“The new players we have will be massive for next season. The fans will make the difference too, it was tough for them last season and I can pledge to them that we are working hard to make a difference in the 150th year for the club. Now it’s up to us as players to go out there and make it special”.
Thus said Gareth Ellis our current Club Captain on Saturday and it’s great that we approach our pre season camp and the Christmas break in such a positive and hopeful frame of mind; although let’s face it we have heard it all before haven’t we? However as the season ticket deadline has passed at least we know that it’s a genuine comment, rather than one driven by the commercial hype surrounding the need to shift season passes!!
However, in a week when what news there was around was dominated by aging crocked Australian half backs and the quality of the youth at Hull FC, the top accolade has to go to Jansin Turgot who was named as Young England’s Academy Captain!!
He must have been really p*ssed off when he was just about the only one of our emerging Under 19 players who didn’t get a first team debut last year, but he got his head down, didn’t grumble and waited his chance and at just 18 he has been rewarded with an accolade he will remember forever. In fact well done to all 4 of our International squad members!
Last Monday as I thumbed my way through ‘The Thoughts of Danny Lockwood’ (better known as the League Weekly), I found a headline that read ‘Rivals Covet Joe Westerman’ which was a typical made up, filler of a December article, that intimated that Leeds and Warrington were after Joe and that we would be prepared to sell, if the price was right. It is now a much talked about piece, but back then and after all the rhetoric we had heard from our owner, I thought, “That a bit strange”. So, just to be on the safe side, I decided to text the Club and was immediately told it was ‘absolute rubbish’. The person I heard from certainly put my mind at rest, but I thought I’d include it this week to reassure everyone else. However I was pleased to see that Adam beat me to it and immediately came straight out next day to shoot down any such rumours. He did that in reply to James Smailes, who asked the Club to comment on the story. In fact the way things are at the Club at present, I wouldn’t be surprised if they heard the rumour and, being very sensitive to the efforts the fans have put in to buy season tickets, the Club were ‘pleased’ when the Mail asked the question, so they could put it to bed straight away.
It’s was never going to happen in practise, because not only are we unlikely to sell our best assets at a ‘sensitive’ time like this, but Joe is unlikely to want to leave anyway. He not only likes being at the Club (particularly with his best mate Wattsy on the books), but he also has a deal of respect and a good relationship with our owner and Coach. It was in the end just mischief making by a weekly publication that I have found specialises in the practise, so take no notice …it was just a rumour started to fill a few ‘column inches’, but that said it still it had a few wondering just the same.
Look, we’ve seen it all before I know but it’s still nice to hear about players wanting to train over Christmas and not wanting to go home to Australia and so I guess as is usual at this time of year, I was buoyed by the news that only Jordan Rankin was returning home for the festivities. His circumstances are different to many of the team and after Jacob Miller recently moved out, and his ‘lodger’ Steve Michaels had quickly ‘seen the light’ and got his own place, he is living on his own again and as all his folks are back at home in Australia it’s good that he can spend time with them and anyway he’ll be back for training when it resumes on 2nd January.
As I said earlier it seems in the media this week that all the talk has been about either the Dobbins signing out of form Aussies with ‘dicky’ knees or of our young players and the depth and quality we have in our junior ranks. That situation, around our Club at least, points to the fact that once again news has been thin on the ground and so I decided this week to turn my mind to the youth at our Club, our history and record of developing first team players from local roots and whether we should be pleased with the progress we have made in this direction over the last couple of years, or whether as has been the case so often in the past, it’s just another false dawn.
It was so good to hear that Jansin Turgot, an FC junior who has never featured in the first team, was named as England Academy captain on Saturday at Leigh and that he was joined by Callum Lancaster and Jason Abdull in the starting 17. Sadly Josh Logan was omitted from the team but only Leeds had more representatives in the game than Hull FC. (Oh and Rovers didn’t have any representatives…not a sausage….bugger all!!) They didn’t win but they gave it a great shot!
We are told that we have some great juniors but all the recent talk of our ‘strength in depth’ in that department is actually nothing new really, because over the years at Hull FC we have always prided ourselves in being able to produce some potentially great youngsters. However in reality too often that boast has been eventually proven to be unfounded and the potential has failed to manifest itself. Young players have not been able to progress into a first team that has often featured Aussie stars, failures from the rest of the British competition, a smattering of antipodean ‘holidaymakers’ and at times ‘ageing journeymen quick fixes’. Instead that is, of it being (as it should have been), built on a foundation of a constant flow of quality local lads coming through the ranks. It’s a bit of a utopian view I know and anyway perhaps the lads weren’t up to it, perhaps we didn’t have the coaches to bring them on or perhaps our coaches liked to play safe and like Rich Agar, preferred to move 5 players rather than bring in a like for like swop with a youngster. Whichever it was, patience with our junior players is not something we have been credited with often in the past two decades is it?
In fact for a period of 3 seasons under Mr Agar we only saw one player (Danny Houghton) make a really successful transition from the youth ranks to establish himself in the starting 17. Although, in fairness, we have since found out that success in that field only comes with investment and when it came to young players and cash to create a pathway for them, Auntie Kath was always proven to be a bit backward at coming forward in that area of Club development!!
Back around the turn of the century there was Kingy, Horney, Yeamo and Cooke of course, but a couple of those were getting first team rugby before the merger, so that batch actually emerged over a few years and it’s a long, long time since we have had a real production line of young talent that is good enough (year on year), to provide two or three players who are ready to make the leap to regular first team rugby. I guess when you look at the reign of Brian Smith there was a real dynasty feel about the place back then, with players from his Colts team joining others (who were more established) from the ‘Bunting Babe’s’ to form the nucleus of a team that was pretty much home grown, but over the years that was the exception rather than the rule. Nonetheless, it was a good time for local emerging talent and a period when we should have held onto our youngsters. Had we done that, then the future into the mid nineties could have been very bright and very different indeed. However we all know what happened next as financial issues and changing times meant that it was impossible to keep the bulk of them, the good ones left for pastures new and the average ones just drifted away from the game; and thus the team went into decline.
Under Smithy in the late 80’s and early 90’s of course, the team included debutant and developing ex colts such as Gary Divorty, Steve McNamara, Lee Jackson, Jon Sharp, Chico Jackson, Paul Eastwood, Richard Gay, the Nolan brothers and Andy Dannett to name just the ones that immediately spring to mind. Granted they didn’t all play in the same team, or come through at exactly the same time but they emerged over a period of about 5 years in an era that many of us look back on with great affection. It was a phenomenal feat to have so many locals involved, particularly when you consider that it was a time when there were no ‘quota’s’, FED trained rules etc. and you could sign who you wanted; providing you had the money to do it.
So in that period, good scouting and great coaching was certainly developing our youngsters to good effect. Brian Smith kept the production line flowing by overseeing the junior training sessions while some astute signings like Mackey, Cleal, Entat and Karl Harrison were brought in to lead the team around the park and bring the youngsters on. Of course back then more youngsters played the game in schools and in the amateur game and it was an exciting time for the fans of local school rugby, the amateur game, local aspiring young rugby players and indeed their families.
Having said that, it seems that the amount of youngsters making the grade since then has fluctuated between a sprinkling and none at all! Having said that it’s easy to see why things were dire at times, because the pressure to succeed and win matches often pushed the need to invest in young players down the agenda behind the need to sign quick fix ‘solutions’ and that’s why, for me, our current situation as far as youth development is concerned is so exciting.
If you look across the League you can see a lot of teams who have invested in their youth schemes and have reaped the benefits because the lack of relegation has meant that Clubs have had time to blood their aspiring young players and fast track them into the action. For me relegation is needed, for we need a bit of jeopardy around the place, but I really do worry that the stress and pressure of the new format will perhaps see the current situation with regard to youth being ‘given their head’ receding again, as the need to succeed at all costs overtakes the need to nurture the talent coming through. The fact we have the best young full International team we have seen for years isn’t a fluke, a bi-product of a quality England Coach or some freak of nature, but for me it’s down to the relaxation of the sudden death pressure cooker of ‘total rugby’ which has seen some great young talent emerge during the licensing regime. I worry about the new format, I really do, but all that concern is for the future, but also I think, food for thought.
However while things are still positive, this week the news of those 4 international call up’s was great to hear especially when all but one of them, the actual International captain, had already experienced a deal of first team rugby at Hull FC as well. Much store is put on these young guns and it was great to see Lee Radford and many of the FC first team squad going over to Leigh on Saturday to support our lads in the England Academy v Aussies game.
For those youngsters, being selected to play for your country against a touring Aussie side is a great accolade. When you look further up the FC roster there’s Yeamo and Danny Houghton who have come through in the last 12 or so years, but more recent successes from the last couple of seasons include Jamie Shaul, Tom Lineham, Chris Green, Josh Bowden and Dean Hadley, all of whom have trod our junior pathway, got into the first team and established themselves as squad players. Further down however it still looks good in the junior ranks, particularly when you add to those Under 19 Internationals the two Tyson-Wilsons, Connor Bower, Brad Fash and Jack Downs all of whom are in or around the first team and who could all make their debuts this season. In fact it looks to me as if the Under19’s will be a good watch this time around and that they are in with a good shout of the Grand Final this year. In fact, I think that those great Saturday afternoons at Bishop Burton should be really good entertainment this season.
As fans we should be pleased with that situation although it is one that is often overlooked as we all concentrate on the more glamorous elements of being a fan, such as signing players and renewing current stars contracts. However we should appreciate the great position we now find ourselves in which hasn’t happened by magic but rather from a deal of investment from Adam Pearson, tons of hard work from scouts and Coaches, our current coaches willingness to promote youth when it’s good enough and most of all through the patience and understanding of us lot the fans.
All we can do now is hope Pearson’s money lasts out, that as a Club we hold our nerve and don’t panic, but instead keep developing this great pool of young talent, because I think that there is certainly a group of players in the under-19s right now that we can build a side around for years to come.
Most of all though we have to hope that the pressure of the new format and the every second counts scenario doesn’t see more Clubs doing what Rovers have done and cleaning out vast swathes of their unproven, unreliable and under achieving players to replace them with more unproven, unreliable and under achieving players, in the hope they come good. They are doing that, I believe, because they know the new format, with its in built pressure and manufactured jeopardy, demands instant success and because you can’t pin that need to succeed at all costs on young untried youngsters. At Hull FC the situation that we find ourselves in regarding youth and the renaissance that has made it happen, has to be good news for our owner, the fans and indeed the future of our Club, but now as the pressure mounts to be successful at any price, we have to hold the line!
I met up with the FC lads on Saturday night in the Dog and Duck in Beverley when about 26 of the FC squad all resplendent in their Christmas jumpers were out on the town. Boisterous, but still well behaved and talking to all the rather bemused regular Saturday tea time patrons, they were all having their first night out for ages and having a great time. I had a good talk to Danny Houghton and Yeamo and really nice guy, Steve Michaels (“I’ve never been so cold in my life”) came over for a chat, whilst all the while the rest were just having a great time and if nothing else then boy, is there a good team spirit in this year’s squad. However on the down side Kirk really should get himself another Christmas jumper, he’s had that one since his bloody Xmas Factor event! Come on Lisa sort him out! Great fun and a good, if unexpected, evening!
Well, Terry Campese eh? Those that read this regularly will remember how I worried about his knees and his form last year and indeed how I said I was glad the possible deal with us fell through. Because of our reported interest I watched him quite a few times last year and his knee problems severely restricted what he could produce on the field, meaning he was a shadow of the player we all admired a few years ago. Quick players targeted his lack of mobility in defence, and defenders knew he couldn’t run with the ball so it made their decision making much easier. For me Rovers are chancing their arm a bit with him, he might be a revelation but he will have to improve substantially to be that! However it will be good fun seeing how he fits in with all the new blood they have brought in and the two they have promised will be playing half back; Chezzie will have his hand full there I think!!
There was an insight into a new arrival’s experiences at our Club this week, when we were treated to another interesting article in the Mail about the arrival at the Club of Steve Michaels. He certainly impressed everyone by getting himself sorted with a house within 5 days of arriving but then again, perhaps living in with ‘Mr Frenetic’ Jordan Rankin was just too much of a culture shock for him!! But one things for sure Steve is already proving to be very pacey and is already giving our latest new speedster young Curtis Naughton a real ‘run’ for his money.
He said on the Club site that, “The surroundings are completely different to where I’m from, for example factors such as a slippery ball and slippery ground are things I will have to get used to. It is up to me to adapt to that and make the most of it, I came here for a new challenge and a new competition to test myself and that is exactly what I have got. At the moment it hurts me to be training on bikes by myself, the sooner I get training out on the field a bit more with the rest of squad the better so I’m definitely raring to go”
I won’t labour the point too much in here but in the spirit of something that did interest me this week; I’ll just touch on the possible trouble our Landlords are in with FIFA. It’s a complicated business all round anyway but at times over the years, when we have had disputes with them, I have pointed out to the ‘blinded’ City fans, that want us out of the KC, that the Allam’s have given Hull City nothing. In fact I have said before in here that if they were the philanthropists they claim to be and indeed want everyone to think they are then they would have gifted the Club the money they need to compete in the Premiere League. Many still think they have but of course they haven’t and this week, talking of the investigation, the Hull Daily Mail confirmed that, when they said on Saturday, “Whilst the issue is of a complex nature, the Mail understand it surrounds the way City are funded by owners Assem and Ehab Allam. In their last accounts, it showed they have loaned the club around £64.8m via their holding company Allamhouse Limited, rather than injecting capital into it to be written off”. Interesting stuff eh?
Over the years some of the best ideas and innovations in our game have come from the NRL and often we look to them to snag problems and make suggestions as to how the game can move forward. However it seems now that with ‘gimmicks’ starting to appear and subsequently be criticised by the fans, last week major changes suggested to the NRL for next season were rejected by the 16 club coaches at a conference held ahead of a two-day rules committee summit. At this it’s pleasing to report, the games bosses then decided to change nothing for the coming season.
It is of course very refreshing that they actually consult the coaches before there is an annual summit meeting between the Clubs and the games administrators to decide any rule changes and they met as usual to review the 2014 season and discuss possible improvements. However NZ Warriors coach Andrew McFadden says possible rule changes were floated but quickly dismissed. He commented that all the coaches felt there had been too many changes last year and wanted the game to look at ways by which the NRL could better enforce the current rules to improve the game, before they introduce new ones. McFadden says one of the major discussions was around improving the quality of referees while some of the new ideas rejected included talk of introducing a basketball style shot clock to prevent time wasting and a standardised time-keeping system for broadcasters, stadia and the coach’s boxes. None of these were accepted by the Coaches and none were adopted by the governing body either, which shows an administration that listens to the coaches in the game and its stakeholders and makes decisions that are in tune with the general consensus. So it can be done and people can be listened to; how nice that must be for the fans and how different from what we have come to expect from our lot at Redhall eh?
So what exactly is happening with the pre season game at York? Well I was in York on Thursday and it appears that there is all out war between the Rugby League Club and the Council over the development of the Huntington Stadium. The City of York Council have confirmed that 20 working days are needed to secure a change in Bootham Crescent’s stadium safety certificate, which is needed to allow rugby league to be staged at the football club’s home ground and with the Christmas and New Year holiday period upon us, the council say that they can delay no more. The plan was for the City Knights to play at Bootham Crescent for the next two seasons, while their current base, (which is owned by the council anyway) is redeveloped, before the club move into a new community stadium on the site in 2016.
This move is, however, reliant on John Guildford the owner of the Knights signing all the necessary agreements with the City of York Council, for the rugby team to play there and it would appear that this has yet to be done and he’s ‘taken his bat and ball home’. In order to meet the 20 working-days deadline, Guildford has until today or tomorrow at the latest to put his signature on the safety certificate document and the consent order, which gives his blessing to the Knights’ temporary relocation to Bootham Crescent and their agreement to the new community stadium project. More worrying still for the FC fans is the fact that in York an alcohol license takes two months to issue and it is apparently the view of the Council that only soft and hot drinks will be on sale in the Pitch side Bar if next month’s match against us lot does go ahead. I think in some ways it could be a ‘Get out of Jail’ Card for us lot anyway. Those who were at the last forum will remember that Pearson alluded to the fact that we were playing the game on the same day as the Doncaster match because it will be easier just to play the match, than to legally try to get out of it. So to me it sounds like it’s an unwanted legacy from the shambolic duel registration deal we had with the Knights, under the previous coaching regime. So, all is certainly not lost whatever happens and if the York Club actually pull out of the game, then it’s a plus for us and no doubt we’ll all go to the Doncaster game.
However should the game go ahead the ‘lack of a bar’ stuff needs clarifying because it will be a deciding factor for a few who planned to go. I was a bit torn because I like the ground and set up at Doncaster, but I haven’t seen rugby played at Bootham Crescent so it was a toss-up really and a question of who was playing where, but now, like everyone else I’ll just have to wait and see.
The need for on and off field leaders seems to be the watchword for success in many teams across the game at present. At Hull FC inspirational players have lifted us in the past, but we have never been really successful with them just being good players, because they have had to lead from the front too. The other players also have had to play their part as well and step up to cover for these heroes when they are out injured. So in Codgers Corner this week I thought I would have a look at a game that springs to mind when I consider those sorts of circumstances and I want to take you back to the season of 1984/5 during the reign of that mercurial ‘Superman’ Peter Sterling. The day in question is Friday 29th March 1985 and it was a game under the lights at the Boulevard, against a rampant Wigan team. It was a strange season in some ways because although we had Peter Sterling and John Muggleton at the Club, we also had an array of other international stars like Steve Norton, Lee Crooks and the four New Zealanders. However we spluttered and mis-fired at times as the golden era of the early 1980’s started to unravel and come to an end.
There was an air of despondency and gloom around the Boulevard after we had been beaten easily at both Castleford and St Helens and we had a big Cup semi final coming up, whilst our opponents Wigan were already through to the final at Wembley and were riding on the crest of a wave. They were unbeaten in their last 15 League games and only needed to win that day to equal the record for an unbeaten run in the then First Division.
Hull began well and controlled much of the first quarter, taking the lead through a well struck penalty by Lee Crooks on 10 minutes. Then a brilliant break by Peter Sterling saw his brother-in-law John Muggleton free on his shoulder from where he cruised in but Crooks missed an easy conversion, although at 6-0 the crowd were warming to the task and although there were only 8000 in attendance that night, the atmosphere at that point was electric. A young Paul Eastwood who had just started to break into the first team was having an excellent game and should have scored twice in the next ten minutes after being held desperately short on both occasions by the scrambling Wigan defence.
We were fighting hard and Trevor Skerrett and Lee Crooks were matching and beating the big mobile Wigan pack which was lead by West, Potter and Dermott. Wigan was certainly a side running hot and as we made some elementary mistakes that handed them possession the Lancastrians started to get on top. Still it looked like we had held out until halftime with Peter Sterling struggling with hip and shoulder injuries, while Gary Kemble was limping at full-back with a groin strain. Then as the hooter went, Hull hooker Shaun Patrick lost the ball and a sweeping move involving Wigan full back Ford saw him shoot down the left and on the last play of the half, hold off three would be tacklers to score. Stephenson converted and the scoreboard showed the game tied at 6-6. We all thought that was it, particularly as both Kemble and Sterling failed to re-appear after the interval and Wigan went straight back onto the attack. However with two of our leaders off the field the rest of the team got stuck in.
It only took the visitors 5 minutes to take the lead and it was that man Ford again who took a short pass from Kenny and raced away from the cover before, using Henderson Gill as a foil, he cruised in near the posts. At 12-6 it looked all over and a further successful penalty to Wigan saw sections of the crowd started to voice their frustrations. However unlike the two previous games in which we had capitulated, Hull hung in and started to fight back. Dave Topliss, who was getting to the end of a glittering career at Hull, had come on for Sterling and soon started to work his magic as did James Leuluai who had switched from centre to full back. Toppo broke through a tackle in his own half by Juliffe and Holden and found Leuluai who somehow engineered himself some space and set off downfield. Ford was out of position in the opposition defence and our stand in full back raced away to beat the chasing cover in a breath-taking 65 yard move. Then Lee Crooks who had struggled to find his kicking touch left us all gasping as he brilliantly curled the ball through the posts from wide out to convert the try and reduce the Wigan lead to just two points at 14-12.
Back onto the field hobbled Sterling as Hull started to take the initiative and for the first time it was Wigan that were starting to panic. It was now a thrilling game to watch and as Wigan swept across field a long speculative pass from Brett Kenny arced towards Graeme West, but into the line scorched the master of half chances Steve Evans. Quick as a flash he intercepted the ball and with the cover blown and roared on by the crowd, he charged downfield for 35 yards to beat Ford at the line and score a brilliant try. The place exploded with cheering as Hull at last wrestled the initiative away from Wigan and led 16-14. Hull tackled like terriers before John Muggleton came up with the killer blow. Feeding off a simple pass by Sterling (who had returned to play on one leg and whose hip was obviously damaged) he dummied to Topliss, stumbled, half tripped, looked up and dropped a great goal. Those final 5 minutes seemed to last a lifetime and in the last seconds Kenny broke away and aimed a pin point pass to Henderson Gill on the wing. It looked as if we would be robbed of a famous victory, but Gill inexplicably fumbled the pass, the ball fell to the ground, fate took a hand and the hooter went.
That night sheer determination and an unwillingness to accept defeat won the day after our line and game plan had been severely disrupted by injuries. It might not have been one of our most spectacular displays but it was one of our most whole hearted and by the end no one could question Hull’s commitment to the cause. Peter Sterling had led us to a great victory, but when he was off the field the rest of the team closed ranks and held the line. There’s a lesson there I think for our current team but it was a great night and it’s a great memory.
Looking for an unusual and interesting present for a fan of the game this Christmas? Well here’s an idea. As I said earlier I was in York on Thursday where I attend a seminar about self publishing and marketing books. I met some great people as well, none more than a guy called Stuart Sheard who has written books about both Rugby League and Union. He’s read the Roamin’ books but he’d had an blooming interesting life too, having (amongst many RL related positions), been involved at the launch of Sheffield Eagles as a professional team and for a while being football manager at Huddersfield Giants; as well of course, as being an accomplished author. Afterwards I came by one of his books, ‘Making up the Numbers’, which is a really good read about the games amateur Clubs and their involvement in the Challenge Cup over the years; I’ve been reading it ever since.
The book starts back at the end of the 19th Century and finishes with the third round of the Cup in 2013. It brought back memories of our game against Millom at the Boulevard on the way to Wembley in 1980 and against Ellenborough Rangers in 1998. While there’s also load’s about the heroics of our local amateur Clubs and games like the West Hull victories at Highfield and against York in 1996 and East Hull’s at Swinton in 2004. If you like a different angle on the game then I can really recommend the book which is full of good stories and well illustrated. It’s printed by York Publishing Services (01904 431203) and it makes a great gift priced, as it is, at just £7.99.
So, that’s the adverts over and ’it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’, well it was last Tuesday when we received our first card! However as for it being a time of peace and goodwill to all men well, that was soon wearing a bit thin when I spotted the bloody Robin on the front! But, in a week when we found out that James Graham was ‘a quiet and spotty lad’, according to his first junior trial appraisal sheet, when a Dutch women almost reached the South Pole on a farm tractor and a Greek first Division football match was interrupted by a goat, there was certainly nothing THAT exciting happening at Hull FC.
I’ve done my best but there has been little news about and the whole place has been quiet following all the frenetic activity and hype that surrounded last weekend’s season ticket deadline. Still with just 5 weeks to go to the first pre season Friendly (which is three weeks too short if you want an alcohol license in York) we are at last getting towards some action.
So once again it’s a massive thank you for sticking with what has probably been the most difficult Diary to write so far and with just two more to come before our annual Christmas break you’re probably ready for a rest as much as I am. It’s been great to hear from so many readers again this week and I hope you found at least a bit to interest you in here. See you next week when no doubt there will be lots more exciting and interesting news, including no doubt, what colour speedo’s Kirk has taken to Portugal!