Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The History of Hull Rugby League Club

Hull FC is one of the oldest clubs in the League and was formed by a group of ex-public schoolboys from York in 1865. Following a succession of grounds and headquarters, the club moved into the Hull Athletic Club’s ground at the Boulevard and played their first game there in September 1895, when a record crowd of 8,000 witnessed the ‘Airlie Birds’ defeat Liversedge in the very first season of Northern Union Football.
Hull FC was one of the original clubs to apostatise from the RFU. Hull prospered and their famous black and white irregular hooped jerseys became one of the most famous and feared strips in the League. Between 1908-10, Hull lost three consecutive Northern Union Cup Finals, and has in fact lost in more major finals than anyone else.
In 1913 they paid a world record £600, plus an astounding £14 per match, to Hunslet for three-quarter Billy Batten. A year later the investment had paid dividends as the Airlie Birds won their first Challenge Cup, beating Harold Wagstaff’s stupendous Huddersfield in the semi-final and Wakefield Trinity in the final. In 1920 Batten was once again prominent in Hull’s first ever Championship final, scoring the only try in the 3-2 victory over Huddersfield. Also at that time, Jack Harrison, set the current Hull FC try scoring record for the number of tries scored in one season. Jack managed 52 tries in the 1913/14 season.
The early 1920’s were bittersweet years for the club. In 1921 Hull won the Yorkshire Cup Final but lost the county Championship, both against deadly enemies Hull Kingston Rovers. Hull couldn’t emulate the successes of 1914, losing a further two consecutive Cup Finals in 1922-23 to Rochdale and Leeds respectively. The Yorkshire Cup and the top of the league table were some consolation.
After a lean pre-war period, Hull won two Championships in three years, beating Halifax in 1956 and Workington two years later. These two triumphs healed the wound of two successive Yorkshire Cup final defeats immediately prior to them. Coach Roy Francis’ team fell in two further finals, consecutive Challenge Cup losses to Wigan and Wakefield in 1959 and 1960. All these reverses, when one hand had been grasping so many trophies, gave Hull a steely resolve and a thirst for success.
That thirst was quenched to the point of drowning in a period of predominance that began with the coaching appointment of Arthur Bunting. Returning to the top flight without a single loss in 1978/79, the Airlie Birds lost the 1980 Cup Final to Hull KR. In 1982, Hull, crushed by Widnes in the Premiership final, avenged the defeat with an 18-9 Challenge Cup replay win. Players such as skipper David Topliss and Lee Crooks led the Hull of the early eighties.
Hull won the league in 1983, also reaching the Premiership final, the Challenge Cup final and the Yorkshire Cup final. The latter trophy would be their one reward from the three finals. The signing of Kangaroo Test legend Peter Sterling maintained Hull’s level of excellence, and Bunting’s men brought home their third successive Yorkshire Cup Final but were edged out by Wigan at Wembley in 1985 – a game rated as arguably the greatest ever Challenge Cup Final. A number of subsequent coaches, including Australians Brian Smith and Noel Cleal failed to deliver a consistent return to the fans. Hull lost the Premiership Final in 1989 to Widnes, but two years later returned to beat them at Old Trafford.
Hull was one of the clubs that suffered at the advent of Super League, failing to join the top tier until Phil Sigsworth guided his side to the First Division Championship in 1997. Peter Walsh took over until the middle of the 1999 season and was replaced by Steve Crooks. Ex-St. Helens and Gateshead Thunder coach Shaun McRae has been at the helm since 2000.
The proposed amalgamation of Hull FC and the Super League’s newest club, Gateshead Thunder was accepted at the end of 1999 by a council of the other Super League Chairmen. Without this new partnership, Hull may well have ceased to exist after the loss of David Lloyd’s financial support.
The Thunder, under the auspices of administrative wunderkinds Kath Hetherington and former Cronulla Sharks CEO Shane Richardson were introduced to Super League at the beginning of the 1999 season. Having attracted a hardcore of base support and finishing the season in sixth place, just one below the play-offs, the club incurred debts in the region of £700,000. With seemingly no contingency for losses, the club saw no option but to fold.
The former Boulevard club, eschewing the ‘Sharks’ nickname and the deterioration that is indelibly associated with it, re-branded as Hull FC.
Hull FC played at the Boulevard for 107 years and moved to their new home at the £44m state-of-the-art Kingston Communications Stadium in January 2003. Paul Parker scored the Club’s final try at the Boulevard on Tuesday 22 October 2002 against the New Zealand tourists.
Since the move to the KC Stadium, Hull have had many high finishes in the Super League table. 2003 saw the team just miss on play off qualification to Warrington Wolves and in 2004 the club finished 3rd.
2005 can be seen as one of the most successful seasons in the clubs history with the now famous Powergen Challenge Cup success at the Millenium Stadium, Cardiff in late August. A last minute try made the scores 24-23 in Leeds Rhinos favour but Danny Brough made the successful conversion to make the scores 24-25. The final hooter saw huge elation from both the players and the many thousands of fans who had travelled to the Welsh capital.
The remainder of the 2005 season saw the team finish 4th, behind Leeds, St. Helens and Bradford. Finishing fourth set up a home play off game against the Andrew Johns inspired Warrington Wolves and the Hull FC team didn't disappoint with a thrilling victory. This set up an elimination play off against the Bradford Bulls at Odsal Stadium. Unfortunately the much-hyped game turned into a very one sided affair with the Hull team playing with 12 men from as early as the 6th minute. The Bulls went on to win 71-0 and also went on to lift the coveted enage Super League trophy.
Hull FC can certainly look forward to an exciting 2006 campaign with two home fixtures against rivals, Leeds Rhinos, two away fixtures to newly promoted Les Catalans and of course, the defense of the Powergen Challenge Cup which starts on the weekend of 11th/12th March.

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