Crisis what crisis???
There has been a deal of hand wringing and fretting this week, but it had to come didn’t it, hardly a decade of being an FC fan goes by without a bit of uncertainty on the financial front and after three years of relative peace, the whole issue of the future of our club is back in the melting pot. Is it as bad as that? Well, perhaps time will tell, but even our usually unflappable owner is showing signs of becoming a bit frayed at the edges!
Don’t say I didn’t warn you either, because for the last two weeks I have been banging on about our Club being squeezed by our landlords, with the threat of stands closing and changes at the turnstiles, and these are now things that both Adam Pearson and the Daily Mail have confirmed where anything but shroud waiving from yours truly!
First though something a bit jollier, because the shirt launch on Friday was a new departure, a good laugh and a massive success. Yours truly was at Acklam’s coaches in Beverley at 6-00am on Friday delivering shirts for their drivers to wear, while across the region 150 shirts appeared on statues, building’s, down in the depths of the Deep, on lampposts and even in the Dobbins shop (they weren’t too bothered though; customers are few and far between in there!). I helped out a bit around Beverley and just had one shirt nicked on the Station. There, a bloke ran off a train just before it was to leave, snatched it down and jumped back on as the doors were closing. I think I had the last laugh though, because the guy was about 5ft tall and 10 stone ‘wet’ and the shirt was a 5xxl!!!! He’ll look a right dick in that!
Personally I think that the home shirt is absolutely really good and just what our 150th celebration needs. Allowing for the restraints of modern day sponsorship and strip regulations, It’s probably as near to a vintage shirt as you can get. In an event the likes of which has not been seen before for a shirt launch, from the boys waking up at Elsham Hall to find their shirts, to Talk Sport covering it in the afternoon, this viral happening was a masterstroke and although the operation involved a couple of dozen people, it remained an absolute secret. That made for a complete surprise and helped to make a dull wet Friday, really good fun. Local businesses were great and everyone across the City and the region entered into the spirit of the day. Everyone that is, except for the BBC who strangely couldn’t be arsed and Peter Levy, who refused to wear one! But, are we surprised? On a personal note, Shane in EE at Beverley was a star and a really big help. However the favourite of my little bit of it all was this one on show in Toll Gavel.
The City Centre too was packed with shirts and soon the ‘twitteratti’ were at it as people exchanged their own shots and those of their pals, before they sent the ones they had spotted back to the Club. On Friday there were hundreds of thousands of interactions on twitter and it was a great way to launch what is a brilliant shirt. I know that Clarky and the marketing team worked until after 10-00 every night last week getting it sorted and their massive effort certainly hit home because on Saturday, when it poured with rain almost incessantly, we sold twice as many shirts as we have ever done before on the first day of sales. So Friday was great and on a day that built a bit of momentum again, well done to everyone involved.
As for the Dobbins well their shirt is on a boat somewhere, they asked if they could launch it at the Christmas Lights switch on, but the Council turned them down. Oh dear what a shame…let’s move on!
However after a bit of fun, it’s back to reality and the fans forum on Tuesday. This was, for once, less to do about the team and more to do with the financial state of our Club, with is suffering from diminishing returns through the gate and increasing pressure from our friends at the SMC. Next day, the headlines on the front of the Mail and a very strong message from Adam Pearson on the back, just served to re-iterate our plight. After dozens of column inches on the subject the message was simple; support your club or we go into a decline, which could eventually prove to be terminal. In the Mail the Allams seemed more intent on scoring points and threatening action against the Council than it did about sitting down and sorting stuff out to the benefit of themselves and our Club! You know the thing that seems the most difficult bit for the SMC to understand is that a successful Hull FC benefits everyone! They should be actively helping us get people in.
I don’t want to cover old ground here but I’m haunted by something that Adam said to several fans as they chatted after the forum, when he pleaded, “…and don’t be like Bradford and rally round when it is too late, do something now if you can, before it IS too late”. For me at present the message is simple; if you love your Club then support it in any way you can, because if you don’t we will go into decline, a decline that could, thanks to the SMC, eventually prove to be terminal!
Firstly of course let me say that the Forum shouldn’t have been too much of an eye opener particularly if you’ve read the last two Diaries. There is little doubt that the only real way out of this hole is for us to have a winning team on the field that is playing attractive rugby. Then it won’t matter what day we play on, or how much we charge, because people will support a successful team that they can be proud of. However at present Lee Radford and the players should understand that there are still a lot of pissed off people out there, people who have been broken by being served up too many seasons of poor fare on the pitch. Adam Pearson himself must also take some blame as well because of the way he has allowed himself to be conned by our previous football manager over some of the deals we have done.
The prime issue in all this, even above income, is the need to increase our gates, but that comes against a backdrop of a general malaise and dwindling interest across the game. Huddersfield’s really concerned about a lack of renewals, Salford have less than 1000 and most Clubs would kill to have sold the 4000 we have. However for us and for several other Clubs, it’s the old ‘the time it takes to turn an ocean going tanker round’ scenario that has failed to expose these worries at an earlier date, because diminishing gates and the procedure of then building them up again, is a long process and when you rely heavily on season ticket sales there is certainly a big time lag between performances (good or bad) and their effect on attendances.
There is little doubt too, as an increasing financial reliance is placed on those season tickets, that over the years this process has become even slower against the old standby of ‘on the day’ admissions. The latter, 20 years ago, made up most of our income when in those days you could start terribly and attendances would plummet and then pick up and they would rise. Sadly, with so many season ticket holders that doesn’t happen so quickly or so dramatically these days and yet it appears that time is something we don’t have!
When we moved into the KC, there was a surge in season ticket sales, the Stadium created its own buzz, we watched an exciting team, there were clean toilets and cover all round. Then we went to Cardiff and the aura of success around the place was amazing, Old Trafford and Wembley followed and we felt that things were happening, we had low times, but the odd final made up for that. This phenomenon of course explains the high level of attendance that was sustained through a pretty disastrous 2009 campaign and on through the Agar years. More people had bought tickets and ‘got into the habit’ so they stuck around for a while, before they decided enough was enough and gradually walked away over the next 4 seasons. Some never returned again and those departures were not balanced by new converts either, as the on the field the great performances and game day spectacle melted away.
Since 2009 the quality of the fare at the KC has consistently gone backwards and as the ‘tanker’ has slowly turned around again, gates have steadily dwindled. The paradox of course is that now 5 years on, off the field we have as much hope under Adam Pearson as we have ever had since the merger, but now a man who is ‘flush’, but no ‘multi’ millionaire is getting ‘desperate’ for ‘bums on seats’ as he suffers from a tourniquet of financial constraint and pressure from our landlords.
We could have a massive start to next season, get to a final and survive the car crash that is the new structure, but although gates will rise….it will still only be a slow process. If we lose season ticket holders big style this Autumn, the road back is a long one and it will take another two campaigns of further success for the ‘tanker’ to come about again and that success to reflect in season ticket sales. Perhaps as a Club we don’t have that time anymore and the only way we can avert that situation is to not lose subscribers now at this critical time. Over 4000 seasons have been sold but we need around 6,500/7000 to sustain last year’s gates with anything less, likely to see the South as well as the North Stand shut in 2016.
Some of us signed up early to secure the price for next year because we will just sign up whatever. At times like these some fans, nay idiots like me, just think about what it would be like to not have a team to support, dig in financially again and support as our means will allow. Others play a game of brinksmanship with the Club and withdraw their support or withhold it temporarily, simply because they don’t like the Coach, the day we play on, or the colour of the toilet paper etc. etc. Those guys, every time they see me, take delight in my ‘blind faith’ and mock my blinkered approach, simply because they know it hurts me! Others see the current issue as a chance to resurrect the Friday night/Sunday afternoon game day argument, not because it is likely to solve what is now fast becoming a crisis, because we are well beyond that now, but rather because they have a vested interest in one day or the other and can see little further than that. So it goes on, people either buy a pass or have 101 reasons not to, some perfectly valid, others born out of frustration, malice or plain bloody mindedness. Some say Adams, ‘Crying Wolf’ and we’ve been in lots of worse holes before. However I’d disagree there, because with the exception of the Lloyd fiasco those ‘holes’ have been filled by a board of directors and when one has walked others have taken up the fight. In 1999 a merger saved us, but that ain’t likely again and so as our sole beneficiary, if Adam walks we’re stuffed.
He won’t walk yet, but for me as an individual fan I’ll grump and gripe with the best of ‘em but then it’s just about doing whatever I can within my means to support my Club. This is no false crisis, I firmly believe knowing what I know that this is for real. We have had drops in income before but this time we are being squeezed from another direction too. I respect and try hard to understand all the supporters views, but in three or four years time we won’t still be grinding along on diminishing gates, paying up to cap, producing uninspiring performances and soaking up unending pressure from the SMC. Things will change and we could all well be huddled into the East Stand or perhaps not even there at all.
But you know, after all this is said, in the end 99% of the remedy is not with us, but firmly in the hands of Lee Radford and the players and it’s a case of play better and they will come! But, to go back to the adage of how long it takes to turn an oil tanker round by the time they do come back will there be a Club left to support? It’s not idle threats, we need to sustain our core of season ticket holders, as I say I’m convinced for now that Adam won’t walk, he’s a fighter and he’ll battle on and anyway he can’t afford to. Let’s be honest who would buy a business whose customer base in declining year on year and that doesn’t even have a ground as collateral? Even if he wanted to sell he would find it tough to find a buyer but then again why should one businessman throw money down a black hole forever. These are serious times with big worries and perhaps, they are also a time for some real old fashioned loyalty!
The money stuff took up a lot of the forum but there were also a lot of other things going on behind the headlines and we heard that while Neil Hudgell was saying, “We won’t be signing any more FC players” he was actually talking to Callum Lancaster, we were also told that we’ll have paid out around £450,000 in player settlements by we have finished. Plus, if Adam gets his way, the Wakefield away game will be played the weekend of the WCC series and of course Joe Arundel has gone to the Newcastle Falcons on a month’s trial. On the latter point, as another ‘expensive’ player who is not going to be registered next year, I hope he makes a success of it!
It seems too, that the previous administration had, under the now defunct EBT scheme, promised Willie Manu a £200,000 payment upon his retirement, but surprise, surprise they have failed to pay it or include it as an identified commitment when the Club was sold. Looks like more forking out for Adam there as well!
So although a bit preoccupied with all this finance stuff and the fallout from the forum, I have found some other topics about this week and I think the news that Jacob Miller has been signed off and left the Club is probably the best outcome both the Club and the player could have wished for. When I heard from a couple of our players that Jacob had been approached by Rovers a fortnight ago, I wondered if the pressure that move would have brought, (in a City like this) might have been too much for his already fragile confidence but, if he wants to stay in this country then his proposed move to Wakey could not be better. Coming back to England will benefit him, because the well liked team member would still be in touch with Jordan Rankin and the other mates he has made at Hull, but hopefully he will also be playing with less pressure on his shoulders. I have said in here before that the writing was on the wall for Jacob long before we signed Sneyd or Pryce, with their arrival just really cementing his demise.
Of course he was brought in on too big a salary in the first place, (where it ever so, during the reign of our previous football manager) and with the fans expecting big things to match it and the team under the pump, he was always behind the 8 ball before he even started. He lacked the skill and the required tenacity to bare the expectation placed on him, but the difficulty was in getting a settlement on such a large salary. Whether he will find playing at Wakefield has any less pressure attached to it remains to be seen, but it will be a new opportunity, a new coach and a new set of team mates, so at least he’ll start with a clean slate.
I wish him well and have to admit to still being a bit disappointed that Jacob and Jordan were not the young guns we hoped would form our 6 and 7 for years to come! However, at a club the coach described the other night as ‘The Halfbacks Graveyard’, we’re off again and following a long line of almost annual disappointments as far as 6’s and 7’s are concerned, it’s time for the next two to step forward into the limelight while all us lot just hope; and boy do we hope!
The story that Jordan Rankin is negotiating a new deal is great news. He ain’t the real deal yet, although he has the potential to be a good player, but most of all he’s a fans favourite, a passionate guy and already just loves the Club! He’s now got the incentive to really have a go at it early on and put some pressure on Sneyd and Pryce. My quote of the week this week comes from Jordan who said on Saturday, “I love this place, I am so passionate about my sport and I am passionate about Hull FC too, so I want to bring the best form I can in 2015 and hopefully that will bring me a long-term deal, which I’d be happy to sit down and talk about.” Need I say more?
If it comes to mould breaking ideas around the playing staff then whatever else we might say about him, Lee Radford is certainly up there with the innovators! The news on Tuesday that some of our recently promoted first team ‘starters’ and all our Under 19’s who are on the Bishop Burton Scholarship scheme are being sent out to work during pre-season to help gain a better perspective of the real world, is certainly up there with the best yet!!!!
In what is described as ‘an effort to keep the feet of his young hopefuls firmly on the floor’, they are all off to work and quite frankly the initial thought of Callum Lancaster having to get up at 5-00am in the morning to do a shift gutting fish is for me the very epitome of a ‘Rude awakening! As an aside however it was interesting to hear at the forum how much respect the owner had for Callum after he had been offered more money by Rovers to sign for them, before in the end opting to stay at Hull on our new ‘everyone gets the same’ wage structure.
We all remember well the day when players used to do a shift at work before coming in for training and the stories about Bruce Ryan working in the men’s outfitters Hector Powe in Hull City Centre, Mick Scott coming off the dock to play, Johnny Whiteley the drayman and even when in his early days he was still employed in the pit, Ronnie Wileman coming off shift and running out at Post Office Road with coal dust on his face. Whether that last one is just an urban myth or actually true I don’t know. But, there is little doubt that at times pre-the 1990’s, players had to be omitted from selection for night games because they could not get released from work and were in fear of losing their jobs and their livelihood’s if they bunked off.
That was the reality of the game back then, when not only did players have to work to live but when that work involved rubbing shoulders with the people who used to pay out their own hard earned wages to watch them! Now it appears a few of our youngsters are going to get a taste of that particular scenario again.
You see for me it’s not just that going to work initiative that impresses me, but it is as much our Coaches attitude to the fans and the sacrifices we as a group make every week to watch the Club we love. In a Mail article by James Smailes the FC Coach said, “It is necessary for these youngsters to be grounded and understand how hard fans work to afford to come and watch them play”. Lee Radford continued, “Being in and around the supporters and working alongside them, we hope it will give the young players that kind of insight into how hard our fans work. It’s about creating an understanding because going forward we want the players to know what it means not just to play for the club, but what the club means to the fans they are representing.”
You know, if games were won by fine words then we would be top of the league already. Of course they ain’t and all we are seeing here is a Coach doing everything he can think of to give his wards that little edge over the other squads in the competition. There are certainly no guarantees that this campaign will be any different to last, but at least there is some innovative stuff going on and although in the end after the first few games our coach will no doubt be judged on his results, he’s having a real go this time around!
I bumped into the ubiquitous Karl (Hutchie) Hutchinson at the forum who showed me the excellent irregular striped kit his Wyke Club have been presented with by the Club as part of the Fanbassadors scheme. What a great idea that is and what a good initiative to both help local Clubs and build us an audience. Rugby is being played less in local schools but we have to get kids involved again and to that end in addition to the Fanbassadors initiative, we are sending staff into every school in Hull to try and re-engage the Club with the youngsters of the CIty! It’s a great shirt though!
As you can imagine from time to time I get a lot of correspondence about Lee Radford and on occasions last season much of it wasn’t good or indeed printable. However, West Riding FC fan Richard wrote to me this week to tell me about his son Elliot, who plays for Shaw Cross under 12’s and last weekend turned out for them in the BARLA U12s Cup against East Hull. Afterwards young Elliot got to meet Lee whose own son was playing for East Hull. Richard went on to say that he just had to write to tell me what a genuine bloke our coach was, after Lee, “Took 5 minutes out to talk to Elliot and encourage him. He made his day by saying he had been watching him and hoped to see him in the black and white soon”
In fact the youngster’s only regret was that he had just lost his Grandad who was a big FC fan and so he couldn’t tell him about meeting our Coach! But, as I have a go at Lee Radford at times in here (he knows, I’m sure that it comes with the territory), it’s nice when you can report a good news story about him too, thanks for letting me know Richard and well done Elliot!
Well, whoever wins it and despite the withdrawal of almost two dozen Aussies, there is little doubt that the games in the 4 Nations have been close, exciting and absorbing to watch; and we as usual are out!! However the irony of the competition’s success so far is that the Rugby League International Federation pretty much decided during its recent meeting in Brisbane that the concept was getting tired. Instead of this format it seems that Kangaroos tours of the northern hemisphere and England or Great Britain tours of Australasia will likely return after the 2017 World Cup, despite Great Britain being told by Australia to stay home next year. They may also introduce confederations cups in four regions and there is a hunger to bring back the World Nines in some form. So it seems you’d better enjoy the 4 nations or what’s left of it because as always in our sport it’s all change again, this time on the International scene.
Its a rare occasion indeed when Hull KR ever do us a favours but here in Codgers Corner this week we look at one game in which they might just have done that very thing. The 1985/86 campaign was one that saw the halcyon years of the early 1980 on the wane, as the club battled retirements, injuries and a lack of form, in fact as we entered the month of April we had only won four times away from home and had even had some real tonking’s, something that many of the ‘Johnny Come lately’ bandwagoning fans of that era were certainly not used to. We had been beaten away 57-14 by Saints, 44-6 by Wigan and 43-16 by Warrington, so times were starting to get tough again and we seemed to lack the cash to do much about it. Gates were probably the main problem though and we had seen home attendances drop steadily from the 14,000’s of 1982 to sometimes only 5 to 6 thousand that season. It was as if the fans had just had too much success really, they still supported the club, but just didn’t do it with their feet or their cash. By April 1986 we were mid table, a situation that we were not used to at all, and things weren’t helped by the fact that Rovers had just beaten Leeds in an energy sapping semi final which saw the mortal enemy progress to Wembley, (where thankfully they were to be beaten by Castleford).
On a mild but breezy spring Sunday I went along to Headingley for the League encounter against the ‘Loiners’ which took place the weekend after the cup semi final that Sunday, 6th April. I drove over to Headingley having just changed my car and bought myself an Opal Manta and believe me it motored. In those days Leeds were not particularly well supported and the 1500 or so FC fans that made the trip held their own in the chanting stakes in a gate that totalled just 5,829. It was a windy afternoon and as was our want back then the FC Army completely took over the South Stand and before the match the rafters rang to the strains of ‘Old Faithful’ despite the fact that most of us were pretty disgruntled about the clubs demise and the League position we were in. In those days we sang no matter what!
Leeds’ were certainly no pushovers but looking back I do think that it’s a distinct possibility that their disappointment and stress after the previous weekends defeat helped us too that day. Playing from left to right we kicked off with the wind at our backs and in the first set of six Lee Crooks hit Rayne with a high shot that went unpunished and then Dennett and Serest drove Grayson back about ten yards with a blistering two man tackle. When we got the ball, half back Gascoigne worked hard to get our speedy outside backs moving and one long pass to Kevin James almost led to a score after 8 minutes. Then quick service from Divet saw the ball go wide to create an opening for Leuluai who drew Creaser and put O’Hara in for a simple touch-down wide out. Lee Crooks brilliantly allowed for the wind as we watched his conversion drift just inside the posts and we were 6-0 up.
Next it was Divorty’s turn to score. Our loose forward was proving to be a real live wire on attack and causing the Leeds cover untold problems as he created play at both sides of the rock. Trevor Skerrett was having a great game as well and he drove in and managed to slip a short pass out to Gary who was following him on his shoulder. Away raced Divorty, before rounding Leeds full back Mark Conway to score. This was an easier conversion for Crooks and after just 15 minutes we were an unexpected 12-0 up. All good things…as they say, and so it was that straight from the kick off Leeds got the ball back and as we appeared to go to sleep in the defensive line, Rayne fed onto Kevin Dick who hoisted a massive ‘Bomb’ that was destined to come down in the swirling wind about 5 yards from our line. Both Crooks and Gary Kemble left it for each other and Grayson nipped in to grab the ball and force his way over. Creaser goaled and Leeds were back in it.
Crooks was as usual quite brilliant in open play with ball in hand and it was he who in the 23rd minute laid a try on a plate for Gary Schofield, who took his pass and rounded a bemused Conway to touch down wide out as another conversion re-establish our twelve point lead. Crooks who was quickly establishing his claim to be Man of the Match then found Fred Ah Kuoi open on the left and as the Kiwi drew three players to split the cover, up ran Kemble from full back as he did so well, to finish off the move. Sadly Gary pulled a hamstring on touching down and had to be replaced after the try by substitute Windley. Just on the stroke of half time we relaxed again and Kevin Dick produced a bit of typical scrum half magic as he went one way and then the other leaving Windley for dead to score under the posts and as half time arrived, we led by 10.
Playing into the wind in the second half we found it tough making any ground, but a break down field by Gascoigne saw our scrum half tackled twenty yards out and as Schofield scooted to acting half, he stepped to the side and dropped a perfect goal as the ball hung in the wind and just fell over the bar. Straight from the kick off Crooks barrelled down field and into the Leeds half before releasing a superb reverse pass to Luella who drew Conway and put Schofield over the line, this time under the posts and as our centre converted himself we were then pretty much out of sight at 29-12.
As we all sung the usual “You’re supposed to be at Home” at the Leeds fans they did come back at us in the 50th minute with try by David Heron, but on 63 minutes Dane O’Hara broke away after Schofield had picked up a loose ball and Luella had provided the perfect pass. Dane drew Alan Smith dummied inside and then continued on to touch down in the corner and Schofield this time produced a spiralling kick to convert the score. That was it really, Savoy Tyres, who back then, sponsored the Hull FC Man of the Match both home and away, gave the award to Lee Crooks but then again he was the only candidate for it really as he was superb all afternoon in a game in which referee Mr Kershaw of Easingwold had little to do.
In the front row Skerrett, Patrick and Crooks had been immense whilst Norton who had a quiet game in the second row proved a good foil for loose man Divorty, who was the nearest to Crooks for the players award that day. All in all it was a tremendous win, however although we were to beat Leeds again at home the following week the rest of the season was poor fare which saw us lose to Widnes, Warrington, Oldham and Halifax although our one other win was against the Dobbins 28 -2 at Caravan Park in the last but one game of the season so that made up for a lot. Still at least our performance that day put a few smiles back on some long faces and everyone went home satisfied. We missed out on the top 8 however and it was a sign of things to come as hard times were on the way, but that day at least we got a good win at headingly and I certainly enjoyed the ride home. Boy that Mantra could motor!
So that’s it again, but these are indeed tough times and in a week when Katie Melba thought she had problems when finding a spider had been living in her ear for a week and Josh Hodgson went into home improvements, after a couple of years just enjoying (or otherwise) the rugby, once again we are all thrown into uncertainty and worry about the future of our Club. As I said earlier, Adam Pearson is solid I’m sure of that, we isn’t going bust and Friday showed how much passion and interest there is out there when the shirt launch engaged and motivated so many people. However I’m just a bloke who follows his team wherever and whatever and now I guess I’m ‘in there’ worried that our Club is under threat through the constant ‘squeezing’ from the SMC, our dropping gates and the subsequent impact of the ensuing reduction in income.
My personal demeanour dictates that I have to say that I think this is a time that all fans should do their best to support the Club in any way they can. So, to anyone who is a season ticket holder and who hasn’t renewed, then I guess I feel duty bound to say I love my Club and if you can afford to, then you really need to consider buying another pass. If you’re still wobbling then ask themselves one simple question, “Do I care if Hull FC get relegated and/or go bust?” If the answer is no, then by all means walk away or at least pick your games and watch from a distance, but this situation is serious. Then again, although a season pass may represent good value for money, it’s still a significant outlay for most families at a time when, for the majority, cash is tight, Christmas is coming and choices have to be made; so I get that bit too!
However, I guess in closing what has been a bit on an impassioned Diary, I will leave the last word to something said this week by Mrs B the Diary’s accountancy expert, our ‘voice of reason’ and a good friend of this tome, who always assesses this stuff from a professional point of view as well as from that of a fan. This week she certainly didn’t mince her words when, after weighing up all the financial arguments, all the issues and all the rhetoric flying around after the forum, she simply said,
“Buy a pass or we’re flecked”
AND finally lest we ever Forget!