Well, here we go, it’s the closed season, the rumours are buzzing, passes continue to sell, we resolve for now the situation surrounding Ben Crooks and Jacob Miller features longer on the stage of the Player of the Year awards, than he has done for months on the pitch!
Mad Monday has passed even if a few of the headaches haven’t, but our early exit from the competitive side of things before the play offs, means that many of the staff are still around and with pre season training starting at the end of October, the second half of that month seems to be favourite for players holidays. Some are to travel far afield and others it appears are planning to chill out in the sun while unsurprisingly Lisa and the kids are taking Yeamo to Disney World!! But life goes on and as we all scratch around for information and news, there are still a few ‘whiffs’ about this week and still a bit to talk about!
So as I say, that’s it, an 11th place finish, a disappointing season but a few good memories from the final few games to keep us going through a long winter break. There’s little doubt that the way things have been going in the play-offs we would have got a good stuffing sooner or later and perhaps our finishing below the 8 is a blessing in disguise. I remember how it felt last closed season, as we went into the break on the back of Wembley and that play off fiasco at Huddersfield, don’t you?
So what’s been going on this week? Well in early August, at about the same time that I insisted, much to the chagrin of many Dobbins fans, that although he denied it at a forum at the University, Travis Burns was still off to Saints, I told you that Ben Crooks would end up in Australia and he has! That’s really what he’s been angling for ever since he told our owner that he wanted a move there or at least to Wigan, Warrington or Saints, but none of the latter were interested in him. He then decided to tout himself round Australia, Peter Gentle who really rates him was at Parramatta and the rest just followed. Crooks’ request the move and the fact that we have done what we can to make it happen without a fee being involved, gives an indication that both parties want to do what’s best for the player’s development and hopefully keep the door open for him to return.
The Club statement said, “We will retain the player’s Super League registration, with the exclusive right to re-sign him should he wish to return to the UK. The club feel the circumstances are right for Ben to pursue this significant lifestyle and career move in a new country, particularly following recent recruitment activity. He leaves with the best wishes of everyone at Hull FC” and that’s all fine. However despite the media saying all is still well, when any statement ends with ‘The Club will make no further comment’ it invariably means that there is much more to it than has been written or indeed meets the eye.
His Dad said in the Yorkshire Post that he was confident he would come back to Hull FC, because we were the only British Club his son wanted to play with, but Ben and his girlfriend are off and I guess that’s that. It’s a massive shame in some ways, he’s a talented kid who has a few things ‘in his locker’ that you simply can’t teach but, he thinks he’ll go better over there and that he’s up to the rigours of the NRL. He certainly doesn’t see himself with us and has in some ways burnt his boats with our current Coach and I believe a few of our squad, so we have to wish him well and move on.
He’s certainly got a lot of work to do though, but for whatever reason he hasn’t been playing for months anyway, so I guess it no real loss and the fact that we retain his registration means if he comes back, it is to us. At least, as I said last week, it ticks off another of the outstanding 4 salary cap issues we have to deal with, with just Miller and Arundel still to sort. As for those two, well with duel registration up in the air, their future looks bleak! We are just about up to cap and I can see us either trying to get rid and if that fails, paying them off or de-registering them while Adam continues to pay their wages. Whichever way it goes, it looks to be a costly exercise all round, as we continue to try and limit the damage of some poor and ill thought out past recruitment.
The Crooks thing has been an awkward episode that some feel has been handled badly by our Coach and Club, some even see his obvious ‘X factor’ ability in attack as making him a ‘must play’ every week, but they also might just have a bit of a mental block when it comes to remembering how much traffic got through down his side of the field when he was defending out there.
What do I think? Well I tend to disagree with the protagonists on this one because for me he has much to learn and seems to me to lack the application to do it! I think he’ll find it a lot harder than he thinks he will, Australia and the NRL is a big ask for a player that is at the top of his game, never mind still learning and over there the ability to defend when your an outside back is critical. Add to that the wealth of talent coming through the ranks of the Australian game anyway and it will certainly be a challenge for a ‘new kid in town’ like Ben. In fact it appears to me that he has made things difficult for himself by having aspirations above his current station at our Club. I know he was a hit last year, but for me at times this season he looked lost in defence and low in confidence and to many fans he appeared not to want to do much about it, so I’m not too bothered really. However I wish him luck, it will be a great adventure but a real steep learning curve too and for me the old adage of ‘the other mans grass’ still resonates pretty true in Ben’s case.
As one talented youngster disappears another is about to arrive. I told you last week that young Curtis Naughton was on his way and it looks likely that that’s now a done deal. However it’s that final other (possible) signing that has been exercising the minds of many on the message boards and social media during the past week. The keyboard warriors have been having a field day as the speculation went into over drive and the Club fuelled the fire after Radford told James Smailes that we were looking for another ‘Sa type character’.
The favourite with the message board oracles seems to be Timana Tahu, who I think is a distinct possibility because he comfortably fits the bill as being a talented but ‘ageing’ outside back. In fact when you add the latest bit of information I have gleaned in that the player could, and I say COULD, have played international Rugby in both RU and RL, he seems to be the target. But there are others that fit the bill too, including duel code scoring machine Lote Tuqiri who at 33 has recently made a sensational return to the NRL. However at least at present with this man of mystery, it’s not a whiff but merely speculation and I honestly don’t have a name. What I do know is that firstly this final piece in the jigsaw is nowhere near sorted and secondly, because Lee insists that everyone is here for pre season, (visa issues and all), they’ll try to get him quickly and then that will be that as far as signings are concerned. No doubt however, in here and on the message boards, the whiffs will continue for some time yet.
If that is to be our recruitment finished, then some will be left wanting more, simply because that’s always the case with fans, we’re never satisfied are we? However with two new proven half backs coming in including a young player who after Danny Brough has the second most assists in the competition this season and an older half, who many of us admire, plus a quality and totally professional second rower from the NRL and two speedy backs, we are certainly getting there. Particularly when you consider that Rankin, Sa, Talanoa and Feke will all be starting their first full pre season. That surely means there is a bit of a case for some optimism as we look forward to next season.
While we are talking of signings I do hope the Club are doing something to get young Massimbaashe Matongo signed up as the young 17 year old has really left a lasting impression with me. The ‘on trial’ youngster who played open age in the amateur game had a colossal performance of strength and style against Rovers in the Under 19’s Derby at Bishop Burton, but now everything has gone quiet. He could well be a really good asset, but you can bet a few other Clubs will be sniffing round too!
I had to laugh at Leeds on Saturday night, although directly after the hooter poor old Tom Briscoe might just have thought that his decision to leave wasn’t the best he could have made! However I have little sympathy for the West Riding Club in general, particularly after their Coaches pathetic comments about our fans after our victory over them last week. Why can’t he accept that we blew the Rhino’s away in the last quarter eh? Instead he came out with all that crap about their players staying on the pitch with the fans the previous week until after midnight, whilst ours went off just after 10-00, which was just sour grapes and so for me, on Saturday, he got all he deserved. What he has to realise is that 11,000 home fans baying for an FC victory in a game that saw nothing whatsoever at stake except pride, will never ever compare with a pathetic one of 7,112, in a sudden death play-off game at the ‘best supported team in the game’; that’s the sort of commitment by which passion is measured Mr McDermott! So on Saturday night and to fittingly ironic scenes, the final interviews took place as we heard a recording of ‘Marching on Together echoing around the totally empty terraces. Hard luck Brisc, well done Catalan and stuff you McDermott!
While we are on the subject of fans and the way we behave, I got a bit of stick this week from a couple of readers for ‘being a bit light hearted’ about the abuse that was dished out to Tom Briscoe from one or two ‘short memory’ individual’s in our final game. It was uncalled for, however for me you know, there is a lot to be said for an antagonistic crowd that gets at the opposition. Remember the days of haranguing Schofield at the Boulevard, even from the NEW Threepenny Stand, never mind the days when you crossed the guys in the old wooden edifice at your peril. Teams feared the place, linesmen changed sides of the pitch to get away from the constant antagonism and referee’s often just made decisions to keep ‘em sweet. Read any autobiography by the great RL players from those days and they invariably say that it was the most formidable place to visit as a team! Now though, with a backdrop of ‘Political Correctness’, the seated environment at the KC and many other stadiums and changing attitudes, the sport has been sanitised to the point of boredom. Someone said on RL fans the other day, “The way that we can have all this ridiculous knee-jerkery to a bit of abuse at an ex player makes me sick. What next will people be jumping to defend the match officials when they get booed?” and, I have to say it’s a sentiment towards which I have a lot of sympathy.
After months of goading by the dim wits, if there is one thing to be learned from the outpouring of vitriol that we saw from three sides of the KC at the Derby, and those chorus’s of ‘We all hate Leeds’ that had several of their players turning to see what the hell was going on behind them, then it is that it bloody works and we need to get back that advantage we had when the Boulevard was a fortress. On the field we ain’t a Wigan or a Leeds and it will take us years to become one, but the 18th man can play a big part in ensuring we get wins on a regular basis at home. I hear a few players in the media saying before they come to the KC that ‘it’s a great place to play’, but for me it should be just the opposite. I want them to be saying, ‘Everyone hates going there’
You see for me, if we are to lift the team and get genuine home advantage again then the place has to be a bloody fortress, somewhere no-one wants to come, the place they all dread to attend be they supporting or playing! Teams who come along to the KC wondering what to expect find a quiet polite audience, that only gets going if the home team manage to score a few. If they can stop us doing that then they get the advantage of not having to worry about the crowd, as, let’s face it, the only backs many tend to get on are those of their own home team!!!
We don’t need homophobia, profanities, racism or any of the stuff that used to prevail at the Boulevard in what were, let’s face it, very different times, but the last two home games have proved what can happen when the FC crowd ‘get at’ the opposition and their fans and make them feel uncomfortable. We might have lost a time or two at the Boulevard, but even in the bad times the Threepennies never let the opposition off lightly!! I just hope that we get that back at the KC, because in the last two home games I absolutely loved being in that crowd and in the KC and maybe that was because Rovers and Leeds and their fans so obviously hated it.
Once again, I extend a big well done to Fetuli Talanoa who, of late, seems to be a regular recipient of accolades in here. Firstly, three weeks back I was applauding the season he’s had and then last week I commented on him gaining the Player of the Year Award. But now, according to the Club site, it appears that the Tongan is the only player to have featured in every minute of every game in the regular fixtures this year. That’s amazing really particularly when you consider that the 26-year-old bin man made his comeback with us following a life threatening bout of pneumonia. His record shows in all those minutes played, despite missing the majority of pre-season, he managed ten tries, 72 tackle busts and over 2,400 metres; You know I’m quite excited about him for next season already.
The closed season offers a chance to read other stuff and, if it interests me, then it gives me an opportunity to pass it onto you the Diary readers, if I think you’ll find something worthy of note. So it was with Mr Koukash at Salford, who continues to baffle me a bit because although obviously rolling in money, he seems to continue to court intrigue and although he says he’s poised to buy an Aussie Club, if you’re a Salford fan sometimes you must wonder what the hell is going on. This week after a high court judgement on Wednesday Bailiffs are poised to move into the club which owes its kit supplier about £35,000. Locally based Kooga, who have been the club’s kit supplier for several years, have in fact served a county court judgment on the Red Devils over an unpaid bill. A Kooga source said, “We are owed a substantial five figure sum, and some of the invoices date back to November. Originally they had a payment plan, but they didn’t stick to that. They asked for another payment plan and we said no, we want the full amount and we got to the stage where we had to take court action. We had tried to resolve it amicably but without success. Our contract with the club comes to an end at the close of this season but all we have received is the odd payment”.
Strangely Mr K when asked by the Manchester Evening News this week, refused to comment, but Salford Council which has provided millions of pounds to the club in bailouts and loans is we are told, currently chasing an unpaid council tax bill on a flat at Salford Quays acquired by the club for a player.
However when the MEN quizzed the Mayor of Salford he said he stood by his decision for the Council to again bail out the club last summer. The paper said that a town hall audit report last month revealed a ‘secret’ deal by the council to pay the Reds £164,000. The mayor, his deputy David Lancaster, and former council officer, Martin Vickers agreed to the bailout without the knowledge of anyone else at the Council. The MEN went on to state that, “weeks later Mr Vickers received a £79,000 pay out from the council after taking voluntary redundancy, then got a job at the rugby club, where he is now Chief Executive. The mayor has resisted calls by the Tory opposition and protest group, ‘Salford Against the Cuts’, for an independent inquiry into the relationship between the club and the council”. The rugby club currently has an outstanding £1.5m loan from the council and so perhaps some fans of other Clubs shouldn’t be too jealous of having an owner like MR K, because however rich he is something just doesn’t ring true here, does it?
So to this week’s Codgers Corner and the response to the piece I did the other week on Arthur Keegan certainly got me thinking about those days of yore when Rugby meant a 3d programme a can of Tizer and a soaking, because you see for me the sixties when Arthur played, despite being some of the bleakest days in the clubs history, were magical times. I was in my teens and whatever the weather, whatever the score, I joined that small but vociferous band of intrepid supporters, who turned up to watch the FC and cheer every win, however infrequently they occurred. So, with the advent of our 150th celebrations, please allow me this week to indulge some of the older readers in some names, famous, infamous and indeed often unsung, that in no particular order, spring to my mind from that decade.
Firstly of course back then, there were the ‘Stars’ like Johnny Whiteley, Dick Gemmell, Wilf Rosenberg, Clive Sullivan and indeed Arthur Keegan. These fantastic players all feature strongly in that era and there is little doubt that they were all real hero’s in their time. However there were also those intrepid, dour and loyal players, some lost in the mists of time, who toiled with little reward for the good of the black and whites and without whom, there would probably now be no Hull FC at all!! Many such heroes, playing, often for peanuts, (and in really hard times for ‘nowt’), still form part of the heritage of our great club, and to this day they still linger in the dusty recesses of my mind.
My first years of supporting the club, were hard times for the dyed in the wool supporters. They had witnessed in the 60’s one of the finest decades in the clubs history, when Roy Francis and Johnny Whiteley led the team to the very top of the RL tree. Then, although they were still both involved, as often happens because sport is cyclical, that all fell to pieces, and the club was plunged into 15 or so of the most depressing years of our long and colourful history. But for this supporter, just starting out on his journey through a lifetime of following Hull FC, it was all new, these were my heroes and every game was an adventure.
Some of my favourites of that time were the backs, because playing behind an often beaten pack they got little recognition for what was at times a thankless task. As I said when I featured him recently Arthur Keegan was the greatest full back I have ever seen in a black and white jersey and its pretty useless to try and think of any others, as his domination of the number one shirt monopolised the 60’s. However when he was injured I do remember Mally Owebridge doing a fine job of standing in. Wingers like Geoff Stocks (who ran with his legs in the air like a Chicken), Terry Hollingdrake, who seemed to spend more time in touch than out of it, and Clive and Brian Sullivan are well remembered too. Then there was Keith Barnwell, a handy and skilful player with a deal of talent who never quite made it. He played in the days when black players were an unusual sight in the game and so to see a three quarter line featuring three, Sullivan (Clive), Barnwell and Sullivan (Brian), was really unusual. Dick Gemmell had one of the best dummies I have ever seen and Trevor Carmichael was also a handy centre, while Nobby Oliver, who was the son of former Club Captain Joe Oliver player on the wing for 100 games and scored over 20 tries. There were also plenty of tough and talented, long serving half backs like the great Tommy Finn, Ken Huxley, Chris Davidson, Terry Devonshire and David Doyle Davidson, plus of course the enigma that was Kenny Foulkes, a scrum half I featured in the “Corner” a while back.
These players were all really hard working ball players who were often eclipsed by the more fashionable half back pairings of the day, such as Shoebottom and Seabourne at Leeds and Hepworth and Hardisty at Cas., but they still all played their part. In 1965 John Maloney joined the club and soon became one of the greatest goal kickers I or the Club, have ever seen. Taking over kicking duties from Arthur Keegan wth 675 goals and 38 tries in 224 appearances, what a points machine John was in those bleak times. He was also a bit of a character too and being the managing director of his father’s engineering company in the West Riding, he would often turn up for training in a Bentley! He was a good sport, and had to be when on one occasion Jim Neale and Charlie Booth, (I think it was), pinched one of his wheels and after training John found his beloved automobile on bricks on the Airlie Street car park!
Jim Neale eh, what a bloke he was. Signed by the club from Cumbria in November 1963, he was a real handful and no one got the better of Jim. I remember once seeing him playing against Hunslet at their great old Parkside ground, when a scrum erupted and Jim ended up taking on three of the Hunslet forwards. He was sent off but still had time to throw a punch at their winger, who “enquired about his parenthood” as he passed him leaving the field. Jim Neale played well over 100 times for us scoring just three tries and Ivor Watts once told me that Jim had probably “broken ten times as many noses as he had scored tries”. Talk about “Don’t mess around with Jim”
Another great player who came from Cumbria and one of my all time hero’s was Terry Kirchin who signed for the club in 1969 from Barrow. He was a second rower who could run a bit and also tackle quite well, but that was not his real forte. He was, without doubt, the best releaser of the ball in a tackle I have ever seen. He would be mobbed by around four or five opposing forwards and still his hand would come out of the ruck with the ball grasped in his fingers. He would then waggle it around until Foulkes, Joe Brown or Davidson would take it from him and run it on!
In the forwards back then there were many characters, some who played for seasons, others who just played a couple of games, but they were all part of the close knit family that existed between the club and supporters in the 60’s. We had some tough lads up front; Shaun O’Brian, (who I recall always liked a punch up and played around 60 games in the middle of that decade), Chris Foster, Don Robson and Nick Trotter, are four I remember well. Tony Duke started his career as our hooking ‘nearly man’ in 1968, 14 years before his greatest moment in the Cup replay of 1982, while Mick Harrison who debuted I think around 1965, made over 300 appearances and was one of the hardest men I have ever seen play rugby league.
There were a few sets of Brothers playing for the club back then too. In addition to the famous Sullivan’s there were the Booths, Charlie and Roger whose Dad played 336 games for us in the 1930’s, the Drakes, and of course the Macklin’s. Jim, a big angular prop forward, who played three seasons before leaving for Bradford and his brother Alf who went on to become a living legend at the club. “Super Alf” played on the wing but was never ever a mercurial flyer, in fact you have never seen anyone who looked less like one and yet he played 314 games for the club, spanning around 13 years when he scored 121 tries. Most of these scores saw him either crashing in at the corner with three or four defenders on his back or stepping inside to fool the cover defence. He was certainly a great clubman, a real character and someone else who will always provide me with some great memories.
Some players however just stick in your mind because they trigger a moment in your memory and of those, Nan Halifihi who played just 21 games at the beginning of the decade and whose brother Johnny was a boxer of note was certainly one, as was Colin Clixby with his shock of hair sticking out through his scrum cap and Cyril Sykes another great servant who played on through the decade after making his debut in the golden 50’s. John Edson was a real hero too while Eric Broom, was another I remember well, he was a prop forward we signed in 1964, and went on to play over 200 games for us. He came with Neale, Davis, and Stocks at a time when we were really struggling and Coach Johnny Whiteley needed a change in personnel. Eric was a great grafting front rower with a dour appearance and the heart of a tiger. He rarely seemed to smile, but boy could he kick goals, he landed 165 in his time at the club all with a distinctive torpedo style delivery. Eric’s rather basic, one up type of game, was especially handy and very effective on the glue pot Boulevard pitch, in those days of winter rugby. He was a real work-horse of a player and the sort that packs back then were built on. Joe Brown was another unsung hero as at loose forward he could mesmerise defences with a run or a dummy just when we needed it.
There was Howard Firth an exciting flaxen haired flyer that we signed from Hull and East Riding, and who scored over 50 tries in his 4 years at the club and Alan McGlone, who I think took over from the balding Ralph Walters and who played 264 games at hooker from 1963 onwards. In fact now I’ve started thinking I could go on all day because it’s just impossible to feature all the players I remember from all those years ago, but they were all heroes just the same. I have laughed at them (and with them), felt for them and cried because of them!! That decade saw tough times, but I loved the hardship, the endeavour and the passion! The thing is that time bends and distorts the memory somewhat, but I hope you get the general idea, and that, with the coming of our 150th year, I have managed to jog a few Memories along the way too, with some of my personal heroes of the 60’s!!!
I mentioned the other week about the youngsters at Barmby Moor School using Richard Horne as their subject for a project that they were dong on Heroes. Well last Friday the kids got to meet Horney and gave him a real grilling in an event organised by Hull FC’s 2015 officer Ash Foster and their teacher FC fanatic Ben Atkinson. Horney was a great sport and the whole event went really well.
Ben said to me afterwards, “Words can’t describe how great Rich was with the kids, he answered questioned for nearly an hour and treated each question from them as if it was them speaking one on one. The kids were buzzing from the whole day and hopefully it will produce some great pieces of school work on Rich’s career!”
So there we are, a Diary which is scaled back somewhat to reflect the closed season and the long haul ahead until we see some action again in January. It seems bloody months away but experience proves that it will soon pass. In a week when Scotland went mad, a UFO was filmed over Portsmouth, Tom Briscoe must have wished the ground would open up and Ugandan men complained that condoms were too small, I’m sorry if the Diary lacks a bit, but news is hard to come by and I just hope you stick with me for the coming weeks. Thanks as always for your support, correspondence and pictures and for staying around into the quieter months. I’m sure we’ll still always find something to talk about!