The Squad are back on Friday and off to a ‘retreat’ for the weekend and I suspect at last a look and a chance to buy the 150th season home shirt is imminent too. Otherwise it’s ‘Reasonably quiet’
With Clarky and a couple of others having a break last week, I guess it’s to be expected that news was at a premier, it always is at this point in the process but at least we had some rugby to watch and I enjoyed the 4 nations and particularly, the sheer power of the Samoans and the Kiwi’s, a scratchy England win and of course…..Australia losing. It was all good entertainment and only went to whet the appetite for seeing the FC again! In the England game on three occasions in the first quarter we dropped the ball and gave away penalties to march the Samoans down the field, something that prompted the statement in our house of “It’s just like watching Hull FC!” I was dismayed when the Coach didn’t play Westy as a pivot, but instead wasted him as an extra prop, but what do I know and indeed for me Joe played OK and gave a reasonable account of himself.
On another tack entirely, I’ve found over years of writing this that social media is rarely proved to be wrong in the long term and if that is the case then this week we should presume that the SMC are banning us from using the North Stand of the KC for the 2015 season. I know there has been no official statement but none the less I’ll be having plenty to say in here about that particular rumour!!!
But first, as I said two weeks ago, one thing our Coach has to be careful about is making statements to the press that come back to bite him. Back then Lee stated that ‘Everyone will be in for 1st November and there will be no exceptions” but as I said at the time, experience proves that it’s an almost impossible target to achieve. We knew Whiting would still be in ‘re-hab’ but ‘in camp’ just the same; but everyone in? First it was Joe Westerman, who has done really well to get a tour Down Under, but with the 4 nations squad returning in mid November, he’ll need a few weeks off and so it will be Christmas before he’s back in training; with by then just 6 or so weeks to the season starting. But you can’t begrudge the kid his moment of glory, he had a real dig on Saturday, with 33 tackles in something like 39 minutes and I’m really pleased that his excellent form of this year has been rewarded. Now however Steve Michaels has had his application to enter the country held up due to the lack of first team games played over the last year in the NRL.
The Club told the Mail that “There are no issues with Michaels’ visa application”, with the former Gold Coast Titans player told he can start his contract at Hull at the end of the second week of November but it’s a blow for a player who has only got a one year deal and therefore has now to prove himself without a full pre season under his belt. Yes, it’s only two weeks and he’s training on his own at home in Australia, but he’s no marquee signing, he’s no ‘slot in’ he a guy who wants to prove himself and so he’ll want to put himself in the best possible place to compete for a place from the off! I did wonder, with all the problems we have had in the past getting players into the country, whether we should be a tad concerned about this one didn’t you?
Back in the days when we were trying to get Michael Crocker over the visa ‘line’ I made a really good contact at the border agency who, those who were reading this rubbish back then will remember, was actually a Saints fan. He’s moved on from that area of the operation but I kept in touch and so last Thursday, I asked him if this was normal? He replied that usually players who had played over 15 games of first team rugby and had a clean off field record were fast tracked and they could expect to be granted the necessary papers in around 17 days or so. If they hadn’t played that many games then there was often a delay. He said too that we had suffered the same hiatus when we signed Miller although I couldn’t remember that, but perhaps we weren’t told then anyway. However he said that Steve Michaels will have been given a date if all is well off the field and that fits with what the Mail printed last week, so perhaps we should just be patient. But with 119 NRL games and 46 tries under his belt, he’s a real flyer and could be a bit of a ‘Dark Horse’ signing this season so I’ll be glad when he’s here!
On the Whiffs front I’m indebted to Mrs Barista of RL fans fame who dug out this Twitter feed from Australia; @89Beau: “@mattmastroianni @RugbyLeagueNews I’m hearing @mattballin9 has signed with Hull FC!” Matt Ballin is an excellent hooker and master of working acting half back, but there are no other references anywhere else and I honestly think it might be Rovers that are sniffing round him rather than us.
I heard the rumour on Friday, as perhaps you did, that the Stadium Management Company has banned the Club from using the North end of the Stadium for anything but the Rovers matches next season. Where it came from is unclear, but soon this rumour was circulating on social media and after many of our West Stand Season ticket holders where recently pitched out of the seats that they’ve had in the West Stand since the Stadium opened, you have I guess to ask, if true, is this just ‘another brick in the wall’ in a process that sees the owners of Hull City trying to work us out of the KC? That’s still a difficult one to answer because they need the cash we generate and let’s face it we are always being told that the SMC is on its ar*e. However surely under the user agreement we have the right to use all the stadium except the west upper which we pay extra to open anyway. No doubt next season (our 150th), the Club will be planning lots of local rugby type promotions to get more into the ground, but they are all initiatives that require the North Stand to be open; anyway they also benefit the SMC income wise.
If this closure comes off, and I believe the Club must appeal against it, then I can see the fans who like to sit in E1, 2 and 3 unreserved being told they can’t sit there, with those seats allocated to away fans as they are for football. One thing’s for sure, Pearson will do everything he can to sort it without it coming out, that’s his style, but if these moves are as some of the more suspicious fans believe, a plot to get us out of the KC, then we have to make our voice heard about it!
That is something that we as the FC Army have done so well in the past but unlike then, instead of a massive problem suddenly arriving to confront us, (David Lloyd, the debacle at the Galpharm etc.) this has been a steady process of wearing us down, through incremental steps. Just consider the Johnny Whitely photo’s, the effect of all those away games after the digging up of the pitch last year, the removal of those West Stand seats from sponsors and fans and now this! These are all moves that marginalise our position as joint tenants of the Stadium. If ever there was a time that we as fans of a Rugby League Club that is almost 150 years old, have to stand together, then that time is now.
Looking in from the outside on all this, some might say that as a group of fans and a Club we are quite simply being marginalised and made to feel like second class citizens, as we see our user rights at the KC Stadium slowly eroded away. I think now we wait to see if sense prevails, but if it doesn’t the Club should big up, get it out in the open, say what’s behind it and out the SMC; then as fans we can have our say. It’s surely time that all this ‘behind the scenes’ stuff is flushed out into the open, I hope it’s sorted but if the North end is to be closed, then the Club has to question this in public and we have then to get behind them! It may however never happen and just be a rumour, so for now rant over!
It’s amazing in the closed season just how bored I get and when all is quiet what FC memories even the death of a pop star can engender! It was therefore this week sad to hear of the death at 74 from prostate Cancer of Alvin Stardust, (I know from the sublime to the ridiculous…. but stick with me….). I met the bloke with the ‘biggest heels in show business’ a couple of times in the 80’s at the City Hall and he was certainly a really nice guy but I feature his sad demise here because of his tenuous RL connections. You see, as a resident of that fair town, he was for a time the Honorary President of Mansfield Marksman the ill fated RL team set up in the Midlands in the 1980’s by Dave Parker.
I don’t know how involved he actually was, if at all, but I can never hear him mentioned without thinking back to that day in February 1987 when we played the Marksmen in the Cup, at possibly the worst ground I have ever had the pleasure of attending; North Street in Alfreton. Surrounded on three sides by low muddy hills the pitch was just a morass of mud and the other memory of that day is really bizarre too. We won easily, but not before Tomlinson and Lazenby had crash tackled the home Clubs centre Fletcher over the touch line for him to collide with the perimeter fence. It was made of concrete posts with a scaffolding pole slotted through them and Fletcher was out cold for about 8 minutes, what a place it was and to add insult to injury there was no sign of Alvin all afternoon!! (Incidentally while I’m rambling, Mansfield were also the team that Peter Gentle played for when he was 20, during a shot spell in this country. I remember that he had some great tales of paying his own flight over, training on a disused car park and being put up in a house with a hole in the wall. His favourite comment about the time was “Invariably we got booed on the field and off it again”)
Now you all know that I don’t like Rovers or their players at all but I have before in here admitted to having had a sneaking admiration for Reece Lovegrove, probably because over the 7 years he was at the Club he was always a nice guy to talk to and the epitome of loyalty. However he has decided that Rovers is not the place for him anymore and he is moving on to London. He said this week, “”Maybe I could have stayed at Rovers a bit longer but that wouldn’t have been a good decision,” he explained, “The club has been in transition over the last 12 to 18 months and it’s not quite the club I fell in love with back in 2007. It’s different now and when I look back at my time at Rovers, I don’t want my memories tarnished in any way. I want to make sure the memories I have are of Jim Gannon, Iain Morrison, Ben Fisher and James Webster – and having a laugh, having fun and winning games. That’s why I took the opportunity to leave when I did.” It seems times have changed down at Caravan Park, they don’t have a laugh, they don’t have any fun and apparently they don’t win many games. Interesting interview though and an indication that all changes, are not necessarily for the best.
You know it makes me smile sometimes when I consider the breadth of support we have and the different characters and supporters we have in our fan base. I say that because last week I bumped into two of the biggest moaners we have, who never do anything but chunter on and on about Radford, the KC pies, the Rugby League, the SMC, the shirts etc. etc. etc. They know who they are because they grumble incessantly about this Diary too!! Both are season ticket holders, both defend the Club against all the protagonists from the East and yet when they are amongst our own, they could moan for bloody England!! We all know one of them don’t we?
I asked them both why they didn’t ask the Club about their gripes and both said they wouldn’t be going to the fans forum next Tuesday at the Walton Club because they’re ‘A waste of time’. The thing is for me fans should support these events, because it would be easy for them to disappear and I think sometimes that would suit the Club, but FC Voices ensure that they take place and, as I said last week, have even moved the venue to ensure they continue. So, I went and bought ‘em both a ticket, and have now shamed them into going, so I’ll be watching what they have to say on the night. Very little I would suspect! However these events are always a good laugh and also a great chance to have a go and have your say. There were still some tickets left this morning, so get there if you can!
It’s that time of the year again and here from Salford, is the early runner for ‘crap strip of the year’. It’s from American supplier Under Armour and I was wondering whether they the same company that made the costumes for this particularly annoying series from the 90’s!
As always, despite it being the closed season, I still get plenty of feedback and comment on the Diary, A couple of Dobbins fans this week commented about the fact that they didn’t really agree with last week’s assessment of their two new half backs….now there’s a surprise! However it was great to hear as well from my pal Mark who reads the diary regularly and knows the game inside out! He was noting the change of Coach at St Helen’s and said most interestingly I thought, “Super League Is going home grown in coaches for all the right reasons. The only overseas coaches now are Webster at Wakey (and he is almost a hull lad by default) and Smith at Wire. I don’t count Fraysinnous as he is a home grown coach” I have to say Mark makes a good point, as we see fewer and fewer Aussie Coaches coming over and in fact those who are here, for one reason or another, going home. Whether that is because the British game has seen the light and is now consistently producing its own coaches who are as good or better than the Australian equivalent, or (more likely I think) is it that rather like on the playing side of things when it comes to paying wages, we simply can’t compete with the NRL, and that is driving down the quality we have here in this country. I’ll leave you to decide.
However, it must be a pleasing trend for those who 5 or 6 years ago complained that the Aussies were taking over our game completely. I still think Peter Gentle could have turned things around for us, but it wasn’t to be and he was replaced internally, as was the case again this last week with Cunningham at Saints. I guess we’ll only really get the answer to the question above on quality v cash when we see whether the most successful of this new breed of British Coaches stay in Super League or indeed chase the big money over there. I’d like to think our game is improving by appointing British supremo’s but in my heart of hearts I think in the fullness of time once again it’ll all be down to the pulling power and money available in the NRL!
Now a prediction and I reckon that we’ll finish in the top eight, get to the play-offs and have a good Cup run next year…so that’s the positive stuff out of the way!!! However, now for a moment let’s be gloomy for a bit and contemplate what could happen if things don’t go well for the FC next season. The dust had barely settled on the fixture announcement before the headline on the Club site last Monday read, ‘Radford excited by ‘tough’ Super league start’; really, who are they kidding? He might be apprehensive; he might be challenged and indeed even a bit scared, but excited?
‘Well, we have to play everyone twice’ he concluded after perusing our opening fixtures, and you know even I can work that one out, but Lee must know too what a poor start can do to morale and how hard it is to claw things back after some early setbacks and a dip in confidence. Quite frankly, I personally think it’s a bloody scary start and if you get behind in this new competition you could have the devils own job to catch up, despite, for us, (as Mr Allam once again engages ‘Greenthumb’ in June) a pretty good run in at the end as far as home games are concerned. All June’s matches are away before the final home run in and if things go badly it could be too late to turn things around before we’re playing at home again.
Of course, although he puts on a brave face, for our Coach there will be a lot riding on how we do too, and although it’s tantamount to treason in some quarters to mention it, I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the dark recesses of Adam Pearson’s mind, a target amount of points at some stage of the season must be lurking. In a season without relegation or just one up/one down, you can piddle about and ‘give him time’, but now there is much more than relegation at stake, time will be of the essence and something our coach perhaps doesn’t have. Poor old Lee accepts that too I’m sure, although even some good early form doesn’t guarantee a hat full of points, with that line up of opposition and it will be the points that matter!!
Pre season is here and it will be in their thought already I’m sure, but all Radford will be aiming to do is get the team as finely tuned as he can for a big start. We have a few critical additions, most of which I feel are improvements, however in the main he’s working with players he already knows. That’ll seem a dream compared with the task facing our fiends across the river who are contemplating getting a dozen or so new players to gel before the season kicks off, because any team next year who fails to get it right from the very start and suffers a few back to back defeats, could well be left behind and that will invariably mean the ‘League of death’ middle 8.
One RL fans pundit said this week’, “The fixture compilers signed Lee Radford’s death certificate with that start!!! Adam Pearson will act after 5 games unless we really do pull off some shocks!” and although I don’t agree with that actual time scale, and it’s perhaps a bit harsh, I think we all get his point don’t we?
We have simply got to start well because although a bottom 4 finish is not the end, it leaves a very tough and nervy last 7 or 8 games. It mean in essence four games against teams like possibly Featherstone, Leigh and Halifax who have a real point to proved, who have waited years for a chance like this and who will have spent a season building up for these big matches and doing it in pretty low intensity games against teams like Whitehaven, Workington, Dewsbury and Sheffield. After the Super League bottom 4 have spent 23 rounds bashing it out with the likes of Wigan and Saints et al week in week out, the ‘minnows’ are going to pose a massive challenge for those 4 Clubs, particularly when they have to play each other again too!
That much used word of late, Jeopardy and the mantra of ‘every game matters’ is fine on paper and great for the casual observer, until you’re in their actually experiencing it. Many of you reading this will say bring it on, it sound really exciting, but if your an obsessive like I think I must be, the prospect of failure in the first 23 games is scary because for me the middle 8 will be purgatory!!! We have to finish in the top 8 but then again so do the other 11 Super League Clubs. When I step back and put my prejudice aside I can see why they have done it this way and why it’s configured as it is, but without a reasonable points return in say the first 10 or so games next year, your stuffed! All we as fans can do is get our season tickets, get behind the players, do our bit…. and hope that the lads do theirs!
Despite deducting a lump of money from every Clubs share of the TV dosh to cover the cost of 6 more full time referee’s the RL are now not adopting the Aussie 2 referee’s scheme and instead they are using it to make a further investment in match officials. According to a Press release ‘The two-referee model was trialled in a number of Academy fixtures earlier this season and the feedback from that experiment, together with all implications for Super League and the wider sport, are still being assessed. Further trials will take place in 2015 when a full report on the system, including associated costs, will be presented to the RFL Board for consideration’.
Well we’ll see, but with so much more at stake next year there will be even more pressure on the referee, pressure that I have little confidence they will be able to handle. Crap refereeing is one thing when little is at stake but two points, but when it comes to being the difference of £1m to a Club (the impact of relegation) there will be hell to pay if they get it wrong. Just imagine a wrong refereeing decision being the difference in the end of the season’s one million pound play-off game! I still think 2 referees would have been worth trying but from an FC point of view, I think the fact that many say that this format speeds up the play the ball considerably, could make the status quo a blessing in disguise for us!
While I’m on our officials, I quite like the rule we saw on Saturday in the Internationals whereby the referee has to declare whether he believes it is a try and the Video Ref has to prove without doubt he is wrong. Somehow it seemed to speed the whole process up, made the referee grow some and stopped the video referee hypothesising to the ‘enth’ degree on the minutia of a decision.
At the KC Shop the other day I had a long chat with Mally Beale who reads this rubbish and wanted to know why I rarely feature Johnny Whiteley in Codgers Corner. I explained that I had always shied away from that one simply because even if I attempted to do it in a full diary, 6000 words simply wouldn’t do him justice. The man who is a Freeman of the City of Kingston upon Hull and an honorary doctor (although he doesn’t use that title) is simply a legend. Still for Frank and his wife Edna I’ll this week try and write down the bits that personally spring immediately to my mind from amongst the hundreds of highlights and memories his life has thrown up.
Way back in those heady days of the late 50’s and early 60’s almost every team that came to the Boulevard had a well-known number thirteen. Loose Forward was a glamorous position and the entire team seemed, back then, to be built around them. The cream of the crop in those days all had nicknames bestowed on them, there was Vince “Wild Bull of the Pampas” Karalius, Derek “Rocky” Turner and of course the one and only “Gentleman” Johnny Whiteley. They were all great players but for us kids in West Hull back then, there was only one real hero and that was Johnny. I have only seen Johnny lose his temper once and that was when the square marker struck at the ball as he played it and kicked John full on in the crown jewels. He lost it and floored the player with one punch and had to then have a hernia operation not long after that. Otherwise he was a true ‘Gentleman’ and indeed still is.
Long before I ever attended an actual match I would sneak into training to watch Johnny going through his paces and Dad would tell me bedtime stories about the Drakes, Tommy Harris, Harry Markham, Mick Scott, Rowley Moat and Ivor Watts with most inevitably ending with the words “and then Johnny Whitley got the ball”. One of my earliest memories was going shopping with my mum to Home and Colonial, Maypole and Woollies on Hessle Road and seeing John who was then a drayman delivering barrels of beer to the local hostelries. We would shout to him and he always stopped, ruffling our hair and spoke to us all, sometimes even hoisting us onto his shoulders for a piggy back. In the late 1950 I used to play with my pals, with a beat up rugby ball or even on occasions a bundle of rags or newspapers tied up with string, on the “Bombed Buildings” that was the Hull FC Airlie Street Car Park. When Johnny arrived for training on a Tuesday and Thursday night and before he went into the player’s gate next to the turnstiles he would always come over and join in our game.
In those days as I guess is still the case Johnny was not just a hero on the pitch, but actually part of folklore in the west of the city. I remember when Georgie Mudd (who lived opposite us) started rolling up his underpants because the elastic had perished, his wife used to call them his Whiteley’s, because one of Johnny’s trademarks was the way he accentuated his long legs by rolling his shorts up and this in stark contrast to the “baggies” other players wore. If you ever witnessed the sight of him striding through defences or bursting away down the middle with those long legs striding forward almost in slow motion, then it will be seared into your sub-conscious and you’ll never ever forget it.
My first real game, that started a life time of fanaticism, was at the Boulevard against York at Easter 1957, when I sat with my Mum and Dad in the ‘Best Seats’ and the only try I can vaguely remember is one that was engineered by our fantastic number 13. Johnny Whiteley was Mums big hero and right there in front of us, it was he who took the ball, swerved round three York players in an arcing run, before dummying inside and passing outside, to send Brian Saville in at the corner. That score was something that I can still see in my mind’s eyes to this day, which is hardly surprising because until the day she died, Mum never let me forget that highlight of my first game. Of the fifteen years that Johnny played, I was privileged to witness the last five during which he was actually injured for the whole of the 62/63 season and only played three matches in the 63/64 campaign. Still I saw enough to understand that this long legged magician with his shirt collar permanently turned up was the stuff that legends are made of. Even in the twilight of his career, he still had a great swerve, a potent hand-off and a fantastic awareness of exactly where the runners and support players were on the field. When I witnessed my all time hero Wilf Rosenberg making his debut at the Boulevard in the early 1960’s it was John, playing in an uncharacteristic centre role that supplied the passes for his two debut tries.
As for his playing record well Johnny’s career started in the year I was born, 1950, when he made 14 appearances scoring 2 tries. A fitness fanatic he started playing rugby at Hull Boys Club, played Rugby Union in the forces and after playing two matches in the “A” team he signing for a fee of £100. In the 55/56 season he scored an amazing 22 tries and went on to record a total of 472 points in his career. By 1956 Johnny was club captain and feared the length and breadth of the Rugby League. International honours followed thick and fast with 15 Test and World Cup appearances for Great Britain, one for England and 12 representative honours for Yorkshire. He even captained the Lions and was a member of the tour squad that retained the Ashes in Australia in 1958.
I remember well when I went to Warrington with my dad (a five hour journey in those days) to see his last game on 6th February 1965. Three Danby’s Coaches went that day not to particularly see a game but to witness the end of a legend. Then of course he concentrated on his Coaching and he subsequently took us to two Yorkshire Cup finals, although his greatest coaching achievement came in 1970 when he was in charge of the most successful ever Great Britain touring squad and the last to win the Ashes. In 1970 Johnny however “blotted his copy book” when he became coach at Hull KR (but even super-hero’s are allowed one mistake!)
Today when all these heroics seem to be fast being confined to myth and legend, and shrouded in the mists of time Johnny Whiteley is still to be seen at the KC, at RL functions and at training at Chanterlands Avenue. In fact I remember well Rosenberg jnr sat near Johnny in the Director’s Box a few years ago when we played London at Leicester Tigers ground, she talked for weeks afterwards about JW’s knowledge of the game, his constant coaching tips and the fact that he had a stopwatch running throughout the game to keep an eye on the time! When I launched the books in the Drum and Monkey, who was first to accept an invitation to attend, and who enthralled us all night long with his stories, yep that’s Johnny Whiteley!! When we appealed for players to attend Heritage Day, once again it was John who turned up with all his memorabilia and was first there to set up. Still fit, still involved, still enthusiastic and still a ‘Gentleman, Johnny has been, is and will always be Black and White through and through, and a real ambassador for our game and the club we all love. I for one am grateful that I was able to watch him play, have heard him speak and experienced the enthusiasm of a true Rugby League great from the Golden Age of Loose Forwards.
Well the ‘4 Nations’ is underway and at least we have some rugby to watch for the next 3 weeks. I was struggling to get that excited myself although I enjoyed watching the New Zealanders. This year’s tournament doesn’t seem to have been taken that seriously by some and has been savaged by mass withdrawals; Australia are without 21 from their train-on squad including 12 from last year’s World Cup roster and 10 Test incumbents from their win over New Zealand in May. I honestly wonder about some of those don’t you and ponder on the fact that had it been the World Cup how many of them would have been ‘no shows’ then? However after watching week one, if we don’t win it I expect some big heads might roll!
So there we are, another week gone and let’s hope sense prevails with the North Stand stuff, ‘Mini’ gets here safely and there’s some more news about this week for us all to mull over. Thanks for all your comments and correspondence again this week, I’ll battle on and who knows what will interest me in the next 7 days! At such quiet times I have to say thanks for getting this far again this week; your support is really appreciated!