What Surprised Me with Dave Hadfield

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FORGIVE me for bothering you with this, but I can‘t get a straight answer from anyone. Have Hull ever won at Wembley, or have they not?

They’ve not… How on earth did that happen? There must be some sort of story attached.

Perhape the closest thing to an explanation lies in Hull’s great poetic tradition, which in not confined to Andrew Marvell and Philip Larkin, despite what they might tell you in the City of Culture publicity.

There is an alternative version of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner
which casts some light on the matter.

In this variation, a white-bearded old sailor comes back to the Humber after decades in the grip of the pack-ice of the Arctic. When they got him ashore and warmed him up a bit, he finally asked his rescuers: ‘Have FC won at Wembley yet?’

More prosaically, many in Hull believe they have at last got the team to remove their unwanted entry from the books of rugby league myth and legend.

Not that I have all that much sympathy, of course; Blackpool Borough never won at Wembley either, although we did have a nice afternoon at The Willows.

If the black-and-whites are to finally nail the hoodoo, I’ll have you a bet that it will be a match won in the forwards.

The back-row of Gareth Ellis, Mark Minichiello and Sika Manu is top-class, of course, but where I really fancy them to force us to find something new about Hull FC to say is in the front row.

Barring late accidents, there will be an all-English front three on duty, and it isn’t often in the last few years that we’ve been able to say that.

In fact, it’s two-thirds of an all-Hull front row, with the form prop of the year, Scott Taylor, and the hardest-working player in rugby league, Danny Houghton, both born in the city.

The exception, the exotic import, is the Featherstone-born forward, Liam Watts.

I’ve had a soft spot for him ever since I saw him as a teenager, offloading the ball like some 1950s throwback, whilst coaches looked on and fainted.

I also like the way he coped with the limelight when he was named as the Super League Young Player of the Year a couple of seasons back.

Now, you have to remember that he was not the media-savvy, big city sophisticate then that he is now.

He was, in fact, rather nervous at the presentation lunch, especially when I told him that it was customary to make a short speech of appreciation.

SHY: The ‘exotic’ Liam Watts

“But what do I say?” he asked me.

“Just thank a few people.”

“Like who?” he replied.

“Well, we’ve had a few nice pieces about you,” I suggested helpfully. “Thank The Independent.”

Thus it was that Britain’s best young prop stood before the whole assembly and made, in its entirety, the following speech: “Thanks to The Independent.”

No wonder he’s gone on to great things – and he was certainly missed when he was given a rest for the match against Castleford on Friday.

Without him, the symptoms of Wembleyitis were magnified.

Supplementary question: Does there have to be both Hull clubs at Wembley before someone is given the responsibility of turning out the lights in the city, or will one do?

Hull’s ‘fruitful’ patch

LIAM WATTS’s roots  in the Rhubarb Triangle are a reminder of one of the most important trading routes in the game.

Many of the most notable Humberside folk-heroes, from Roger Millward, Dave Topliss and Steve ‘Knocker’ Norton downwards, actually came from the area in and around Castleford, Wakefield and Pontefract.

This gives rise to another question, which, presented exam-style, goes something like this: ‘For rugby league purposes, Humberside is best regarded as an off-shore colony of Castleford. Discuss.’

That should give black-and-white and red-and-white something they can rally around when next they meet.

Turn the lights out…

A SAD LITTLE footnote to media history was written this week, when the last two journalists left Fleet Street.

Of course, the Street of Shame had long since  ceased to be the HQ of the British newspaper industry, superseded by soulless places like Wapping and Cannary Wharf.

It was also one of the few spots in London where The Independent was not based at one time or another, so I never actually worked there.

I did have visiting rights to spend some memorable afternoons – or liquid lunches, as ‘Private Eye’ called them – with colleagues from organisations such as Australian Associated Press and the New Zealand Press Association, who paid me to keep tabs on what their players were doing in the British game.

These important debriefings tended to take place in the Fleet Street Golf Club – no golf course, you understand, just a club-house keeping very eccentric hours.

‘Opening time in Adelaide,’ they used to say, for instance, and indeed it was usually opening time somewhere in the antipodes.

After years of decline, however, all those fun and games have finally come to a shuddering halt.

The nation’s  news is now thrown together and printed – or not printed, in The Independent’s case – all over the place, but definitely not in Fleet Street.

The honour of being the last to leave their posts, their chaotic desks and their bar bills – like the last Japanese soldiers to hear that the War was over – fell to a pair of Scots from the Dundee-based Sunday post, the last publication to maintain a presence in The Street, long after the nationals head moved out.

There really is no argument that we cannot say to them: “Turn the lights out when you leave, lads.”

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