The official deadline for Season Tickets has passed and, once again, the long suffering FC fans have come good in the end!! Friday and Saturday were amazing days retail and pass sales wise and it looks like the Club and our owner can breathe a bit more easily now!
At this time of year, when there is nothing to comment on playing wise, as a fan you are always hunting for any bits of news you can find. But, in opening this week it has to be said that when you consider some of the raggy arsed marketing efforts and shirt launches we have seen elsewhere in the game of late, I think that at the very least, there’s a big “Well Done” to be dished out to James Clark and the marketing team, who have kept hounding us about season tickets, wouldn’t let it rest, produced two great shirt launches and who I am told were literally ‘burnt out’ by this last weekend.
Well done too, to all the players and Coaching staff who manned the phones and rang lapsed season ticket holders in the last three weeks, they have done a great job and their attitude and willingness to help shows, I think, the new belonging and responsibility there is amongst the current squad. Great stuff!
Lee Radford said last week that he had spotted just how many were queuing in the shop to re-new or buy their passes and I’m sure he’ll take that away with him and back to the players. In many people’s eyes he’s still to prove it out on the pitch, but whatever else you say about Lee, he gets it! Of course that sort of show of faith from the fans piles the pressure on the playing staff and one would hope it will help get us a ‘result’ come the 2015 season. However, on a cautionary note, what happens if Lee and the team don’t deliver this year is pretty unthinkable really; but it’s been a good week so I’ll move swiftly on!
Whatever anyone else tells you, or the Rovers fans would have you believe, after the ‘corporates’ are added to the equation, on passes we’ll be coming in at around last year’s total, allowing, as has been the tradition in the past, for a few more junior sales in December. Amazingly in fact, some at the Club are indicating privately that by Christmas we might just finish up on last year. The Club won’t tell us officially how many tickets have been sold, they never do and I expect the owner and staff to play it down, but there is little doubt that a lot of folks have in the end, reluctantly, ‘tipped up’ for one last time. It’s a show of loyalty that should be remembered and appreciated at the ‘very top’ of the Club. Already Adam has thanked the fans and extended the deadline slightly and I’m sure he’s aware of just what a turnaround we have seen of late.
In fact, after what the organisation served up last season Adam and Co. should be pleased with that response and the quality and popularity of both playing shirts this season will also guarantee him more income than he got from that source last year. Once again though how you follow that for 2016 is certainly a worry. However for 2015 at least we have the fans on board and all the right stuff is in place off the field for the start of the season. But, any ‘drinking’ to this recent success must, this time around, be done in ‘the Last Chance Saloon’ as the Club enters one of the most critical seasons in its recent history!
I have said several times in here that everything has been provided to the Coach and the players to ensure that we are in the best ever position to have a good year. Even the return of the team going away to Portugal has seen no cost spared, with an unprecedented 42 people leaving on 14th December for our winter camp. That’s by far the most I can ever remember us taking and it’s almost as if Adam Pearson is saying, “I’ll give you everything an owner can give to ensure we prepare properly, Now let’s see what you can deliver” It appears that perhaps our owner is setting us up for one final attempt at the leap to better things and I think the fans have responded to that; but his investment has also ensured that there are simply no excuses anymore. The position he has engineered really limits the remaining variables for the next campaign and leaves just two which are, 1) Are the squad and coaching staff actually good enough in the first place and 2) If they are, then are they now mentally equipped to tough it out in tight games.
That’s the acid test to come but for the fans, standing on the threshold of our 150th year, the question marks are still many, as we all ponder how much longer we can survive as perennial under achievers? How we will cope with the added pressure of the new structure? If we can continue to exist as a ‘Big’ Club and how much longer our owner’s patience (and money) will last out? These are the big questions, with the only answer to them all, a much improved season on the field. Last weekend I went to see New Found Glory in Leeds and they finished their set with the anthemic, ‘It’s all downhill from here’. I just hope that’s a good omen, but strap yourselves in, the ride hasn’t even started yet!
The news that Richard Whiting is not going to Portugal but instead staying behind to continue his re-hab is a blow for the player and was I guess a tough call to make. It’s a bit of a none story really, but in the past we have taken unfit players for the sake of team spirit and so this can’t have been an easy decision for Radford to make. It’s sensible though as it offers a chance to reward a youngster and so he has bitten the bullet and left a senior player, who is reported to be gutted, back home ‘in the cold’. Talking of Stilts, a big squad with plenty of cover does tend to marginalise utility players and quite where Rich, (who because of injury is already behind the eight ball), fits into things next season is I think an interesting one to ponder!
I don’t know much about Coaching and even less about sports psychology but I wouldn’t think that young men just starting out on the road to first team football need anything but their feet keeping firmly on the ground. I have been surprised to therefore hear on a couple of occasions lately our owner and our Coach both intimating that they wanted to see our talented and much vaunted Under 19’s back in their respective Grand final. I would have thought that was the last thing they should be considering at this point in the process. We all know what happens as soon as experienced players start to get ahead of themselves don’t we?
This week Richard Horne was straight in there to cool things down a bit and, in an insightful piece of writing by James Smailes, he said that the only thing they were concentrating on was getting their heads down and their work done. Everyone you speak to amongst the players reckon that some of the young lads that are now, twice a week, training alongside the first team, are really flying. It’s a great position that we find ourselves in because now some of the younger players like Callum Lancaster, Jordan Abdull, Harry Tyson-Wilson and Jack Logan are First team squad players but still eligible to turn out for the under 19’s. It’s a lot of years since we have been in that situation and its one that mirrors the position of Clubs like Leeds and Wigan who have a deal of mobility between the two levels. I don’t know how many youngsters will feature this season or whether we are up to a Grand Final finish at Under 19’s level, but the amount and quality of these youngsters does give us good cause for optimism.
With Joe Westerman back in the fold last Thursday everyone who is fit is training with only a couple nursing slight knocks and Rich Whiting still in re-hab. It’s certainly a first for some of the squad who have been around a long time, because they have never seen so many ‘bodies’ around the place so early in pre-season. Lee Radford said of the feeling around the place this week, “There is a real togetherness about the club at the moment all the way from what I have seen in the players in pre-season through to the administration of the club”. As I have said several times, everything is in place to ensure we get the best possible chance of success next season.
Another quiet week has got me thinking about the sport as an outsider would view it and, talking about age, there seems to have been a quiet revolution at the Club and indeed across the game as these days it seems to be all about young coaches and at Hull FC even younger administrators. On the playing side our elder statesmen are Leon Pryce, Mark Minnichello and Gareth Ellis who will all be 33 come the start of the season, but they are the exception.
Of their mentors, at 35 Lee Radford is the oldest of the current Coaching staff and on the pitch and the touchline it’s certainly a young crew on whom we are pinning our hopes for success in Super League year. The thinking behind this change of direction is mirrored across the League’s Head Coaches with the two most recent appointments, Chris Chester at 36 and Keiron Cunningham at 38 adding to a total of 5 of the 12 in the premier division who are under 38. In fact the elder statesman of the coaching fraternity is Wigan’s Shaun Wane at 50. So Coaching, once the domain of sage like older men in suits, now appears to definitely be a young man’s game.
But why is that do you think? Is it because more Clubs see promoting from within and from the playing ranks as a cheap fix compared with the cost of Australian coaches, or is it that these young coaches have a closer affinity to the players they control and the style of the game we play in Super league, or perhaps in the end is it just a coincidence?
It’s difficult to say, but it must be harder to get the total respect of a group of workers when all of a sudden you are taken out of the ranks and put in charge. How often have we all seen and experienced that in everyday working life? It’s hard to fathom really, but even out there in the world of work there seems to be a lot of young executives about these days. There however, you do still find some older operatives who have the aura, knowledge based respect and ability to take the pressure needed to head up a big organisation.
Young Coaches (and indeed the increasing amount of young players coming through the ranks) must be good for our domestic game and for any Club that fully embraces it. Indeed off the field the need to appeal to a younger audience and get at the people ‘where the money is’, sees a few Clubs including Hull FC, evolving to meet those needs through a young new breed of administrators and retail staff. All our Directors who support the Chairman are young people, with our marketing team stuffed full of young guns too. From what I’ve seen of them, these marketers are all knowledgeable in modern trends in selling sport and in using new technology to access audiences, in fact it’s from this knowledge base that initiatives such as our mould breaking home shirt launch were spawned.
So, although in the past as a Club we have scrimped on youth development on the field and youth employment off it, that’s now been address as the whole organisation has been restructured to allow for a ‘dynasty’ approach to building and evolving an organisation that is fit for purpose. On the other hand of course with young Directors who are more knowledgeable and who are pushing the envelope all the time it would be easy to have concerns. But, in Pearson they have a boss who doesn’t (unlike Kath) feel threatened by it! Unfortunately professional sport is a results driven business and that’s the frustrating bit for the owner. The fact is however that although he has done everything he can to completely restructure the supporter interface of the Club and equipped it for the changing needs and profile of its customers, like all of us lot, he’s stuffed if we don’t win games!!!
That’s why it’s important that we get people through the gate to fund the scale of operation we currently run. It’s just another way by which the Club is really getting its act together to meet the needs of its customers and it would be a tragedy should it have to be scaled back because of a lack of income. It’s the chicken and egg situation where you have to have the infrastructure in place before it generates the increased income it needs to sustain it. In the past there has always been a glut of sage like elder statesmen at our Clubs, but at present it seems Rugby League is a young person’s game at all levels on and off the field and that’s certainly apparent when you analyse the operation at Hull FC. Take Motu Tony for example. He’s only in his early 30’s but he has revolutionised the football management side of things since McCrae left and in that area too, the club is increasingly being held up as an example of good practise.
In essence it’s all very simple really because the young players need to blossom, the Coaches need to get results, the administration needs to grow the business and the owner needs to make a profit; that’s all there is to it! The principles and variables we can control off the field are all in place and under control, Hull FC is now a pretty slick outfit with a young staff pushing it forward, so on it ….we just have to win!! As I say, it’s a results led business and that’s the tough bit because if we’re not careful it’s the one element that could find the whole organisation unravelling. If that happens costs will have to be squeezed, staff levels scaled back and implosion then becomes a definite possibility. That’s what has to be avoided!
In a week of great business at the retail outlets the fans helped the total of sales for replica shirts rise to almost 3500. As I said last week the sales level of the ultra traditional home shirt (2500) was never in doubt, but the away shirt could have been a real turkey had they not struck on the Steve Prescott idea which has seen it really take off too (it sold 750 in just three days). The retail staff are certainly under pressure at present, which is tough for them, but great news for the Club!
Over in the ‘land of make believe’ the Dobbins have sold around 3000 season tickets so far so I guess the fans at both sides of the City are up for it again, however while we are on our noisy neighbours and ‘that’ shirt, the Dobbins launched of their away kit was the usual amateurish, low key affair, with KRTV going down and freezing just when it was getting interesting.
Their launch footage too was a rip off with a distinct case of copying from our ‘pass it on’ video of last year and our use of iconic landmarks this year; original thinking seems to be in short supply over there; why am I not surprised?
Well, it’s in short supply when you compare it with our home launch trending nationally on twitter and generating an almost 1000% rise in our social media use. But then again I would say that wouldn’t I? However as for their ‘Tour De France’ away shirt well, if ever there was a tribute to the undying popularity and ageless and timeless attraction of fancy dress that is certainly it!
Author Tom Palmer (right) and London based ‘friend’ of the Diary Richard Kirk (who sent me the picture) show off the new book, ‘The Last Try’ which I featured last week. It’s all about Jack Harrison and a terrific read.
Down at Westminster It appears that members of the Parliamentary Rugby League Group have been feeling a bit aggrieved this week and were even seen to be giving their support to a call for a boycott by RL fans of the Sports Personality of the Year Awards. The reason for this they claim to be the omission of Sam Burgess from the ten stars nominated for the award this year. The boycott was raised by Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland, Chairman of the UK Parliamentary Rugby League Group and subsequently in a motion tabled in the House of Commons. The motion states that the group recognise the role Burgess played in the England team during the Rugby League World Cup 2013 and throughout the 2014 NRL season. In a leaked email to his colleagues in the Parliamentary Rugby League Group, Mulholland wrote, “The UK produces outstanding athletes across a wide range of sports and I am sure it is a challenge to create a shortlist. But, the sad thing is, it comes as no surprise that the BBC has failed to recognise one of the world’s best rugby league players in Sam Burgess. He is a genuine star and one of the greatest rugby league players to have ever played our game. Quite rightly, he has accolades showered upon him in Australia and wherever rugby league receives fair media coverage, but in his home country, he is a relative unknown. He is no different to the shortlisted footballer Gareth Bale in that he plays his domestic sport in a country outside of the UK”.
I tend to think that it’s a pity some of our MP’s don’t have better things to worry about really, because as switched on representatives of the great British public, they should have expected nothing less really. Us lot (I think it’s just been proved that they refer to us as plebs down there) are certainly used to our game being rebuffed in such a way aren’t we? For me, it’s hardly worth our friends in high places worrying about it, because if this next year sees Mr Burgess blossoming in Rugby Union, you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll be nominated in 2015!
After a wet and dreary week her in Beverley, in Codgers Corner this week I want to go back to another wet week in January 1977 when I and about 4000 other supporters went along to the Boulevard for a home game league against Keithley.
It had been a typical January in many ways with outdoor activities severely interrupted by the coldest weather the region had seen for 13 years, as frosty nights and heavy snow brought the local road and rail network to a grinding halt. However, as it seemed was always the case back then in the East Riding, the bad weather went as fast as it arrived and then the problem was flooding, with Springhead Golf Course, the Cricket Circle and Oak Road Playing Fields all under water. In fact by the Thursday before the game the South West corner of the Boulevard was reported to be under ‘a foot of water’ by the Daily Mail and that, with just three days to go to the game.
Luckily the club were able to get the Council to provide some pumps and piping they had in reserve for such occasions and we managed to get all the water pumped away, out through the South entrance and into the drains in Division Road, before Head Grounds man Fred Daddy was just able to mark out the pitch and so we all looked forward to an exciting if not soggy encounter with the team from Lawkholme Lane in the West Riding, whose own ground was still under a foot of snow.
On the morning of the match it was still raining but local radio informed us at 10-00am that the game was to go ahead, although there was an appeal for fans to go down to the Boulevard with forks to help disperse some of the standing water that was still apparent on the touchlines. It was an important game because although we had experienced a run of four losses before Christmas, since the last, a Boxing Day defeat at York, we had won the next two matches and we were back up there battling with Keithley to regain the top spot in the League table. As we stood on the Threepenny Stand sipping our Bovril and awaiting the 3-00pm kick off, little did we know of the drama that was unfolding in the dressing rooms!
We had suffered several significant injuries in a big win at Doncaster the previous weekend and our playing resources were already stretched to the limits. The previous night at training Ibbetson had pulled out injured and second rower Tony Salmon, who was already picked to play on the wing, was drafted back into the forwards with a young Terry Lynn coming in onto the right flank and Chris Davidson returning to the bench. Then 15 minutes before kick off a head count revealed that Mike Stephenson our off half was missing. No one knew where he was and that immediately set the alarm bells ringing. Brian Hancock switched back to off half with Davidson moving into his centre spot, but there was no one to join Clark on the substitute’s bench. We all knew something was wrong when there was an appeal over the Tannoy for any players in attendance at the game to immediately go to the dressing rooms.
At one stage a very young Steve Mallinson looked likely to make his first appearance, but in the end it was down to the now retired (and current A team coach) Kenny Foulkes, to take the number 15 shirt. This must have buoyed a Keithley team who had won their last four games, and as the teams ran out it was clear that they were confident of getting a result. Before the game started Dave Bassett one time Director of the club and lifelong supporter of Hull FC was presented with a scroll enrolling him as a life member of the Humberside Sportsman’s Club. He was already the clubs first ever Vice President and despite a heavy burst of rain dampening the proceedings, the awarding of this honor was met with a warm round of applause by everyone in the ground.
After Keith Hepworth had kicked off it was no surprise that the Airliebird’s looked disjointed and dis-organised. Just 11 minutes had past when Keithley got the chance to take the lead but they failed following a foul by Crane on Piencazek, which saw Jefferson (their ace goal kicker) slip on his run up and his penalty attempt from 30 yards out, drift just wide of the target.
Hull got the ball back and broke away down the left before a promising move faltered when a Jimmy Crampton pass destined for Lynne was easily intercepted by the visitor’s winger Morgan. Then as Crampton broke again he passed back inside to Tindall but he completely ignored a two man over lap outside him and the chance was lost. After that let off Keithley fought back, but we started to slowly get some cohesion into our depleted team and a big break by Tindall should have led to a try, but Hepworth was adjudged to have knocked on as he went over the line. As we kept on the pressure Jefferson made a try saving tackle on Alf Macklin, before play was switched inside and hooker Tony Duke was held just short. However, ever alert Tony stood up played the ball forward, re-gathered it and ambled in for an easy try which Lynn converted.
Ten minutes later we were on the move again as Boxall broke out from deep in his own half and having made about 20 yards he passed on to Crampton who raced to the line only for the initial pass to be adjudged forward and another try disallowed. Keithley were getting frustrated now and on a couple of occasions forwards Cardiss and Illingworth had a go at Davidson and were penalized as referee Naughton struggled to keep a grip on the game. With just two minutes to go to half time, ‘cheeky’ scrum half Loxton was a bit too cheeky to the official after a scrum collapsed and from the resultant penalty Lynne made no mistake and we went in at half time leading 7-0.
The half time discussions amongst the fans were almost drowned out as the rain beat on the roof of the stand but by the teams re-appeared it had stopped again and the second half started much as the first had finished. Charlie Birdsall who was playing loose forward for the visitor’s tripped centre Mick Crane, as he completely fooled him with a side step and another scuffle ensued. However we were now starting to play some classy stuff, much of which came from loose forward Nick Trotter who held the makeshift pack together superbly and instigated a lot of our best moves, as he carved out several gaps and caused the opposition problems all afternoon. He twisted clear in a tackle after 45 minutes, but Tindall dropped his pass when he should have scored. However we pressed again and Jefferson had to kick the ball dead as Hepworth threatened to get his hand on it over the line, after a great grubber kick by Crane.
From the resultant drop out Hepworth, who was now starting to run things, collected the ball and passed on to Foulkes and the veteran turned back the years to dummy and then pass to Trotter who instigated a flowing cross field move that saw Alf Macklin score in the corner. Lynn failed with the conversion but we led 10-0. Then we saw a concerted period of Keithley pressure, but the visitors lacked much invention and their attacks proved too orthodox to break down what was developing into a resolute FC defense. When we did get the ball back Macklin again went close, before he took a great ball from Davidson to go wriggling and squirming towards the corner flag with three defenders in attendance. As a fourth joined the effort he popped out a great pass back inside to Mick Crane who appeared from nowhere to run in untouched.
The best move of the game though came ten minutes from the end and it had everyone in the stands and indeed on both benches on their feet applauding. Hepworth broke the line and passed to a marauding Boxall on his shoulder. ‘The Rhino’ crashed down field before Chris Davidson appeared from nowhere to grab a pinpoint pass and fly in to score in the corner with four defenders trailing in his wake. With a 16 point lead we relaxed a bit and Birdsall, who was easily the visitor’s best player, sent Morgan in wide out from an obvious set move. As referee Naughton blew his whistle for the end of the game we jumped over the railings and slipped and skidded our way across the morass that was the playing surface to congratulate the players, and as the Tannoy let rip with a rendition of Smokey’s hit ‘Living Next Door to Alice’ the players left the field for a well earned plate of sandwiches and we went off for a beer or six.
We were back on top of the league, but the thing I remember most about that game was the weather and the pitch, it’s hard to imagine just how bad it was back then, but they are certainly happy memory’s!
So, as the season ticket deadline was reached on Saturday, for this fan the finale of the first bit of my 2015 stress has now passed. After a few early worries and concerns that large swathes of the supporters had given up on the FC and decided to ‘pick their games’ we have got a pretty decent result. The Rugby League have certainly not come up with the ‘extensive ‘ marketing and awareness campaign they promised for the new structure and it’s not just us that have struggled as just about everyone is suffering from a level of apathy from their supporters.
Those other Clubs whose deadlines were this weekend have all been making appeals to their supporters to back their efforts in a final bid to at least reach last year’s totals. Ken Davey long suffering philanthropist and Chairman of the Huddersfield Giants said in one such appeal last Wednesday, “So much of a club’s success is often put down to the roles played by the coaching staff and players, but I regard the role of the season-ticket holders as being just as important. It’s like a three-legged stool. It’s strong when the legs (coaches, players and supporters) are working together, but take one of those legs away and the stool collapses”. The whole article in fact gave the impression that poor old Ken was in danger of being dumped off his particular ‘stool’ and onto his backside, anytime soon!!
As I said at the beginning of this week’s Diary we’ve done well with seasons, particularly when you consider what went on in the last campaign and of course circumstances change and some folks simply can’t afford to continue, while others work or live too far away to get to games on a regular basis; which is absolutely fine and perfectly understandable. They do their bit how they can! But, I think the rest of us who have no such sound ‘excuses’ and have, (often against our better judgement) subscribed to a season ticket should be congratulated! I know it’s difficult for fans to get to every home game, even an obsessive such as I have a problem on occasions, but if we live locally and can afford it then getting a season ticket is the biggest commitment any fan can make to their club and thus, by far, the most effective way of expressing you support for your team.
What’s more, those of us who do buy a season ticket realise that we buy them these days more in hope than in any sort of expectation, but none the less we still do so, safe in the knowledge that if and when we win our next piece of silverware, we will have played our part in making that possible.
That in the end is the whole crux of the matter for me. When I stood as the final hooter went in that Semi final two years ago at Huddersfield, I honestly felt vindicated and rewarded for my faith and all the stress and financial sacrifice that being a fan entails. It was a certainly a fulfilling feeling too! Some pals have had a go at me since for going on about it, but it was, for me at least, a really defining moment. It’s also one that after the part it played in my celebrating at the end, will live with me long after the detail of the game have faded into the mists of time. Those few moments, sprinkled as they are through a lifetime of being a fan is what it’s all about for me and makes both the financial sacrifices and spiritual torture all worthwhile.
Put simply, I just love Hull FC; I shouldn’t, its soul destroying and it’s the bane of my life, but it’s too late to do anything about it now! So, well done everyone, I’ll see you next week and…..
And finally this week!!!
Up above the streets and house
Rainbow flying high,
Everyone can hear them whining,
Dobbins till they die!!