Down Under Blog: Sterlo

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware by now that I can be a little left of centre. My superstitions where Hull are concerned are fairly well documented – you can thank ME for opening win at Headingley, as being a Sunday game, I decided not to watch it on Foxtel, and didn’t even set my alarm.

The last time I watched a Sunday game was when we got creamed at the Magic Weekend one year (you can pick a number of years for that), so now I have sworn off them for life. I’ve spoken about my OCD, my match-day rituals and even my way of watching games on TV.

However, one of the ways my odd mind works to my advantage is in my memory. I can be freakish sometimes, remembering people and even whole conversations from YEARS back. I can dredge up memories of games from decades ago, recall players others had totally forgotten, even players we TRIED to sign in the 80’s and 90’s especially.

I remember every step from the Airlie St entrance of the Boulevard to where me and my dad would stand on Scoreboard Hill. I reckon I could close my eyes and walk from there to the gents (well the painted wall with the gully dug out that doubled as a urinal, nobody I know ever ventured into one of the stalls for a sit down….). I can taste the horrible burgers and Bovril, smell the wintergreen wafting up from the tunnel, and whenever I smell cigar smoke even now, the first thing that comes back to me is the bloke that stood three steps down from us that would always light up a Castella ten mins into each match.

One thing I recall vividly is the day we signed Peter Sterling. My dad bounding into the room holding the back page of the Hull Daily Mail and telling me that we’d signed the bloke we’d both seen play for the touring Aussie team the year before. His exact words were, “Son, we’ve got him!”

Just what we’d got was revealed to us when we saw the man play. He was different, with his long blonde mullet blowing in the North Sea wind he looked like a Greek God to me. What would now be called his “game management”, was sublime. He was like a chess grandmaster, always three or four moves ahead of everyone else on the pitch. That sounds wonderful doesn’t it? But the art of Peter Sterling was taking those around him along on the ride. It’s no good being a genius if your teammates aren’t on board, and ready for your passes and kicks. Fortunately, we had under the stewardship of Arthur Bunting, assembled a squad with a depth of talent that we’ve never had since. Even with the team of stars we had back then he stood out as the best, something special, something otherworldly.

Otherworldly is probably an accurate description too, he practically came from another world, Wagga Wagga in New South Wales where he grew up (after moving south from Queensland), and Parramatta where he played his entire Aussie career are a very different prospect than Hull today. In the early 1980’s that difference would have been so much more. It has to be remembered that the city of Hull suffered in the early 80’s under a heartless Thatcher government more than most places in England, and our sporting teams (except Hull City who have always been shite) were a way for the unemployed, the poorly paid and the disenfranchised to come together and share a sense of achievement and community.

To have two enormous teams in town was huge to the city’s identity, and   signing the incumbent Aussie scrum half only added to that feeling. R****s of course had Kerry Boustead, Gordon Smith, Mark Broadhurst and the like at the same time. What an era to be a Rugby League supporter in the city, and watching Sterlo inspire Hull to the Yorkshire Cup win over the old enemy at Boothferry Park, we truly did feel we were the centre of the sports universe.

All good things must end of course, and for Sterlo and Hull FC it ended at Wembley in probably the greatest Challenge Cup Final ever played. Billed as “Sterling vs Kenny”, we all know what happened. The postscript is the Kangaroo tour of 1986, and the game we played against the Aussies. By this time Arthur had gone, as had his replacement Kenny Foulkes, and we had the much-maligned Len Casey in charge. The hallmark of Hull under Casey was very much the way Casey played, tough and on the edge of legality. We got trounced that day 48-0 just four years after we’d run the Aussies oh so close in the game that persuaded Sterlo that he wanted to play for us.

This game had the opposite effect on Sterlo, he vowed he’d never come back to play for us after Hull abandoned all pretence of playing the game and basically went headhunting. Andy Dannatt and Greg Dowling got sin-binned for fighting (with Dannatt having to be helped from the field afterwards), with Steve Crooks also spending ten mins off the field too. Noel Cleal broke his arm, Bryan Niebling broke his nose, and we were embarrassed in every way, being lambasted in the press. It was the beginning of the end for Casey too.

The next time an English club came calling for Peter Sterling it was L**ds, he agreed terms and was all set to play for them before a chronic shoulder injury ended his career and left Parramatta and Hull as his only professional clubs. Thank god. I’d hate for him to have played for L**ds, as it is, he remains a God to me. I’ve met him a few times, and we actually both work for the same radio station over here (albeit in different locations), and despite all my years of supporting Hull, all the photos I got of me and the players in Wollongong and Sydney two years ago, the one non family photo on my desk is me and Sterlo.

Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.

Rich – Twitter @pommyrich

This article first appeared in Up the Cream Issue 84. For more like it see our online shop

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