No game this week, but after a crazy season when without even playing we are back in the play-offs for the first time in three years!!!
As episode 700 of this drivel arrives, it’s certainly a milestone for me and in a lifetime of watching Hull FC and indeed in that period of writing this rubbish, I’ve certainly been through some strange times. Yet in over 60 years of regularly watching rugby league, I have never seen times like these. Look for instance at the 7 days since the last Diary!
In just a week we have seen Toronto refused in their application to re-join Super League, because we presumed the game wanted to save money for struggling Clubs, before we put out an open invitation for another Club to join the competition next year but with half the Sky money. Next, we curtail a season that was already being decided by win averages rather than points and devise a bigger play-off competition to take its place. Then, all of a sudden a season that was fizzling out sees Hull FC in there with a chance of the Grand Final which is quite unbelievably being played at our own ground; bizarre or what??
As the crazy stuff continued, that revelation was quickly followed by us finding out the almost unbelievable fact that the RFL didn’t actually go through the necessary due diligence when Toronto joined Div. 1 in the first place. Next up, Rovers dropped out altogether three games short of the end of the season, ditto Castleford who now have 20 people infected, the current Salford club are docked three games (6 points) for reneging on a CVA that dates back to 2013 and that is charged to a Salford City Reds company that no longer exists anyway and finally the new Ottawa team have decided to drop out of next season.
I started the diary three editions ago with the headline, it’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and guess what? I do believe it’s getting madder!
With no game this week at Hull FC it has been really quiet. However, it was good to see Andy Lasts integrity and human side coming to the fore again, when he told us quite passionately how Albert Kelly had broken down in tears when he said he wanted to leave the club and his team mates early. Albo has always been a Maverick and played as if he wore his heart on his sleeve and Lasty recognised that too. I said my piece on Kelly the other week, but I’ll repeat that I’ll miss a guy who was such a good player and one who possessed skills that you so rarely see these days. Man, he will be almost impossible to replace.
Now, it seemed that on Monday Tea time the papers, message Boards and social media were full of people wringing their hands and despairing at the demise of the Toronto Wolfpack as the Super League Executive voted 8-4 to reject their re-admission. You all know my thoughts on the situation, in that in normal circumstances I would be pretty ambivalent to whatever the outcome was! I never thought that one transatlantic team in isolation in Super League was right, but they got in fair and square last year through being promoted and as I’ve said in here before, so be it!
However, these are not normal circumstances and, having bailed out and left the other 11 Clubs scrabbling about and desperately trying to finish the season and appease Sky, they’ve also failed to pay their players for almost 7 months now. Nor have they attempted to find a way to pay them either! As a Super League Club, they should always have been given a cut of the TV money from the off, but they weren’t allowed any, which I have always thought was wrong, but in fairness they knew that was the position from the off. They came in with their eyes open, but didn’t have the sustainability to ride the problems when they arose.
That instance of them not paying those wages and leaving their players and their families high and dry is unforgivable and Toronto’s withdrawal before we got started again, left all their fellow Super League clubs in a very difficult position as well. So ethically at least they were burning their boats.
Clearly, they could not have predicted a pandemic striking at the start of their first season in Super League, but their recruitment was off-target and money wasn’t spent wisely. Sonny Bill Williams was a publicity stunt, but throwing most of their cash at a small number of players and running with a tiny squad was never going to work in a 29-round competition. Then with their new owner demanding a cut of the TV money if they come back, the timing was just not right at all for me.
I feel terribly sorry for their fans, because I do for any fan that has their team taken away from them and I remember well how I felt for those at Bradford as they fought to keep the Bulls going. I always had a dislike of the Club, but I had an affinity with their fans. Toronto had built up a bit of momentum and a fan base and so there will be some disappointed people over there.
But the fact is I know a few folks at different Clubs, for I have got to be acquainted with them through the Diary over the years and as I have said before, a couple of them are really on the edge, that’s not an idle threat from them or me, it’s a fact. And for me in that situation the current Clubs needed every penny of the Sky money they can get next year to see them through. The fact that they have now voted to increase the League back to 12 teams therefore does seem strange, for one minute we are saving the TV money that Toronto would have got and the next we are redistributing some of it to a new 12th team.
Still as I’ve said in here so many times before, if any current Super League Club were to go under and Toronto still be back in the league taking a cut of the TV money, then it would be wrong. The 11 have fought to keep the season going, had infections, isolations, games pulled and games rearrange at 24 hours’ notice, but they’ve done it and they deserve all the help and finance they can get.
As soon as the going got tough the Toronto owner said he’d run out of money and walked. I wonder how many other owners would have privately liked to do that at that exact moment as well eh? But instead they poured their own money into their clubs and those who didn’t have such owners to rely on have really struggled and I mean struggled, but they’ve kept going and fulfilled their obligations. Club are going into debt big style, but they know that we have to stick together to ensure the sport survives; you can’t just walk away from the rest of the game when the going gets tough and then expect to walk back in when the going is good again. It’s just not fair and for me I think to turn Toronto down was the right decision.
One other thing that came out of all this mess was that it also appears that the proper due diligence wasn’t done in the first place, when Toronto joined Division One and that was down back then to the RFL (no surprise there then) and this time around I guess that the Clubs just couldn’t risk that happening again.
The investigating groups report stated “Separately, it was also apparent that no assessment of the scale and accessibility of the commercial growth that might accrue to the sport from entering the Canadian market was ever completed prior to the club’s first entry into the sport.”
However, this is Rugby league and I might have known that more surprises were ahead because 24 hours later I have to admit to being shocked when a unanimous decision was made to run with a 12-team competition next season, which means an extra club will have to be found from somewhere. It might have been a better idea to sort the exact criteria out before agreeing to add a club to the competition, particularly in the middle of a pandemic when the Championship, where the promoted side will presumably come from, has been shut down for seven months.
The successful club will receive £1million from the central distribution pot so will immediately start behind the 8 ball. At present, top flight clubs receive approximately £1.72million each year, although that can rise to around £1.8million with add-ons for TV appearances and academy funding. But it means the new club will be at a significant disadvantage from the start, although that has not put off teams looking to secure a top flight place. As many as 10 could apply to join Super League from either the Championship or League One, with several having already publicly confirmed their bid. Among those set to mount a case include Championship Featherstone Rovers, Halifax, Leigh Centurions, London Broncos, Toulouse Olympique, Bradford and York City Knights, while League One Newcastle Thunder have previously expressed their top flight ambitions.
The process will be overseen by a joint RFL and Super League panel with an independent chair, and it is hoped that a decision will be reach by early December to give the successful club time to recruit a competitive squad. Good luck with that!! The criteria the successful club will have to meet has not yet been set, but the process they will have to go through is expected to be finalised by next week. It is also we are told, to include minimum standards that could include on and off field elements.
That criteria will have to be vague indeed, particularly on quality of Stadia because the state of the grounds at Castleford and Wakefield means that they haven’t been up to scratch for years. What happens if no clubs meet the criteria, or one or more clubs outside the competition do, but some inside it don’t? That is a document that is going to be tough to put together and it will be worth seeing!!! I expect there will be a few challenges from unsuccessful clubs after the choice has made and in the end we will be left with a few feeling aggrieved. No doubt, once one team is successful the others will complain that they should have won and it will be Trump and Biden all over again!
That said, I guess in the end its just really a return to licensing and if successful it’s perhaps a process that might in the future replace promotion through winning the Championship final.
Well, the regular season is finished and its cessation was inevitable really, particularly with Castleford and Rovers riddled with this awful virus and unable to raise teams. It’s all an ad hoc decision on the hoof to try and get to the end of the season (or more likely the end of Sky’s obligations), in whatever way we can. The team to benefit most for once was Hull FC, whose season was done one minute and back on the next. We haven’t found ourselves in the play-offs since 2017, but we are now just two wins away from the unique experience of playing a Grand Final on home soil.
So, on Thursday we meet Wigan or Warrington in the first round of the play-offs and once again …it’s all totally bizarre, but we’ll take that, for although a Final place is in the least unlikely, it’s an extra game and what’s more a meaningful one!
Now those who have read this drivel for years will know that I always like to use the biannual ‘00’ editions of the Diary to have a look back and indeed do a bit of philosophising about what doing this stuff every week has been like for me over the years. I guess you appreciate that this week’s tome is another personal milestone and one that leaves in its wake over 4 million words, in excess of 200 different players, 6 different Coaches, two owners and one very difficult stadium operator! That, plus countless trays of soggy chips, regular Derby heartbreakers, perennial soakings at Headingley (and Odsal), those infuriating post-midnight Friday night detours off the M62, a few periods of imprisonment in the car park at Salford, the odd bout of street fighting in Warrington and two glorious days at Wembley, the like of which I thought I’d never ever see in my lifetime. That and of course lots and lots of disappointment, distress, watching with head in hands, through my fingers and from behind the settee and plenty of tearing out of hair!!
There have been some great victories and indeed the odd life changing experience, lots of abuse, a few threats from across the river aimed at me as the writer of this drivel, plus some really good, valued and new friends made, which all make up for hours and hours of writing, head scratching and re-writing. Even now researching, writing and changing the average Diary takes around 15/16 hours a week to complete, however as I have often said before, back when I started it all, I couldn’t even write a shopping list and then it took much longer. So, when I ask myself what motivated me to take 15 years out of my life to do it? The answer to that is…..probably just you lot the readers. The response I get from you and the friendship and camaraderie it has brought me has made me realise what being part of the community that is Hull FC means.
Looking back to 2005 I guess it was the afterglow of ‘everything Cardiff’ that was the catalyst that initially got this weekly rubbish off the launch pad. That cathartic experience one sunny Saturday in Wales, brought liberation and invigoration to every FC fan who was there and I remember most of all, how I never wanted it to end! In fact, once it was over I became more and more obsessed with writing a book to chronicle the journey that had seen me, an ordinary raggy arsed, fishy smelling, back street kid from Hessle Road, blessed with the privilege of being part of the most amazing set of Rugby League fans in the world. That, and also how it then all came to such an amazing crescendo and perhaps finale in, would you believe, Wales!!
However if I were to try and write a book, there was one snag, in that I really couldn’t write anything much at all (some would say I still can’t) and it was only in an attempt to learn to communicate through the written word, that with 35 readers and about 500 words, the first edition of the Dentists Diary was launched at 10-50am on 19th November 2005, just three months after that life defining day at the Millennium Stadium.
Little did I know how a blog that was just a learning curve for me to try and write a book, would grow legs and taken over and I hope that in that time I’ve managed to reflect the views of an average fan who thinks he’s seen it all and yet is still amazed as to the occasional heights of ecstasy and depths of despair to which he can be taken by an average sports club. It’s all been in here at one time or another over the last 15 seasons and yet no doubt like you, although unpredictability abounds every week at Hull FC, (particularly these days), little seems to surprise me!
Cardiff 2005, and Wembley 2016 and 2017 still remains for many of us; the day’s that have define our lives. Those are the rare times during which the sports fan actually believes that they have attained the impossible dream and when you know paradoxically that it’s all the depression, futility, frustration and anger that has gone before, that actually makes those instances so significant and in turn, all the hardship so gloriously worthwhile. I for one just hope that I see another such occasion in my lifetime, but with everything that is happening now, I sometimes doubt I will.
In a period of national crisis such as we find ourselves in now I have to admit that at 70, I’m a bit scared at times and anyone who is of that age or older who says they ain’t, are probably deluding themselves. For in all the years of watching Hull FC I can’t ever remember anything quite like this. I guess too, that feeling makes me, like many of you, look back to better times and indeed to the things that mean the most to us. Of course, you remember births and deaths and marriages and holiday’s, but somehow they are moving feasts that although milestones along the way, flit in and out of your history. However, somethings people and particularly places have always been there proving havens in tough times and places to rejoice in good ones. Some people look back on houses, churches, neighbourhoods or pubs and social clubs as those places, but for me the one thing that was constant for the first 56 odd years of my life, and indeed was probably all those things to me, was the Boulevard.
What a haven it was and what a place it still holds in my heart. Born in Aylesford Street with a ‘back way’ that opened out directly across the road from the ground we didn’t have much money, we lived in a little two up too down, Dad was a Butcher and Mum ‘a house wife’, as was the way back then. From an early age I’m told I would be sat outside our house on a winter Saturday in my pram with its black and white blanket, watching all the Faithful file past on their way to the game whilst round the back most of our neighbours took bikes into their back yards at a penny ago. As I grew up it was all I knew and the Boulevard Stadium was everything to me.
As soon as I was four or five it was the place I’d go to play as the gates opened at three quarter time and the hills of the terracing at the ‘Bunkers Hill’ end were transformed for an hour to the plains of Nevada (for Cowboys and Indians) or Everest (for a re-enactment of Edmond Hillary’s ascent) it was our ‘adventure playground and what fun we had. In the years that follows the new brick wall that backed the car park had chalked on it, goal posts in Winter and Wickets in summer. Whilst, Bateson and Keegan would battle Dyson and Gowers in imitations of those great full-back kicking duels that we heard about. These would be carried out across the car park as we made do with either an old battered plastic rugby ball or even some rolled up newspapers tied up with string.
I first met Father Christmas in the newly re-built Hull supporters Club at their annual Kids Christmas Party which was the highlight of the year back then. My Dad was secretary of that Club for a while and we used to go with him on a Sunday Morning and pull a big old roller up and down the pitch to roll out the divots left from the game the day before. On a Tuesday and a Thursday night it was training, as the players were put through their paces on the pitch by Roy Francis under a single arc light. We used to offer to guard the players cars for a penny whilst they were in there. Most obliged but those who didn’t usually changed their minds next time, after they’d discovered next morning in the daylight that a small scratch had appeared on their bumper. In fact, no memory it seems of my early youth, doesn’t feature the old place. I could even see the back of the Threepoenny Stand out of the windows of my infants and junior schools.
Of course, once I’d been to my first game against York in around 1957 I was hooked and that was it. My first pass was 12/6 for the whole year and I went religiously to first team and A team matches from then on. The sixties were tough on the field but having seen little else that didn’t seem to bother me at all and the arrival of floodlights in 1968 brought the magic of rugby at night to the area. I’d stand on Bunkers Hill until I was old enough to go in the Threepennies and then my education really took off as I stood at the back next to that ledge that gradually filled up with empty bottles of beer and, who needed a toilet when you could relieve yourself through the hole at the back of the stand onto the passing folks below?
In the early years of my induction into the fraternity of the Boulevard there were games against Rovers on Christmas Day and they seemed to me to be more important social gatherings than the Christmas Dinner that was likely burning in the oven back home. Grown men wore paper party hats, nuts and mince pies were exchanged, rum and brandy was consumed in large amounts and the smell of cigar smoke infused with the odd whiff of urine, will remain with me forever.
The Boulevard was a place not just for watching games, but it was steeped in everything that I did and that went on in the area. In 1959 and 1960 as kids we congregated on the car park to waive off the Danby’s Coach carrying the team to their Wembley Hotel. I watched handball and cricket there, as well as witnessing a visit from the Harlem Globetrotters.
Indeed, at the age of 11 the Boulevard was where I found my first real hero in life as all of a sudden more important than the Lone Ranger and Robin Hood, was the great ‘Flying Dentist’, Wilf Rosenberg. In the years that followed there were plenty of Trawler tragedies and pre-kick off minute’s silences for the many fans that died in them. Being amongst that community at such times was a cathartic experience and certainly character building and it became part of my learning curve as I grew up.
The seventies saw the arrival of the saviour of the Club in the form of Speedway, bringing with it the ensuing thin layer of reddish dust that seemed to cover everything you touched in the ground. That and a Westler’s hot dog franchise back in the early 70’s apparently saved the Club. We’d moved to Sutton by then, but the noise of the bikes on a Wednesday night could be heard in Hessle I’m told! The shale blocked the drains and the pitch got swamped, the floodlights bulbs started to fail and used to flash on and off, before going out altogether, often in the middle of a game. For a time whilst I was at work as a manager for the Parks Department I even looked after the pitch at the Boulevard as again it was central to my life.
Anyone who was around in the early 80’s knows what an important part of our lives our bi-weekly visits to the Boulevard were and so it went on intertwined in my very existence. In the late 1980’s Brian Smith arrived and the old place evolved again as the new Aussie styled bar was revamped on the Airlie street terracing, new floodlight stanchions arrived on the West side of the ground and the Threepenny Stand disappeared forever to be replaced by the New Threepenny Stand.
All those changes were initiated by Smith and I remember the outcry when the demolition of the famous old stand was announced. I went down there next day to find that it had almost disappeared altogether already. I got some nails and a piece of the steps as souvenirs and a part of my life was gone, yet the Boulevard was still there for me, still the place I could go to when I wanted to suspend reality for a while, particularly at times when life was bashing me about a bit. When the KCom rose from the Cricket Circle and the end of the Boulevard as our current home came, it was a sad, sad day, but it was still there and featuring greyhound racing, but somehow it was still my spiritual home. I’d still go down there occasionally to remember.
Then the whole thing went almost full circle in many way as a School was planned and the remaining stands were demolished. I say full circle because then as Chairman of FC Voices I persuaded the demolition company to give us the seats from the Threepenny Stand and on a cold Saturday morning a queue of around two hundred people queued to get their seats back to take home for them in many cases, be placed in their back gardens as a lasting reminder, of what was once our home.
The circle was complete for me personally in 2015 when after spending a year raising money through FC Voices and tramping around Planning and Scrutiny Committees at the Guildhall, talking to Ward Councillors the School Governors and the Headmaster of the Boulevard Academy, working with engravers, stonemasons and builders, I was able to realise my dream as in front of around 400 fans, the full current first team, dozens of ex-players the owner and all the Coaches, we unveiled the Boulevard Memorial in the grounds of the School.
So, there just across the road from the little house where this whole story started, it stands today as a reminder of the significance of the old place that was for so many of us our second home and the place where we went to lament, shout, tear our hair out, laugh, rejoice and yes, even sometimes cry. I still go down there in my car from time to time to either sit on the seat next to the memorial or wander around the houses nearby and just remember! Last time I went down there, (due to Covid) I couldn’t get in, but I looked through the fence and remembered. What a part of my life the old place has been and no doubt it holds such memories for all of you too. It’s gone forever, but it’s certainly still a real spiritual home and how lucky we all are to have experience it.
Much of my adventures in here used to start and finish in the old Drum and Monkey in Beverley, which rather like the Boulevard has now sadly gone forever, after it closed 4 years ago. Perhaps I should work on a memorial to that next??
Comments I’ve received in here over the years have ranged from “It’s the only thing that gets me through Monday mornings” to “Don’t bloody worry I know where you live you Twat!” (the latter, many years ago, was obviously from a Rovers fan, as in the E Mail he spelt Twatt with two t’s!!!)
Every week I hear from at least 20/30 ordinary fans who just want to share a thought or two and I always try and reply. James Clark who’s always been a good guy once wrote, “You have absolutely no idea do you?” whilst Adam Pearson’s ‘doesn’t read it’ but yet from time to time he seems he knows exactly what’s in it. However, in 15 years I have received just to letters threatening me with legal action, one form a ‘well-wisher’ after my insinuations about the Johnny Whitely pictures being removed from the Stadium and the other, the source of which should also remain nameless, as should the Radio Station for whom he was employed. Now with around 1500 readers every week, it still amazes me why you all bother, but I’m eternally grateful that you do!
I should add here that without the patience help and understanding of Joe Bennett this weekly diatribe would simply not happen. Again, he is another guy I didn’t know from Adam, who has over the years become a great friend and indeed a real sounding board and mentor, and a guy who drops everything every Monday morning to post this diatribe on the site. He’s a top bloke!
As with many of you, Saturday 26th August 2016 was a seminal and life defining moment that actually suspended reality itself and why I wanted to write a book to encapsulate all the emotions, personal tragedies, fun and heartache of that fantastic year. I’m no author (as most of you know) and probably won’t write anything else, but I just wanted to leave a couple of books on the shelf of the British Library in the hope that one day in the distant future when all sport is virtual and no one leaves their home to frequent the terraces anymore, someone would take them down read, them and ‘get’ what us lot were all about as we supported Hull FC in the last part of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st. for it has been an amazing ride for us all!
The Diary has brought me one or two accolades over the years too, but perhaps the greatest honour took place on Wednesday 8th August 2013, three days before a Derby at Caravan Park when, as I told you before, I was invited by Peter Gentle to give a ‘no hole’s barred’ presentation to the First Team squad about just what it was like to be a fan who has seen his team defeated in a Derby.
It was a blooming daunting proposition, but I agreed and stood there in front of 30 odd players at the YPI training ground. Actually, I really gave ‘em it with both barrels! I told them about what it’s like at work on Monday morning after a Derby defeat, what it’s like in split families, about our noisy neighbours and being harangued by them in Morrisons and how they as players would after a defeat just ‘get back onto the horse’ for the next game, while we have to live with that one reversal for weeks, if not months, to come.
I noticed a lot of the players present looking at the ceiling or the floor as a few home truths came out, but I gained a round of applause at the end…… before I beat a hasty retreat. Years later Danny Houghton, Danny Washbrook, Kirk Yeaman and I had a good laugh about that!! Incidentally we went to Caravan and won 38-20!!! But, I’m sure it had nothing whatsoever to do with me!!
I’ve come across a few coaches over the years, Peter Sharp was hard to approach and a bit of a loaner and Richard Agar a strange guy to deal with, believe me, however I found Peter Gentle great to talk to, he always had time for the fans and he often gave me off the record information for the Diary, but it was never stuff that was in any way damaging, for he was very loyal to his players and the owner. Lee was a good guy too when it came to giving me time for a chat and he absolutely got the dynamics of the fans throughout, and Lasty is as I have said loads of times, a great bloke.
In the end, I believe that in the hierarchy of its peers, the importance and status of a Sports Club is not judged by short term indicators like its current performances, last week’s result or its present players. Instead, I think it’s measured by its heritage, its history, the passion of its devotees, the sacrifices they have made and the adversity that we the fans have been through together in the name of the Club we all love. I have always tried to reflect that and to try and capture week in week out, what I and most other fans are thinking.
Supporters are quintessentially worriers; simple as! ‘Fandom’ is all absorbing and all engrossing and just takes over, some fans I know, who are the ‘the blessed few’, can actually take it or leave it, but like most of you reading this, I’m afraid I can’t!
So, over the years I’ve tried in here to address the question of what makes us like that, but it’s one that I have still I think failed to answer. Reporting on matches is very important, but I’ve also tried to engage in the life of the FC community, the team and the players and to scratch away at the accepted exterior to see what lies beneath. The big thing I have learned I guess is that you shouldn’t get too close though, you don’t need to know ‘what the players eat for breakfast’, because experience proves that it will 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 which exists in theatre or cinema. When, if you see how the ‘trick’ is done or what the reality of the ‘magic’ really is, then much of the mystery, fascination and intrigue is gone.
In a week when there was loads going on away from our club and precious little happening at it, thanks for putting up with a lot of navel gazing and introspection in an edition of this rubbish when I have tried to be really honest!
700 editions and enough words to fill almost 4 bibles? I have to wonder if I’m mad and if anyone outside the media has written so much, for so long, every week, about just one Club? I must be barmy!
I hope that the ride in the next 15 years is just as wild as the passage of the last 15 has been, but, if I’m spared, man by 2035 I’ll be an old bugger!!! After 700 editions of the Diary, perhaps the final word from me should be, here’s to the future and for heaven’s sake, in the next few months, let’s all make sure we have a team and a game to support going forward.
As for now however, there’s a big moment for me this Saturday at 5-30pm on BBC 2 when FC United of Manchester the fan owned, anti- Glazier’s, football club, whose philosophy and beliefs I have admired so much and cited in here on so many occasions, meet Doncaster Rovers; as League One meets proper football.
Then it’s game day again on Thursday, when we play our hurriedly arranged game against either Wigan or Warrington. I have no idea which Hull FC will turn up, but with a sudden death scenario we have to give it our all. The lads are reported to be really up for it, so we have a chance and whatever the outcome, let’s all enjoy it, for if we don’t prevail, heaven knows when we will next see any more rugby!!!
Thank-you so much for all your brilliant support over these past years and for sticking with me! And here’s to the next 100 or so episodes eh?
Play-off rugby this week and we’re not usually too good at that at all really are we? But none the less nothing should come as a surprise, as the inexplicable and downright weird nature of the 2020 season just goes on and on!!!