By STEVE MASCORD
PETER Sterling wants to get a few things off his chest when it comes to this afternoon’s game.
Hull FC’s superstar scrumhalf in the 1985 Challenge Cup final – ranked by many as the greatest rugby league game in history (that’s right!) – wants everyone to know he’d love to be here this afternoon. His job, as a television and radio interviewer and commentator in Sydney, just doesn’t allow it.
But he has a message for the Airlie Birds as they walk onto Wembley today, a message which has its roots in that epic 32 short ago.
“I have to say the coach, Arthur Bunting, was fantastic and I really hope the boys can win this weekend – with it not being long after the passing of one of Hull FC’s great people, great coaches, just a real character,” Sterling says from the New South Wales Central Coast.
“It would be so appropriate if they could win on the back of his passing.”
The only man from Bunting’s side who now has his own TV show has a second message, too, for the players and fans who’ve journeyed from beside the Humber to the capital.
There’s emotion in the 57-year-old’s voice.
“It’s right up there as my greatest regret, I think. I didn’t have many regrets in my career but losing at Wembley that year, it was huge because I’d be so welcomed by the Hull FC faithful and the fans were just unbelievable and I really felt like I owed them a win.(continued below)
“I’d picked up on the history that no Hull FC side had ever gone to Wembley and won and it was this millstone around their neck. I was devastated that we didn’t get the result. I know I could have played better. If we’d had another five minutes, I think we’d have won the game because we were storming home.
“…that’s stayed with me all these years.”
Of course, the black and white hoops have climbed to stairs to the royal box since ’85; the millstone is gone. But today the opponents are the same as they were all those years ago, in a game the writer watched via blurry satellite signal some time after midnight in suburban Wollongong.
Sterling recalls: “As a kid, my dad would wake me up at 3am, 2am to watch the Test matches from England. I have vivid, vivid memories of that and watching games from Wembley, the way the grass was cut, the Twin Towers. It was just one of those iconic venues if you were a rugby league player, fan, whatever.
“And it was such a wonderful experience to be in a team that was so cosmopolitan. We had the New Zealand Test players, James Leuluai, Gary Kemble, Dane O’Hara and Freddie Ah Kuoi. We had a French winger, Patrick Solal. We had a couple of Scottish guys in there … they were a fantastic bunch of blokes but very different to what I was used to playing with back here in Australia.
“We went back to a reunion, over a decade ago. I took my wife and my daughter and my daughter was very young at the time. I wanted them to see and understand what I had told them about my time over there. We had a dinner that sold out … towards the end of it I got up on stage.
“I asked for two things: for the crowd to sing happy birthday to my sister because (my brother-in-law) Johnny Muggleton obviously played in that side as well and went over for the reunion. The second thing was for them to sing “Old Faithful”
“It was just such a wonderful thing for my wife and my daughter to hear and see. When the Hull fans break out into ‘Old Faithful’, there’s nothing like it. The only thing like it I’ve ever seen is ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ when Liverpool FC fans sing it. I get a shiver when I hear either of them.”
You’ll get the same shiver when you read Sterling’s account of walking onto this glorious arena back in the days before mobile phones and automatic teller machines, when London seemed as far from home as the Sea Of Tranquility for a 24-year-old from the Riverina.
“The only thing that really stands out for me is that when you walked out of the tunnel … when you got to the end and you looked up, there 100,000 people there … you’re in tracksuit tops, there was an official kind of feel to it …. you didn’t run out and take your position.
“When I walked out and got to the end of the tunnel and looked up, all I saw was a sea of red and white. I remember thinking to myself ‘what’s going on here?’. Then when I walked another 10 metres I turned around and all behind me there was 50,000 black and white fans.
“And I’ll never forget: the noise that they made nearly knocked me over. It was almost a physical force behind you. Straight away I felt much more comfortable … almost pushed forward by the noise of the Hull FC fans.
“It was like a push in the back.”
This afternoon, from a the other side of a very different world, Peter Sterling will be returning the favour. He’ll be behind Hull FC’s fans all afternoon.