Well it’s been a quiet 7 days, but whatever else has happened this week, it pales into insignificance doesn’t it? Well it does for any of us who were there at Old Trafford in 1991 or indeed who witnessed any of the games that the great Greg Mackey played during his short, but memorable stay at the Boulevard.
What a tragedy it was that he was taken from us and I say that because I have so many great memories of him as a fantastic play-maker, a really tough half back and a great, great leader. The tragedy is that he should be now looking forward to a life watching the kids get older, safe in the knowledge of a job well done! Yes there have been other heroes and no doubt ‘greater’ players to grace the famous shirt, but his arrival as a leader, (just as Brian Smith had moulded a team of passionate and hard working heroes who consistently punched above their weight), was the icing on the cake for the fans and the rest, as they say, is history. Often spoken of in the same company as Peter Sterling, Des Hasler, Tommy Finn, Dave Topliss, Kenny Foulkes etc. he was one of the best half backs Hull have ever had and how we could do with a Greg Mackey today!!
If ever a 6 0r 7 was ‘a tough little bugger’ it was Greg, because he never took a backward step. Of small stature his diminutive figure was consistently targeted by the big forwards back then, and he was indeed laid out cold a couple of times. We only just got him too, as Brian Smith snatched him from Warrington after he had agreed a two year deal with them and then he made his debut. After that he missed the next game with an injury, before going on to play 94 consecutive matches for the FC. Then, he returned to Warrington, where he went on to make a further 98 back to back appearances for the Wire!!
When I wrote the books I chose the above picture for the cover of the second one because it depicts one of the greatest moments in my life as a supporter, Greg was a real hero for the FC on that and so many other occasions. He was a star and will long be remembered for shouting ‘You Fuc*ing Beauty’ on national TV as he lifted the Trophy, which despite not being totally ‘acceptable’ on a Sunday afternoon, showed what great, great passion he had for the Club. He loved Hull FC you could tell that when he led the singing of ‘Old Faithful’ at the 1991 re-union and so I make no excuses whatsoever for starting this week’s Diary with a tribute to man who, at the age of just 52, leaves us with fond memories. He may have passed on, but we’ll always have those memories and he’ll always be in our hearts; RIP Greg Mackey!
So now to the past 7 days and it’s certainly been quiet, but the statement of the week is I think; “Everybody is in on November 1; everybody, with no exceptions,”
Radford’s certainly laying the law down these days and the claim that everyone is to report for training at that early date, shows a resolve that I hope pervades through to the first game and on into the season. Over the last decade it has at times been a shambles with players drifting back to training and Aussie Coaches allowing their ’mates’ to turn up late; a few years back in McRae’s Coaching days, even after Christmas!
Adam Pearson has made it quite clear that Lee is here for the duration and so as I said a few weeks ago, whatever our personal thoughts, we have to get on with it and back the Coach. Most of the protagonists on the message boards and RL fans leave him alone a bit more these days, although some of the keyboard warriors have now turned to belittling Sneyd before he has even pulled on a black and white shirt, which is nothing short of ludicrous, but for me ‘RL fans’ these days is a depressing place anyway. There are still some great folks on there, but too often these days any meaningful discussion is derailed by one or two truly perverse people; but don’t get me on that one!!
Still, despite the ‘Radford out’ brigade having been more subdued of late it doesn’t stop you wondering at times does it? And I have to admit to being a bit surprised when I heard on Tuesday that Hull FC have decided on returning to the practise of a week in the sun for a pre-season camp. It looks like they are off to Portugal which, you have to admit, is quite a change from the stuff we heard just 12 months ago from our then new Coach.
At that time Lee insisted that going abroad was a waste of time, citing the fact that although they started with three sessions a day, by mid week they were down to two and finally ended up with just one as players got more and more tired and picked up knocks and strains, through, as the week wore on, the sheer intensity of it all. He added if I remember rightly that often players had too much time on their hands too and it could get boring while they were cooped up in a complex all those miles away from home. However having dismissed the need for a week away in the sun last year, Radford says he believes it is exactly what his side now needs this time around!! Things it appears have changed somewhat, haven’t they?
They are going before Christmas so it won’t be a last minute rush to get the structure, timing and play book right and there will be scope for other stuff to vary the week a bit. At least there will be a few weeks after the festivities to get the fine tuning of the moves etc. right. Hull are hoping to finalise the trip in the next two weeks, with a return to the facilities that Peter Gentle preferred and used by both Hull and Hull KR in the past, (at the T3 camp in Tenerife), now looking unlikely, as two centres in Portugal come under the spotlight. Perhaps the key to the thinking behind this ‘about turn’ can be found in what new Dobbins Coach Chris Chester said of their reverting back to a boot camp next season. He said, “I like the camps in Tenerife” but then went on to say that he believes the players have been spoiled in recent years with the trip to warm weather camps and feels they should, “Earn rewards like that, instead of having them handed to them”.
Our coach when in the same mode, seemed to be claiming last year at this time that the players were ‘too soft’ and needed a short sharp shock as a reality check before they got down to the serious business of training, something Chester now seems to agree with. Lee said last week, “The army camp was exactly what we needed and the trip to St George’s (the FA centre of excellence) was a great experience at a great facility. But this time, I think we need to get in each other’s company for a week and get some togetherness” Awwww! that’s ‘nice’, but I guess on a serious note perhaps he believes or at least hopes, that the squad ‘get it’ now, but need to bond as a unit and that such ‘togetherness’ is the key to getting us over the line in those close games, that we regularly lost last season. It’s certainly a U turn in thinking but Radford claims that he has learned a lot in his first year in charge, which is, let’s face it, something I think most fans will be pleased about, because by hell there were certainly some lessons to learn from last term, weren’t there?
Fans look in on these situations, have their opinions and voice them, but in the end must leave it to those in charge to make such calls. As the ticket buying public we are certainly stakeholders, but it all stops way short of a democracy, however if these choices are later proved wrong, then fans will question a leaders judgement and it builds a case amongst the supporters for changes to be made. On the other side of the coin of course, for a Coach to do nothing or stick with what the Club have ‘always done’, just to not make waves, is no good either. So our Coach is ‘damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t’, and we just have to watch and see how our pre season progresses.
That theme of the need for some ‘togetherness’ seems to run through this week’s musings as we also learned that when the players report back for training they will face a trip across the Humber Bridge for a team bonding weekend at Elsham Hall. I went there a few times on training courses when I worked for the Council, but I can’t add a lot more really, because my one lasting memory of the place is that it’s a fine old building where the canteen serves great chips at lunchtime!
But, at least Adam continues to put his money where his mouth is and back whatever the Coach wants, but compared with an army camp a jaunt to Portugal won’t come cheap! Time will tell of course, because we can all think whatever we like, but in the end the proof of our Coaches pre season ‘pudding’ will not be in the amount of sunshine the players get on their backs or the amount of bonding sessions we do, but rather in the results we attain at the start of next season. For me the first 8 or so games of the next campaign are critical, not only for our survival in the top 8, but also for the career prospects, or otherwise, of our Coach! All we can do as fans is buy our passes, watch with interest, count down the weeks and hope; were it ever so eh?
You know a 1st November start means that should we reach the Grand Final it will have been an 11 month process which is a long, long time even for the finally tuned athlete’s the modern game demands. I don’t know about you, but it looks to me as if there are a lot of really tired players, and indeed teams about these days. Look at the two games this week both Warrington and Castleford were out on their feet and Huddersfield and Catalan were little better. At least when you’re really good like say Wigan and Saints, you will have had a week off and in the past it should be remembered that both fielded weakened teams against the London Bronco’s this years to give some of their players a ‘blow’. However next season when ‘Every minute counts’, every game is apparently important and there are only 12 teams in the top division there will be no such luxuries and no break in a season that if you’re successful could run to 35 or 36 games played week in week out, from February to October. That will be a very testing schedule!
You’ve probably guessed by now that this week, news has been hard to come by and it seems that everyone is scratching around for interesting stuff, however Totalrugbyleague.com solved that problem by producing an article celebrating their team of ‘2014 Unsung heroes’. Top of their particular list was a bit of a surprise and a player that many of us FC fans criticise from time to time, Danny Houghton. As very much a prophet in his own land Danny gets some stick from time to time, particularly about his passing, but this publication singled him out and said, “Houghton remained Hull FC’s most reliable man in defence in 2014 – in fact, only James Roby has made more tackles than Houghton across the entirety of Super League. 9 tries and 11 try assists also make for pleasant reading – is there a bigger unsung hero in Super League than Houghton?” Also included was the Flying Dustman who got a wing spot in the fictitious team! Talking of teams of the year both Gareth Ellis and Joe Westerman got the 12 and 13 spots in the Albert Goldthorpe top team this week, while Joe was included in the ‘OPTA Stats’ team too. After a torrid campaign it was good to see us getting some recognition in these teams and it was an experience which was made even sweeter for me, as there were none of the ‘beer swilling’ Dobbins included in any of them!
Do RL Club’s still find ways ‘round’ the salary cap, or to put a finer point on it, do some Clubs still fiddle it? Well we’ve had our suspicions for years and so perhaps, have the RFL. Why do I say that, well the good folks at Redhall have appointed an expert in fraud, embezzlement and money laundering as its new ‘Head of salary cap and Registrations’. Nigel Roberts, who comes from Eccles near Manchester, and currently works for Manchester-based criminal defence solicitors Stephen Lickrish and Associates, will take up the role in early November in what is a bit of a strange appointment and one that can’t help but have us all drawing our own conclusions!
It would appear that Gareth Carvell’s playing career could well be over as yet another short term contract ends up on the rocks, this time at Castleford (where he sustained a neck injury) before being released. As regular readers will know I was sceptical when he signed for us, but that was perhaps not so much based on his ability to go round again, but rather because reactionary old me never really got over the way he left the first time!! However I guess at least we got a couple of good games from him early on, but it looks like his age and years of getting battered, have taken their toll doesn’t it?
It seems that Joe Arundel is intent on returning for pre season next year and has told several of our players that he is going to have one last go at making the grade at Hull FC. One message boarder even said that he had bumped into him at a game at Castleford Panthers where he reiterated that he is staying on at FC, going to rip into pre-season training and take it from there, the poster surmised that “He seems a real decent kid”. Well, all I’ll say is when you balance the money he is on with us next season against his potential earning ability elsewhere, who can blame him!
I have said several times that I don’t think he is up to it, but you have to admire his persistence and he has certainly taken his medicine this season and got on with it without complaining. Let’s see what happens, but the amount of centres we have on our books will make his task a tough one, still time I guess will tell.
I was talking to a couple of Rovers fans the other day (as you do…..occasionally), as we all waited for a funeral to start, and they were really worried as to how their Club had lost a complete spine (full-back, both halves and a hooker) in very ‘short shrift’. They both had faces ‘befitting the occasion’ and commented that even if they got the best players in the world, the prospect that all four would gel in their first season together was extremely unlikely. The only name they could come up with was Shaun Lunt and the jury was still out on him. I think myself we’ll have issues with integrating Pryce and Shneyd into the squad, but with Rankin in place and getting better by the game and Houghton and Shaul settled at 9 and 1 we have at least a start. It’s interesting to watch though isn’t it and ain’t the Dobbins fans quiet? Poor old Rovers (ha ha) !!!! Thank goodness it’s not us eh?
It read in the nationals last week that good old Garry Hetherington was at it again, one moment he is the darling of the Rugby League, supporting their re-structuring to the detriment of our owner and several others, and in the next he is being held to account for comments he has made concerning the RFL’s investigation into alleged homophobic remarks by Rhinos full-back Zak Hardaker. He actually accused the governing body of carrying out a witch-hunt against the 22-year-old and called for an external probe into their actions. Hardaker was subsequently cleared due to a lack of evidence, but now it is Hetherington who is up in front of the RFL. He goes before an independent tribunal a week on Wednesday.
Then the news broke that he has urged clubs to oppose Todd Carney’s move to Catalan saying it will tarnish the competition’s reputation. The Sun reported on Tuesday that “Rhinos chief executive Hetherington had emailed rival club bosses in a bid to raise support for the move to be blocked; citing the fact that it will bring the game in this country into disrepute!” However, even laying aside the players disgusting behaviour that got him banned ‘Sine Die’ in Australia, (what the skateboarding fraternity know as ‘Bubbling’; which is in blunt terms urinating in your own mouth while someone films you doing it), it’s not just that is it? That’s bad enough to ‘tarnish our game’ in anyone’s book and certainly leaves ‘a nasty taste in your mouth’, but when our border control were very likely I’m told, to refuse his work permit application anyway, because of his character and thus deny any British Club bringing him into the Country, is it right and equitable that Catalan are able to sign him, just because France’s immigration people ain’t so picky? That for me is certainly an unfair advantage! Rovers were reported to be after him until our immigration people refused to allow him in, but with no half backs the Robins are getting desperate now, so don’t be surprised if, next time News at Ten feature those guys at Calais trying to get into British Trucks, one of them is wearing a Rover shirt!
Could the love affair between Garry and the RFL be over? Well on the Carney issue at least, I have a modicum of sympathy and in fact agree with him, but that said, I’ll still never like the bloke and it looks to me that if he’s not careful good old Garry could end up with no friends at all!
Talking of Leeds I had a great day out on Thursday when I travelled to Headingley to have a spot of lunch with our ex Retail Director, Diary reader and nice bloke, Lee Jenkinson. Lee is now Director in charge of all the Rhino’s and Tykes merchandising operation and it was great to have a chat with a guy who despite his commitments at Leeds, still gets to almost every Hull game and is still a massive fan. Leeds Rhino’s and the Headingley complex is a big operation and you know, you can always learn from other peoples experiences and no-one is too big to benefit from the successes of rivals, indeed Adam has told me on a couple of occasions that when it comes to running a good RL Club, whether any of us like it or not, everyone in the game can learn a lot from Leeds.
So as you can imagine, it was certainly interesting hearing how they do things over there in West Yorkshire. I guess I will be referring to what I gleaned in the weeks to come, but I was particularly interested in how they manage to have such a big following at home and how they sustain such big gates year in year out.
Of course, first and foremost, the quality of the product is important, but they also have majored on looking after those fans, to the point of actual having a ‘Head of Customer Satisfaction’ type post on the staff. Her job it is to ensure everyone gets the right tickets, receives a good service and gets the utmost from supporting the Rhino’s, even down to anyone who, for the first time, buys a ticket for a game at Headingley, getting a call afterwards to enquire as to their experience of the game etc.
Some may say that such an appointment is a bit frivolous, but I guess they see it as speculating to accumulate and it certainly pays off. With a lot of Clubs watching the pennies, I guess much of Leeds’ success is geared to not expecting someone to do everything and having the staff and resources to back up any new ideas. Chatting to Lee and looking around Headingley, which was bustling, was certainly informative and indeed it’s not hard to see why they do so well for gates and indeed merchandising! Mr H may not be top of my Christmas card list but he certainly runs a tight ship! I had a great afternoon with Lee and a nice lunch!
This week and indeed next, I want to feature again my two favourite games in which Greg Mackey played. I make no excuse for highlighting again these game in here, lest we ever forget just how much influence ‘Bluey’ had on our Club. This week I look at what was probably the highlight of his career at the FC, while next week I’ll have a look at his return to his old home at Wildespool and the craziest fans there have ever been in the Rugby League. But this time let me take you back to Sunday 12th May 1991.
That year despite the departure of Brian Smith and Noel Cleal’s promotion to Coach we had finished third in the league primarily because of ‘Smithy’s’ influence and the fact that we won our first seven games, whilst the Cheshire team, who finished one place and six points in front of us, were hailed by the pundits as one of the greatest teams ever. Widnes had of course beaten us in the same game 2 years earlier and won the trophy twice before that in the 80’s. They were therefore on a great run and aiming for a win in their fourth successive Premiership Final.
It was a surprise to everyone that we had even managed to get through to the Final and at William Hills’ across the north of England very long odds were being offered on a Hull win. However the players and fans alike had decided that this one “Was for Smithy!” That week I had done my bit to ensure a victory, wearing my lucky socks every day and sleeping in my Hull shirt every night! We drove down to the game in my new Rover which was my first ever new car. To ensure my new mode of transport was safe we didn’t park in the usual industrial estate behind the Stadium but found a spot that was well away from the ground, in the area surrounding the Manchester Ship Canal.
Over 25,000 made the trip over the Pennines from Hull in a gate of just over 42,000. I remember before the game we were heartened by speculation about the morale in the Widnes’ camp and it was rumoured that their coach, Doug Laughton was leaving for Leeds and that their star player Martin Offiah was moving to Wigan. Both these rumours were, in the next two weeks, to be proved true. The ‘Chemics’ however had coasted to wins over Bradford and Featherstone in their previous two play-off games and were hot favourites to win the Final.
That day I stood with thousands of FC fans on the Stretford End where we sang ourselves hoarse. There were rumours abounding back in Hull that Noel Cleal had spent hours poring over video’s of Widnes before the game, something that although common place now, was still rare in those days! It is said that Brain Smith rang the dressing rooms and spoke to the players and Noel beforehand, as the stage was set for a classic encounter.
At last the Final kicked off. Karl Harrison and Andy Dannatt really got stuck into the Widnes’ front row from the off and when we got the ball in the early plays, Patrick Entat and Greg Mackey completely outplayed the Widnes half back pairing of Hulme and Dowd. This was exactly how we expected the game would unfold, as the general consensus was that Widnes would hold out and with their superior pace in the backs, take us apart in the last quarter of the game, however when the first try came for Hull it was a classic. Nothing ‘was on’ as Richard Gay cut through the Cheshire Club’s defence to touch down, and after Paul Eastwood had stepped inside to beat about 4 would be tacklers and put Russ Walker over, we were 8-0 up at half time and all I wanted to do was go outside, walk around the Manchester streets and pretend the score would stay like that until the end. Instead, I remember, I had a flat pint in a floppy plastic glass and hypothesised about how we could have been even further in front Paul Eastwood been a bit steadier in the goal kicking department.
As the second half started we all feared a Widnes backlash and it came with a fantastic 75 yard move following a Soronson break, which ended with Offiah flying in at the corner. Then as a growing sense of the inevitable enveloped the whole Stadium, they threw everything at us and in the space of two minutes both Offiah and Davies were tackled into touch near the corner flag! The latter a great ball and all job from probably the smallest bloke on the field Greg Mackey. Widnes’s best chance came as their massive forward Emiso Koloto broke through. With Wright open to his left he switched play to Devereux at the other side and we scrabbled back to just grab him short of the line. Then Tait and Hulme were both held up inches short and it seemed just a matter of time before we cracked.
It was however then time for some real ‘fairytale’ stuff, as Gary Nolan, the hero from the previous week scored the winner and it all unfolded right in front of us. Gary had come on for the injured Damien McGarry and we looked lost for ideas as we struggled to penetrate a resolute and uncompromising Widnes defence. Then Greg Mackey, who was starting to cause havoc in the Chemic’s ranks every time he got the ball slung out a sharp pin point pass to Nolan who was immediately enveloped by four Widnes forwards just five yards out. He writhed around in mid air and as they held him at 45 degrees, there, right in front of us, as we watched in amazement, somehow he pushed the tacklers forward. As we held our breath and as if in slow motion an arm came out of the ruck of players and plumped the ball over the line. The place went ballistic!
Eastwood converted from near the touchline and as ‘Old Faithful’ rang around that great Stadium; we held out for the last ten minutes and Greg Mackey lifted the Trophy! In one of the most infamous moments in TV coverage of the final, the cameras panned in as Greg raised it aloft and you didn’t have to be a lip reader to discern what he said, as “You F*ckin Beauty” could clearly be seen by everyone watching and believe me there wasn’t a single person in the 25,000 Hull fans in attendance that day that didn’t agree with him!
In his six-week career at the Club Gary Nolan had come on as sub 3 times, and scored on each occasion, the previous time in the dying minutes of a nail biting semi against Leeds. The scenes were fantastic as they always are in these situations, and as the team came over to us with the Trophy and Chesney Hawkes’ hit, “I Am the One and Only” blasted through the speakers, I was in floods of tears. One thing I remember so well was the way that all the Club’s Directors ran onto the pitch to join the players in receiving the adulation of the crowd, all that was, except one. Ironically, Mike Stanley, the guy who had brought Brian Smith (the Coach who had made all this possible) over from Australia, was content to stand out of the lime-light on the touchline, as showing great humility, he applaud the players with the rest of the fans.
It was a great victory and as we headed back to the car singing all the way, it was the end to a perfect day. Sometimes, just occasionally in sport something magical happens and that game is seared onto your brain forever. Those of us who were there at Old Trafford that day will never forget it. It was simply more than just a game and it was Greg that led us to a memorable victory against all the odds.
On 18th May we all went along to the Guildhall with another 8000 Hull FC fans and holding our cans of Lager in the air, we celebrated with the team up on the balcony as Mackey kissed the trophy before hoisting it aloft, as one by one the team lifted the glittering prize prior to a Civic Reception hosted by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Les Taylor.
It was a great day which heralded big things to come, or so we all thought, but sadly that was to be it, the pinnacle of our achievement for now at least, as tight budgets, underachieving attendances and over stretched resources in that last great season, started to hit home on the over draft. But we’ll never ever forget that great day, because it is times like that with which life-long supporters bench mark their lives, nor will we ever forget the man that lead us to victory that afternoon, that great little general Greg Mackey!
So in a week that tragedy was top of the agenda we settle into the closed season watching other Clubs battling it out in the play-offs. As always all the ‘noises’ about our preparations for the new campaign are right and really positive, but aren’t they always? Still we can only hope. My thoughts last time on the unsung heroes of the sixties made for the biggest post bag I have had for weeks, so thanks for that, I’ll have a look at the 70’s sometime soon in the same vain. It is always great to hear from you all and after perhaps the most difficult week yet for trying to find something interesting to put in the Diary, thanks for sticking with it again. Keep the correspondence coming and please keep in touch, thanks again for your support and let’s hope there’s more to report next week!