The Boys are back in town!!
Well they’re back at YPI at least after a couple of days getting acclimatised and getting to know each other again! But you know when you step back from the squad it has certainly shaped up well, with 5 newcomers joining a lot of old faces. In fact who would have ever thought a few years ago that 21 of our full time roster would be under the age of 25 and of those, 16 would have some form of International honours! You can’t fault our youth set up at present can you?
So we’ve had another week of little news and only International Rugby to watch, but invariably some things never change do they and, as always, at the end of the England game there was only one person everyone was talking about and he was an official!
However for another week there is little to get excited about and little news to get us enthusiastic either, which I think is something that has (I wouldn’t be surprised) slowed down season ticket sales. Is it just me or have you felt that things are a bit flat too? The new shirt is due to be launched this week and available from this coming Saturday, with the away shirt and its unique selling point, revealed two weeks after that and at least there’s a forum on Tuesday at the Walton Club at which fans have a chance to quiz the owner, the Coach plus Minnicheollo and Ellis. As of today tickets are still available from the Club shops and because of the change of venue you can also pay £3 on the door on the night, so get there if you can.
Apparently, according to our Coach we are still in the market for another player who is rumoured at present by those ‘in the know’ to be a hooker. Perhaps there was something in the Matt Ballin twitter rumour of last week, but this week he’s made it perfectly clear that he’s not going anywhere. However what I have found out is that the longer the situation goes on, the more the chance of another signing will diminish and that development might anyway be dependent on whether Miller or Arundel are shipped out.
Rovers have shown an interest in Miller I’m told, while as the exodus continues from Caravan Park with Neville Costigan dramatically tearing up of his contract, I expect that the Dobbins will have some spotters on the top of the new ‘Council Stand’ this morning, trying desperately to see Michael Weyman coming up Preston Road! But they are OK now, all is well as they signed good old Ryan Bailey last Friday; what a catch he is. A real ball handling forward with a nice temperament who‘ll certainly grab some yardage for the Dobbins. He’s got a good record of late, with a lower average yardage gain than any FC or Rovers prop over the past season, (despite being carried at times by Peacock!) and zero offloads (in fact he’s only offloaded 7 times in 3 seasons!) Good stuff eh? No wonder the Rhino’s have let him go and there are not many tears on the Rhino’s message boards this weekend!!
Some of the first bits of the 150th celebration range of merchandise appeared this week on the Clubs sites and I have to say I do like the badge we are using this time around, it’s very traditional and in keeping with the significance of the year.
Well what about the SMC and that rumoured banning of our use of the North Stand I revealed in the last Diary? Last week’s tirade in here all came out of the fact that I love my Club and will defend it to the hilt when I have to. To that end I’m always suspicious when I hear of moves that marginalise and trivialise us as equal tenants of the KC Stadium. For me as just an ordinary fan no one pushes my Club around! So when I hear stuff, check it out and then discover that it’s true, I’ll put it in here where you the reader can believe or disbelieve it as you wish. Last week one or two followers accused me of un-necessary shroud waiving about the away end being closed, which is fair enough. But I know that there was a problem and it could have ended up being a bloody big one! Some thought it wasn’t true, others had heard the rumours but gave them little credence anyway, however I’m please to say that the issue is settled, sense has prevailed (at a cost) and the away end will be open for all our Super League games next season.
That’s massively important in our 150th year, but I can tell you that the North end would have definitely been closed next season had it not been for an 11th hour compromise that was reached last Monday when our owner backed the fans and the status quo was maintained after he had handed over a load of dosh to ensure that once again the away fans would to be housed at the North End of the KC.
On Wednesday, on the letters page of the Mail young Gareth Westmorland renowned Hull KR supporter and the papers latest ‘Fewey’ clone, described it as ‘a storm in a tea cup’ which was for want of better words ‘rubbish’! The situation is being watched closely by the SMC and as Adam Pearson will probably tell the forum tomorrow night if pressed, we are becoming increasingly under threat from our landlords! If we don’t fill the ground reasonably well this year more than one stand may well be closed in 2016 and we simply can’t go on paying to keep them open. However then again the ‘Storm in a Tea Cup’ stuff was certainly predictable, the Mail always do seem to play stuff down when it has the slightest chance of impacting on the football club or their owner, don’t they?
However for now that’s that; or is it? I say that because basing my assumptions on past experience, I have to ask the question, what’s next from the SMC, (the organisation that made ends meet year after year under Adam Pearson, but that now make an annual loss and seems to blame it entirely on us!) Little has changed in our operation, in fact we are still in Super League, playing a similar number of games and run on a pretty similar basis to the way we were back in 2001, when we signed up as JOINT tenants. I have to say, indications are that Adam Pearson is privately getting well and truly fed up with it all and who knows where that will all end?
Remember that time when the Stadium wouldn’t have even gone ahead without our signature on a tenancy agreement and when our gates far out stripped those of the football Club? Times change I know and they will again, but now at the zenith of the football Clubs very existence, as they play in the top league and make a ‘profit’, something is creating an annual loss at the SMC that suddenly seems to be appearing on their balance sheet; and that something appears to be us! As for the North Stand, well I’m just glad it’s sorted, at least for now, but at what price to Hull FC? Well I guess the answer to that one is; only time will tell.
It was great this week to hear of the appointment of Feke to be the club’s official Community Foundation Ambassador. The role is one of a high profile front man for the Club’s Foundation and it will see him as both a figure head and an agent for the scheme, while he works directly with people of all backgrounds and ages. He’ll do this as they attend the Foundations many courses and programmes, which are designed to ‘inspire, engage and educate’, people locally. Paleaaesina will also work as part of the younger people’s initiatives aimed at promoting a healthier life style. He said “I’m really looking forward to getting started because I am keen to give something back to the sport I love,” but although very worthy that wasn’t the interesting bit for me. The most significant part of this somewhat typical closed season story, is that the big man volunteered to do it without any prompting at all.
FC Director Richard Munson said of the development, “All the players at Hull FC do a fantastic job of promoting the work undertaken by the Community Foundation, but I’m so pleased that Feka has been able to take this to a whole new level by approaching us and asking to become as involved as he will be as the club’s official Community Ambassador” That for me shows a man who is not only thankful for the chance he was afforded him by the Club last year, but one who is also a person of great integrity and a decent bloke too. Well done Feke!
So, the fixtures are out, the phones to the travel agents for Catalan have been buzzing and we all know what we as a team have to do, but in a quiet week for a fan, I had a bit of a closer look at them. For starters it’s as tough an opening few rounds for the FC as you can get and no one has a harder start. For the neutrals however, for possibly the first time ever, Hull FC and Hull KR are never at home together on the same weekend; then again that’s of no advantage to either Club crowd wise, because who knows a neutral in this area?
More controversial however is ‘Thursday Rugby’ which is always difficult with a short turnabout from the previous round of matches. The hardest scenario is when you have to back up from a Sunday fixture and play again the Thursday after against an opponent who played earlier than the previous Sunday. This situation is experienced by Salford, St Helens, and Warrington once, but the biggest losers in this scenario are Hull FC, because for us it happens twice, with in fact five of our six Sky fixtures being played on a Thursday.
Because of the work on the KC pitch as fans we have lamented the fact that we have a run of games away in June and there are a few disparities on this one. However what is consistent is that apart from Warrington and Widnes, all teams have a spell of three consecutive home or away matches. We in fact have a good run in at the end but not as ‘good’ as Leeds, who have an amazing 5 of their last 6 games at home.
“You have to play everyone twice”, was the comment of our Coach, but the thing is Lee, it’s not who you play, but rather, when you play them! The major issue in the fixture list is the cack handed idea that the bottom four Clubs from last season enter the Cup a round before the top 8. This becomes a massive disadvantage when you’re in our position and no doubt at that time battling like hell to try to keep out of that bottom four.
Round 11 is scheduled for that Cup weekend with the bottom four Clubs of last season, who enter at that point in the Cup, drawn together in the League, ‘for convenience’. These 2 matches will of course have to be rescheduled and played we are told in midweek. Already we four Clubs have the disadvantage of playing an extra sudden death game in the Cup, but just when we are expected to be scrambling to keep out of the bottom 4, we are handicapped again by having to play a midweek match and that, for the players, in addition to the extra three league matches we are playing next year anyway.
What should have happened is that all the Clubs in Super League should enter the Cup at the same time, but if not then the four bottom Clubs should have been allowed to play these two outstanding league fixtures on the weekend of the World Club Challenge. There wouldn’t be an impact on the big Anglo/Aussie games if the two matches were played on the Thursday before or say the Saturday afternoon; Championship games have been scheduled for the same weekend, so why weren’t these two Super League games? That is a fix! But then again so will be the Magic Weekend where everyone inside the game knows the fixtures will again be contrived ‘Derby’ type hit up’s, which for some, are still derby’s, while for others they are not! That, as I have often said in here, in such a jeopardy filled season, is also ‘a fix’.
If every game counts then why one fixture should be contrived and arranged unfairly to generate a crowd? The only reason they have delayed announcing this ‘fait accompli’ is I believe because they want fans like me, (who are sick and fed up of so many Derby games diluting their importance and impact), to buy a ticket for Newcastle in the belief that there will be a change. You watch, it will be Hull v Rovers at the Magic weekend but certainly not Wigan v Saints!
So, I think by and large the fixtures show a situation that has improved, but with that Cup round stuff and our extra mid week game, plus it being likely that the Magic fixtures will show little change, they could still have done a lot better!
How good it was to see the Club promoting its first training day for all employees last Friday, which was the reason that the Club shops were all closed and the place was like a ghost town. Organised and introduced by James Clark, the day, was aimed at getting everyone in the organisation behind the Clubs vision and moving Hull FC forward through some critical upcoming months. It was apparently hailed by all as a great success. The assembled staff was addressed by the owner who was there all day sat in amongst the team and listening intently to a series of speakers. These included an impressive Consultant to the Disney Organisation, who spoke at length about the importance of Customer Focus. There was also a presentation from another national consultancy who works with the Football League on crowd development and family involvement at football. Let’s hope that the staff takes what they got out of the day forward into the future, but one thing’s for sure, the Club are certainly run on a much more professional basis these days and at least off the field, no stone is left unturned to ensure that we succeed.
Back on the playing side and I was really surprised to hear the revelation this week from our Coach that the senior FC players are more likely to feature in the game at York on 11th January rather than the game at Doncaster on the ‘car crash’ first weekend of pre-season games. Playing two games 60 miles apart simultaneously is certainly a strange one, designed I’m told, to give every fit player a proper ‘in your face’ run out a month before the start of the season so that their progress can be monitored and compared at the same point in the process.
When the idea was first announced I even asked the Club where the best chance of seeing the new signings would be and was told it was likely that senior players would play at Doncaster, a directive that has now been refuted by Lee Radford. So it seems that most of us will now be off to Bootham Crescent that day, no doubt in the snow! I’m quite surprised because I expected to see the senior players turning out against Doncaster who are I would say, better opponents, but as I so often say in here what do I know? It could all have change again by January….several times!
I was told the other day that along with several other Clubs we are concerned about the eventual out turn figure for season tickets. Although I don’t know what the problem is across the game I know that at the FC things feel flat and uninspiring at present and despite the owner doing his best and some great signings coming in, the fans seem oblivious to the need to rally round the Club at these tough times. Ok it’s still the closed season and from the over the top in your face stuff of 2013, to last season’s lower key but still buzzing approach we now arrive at pre season 2015 with nothing short of a hiatus and a feeling that is really hard to quantify. The fans have responded with at best reticence and at worst the ‘closed season pastime’ of picking holes in everything the Club do. The Club have to take some responsibility with such a low key approach to things but for me some fans, if they really are fans, have got to start supporting the club again rather than delighting in grabbing every little reason that appears as an excuse to put them down.
I always say we pay our money so we have every right to complain and we do, when there is injustice, bad management or a lack of effort. However I find no evidence currently that any of these issues are raising their heads and it doesn’t matter whether you are playing Rugby, Tennis or indeed Pool, positivity around the common goal is a must to generate success.
It’s something that concerns me and as possibly the only real ‘litmus paper’ around that indicates how the fans are feeling, for me, Message Boards are a necessary evil. Of course you have to plough through the rubbish rhetoric, negativity, mischief-making, trolling and misguided shroud waiving that you encounter on these forums, but you do encounter a lot of folks who really do care and at times you find some real nuggets of hope and insight which reminds you at least that you’re a fan of Hull FC rather than a critic of them. Someone with a deal of insight said on RL fans the other week that, “A moronic minority, which is spreading, has labelled supporting your team under any circumstances as “cheerleading” or as being “fan boys”, or even worse”.
That poster made the assumption that in the end perhaps as fans, that’s what we should be doing anyway. We have every right to grumble at times but not all the time and perhaps as he said on RL fans we should all be ‘A group of supporters that want success, and will do anything we can to aid it’. Mass negativity spreads quickly across the terraces and on into the team and undoubtedly affects the demeanour and the attitude of the players. The poster concluded that if we can get rid of that attitude then we can get back to being supporters of Hull FC rather than their critics which in the long run causes nothing but negative vibes across the whole organisation. You might not agree, but I found that bit of RL fans both intuitive and, for a change, quite refreshing.
As fans we hear a lot these days about the quality of the NRL and having watched a few games last season I commented just the other week that it was Premier Sports for me this coming season! I love the pace and speed of the game and the way that the quality of individuals shines through. It’s a different scenario completely from Super League and yet, believe me; all is not well in the game Down Under as a recent report from their association of fans groups cited the stagnation of gates as a major issue, with despite all the hype and some massive individual attendances, the average gate across all games failing to reach 16,000.
That a lot I hear you say, but there it’s a national sport that only 10 years ago attained well over 20,000 in the same measure. ‘Australian Rules’ now actually attracts an average gate of 33,000 plus per game, in fact this year’s Sydney FC v Western Wanderers match attracted a bigger crowd than any NRL game in the last 5 years. Reading the document from the fans groups you encounter the same old stuff trotted out about the usual concerns that many of us have over here in this country. They include the escalating cost of food and beverages, the obstruction rule (the report states, ‘When the video referee reviews an obstruction, you may as well just toss a coin’) inconsistencies in the judicial decisions (‘Sometimes the judiciary seems like a lottery’, says the report), the over exposure of games on the TV and too much wrestle on the ground (‘more footie less WWE would be a start’ it concludes).
So despite excellent entertainment and a roster of the world’s top stars, the NRL certainly has its problems too. Perhaps the administrators of the game from both sides of the World should get together with the International Board with the aim of meeting the needs of the fans and the paying public for a change and get our great game sorted out before it’s too late!
There are certainly a lot of similarities between that Aussie fans list and what you would read on any British message Board, with ‘the wrestle’ on the ground and the whole issue around the tackle and the subsequent play the ball being a hot topic. There is no one apparent root cause for the concern, although for me the rot started when at both sides of the world the basic rules of the game were eroded to an extent that they are now all but forgotten at the top level. To take just one example look at playing the ball, as per the rules. This has now become a contest of to how far away from perfection the players can get without being penalised. The end of the tackle has also become a conscious and coached effort by the defending team to slow down the momentum of the attacking opposition. Perhaps instead of finding new ways to delay the play the ball through the wrestle on the ground and players looking at the referee before they ‘release’, the games administrators should make the players play the ball correctly in the first place and the slow-down would then come automatically. Is it that simple ….or just me that’s simple!
Now, this week I was well impressed with the plans that local publicans Martin Poole and Diane Bridgeman have for the old Parkers pub at the corner of Walton Street as they change the name of the old place (which was the site of Mr Parker’s turn of the 19th century fruit stall) to ‘The Boot Room’. The intention is to create a rugby and football themed pub dedicated to Hull FC and Hull City. The popular watering hole has been called a lot of things over the years with a mixture of actual and colloquial names including, in my youth, ‘Walton Corner’, then officially The Newington and more recently (for obvious reasons) ‘Kingy’s Kingdom’, in fact you can’t talk about Parkers without mentioning Paul King. There is even an urban myth that the first thing Paul did when he got his Testimonial money was offer to buy the place!
In fact while I’m on Kingy I remember well when the Council were embroiled in building the KC, the lads in the planning office used to refer to the path across West Park to the Stadium as Paul King Way. That was because if you stood in the middle, one way you see the KC and the other you see Parkers!! However the re-designed pub should be a great facility close to the ground, I’ll be having a look before the season starts, in fact perhaps Paul should open it, he’s still a massive hero of mine. It’s a pity landlord Martin Poole’s a Castleford Tiger fan; but I guess you can’t have everything!! Still I wish them both good luck with the venture.
You know in general as a Club we have never been that good at producing backs something I remember the fans lamenting as far back as the late 50’s and 60’s. A lot have a go from time to time about Kirk Yeaman, but in reality it’s hard to find many centres who have in the last 50 years shown his quality, his tenacity and his consistency, well not for as long as 14 years anyway! There have been some good ones whose stays were a lot shorter, like for instance Gary Schofield (the first great Judas) the wonderful Tevita Viakona, Dick Gemmell and Richie Barnett but it’s still damn near impossible to find one who stuck around for anything like as long as Kirk Yeaman has. As a Club over the decades we have always had handy forwards in good big packs, but have often lacked what it took to be a truly great team because of the frailty of our back division. OK I hear some of you say what about back in the 60’s when we had players like Clive Sullivan, Wilf Rosenberg, Arthur Keegan and Dick Gemmell, (none of whom incidentally were home grown) but even back then they were the exceptions rather than the rule. These true stars of the ‘swinging sixties’ were supplemented with a lot of very average’ backs like Carmichael, Mountain, Barnwell, Brian Sullivan, Stocks, Clark and Portz, who tried hard but lacked that extra something that turns average into good!!
So I guess when you look back through the 58 or so years I’ve been around the Club, Centre has always been a problem position, take the previously mentioned Dick Gemmell as an example. Dick was a fine example of a big strong hard running attacker, but amazingly despite our long and illustrious history, he was in 1969, only our second ever centre, (after the great Billy Batten), to attain Great Britain status. So it’s safe to say that throughout our history we have not been too good in the 3 and 4 department. However in the early eighties, with the resources made available to Arthur Bunting, that was, for a short time at least, to change with players like Terry Day, Steve Evans, Garry Schofield and of course the amazing James Leuluai joining the club.
What a player we watched in the great James ‘Lullaby’ Leuluai. Despite a nickname given to him by the rest of the players because he was always falling asleep, (once infamously, it was rumoured, during an Arthur Bunting pre match team talk) he was a real star. He was without doubt one of the greatest I have ever seen in any shirt never mind a Hull one! In 1981 it was widely rumoured (Yep we had them back then too) that Hull FC were about to pounce for James, Dane O’Hara and Fred Ah Kuoi. These were three of the stars from the previous season’s New Zealand touring team and although the signing of Fred fell through, (for the time being at least) and he was replaced by Garry Kemble as our club shook the game world-wide, with the audacity of this triple transfer swoop.
James was already an established international when he arrived, and within weeks of his debut at the Boulevard his pace, ability to beat players and exciting dashing style had the Rugby League clubs of this country sitting up and taking notice. He had the whole box of tricks in attack, with a side step off both feet, a terrific dummy and pass, a swerve that was a joy to watch and a turn of speed that saw him destined to score 9 out of the 10 times, when put clear of the defensive line.
The sepia, grainy ‘camera’ in my head remembers vividly several fantastic touch downs for the club, and none better than his try in the Semi final against Cas in 1983 and the one in the Wembley final against Wigan in 1985. The first of these at Headingley was hailed by many RL pundits as one of the greatest solo tries of all time, and is probably best summed up by the report I dug out from my scrapbook that was included in the Yorkshire Post from Monday 4th April 1983. This read, “There was no way anyone could stop Leuluai. The New Zealander slipped past two Castleford players just over half way, arced round another, and with two amazing side steps had Cas fullback Coen grasping thin air. Leuluai then had the pace to sprint for the score with not a hand placed on him”. That for me says it all really! The Sports Mail headline the same night announced, “Leuluai Special sinks Cas” and with a tight score line of 14-7, although it was a great team effort, I think that they got that right! (Incidentally as a complete aside, we actually played 7 games that April James played in them all scoring 9 tries and we won all but one of them).
Another Leuluai special was that great try in the Wembley final against Wigan in ‘85. Acclaimed as probably the best Final ever, because of the sheer quality of many of the scores, James’ effort near the end fitted that category admirably. Receiving the ball about 70 yards out, Leuluai flashed through the Wigan line and set off in a dash to score with Henderson Gill, Edwards, and Donlan trailing in his wake but unable to get anywhere near him. I can still see him glancing over first his left and then his right shoulder, as he headed down the middle towards the line; he was a truly great centre. Amazingly, when you look back he was a none playing sub in our famous 14-14 drawn final against Widnes in 1982, but starred without touching the ball in the amazing replay win at Elland Road. He provided the dummy run and ‘foil’ for that much vaunted ‘wrap round’ try that had Widnes tottering just before half time. If a mark of James true class is needed then it must be the fact that although playing in this country at Hull FC, he was still named as New Zealand’s player of the year in 1983. Leuluai was a great lover of music too and rarely travelled anywhere without his trusty guitar. He was often spotted, particularly when we were seeing off the lads from Airlie Street as they set off for yet another final, serenading his team mates as the team coach motored slowly down Airlie Street.
James had a distinguished international career (in the days when you still played for your country even if you lived and worked over here), making 29 Test appearances for New Zealand and scoring 14 tries. In 1986 with Fred Au Kuoi now on our books, James was the only one of the four New Zealanders not to sign a new contract, and he was transfer listed at £50,000 in March of that year. His form was sadly starting to wane, he could still get through the line but his pace was fading, and he eventually joined Leigh on loan the following November. He played only 6 games before returning to Hull but managed just 3 more games for our club.
He then joined Wakefield, playing 51 games for them, before a short spell at York was followed by 13 games for Doncaster after which he retired from Rugby League altogether. Only 1,557 saw his final performance against Leigh at Tatters Field Doncaster on 14th April 1991, and it was an inglorious final bow for such a talented and gifted player. However I will always remember him at his best, as he danced round the first tackle and then accelerated away towards the line, his socks turned down to his ankles to reveal a pair of shiny tanned athletic legs. He was without doubt one of the greatest and most popular players to grace our famous shirt and one of the best centres I have ever seen. He might not have stayed long enough to get a Testimonial himself, but Yeamo (and just about every other 3 and 4 playing in the current Super League) has some way to go yet to match the sensational centre that was James Leuluai. Those of us who watched him play were truly lucky!
You’ll remember the stuff I did a while ago about Barnby Moor School and the project they were doing regarding ‘Heroes’ which centred on Richard Horne, just after he had retired from playing? Well the project is finished and teacher and Diary reader Ben Atkinson says that it has been extremely worthwhile and having a read a couple of the pieces the kids have written I have to say the quality is first class! Below is the finished display board that contains some of the work and pieces about Richard accompanied with FC posters that the Club gave to each child, with other Hull Heroes on the right, including Johnny Whiteley, Luke Campbell and William Wilberforce. Top stuff Ben well done to you and all the children.
Well that’s it for another Diary, where I have tried my best to keep you interested, but there so little news about of late and in a week when we were informed that a new species of frog has been discovered in the middle of New York, that sleeping with lots of women protects you from prostate cancer (despite the fact that it is a disease inherent in elderly people of an age where, I find, attracting lots of women is a distinct issue) and when a Tesco’s Milk carton was ridiculed for resembling a penis, there’s no such excitement at the KC, as the becalmed atmosphere at the Club continues for another week! Still we’ll all keep believing and thanks for sticking with another Diary. Try to get to the forum if you can, let’s hope the next week is more interesting and the home shirt is everything everyone hopes it will be and well, let’s get back to those days when it’s never dull at Hull eh?
As it poured down on Sunday morning and pools formed on my lawn, I was reminded of this photo which I dug out for your enjoyment! The ‘Water Splash Final’ in all its glory!