Thursday, 21 January 2010

"It's rough, it's tough, it's Rugby League!"

Sunday 17 January – Hull FC 28 Hull KR 16 (Richard Horne Testimonial)

I’m a relatively late convert to rugby league. Having travelled with "all of Hull" to Wembley for the famous 1980 Challenge Cup Final, it was almost a decade later before I again took in the Oval Ball game.
And by then (1988) I’d switched allegiances, which wasn’t uncommon for the young “Slush”.  In fact it was a trait of my adolescent years.  In football, an early support of Don Revie’s Leeds United was gradually eroded by my first visits to Boothferry Park (especially following the arrival at The Tigers of one of my former heroes, Billy Bremner); this was later followed by a change of Scottish club affinity from Hibs to neighbours Hearts (on account of the off-putting sight of the Oirish tricolour being flown high and proud in the Hibees end on Edinburgh derby day).  "On the decks” it was out with Showaddywaddy and Mud and in with Matchbox and The Stray Cats.  And in rugby league the colour of choice changed from black to red...although not before the game itself became a no-go. Let me explain…
Through my increasingly active support of Hull City during the Eighties I became all too aware of - and partly subscribed to - the “Football v Rugby” debate. In particular, I began to share the bitterness felt by many City fans towards the black & white half of the RL divide.
I’m honest enough to admit that part of this animosity was initially downy to jealousy. In the early Eighties, both Hull FC and Rovers were enjoying the kind of success on the field that City could only dream of and this was matched by their gates, which regularly topped ten thousand at The Boulevard and just a couple of thousand less across the River Hull.
But it wasn’t simply a green-eyed thing on the part of Tigerfolk. As Gary Clark (author of From Boothferry To Wembley and The Best Trip We’ve Ever Been On) recalls, the “egg chasers” didn’t help their cause: “I think it was before the 1980 RL Challenge Cup Final at Wembley when they chose to humiliate us, in a game against Brentford. Hull were invited as part of a Wembley send-off. I was there and remember possibly a couple of hundred scruffs turning up in gang, all dressed in an assortment of hand knitted black and white garb. It was like the cast from The League of Gentlemen. They gathered together in the vast emptiness of the North Stand (still there in those days) and supported the other team. City won 2-1 and the crowd was a little over 3,000.
“Of course several bouts of fisticuffs broke out, mainly from the City fans who objected to this little troop of misfits chanting for a team that none of them probably knew anything about. It was an important match for City too because we were in danger of relegation; our eventual saviour being Keith Edwards who scored in this game and then the famous 1-0 win over Southend a week later on 3 May 1980, the day that “all of Hull” - except the 3,700 who turned up at Boothferry Park - went ‘Down That London’.
“I think that one incident was the start of the animosity between supporters of the two clubs. Not helped a couple of years later when City were in real danger of folding and Hull FC somehow got hold of the Tigers’ sponsors list, contacted them all and offered them a better deal for "Hull's Premier Sporting Club".
Indoctrinated by tales such as this from the “old timers” on the Kempton terraces and the Simon Gray ‘Out-of-Towner’ coaches to City away games, dropping any lingering interest in rugby league came easily as did developing a real dislike for the Airlie Birds.
As for Rovers, although not totally free from attack by members of the Tiger Nation, the fact that they were geographically more removed than their Boulevard-based rivals meant they attracted less hostility.
However, having grown up with a couple of lads of the red and white persuasion, listening to their tales of adventure along the M62 corridor, curiosity eventually got the better of me and in September 1988 I attended only my second ever game of rugby league.
What's more it was an away game, at Central Park, the former home of all-conquering Wigan. I enjoyed it so much that I wrote about the experience ("End of a Myth" - see bottom of post) for the then fledgling Hull City fanzine, “Hull, Hell & Happiness”. I’m proud to say that it was one of the best received articles I ever penned, even attracting praise and requests for a follow-up from the editors of Rovers’ own ‘zine “Flag Edge Touch”.
The following March I attended my only ever game at the old Craven Park on Holderness Road.  It was to witness a quarter-final defeat by Warrington, in what was the last Challenge Cup match to take place at Rovers’ home of 67 years. It was also accompanied by reports of the sort of "crowd disorder" that was only meant to accompany football matches in those days.
The following September, along with 8,499 others, I was at the New Craven Park to watch Rovers hammer Trafford Borough 48-8 in their opening home game in the Second Division. It was my first of three seasons following the Robins regularly home and away, a spell that included trips to some of the game’s forgotten outposts.  These included some real eye-openers such as pre-'Cougar Park' Lawkholme Lane at Keighley and Runcorn, where a wall would collapse at a FA Cup tie against City a few years later.  There were the traditional grounds like Thrum Hall, Station Road, Hilton Park and The Watersheddings, along with those that carried more than an air of menace i.e. Wilderspool and Post Office Road.
Having stormed to the Second Division title, Rovers then experienced something of a yo-yo existence before eventually finding themselves consigned to the lower divisions for the first part of the Super League era.  I followed them through a couple of relegations and another promotion campaign. I tasted (literally) the highs (“pie-a-try” day at Rochdale - we gave up after Rovers’ fifth score…the pies, lovely though they were, were in danger of coming back up!) and the lows (conceding sixty-plus points at Widnes, crashing out of the Cup on a snowy day in Workington, then a division below, and seeing a 30-point lead eroded in the second half of that infamous 1990 Second Division Play-off final against Oldham at Old Trafford).
Admittedly I cannot claim to have been there when the need was probably greatest, in the dark days of the third tier of the game, but I like to think that trips to places such as Trafford’s Altrincham home helped pay my dues for when the good times returned.
And return they have. With my eldest Slushette in tow (kitted out in HKR cap and City badge - "You must be sooo proud?") I arrived at the KC Stadium on Sunday with Rovers now well on the way to becoming an “established” Super League side and currently claiming “top dog” status in the city courtesy of their 7-3 Super League wins record against their rivals.
However, if you read the local paper, these are worrying times for Hull KR – mounting debts, cutbacks, aborted development plans, no major signings etc. Meanwhile Hull FC enter the new campaign with what chief executive James Rule terms “new positivity” on the back of a major squad overhaul and record season pass sales.
Not that this perceived contrast in close-season news appeared to dampen the spirits of the three thousand-plus “Red Army” members who filled the North Stand and parts of the lower West. Together with the homesters it helped generate a 16,000 plus crowd for one of the city of Hull’s finest sporting sons, Richard Horne.
And after two of Hull’s other finest sons (!) - Mike Lodge and Johnny Pat – had serenaded their own sections of the crowd with “Old Faithful” and “Red, Red Robin”, the player in question (who many would have you believe was a HKR fan as a boy) was afforded a guard of honour and a superb reception from both sets of supporters prior to kick-off.
A decent game ensued. Despite the countless interchanges, both teams put on a committed display with Hull FC eventually claiming what the Rovers official web site cheekily termed "a rare victory over the Robins"...
Rovers started well and Colborn had us all on our feet inside three minutes when going in at the north-west corner after some shocking defending from Hull winger Calderwood. But the same player redeemed himself with a try and Hull bounced back to lead 16-4 at the break, courtesy of further tries from Dowes and Turner.
Rovers started the second half like a train, although my awful eyesight only barely made out the figure of “Mean Machine” Clint Newton ghosting in for 16-8 then Chaz I’Anson’s score allowing Dobson to tie things up with the kick.
The hosts weren’t to be denied though. Helped by a penalty count of 17-5 (!!) they finished strongly to seal the win with two late tries from Tom Briscoe and Richard Whiting. And fittingly, even though he disappeared with a shoulder injury early in the second half, Horney himself was named ‘man of the match’.
I’m not a big fan of friendlies - City’s 2-0 win over Leeds Utd at the KC was the last football one to float my boat – but this was certainly different. Neither side shirked a challenge and there was even a couple of outbreaks of good old handbags – one after Newton had taken out Hull’s scruffy-looking new “Maestro” Long!
Although not as charged as for a league game, the atmosphere was still enjoyable (even though it took until the 70th minute for the home fans in the East Stand to manage anything like unison on a song). And their choice of “Where’s Your Money Gone?” was a little bit ironic given their own recent chequered history. Gateshead anyone? (It also gets no points for originality, unlike City fans’ rendition of “You’re Getting Taxed In The Morning” sung to Harry Redknapp the previous day!)
As we crawled along the walkway that takes you back into the city centre it was apparent that both sets of fans had taken something from the day. But the man who will have taken most is a certain Richard Horne. And rightly so.
And here is the original article, penned for Hull, Hell & Happiness back in 1988...

End of a Myth
Rugby League – An Outsider’s View
Hull Hell & Happiness, Issue 1, Sep/Oct 1988

Seven o’clock, Sunday morning, 11 September 1988…a momentous occasion! ‘Momentous’ inasmuch as it was the first time I think I’ve ever seen seven o’clock on a Sunday morning, but more so in that this was the day chosen by yours truly to make my away debut following Hull Kingston Rovers – yes, a rugby match!
The day’s events began at 9.15am when I met up with the two Keyingham Renegades whose powers of persuasion had landed me in this predicament. At 10.30am I reached “the point of no return” – the East Yorkshire Motor Services coach marked ‘Excursion’ came over the hill, the sweat appeared on my forehead, my throat dried up, the coach stopped, the door opened – “Is this the coach for Wigan?” we ask. It is. I’m on my way.
By the time we are due to leave Hull coach station, a grand total of TEN people had assembled. Is this due to the fact that it is Wigan and nobody gives Rovers a chance in hell I wondered? Or, maybe, because Gavin Miller and Michael Porter, the “saviours” from Down Under, haven’t arrived yet? Or is it simply that with two games (and two defeats) of the season gone, everybody is already pissed-off?! Simon Gray would never have run a coach with this few on, I think to myself. Then, of course, the real reason for such a low turnout dawns on me – “Bubbles” is appearing as Michael Jackson at Aintree!!
Arriving in Wigan brings back all the bad memories of City’s ignominious FA Cup exit here two years previous, which in turn leads to discussions about the high point of that 86/87 season – that one-nil victory at Swansea with ten men. I was there. Ah, good times.
The first thing that strikes me on arrival at Central Park (after two failed parking attempts) is the colour – everybody is wearing club hats, scarves and shirts. I think this was the norm at football once – many years ago!
On passing through the turnstiles, I immediately enter into an argument with one of the rugby lads about the state of the ground:
“It’s better than most Third or Fourth Division grounds”, says he. That gets my pro-football back up I can tell you.
“BULLSHIT! There’s only Grimsby’s ground that’s worse than this”, I answer.
At this point the argument is brought to a halt by some leggy brunette in a blue figure-hugging uniform who seductively places a sticker bearing the logo “Cheshire Building Society” on my left nipple. For five seconds I have become a committed rugby fan.
Well, one half-cooked beefburger later and after several strange looks at my Hull City badge from the local “black pudding heads” the game is set to begin. We have managed to locate a pocket of about a hundred Rovers fans in the middle of Wigan’s popular stand – no segregation here! There’s beer on sale too!
The first half is keenly contested and remarkably close – Wigan 8pts to 4 in front. Rovers’ fighting spirit has silenced many of the Wigan regulars around us. Am I a good luck charm I wonder?

I must admit it’s a strange experience standing in the middle of opposition fans at a sporting venue without feeling the slightest risk regarding personal safety. Everybody keeps saying how good it was coming to Wigan during Rovers’ “Glory Days” of the early-Eighties when HKR brought an army of several thousand. But I must confess I enjoy it in the company of a mere hundred or so – it reminds me so much of City’s away following!
The second half is quite rousing – I hope that doesn’t sound as if I’m enjoying myself too much? At this point I feel I must let you into some of the more popular phrases to emerge from the terraces that afternoon:
1) “Gerrem onside” (Get them onside) – shouted very often and very loud by the game’s connoisseurs
2) “Go head-hunting Rovers, they’ve been doing it” (I think you ought to tackle a bit harder Rovers) – a bit violent for me this one
3) “C’mon Wigan, let’s have these sheep-shaggers” – this left me totally confused
4) “Get off Gregory you w____r!” – I didn’t understand this one but it was very popular among the Rovers faithful!
In the end Wigan’s extra pace told (or that’s what my mates said) and they triumphed 32-16 (about 2-1 in football terms!). Still, with pride intact, Rovers’ players managed a wave to their loyal travelling band – and me. I applauded respectfully, and felt a lot happier at the end of this game than I had at Springfield Park two years earlier on my last sporting trip to Wigan.
Having at one time subscribed to the “football versus rugby” school of thought that existed at City during the rugby teams’ years of success, I confess to being slightly surprised at the enjoyment I gained from that Sunday’s experience. The sheer arrogance of Wigan’s support, fuelled by recent years of trophy-winning, is enough to stir the emotions of anybody proud to come from our Great Eastern city though, and helped me forget that the oval-ball game is not my natural environment. And I can safely say it won’t be the last time I attend a rugby match this season.
There is room for all three major clubs to survive together in Hull and provide collective success for the City, I for one would love to see it happen and this goes for other outfits in the area (Hull & ER RUFC, Humberside Seahawks ice hockey, Humberside Bears baseball and Kingston Liberators American Football team to name a few).
The lasting thought of the whole day out, however, was the quote from Tony (Dutton), one of the regulars on our City away days, when asked his thoughts on the game of rugby league: “I don’t see any point in it – running forward and then chucking the ball backwards”
I wonder how many City fans still agree with him?


Richard Lusmore ("Slush") said...

Received from Steve Weatherill via email...

"Well, I think you need the full story, Rich, and there's plenty more that explains the animosity felt by City fans towards the FC mutants.

What about the notorious kitten-drowning incident? Must've been early 80s, on Greatfield, I think. A litter of kittens, eight or so, I think, and they'd all been born with an unusually attractive set of black and orangey stripes. Some FC fans decided they looked like they were wearing City scarves, so they drowned all of them. Only about 3 days old, they were (the kittens). Drowned - to death.

That wants putting on your blog.

There's loads more stuff I can give you - the outbreak of cholera at Boulevard in the late 70s, took the Council years to notice because they just assumed everyone who went there was naturally diseased ... how FC fans thought Wacky Races was real and tried to beat up a bloke in Halifax just because they thought he was Peter Perfect .... I'll try to dig it out for you. Loads of stuff."

Anonymous said...

It's rough its tough its Preston Road. I'm in agreement with Mr. Weatherill there is loads more stuff.
The famous one was when an assortment of raggy arsed EEEFFFCCCEEE fans invaded the pitch at the then called McAlpine stadium after a game with Leeds Wino's. They goaded the Leeds fans and then set about pulling the rugby posts down, this was on live BBC TV with a watching audience well into the hundreds.
Of course the two blokes in flat caps who run this rag, tag and bobtail affair from an allotment in Swinton demanded an enquiry and the blame was carefully shifted onto..............Hull City fans.
Conviently the eeeffcceee club shed had been broken into the previous night and nearly £19.99 worth of stock had been stolen, the place has been ramsacked (is that a word - ed?)
And the culprits of this datardly crime? Yes, those ruffians from t'other game, Hull City fans. The motive being that they (the Tigers hooligan gang) had stolen the eeffcceee replica shirts to wear on the pitch at the McAlpine, causing mayhem and upsetment all in order to get eggchasing, sorry rugby league a worse name then its already got!
The blame stuck, eeffccee fans kept thier squeaky clean image and "soccer" got the blame. If only less haste had been taken and those looking for culprits had of realised that those showing thier backsides on the pitch and setting fire to thier own farts had an array of eeffccee replica shirts going back as far as five seasons, which could number as many as ten different designs, all naff. Also no self respecting football fans would be seen dead in those jeans that show the crack of your arse and wear a black and white jester hat at the same time. No way danno!
So you can see the animosty in well founded, and when I have time I'll make some more up.
Yours tubbylard

Anonymous said...

Yeah, us airlie shark fans also know for a fact that Adam pearson waters down the beer at the KC, cos, chardonay has seen him unloading a hose pipe out of the boot of his car. He only does it for rugby. To fleece us, thats how he became a millionaire, by watering the beer down. And his missus bakes all the pies herself and takes the meat out of our pies and puts it into the pies for the football fans. Thats true as well.
Yeah, she bakes them herself and sells them for £2.50 each! the gready cow. And theres nowt inside them.
I've also heard the bovril isnt real bovril, its weak gravy, and she's been seen buying those massive bottles of coke from the poundshop in Bransholme Centre and passing it off as the real thing!
Yeah, true as I'm stood here.
see ya,
Billy Daftlad, Essle Rerd.