We’ve all been lucky enough to watch some terrific Hull FC sides over the years, and one of those was certainly the side that won the Premiership Final back in 1991.
It wasn’t the most talented team Hull have had, but in terms of graft and getting the job done, there were few better. The club had really gone downhill in the late 80s, so to pick themselves up under Brain Smith and win a major trophy was even more commendable.
Hull did that with a core of hard-working players, and one of those was Russ Walker, a Cumbrian-born back rower that fell in love with the club, and who remains a match going fan to this day.
We see Russ at numerous away games in the North West, he was at the Magic Weekend too, and the recent semi-final, and was willing to send us a piece on his career, how he signed for Hull, and how he became a Black and White for life.
Barrow and signing for Hull FC
“I enjoyed five very enjoyable years at Barrow, mainly in the second division, with the latter couple of years as captain,” Russ told Up the Cream.
“We gained promotion to the old first division at the end of 88-89 season, as runners up to Leigh and we had a lot to look forward to. However, things didn’t turn out as we would have hoped, our playing roster wasn’t strengthened at all and we suffered as a result of it.
“By the end of October our coach, Rod Reddy, whom I had a lot of time and respect for, had been sacked, and as captain I spoke out in his defence, which didn’t go down too well with the Barrow board at the time and I was placed on the transfer list for £25,000.
“Eventually I was stripped of my captaincy and dropped from the first team. On January 7th 1990 Barrow travelled to the Boulevard to face the mighty Hull FC and I decided to go and watch the game in my car.
“Barrow got well beat that day and unfortunately Steve Folkes came out of the game with a broken jaw. Hull were now a second rower down with the Challenge Cup deadline the day after. Rod Reddy rang me at the end of the game and informed me that Brian Smith wanted to have a chat with me so I hung around afterwards.
“After a very promising and informative discussion with Brian, who told me about the direction the club was heading in, he then informed me that if I could agree terms with the directors, I would be a Hull FC player before lunchtime the following day.
“I then had a meeting with Mike Stanley and a couple of other directors and terms were agreed. The excitement and thoughts going through my mind as I drove the 186 miles back to my home in Cumbria were indescribable and needless to say I didn’t sleep much that night.
“The following morning I rang a holiday in at work and went down to Craven Park (not to be confused with Caravan Park) to sign all the transfer paperwork and get it off to the RFL before the noon deadline.”
Officially a Hull FC player
“So, Monday January 8th 1990 was officially the day I became a black and white for life,” Russ continued.
“And hopefully an end to any abuse from the Hull FC faithful in the world famous 3d stand. It was now time to enjoy the fanatical fans of Hull and boy you didn’t let me down.
“I made my club debut for the “A” team on the Thursday night at home to St. Helens and there were 2,500 supporters that turned up, which was unbelievable. This was the norm back then, they hadn’t just come to see a hardworking lad from Cumbria.
“The game went well and I made my first team debut on the Sunday off the bench against St. Helens. The really hard work began then, I now had to improve my fitness, settle into a new environment, with new coaches, new players and new expectations.
“The challenge was now on, and I really enjoyed the remainder of the season which wasn’t easy due to the fact that I lived and worked nearly 200 miles away.
“My employer was very understanding and I managed to get on a regular early shift, doing 6am until 2pm then twice a week I would travel to Hull and back for training and games, now stopping over every weekend at the legend that is Noel “Crusher” Cleal’s house.
“This is where our friendship grew as he was a top bloke, who helped me out immensely both on and off the field.
“All in all I travelled 13,000 miles in 12 weeks prior to the end of the season, lived and worked in Barrow and trained and played in Hull.
“The rollercoaster was well and truly gathering pace. I moved over to Cottingham in the July and started work at Brough at the same time.
“What really made it easy for me to settle in and start to love the club and the city of Hull, was its fans, who in my humble opinion are the friendliest and most passionate fans you will ever find in our great game. It was Hull FC that gave me the opportunity to realise some of my childhood dreams, by playing at a big club and playing in a major final.”
The 1991 Premiership final
“That final was a day that will live with me forever, and yet again, it was a day that was made extra special by the sea of black & white fans amassed behind the sticks, that made up a large portion of the 42,043 supporters.
“Yes, the fans that cheered the boys home to victory that day. It was the day that the west of the city celebrated for a week, and more!!
“If the 14-4 victory over Widnes at Old Trafford in 1991 was a high in my career, then the 8-4 loss against Castleford at Headingley in 1992, in the semi-final of the Challenge Cup, was certainly a low point in my career.
“To lose in a semi-final is probably worse than losing in a final, because you miss out on the whole final experience, and to get so close in the most prestigious competition of all, was a hard one to accept, for a li’l lad from Cumbria.
“Over the next four years coaches came and went in the shape of Royce Simmons (7 marathons in 7 days), Tony Gordon, Phil Windley and Phil Sigsworth.
“It was after the departure of Tony Gordon in 1994 that I got interested in coaching as I took up the coaching position of the “A” team, you remember that, it was the development vehicle for all our younger players in the game, to prepare themselves for the demands of 1st team rugby.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the coaching and the players around at this time. Unfortunately for me this was all to come to an abrupt end in 1997 when David Lloyd took over the club, sacked Phil Sigsworth and all the coaching staff and appointed Peter Walsh and his people.
“That was a hard pill to swallow at the time, but life goes on and new horizons come to he who waits.”
Being a Hull FC supporter and Wembley emotions
“In 2014 I retired from coaching to spend more time with my wife Tracy and my family, but within 12 months I was back.
“This time though I was back as chairman of Askam ARLC in a role which allows me to take an active role in shaping the future of the club in our small village.
“It also gives me time to renew my other passion of following Hull FC. But this time as one of the faithful as a supporter. And boy do me and my wife Tracy clock up some miles once more.
“This time though sat on the other side of the fence, you really do appreciate what the club means to the many thousands of supporters and to be part of that journey is not to be missed.
“Without doubt my proudest moment to date, as a supporter of the mighty black and whites came last August, in our nations capital at Wembley stadium, when we finally got the opportunity to shut that small club up from the dark side of the city.
“With that nail biting victory over Warrington Wolves. I can honestly say that I have never witnessed scenes of emotion like it before in my entire life.
“The relief, the joy, the tears, not a dry eye in the house, unbelievable scenes and yet another superb memory to go with the many created before. I’m getting emotional just writing this. From the tries, the goals, #tackle52, to Radders holding the challenge cup aloft and nearly cracking, this is what our great club is all about.
“Hull FC has given me plenty of lifelong friendships and plenty of them are amongst you, the faithful.
“I have had plenty of good coaches around me to influence who and what I am today. Paul Kavanagh, Ivor Kelland, Rod Reddy, Brian Smith, Noel Cleal and Royce Simmons.
“Then when you throw into the mix players of the calibre of Greg Mackey and Des Hasler just to name a couple, I have plenty to be thankful for.
“That is why this club has a very special place in my heart, for my past and my future. I hope that you all agree that Russ Walker is a ‘Black & White’ for “Life”.
This interview first appeared in Issue 35 of Up the Cream, out at the Wigan home game back in June. For more like it, be sure to check out our online shop, and look out for our sellers on all Hull FC match days.