A surprise change of heart by Callum Lancaster, a new Knocker (well a new Naughton at least) and still the fans continue to buy passes in quite amazing numbers! Monday and Tuesday saw supporters queuing all day in the shop for season tickets, as the first month ‘price freeze’ phase came to an end and after that rush, the total rose well in front of the same point last year.
So, there was a bit of news about and something for us to mull over as the closed season continues and with the fixtures out in two weeks (20th October) and the first serious game scheduled for the weekend of 6th February next year, it seems an age to wait before we get started and I for one don’t mind that at all……for now!!
Well done to Joe Westerman in being included in the England squad for the 4 nations and for shattering the ‘Everyone in for 1st November’ claim! Joe is obviously really happy and tweeted yesterday, “Thanks for all the messages me ‘n my family are over the moon!!! Looking forward to knuckling down and hopefully getting a game!” However selfish old me wonders how the games out there and a holiday and then no doubt a return to training after our pre Christmas training camp, will affect his start to the season! You can’t begrudge him his place and we should all pat him on the back, but he’s a big player for us next year!!
Well I’ve been saying for a while that Curtis Naughton was a done deal and in fact I’m quite bemused as to why the announcement has been delayed so long because the indications are that he’s been signed for a while now. Let’s however not get carried away, because if he was that good and that much of a prospect, then he would still be in Australia, or would on signing have warranted at least a two year deal. Why do I say that? Well look at Lancaster, there are still question marks there for me, but he got 3 years, up to the end of 2017. So a one year deal with an option on the Club for a second year indicates for Curtis that he has still a deal to prove; and perhaps for Hull FC it indicates a Club that has been ‘burnt’ before!! He comes with a great reputation and is as I have already said in here, one of the only under 19 players from another Club that has actually stuck in my mind since I saw him as a Bradford youngster at Brantingham. So for me the ‘underlying’ message from the acquisition of Naughton is that he has a lot of latent talent, but perhaps they still have a few questions as to how it and the player as a person will develop.
He certainly said all the right things in his press interviews and obviously ‘Fitz’ has been keeping an eye on him for us in Aus. Contacts over there indicate that there has been little evidence in his play and his off field behaviour that the attitude issues that blighted his time at Bradford had continued, and everyone seems to think he is a big prospect. There is no doubt at all however, from everything you read, that this lad is the real deal as far as exciting ability is concerned, but the jury is still out as to how he will integrate into the squad and settle down. He will have to tough it out with the big boys, or use the duel registration (or whatever exists next term) to get a chance though, because he is 20 years old on 25th February and as such not eligible for the under 19’s in their current format. Still he is certainly an interesting acquisition who, next year at this time, we will all be either raving over or saying, “Curtis Who?” It’s down to him really!
Unlike that signing the Callum Lancaster news came a bit out of the blue didn’t it? I say that because I thought with him wanting a big increase on what we are paying the other new young ‘guns’ like Jason Abdull, Jack Logan and Harry Tyson Wilson, he could be jettisoned. So to hear that he had signed and then to hear that it is for the same as they are getting, is something of a climb down, particularly as his Dad seemed to think he would be signing for Rovers because we were not offering enough. I did a bit of digging and believe he had two more offers, (one from another Super League club who offered more than we were prepared to put up), but for whatever reason he came back to our Coach last Monday and said he’d like to sign. He’s a talented 17 year old who has definitely got something that you can’t teach and now it’s up to fight for a place in the team.
I never like to lose players to Rovers and whatever Hudge says, they were definitely interested in him, but it was certainly a victory for common sense and keeps the wage structure, put in place by Radford, Tony and Pearson (and based on the Leeds model), intact so all’s well that ends well, but let’s hope that as we move through 2015 all the talk about Callum is more about his speed and try scoring and a little less about hair gel and fake tan Eh? Like our new acquisition from Australia, It’s all now up to Callum!
On Friday we heard what most of us already knew that Jacob Miller was being offered a pay-off for the rest of his contract. Fact is on this one the situation he finds himself in isn’t really of his making, because the kid was brought over to do a job that was beyond him, on what now appears to be a greatly inflated wage which amazingly still makes him one of the top earners at the Club. That was in hindsight a contract that matches neither his ability nor his maturity, but as I say it isn’t really his fault. Lee did give him more than a few chances in the first team this year but in a difficult situation he simply wasn’t up to the standard required and we looked to go backwards. As we have seen in other cases since the previous administration departed he was offered way too much for his ability and the stage of his development and as I say, who can blame him for accepting it and coming over.
Some people think we should have persisted and persisted with him, but he hasn’t cut it for me, although I’m told he has conducted himself well around the Club. I expect that he is mulling over the choice of whether to take a pay off and look for work in the junior grades back home, or stays on an inflated wage with his mate Jordan and train without I suspect, much prospect of a game. With the level of staff we have on the playing side that would probably see him un-registered and Adam paying his wages ‘outside the cap’. I feel a bit sorry for him really and I really do hope it sorts itself out!
The news that we have ‘learned a lot from pre season last year’ and had decided to cut the number of Friendlies or at least the weeks of pre season games was interesting indeed. Let me say straight away that I’m no fan of these matches because they always seem to leave me greatly underwhelmed. But that aside the fact is for me that the last pre season was actually OK on paper, The game at Doncaster was an excellent opener for a couple of first teamers and a lot of fringe players, while the Bradford game saw us stepped it up again to play what was then a ‘decent’ if not lowly, Super League team. Then there was Rovers which we could have done without (but more of that later) and finally the Featherstone Friendly for Rich Whiting’s Testimonial, which was the players choice and staged away because the Stadium wanted an obscene amount of rent for the KC. I know what sort of amount, because I went to argue the toss with the SMC the year on behalf of Kirk Yeaman.
It was however on paper at least an appropriate final work-out and against probably the best Championship team around. I don’t see much wrong with that schedule (the Derby apart) however we were ill prepared, shambolic in our organisation, crap in our execution and quite frankly by and large, worryingly ill prepared. That’s the lesson our Coach has to learn!!! But, for me pre-season friendly’s are not about who you play or indeed, within reason, how many you play, but rather about how the players approach them, how they build towards the real stuff and how well prepared the Coaches have the team for the challenge.
For me this season to again play Donny, the Dobbins and then a Super league team is fine, except for the Dobbins bit which because of all the pressure to beat them in whatever circumstances is anything but a good idea for this fan. But, as has been the practise of late once again we face another pre-season ‘fundraiser’ against the old enemy, a fixture that I have to say bores me rigid! Why? Well we simply play them too much and the stress and tension of it all has worn me down. It’s not just about us though is it, because there is an inordinate amount of stress about it all for the players too.
That game guarantees we meet them at least 4 times next season (if we meet at Newcastle which I expect we will) and 5 if we finish in the same end of season ‘split’ group and 6 if we meet them in the Cup and 7 times if we both finish in the top four or 4th and 5th in the middle 8. Of course a lot of that is hypothetical, but you get the idea and to endure playing them pre-season as well is pretty soul destroying for this fan. But, you can see Hudge’s and Adam’s thinking can’t you, because it’s all about dosh and as fans who want a team to support, I guess we should be pleased they find ways of raising some!!
The fact is that ‘needs must’ and we have to go along with it, survival and financial security are everything these days, but we don’t have to like it do we? My feelings towards these fixtures have change beyond recognition since the great days when we played them on Boxing Day and Good Friday and (Cup matches apart), that was that!! Then they were real occasions that we all actually looked forward to and an integral part of our public holidays when the whole City held its breath to see and hear what was happening. Now, coming on average every 7 or so games a season, their impact is diluted and they have become for many fans at both sides of the great divide, nothing short of a real ‘ball ache’! Still as far as pre-season is concerned we’ll just bite the bullet and go, we’ll want to see our new halves and Minnichello and so we’ll be there, but I ain’t looking forward to that most unfriendly of Friendlies much at all; are you?
Well I wondered whether the Club had introduced a new policy with regard to season ticket sales this year, as we seem to be turning the hype down even further from their ‘more staid’ approach of last year, particularly when for 4 weeks we had heard no news of sales levels at all. However on Monday morning the silence was broken and we received the news that we had reached the milestone of 2,500 sales, just in front of last year, which is some feat when you consider what has gone before. Let’s face it you would hardly call it a great season on which to build and inspire sales, would you? In fact it’s been the worst for some time and although we saw some good rugby at times particularly towards the end of the season, by and large it was disappointing at times and little short of a shambles at others. So why is it that despite a low key approach, which you have to presume is planned and will be cranked up as the deadline for renewals approaches, us ‘daft lads’ are still buying tickets in greater numbers than last year?
It’s a good question and quite a conundrum, to which I don’t think that there is any one explanation. In fact I think the answer is the culmination of several incentives both advertised and subliminal that have come together to ensure the passes are selling well, when many of us thought they wouldn’t. Firstly I think that the end of September deadline which was the cut off point for a guarantee of a price freeze for 2016 helped with what is certainly a good all round deal particularly for regular customers. I also think that the performances of the team at the end of the season and the signings we have made have helped. Let’s face it we needed half backs and we have signed two; one the best young exponent of that position in the British game who cost over £100,000 and the other an old head who is still doing it and who many of us have admired for years. We should also consider the ‘£150 pass’ in the West Stand idea, the Direct Debit deadline, the free ball deal (which the Club tell me has been amazingly successful) and the opportunity to freeze your pass price for 2016. So, I guess all in all there is a real ‘cocktail’ of reasons to buy tickets.. In addition I also think that people are excited by the 150th celebrations and want to be part of that, but for me most of all it’s down to two things I haven’t mentioned yet.
Firstly, there is the Pearson factor with lots of folks saying to me that they are renewing because they believe they want to back him because he has done his best and in some cases folks even feel sorry for him. Then of course there is most of all the dynamic of a group of people, a family if you will, that contains hundreds of supporters who simply can’t stay away. We come from the most diverse of backgrounds, we grumble, complain and say ‘never again’ at least a dozen times a season (if not a week) but still, when push comes to shove, we simply can’t help ourselves because we just love the Club. As Gareth Ellis said just the other day, “”The season still hasn’t reached the Grand Final yet, and already we’re told that over 2,500 fans have bought their passes for next year, that’s fantastic news. I remember everyone telling me about stuff like this when I signed for the club, but you don’t really realise how passionate and mad for Hull FC all the fans are until you get here and experience it and they have already show that” Well we’re glad you realise it Gareth, let’s now hope the rest of your colleagues do and reward that loyalty and passion with some real action on the field next year. On the other hand, it can’t just go on and on and too many false dawns will surely eventually one day, see us all walk, if, by that time comes around, some of us are still able to walkl!!!
I wonder if James Clark, Lee Radford and Adam Pearson really realise just what they have in the supporter group of Hull FC, because judging by other Clubs, then the way things have gone this season should dictate a massive fall off of interest, but it hasn’t, in fact quite the contrary and as I say so often in here, aren’t we lucky! I’ll be keeping tabs on this one and seeing how it goes, because ticket sales are always an interesting issue at this time of year and of course well done to everyone who has so far put their faith in the Club and bought a pass. As I say, just how long this showing of almost blind faith will continue heaven knows, but for now 2500 in a month is a blooming great response and the uptake last week leads me to believe that we are probably now over half way to last year’s total. If you haven’t got one yet or decided what to do, I guess I can’t blame you, you’re probably the sensible ones, but I’m in and have to admit to looking forward to hearing the plans, and being part of our 150th year.
Talking of season passes, I have said in here on several occasions that backed against my own resistance to re-new by getting involved with a direct debit scheme in the dark days of last April. I and another 300 or so fans subscribed to the scheme but have heard very little since. One or two have contacted me worried that it had all gone quiet so I had a word with the Club about these purchasers and was told that anyone who signed up to the 10-month direct debit scheme earlier this year will be contacted soon if they haven’t already. It was also confirmed that they will receive their exclusive HULLFC150 ball and members badge when they collect their pass before the start of the season. These collection dates will be confirmed and publicised shortly. So there you are, if you’re in the same boat as me, then that should be re-assuring because at least now you know what’s happening!
Well, in the Whiffs department we’re deffo off to Portugal and not Tenerife for the early season camp and while we’re on the closed season, watch out for a fans forum sponsored by FC Voices coming up pretty soon. I also expect that the new home kit will be revealed in the very near future. I’m also hearing that Rovers are struggling to get better players to replace those who have gone in the great ‘missing spine’ controversy. I’m also told that all the signs are that they have signed Tommy Lee!! Targets down under apparently include Luke Kelly and Maurice Blair the latter I think I remember is actually a centre who has had a recent conviction and he is said by some on the Rovers Message Board to have been convicted for ‘battling’ in pubs and for that he copped a $400 fine, all rumours but he might not even get a visa!! Then there is Mr Campese (he of the dodgy knees) and even perhaps Scott Dureau, who will it be? Well heaven knows, in fact I ain’t even sure Rovers do at present!! But the promise to the supporters that “Burns won’t go until we have signed a better player” seems to have ruffled a few feathers and all been hot air.
Our Club still keeps hinting that there might just be one more signing to come in and for that, if it happens, to be in time for that player to get his paper work so that he can arrive for pre-season training on 1st November. I’m expecting a ‘mature’ centre from Australia to be the target although their identity is still a closely guarded secret. But don’t be surprised if it falls through, because I’m also told that the ball is now very much in the player’s court and that he has several other offers. If however it comes off that will then be the squad completed and it looks OK to me. It’s easy to forget the most important two, Sneyd and Pryce as they have been out there so long, but at least we should have no shortage of leaders, exciting youngsters or play makers for 2015, so the pressure to deliver placed on Lee Radford and one or two of our more ‘comfortable’ players will only continue to increase!
However if the player arrivals come to an end, there are still a lot of big things going on behind the scenes to improve the environment for the players and give them the best possible chance of succeeding, with no stone being left unturned to get this pre season and indeed the future of the Club off the field right! I expect we’ll hear about them in due course and with the operations at Sirius, Chamberlain Road and Bishop Burton already moving forward apace, Community Director Richard Munson has engineered one of the best community set up’s in the game. I think that the message from me and no doubt most of those reading this is that once again Adam has put his money where his mouth is, but as for the 2015 season, well there can be no excuses for anyone this time around!!
On Thursday I was invited to the Launch of the Rugby League Cares travelling Heritage exhibition which is being staged at the Hull History Centre which is on for the next few weeks and which I would recommend to everyone as an interesting attraction to visit. The opening ceremony of what is the first stop of this travelling exhibition, which features items from Stevo’s now defunct Huddersfield George Hotel collection, highlighted the significance of Hull to the game and the fact that October is Black history Month. There was a lot about Clive Sullivan and of course Roy Francis who was the first black Coach in the British game, there was also a mention for the significance of Hull and the involvement of Women in the game. I got to talk to a lot of folks and Bill Dalton the Club historian was there as was Johnny Whiteley, Shaun Briscoe and several other local luminaries. If you get the chance have a look, there are some interesting artefacts and a very informative series of display boards containing a lot of stuff I never knew about the game!
Well if I don’t particularly agree with the way the RL intend to do it with the new league set up next year, there is little doubt, for me at least, that something has to happen to breathe some life into a flagging and tired looking game. Recent gates across the play offs are shocking and when the dust has settled a bit and you get a chance to assess at least what has gone on before the play-offs, things across the game are little different. Round 27 of the Super league saw the curtain wrung down on another campaign and for the most part the regular season went out with little more than a whimper. Poor refereeing and some atrocious punditry on Sky cheapened the product and sent out a message that the game was a bit of a laughing stock for the uninitiated, while those of us on the inside lamented the way that everything seemed to be so much more low key than such a gladiatorial sport should come across. However we’re told that next season is a new dawn and one can only hope that the ambitious promise of “every game matters” at least removes the complacency that has created an increasing state of disillusionment and disinterest throughout the game during the last couple of seasons.
It’s all become so predictable however, and the whole sport is starting to look a bit hackneyed and a bit sad. There may be a new beginning and a new set up, but although Leeds have slipped a bit of late, in the end will anyone be that surprised if it’s the usual suspects that finish in the top 4 positions after the split. I hope it does make the sport more competitive and more exciting and makes every minute important, because this term (in games that Hull FC were not involved in), there were few matches that could be classed as really memorable, classic encounters, as the leaching of our top players to Australia, the low salary cap and the lack of quality imports has seen the level of excellence stagnate as teams in general cancel themselves out.
The thing is of course, just like everyone else, we have to get on with it, but this new dawn is the last chance saloon and perhaps the last hurrah when it comes to inspiring the lapsed supporters back to the game. Attendances have suffered too, but at least at Hull FC we start with a decent core support. Well, we do compared with say Wakefield, Salford or Huddersfield. As we all saw at the John Smith Stadium and when last week the Giants couldn’t even fill one stand after that power cut, it appears that whether they are getting to Finals, or finishing, (as they did last year) top of the table for the first time in 81 years, in Huddersfield they are incapable of inspiring the local public. Without a substantial following from ‘The Faithful’ a month ago, they would have again had well under 6000 fans in attendance and that’s less than half we got in a dead rubber at the KC against Leeds the following week. It’s not the price either, as once again the Giants offer for 2015 includes the ‘cheapest side-on viewing’ in the whole competition. It must be nice to have a seemingly bottomless pit of money available like the one provided by Ken Davey. However I wouldn’t want to rely on his support ad infinitum would you? Too many Clubs are doing just that though and the game at present is in a mess!
So to Codgers Corner and this week I want to feature the second of my memorable games that involved the late great Greg Mackey. From that great Premiership Final I featured last week I want to move to Saturday 13th October 1990 when the FC went to Warrington which was back then one of the most feared experiences in Rugby League because the place was a threatening and intimidating one indeed. It was Greg’s first season with us, he was captain and under Brain Smith we were in the middle of an 8 game winning streak. This was in fact his first return to the Club from whom we had poached him as he prepared to sign a contract for them before the season started.
I don’t mind a good punch up on the field, few rugby fans do, but I don’t condone bad behavior in the crowd, it’s dangerous and anyway I’m getting too old for it!! However although I have experienced some crude and disgusting behavior at rugby over the years I have never seen anything to equal the reception Greg Mackey received on his return to Warrington. Wildespool was known to most people in Rugby League back then as ‘The Zoo’. The Board at the Lancashire Club perpetuated this title because they believed it referred to their big, rough, ‘animal’ like forwards, but visiting supporters who experienced its ‘ambience’ believed the title was actually aimed at the feral antics of a section of their fans. It was an evil place at the best of times and I didn’t like it at all, probably because it was there, in the Gents toilets at the Railway End, that I was punched in the face and lost a tooth back in the early 80’s.
In those days the ‘Wire’ fans, (augmented it has to be said by Manchester United and Liverpool hooligans, looking for a bit of afternoon ‘sport’), were renowned for their abuse and at times thuggish behavior, which was the last thing that most of us wanted as we arrived at the ground heady on a diet of savaloy sausages (a then local delicacy in the pubs and Clubs of Warrington) and copious amounts of Greenall Whitney’s Bitter. On occasions we had joined the home fans in the ‘Royal Oak Branch’ public house but that afternoon, with menace in the air, we visited a pub in Leigh beforehand and then went straight to the ground. That day as Greg Mackie returned to the Club he had left in such acrimonious circumstances; he got abuse from the moment he ran onto the pitch. ‘Bluey’ actually went back to Warrington after his spell at Hull FC, but it took some of the Warrington fans a long time to forgive him for leaving in the first place.
As we arrived at the dilapidated stadium the home fans were waiting for us and we were threatened on the way through the turnstiles by a huge skin head with hardly any teeth. Covered in tattoo’s he wore cropped trousers and Doc Martin boots and looked like a throwback to the seventies. The game itself matched exactly the atmosphere and was a tense affair, with both defenses’ to the fore and only a penalty a piece to show on the score board after 78 minutes. Our rear guard action was truly magnificent that cold Sunday afternoon and despite a constant tirade of “you’re going home in a f*ckin’ ambulance” from the hooligans at the other end and the best efforts of the Warrington players on the pitch, Hull FC held firm.
We got few attacking chances but made 270 tackles that afternoon, with Lee Jackson leading with 39. This, plus his support of the forwards, got him the Man of the Match Award. The ‘Players’, player of the game’ was another youngster, full back Richard Gay, who on three occasions stopped the rampaging home forwards with crunching, ball and all, ‘last ditch’ tackles. Twice he stopped Paul Cullen inches short and then he held Gary Mercer up over the line, as the opposition’s star player battled to get the ball down.
Up to the last 2 minutes wave after wave of Warrington attacks peppered our line. Then suddenly they were ‘caught’ off side at a scrum and a strong touch finding penalty from Mackey saw us at last get into their half. This immediately drew another round of chant about how Greg had ‘a sexual preference for Donkey’s’ from the morons on our left and this was still ringing round the ground as Mackey got the ball 25 yard out on the third tackle. He had positioned himself in the pocket behind McNamara and Sharp in the attacking line and cool as you like, and as if in response to the taunting, he stepped to the left, looked up and dropped the perfect goal, which triggered a state of hysteria amongst the 3000 Hull FC fans. We were still celebrating as several missiles flew into our Stand and a wave of Warrington fans, veins sticking out of their necks, charged across the terraces towards us through the ranks of cowering home supporters. A guy near me got a bottle on the shoulder, which hit the ground and shattered sending glass cascading over the fast emptying terraces. However credit to the Lancashire Constabulary because they were soon escorting a dozen of these morons out of the ground, with their arms forced up their backs.
After all the abuse he had received it was fantastic response from the little Australian. He refused to be intimidated and we hung on to win. He said afterwards, “If they had hoped to put me off, then they certainly didn’t, the more they chanted the more I wanted to inspire Hull to victory”. The final hooter went in what was by then a half empty stadium and we were pursued by more idiots who ‘chased’ us through the adjacent back street to our cars, but I guess our chanting of “There’s only one Greg Mackey” through open windows as we drove away, didn’t help much either. One coach we drove past that was stuck in the inside lane, was having its side panels systematically kicked in by about 40 ‘Skinheads’, as its frightened occupants peered out through the windows. I particularly remember one towering individual, the ring leader, because not only did he sport cropped trousers a string vest and about size 15 Doc Martin boots painted gold, he also, most bizarrely, wore a Bishops Mitre on his head. Greg Mackey had done it for us and was fast becoming the hero of the day. He starred again that day in a role that saw him lead the team around the pitch and produce was in the end the difference in the two teams. Crazy Days! RIP Greg Mackey!
You Know I get correspondence about all sorts of stuff particularly during the closed season and this week regular reader Malcolm from Keyingham told me that as the season had finished, he and his wife Alice set off for a week on the south coast. Firstly they went to Eastbourne where Mally said that even at 78 what he saw of the folks there made him feel very young indeed, then it was off to Dover. There he said he saw probably the best bit of graffiti he had seen for ages. On approaching the South Coast Ferry port he came upon a sign that said ‘DOVER FOR THE CONTINENT’ to which someone had added in spray paint underneath, ‘EASTBOURNE FOR THE INCONTINENT!’
Then there was John Barrett regular reader from Chesterfield who, bored already by the closed season, sent me a version of ‘Marching on Together’ that he suggested we adopt on the terraces next season when we play Leeds. Boy it made me laugh but I can’t include it here because quite frankly there were so many very succinct and indeed apt references that there would have been more stars in the expletives, than you would see in any average edition of ‘The Sky at Night’ But thanks John I’ll be singing it along (under my breathe) to the Rhino’s fans next year!!
So that’s it for another week, thanks for all your support, E mails letters and …..songs!!! And for sticking with the Diary for another edition! It’s been an interesting without being outstanding week, but who know what the next 7 days will bring!!