Hello and welcome to another edition of the lockdown diary. We are now another week closer to the season starting and have the lads back in training on Monday! Well done to those who went in early to do some extra’s and let’s hope that we can hit the road running and put that bad start to the season behind us. What’s more, we know who we are playing and when, however it’s all a bit strange with triple headers in neutral Stadiums isn’t it? But, with the issues about Toronto’s Visa’s relegation and promotion, the Championship’s future this year and the rigours of weekly testing, I’m not at all sure how the coming season will pan out for us at all. I’m doing my best to get the two book serialisation finished by the games commence again, and thanks to everyone who has supported me through the last 16 weeks. So here we go again this time through the Brian Smith era and back into some darker times at the Boulevard!
The death of a ‘National Monument’ and the end of our spiritual home!
The 1990/91 season was one when I did precious little else besides go to the pub, work and look forward to the weekend. With Brian Smith ‘driving’ Hull FC both on and off the pitch, we were moving forward apace. However, none of us were ready for the shock announcement that the Club, desperate to upgrade the facilities at the Boulevard, were planning to demolish the Threepenny Stand for it to be replaced with a new £300,000 structure that would seat 880 fans, have 14 hospitality boxes, a television gantry and standing room for 450 spectators.
The artist’s impressions certainly depicted a futuristic structure but few of us were prepared to say goodbye to the most feared and intimidating viewing gallery in the game and I think, looking back, we probably greeted the plans with a certain amount of sadness. I went down to have a look at the old place on the same day the announcement was made and, I guess, to sort of conduct my own silent vigil in memory of a lifetime of wonderful memories. However, to my horror I found that the demolition was well advanced as a lone demolition man stood at the top of the last vestige of that famous terracing, wielding a lump hammer and removing the corrugated iron roof. The rest was just a pile of wooden planks.
The Club purposely didn’t announce that work had started and for many people in West Hull reading the local paper, it was a case of the Threepenny’s being, ‘here today, gone that afternoon’. However, I wasn’t on my own that day as several other resourceful folks found out about the imminent demolition and went straight there to see what could be salvaged. I got three long metal nails and a length of roofing felt, whilst my pal Steve Roberts, got a small piece of wood he cut from the terracing. He had his ‘little piece of history’ mounted on a small plinth and to this day Steve needs no excuse whatsoever to produce this iconic artefact, and were it the Elgin Marbles it wouldn’t hold more of a historical significance for him.
So that world-famous monument to our game that held 6000 fans, was made from Red Russian Pine and that had withstood the bombs of the Third Reich and the corrosive effects of the urine of countless generations of Hull FC supporters, was no more.
I felt a real sense of loss as if it was the family home that had been demolished and rather like the pilgrimages I made when I was 16 to that little house in Aylesford Street where I was brought up, I went back to the Boulevard a few times in the next few weeks and just looked at the space where ‘The Threepenny Stand’ had stood.
Then, as if even the fates regretted the demise of the old place, immediately after it had been demolished and every trace of it removed, the whole scheme ran into financial turmoil as the Rugby League reneged on their promise to providing £150,000 towards the replacement structure. Eventually the games administrators found £50,000, and two months later the scheme was rescued by a Brewery and ‘The Tetley’s New Threepenny Stand’ finally started to take shape.
They’re rioting, in Papua New Guinea, and Victoria Square in Hull
That summer Lee Jackson and Paul Eastwood were rewarded for a great season at Hull by being selected for the British Lions Tour of Papua New Guinea and New Zealand and while in Hull City Centre the youth of the City were showing their disapproval at England’s exit from the football World Cup in Italy, by showering the Humberside Constabulary with bottles, there was even bigger trouble for the Rugby League Touring team in Papua New Guinea. Writing in the Hull Daily Mail Hull FC’s Paul Eastwood painted a picture of mayhem, danger and the majority of the players “Wanting to come home”. The tour had started well with a couple of wins over regional teams, but it was the happenings at the first Test Match in Goroka, (a regional capital that is home to around 19,000 people), that made the ‘sporting world’ take notice.
In a poorly disguised appeal to the Rugby League, Eastwood wrote an open letter to the paper and under the title of, “Get Us Out of Here”. He said, “We are living in appalling conditions and since our win in the First Test the Hotel has been under siege from irate fans brandishing sticks and even knives”. He continued, “The Test Match was a disaster, the ground held 2000 but there were 5000 in there and many stood on or over the touch line. Stones and sticks were thrown on the pitch and by the end our eyes were streaming from the effects of tear gas which was used continuously by the Police throughout the second half. There was also another 4000 locked outside waiting for get at us and it was a very scary situation indeed. The Hotel has Cockroaches and the food is shocking, please get us out of here”
Meanwhile at the Boulevard we were all looking forward to big things in the upcoming season as in came Patrick Entat, a nippy scrum half from French Club Avignon, Brad Webb an Aborigine back and Ian Marlow a new recruit from local Rugby Union Club Beverley. Ian had actually been to one of Smithy’s open trials in the past and had decided to try his hand at League, knowing of course that it would be the end of his Union career.
Sadly however, fans’ hero Steve Folkes did not return from Australia to complete his contract after being diagnosed with calcification of his leg muscles, which subsequently led to his retirement. Still, with record season ticket sales and several new faces, we all felt good about our prospects, but how good they were actually to be was probably beyond our wildest dreams.
It is only on rare occasions that you know that something big is happening at your Club. You often hope it is, but rarely do you actually know it is. However, we all had a really good feeling about the squad that year. Brian Smith had successfully developed some great young players like Steve McNamara, Richard Gay, Paul Eastwood, Jon Sharp, Russ Walker, Rob Nolan, Lee Jackson and Dean Busby and when blended with imports like Damien McGarry, ‘Crusher’ Cleal, Brett Webb, Patrick Entat and Greg ‘Bluey’ Mackey they formed a really cohesive unit. After two seasons of starting badly we began that year with five wins, including a 20-14 victory at home against Saints and a pulsating 24-22 win away at Leeds. We were flying, Brian Smith was idolised by the fans and the crowds were flocking back to the Boulevard.
Battering Wigan while the ‘spies’ look on.
Sunday 7th October 1990 Hull 24-Wigan 4
That October, once again it was time for Hull Fair and the one day I got off from the incessant grind of injured kids, moaning parents, drunken fracas and grumbling Showmen was the Sunday, and thankfully, that year, we were at home to Wigan. The visitors had a team of stars but had started the season slowly, having won just two of their first five games. The invigorated and confident Hull FC on the other hand, hadn’t lost and were top of the League.
The Boulevard had certainly been upgraded that summer and the influence of Brian Smith’s off the field was manifest in the newly refurbished ‘League’s Club’ at the Airlie Street end of the Ground and of course that new Tetley’s Threepenny Stand. However, some things, like the catering, didn’t change and the only two choices of confectionary you had were still Mars Bars and the ubiquitous marshmallow biscuits known as Wagon Wheels, the latter along with gangrenous burgers being the staple diet at most, if not all RL grounds back then.
We all got there early that day to secure the ‘Lucky Step’ on the Airlie Street end terracing where the catering was still dispensed from an ancient caravan adjacent to the Division Road gate. It was a sunny afternoon and at least for once I wouldn’t have to take shelter in the Gents under the new Stand during half time. I remember being amazed that despite the newness of the Stand and this almost palatial sanitary provision, these toilets managed to perpetuate the same acrid aroma that the back of the old stand used to embrace. Who knows, perhaps it was the ‘lingering spirits’ of thousands of phantom ‘urinators’ still relieving themselves in the ghostly portals of that famous old Stand?
That afternoon we welcomed, with the usual trepidation, the reigning title holders, and the team that had dominated domestic rugby for the last five years. The game had been ‘hyped up’ in the media all week, but the over-riding memory for me that day, came as we were joined on the terraces by two nuns wearing habits and wimples, who nodded and smiled to us before leaning on an adjacent crush barrier to watch the game. That was, for me, in a life time of watching, Rugby League a really surreal moment.
I have seen plenty of men dressed as nuns at games, but these two were definitely the real thing.
The animosity on the field began before the game had even kicked off when the Hull team came out to warm up behind the try line at the Airlie Street end. You could see that our players were certainly focused on the task ahead but minutes later, out came Wigan to do their warm up and they purposely ran to the same end.
This was obviously seen as a way of intimidating the Hull players, and, as both sides refused to move, the warm up session descended into chaos as players from both sides collided with each other. As the Hull team started back to the changing rooms and much to the amusement of the fans, a couple of our players (John Sharp and Noel Cleal) could clearly be seen to walk straight into two Wigan players, knocking them both sideways. It was great fun for the spectators and as I stood eating a Wagon Wheel, on my ‘Lucky Step’ with my pals all around me, there was nowhere in the world I would rather have been.
As referee Kevin Allett blew the whistle and we kicked off, Wigan came under an unyielding battery of crushing tackles and high speed collisions from a Hull pack that had obviously used the pre-match happenings as motivation. On attack too, we were ‘all aggression’ and within minutes both Karl Harrison and Andy Dannett had flattened Lucas and Dermott in blistering line breaking runs. The crowd of 10,900 was captivated as they roared every tackle and applauded every break.
After just 4 minutes Paul Eastwood converted a penalty when Myers tripped Rob Nolan, and then within minutes of the re-start Lee Jackson broke from acting half and found Patrick Entat on his shoulder. The little Frenchman scooted through the defence to face the Wigan full-back Joe Lydon who felled the scrum half with a high tackle straight across his head. In piled Dannett and Harrison to shouts of ‘OFF, OFF, OFF’ from the ‘New’ Threepennies, and in the melee that followed Lydon was shown the Red Card.
He tramped off, still protesting, to chants of ‘tatty bye, tatty bye, tatty bye’ and on reaching the tunnel the crowd struck up an impromptu rendition of the French National Anthem, as Entat staggered around in a daze. “You’re a F*cking disgrace Lydon” shouted a guy behind me, prompting everyone to turn as one to look at the nuns. They were both fine and heartily laughing at this outburst, as if it were the good-natured banter that’s heard at the pantomime when the crowd boo and hiss the villain.
Andy Gregory was trying his best to get Wigan moving but a crunching tackle by Ian Marlow saw him limp from the field with a leg injury, to be replaced by Phil Clarke. In the 22nd minute Eastwood converted his third penalty and the atmosphere was tense as we pressed and pressed the Wigan line. On 28 minutes the Lancastrians defence finally cracked, when Ian Marlow scored his debut try for the Club. 10 minutes later Eastwood converted another penalty awarded for obstruction and then with five minutes left to half time we went in for the kill.
With just 2 minutes to go, a half completely dominated by the Airlie Birds ended with another great try. Wigan’s Shaun Edwards took his eye off a pass from Betts and dropped the ball. Nolan snapped it up and ran at the defence before placing a measured kick towards the corner. Eastwood and the Wigan centre Dean Bell hared down field, shoulder to shoulder but both, in their desperation to get there first, over ran the ball, and Greg Mackey following up, touched it down. Eastwood converted from the touchline to make the half time score a quite unbelievable 18-0.
AS the nuns devoured the remains of their burgers Wigan restarted the game and were certainly fired up, as four forwards immediately laid out Russ Walker in a gang tackle. The ‘Pies’ hearts must have sank though when who should come trotting from the bench to take his place but Noel Cleal. ‘Crusher’s’ first tackle laid Kevin ‘The Beast’’ Iro out cold, and the game had to be stopped whilst he was resuscitated with smelling salts.
Eastwood then slotted over another penalty as Wigan got more and more frustrated. Next to suffer in the Wigan ranks was Dean Bell, who ran straight at one of his own players and was carried off unconscious. Back on came substitute Phil Clarke to last just 10 minutes before another Cleal special saw him helped from the field with a shoulder injury. During all this action Eastwood stroked over another penalty, and then there followed one of the best tries I had ever seen at the Boulevard.
The move started with a break in our own twenty by Nolan who passed onto young Steve McNamara who wriggled between two would be tacklers. Somehow Steve managed to pass onto Richard Gay, who had ghosted up on his outside and he spun out of no less than 4 tackles, before Cleal took the ball, stopping only to swat off the ‘would be’ tackle of a chasing Lucas, before ‘feeding’ the onrushing Neil Turner who scored in the corner. It was breath-taking stuff, which saw the remaining Wigan players collapse to their knees behind the posts. The game had been won by power and determination and although Wigan did get a consolation when Skerrett rolled over for a late try, as the hooter went the scoreboard at the Airlie Street end showed Hull 24 Wigan 4.
Brian Smith had the players wound up into a state of near frenzy that day and Wigan were never really allowed to get into the game. What we didn’t know at the time was that as Brian and the boys celebrated with us on the pitch afterwards, spies from Australia Club St George were in The Threepenny Stand, laying their plans to meet up with ‘Smithy’ afterwards to try and entice him back to his home land. Perhaps it was best that we the fans didn’t know really, because they’d have got lynched!!
Morons, skinheads and Greg Mackey’s sexual preference for donkeys; it had to be Wildespool
Saturday 13th October 1991 Hull 3-Warrington 2
I don’t mind a good punch up on the field, few rugby fans do, but I don’t condone bad behavior in the crowd in any shape or form. Although I have experienced some crude and disgusting behavior at rugby over the years, I have never seen anything to equal the reception Greg Mackey received on his return to Warrington. Wildespool was known to most people in Rugby League back then as ‘The Zoo’. The Board at the Lancashire Club perpetuated this title because they believed it referred to their big, rough, ‘animal’ like forwards, but most visiting supporters believed it was actually aimed at a section of their fans. It was an evil place at the best of times and I didn’t like it at all, probably because it was there, in the Gents toilets at the Railway End, that I was punched in the face and lost a front tooth back in the early 80’s.
In those days the ‘Wire’ fans, (augmented it has to be said by Manchester United and Liverpool hooligans, looking for a bit of Sunday afternoon ‘sport’), were renowned for their abuse and at times thuggish behavior, which was the last thing that most of us wanted as we arrived at the ground sedated by copious amounts of Greenall Whitney’s Bitter. On occasions we had joined the home fans in the ‘Royal Oak Branch’ public house, but that afternoon, with menace in the air, we grabbed a few cans and went straight to the ground. The day Greg Mackie returned to the Club he had left in such acrimonious circumstances he got abuse from the moment he ran onto the pitch. ‘Bluey’ actually went back to Warrington after his spell at Hull FC, but some Warrington fans never forgave him for leaving in the first place.
As we arrived at Wildespool the home fans were waiting for us and we were threatened on the way through the turnstiles by a huge, feral skin head with hardly any teeth. Covered in tattoo’s he wore cropped trousers and Doc Martin boots and looked like a throwback to the seventies. The game itself matched the atmosphere and was a tense affair, with both defences to the fore and only a penalty a piece to show on the score board after 78 minutes had been played. Our rear-guard action was truly magnificent that cold Sunday afternoon and despite a constant tirade of “you’re going home in a f*ckin’ ambulance” from the hooligans to our left and the best efforts of the Warrington players on the pitch, Hull FC held firm.
We got few attacking chances and made 270 tackles that afternoon, with Lee Jackson making a total of 39. This, plus his support of the forwards, got him the Man of the Match Award. The ‘Players’, player of the game’ was another youngster, full back Richard Gay, who on three occasions stopped the rampaging home forwards with crunching, ball and all, ‘last ditch’ tackles. Twice he stopped Paul Cullen inches short and then he held Gary Mercer up over the line, as the opposition’s star player battled to get the ball down.
Up to the last 2 minutes wave after wave of Warrington attacks peppered our line. Then suddenly they were ‘caught’ off side at a scrum and a strong touch finding penalty from Mackey saw us at last get into their half. This immediately drew another round of chant about how Greg had ‘a sexual preference for Donkey’s’ from the morons on our left and this was still ringing round the ground as Mackey got the ball 25 yard out on the third tackle. Cool as you like, and as if in response to the taunting, he stepped to the left, looked up and dropped the perfect goal, which triggered a state of hysteria amongst the 3000 Hull FC fans. We were still celebrating as several missiles flew into our Stand and a wave of Warrington fans, veins sticking out of their necks, charged across the terraces towards us through the ranks of cowering home supporters. A guy near me got a bottle on the shoulder, which hit the ground and shattered sending glass cascading up and over the crowd. However, credit to the Lancashire Constabulary because they were soon escorting a dozen of these morons out of the ground, with their arms forced up their backs.
After all the abuse he had received it was fantastic response from the little Australian. He refused to be intimidated and said afterwards, “If they had hoped to put me off, then they certainly didn’t, the more they chanted the more I wanted to inspire Hull to victory”. The final hooter went in what was by then a half empty stadium and we were pursued by more idiots who ‘chased’ us through the adjacent back street to our cars, but I guess our chanting of “There’s only one Greg Mackey” as we drove away, didn’t help much either. One coach we drove past, stuck in traffic, was having its side panels systematically kicked in by about 40 ‘Skinheads’, as its frightened occupants peered out through the windows. I particularly remember one towering individual, the ring leader, because not only did he sport cropped trousers a string vest and about size 15 Doc Martin boots painted gold, he also, most bizarrely, wore a Bishops Mitre on his head. Crazy Days!
Shortly after that great victory we were as a team and a group of supporters, brought back down to earth with a bump when the ‘Aussie’ Tourists visited Hull and left us licking our wounds after a big defeat, but we ploughed on towards Christmas when the bombshell that we all feared, but dare not even contemplate, was dropped by the Club. Brian Smith, ‘The Great Hero’ of the terraces, was on his way back home to Australia to take over at St George. The ‘Spies’ had got their man and West Hull was in mourning!
Dancing with tears in our eyes
Sunday 6th January 1991 Hull 34-Leeds 14
When his final game arrived, once again, as I have said on many occasions already, if you were there that day you’ll simply never forget it! The team played their hearts out for Brian and in the end easily beat a Leeds team who came to the Boulevard standing 3rd in the table. The 7500 fans who had come along to wish ‘Smithy’ well, were spellbound and at times left breathless by a sizzling game that had everything. Sky TV were there to broadcast a match that kicked off in the early evening and saw our forwards tear into the Leeds six with an awesome display of power and aggression that had the opposition, led by unpopular villain Garry Schofield, reeling.
After just 11 minutes Damien McGarry scored on his debut following a great pass by Webb, but then Simon Irvine got one back for Leeds before Nolan darted in at the corner and Webb finished off a flowing move. By half-time we were 16-8 in the lead before early in the second half Leeds forward Paul Dixon was sent off for a high tackle on Mackey and the party began. First Harrison blasted through the visitor’s line to put Gay clear and he found Walker superbly supporting the play to score wide out on the left. Then Leeds Full Back Gallagher dropped a high kick and Rob Nolan nipped in to make it 28-8. Following a short spell of Leeds dominance when Phil Ford scored a brilliant 75 yard try, Harrison returned from the Sin Bin, immediately broke the line and passed onto Sharp, who wriggled and writhed his way over the line to complete our scoring. What a party we had as the scoreboard showed 34-14 and the final hooter sounded.
Coming as it did just a few days after a heart-breaking defeat at Craven Park against Hull KR, the result gave Brian Smith a ‘fairy tale’ send-off. The man who had transformed Hull FC from struggling relegation candidates to Championship contenders in just two and a half years was ceremoniously chaired round the ground by the players. I was standing in the Threepenny Stand where everyone was dancing and cheering as the entourage came past us, and as often happened for us fanatics in those times of joy and yet sadness, the tears flowed.
As Smithy went by signalling with one finger that we were the top supporters in the land, I was just overcome by it all. The ‘hero of the masses’ said afterwards, “I never want to forget tonight, this was something else, I thought I’d seen it all from this club, but tonight has left me stunned and speechless” Most of the fans there that night would agree with those sentiments completely, it was the end of a short but glorious era and we were heartbroken.
Players can rarely alter our lives and affect our very being, but each time you get a new coach you can dream dreams, and hold hopes higher and better than the ones before. When a coach like say Len Casey leaves then it’s a blessing, but when someone of the calibre of ‘Smithy’, who had done so much to give us fans our pride back, departs, it’s as sombre an occasion for a true fan, as the passing of a Monarch for a royalist.
Life of course had to go on with Cleal in charge and he certainly got the support of the Board who were at that time led admirably by Chairman David Kirkwood. David was a great character who always had a story. One such revelation concerned the weekly Board meetings that were held on Tuesdays, in the Boardroom, in the offices on the front of the Boulevard. Little had changed with the Airlie Street kids since the days I was brought up down there, as David’s story was to prove. On this particular evening, just as the meeting started, there was a pounding at the door but when David answered there was no one there. This happened a couple more times until he decided to stand by the door and wait for the knock. When the knock came again he flung open the door to find a young lad of about 7 grinning at him from outside. David said, “If you do that again I’ll clip your lug”, to which the lad replied, “You’ll have to f*ckin catch me first you fat bastard” as he ran off across the car park. All David could do was laugh and he related that story till the day he died.
Sunday 13th was certainly unlucky for me, with a wasted journey and a car full of grit!
Sunday 13th January 1991 Hull 0-Widnes 0 (match postponed)
After that great victory over Leeds we were back at the top of the League Table and looking forward to the long trip over the Pennines to Widnes. I was still travelling to away games in the now aging Opal Manta, which had seen better days. It was still a great car and could really motor, but at times it was prone to the engine ‘cutting out’ for no reason at all. This annoying occurrence was easily alleviated by opening the bonnet and letting the engine cool off. Then, after about ten minutes, it would amazingly start again and be as good as new.
That Sunday we set off early and as I drove out of Hull in lovely winter sunshine, the frosty verges glisten in the cold winter air. I travelled with my pal Billy who was a sort of amateur magician and he kept me amused on the journey, with a small ventriloquist’s dummy he produced from his coat. He called it ‘Smithy’ but despite his best efforts, Billy’s lips were moving a lot more than Smithy’s appeared to be. Still I had a laugh, although as we got up onto the slopes of the Pennines the weather took a turn for the worse and it started to sleet. We stopped at a service area and telephoned back to Hull to hear that, according to Radio Humberside, the game was still on and so we started out again.
Of course just as we got to the highest part of the M62 at Saddleworth Moor, the car started to splutter and then expired altogether, as I pulled onto the hard shoulder. It was freezing cold but I knew if I just left the engine a while to cool down everything would be alright. Whilst Billy (and ‘Smithy’) looked on from the back window, I got out of the driver’s side and against a bitter wind, I opened the bonnet. At the moment I opened the doors to climb back into the car a Gritting Lorry went past and filled the car with flying salt and grit. Boy, it hurt when it hit our faces, and I was still finding lumps of salt in the car the following summer. However, after we had left it for the mandatory ten minutes the car started and after a four-hour journey we finally arrived in Widnes at 2-00pm. We parked up in the housing estate next to the ground and joined the throng of Hull FC fans making their way towards the Stadium.
What happened next though was most unexpected, as suddenly we met other Hull fans coming in the other direction and as we approached them they shouted “It’s Bloody off”. We couldn’t believe it, but we continued on to the ground not accepting what we had heard. However, it was soon confirmed by the hundreds of Widnes and Hull fans who were trudging towards us and away from Laughton Park. By the time we got to the front of the Stadium, there was a mini riot developing, with Hull’s new Coach Noel Cleal surrounded by protesting fans, some of whom were obviously agitated. Of course, the condition of the ground was nothing to do with Cleal, although in the end he had refused to let our players out onto what was a frozen pitch, because he deemed it to be too dangerous.
Despite the ground being solid and declared unfit by a referee that morning, such a big pay day was guaranteed when Hull FC came to town, that the Directors of Widnes had thought that they would wait as long as possible before making a decision. This of course was totally unfair on all those Hull fans that had made the trip over the Pennines in good faith. So embarrassed was Doug Laughton the Widnes Coach, that he agreed to play the game, but Cleal was having none of that and fearing for the health of his players he called them out of the changing rooms and back onto the bus.
It was an absolute farce, still at least we got back to Hull without any more break downs and the game was re-arranged for two days later, although the majority of Hull fans threatened to boycott it. Their protest was inconsequential in the end however, because Widnes was still in the middle of a mini ‘Ice Age’ a week later and we eventually went back to Cheshire to watch the re-arranged game on 27th February, when we were heavily defeated.
At the City Hall it was January and that usually meant a visit from Chubby Brown (the comedian, not the trumpeter) and although I had got used to fielding any flack there was from the public about his vulgarity, this time it was an extra worry because the very day he came to Hull, 17th January, coincided with the start of ‘Operation Desert Storm’ and the allies attempts to remove the troops of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Of course, plenty of local people had loved ones out in the desert and I knew that Chubby would not be able to resist a dig at the expense of this military action. In the end it wasn’t too bad really and all he said was, “You don’t need to worry about that Saddam Hussein invading Hull, his tanks will never find their way around your f*cking one-way system”
I got on well with Chubby, who never swore much off stage at all. He was certainly no trouble and usually sat in the Dressing Room with a pair of headphones on listening to his own shows so he could remember the jokes.
The Play-offs, and its Leeds…. again!
Sunday 5th May 1991 Hull 10-Leeds 7
Smith’s recommendation that ‘Crusher’ Cleal should take over from him as Head Coach certainly paid dividends, as he soon had us marching towards the Premiership play-offs for the third year running. We beat Saints at home in a great game in the first round, and then met Leeds at the Boulevard in the semi-final. What a game that was. Try as we may we could not get over the Leeds line, as they tackled everything that moved and hung on desperately to a 7-4 advantage. Then deep in the second half Greg Mackey hoisted a massive up and under, Gallagher the ‘Loiners’ full back, dropped it over the line and young Gary Nolan, only signed a few weeks earlier from amateur Rugby League, pounced to touch it down.
We had got to the final and the scenes of jubilation on the terraces were amazing! Despite being in my early 40’s I was so caught up in it all and over the fences and onto the pitch before I knew what I was doing. Mackey and Nolan were the heroes that night, as once again Old Trafford and Widnes were beckoning.
It’s all the heartache that makes victory so sweet. The only thing that was missing was ‘Smithy’
Sunday 12th May 1991 Hull 14-Widnes 4
That year we had finished third in the league primarily because of ‘Smithy’s’ influence and the fact that we won those first seven games, whilst the Cheshire team, who finished one place and six points in front of us, were hailed by the pundits as one of the greatest teams ever. Widnes had of course beaten us in the same game 2 years earlier and won it twice before that in the 80’s, so were therefore on a great run and aiming for a win in their fourth successive Premiership Final.
It was a surprise to everyone that we had even managed to get to the Final and at William Hills’ across the north of England very long odds were being offered on a Hull win. It was however our second Premiership Final in three years and the players and fans alike had decided that this one “Was for Smithy!”
That week I remember I had done my bit to ensure a victory, wearing my lucky socks every day and sleeping in my Hull shirt every night! Still, when I awoke on Saturday it was a perfect morning, it was game day, the sun was shining, the bird were singing and the lawnmower was broken. We drove down to the game in my new Rover which was my first ever new car. To ensure my new mode of transport was safe we didn’t park in the usual industrial estate close to the Stadium, but found a spot that was well away from the ground, in the area surrounding the Manchester Ship Canal.
Over 25,000 made the trip over the Pennines from Hull in a gate of just over 42,000. I remember before the game we were heartened by speculation about the morale in the Widnes’ camp and it was rumoured that their coach, Doug Laughton was leaving for Leeds and that their star player Martin Offiah was moving to Wigan. Both these rumours were, in the next two weeks, to be proved true. The ‘Chemics’ however had coasted to wins over Bradford and Featherstone in their previous two play-off games and were hot favourites to win the Final.
That day I stood with thousands of FC fans on the Stretford End where we sang ourselves hoarse. There were rumours abounding back in Hull that Noel Cleal had spent hours poring over video’s of Widnes before the game, something that although common place now, was still rare in those days! It is said that Brain Smith rang the dressing rooms and spoke to the players and Noel beforehand, as the stage was set for a classic encounter.
At last the Final kicked off. Karl Harrison and Andy Dannatt really got stuck into the Widnes’ front row from the off and when we got the ball in the early plays, Patrick Entat and Greg Mackey completely outplayed the Widnes half back pairing of Hulme and Dowd. This was exactly how we expected the game would unfold, as the general consensus was that Widnes would hold out and with their superior backs, take us apart in the last quarter of the game, however when the first try came for Hull and it was a classic. Nothing ‘was on’ as Richard Gay cut through the Cheshire Club’s defence to touch down, and after Paul Eastwood had stepped inside to beat about 4 would be tacklers and put Russ Walker over, we were 8-0 up at half time and all I wanted to do was go outside, walk around the Manchester streets and pretend the score would stay like that until the end. Instead, I remember, I had a flat pint in a floppy plastic glass and hypothesised about how we could have been even further in front had we been a bit steadier in the goal kicking department.
As the second half started we all feared a Widnes backlash and it came with a fantastic 75-yard move following a Soronson break, which ended with Offiah flying in at the corner. Then as a growing sense of the inevitable enveloped the whole Stadium, they threw everything at us and in the space of two minutes both Offiah and Davies were tackled into touch near the corner flag! Widnes’s best chance came as their massive forward Emiso Koloto broke through. With Wright open to his left he switched play to Devereux at the other side and we scrabbled back to just grab him short of the line. Then Tait and Hulme were both held up inches short and it seemed just a matter of time before we cracked.
It was however then time for some real ‘fairytale’ stuff, as Gary Nolan, the hero from the previous week scored the winner and it all unfolded right in front of us. Gary had come on for the injured Damien McGarry and we looked lost for ideas as we struggled to penetrate a resolute and uncompromising Widnes defence. Then Greg Mackey slung out a sharp short pass to Nolan who was immediately enveloped by four Widnes forwards just five yards out. He writhed around in mid-air and as they held him at 45 degrees, there, right in front of us, as we watched in amazement, somehow he pushed the tacklers forward. As we held our breath and as if in slow motion an arm came out of the ruck of players and plumped the ball over the line. And ….the place went ballistic!
Eastwood converted from near the touchline and as ‘Old Faithful’ rang around that great Stadium; we held out for the last ten minutes and lifted the Trophy! In his six-week career at the Club Gary Nolan had come on as sub 3 times, and scored on each occasion! The scenes were fantastic as they always are in these situations, and as the team came over to us with the Trophy and Chesney Hawkes’ hit, “I Am the One and Only” blasted through the speakers, it was the second tearful moment for me that season. One thing I remember so well was the way that all the Club’s Directors ran onto the pitch to receive the adulation of the crowd, all that was, except one. Ironically, Mike Stanley, the guy who had brought Brian Smith (the Coach who had made all this possible) over from Australia, was content to stand out of the lime-light on the touchline, as showing great humility, he applaud the players with the rest of the fans.
It was a great victory and as we headed back to the car singing all the way, it was the end to a perfect day. Sometimes, just occasionally in sport something magical happens and that game is seared onto your brain forever. Those of us who were there at Old Trafford that day will never forget it. It was simply more than just a game.
Next morning when I woke up in an alcoholic haze, I looked out of the bedroom window at my new car down in the street and I looked again because I couldn’t believe it. Whilst we had been parked in Manchester someone had jumped all over it and because it couldn’t be beaten out, the cost for a replacement roof was £800! However even that couldn’t dampen the fantastic feeling I had of winning that trophy. The 12th of May 1991 is still a very special day and one that will live with me forever, particularly whenever I polish the roof of my car!
A summer of discontent!
On 18th May we all went along to the Guildhall with another 8000 Hull FC fans and holding our cans of Lager aloft, we celebrated with the team up on the balcony as one by one they lifted the Premiership Trophy before retiring to the Banqueting Hall for a Civic Reception hosted by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Les Taylor. Sadly, that was to be it, the pinnacle of our achievement for now at least, as tight budgets, underachieving attendances and over stretched resources in that last great season, started to hit home on the balance sheet.
There were just too many twists and turns to outline here, but as fans at least we did our bit for the forthcoming season, as the Club reported record sales of season tickets, with £100,000 worth being sold by the end of May. The Directors had to decide whether to offer Caretaker Coach Noel Cleal a contract, something that took then almost a month to resolve. Poor old ‘Crusher’ probably didn’t realise what was about to happen, otherwise he would have returned to Australia and been back ‘wrestling Wild Boar in the Outback’ like a shot.
We managed to get Greg Mackey signed up for another year and at the end of the month he was joined by Coach Cleal also on a one-year deal. Meanwhile a new Club, The Scarborough Pirates, had been formed and as they attempted to assemble a competitive team their coach, the ubiquitous Len Casey, signed the aging Gary Pearce for £15,000. Then the fans received a ‘hammer blow’ as the Club sold ace forward and mainstay of our pack Karl Harrison to Halifax for £100,000, citing desperate financial problems as the reason behind this shock move. So ,as the Green Sports Mail turned ‘pink’ and Hull FC opened their first town centre retail outlet in Princes Quay, the Club and the fans were in turmoil. In fairness we did sign Wayne Portlock and David Ronson from Manley. Then as two of our young stars Chico Jackson and Steve McNamara returned from a summer playing in Australia, we were also linked with Brian Smith’s younger brother, half back Tony Smith, but nothing came of it.
The ‘Charity Shield’ and a ‘sing-song’ on York Station.
Sunday 25th August 1991 Hull-8 Wigan 22
First up that new season in an attempt to mimic the Football League, the winners of the League, Wigan and Hull FC, the victorious Premiership title holders met in a Charity Shield game at Gateshead Athletics Stadium. I went by train to the game although our performance was a shambles, and it was with some disappointment and foreboding that we returned to Hull that night, wondering ‘had our journey had been really necessary’.
One point of note from that game surrounds Steve McNamara who made a piece of Rugby League history that day when, following the Rugby League’s introduction of a Blood Bin, Steve was the first in this country to occupy it in a competitive game. On the journey back we got stranded for almost two hours between trains at York and so, with around another 50 Hull FC stalwarts, we resolved to partake of a few beers which soon turned into quite a party in the Station Buffet. Before long that grand old Victorian building was resonating to endless choruses of ‘Old Faithful’, much to the amusement of a handful of itinerant Sunday evening travellers.
However bad we were, (and we were pretty awful) we could usually beat Leeds
Sunday 15th September 1991 Hull16 -Leeds 11
So it was that 8,255 attended the Boulevard for the visit of Leeds. It was a good turnout too, particularly when you consider that we still hadn’t won a Division One game and it was mid-September and were bottom of the table. This was however a chance of revenge over a Leeds side that had the week before thrashed us at Headingley, as we clashed again, this time in the first round of the Webster’s Yorkshire Cup. Thankfully Greg Mackey chose this game to regain his imperious form of the previous campaign, Wayne Portlock played his first game at stand-off and Jon Sharp and Richard Gay both returned from injury.
Leeds came to town with the tabloids ‘nick naming’ them ‘The Millionaires of Rugby’ because they had spent a fortune on building a team that included Darren Goulding, John Bentley and David Herron, as well as ex FC heroes, Garry Schofield and Gary Divorty. Also included that day was new acquisition Ellery Hanley who the Loiners had signed the previous week, for a transfer fee in excess of a £225,000.
The game started with Hull’s Steve Durham felling Leeds’ Maskill with a real ‘haymaker’ of a tackle, after which he received attention, before converting the penalty. Then Chico Jackson broke a tackle by Heugh and scrambled thirty yards down field handing off Leeds tacklers as he went, before he was hit late on the ground by O’Neill and from that penalty Eastwood levelled the scores. Portlock who had only had one training session since arriving was showing up well, particularly in defence, where he constantly blotted out the threat that Schofield posed at 6.
O’Neill, who was doing what he could to intimidate Gregg Mackey, then swung a punch at our Scrum Half as he sidestepped past him and Eastwood converted the penalty again for us to lead 4-2. As half-time approached you had to wonder how the two sets of forwards could keep up the high speed collisions that seemed to mark every tackle, but after a good set of drives from Leeds, Bobby Goulding stood back in the line and dropped a goal to send the sides in at the interval with Hull leading 4-3.
The Airlie Birds came out fighting and at last we scored a try. Mackey hoisted a stunning ‘Bomb’ which Steve McNamara caught before he fed Russ Walker and our second rower crashed in for Eastwood to convert. However as so often happened back then, it was to be ‘Judas’ Schofield who broke our hearts with a try in the 53rd minute. Portlock was starting to work well with Mackey and Sharp and on several occasions his flat ‘Aussie’ style passes put players into space, however he tried it once too often and of course in came Schofield to intercept and run 60 yards to score under the crossbar. With Hull’s lead cut to 10-9 we started to panic and when Busby was caught off-side, Referee Morris awarded a penalty. Maskill, the visitor’s kicker, steered it in from wide out on the right, and we were trailing by one point, which left us wondering if the floodgates were about to open.
That last twenty minutes was played out in a white-hot atmosphere as the Hull forwards struggled to stop the marauding Leeds backs running away with the game. Durham and Walker were immense, pushing Leeds back time and again and in so doing laid a platform for our backs to ‘relieve’ the line on several occasions.
Then in the 68th minute Mackey shot out of ‘acting half and drawing Hanley he passed to Sharp, who found Lee Jackson careering through a gap in the Leeds defence. With the ‘alarm bells’ ringing in the visitors defence three players tracked back to grab’ our hooker on the 20-meter line, but as he went to ground he slipped a pass to Greg Mackey, who had started the move, recovered and chased after the play. ‘Bluey’ caught the ball and accelerated away from the Loiner’s defence to score. And as Eastwood converted the try, we led again 16-11. Amazingly that was it. Leeds threw everything at us in that last 11 minutes but some strong tackling and passion saw us home. Hanley, Schofield and Goulding all went close, but Hull’s defence was simply superb and as the final hooter went, ‘Crusher’ Cleal ran onto the field to congratulate his players and we all gave them a standing ovation as the chants of “Spent a fortune won F*ck all…..Leeds……Leeds” and “Judas, Judas what’s the score” echoed around the ground!
Derek Fox ‘drops’ us out of the Yorkshire Cup
Sunday 1st October 1991 Hull 18-Featherstone 21
Around that time the Club announced that in the 1990/91 season we had lost over £107,000 against a profit the previous year of £87,000. This turn around, despite it being a season when we won our first trophy for years, fired a rebellion in the Board Room which saw Chairman David Kirkwood ousted to be replaced by Steve Watson, (although in fairness the club was to fair little better under his control). Afterward Kirkwood, who was a sound and sincere guy, said he was “Stunned and Heartbroken” with the actions of his colleagues on the Board and quite frankly, so were most of the fans, who handed a petition reflecting their unhappiness to the Board, the following week. David offered to resign completely and as the rest of the Board agreed, he left his beloved Hull FC; but he would return. It was a real shock for most of the fans because Kirkwood had always appeared to be a calming figurehead at our Club. I remember thinking that I might just ‘pick my games’ from then onwards but that was only a fleeting consideration, because I can’t do that. Over the years I know that I have always envied those people who can treat their Club as they would a Restaurant, and withdraw their patronage when the fare on offer goes off a bit, but as true fans you can’t do that. Ironically of course that’s the reason Clubs keep going, because there are so many mugs like me who know we can’t live with them and yet can’t survive without them.
However someone who was proving to be a big success at the time was our new Commercial Manager John Fillingham who had opened the new store in Princes Quay and developed several money making schemes in the hope of refinancing a Club that was literally haemorrhaging money. In the three months up to Christmas, Hull FC sold 3,500 replica shirts, which was more than any other Club in the British game. Not bad really, after several supporters had written to the papers earlier in the year saying that it was “The worse shirt the Club has ever produced” However on the field we continued to struggle as a deepening injury crisis once again hit us hard.
We suffered our worst defeat for two years at Wigan by 30-4 before redeeming ourselves at Belle Vue Wakefield with a good win, in which prop forward Durham broke his leg in two places. Then around 1000 Hull FC fans made the trip to Post Office Road Featherstone for a keenly contested Yorkshire Cup Semi Final when, because of all our injuries, winger Chico Jackson played at Prop and Lee Jackson and Greg Mackey shone. In the end we were desperately unlucky to lose, but finally went down as Derek Fox, their wily and talented scrum half, dropped two goals to see us narrowly defeated in pouring rain. However after all the rejoicing and celebrations at Old Trafford just 5 months earlier, the season was starting to turn out to be a nightmare.
James at the City Hall and the Police in hot water!
By the end of October Hull FC had won just 5 games in 13 but after Noel Cleal had survived a ‘Vote of Confidence’ from the new Board we had a more successful period when we won 5 of the next 7. At the City Hall business was booming and a sell-out concert saw the crowds queued round the venue to gain admittance to a concert by leaders of the aptly named ‘Madchester Movement’, James. The story went back then that the group who hits with ‘Come Home’ and ‘Sit Down’ had actually made more money from T-shirt sales than they did from selling records. Whatever the truth was, James had been at the forefront of the Manchester explosion of the early 90’s with the innovative yet beautifully simple J-A-M-E-S and daisy design T-shirts which everyone in the audience seemed to be wearing that night.
It was a great concert and as I went to collect the merchandising fee afterwards, the tour’s Commercial Manager told me that he would be disappointed if he hadn’t sold at least £6000 worth of shirts that night. I’ve still got mine and although I don’t often go out wearing a shirt with a flower on it, that yellow T shirt is still one of my prized possessions.
It was around that time too, I remember, when that once great bastion of the trawling community The Vauxhall Tavern hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. With all the compulsory purchase and demolition that had gone on along Hessle Road there were few residents left and the surviving hostelries had to do whatever they could to keep going. ‘The Vauxhall’ opted to go for the ‘Pink pound’ and had gained a reputation as a ‘Gay’ pub. That October the Landlord was in Court in Hull charged with ‘serving drink after hours’. According to the Hull Daily Mail he had be caught when two “Under cover” Policemen “Gained his confidence” and were offered drink after 11-00pm.
If the thought of two ‘under cover policemen’ in a gay pub is starting to fire your imagination, then consider the fact that the Landlord said in his defence that those partaking of drink were mostly the “Camp followers of the The Dragettes”, the band performing that night. The report in the local paper concluded with the statement “The two Policemen left when the clientele started to spike their drinks”. It’s a story worthy of inclusion I think, simply because it was of its time, and you couldn’t make it up!
Andy Dannett, the High Court injunction and Ellery Handley’s jaw!
Saturday 23rd November 1991 Hull 4-Leeds 12
At the end of November we suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Leeds at the Boulevard in a close game that could, right up to the last ten minutes have gone either way. The main talking point was the fact that the Leeds Captain, Ellery Handley, had his jaw broken in four places in a tackle by Hull Prop Andy Dannett, although at the time the referee took no action except to wave ‘play on’. A week later after the full extent of Hanley’s injury was known the Leeds Board complained to the Rugby League. The Governing Body then took the unprecedented action of calling Dannett to a disciplinary hearing in retrospect, when convention was that the referee either sent someone off or decided on the day what action should be taken.
Hull FC then took an unprecedented step themselves and sought a High Court Injunction to prevent Dannett being summoned to the Rugby League for the deferred hearing. A Club taking this action against their Governing Body was almost unheard of in British Sport but at the Old Bailey the Club’s objections were over ruled and Andy Dannett was subsequently banned by the RL for 8 matches. There was a great sense of injustice about the final outcome and the action taken by the Board of Hull FC saw them gain a deal of kudos with the fans at a time when they were about to need some.
What are we getting for Christmas? Well, certainly not Martin Offiah!
Sunday 15th December 1991 Hull 12-Wigan 24
Again I travelled over the Pennines to Wigan in heavy sleet showers and then a deal of mist and murk to witness a disappointing reversal in a game where we played very well and Greg Mackey and new signing Ian Stephens, the ex-Welsh Rugby Union scrum half, starred. Next day, expecting to read the report on the game, I was amazed as the front page of the local paper announced “Hull make bid for Offiah”. “What’s this”, I thought, “April Fools’ Day”. I knew that the best player in the world was reported to be unsettled at Widnes and wanted a move, but I also knew that the fee demanded by the Cheshire team was £700,000.
However, Widnes Chairman Jim Mills indicated that Hull FC had made an enquiry and were “Going away to consider making us an offer” and the Hull fans were sent into a frenzy of eager anticipation. As everyone eagerly awaited developments, rumours were everywhere and included the fact that Offiah had been seen in Woolworths, a betting shop, a fish shop on Hessle Road and even in a taxi outside Hull Royal Infirmary. John Fillingham said that the Club was putting together the necessary finance and sponsorship to secure the star and eventually just before Christmas we made a firm offer of £350,000. The Hull Board, in announcing the bid, said that it was a “Take it or Leave it” situation, but by now of course both Leeds and Wigan were in the bidding and so in the end Widnes decided to “leave it”. Still at least for most FC fans the situation had offered a modicum of distraction from the usual Christmas shopping. However, the festive season was a disaster with defeats to Castleford, Wigan and Hull KR, but with the new Hull FC shop in the City Centre taking over £100,000 in three months; it wasn’t all bad news for everyone!
A First-hand experience of a tickling stick
The following March for the first time since I had been involved with the venue, we promoted Ken Dodd at the City Hall. We had sold around 1400 tickets, about 200 short of a sell-out, but this didn’t seem to satisfy Ken who has a reputation for being a bit ‘Careful with his Money’. Norman his Tour Manager told me he was unhappy that there was only one of his posters in the Advertisement Boards at the front of the Hall and so I was summoned to his dressing room. As I tapped on the door with the star on it, he shouted “Come in” in his best ‘Dickie Mint’ accent.
Once he had found out who I was, I got a real ‘ear bending’ about the lack of posters and the venue “not fulfilling their contractual obligations” however I can’t honestly remember anything else about what was said because this tirade was administered by one of the world’s top comedians wearing a Dress Suit Jacket, a ‘dickie bow’ tie and…… his underpants.
What underpants they were too!! They were utilitarian ‘off white’ heavy cotton trunks, with a gaping fly which displayed the ‘Last Turkey in the shop’ hanging there in full view. The thing was that Ken didn’t seem to care at all and just continued shouting about his posters and yet I couldn’t avoid it, it was there right in front of me. I guess it was a moment not unlike that ‘topless Juliet’ moment at the Hull Truck Theatre years earlier because although I shouldn’t look, I just couldn’t avert my eyes!! Of course, you can guess which experience of the two I preferred, but I was never able to take Ken Dodd seriously after that. But I guess that was the idea!! However, since that few people who have watched him with me have been aware of what I’m laughing at.
Mr Patel’s quick weight loss diet; never have a pie in Rochdale!
Sunday 2nd February 1992 Hull 34-Rochdale Hornets 28
I remember being really buoyed by some of our performances that spring and despite being drawn away in three consecutive rounds we got all the way to the Semi Finals of the Challenge Cup before going out in a close game to Castleford. The fact that we were drawn away in every round was really bad luck, but we won at Rochdale, Sheffield and Workington to get to Headingley where a polished Castleford side just saw us off 8-4.
After that defeat although we beat Leeds (as usual) at the Boulevard we lost the next three games on the trot and sadly ‘Crusher’ Cleal was shown the door. However, bear with me as I go back a bit to that Rochdale game in the Cup which was an exciting affair that I watched from the shed like Stand behind the posts with another 1,500 Hull fans.
The journey over the Pennines was a long one that day as there were several sets of road works which hampered the progress of an armada of cars and buses, so when we got there I was famished and set off to find something to eat.
Spotland, being a football ground, accommodated the away fans in a segregated area and the only refreshment facility available was a small battered caravan with a large pink sign that announced “Patel’s Pies; The Traditional Taste of Lancashire” and perhaps I should have been a bit suspicious when I observed that Mr Patel appeared to have had two goes at spelling ‘Traditional’. This mobile dispenser of crusty comestibles was certainly popular, something that was confirmed by the queue of hungry ‘Airlie Bird’ fans that stretched round the side of the Stand. By the time I reached the front they were out of ‘Beef and Gravy’ Pies and all that was left was a rather dubious looking tray of ‘Spicey Chicken Balti Pies’. “What’s that all about then”, I asked the guy in a turban, who I suspected was probably Mr Patel himself, but he just grinned as he passed me one and watched as I struggled to decide exactly how to eat the lukewarm spicy offering.
A guy in an obviously home-knitted Hull FC jumper and hand knitted ‘bobble hat’ who seemed to have the whole situation worked out, saw the perplexed look on my face and advised me to bite the corner off the pie and drink the contents before consuming the crusty bits that were left. I followed the instructions, the contents ran down my throat like soup and it appeared everything was going well, until they hit my stomach. The term ‘gut wrenching’ was the best description, but I ate it and in a close game we eventually came out winners 32-28 and progressed to the next round.
In the middle of the following night I discovered once again that it’s not just your mouth that Curry burns and by Monday lunchtime, I was leaving my office at Ferensway and heading home with excruciating stomach ache. I had awoken that morning with a sort of shivering trembling feeling all over my body but put that down to the fact that the previous evening I had stayed in and not had a drink!
By Monday night I was experiencing violent convulsions (from both ends) and found myself in a condition that I would best describe as ‘The Perfect Storm’. By Tuesday morning I had to call the Doctor, I was in so much pain. I honestly had no idea what had caused it until the Doctor announced that I had Salmonella poisoning, which he told me was caused by the consumption of poultry that is not properly cooked. “It was Mr Patel’s, bloody Pie” I shouted, as right on cue my stomach contracted violently again. Of course, I got better eventually and the loss of a stone in weight didn’t go down too badly in the end either. However, I have never eaten a pie at an away ground again and to this day, whenever I think of Rochdale, I don’t reflect on the home of the Rochdale Pioneers, Gracie Fields or Lisa Stansfield; I just think of pies, and the week I had to keep the toilet role in the fridge.
Steve Crooks saves the day.
Friday 17th April 1992 Hull 12-Hull KR 8
Like Len Casey before him, Cleal’s tough upbringing had made him a straight talker and that didn’t suit everyone, he was unfairly compared to the affable and eloquent Brian Smith and that and some disappointing results was in the end his downfall. After Cleal had departed the Hull Directors asked long serving member of the backroom staff Steve Crooks, to become temporary caretaker Coach and after a bad couple of weeks Hull desperately needed a win to ensure they stayed in the First Division. However, we faced a daunting task at Craven Park against a Hull KR side who had lost their last three games and were desperate themselves. It was certainly a drab afternoon across the river and the pitch was heavy and devoid of grass. Crooks’ team selection that day included a young Andrew Mighty playing on the left wing and Peter Spring returning from injury to play at blind side prop.
From the Kick-Off our forwards took control and keeping the ball tight set about winning the battle down the middle of the pitch. Although he had been at Hull around 7 years, Crooks was an ex Rovers Player, an East Hull lad and still lived at that side of the City, so sitting there on the trainer’s bench trying to mastermind a win against Rovers must have seemed strange to him. On 15 minutes Gay ran from deep and sliced through the Rovers defence, Greg Mackey hoisted a kick that seemed to hang in the air indefinitely and David Ronson sped in to catch it and score.
The same player then completed a deft interception 60 yards out and again ran back down field to touch down. Eastwood goaled both tries and we had a 12-0 lead. Up front the Hull pack revelled in the heavy going while Rovers did us a favour by opting to get drawn into that game rather than utilising their faster and more mobile back division and Ronson’s tries certainly silenced the Hull KR fans packed into the East Stand.
If the home team needed some inspiration then they got it just before half time when Barkworth, after fine work by Des Harrison and Hallas, scored wide out and with Mick Fletcher converting at half time we led by just 6 points. In the second half it was obvious that Hull KR Coach George Fairburn had changed the tactics as the home side utilised some booming downfield kicks by Wayne Parker to drive us back. It was now a real war of attrition as Rovers continued to persist down the middle of the field and Hulls forwards led brilliantly by Jon Sharp had to work really hard to contain them.
Hull substitute Dean Busby saved a certain try when he pulled off an amazing one-armed tackle on the advancing Parker before Hull KR’s flyer Sodje thought he had scored in the corner after a flowing movement between Harrison and Hallas, but referee Connelly had spotted a forward pass. The Rovers’ fans goaded us as they celebrated ‘a try’ before the Hull fans retorted with the ‘Red, Red Robin song’ with the “‘Shoot the Bastard” finale, as they realised it had been chalked off.
For the rest of the second half Hull tackled like demons although in fairness the Robins had few ideas and in the end it was only a good tackle by Bright Sodje that stopped Hull winger Paul Eastwood scooting in at the corner. As the light faded and the poor Craven Park floodlights came on, the referee blew his whistle and we had won. We had lost a lot of possession in our own half and certainly gifted Rovers the ball on several occasions although that day our tenacity and strength in the tackle got us through. Steve Crooks, who lived that way on, must have been one of the only folks smiling in East Hull that night because that victory kept us in the First Division for another season at least.
At the end, I remember, with a nod to the popular Manchester ‘Music Scene’ the ever inventive Hull fans struck up with their own version of the current Inspiral Carpets hit as they sang to the Hull KR supporters, as they tramped out of the East Stand, “This is how it feels to be lonely, this is how it feels to be small, this is how it feels when your teams worth nothing at all” which as always was brilliantly inventive! That year Hull KR had dispensed with a match day programme and instead produced a newspaper for each game. Ironically, as I left the ground at the end to go and see if I still had any wing mirrors left on the car, I noticed a copy of the ‘paper’ blowing around by the gates. The headline highlighting George Fairburn’s first year as the Club’s Coach said, “He’s Loving Every Minute of it!” I laughed to myself and thought, “I bet he wasn’t that afternoon”.
Crooksy’s reign as Hull Coach was however to be short lived as following the final game of the year, a defeat at home to Castleford by 30-14, the Club announced that they had secured the services of an Australian Coach, Royce Simmons who had completed an accomplished career at Australian Second Grade Champions St Mary’s.
As fans the appointment came out of the blue but with thoughts of how successful ‘Smithy’ had been arriving in similar circumstances, we were all excited again. What surprised us even more was how the Club had managed to keep their move for the Australian quiet, but we weren’t as surprised as Steve McNamara who, whilst sunning himself on a beach in Greece got a call from the Rugby League, and because of injuries, had to re-pack his bags to join the Great Britain Tour of Australia.
Simmons starts to build and Scott Gale ‘breezes’ back into town.
The first thing Simmons did after he had arrived at the Club was to make a signing. The Hull Daily Mail carried a picture of our latest recruit Scott Gale wearing the new and controversial, Black, White and Purple shirt that Commercial Director John Fillingham had introduced. Scott, you’ll remember, had been at the Boulevard four years earlier, before a bad shoulder injury caused him to return ‘Down Under’ after just two games.
However, if it was to be a good summer for the fans of Hull FC, it was certainly not one for ex Viking Radio DJ Tim Finlay who branded the citizens of Hull, “A laughing stock in the music industry” after his proposed ‘Party in The Park’ pop music festival at the Boulevard, hit the buffers. In the end he lost around £24,000 on the deal, but after his comments about them, few Hull people had much sympathy. However, many had empathy with Beautiful South’s Paul Heaton and the Public Gallery of the Hull Magistrate’s Court was packed when he appeared there having refused, as a matter of principle, to pay his Poll Tax. In the end he capitulated but he was certainly a hero in many quarters and the court had to be cleared when about seventy people stood to applaud him during the hearing.
Hull FC were, it seemed, planning for the future and the Boulevard Kids young supporter’s group were doing really well and attracting over 140 youngsters to their meetings in the bar under the New Threepenny Stand. The Ex-Players Association were helping out too, sponsoring the Club’s Academy as all the while Coach Royce Simmons continued with his team building. After the loss of Greg Mackey, who returned to Warrington, he signed Australian scrum half Ivan Hejeck from St George, James Grant from Balmain and Brendan Carlyle, from recently defunct Scarborough Pirates.
More pies more problems as ‘Pearly’ upsets Linda McCartney.
At that time I still saw a lot of Billy (the Wizz) and was also going to home games with Steve a pal from Cottingham, but I had also become friendly with a guy called Stewart Spencer who everyone knew as ‘Pearly’.
He was one of those blokes in whose company you never mentioned any bands or pop artist’s you liked because he had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of all things musical and would drone on for hours about them. He made lists as well and had his top ten Country Songs with dogs in the title, top ten songs that had been made into rugby chants etc. etc. He would also make you ‘tapes for your car’ which usually contained a series of songs he liked, which you had to listen to and learn because you knew that he would be ‘asking questions’ about them the next time you met.
‘Pearly’ was around 60, an average sized bloke with a long unkempt beard, and long hair that he tied in a pony tail with either a dirty bandana or an elastic band. ‘Pearly’ lived on his own with his records in a ‘garret’ flat in the Avenues area where he used to open the roof light and lay on his bed to sunbathe in summer Above all though Pearly had an absolute love for all things Americana, so much so that on a couple of occasions my pals and I had to stop him setting off to away games in a Cowboy hat and spurs.
‘Pearly’ worked at a local Frozen food company, who were famous for supplying a wide range of food including County Pies for Linda McCartney, who championed ‘tasty’ food for vegetarians. That autumn after one home game he grabbed everyone’s attention in the ‘Eagle’, when he told us how someone had accidentally filled 700 of these pies with Steak and Kidney filling by mistake. Apparently these got right through to the shops and Mrs McCartney received dozens of complaints and broke the story in the national papers, with the declaration that “It could be a mistake or even something more sinister” I commented to Pearly that if they thought that they had problems with ‘Steak and Kidney’ it’s a good job that they hadn’t received one of Mr Patel’s creations.
Another season and another mixed bag of emotions!
Sunday 4th October 1992 Hull 26-Halifax 8
The 1992/93 season saw Hull FC and Royce Simmons start well. We were all enjoying our rugby again, while music wise we were listening to the Cure and Del Amitri, the latter after I had let Pearly in by the side door to a concert by the Scottish rockers at the City Hall, which was an amazing evening. Of course, the next night I was gifted a tape for the car of everything that the group had ever recorded!!
The campaign started with a 14-10 win at New Craven Park in the John Lydiat Testimonial match and then we won our next three games including an amazing 14-13 win at Wigan. That was followed by a victory at home against Halifax in front of a good gate of over 6000 fans where the guest of honour was Flo Holmes, who at 93 was our ‘oldest regular attendee’.
Prince Edward wears his FC shirt with pride
That October Prince Edward made a flying visit to the City to tour Princes Quay and the Ferens Art Gallery and as City Entertainments Officer I was asked to make the arrangements and liaise between the Council, the Palace and the Police. Of course I arranged for the speeches in Princes Quay to be outside the Hull FC shops, to hopefully get the Club some much needed publicity. The scheme worked better than I could ever have hoped because after the Prince had been welcomed by Centre Manager Mike Killoran, John Fillingham of Hull FC presented him with one of those new black, white and purple shirts. In response Prince Edward proclaimed that he would wear it the following week at Windsor, when he watched Prince Charles playing Polo, whether he did or not of course we never found out!!!
Beating the Aussies is always great!
Sunday 6th December 1992 Hull Academy 24-Illawarra Academy 12
In many ways 1992/93 was I guess a successful season, we reach the semi-finals of both the Yorkshire Cup and the Regal Trophy, but the second half of the campaign was a disaster, as we won just one game between 2nd January and 9th April. One fixture I do remember however was a game between the Hull Academy and their Illawarra counterparts, before a Hull FC v Halifax game at the Boulevard in the Regal Trophy.
The touring youngsters were on a great winning run against the top sides in this Country and had already beaten England under 21’s. I joined around 3000 other FC fans that had arrived early for the ‘Curtain Raiser’. In the end the Hull youngsters won 21-12, as everyone in the team raised their game. Hewitt lead us around the field and marshalled the team, whilst Jez Cassidy got the Man of the Match award. The game was won in the forwards where Paul Scott and Sam Murphy tamed the Aussie hard men and laid a platform for a great performance.
However, looking back I suppose the rest of the season was a disaster and I have to admit right now that I didn’t attend more than six away games in total that year. Was I losing interest, could the fixation at last be wearing thin? Of course not, you just go through a couple of those spells in a life time of supporting the team you love, and it would all come right again soon!
The passing of ‘The Spider with the Platinum Hair’
On 29th April 1993 the lead guitarist of The Rats in the 1960’s, the Spider from Mars in the 70’s and most of all that thoroughly great bloke I met on Bilton Grange in 1968, Mick Ronson, died of Liver Cancer at his home in Hasker Street, in Knightsbridge, London. If you read the first part of this story you will know the significance of this ‘ordinary Northern guy’ in my simple story, and at the age of 47 the world was robbed of one of the greatest exponents of the electric guitar there had ever been. Close family and friends gathered for a Memorial Service at the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints in London on May 6th and next day Mick’s body was buried in “A Hull Cemetery” with again, just the close family present.
Maggie, Mick’s sister, who I got to know in the next couple of years, once told me that it was a still, cloudy day but as the Blessing was being said over the grave, a sudden gust of wind blew a shower of pink Cherry blossom from a nearby tree. Those in attendance all noted how the blossom fell only into the open grave and onto Mick’s coffin. I had only really known Mick for around 6 months back in 1968, but he left a lasting impression on me. Even when I went to see him with David Bowie at ‘The Spa’ on 28th June 1973, he remained the same ‘ordinary guy’ and he impressed me all over again. Was it because he was such a talented musician? Was it because he became famous and I knew him? Was it because he came from Hull? Well not really, it was simply because yes he was a star and a big one but of all the people you meet in a lifetime he was one of that really rare breed who ooze humility, honesty and plain Northern good nature. 29th April 1993 was a sad day for music, the City of Hull and me!
Royce has a plan and the Chippendales have a ball
Despite a new Coach, times were hard at Hull FC which was mirrored by the average gate being still well under 6000. However, this didn’t seem to put our Coach off at all and on the same day that our ex-Chairman, Roy Waudby was elected President of the Rugby League, Royce Simmons announced that he had all but captured the signature of a so far un-named Australian International. Royce said, “We don’t have enough cash to sign him, but this player is exactly what we need and therefore I am running 5 marathons in a week to raise the money. The player wanted an answer straight away, but when I put my proposed fund-raising effort to him, he was prepared to wait”. Pearly and I, it has to be said, doubted our Coach’s sanity!
That month of July the City Hall started another venture that got me into ‘hot water’ when the American male burlesque troop The Chippendales, hit town for three nights. All the shows had sold out in a few days the previous March and the outcome was quite a personal ‘Epiphany’ as I had never seen so many women, getting into such a state, in one place at one time. This was even more surreal when I knew that several of this troop of American ‘Strippers’ spent most of their time backstage trying to proposition my ‘all male’ stage crew.
Keep on Running Royce; 5 marathons in 7 days!
On Friday 2nd July 1993 Royce Simmons started his marathons, and the City Hall staff and I left a Hull Choral Union Concert to cheer him on, as he passed the City Hall at around 7-00pm accompanied by local boxer Steve Pollard. We went over the road and put some money in the buckets his followers were carrying, and Royce thanked us and commented that his feet were swollen and his toes had cramp, he conclude, “I have got to keep going though because our Kirk (his son of 10 years) did the first 13 miles with me today”
A few days later on Thursday 8th July 1993, we were all in the Banks Harbour public house on Beverley Road as Royce finished his 5th and final Marathon. As ‘Pray’ by new teenage sensations, Take That, blasted out from the juke box, I stood on a chair to see what was happening as to tumultuous applause, a rather dishevelled Royce entered a packed pub ‘Tired but happy’. When he’d got his breathe back and had a drink, he said that he’d raised enough money to sign his target, who he announced was ace play-maker Des Hasler the Australian International Half-Back.
The place erupted and when a chorus of ‘Old Faithful’ finally subsided Royce, every optimistic went on to say, “That said we still need another player, so I’ll do another Marathon tomorrow if someone will put £20,000 in the pot!” Thankfully, for Royce at least, no one came forward.
It was estimated, but never confirmed, that he raised £30,000 in sponsorship in those seven days, and despite the achievements of legends like Roy Francis, Arthur Bunting, David Doyle Davidson and Brian Smith, if ever there was a bigger effort made by a Hull FC Coach, or a better example of someone ‘Going the extra mile’ (or 130) for his Club, I have not, to this day, heard about it!
With great expectations and players on strike, another season begins.
Sunday 5th September 1993 Hull 18-Halifax 18
Trophy success apart, there is never ever a better time for a sports fan than the start of a new season. In 1993 we had a Coach who had proved his commitment to the Club, a good set of players, Des Hasler, and now the Directors had ‘stumped up’ for the second Aussie Royce needed, centre Jeff Doyle, who had joined from the North Sydney Bears. However, there were still major financial problems off the field and lack of cash saw the Club closing their Princes Quay store and removing the whole of their merchandising operation back to the dilapidated shop on the corner of Carrington Street and Airlie Street.
Several players were still arguing with the Club about contracts and Simmons decided that none of them could play for the team, until they signed. Even Andy Dannett, in his own Testimonial game, only featured from the bench as Marlow, Lee Jackson, Sharp and McNamara were all left out.
In fact, at a game against Halifax that we drew 18-18, Lee Jackson stood with us all on the Airlie Street terracing. Soon Marlow left for Wakefield and Simmons brought in Paul Sterling a young winger from Bradford and Bingley Rugby Union. We all eagerly awaited the arrival of Hasler and Doyle from Australia and after drawing two and winning one of our first six games, with the two Aussies settling in, we started to turn things round. Steve McNamara settled his differences, while Lee Jackson couldn’t and left for Sheffield Eagles.
Needlers lose their needles!!!
That autumn, at the Council, I was desperately trying to find a sponsor for the ‘Civic’ Christmas Tree that we erected every year in Victoria Square. Needlers the local sweet manufacturers were a possibility, as they had recently been ‘taken over’ and wanted to reposition their image in the City. At a meeting with them I suggested that they might like to consider paying for the tree which we bought every year from Wykeham Forest in North Yorkshire. They wanted to go one better and inspired by the Greater London Council who obtained their tree from Norway, Needlers said that they would contact their sister company in Kristiansand, on the south west coast of Norway, and get a tree shipped in from there.
This captured the public’s imagination and the Hull Daily Mail dispatched a reporter and photographer who witnessed the giant Sitka Spruce being felled and loaded onto a cargo boat for shipping across the North Sea to King George Dock. With the tree lashed to the deck it was a rough crossing with heavy sleet and gale force winds pummelling the little Coaster, but the City’s ‘Christmas centrepiece’ finally arrived safely in Victoria Square.
On Monday 15th the Council staff erected what was certainly a fine specimen, but by the big ‘switch on’ the following Thursday the tree looked awful. It was completely denuded of any greenery and the pavement around the tree was ankle deep in spruce needles. Apparently, the Parks Department told us, this was due to the effects of the salt spray pounding the Christmas Tree on the deck during the voyage.
It was really embarrassing and an appearance of the ‘petrified tree’ on the national TV news had Needlers racing to buy another one, which inevitably in the end came from Wykeham Forest! The Lord Mayor rang me at the City Hall and said, “Is it true the Christmas Tree has no needles?”, I replied, “No it’s not true” to which he retorted, “Thank goodness for that, BBC News at Ten have been chasing me about it!”. The phone then abruptly went dead after I responded that there were, “Plenty of needles Lord Mayor, the problem is none of them are on the tree”.
The Cold wind will blow and we shall have hyperthermia!
Sunday December 12th 1993 Hull 10-Widnes 6
Over the 60 years that I have been involved in Hull FC, I have certainly attended a lot of matches when it’s been cold, in fact I’ve attended one or two when it has been positively freezing but there was one game that was played at the Boulevard back in 1993 that will always go down in the annals of our great Club, as the coldest afternoon that we ever experienced at that great old Stadium.
Back in December that year our form had certainly improved and we were all hoping for a good run in the Regal Trophy when, to our dismay, we were drawn against Widnes at the Boulevard. They were the ‘Cup Kings’ and although we had won 4 of our previous 5 games, including a narrow victory over St Helens at the Boulevard the previous week, it was going to be tough.
As I walked down the Boulevard towards the ground it was cold; it was that sort of cold that grips your face and chills you to the bone. In addition, as the wind howled round the terraces and houses it was just starting to hailstone. With it being a Cup game we knew there was bound to be some available space, so we decided to sit in the New Threepenny Stand, hoping that it would at least offer some shelter from what were Arctic conditions. As I made my way into the seats wishing I had worn a warmer coat, I was greeted by a succession of groans as I pushed my way past a line of middle-aged fans with blankets over their legs and their soup flasks twinkling in the floodlights. I finally slumped down next to a heavily pregnant woman in her mid-thirties to whom I said, “Hello, how are you doing”. She scowled, took another drag on her cigarette and said, “Two weeks over”. “This” I thought “Could be an interesting afternoon”
When the teams came out, vigorously swinging their arms like demented windmills it was obvious that however fast and furious the action, for some it was going to be difficult keeping warm. Before he kicked off, Jeff Doyle was blowing on his hands and it was clearly also going to be an ‘interesting afternoon’ for our Aussie imports.
Widnes were a great team, however we started strongly as Tim Street continually pushed their strong pack backwards. Then after around ten minutes, a full-scale brawl broke out when Tim slapped Esene Faimalo in a tackle. The referee Mr. Ollerton waited for the melee to die down before giving both players a stiff talking too and awarding Widnes a penalty. Shortly after that it was certainly no surprise when the visitors took the lead as Goulding broke through a tackle by Sharp and put hooker McCurrie in under the sticks.
Goulding converted just as the leaden skies started to produced torrential freezing rain which came down like ‘stair rods’ driven on by a north-easterly wind blowing across the field and into our faces in the Stand. Already the cold was taking its toll as twice James Grant sank to his knees between plays shaking his head and vigorously rubbing his hands. Still on we battled, refusing to be intimidated by Widnes’s reputation despite our current hero Australian Des Hasler being decidedly subdued and obviously struggling with the conditions.
Then we scored. Gary Nolan, who was in a rich vein of form and keeping his brother Rob out of the starting line-up, took a pass from Chico Jackson and hurtled down the wing to score in the corner despite the attentions of three Widnes defenders. As we all stood to applaud a fine try Gary failed to get up, having in the act of scoring displaced his AC joint. He was stretchered from the field to be replaced by his brother Rob as Paul Eastwood missed the conversion but then scored with a penalty from wide out on the left. As Widnes started to get on top again, the hooter went and at half time as the wind howled and the sleet shone in the floodlights it was 6-6.
I remember my knees locking completely as I tried to stand up and to another round of ‘tutting’ from the ‘flask brigade’, ‘Pearly’, with ice bristling in his beard, went off to get us two ‘Bovril’s’. Meanwhile everyone around us stamped their feet in unison with another 3,400 hardy souls who made up the meagre, but stoic attendance that day. Despite having played the first half with the snow, sleet and rain at their backs, the Hull Dressing Room at the interval was in turmoil.
The Club Doctor at the time, (I think it was Mike Dunham) was summoned by the tannoy to the Home Dressing Room and soon declared that 5 Hull players were suffering from the early stages of hyperthermia. He immediately approached the Referee and requested the game be called off for medical reasons, but when this suggestion was put to the Widnes officials they felt that they were on top and would win and so turned it down.
The half time interval was extended and as the announcer’s records ran out and we were treated to a second airing of a scratchy rendition of ‘Uptown Girl’, out on the terraces we all wondered just what was happening. Apparently Mike Dixon and Des Hasler were so cold that, in an effort to get their circulation going, Pete Standidge, one of the assistants that day, had to run to the Club House kitchen and get all the baking foil he could find to wrap the pair up. Finally, after a break of around twenty-two minutes the teams ran out into the sleet and the rain. Both sides changed their shirts, but Hull FC were for reasons unknown, still wearing the dirty wet shorts that they had worn in the first half.
We started well as big Tim Street and second rower Daniel Divet smashed into the opponent’s formidable front row of McCurrie, Ireland and Howe. Then Moriarty broke through only to be felled by a brilliant last-ditch effort by Hull’s Richard Gay that dislodged the ball and a certain score was averted. Hull needed a boost and they got it on 50 minutes. Tim Street went on one of those famous rampaging ‘breakout’ runs down the left to link with the pacey James Grant running at his side. The Aussie burst forward and slipped a perfect reverse pass to Rob Nolan who kicked ahead and chased the ball himself. Despite three blatant attempts to obstruct his path, Rob touched down just to the left of the posts and for a few seconds, we all forgot about the cold and danced in our seats, as Eastwood stroked over the conversion.
As my pregnant ‘friend’ lit up another cigarette, Hull FC might easily have increased their lead. Des Hasler was held on his back and Rob Danby went close while Paul Eastwood, down in front of us on the wing, amused himself by ‘conducting’ the crowd through several renditions of ‘Old Faithful’ which, when a string of four penalties went against us, morphed into, “Who’s Ya Father, who’s Ya Father, who’s Ya Father referee!!!” Outside the ground it must have sounded like a crowd of 10,000 as Hull FC held their ground and the lead, until the hooter sounded and a famous victory was ours.
Several of the players ran straight off the field at the end and who can blame them, but Chico Jackson, Paul Eastwood and Jon Sharp (whose car broke down before the game, so he had only arrived 15 minutes before kick-off) celebrated with us all before they ran off to be again swathed in tin-foil and we scurried off to the warmth of the pub.
Afterwards Richard Gay said, “I thought I was going to die I couldn’t stop shaking, it was the most frightening experience of my life”. While Des Hasler added, “For the first time in my life, I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes at all! It was the coldest I have ever been or ever want to be”. After that Des and a couple of other players started wearing skin tight wet suits under their kit, and if he doesn’t remember anything else from his time at the Boulevard, I bet Des still remembers that night in December 1993.
So, another week and another chapter of our great Clubs history interspersed with a few anecdotes along the way within which I hope you found something to enjoy. Thanks to everyone who has been in touch this week and for your continued support through these troubled times. Please look after yourselves and stay safe. We’ll be back again next week.