At our Club at least, it’s certainly been quiet over the holiday but the lads trained before and after the Christmas break and were then left to their own devices last week, for what was intended to be a short respite before the final phase of pre season commenced this morning. Although that said, many of the lads still appeared regularly at Total Fitness clutching their training instructions and having a go. However during that period it was good to at last see our latest attempt in the never ending quest for a half back arrive at Manchester Airport, as on Thursday Jordan Rankin flew in to hopefully commence training with the rest of the guys this morning.
The squad is almost complete now although one or two are still in the latter stages of their re-hab after operations etc. however we await the arrival of the Flying Dustman with Talanoa still reported to be about 10 days behind Rankin in the visa application process, (although apparently the Club don’t see any problems with everything going through). He should be here by mid January, but for now at least the rest of us can look forward to some rugby this weekend. The Club have been as good as their word with regard to restricting the usual annual hype and although there was a bit of the old rhetoric from Ellis in the Mail on Saturday, by and large this year it’s the Robins who are doing all the crowing about where they will finish and what they will win! And although there’s still time for plenty more talking, that suits me down to the ground, as at long, long last there’s a game to look forward to at the weekend. It should be fun and as for Cooke and Radford well they played together for the Hull A team in 1997 and now they both make their Coaching debut’s, against each other on Sunday; it’s funny how things work out isn’t it?
So, as I said at last Jordan Rankin is here as yet another half back joins the Club to give us some cause for optimism! However what exactly do we know about him and what hopes can we pin on a raw rookie of just 21 years? Well, he’s 6ft 2ins and weighs in at fourteen and a half stone. He’s described by most Australian pundits as a rangy running half and from the limited footage I have seen, his kicking game looks really good.
However he’s only player 17 first team games in the NRL and most worrying of all is that most of those appearances have been at full back! How he will adapt to English life, being permanently in the half backs and Super League Rugby, who knows? That’s certainly one for the future, but for me personally I can’t wait to see where he plays and who he is partnered with. Radford seems to think it will be with Miller, but then again if Horney stays fit, where will Rich play? Miller himself faces a big year, in which I think he will either struggle or become one of the best around, and although it might be the first season at Hull for Rankin, for Miller its make or break!
Competition for places is always a good thing and with Richard Horne, plus those two top young Aussie prospects, as well as two of the most gifted young halves in the British game coming through (and all with the squad full time this year), even at half back it looks like we are now starting to get some depth and options doesn’t it? Two of those halves really have to stand up this year though, if we are to do any good!
However as always at Hull FC there’s a down side and the news of Rankin’s arrival was countered by that of Chris Tuson’s operation, which was a real blow, but not unexpected; simply because the rumours about it had been circulating since well before Christmas. The new attitude at the Club on injuries seems to be one of not waiting and wondering and so rather than hanging around to see if the injury settled down with perhaps the disc popping back in on its own (but in its own time scale), an operation was ordered straight away. The thing is (I was told) that if it had resolved itself and gone back in again, the damage the displacement had made could have seen the area weakened and so the likelihood of it popping out again becomes more probable. At this time of year when you do not have to patch players up to play, I guess that little is really lost by this course of action, which could however well pay dividends in the future.
Chris will be back in training today when he will start on the process of strengthening the area around the injured part of his spine in the gym and he is expected back in round 2 or 3. I guess to get injured now rather than at the start of the season means that he misses less game’s, but none the less losing the guy who has been hailed by many players as our top trainer, is still a bit of a setback. However in fairness we are stacked with second rowers with Westerman, Ellis and Whiting to name but three, so perhaps that will at least lessen the blow a bit! I was looking forward to seeing Chris though, but it wouldn’t be pre season without an injury or two would it?
The fact, announced just before Christmas, that we have sold about as many Season Tickets as last year is heartening and bucking the national trend somewhat, with so far only Rovers (new stand and all) and Salford (new owner and all) reporting an increase in sales with many others still trailing last year’s total and some like Bradford and Widnes way behind. The game needs sorting and we have to try and get some sense to it all and soon. After the World Cup the fans should be flooding back but they ain’t and so the Clubs have a big responsibility this coming month when the structure, finance and commercial aspects of the competition will be discussed and hopefully sorted. I just hope for a simple one up one down solution from 2015 that everyone can buy into, but somehow I expect in the traditional way of the RL, the outcome will be anything but simple!
You know, I quite like Christmas, but I also have to say that this week it’s good to get back to a bit of normality as far as life is concerned. It’s nice to be bringing you the first Diary of 2014 and to have a game to look forward to at the weekend. But how was Christmas for you? I know one thing, from our Club at least it was quiet as far as rugby news was concerned, because there wasn’t any; we were shut! But it’s a great time for kids of all ages being as it is the season of traditional rituals like pre-Christmas sales, plum puddings, mistletoe, crackers, conceptions that are for a change of the immaculate variety, Downton Abbey and sinking into alcoholic oblivion in front of unending re-runs of Only Fools and Horses.
Trying to avoid most of these pit falls I amused myself as usual by eating, drinking and visiting the Drum and Monkey whilst present wise, I got a great new FC jacket from Mrs R which I have hardly had off since. However after desperately trying in vain to buy differently this year and give considered gifts to all, in the end I decided it was impossible and so I made everyone the same and although boring, I expect in the spirit of unselfish giving they all appreciated their Woolworths vouchers!
But you know even over Christmas for us demented fans there is still that endless quest for information about what is happening at the Club, something that is borne out by the constant procession of folks who come up to me in the pub, in Morrissons and even on the way into Beverley Minsters nine lessons and carols and say, “What’s happening Wilf, any news?” It usually transpires at Christmas that the answer is “Nothing much” but we always want to believe something is happening even if it isn’t! Usually in sport no news is good news, but invariably I find that there is usually something going on and that even the most open of regimes (such as I believe is our current one under Adam Pearson) have ‘something to hide’ or some issue that is in their opinion best kept ‘out of the public domain’………for now!
Perhaps it’s an injury, perhaps it’s a signing or even as has been the case in the past problems with the SMC. We’ve experienced them all at some time or the other, so in the bleak mid winter we all pounce on any snippets of information that sneaks out often misinterpreting them completely and when there are none forthcoming….someone invariably make something up!
However when you’re starved of it, you get your information in the strangest of quarters, as was the case last Monday when League Express ran an article in which their journalist Paul English interviewed, ‘former Judas of this Parish’ and new head Coach at Doncaster, Paul Cooke. He was talking about our prospects for 2014 from the position of being involved with our duel registration Club and gave what I perceived to be an outsiders perspective on the way things are going. For those who didn’t see it he said, “The difficulty for Lee is getting the players to buy into what he wants because of his lack of experience as a Head Coach. But what he does have is respect from the players because of what he is, what he’s done and the way he works, he makes no bones about what he’s after and makes no excuses about how he’s going to get it!” Cooke continued, “That group have to step up to the plate, he has gone in there with a big stick and ruffled one or two feathers with players who have in my opinion taken the mickey out of the Club a little in the past. They have made some shrewd signings and definitely let the right players go, Lee treats everyone equally and I think the players will respect and like that. Players need honesty and they need to be guided by someone who has that quality”
So what do you make of that? Was Peter Gentle dishonest, I seriously doubt it myself; in fact I know he wasn’t!! No, to me it says that we had some ‘crocks’ or players with a bad attitude on the staff last year and we have let them go and many of the local players appreciate what Lee has done over the years and what he is now trying to do and have bought into it. It also seems that because of his attitude of treating everyone the same, the big name guys who perhaps doubted his ability to make the step up to head coach, have slowly come round too.
However I do detect in that first quote that getting them in line might just have been a difficult job and it also insinuates I think that it’s the iron fist rather than the kid glove approach that is still being used. At 34 and the youngest Coach in Super League, Lee could hardly plumb the depths of his previous Super League coaching experience could he? So he can only lead by example. It seems to me that the need for a change at the top was a pretty unanimous view as far as the players were concerned, however when that change came, some of the senior players were I detect, like many fans, a bit underwhelmed by the identity of the new Head Coach.
Cooke is certainly very close to Radford (too close for many!!) but at least that position means that he has a good insight into the group dynamic and the tensions or otherwise within our squad. From day one on Sunday at Doncaster I’ll be looking closely at the ‘togetherness’ of the players and at just how well Radford has succeeded in welding the various elements that make up what has been at times a disparate squad, into a singularly focussed unit. However at least Cooke gave us an insight into what appears to have been a few months that, despite claims to the contrary, have not all been plain sailing for Lee Radford! Our Coach himself seems to be emphasising the importance of proper preparation when he said in the Mirror yesterday, “It would be difficult to find anyone who didn’t like Peter. But Hull should have achieved more in recent years. There was a lack of consistency and preparation and there have been underlying reasons why we haven’t done too well in recent years” Interesting that, can he put it right?
Well, if we seem to consistently struggle with half backs, there is certainly no problem at our Club in producing Super League hookers, with, over the past few years, Houghton and Hodgson being testament to that. The next one due off the production should be the very talented James Cunningham, but with the excellent form of Houghton and the back-up provided by Aaron Heramaia, James has now got to really try to use the pre season friendlies to impress, because unless there is a catalogue of injuries his chances look to again be limited. You have to remember that it’s been two years since he made his solitary first team appearance and now such are the vagaries of the RL’s under 19 structure, he’s no longer eligible for our second string, where last season he was captain.
So it seems that Cunningham must earn first team selection at either Hull or dual registration partner Doncaster and with the Black and Whites set to face the Dons in a pre-season friendly next weekend, Cunningham says it’s an ideal chance to prove his worth to the respective coaches. For me he’s talented but a specialist who can only really play one position, however he’ll be a massive asset to Donny where he might just get the experience he needs to make the step up. However to depose Houghton or Heramaia at the KC is a big ask in a position that sadly there is only ‘one of’ in each team. I saw him training at Total Fitness last Thursday and in what was in essence a week off, he was going at it as hard as I have seen any Hull player there, so he is giving himself the best possible chance of succeeding, let’s hope his season isn’t a case of right player, wrong time!
Now it’s sometimes said that in all things timing is everything, (and believe me it is if you’re a council worker or Bradford Bulls fan) and although it leaves me with precious little to write about in here as I said, I guess we should, as FC fans, be grateful for a quiet Christmas. With training scheduled around Christmas and then the players being given a week off and our owner away on Holiday in Dubai, it was always likely to be uneventful. Christmas was probably not so tranquil however for the thousands of Hull City Council employee’s who were informed on Christmas Eve that their employer has to save over £40m and therefore had to cut hundreds of jobs; I bet for them and their families it was anything but a worry free festive period. As RL fans too, we could all have fared much worse; we could have been Bradford Bulls fans with all the turmoil that was heaped on them on the day before Christmas Eve. It was then that there was an announcement that their Directors had resigned en-block to throw the future of the Club once again into the melting pot, before 7 days later they were back again, (but maybe only temporarily) as rumours circulated of new £400,000 debts and a pay day loan type over draft being taken out last year just to pay the monthly wage bill of £150,000.
Some of those Bulls fans, just like most reading this, really love their Club and so following that bombshell and with no news coming out at all over the Christmas break they must have been anxious. It’s just another worrying development in what has become a catalogue of woe for the long suffering Bradford faithful. How can they ever really enjoy their rugby with their Clubs future in such a precarious state? So I guess I should repeat that perhaps, for us at least, a quiet Yule-tide was a blessing.
I have bumped into lots of readers of the Diary over Christmas and most have been mulling over the issue of “What do we all expect from the new season”. Everyone has an opinion and everyone wants to discuss it and so I guess it was quite natural for me to be pondering it a bit over the festive period too. In the first instance the answer is simple because a Grand Final win and/or a win at Wembley would be top of any of our wish lists, quickly followed for many, by a 3 game whitewash of the Dobbins; let’s face it at this time of year we are all allowed to dream a bit aren’t we?
However in reality, as I have said several times in here, I thus worry a little and honestly don’t have any pre-determined expectations for this coming season. However I honestly believe as a group of fans we are at present in a pretty good place, because no-one I meet seems to expect anything, so we won’t be too disappointed and any success at all will it appears be a bonus! Its natural I guess that after so many false dawns, I fret a bit about whether we are up to it this time around, but I’m prepared to wait and see and to hopefully be proved gloriously wrong. However perhaps I should explain what I’ve been thinking about over Christmas as far as my Club is concerned.
I have talked in here before about two of my pals who although massive Hull FC fans, are also dedicated followers of FC United of Manchester the team that they and several hundred other Man United fans formed in the wake of the money go round created by the Glazers take-over of their beloved Premier League Club. The little team they created in the wake of that take over, which is owned by those fans, is a completely different animal to a Super League outfit with a £7m turnover and around 12,000 fans, but personally I believe that there is a lot we can learn and indeed envy from the philosophy that their predicament and situation has created.
What is so unusual is the level of trust there is between the players and the fans at the Club. After one player broke his leg in a game, a week later an impromptu benefit after the next home match, raised over £1000 to help towards the financial loss the player suffered. Why do they do that sort of thing time after time? Well I believe that it is because they are totally and utterly convinced that every time the players pull on the FC United shirt they give 100% for the fans. That faith and belief in the commitment of their players, which it seems is never ever in doubt, is apparent with every single one of their fans you meet.
It has seen the fledgling club move up through the ranks to a position where they are just three divisions off the football league and have just starting work on their own ground in Moston. With around 1600-2000 supporters at every home game and up to 500 travelling away to most matches, the FCUM supporters break the mould of the tradition ‘cash cow’ fan as there is a totally balanced dynamic between the loyalty and accountability of the players and the ensuing commitment and passion of the supporters.
Here’s another quick example when back in October they were playing Skelmesdale United at home and despite every player putting in the usual effort a bit of bad luck saw them lose 3-1. However, in what was described afterwards as a ‘Song of Defiance’ the United fans stayed behind for 20 minutes clapping, singing and chanting to the amazement of even their administration. Again totally belief!
My apologies for such a long winded diversion away from RL, but over the years I have grown to understand that being an FC United fans is apparently littered with many such examples. And I guess I relate the tale here in what is predominantly a Hull FC blog, simply because if I could be anywhere this season as a fan, then it would be in the mindset of those supporters I have just described, knowing that whilst I was supporting my Club 100% I was also safe in the knowledge that everyone on the field and off it were doing everything they could all the time, to honour my support for them. That Mr Pearson and Mr Radford is without doubt where this fan needs to get to!
It was definitely a situation we have had at the Club, for example in the bad days of the 70’s and the great times of the 80’s, when fans and players were together as one. So, when every member of the squad convinces me that they are doing the same as those part time footballers in Manchester, I’ll be happy because I just want 13 players out there all the time that give their all and most importantly understand the dynamic that should exist between fan and player. Like those football fans we have raised thousands for our players and stood at the end on many occasions, applauding our team when they have tried hard but lost, I know we don’t own our Club but otherwise we are little different to those United fans, but for me getting to the position they enjoy is a two way thing between the fans and the players and both sides have to give their all. Some reading this will say “Come on Wilf, they do all give their all, all the time”, but I’m afraid I’d not be telling the truth if I said I agreed with them.
For me and it’s a personal view, our players could learn a lot from the part time lads at FC United and no doubt other Clubs in the lower regions of their respective sports, where providing that you give your all for the fans all the time, everything else looks after itself. If I’m honest here I’m a bit fed up with being the innocent victim of player agenda’s, internal battles, jealousies, conspiracies in the dressing room and cliques amongst the staff. Sadly I really believe that’s what happens at times and perhaps even what led to Gentles demise last season. I guess some of you too will admit that we have all at one time or another at least suspected that was the case haven’t we?
So as we set out on a new season this time around I just want us to all want the same thing all the time, for the fans to support the team and the players to value the supporters. Utopian or what? Well maybe, however that’s my wish for this season and as several readers have asked what I want from 2014, I guess that answers it; I want to be proud of Hull FC and totally committed every time and all the time but more importantly to be totally convinced the players feel exactly the same.
I was a bit surprised on Friday when I went down to the KC to get my season passes because the shop was buzzing as the January sale got under way. There’s tons of reduced stuff, so much so that much of it is piled up on the floor and I had a rummage and got a great pair of training shorts and the current training top for half price. If you go to get your passes, it’s certainly worth a poke around.
This week, as it’s been deafeningly quiet, by way of a change I would like to use Codgers Corner to feature two matches which show just how our great game has changed over the years. These days football teams grumble about the state of their playing surfaces and yet with under soil heating and part synthetic pitches you forget that football and rugby was in the 70’s often played in ankle deep mud and that players back then gave just as much but often played for a pittance!
This week’s first featured game was against Bramley on Sunday 28th November 1976. Great times were around the corner at the Boulevard, although we certainly did not know it that season, as we battled on with poor attendances and a deal of debt. Back then it was really difficult for most clubs to make ends meet and at the Boulevard our pitch was just a mess as the drains silting up with Speedway shale, leaving a morass of mud with very little grass evident at all.
The previous Friday, we had played and beaten Bramley’s A team in West Leeds, the significance of which you will see a little later. The weather that month was shocking and the general opinion that week was that it was unlikely we would get a game that weekend at all. Still as game day dawned our desperation to generate some cash dictated that the match was declared as being on without even a referee’s inspection and I watched from the well in the best stand with the 4000 other hardy souls who braved the elements.
And brave we were because as we walked down Saner Street and onto the Boulevard the rain was sheeting down although by we had got through the turnstiles it had at least stopped again! The pitch was covered in small puddles and the grounds man Fred Daddy, was busy forking the pitch to ease the water away. It was a thankless task, as even the invalid carriages that usually parked behind the dead ball line got stuck in the mud as they entered the arena!
Bramley’s Player/Coach back then was Peter Fox and he got the usual rousing and abusive welcome when he ran out onto the pitch and although the conditions were dreadful the game started on time. The match itself was a nail biting tussle with Keith Hepworth playing a storming game for us. Bramley were a handy outfit back then, and it was only three great last ditch tackles by our full back George Robinson that kept them out in the first ten minutes! However then, on the eleven minute mark, from our first attack Hepworth, Hancock and Hunter linked to send ‘Super’ Alf Macklin sliding in at the corner. We continued to press until a long looping pass by Hancock was intercepted by Langton and he scooted fifty yards along the thin track of green on the wing, to score for the visitors.
That mistake turned the game, and with Fox behind just about every move they made, Bramley started to dominate, in fact after Boxall had punch Jack Austin in the tackle, it was their player coach that stretched their lead to 7-5 with a penalty goal. Try as we may we could not get another score and handling the ball was almost impossible in a stop start game that saw 24 scrums in the first 40 minutes. As the rain poured down again on three or four occasions the respective scrum halves dropped the ball at the rear of the scrum, and the players left the field at half time, muddied from head to foot, but with no further score on the score board.
During half time, as we queued for Bovril, it tippled down even heavier and when we got back to the Well we all had to move back out of the rain, to avoid being drenched. Both teams changed their shirts at half time as the rain eased, but no further points were scored before once again it became really dark and the heavens opened. It rained so hard that the referee had to stop the game momentarily at a scrum, as no one on the field could see through the deluge. After 56 minutes so muddy were their kits, that both teams looked exactly the same, so the referee had little choice but to take both sets of players off the field to change their shirts again.
Unfortunately our Chairman Charlie Watson claimed that we had already gone through two full strips on Friday in the A team game, and now having used up two more strips that day, we had no more shirts left. Bramley had just brought two sets of kit and although the referee said he would play on if just one team changed, neither side had any more shirts!
As we stood on the terraces stamping out feet the tannoy interrupted that scratchy version of My Diane by the Bachelors to announce that the referee had abandoned the game and we all trudged off chuntering about getting our money back and what a farce the whole afternoon had been. Peter Fox was most vociferous in Mondays Yorkshire Post though, saying that they could have won the game and it was the responsibility of the home team to change their strips. He also refuted what Watson had said about changing strips at half time in the previous A team game and it all got a bit messy!!! However the RL decided that the game should be declared void and it was replayed later that year when, on a Wednesday night, we beat them 26-10.
The second game which again I think just emphasises how things have changed over the years, was played on Friday 29th November 1974 under the floodlights at Craven Park, Barrow. I did not go to this particular game, Barrow on Friday back then was a 20 hour round trip job!!!! But it did have some strange circumstances surrounding it! Friday night games just did not happen back then, but Barrow had a major employer in the Vickers Ship Yard and insisted that because of the strange shift system the Company operated, the game would be played on a Friday.
I would not have minded but, in the end, only 1400 attended anyway. This was a major problem for Hull FC though, because many of our playing staff were in full time employment and would find it hard to get off work for a full day to take the 7 or 8 hour bus trip to the West Coast. You see back then the pay for playing for the FC was way below what they would get for a full days graft at the day job, and as it was performance related that was the case particularly if you lost!
However the RL ruled that the game had to go ahead as they said that it was ‘Barrows call’ and so 7 of our first team players had to then drop out, because they could not get released from, or afford to miss, a full day at work. The squad we took was certainly a strange one. Tony Banham, only half fit and just signed from Keighley was at prop, whilst we had to sign young Ray Butler from the amateur game, to make up the numbers in the second row. Incidentally in the second row that night too was Barry Kear, a big name signing, who promised much, but who had a poor game, (but then those who saw him play will remember he always did).
Apparently Kenny Foulkes and Brian Hancock tried really hard at half back that night and Barrow’s winning margin of 14 points flattered them, but in the end our inexperience meant that we were never going to win and we came home empty handed losing 21-7. Hull gave half back Steve Lane his debut that night, and according to the papers next day, Boxhall had a good game too. But with players like Alf Macklin, Len Casey and Howard Firth missing it was always going to be a struggle! Good old Chris Davidson was missing too, but he was in the middle of a six match suspension for scrapping, (nothing new there then) but that as they say is another story!
So there we are two games that show just how our sport has evolved from a part time, winter spectacle in the mud, to the professional, big money game that it is today!!
Wilf’s quote of the festive period (and it’s a real one believe me) came from that doyen of theatrical publications that I got to read in the Dentists (the real one) where the reviewer said of John Barrowman’s appearance in Glasgow’s Dick Whittington, ‘Constantly popping up to amuse the audience, Barrowman’s Dick was at the centre of everything!’
So here we are the time has arrived and on Sunday it all begins again over at that most hospitable of Stadiums the Keepmoat in Doncaster. It’s a great place to watch a game and having been shown round the dressing rooms etc a couple of years ago when I was lucky enough to shadow the match officials at a Division 2 game it’s a fine facility. Putting aside whatever we think about their Coach, I like Donny and have a great affiliation for it as a Stadium particularly after that fine semi final win of 2008. It should be interesting to see the players get a run out and as long as we can steer clear of injuries, it’ll be a great afternoon out.
What will this week bring? Well I hope a bit of news I expect we will hear about another fans forum before the season starts, while at the SMC they still, my friends at the Tigers tell me, seem to be fretting about the condition of the pitch after a heavy programme of football, however they can’t blame us this time, we haven’t played on it for months! So thanks for sticking with what again is I guess a Diary embellished with my ramblings, conjecture and thoughts. I hope to see some of you at Doncaster on Sunday, and thanks to everyone who has been in touch over Christmas, boy it’ll be good to see some rugby again!
Thanks for all your support!