Season’s Greetings and thanks to everyone for sticking with the Diary through 2020!!!
So, another year has almost passed us by and Christmas or at least what this year passes for Christmas, is upon us. Thankfully at last there is a light ahead for all of us, but at present, sadly, things all around seem to be getting worse rather than better. That said, despite everything that has gone on, we are still talking about rugby and we still have our Club, our game and our hopes and dreams for the future.
The nightmare that was 2020 is almost behind us and we have to look to that future and indeed next season with a bit of optimism. We also have to show some faith in those people who can ensure that the sport of Rugby League and our beloved Club keep going until the storm clouds clear, all our fortunes change and we get back to something like normality (whatever that will be).
It’s been a quiet old week news wise hasn’t it? However, it usually is at this time of year. But, none the less here in the last Diary of 2020, I’ll try and look at what news there is around rugby wise and indeed at what being a fan is all about for me at times like these, as I reflect on a year and a season that, in both cases, I think we will all be glad to see the back of!
As I say, the Mail was certainly struggling to find much to talk about this week because no doubt, as I have myself discovered, there just isn’t that much news about. A classic example was Fridays offering about ‘our Coach discussing Pre-season Friendlies’, which actually just told us that we hadn’t decided on any yet. There was an absolute none story as well earlier in the week about whether Brett Hodgson would change our Captain for 2021. In that piece, when questioned, our new Coach said exactly what he had to at this time; that he had confidence in both Danny and Scott in the top two positions. Well, he’s hardly likely to say it will be all change, before he has the chance to gauge the dynamics of the group, watch how they interact and see first-hand what leadership the current incumbents bring to the squad in training. No one could really ever have anything but admiration for Danny Houghton, his love of the Club, his workrate and indeed his loyalty and dedication, nor would they doubt the visible passion and loving of Hull FC that exudes from Scotty Taylor. However, it’s only the Coach that can make a call on such things and once it’s made it is something that’s hard if not almost impossible to change mid-season, well it is without de-stabilising the whole group. Brett obviously has to be wary of making any major changes before at least February, by which time he’ll have had a few weeks to look at the squad. However, it’s a tough one even then particularly if he is trying to gain the respect of the group. It will certainly be interesting to see how he handles that one and indeed if our Captain and Vice-Captain continue in their current roles.
Personally, I have to admit to occasionally ruminating on whether it would make any difference if, to freshen things up a bit, the roles of the two were reversed, with Houghton as vice-captain and Taylor as Captain. However, whatever happens, with Danny no doubt continuing with the bench role which he filled so effectively last season and Scott only on the field around 60 minutes in any one game in his propping position, it’s possible that at times we might not have either on the pitch to inspire the team, question the referee and lead from the front, etc. That was the case last season after lockdown anyway, when Danny was on the bench and Scott was injured and it didn’t seem to effect things, so who knows. But, there you are, in quiet times I’ve rabbited on about something that I started by saying was in any case a none story at present. As Brett Hodgson insinuated in the interview, it’s just too early to call anyway.
You know I admitted in here when his appointment was announced that I was a tad underwhelmed with our new Coach, although I said too that I don’t really know what I expected. However, since arriving Hodgson has gone about his business in a quiet workmanlike way and I have to say that having listened to that interview with him on the Club site he certainly says all the right things.
Games aren’t won on paper or in pre-season interviews either, we all know that only too well, but the depth of his understanding of what is needed is commendable and I have to say that I’m impressed with the guy and believe now that he could be just what we need. We had to have a change of culture which can only come from one person, the Coach, and listening to him, he has obviously brought Josh Reynolds over here for the specific purpose of supporting him in that cultural change. It’s early days, but Brett Hodgson has certainly impressed me thus far!
That said, the consistent absence of any sort of news or confirmation about the Andy Last situation has been sad indeed. I guess we all know by the constant references of ‘what he did for the club’ ‘He was always loyal’ etc.(always in the past tense) coming from interviews with the current staff, it’s very probabale that he has left. That for me is hardly surprising because, as I have often said, the place he found himself occupying after jumping in to help us out, left him in an invidious situation where, if he wasn’t appointed to the top job, he really couldn’t continue. That’s sad at any time, (particularly at Christmas), but sport is a cruel master, there are always casualties in such situations and as so I guess all we can really do is say thanks Andy, your efforts have always been appreciated particularly in this testing year and good luck mate.
Well, the great Super League lottery was finally sorted last Monday, when Leigh were successful in their attempt to take up the 12th place in the division for next season. My pal Brian over there and all the good folks of Leigh will be loving it, whilst those in Wigan certainly won’t!!! The Centurions inclusion certainly rekindles a stronger rivalry than many of us lot at this side of the Pennines actually appreciate!!
I said last week, looking at their strength of playing staff, their stadium and the business plan they submitted, that I thought on balance it would be the Centurions and so it was. I’d didn’t say that particularly because I wanted them over some of the other Clubs, (for a trip to York would have been so much more convenient), but rather that ‘the powers that be’ would be looking for a safe pair of hands and a team that could at least be guaranteed to compete. We just know how anything to do with the RFL and Super League works, for we’ve wintered and summered it for years and if so much public opinion was against Bradford’s admission, then Leigh would always be the panels ‘safe’ choice!
For me, despite the brilliant work done by John Flatman at York and them being a decent bet expansion wise, they just weren’t ‘oven ready’, and maybe too big a risk, London just can’t really get the gates despite having been given plenty of opportunity to do it. Toulousse was a good idea and had the strongest squad behind Leigh, they would have been a great option for the expansionists, but at 900 miles away in another country, with the virus situation, they were totally impractical for 2021. Then for me I’m afraid, Featherstone, despite all their sterling efforts off the field to build the club, fell just short playing strength wise as well. The game desperately needed a club, that could hit the ground running and at least have a chance of staying up.
As for Bradford? Well you know my views on them and I just think that the committee must have realised that there would be a public outcry and shouts of ‘Fix’ from every side of the game where they to succeed, suddenly move back to Odsal and start paying the RFL rent out back of their Sky money!!
I’ll tell you what though, I think a couple of clubs who had been tipped to go down already on last season’s showings might just have been hoping for a York or a Featherstone. Both clubs would have had to go some to get a team together for the start of the season and maybe would have immediately taken over the favourites tag for the drop. I heard all the protests and sour grapes coming from fans about Leigh being a bad choice based on their location and proximity to the big Lancashire Clubs, but there was always going to be some claims of a fix whoever got the nod. For me the Centurions application was head and shoulders above the rest of those submitted and their owner, despite admittingly threatening to leave in frustration once before, has certainly put his money where his mouth is and built an impressive squad. What’s more, he did it before the chance of a place in the top echelon was even muted.
So, Leigh (population, 41,275) will replace Toronto (population 2,930,000) in the top flight next year. For us lot, if we ever get out of the house again, it will be a good trip to Leigh, for their fans are a really passionate bunch, it’s a good stadium and has good seats. For me as well, it is certainly a lot better proposition than the thought of going back to Odsal, being issued with ‘rain macs’ before standing on that end terracing so far from the action it’s akin to ‘watching Subuteo’ at the North Pole!!
What’s more I think, when the dust has settled most would have to admit that Leigh will give a few a good run for their money this year. So, good luck to them, for they won fair and square although there will be a bit of on-going grumbling behind the scenes from the unsuccessful candidates and some fans across the game as well.
That said though, again it’s sad that its again being seen as a bit of a sign of greed that the existing Super League Clubs, who always seem to resist tooth and nail the obvious solution of expanding the competition to a most sensible 14 Club, are at it again. For they have now actually invited one team into the competition, without being prepared to give them the same money as the other 11 clubs. It’s therefore once again, as was the case with Toronto, not a level playing field for all the teams competing in Super League. What’s more, that perceived greed it’s completely against the spirit of what our great sport used to be about.
The owner of the London Bronco’s actually congratulated the Lancashire Club before saying of their funding allocation, “It’s greed with a capital ‘G’ from the other 11 Super League teams.” He doesn’t mince his words does he?
The Centurions will actually receive £1m in distribution money as they make their return to the top flight following relegation in 2017 while opposition clubs will receive a figure closer to £1.8m they currently get, depending on how much of a reduction there is from Sky. That being the case it’s easy to see how the most well-equipped team player wise, prior to the application process, have got the nod is it?
Leigh won’t be complaining ….mainly because they knew what to expect if they were successful, as in the criteria document circulated to all prospective candidates, the League confirmed that the winning applicant would be entitled to £1m of central funding in 2021, ‘compared to the current figure of £1.8m’. However, if they avoid relegation at the end of their first season in the top flight, they would be entitled to the full amount there on in. So that leaves what can only be called a pretty un-level playing field for the Centurions, before they even start. It’s a good job they have got a rich owner. However, of all the candidates I do think that they (along with perhaps Toullouse) have the best chance of denting a few ego’s in next year’s competition. Finally, I would just add that having been given a reduced Sky allocation through the decision of the other 11 clubs, it would be poetic justice if Leigh did manage to finish above at least one of the clubs who voted against Toronto and who cut the Lancashire Clubs Sky allocation, wouldn’t it?
With the signings Rovers have made, Leigh’s talent and Wakey’s rebuilding, plus the incoming ‘flair’ across the rest of the competition for the 2021 season, I believe it is going to be a very competitive League indeed. We at Hull FC certainly have to get a good start and can’t afford a slow beginning, because anyone who does that will find it hard to get out of the mire. So, no excuses, we have to get off to a strong start and get some consistency in our performances from the off.
So, once again somehow or other we have all managed to get to Christmas and in this edition of the Diary I usually look back at the year, it’s games, players and funny moments, before considering a bit, as to where we go next. But this has been no ordinary year and for all of us there haven’t been that many funny moments at all either.
Before the storm descended on our country and our sport, as the dark clouds gathered we all feared the worst and for many of us it’s manifest itself in a life changing few months. The season had only just got going, (although Hull FC were already going backwards), when we waved goodbye to the Coach who had made so many dreams come true and the whole competition was shut down. In those weeks when stadiums fell silent and the clubs furloughed their players it was a strange time indeed. As the seats were left empty, the scoreboards stopped ‘clicking’ and the bars and food stations were unmanned, we were all locked up at home, pondering on the fact that the sport is not in its essence an industry, but more a way of life.
When it returned, even though it was behind closed doors we at least had something, but many of us were still so preoccupied with literally staying alive, whilst many like me, were just plain scared and perhaps some of us still are. Watching the Club we love play in such surreal circumstances was a strange distraction at first, but one that grew on us as time passed. We must heartily thank the players, the Coaches the staff and indeed Clarky and Adam Pearson for the way that they have kept the club going. There has to be a big pat on the back as well to every fan who has stood by the club and continued to subscribe despite there being no games to attend. Where else but in sport, would you see people happily paying for something, month in month out, which is giving them nothing back at all!!
When it did return, as I say, it was different for all of us. Perhaps some of that was down to our own personal circumstances, but also to the fact that there certainly were changes as well, with new rules, a new format for the League and empty stadiums with cut out cardboard fans propped up behind the seats. In addition, home teams were playing away often at the home of the opposition!!! Initially it was almost like some futuristic Orwellian drama was unfolding before our eyes and the whole experience was at first, quite surreal. What’s more, suddenly before games, players were for the first time ‘taking the knee’.
This latter development was expected I guess, as it had become the norm in all sports and if nothing else it certainly emphasised the importance of recognising that there are real racist issues in sport, as there probably are in all walks of life. It certainly made me reconsider my own always sympathetic, but perhaps at times slightly blasé attitude to discrimination in sport. As the pandemic raged the Black Lives Matter movement was positioned between those, like me, moved by the powerful symbolism of athletes taking a knee and those who failed to understand, or at least acknowledge, the already symbiotic relationship that exists between sport and politics. If it’s here and happening and it’s pertinent to society in general, then such campaigns will more and more be hitching their wagon to the vast family that is sport and if it makes just a few folks think and consider their own attitudes (as it did me), then it is all worth-while.
So, we started out, got thumped by Salford, but then grew into some encouraging performances and despite the changes it was great to have rugby back. That said even after the heroics against Warrington and the disappointment against Wigan, there is little doubt that a long period without our game and then a truncated and almost manufactured season with it, had changed things on a few fronts and even, in the case of ‘Taking the Knee’, made this fan at least think a bit as well.
Most poignant of everything for me was however how the absence of my sport during that lockdown reminded me of its most abiding virtue; the way it brings people and communities together. In normal times it brings all sorts, sizes and ages from all manner of backgrounds and lifestyles to one place to be as one for a couple of hours. For that period of time at least we all concentrate on that single obsession, for whilst the game takes place, it is all that matters and we laugh, cry, rejoice and despair as one. Life’s troubles are still there but sort of temporarily marginalised as we all feel involved together like a Family, and if you like, brothers in arms, for we all feel safe in the midst of like-minded mates. Boy, how I missed all that!!
I lamented as well the fact that the massive ‘Elephant in the room’ that is Covid, was not only changing the face of our game but also keeping us all from that wonderful feeling of being shoulder to shoulder with kindred spirits in one place at one time, where we are all intent on just one thing, getting behind our beloved Hull FC. Yet despite that being denied us, we were still all out there, as in, if you like, a virtual family, all trying to do our bit to ensure our club survived.
If nothing else the shadow of a pandemic and its effect on my ability to watch the club I love really did make me realise that Rugby League and Hull FC are all about much more than a bad performance or a questionable coaching decision, or indeed losing or winning two points. Of course, in the white-hot atmosphere of ‘being there’ all those things are paramount but more important in the long run, is the fact that it’s all just about a belief system. That is what has for many of us got us through the last months with a distraction at times, a whole host of memories at others and a longing for the future and ‘getting back to normal’, that has been ongoing throughout.
I know there are literally hundreds of us who are battling on as fans, often ‘existing’ on the one commodity we have left; tons and tons of ‘hope’ for next season and the future.
Year in year out it’s a continuous roller coaster. We grumble, we moan, we get disenchanted and some even try to walk away at times. However, few who are part of the ‘love affair’ can actually do it, so one can only presume that by and large Hull FC fans are without doubt a pretty special bunch. In fact, I guess that many hope that despite our recent woes, the owner of the Club, who has been through it himself of late, realises just what he has inherited. 7 years ago, he didn’t just buy a club he bought into a lineage, a phenomenon and something that I believe, even when judged against other sports Clubs, is pretty bloody special. Rest assured though because I know that Adam gets that totally, for he has grown into Rugby League and into the over-arching philosophy and love, that surround our great Club.
For me, I also think that there is no better a community to be part of when the chips are down on the field and even when the going is as tough as it has been of late in all our own personal lives. In times of trouble, I have always thought how great it is to have so many kindred spirits out there yet still ‘around me’. Most ‘normal souls’ have been there sometime in their lives, with personal break ups and disasters which have left them bereft. Indeed, many others who don’t have what we do, have had to scratch around and rebuild a circle of acquaintances with similar interests and yet often they have never succeeded. However, if you’re a long-standing fan of a Sports Club, particularly one like Hull FC, then that task is always a lot easier, because there is always someone, wherever you go, who shares that same undying passion.
Despite the many emotional hurdles encapsulated in all this ‘FC till I die” stuff, one of the benefits of having such an all-consuming ‘hobby’ is that you’re never on your own for long. This, of course just goes to prove that when you’re hopelessly entangled with YOUR club, however much that Club frustrates you at times, you always have the security of knowing that you’re not suffering alone, but in the midst of a vast fraternity of like-minded souls. After defeats and disappointments, they are probably just as despondent and disheartened as you are, but are also, just like you, desperately looking for some positives, whilst always having that ‘crumb of comfort’ that in the end, they’re not on their own either.
As I have said before in here, if you really love your Club and I mean really love them, then I honestly believe that it’s little different to having wayward kids. They are volatile, unpredictable and often frustrate you, they let you down, upset you, abuse your faith in them and yet just occasionally they make you so, so proud. However, like dysfunctional children, most of the time they make you reflect on one simple sentiment and that is that it’s usually best to prepare yourself for the worst, because that’s what you invariably get. In fact, as is the case with problem kids, “It’s a Good job you love ‘em!” However when those ‘Kids’ are playing up or in trouble, the whole family gathers round and tries to support each other and it has been thus over the last few months with the fans of Hull FC who have rallied round in great numbers to prop up the Club and keep the flame burning and the hope alive.
So, no doubt like me your outlook on your club and its importance to you and thousands of other people has resonated a bit during this horrible year. In the end as for the future, well, with a new Coach and an uncertain 2021 all we can do is hope and dream and as loyal, fanatical and often deluded fans, that hope and our memories, are often all we have to cling to! However, don’t despair but rather just be grateful that we have been blessed to be members of that great family that is the FC Army, we have been there, we’ve seen it, we’ve despaired, rejoiced, been disenchanted and at times been downright disillusioned and yet we went to Wembley and won there twice, in two years and how bloody good was that!!
We are Hull FC, we are a brotherhood and what’s more we are the generation that saw it with our own eyes when many others had passed on, wishing they had done just that. And boy aren’t we lucky!! 2016 was amazing, 2017 was pretty darn good too, but since then, well we have regressed again and rather like after 2005, we have slowly slipped backwards, before now with a new beginning we all await with baited breath to see what 2021 brings.
The great Bruce Springsteen once said that, “One day we will look back on this and it will all seem funny” and that has been my watchword for decades. I wish I had a quid for every time, at home, at work, at the Boulevard and at the KCom, I have said it and Mrs R. usually knows it’s coming before I even open my mouth!! However, this debacle of a year will never ever seem funny, but we’ll get through it and if nothing else we’ll all be stronger for the experience. Good times will return and we will all look back on this, hopefully learn lessons from it and simply remember how tough things can actually be. One things for sure come next season win or lose we’ll still live it all, kick every kick and pass every ball, it will be hard and it will be disappointing at times, but perhaps we’ll never quite let it bother us as much as it did before 2016 on the field and 2020 off it. It’s a strange and challenging old life isn’t it but what would it be without our club, our game and sport itself?
So, that’s it for another year and 2020 just about done, whilst the Diary just goes on and on, as long as I do! But I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone, for all your support of this weekly journal and for humouring me for another year, thanks too, for buying those three books into which I poured all my hopeless belief and long-lived hope.
But, most of all thank you all for sticking with the Club that means so much to me. We must all continue to rally around do whatever we can and keep the faith. I guess now, all that is left this week is to wish you all a Happy Christmas and come the New Year, if I’m spared, the Diary will be back to continue on into the unknown of another season. Hopefully, with a little more to report on rugby wise, than of late!!
Sorry to go on a bit, but I do feel that we are all mates in this together, so thanks for all the cards, good wishes, texts, and E Mails, all being well the Diary will be back on or around 9th/10th January as pre-season gets underway!
Keep Believing, please stay safe throughout the festivities (or lack of them) ……and
Oh, and thanks again, for making the last 15 years so special for me.
It’s just a made up game, with made up rules
So why does it make us cry? Inspire us?
Help us make friends with people we’ve never met?
Maybe that’s because it’s something we can be part of together.
A way to find others to share in our madness?
They’re the ones who don’t judge when numbers on a scoreboard make us cry with joy or pain,
Because the same tears will be in their eyes as well!
They make sure we don’t have to suffer alone or even worse celebrate alone,
So we hang around, in pubs and living rooms and on news feeds,
Telling stories of games we saw to people who saw the exact same game.
And happily listen as they do the same to us!
Because they are the ones who help us realise its more than just a game
It’s a ritual, it’s an identity
But most of all it’s a way for us to be together.
Here, here to all of that!!!!