The Dentist’s Diary – 717th

“We feel like the inferior tenants at the Stadium and the club needs to be stronger, more secure and flexible and in charge of its own destiny”.

So said our resurgent owner on Friday night, when the subject of a new stadium being built to become our home, was not just the stuff of hear-say, rumour, or the sages of the internet, but rather it was floated as a possibility, ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’!! I have always admired Adam’s way of telling it as it is, even if it upsets the Clubs and institutions around him and this was again a great example of that side of his personality!

But first up here, a big welcome to the last Diary before it all begins after some pretty bleak times and some really ‘thin’ weeks. In the last 7 days we had things cranking up in the media and we even experienced a Fans Forum on Radio Humberside and that extraordinary interview on the same station with our owner Adam Pearson. All that said somehow, as far as playing the game is concerned next weekend still doesn’t all seem that ‘real’ compared with other season openers. Does anyone else get what I mean? 

You see, I don’t seem to be as fired up as I usually am and although streaming and Sky TV will mean that I can watch my heroes again, for me its scant consolation. Personally, it’s never ever going to eclipse that wonderful feeling of the whole season being in front of you as you walk up to the KC Stadium with the expectation and hope on the faces of the Faithful all around you. It’s a wonderful time and a great feeling and although it’s one that has on occasions in the past been shattered within 80 minutes, I’ll really miss it just the same. 

Still playing wise at least, things are as I say cranking up and I’m certainly looking forward to Huddersfield and seeing how our new tactics and indeed the new philosophy we hear so much about, all pans out!    

So first up I feel I have to have a look at what is likely to be the biggest happening of the week, which was the hour-long interview on Friday night, by David Burns and Peter Swan with our owner Adam Pearson. I saw the programme advertised and thought that it would (with those presenters hosting it), be a Hull City ‘love in’, but fair play to Bursey it was a very compelling listen. However, like everyone at present I had some time on my hands and I always find Adam entertaining, so I tuned in. None the less after the recent fan’s forum on the same station, I expected it to be run of the mill, but it turned out to be anything but!! 

Firstly, it was great to hear how Adam had recovered from Covid and how full of beans he was, for he had a tough time in hospital and a long convalescence. He said that it had refocussed his life and he was feeling sharp and looking towards driving our club forward, but he described quite graphically how harrowing an experience it had all been and how perhaps it had changed his life for the good. 

He was pleased with the feel of the club, he said it had got complacent and stale under Radford and with Hodgson and Reynolds coming in it wasn’t all ‘Club Hull’ orientated now. In fact, he was saying what we all pretty much thought really anyway!! As for his secret of success over the years as an owner, he said in his usual forthright manner, “You don’t tell lies to the fans”. 

Most important of all for everyone reading this, was the fact that he said, “I have no intention of selling the Club, I might do one day, but it won’t be for another 10 to 15 years”. But then followed what can only be described as an absolute bombshell! 

On the subject of sharing a ground he said it was difficult and with 6 years to go to the 25-year review of the lease, it was now coming to a point when we had to decide exactly where we are as a Club. Adam then said, (always being courteous to the pair who are running it), that it’s really hard sharing a ground and its now a question of us determining, “Where we go and what we do with the club and indeed whether we want our own stadium and our own home further down the line!!!”. He added that it takes 3 year to build a stadium and that there is a lot of money around at present to do it! 

Man, did all that come out of the blue!! 

The HDM reckoned next day that there have been no discussions with the council about this, but I know that’s what the authority would say! Let me say here that regular long-term readers will know that I revealed some five years ago that as far as the Council were concerned we got close on the Costello project before lack of funds on Adams side scuppered the scheme. I thought all that was dead and buried, yet here was our owner openly talking about looking again at getting our own 15,000-seater home. He then added the by-line, “I’ll now have the leader after me saying Adam what are you doing?” which for me implied that the Council are very much involved in this as well. But what, I thought about the finance? 

Before I could think on, Adam added, “It’s just that there is so much money about out there at present with personal equity trying to drive projects. There is money around to explore options and as a custodian of the Club I have to explore them”. Perhaps that’s maybe why, I thought, we have restructured the Board and brought in a financial expert! 

That was followed by Adam bemoaning the £80m deal that Super League had turned down (which has now he said gone into women’s football) which he thought would have revitalised all the clubs across the game, but which was he said, blocked by a couple of bigger clubs who perhaps didn’t like the idea of that amount of wealth going into some of the less wealthy outfits! Again, something most of us suspected, but just the same, explosive stuff for Friday night local radio!!  

Another ‘global bombshell’ was dropped when he talked of the fact that he was negotiating on behalf of Super League with Sky for the next contract, but he added that they were also talking to the BBC about a ten-game contract for 2022 which would see Super League back running on Terrestrial TV, alongside Sky. What a coupe for the game that would be!  

On another tack we have capped our season ticket sales, but they will go back on sale once we know how many we can get into the Stadium, but everyone was a bit numb by what had gone before by then and you certainly can’t fault Adam for he is nothing but open and honest and perhaps once again he has been too honest for some!! 

That said, I would advise no one reading this to hold their breath on a new stadium for the hurdles that would have to be surmounted would be huge. Adam may have been using it as a way of warning the Allam’s who are about to crank up the rental come 2027, but I doubt that myself and knowing Adam I reckon there is certainly something in it all, be it at a very early stage. It is more likely that a rejuvenated, single again and refreshed  Adam is looking to every possibility to develop the Club and so for us lot it’s great to hear our Chairman so positive and excited, but on the stadium stuff its now very much a watch this space situation!  

Have a listen to the whole interview if you have an hour to spare and you haven’t already heard it for it shows our Leader in his true light and it’s a real good listen.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p098ccvd

 So, next up on this very much Radio Humberside orientated Diary, let’s have a bit of a look at that fan’s forum on Tuesday. For me personally I would say after Adam’s stuff, it was mildly interesting at best. It was of course done at arms-length through zoom and text and E-mail, but believe me, it wasn’t a patch on those great nights at the KCom and the Walton Club, when we all looked forward to quizzing the players, Coach and the owner, but, what is like that these days? Thankfully, it was Mike White who introduced and compared it and he did a good job of fronting an event, featuring as it did James Clark, Brett Hodgson and Marc Sneyd. It was a bit staged as well, with a panel of fans including several members of FC Voices who were wheeled out to ask questions, but it was really good to see they are still around for I haven’t heard much of the organisation of late.   

So, for those of you who couldn’t listen, here is a bit of a precis of the happenings, what I gleaned from it and indeed what I ‘read between the lines’ of what was said. Firstly, let me say as these things go it was pretty tame. Seeing a panel facing a room of 400 fans always held a sort of underlying anticipation and excitement and without that it was all pretty clinical. What happened? Well, from my initial thoughts I have to say having listened to Brett Hodgson at length rather than in the usual sound-bites, he does seem a genuine sort of guy. He’s articulate and knowledgeable and he certainly emphasise long and hard that his biggest task of all was changing the ‘culture and attitude’ within the group. We all thought he would have to do that though didn’t we? However, he then added that the prime requirement of any RL player is them having the ability to ‘go the extra mile for his mates’. That was a good starter for me! 

There was a question raised on something that a lot of us are concerned about, namely the depth of our squad and in response to that Hodgson said it wasn’t ideal and that we were on the look-out for players and had actually considered a move for Remi Casti. There were however certain facets of his game linked to his age that meant it was probably not the best move for the Club. But apparently we are still looking. 

It became apparent too that there are some current players who have really impressed Brett. One being Marc Sneyd himself, whilst another is certainly young Ben McNamara. Ben  is out of contract this year and Hodgson said that we are keen to retain him but apparently the lad has a lot about him and isn’t interested in having an agent. Instead he has his Dad looking after his interests! On that subject of getting some players signed up again Clarky was keeping his cards close to his chest, but it was implied that we were close with a couple of players, who had really made a case for retention by their actions in pre-season. My money would be on (by what was said), McNamara, Swift and Joe Cator. Finally, there was a question about our trialist winger Mitieli Vulikijapan (who will from now on be known in here by his nick-name at the club of ‘Mitch’) and it looks like he is showing up well at training and about to be signed up to stay on at the club, in the short term at least, which was something Adam confirmed in his interview as well. 

There were some lighter moments too as when Marc was asked what it was like playing with Josh Reynolds, to which he retorted that he was looking forward to sitting back organising the line and watching him do his thing!! Brett said that the two-half backs had completely different skill sets and were of contrasting styles and that Sneyd was for him a genuine leader. However, Hodgson also stuck a note of caution, when he said that that it might take a couple of weeks of the season for the two to fully blend.  

Otherwise besides finding out, (as Adam also said on Friday),  that we have closed our season ticket sales at 5500 because that is likely to be all we can allow into the stadium at first, that was it really, but as I say, it passed  an interesting hour.

Finally, whilst I’m on the forum, a big well done to Chief Executive James Clark who we discovered has welcomed a second baby into the world 6 weeks early and that on top of Covid and trying to keep the club alive throughout the last traumatic year. 

Now it’s a fact that a quick look at any newspaper dictates that  there is so much crap around in the media these days. We hear so much fabrication and surmising even in the regional press, so I love it when a player is actually honest, particularly when he has screwed up. Therefore, this week it was good to hear Mahe Fonua admitting (just as many of us suspected), that he believed his own publicity a bit too much last season, as he said, “I wasn’t up to where I know I can be. The big word is potential. That’s a tough one, potential, when people say you could have been this, could have been that, but you weren’t. I came back to a lot of expectation and I don’t think I fulfilled it”.

He continued, “I’d come over with some excess luggage and was injured. The visas didn’t come over for a while, I got here late and right from there, I needed to get that foundation in that I’d missed out on in pre-season. It was tough and it was a bit of a wake-up call reflecting on the year I’d had. But I had some time to think about it during this off-season and I’ve tried to do all I can to get myself in good shape this pre-season, in order to make sure I can right the wrongs of last year. I’ve put in some work and trained hard to get back to the best I can, I feel strong and as fit as I’ve felt for a long time. I’m excited and ready to repay my debt to the fans and the club this year.”

For me that is great to hear because it appears that the guy realises that he returned to Hull to a hero’s welcome, ill prepared and thinking that it would be plain sailing with his mate Lee Radford, but as we all saw he soon went from hero to zero as his fitness, application and attitude was all wrong. Honest stuff I thought!

I mentioned the World Cup there and it was interesting to see Shaun Wane the England Coach having a go at Adam about his comments on releasing players for the ‘All Stars’ game. I discussed that at length last week because it does coincide with our first opportunity to get our fans back into the KC, so there are, I feel, some mitigating circumstances. Apparently as a game we aren’t taking the whole thing seriously, yet, as with 12 Super league Coaches and some brilliant assistants available for consideration and wanting a chance, with the appointment of Tim Sheens as the ‘All Star’s’ Coach you have to wonder whether the RFL are either!  

Now we all know that Adam Swift along with Josh Jones had a tough time last year with Covid, but perhaps like me you didn’t quite realise how tough it was for Swifty! On that experience, he said to The Yorkshire Post: “It was pretty tough. I’m not going to lie. I was one of the first to be tested positive at the club and then my daughter, who was three weeks old at the time, contracted the virus. She ended up being in hospital for a week, went through every antibiotic under the sun and had sepsis as well and it was a tough time for us”

He continued, “The missus had Covid also. They were incarcerated at the top of Hull Royal (Infirmary) and no-one wanted to go near them. It was a tough time for us as a family but it’s one we can look back on now and be very grateful for where we are all at. We’re all fit and healthy now and we’ll be glad to see the back of this bloody pandemic”. So perhaps sometimes you just don’t realise just how tough it is for players!! Thanks to the Yorkshire Post for the quote too.

The announcement this week of the Clubs developments with regard to their Centre of Excellence was, at a time when cash is tight, a really welcome step forward setting us apart from the majority of Sports Clubs. With Lee Crooks out setting up branches all over the country and looking for young RU talent the administrators have now announced that 110 young players (between the ages of 14 and 19) have been added to the Clubs Hull Roster. These are split into 4 squads; the scholarship squad, development squad, elite squad and academy squad, as well as them developing Rising Stars programme to ensure we look after those players on the cusp of breaking into the first-team. Academy graduates Ben McNamara and Jude Ferreira are already on first-team contracts, but can still feature for the Academy this season.

 It was also announced that the club intend to continue with our Reserve team when Covid protocols restrictions are lifted and in addition we will also oversee the University of Hull rugby league programme, which lets youngsters play the game but also offers a chance to progress to higher education.

We should never underestimate just what a major step this is because we are not just looking to find some first team players,  but also ensuring that we raise well rounded and capable young men and women with qualifications and a pathway to either the first team, or a productive life. It’s a massive under taking and a real feather in the cap of Hull FC and something that our Coach actually took into consideration when he was offered the job. He realises how important not just good players, but good people are to a club and for me this is a massive step forward by my club.

Well, Adam Pearson hasn’t made many mistakes during his tenure as owner, but his biggest for me (and I can say that because I told him so), was the combined Academy, because the principle went against all our belief systems, was biased in its staffing structure and really didn’t work at all. However, we have as a club learned the lessons and the Centre of Excellence and it’s spread across the country is an absolutely excellent idea. We are back looking after our own young players and that has to be a real plus. 

Now you all laugh at me at times because of my admiration for Marc Sneyd, but you know my views on him and the fact that at times as a fan I have criticised and had a go at him, but in general he’s a bit of a hero for me. Historian Bill Dalton certainly keeps tabs on our prolific goal kicker as he moves up the ranks of FC all-time greats and informs me that currently he has kicked an amazing 586 goals (all goals that is, including drop goals) which puts him 4th in the all-time goal kickers charts behind Joe Oliver, John Maloney and Colin Hutton although now he is only 102 goals short of reaching the pinnacle of being the Clubs all-time leading goal kicker. What a feat that would be. 

When I spoke to Bill he said, “Marc has kicked 552 Place Goals (from 694 attempts), of which 74 have come at Castleford’s expense, 69 against Catalan, Leeds and Wakey 53 each, Rovers 50, and so on. His best Match effort was 10 against Rovers. He has booted 34 Drop Goals. I would have gambled that Wakey have suffered most, but, in fact, his 5 efforts against Trinity have been matched by 5 against Warrington, followed by 4 against Catalan and Leeds”. That’s pretty amazing really and with two years left on his contract Marc is in danger of becoming an FC ‘All Time Great’ by next season. 

Now, on the domestic front, we got a new TV for the bedroom this week. The old one had taken on a life of its own and started switching itself on and off throughout the night which was pretty disconcerting. The novelty of the new acquisition led to me watching a lot of TV I wouldn’t usually bother with, until that is, the novelty wore off! However, I found myself watching the BBC news early last Sunday morning and got engrossed in an interesting feature about the issue of stammering and what a problem it can be for people and indeed how many folks  have battled so hard to overcome it. All of a sudden there was a real blast from the past as up popped our ex-prop or second row Mark Jones, describing his battle with the problem and how the frustration it brought had influenced some of his rather outrageous behaviour on the rugby field, particularly in his early Rugby Union days. 

He certainly arrived at Hull FC in October 1990 with a reputation for being a real firebrand, but as he said on the TV, he kept himself very much to himself off the field and never spoke openly about his stammer and although I met the guy a couple of times, I never actually realised that he suffered that way. That got me thinking about our ex-prop who we signed for a reported £120,000. Mark went on to play for us up until 1995, before moving on to Warrington and then back to Welsh Rugby Union when their game turned pro. For me he never really realised his obvious potential, but he still managed to turn out for Great Britain in 1992 making him one of that rare breed; an FC dual-code international. 

I remember him quite well, in fact what sprung to mind immediately was the fact that he made a bit of RL history in the pre-season Charity Shield game on 25th August 1991 at Gateshead against Wigan. In that game he became the first player to replace another who had entered the newly introduced ‘Blood Bin’ when Mark replaced the wounded Steve McNamara for ten minutes, before returning as a normal substitution in the second half. 

His inclusion for Great Britain in a Test against France in Perpignan was seen as a massive surprise in the game, as he had only played 20 games or so for us and he went on to play for Wales a few times as well. He only made a ten-minute appearance near the end for GB but it certainly surprised us all. I remember him as not attaining the levels that the hype that preceded him heralded, but he was certainly a massive player and one who was really difficult to bring down. Often playing the ball from a standing start because several tacklers had failed to down him, he made 68 appearances for us. But in the end his injuries continued and he departed to Warrington. 

By his own admission on the BBC feature, stammering was something that blighted Mark’s life for years, but he’s battled it and has come through and he summed his current condition up perfectly when he said,  “The cliché has owned me, but now I own it”. It was a great piece about stammering and wonderful to see where Mark is now and how he has at last overcome something that had blighted his life for years! Great memories as well!

So, with the new season days away as a Club where exactly are we? 

You know, as we approach a new season, no one but no one, inside the club, out on the terraces or even, would you believe, in the Hull Daily Mail, really knows where we are going and how the coming campaign will unfold. We all know that, simply because we’ve been here so many times before. 

The players are confident as usual, the Club are positive as always and the media just hypothesises and fanaticises in an effort to gee us all up and sell newspapers! Fact is, accepting all that, nothing much changes for us all from year to year. New seasons are new starts, full of ponderable issues and unanswered questions, simple as! 

All we can do as ordinary fans is look for the signs, listen to the rhetoric and hope! Just like we do every year. If you try hard to ignore the hype then, as the 2021 season looms, you could be excused for believing that once again at Hull FC, little has changed. 

But, talking to the players, hearing what they have to say and noting how on message everyone is, then despite being wary of what I have seen and felt before (and invariably still been disappointed), I do feel that some things have changed for the good at Hull FC. 

I think, if things were normal attendance wise again, we would be really positive about the coming season but lockdown has ground us all down and we are a bit reticent this time around. Looking beyond that though you can’t hazard a guess as to what will be different tactics wise, because we haven’t seen enough, but without doubt, the rationale and philosophy within the organisation has changed somewhat. Every player you hear from says that things are different and although that doesn’t guarantee success on the field, there is little doubt that the underlying principles within the group have changed a lot. You might not like hearing it and I certainly don’t like saying it but now the dust has settled there is no doubt that there were cliques, there were separate groups and there were favourites. 

It is, as I have said many times in here and Adam re-iterated on Friday, pretty evident that a lot was wrong with the tired and stale feel that there was amongst the players under Lee Radford and although Andy Last was a great bloke and a good coach, the jump, from one leader to the next was too cosy and not big enough and so the bridging philosophy between the two regimes was pretty much the same. 

You only have to look in our everyday working lives at the difference between a brand-new boss being brought in from outside an organisation and a deputy being promoted; it’s a changing of the dynamic’s thing, isn’t it?  So, if stuff was wrong in the latter years of the Radford campaign it would to a certain extent be continued through to Lasty’s reign, however much he tried to reverse it. It is something that you have seen hundreds of time in sports teams particularly in football where usually the assistant coach takes over from the sacked one on a temporary basis, but an outsider with different ideas is brought in to shake things up a bit! 

Adam had seen all that in his past life and although we were sad to see Lasty go, he was a creature of circumstance, in the wrong place at the wrong time, but our owner knew that a new philosophy, which a completely new start engenders, was needed and so a new broom had to be brought in.

Adam has kept in touch with Brett ever since he offered him an assistant coaching job at the Club and Brett turned it down to return home. The owner has however always been impressed with the way Brett speaks to players and understands the dynamic within the group and our owner appreciated the fact that unlike others he is a Coach who doesn’t put a lot of weight on who is senior to whom in the squad. 

Now the players say that they all feel valued, that the Coach has time for everyone, will listen to players ideas and is someone who they will feel they will have let down, if they don’t project their training field potential onto the actual pitch on game day. 

All that of course doesn’t guarantee we will win a single game, and as my Mum always used to say, ‘Fine words butter no parsnips!’. But if you’ve ever been in a working group where you were under the cosh and everyone then pulled together to get stuff sorted you’ll know like I do that it’s a whole lot better situation to be in, than when all around you are grumbling gripping, telling tales and crawling to the bosses.  

Adam Swift is a player that flew under the radar last year predominantly through injury, but unlike the Club Hull lads who have been around the place for ages, he came in from the outside and a great culture group at St Helens and so having experienced last season’s coaching supremo’s he is in a better place than most to compare Brett Hodgson’s regime with what went before and indeed what goes on at Saints. This week he actually compares our coach to the brilliant St Helens boss Justin Holbrook. 

When interviewed by the HDM Swift said, “He’s been brilliant! He’s completely turned the squad around and he’s brought quite a lot of similar things in that Justin Holbrook did when he took over when I was at Saints. It’s great to see that all the lads have bought into it and it’s showing with some of the stuff we’re doing on the field”.

So now with a week to go to lift off, all the signs are that we have got it right off the field, the squad is very fit, pretty confident, well versed in the game plan and most of all feeling like a real team again. Personally, I like what I see and hear from Brett Hodgson, but time will tell because all that is absolutely no guarantee of success at all and we could all be tearing our hair out (if we have any left) by late April, but man for me, it’s so far so good and a bloody good start! The acid test comes against Huddersfield; we don’t desperately need to win, but we need to see the signs that things have changed!

So, there we are with the last diary before we are off and running in the 2021 season. Huddersfield with a new coach new players and a new hope will be a real toughie for us. I’m expecting them to throw the ball around and play an expansive game for that is what Watson did to great effect with Salford.  We have to be on our guard and watch the Giants, particularly their outside backs, because they have better players than Salford had and I really believe it will be a big test of our new found togetherness and the influence of Reynolds and Hodgson. A win would be great but I’d be happy to see a new attitude and resolve, a better defence and perhaps a bit more flamboyance and shape in our attack. That would give us all some hope for 2021. 

In the mean time I make no excuses for saying that the last few Diaries have been hard to write as the closed season rumbled on, but I hope that I have found something to interest you in my ramblings. Of course, what’s kept it going has been the support of you lot out there reading this rubbish every week, getting in touch and putting me straight. For that I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. 

Thanks for reading the Diary and I’m sorry this has been a long one, but it’s good to have something to talk about again! The next Diary should be out around Monday next week, as we return to the in-season schedule. In the meantime, exciting times and let’s hope for a great season, stay safe and I’ll speak to you all again early next week. 

Oh and 

COMEONYOUHHHHUUUULLLLLAAAARRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Keep Believing!

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf