captain sent a kick on the fifth tackle straight into touch to give Hull another excellent attacking platform. Leeds seemed to have weathered the storm when Bai collected Horne’s grubber behind his own line, but the wingman tried to pass to Mathers, the ball popped out and there was Whiting to score the simplest of tries. Brough converted and then added a drop goal to give Hull a 19-12 lead going into the final quarter.
Just when Leeds were starting to look ragged, handling errors by Hull threw them a lifeline. Sinfield fed Mark Calderwood from a scrum after a Hull knock on and when Blacklock missed him, the try was inevitable. Bai made up for his blunder when he out jumped Tony, to grab a kick from Mathers to touch down and Sinfield converted both to make it 24-19 to Leeds with 10 minutes remaining.
Hull looked to be down and out, but they summoned one last effort after a grubber kick from McMenemy yielding another six tackles deep in the Leeds half. As we all stretched and strained as if we were playing, at a play the ball in front of the sticks Horne feigned to go right, half dummied to just wrong foot the defence, and released Cooke to his left. As we held our breath and the action went into ‘slow motion’ our number 6 gliding through a gap to cross the line. We all grimaced as he celebrated before he put the ball down behind the posts, but get it down he did, and the place erupted. When Brough stepped up to take what was a simple conversion, he admitted afterwards that thoughts of Don Fox’s Final miss for Wakefield in 1968 went through his mind, but he kept his nerve and we were a point in front.
However as often happens just when you think you have it won, a fumble by Jamie Thackray from the kick-off gifted the ball and the last set of six tackles of the game, to Leeds. They charged downfield to set up a position for the drop goal that would tie the scores, but as Sinfield aimed to stroke the ball between the posts somehow ‘Captain Fantastic’ Richard Swain got out of our line, jumped in front of him and charged down the kick and the Cup was on its way to Hull. Still the game went on and we were awarded a penalty which we still had to take after the hooter had gone. I imagined all sorts of scenarios but as McMenemy tapped the ball and toe prodded the ball into touch the hooter went again and the celebrations began.
Kear, who had masterminded one of the Challenge Cup’s biggest upsets when Sheffield Eagles beat Wigan in 1998 and who rated this victory even better, ran onto the field and hugged his players, whilst for me it was simply amazing. I couldn’t cheer, I couldn’t dance I just sat there with my head in my hands and cried, and this time, for a change, I wasn’t on my own!
All the heartache, all the frustration and all the disappointment endured since our last Challenge Cup victory back in 1982 was forgotten in an instant as all around me grown men and women were reduced to tears. It would have been so cruel on our players had we been denied victory because their passion and determination deserved to be rewarded, in what was one of the most emotional Finals of all time. It had been a long, long journey since Elland Road in 1982, full of disappointment, disenchantment and at times anger but at that moment, it was all so eminently worthwhile.
It was a time of mixed emotions, most of which I can’t even remember, but I do recall that feeling of wishing, just for a moment, that I could see the faces of those Rovers supporters that have ragged me for so long, those smug buggers who always have an answer, always wound me up. What were they doing then; at that very moment? Were they silenced or just pretending it had never happened, could they be throwing the radio at the wall or the television through the window? Who knows, but just for a second it was great to wonder! I wanted time to stand still!
The ceremonials were just what I expected and what I had seen played out by those arrogant sods in Wigan, Leeds, Saints or Widnes shirts on so many occasions. But this time it was US!! Broughy put the Cup on his head, John Kear fell over the advertisement boards and even our Chair Kath Etherington managed to wave regally to the crowd (before commenting that the win was worth over £300,000 to the Club). For me all this seemed so unreal, it was all happening there in front of me, and yet I wasn’t there at all, it was all flying by, whizzing past too quickly, just when I wanted it to last forever.
Forty minutes after the game had finished and as the ‘banging and clattering’ of the scaffolders dismantling the dais that had seen Richard Swain hoist aloft the Challenge Cup, echoed around the empty stadium, no one wanted to go home. Hundreds just stood there, transfixed and zombie like, long after the last diminishing chord of ‘Rockin’ all Over the World’, had faded into the ether and the last of the brave ‘Gladiators’ had retired from the pitch to open their champagne, or in Leeds case, cry into their Yorkshire Bitter.
Eventually we had to leave, the stewards were almost begging us to “Go Home” but I was just overawed by it all and never wanted to be anywhere else, ever again! They should bottle that feeling and sell it as you leave games like that one. Then, when you eventually prepare to ‘depart this mortal coil’ you can uncork it, take a long sniff of the sweet smell of success, and exit this world in the knowledge that you know exactly what was like ‘Being There’.
Outside in the streets around the Stadium everyone with the exception of the ‘grieving’ Leeds’ fans was hailing the great Hull FC, who had just done what had seemed to be the impossible. Not since the days of Sheffield Eagles great victory over Wigan in the mid Nineties had the underdog so captured the imagination of the whole of the Rugby League world, they all wanted to be part of it, and it was great to be liked as a Club for once. In the end, after all the adulation, whether they all liked it or not, the fact was that the prize was ours. It was the property of us supporters who had trailed across the country to be so often dejected, disappointed and depressed. All those years of ridicule at Headingley, jibes at Wigan and baiting at Warrington were gone forever; well at least they were for now. We were the Challenge Cup holders, who had beaten the odds and no one, but no one, could take that away from us.
“So now I can die a happy man!”
For reasons I have perhaps explained throughout this ‘journey of an ‘average fanatic’ we have never as a group of fans, liked Leeds. That disdain probably goes right back to the days when they snatched Lee Crooks and Garry Schofield from us and perhaps to that day when they baited us with their despicable and totally unacceptable chants ‘Down with your trawlers’ about the fishing industry and our lost loved ones. How could you ever have any respect or, after that day, any pity for a set of fans who stooped to that sort of inappropriate and insulting ‘banter’. Since then they have pretty much held sway over us in most encounters but just now and again we beat them and it still feels so good and they hate it! That evening in Cardiff, as I walked down the Stadium steps towards the crowds outside singing ‘Old Faithful’, I caught a glimpse of my old pal Garry across the concourse. He didn’t have to do much, he just shook his fist in the air and true to his reputation of never being the master of the understatement, he shouted “Now I can die a happy man”, and sadly he did three years later!
We drove back to Hull early next morning and enjoyed every minute of the celebrations back home in Queen Victoria Square that afternoon. We were there in the early afternoon and got near the front of the crowd milking every moment as the team arrived and John Kear and the lads, soaked up the adoration and passion of those happy, barmy, hung over supporters. I once again simply didn’t want it to end. I knew as a fan that once we left that gathering and made our way home, it would be another day, another week and soon another season. When you’re not used to winning trophies it’s so sweet when you do. You just want everything to ‘Freeze’ there and then, because you know that all too quickly those heroics will be forgotten by all except us passionate Hull FC followers, who will revisit Cardiff 2005 in our heads, in detail, till the day we die.
When it gets you like it gets me, you have to make the most of those moments because as my old pal Charlie said all those years ago at Wembley in 1983, “You never really know when it’s going to be your last Final, do you?”
So, I suppose in the end after almost 900 pages of unadulterated obsession there you have it! Fifty-five years of heartache, fretting and occasional moments of utter elation culminating in Hull FC winning the Challenge Cup in the most sensational and unexpected of circumstances and producing as important a moment in my life as there has been, or is probably ever likely to be.
I make that rather outspoken comment simply because I know it’s true. It’s true because it was for me and Hull FC, the main prize, ‘Nirvana’ and the ‘Holy Grail’ all rolled into one. It wasn’t at Wembley and that was the only draw-back really, for we all agreed that we were not destined to ever win there!!!!
It was a moment of destiny for the famous Black and Whites who are and always will be my team, my passion and I suppose, looking back, my life. It’s times like that wonderful day in Cardiff that makes you reflect on just what it is all about!
What have I learned? What has that and a few other amazingly magical moments in a lifelong love affair with a Rugby League Club taught me? Well perhaps firstly I now know that to be a real fan requires you to ‘eat, sleep and live Rugby League’ or whatever sport you find yourself obsessed with; being ‘interested’ or an ‘only here for the beer’ supporter is simply not sufficient. It’s just like a marriage really, you have your good days and your bad ones, but whatever else it is, it’s never about being a mere spectator – you can’t just ‘take it or leave it’. Its total immersion, total participation and friends relatives and loved ones have to be prepared for your team to be central to your very existence.
Actually a lot of fans can take it or leave it, but if like me you can’t then times like Cardiff 2005 are moments that define your life. They’re the moments during which you come within touching distance of the impossible dream and when you know paradoxically that it’s all the depression, futility, frustration and anger that has gone before, that actually make those times so significant and in turn therefore all that hardship so gloriously worthwhile.
But what makes us like that? Well of course, attending matches both home and away is a big help but you also have a duty to engage emotionally in the life of the team and the players. Don’t get too close though, you don’t need to know what they have for their breakfast, or what they do on their night off, that’ll just disillusion you and cheapen the whole thing. You see, I have always believed that there is a certain magic in sport, very like that in theatre or cinema, when if you see how the ‘trick’ is done or see the peeling walls behind the glitz of the scenery, then all the mystery and intrigue is gone.
That said, if your Club is central to your belief system, then it does automatically gift you the ability to know exactly what Kingy, Yeamo, Kearney or Swainey were feeling as they raised that glittering prize to the fans, that sunny August afternoon in 2005. That win at Cardiff belonged to me and all the other fans, every bit as much as it belonged to the players, because we had worked as hard as they had for it! Over the years as supporters we had all cursed, fretted, sweated, strained, made sacrifices, lost friends lost in my case wives, been elated, frustrated and deflated…… and taken all ‘that crap’ together.
At that glorious zenith of ‘fandom’ in that magical moment, you know exactly what everyone around you is feeling because you feel it yourself. It is at that moment that players and fans, Directors, boot men, shareholders, tea ladies and owners are as one, and when it’s so rewarding and so, so special. What is even more intriguing however, is the answer to the question of, just who are all those people who I have kissed, hugged and cried with over the years? Some of them are friends, some nodding acquaintances but most are complete strangers. In the end whoever they are, I have a massive bond and a really extraordinary intimacy with them, and yet I know nothing at all about most of them.
However the difference between all us ‘committed fanatics’ and the players we adore, is that we have put in more hours, more seasons and more years than they have. We don’t get paid and can’t walk away or sign for another Club, we’re stuck with the one we’ve got. That’s why for us lot 5-00pm on Saturday 27th August 2005 was a seminal and life defining moment that actually suspended reality itself.
Those of you who have read both volumes of this tome will I hope relate in part to what I have tried to explain about that journey and can have some empathy with all its twists, turns, disappointments and occasional moments of unrequited joy! I can only be deeply thankful for how lucky I have been, in fact how lucky we all are after taking that great voyage of discovery that is a life of supporting the Club you love.
You see, I love Hull FC, they are my team, they always have been and they always will be! Occasionally I wish they weren’t, but they are and I can do precious little about it! A life time culminating in that one great day in Cardiff is in the end for me what all this has been about and if for the rest of my supporting life Hull FC and I arrive home empty handed, I’ll still have that memory to cling to and to smile about. We’ll all go on, ‘Roamin the Range Together’ still collecting those battle scars from depressing defeats, tough times and bitter disappointments and because we are never in it on our own, we’ll always keep believing and always have the best of friendships with whom we’ll share those occasional and wonderful moments. We’re the obsessed, preoccupied and passionate fanatics, we are Hull FC……….. and aren’t we lucky!!!!
Come on You Hullllaaaarrrr!!!!!!!
(to be continued…..by someone else)
The Diary will returnnext Monday or Tuesday back in its old format, a little shorter and certainly more pertinent to what is happening at the FC at this time, but in the mean-time thanks for taking the 55 year journey of an ordinary fanatical FC fan with me again.