Back to Back Wembley joy: Diary from an Airlie Bird

A year on from the elation of winning at Wembley, Hull FC have gone and done it again in the most nerve-racking of circumstances. An 18 – 14 defeat of Wigan was richly deserved for Lee Radford’s men, the Airlie Birds put in a fantastic effort as a team to dismantle the Warriors. Unlike 2016, my memories are less of a blur and the road to Wembley all began on Friday morning.

In a similar set-up to last year, my Father and I headed down early om Friday morning to try and avoid any traffic-based hiccups on matchday. Before we’d even had opportunity to board the Coach however, the Old Man set the tone for the weekend by blocking the facilities at Hull Interchange; start as you mean to go as they say! A long journey lay ahead of us as we tried to get into the spirit of things on the National Express. Heading ever closer to London, the general consensus amongst numorous FC fans was vibes of positivity tinged with an air of caution. Once we’d battled through the waves of Central London traffic, as well as several unrepeatable spells of road-rage, we finally arrived in Wimbledon for the evening as our meet-up point.

In typical Northern style, a small group of Black & White’s ventured to the nearest Wetherspoons and supped mild-tasting, overpriced lager. The correlation been the more we drank, the louder and more confident we became about our chances in the final. Unlike the Spurs fan who befriended us in the pub, our confidence wasn’t misplaced. We always stated that if the attitude was correct within the FC camp then a victory would follow.

Despite my best efforts to avoid a repeat of last year’s beer enthused headache, I foolishly forgot to place a glass of water on the bedside table and my Saturday morning felt rougher than an afternoon in East Hull. Once clarity was restored and I’d pulled on my lucky Cup shirt from 2016, we logically headed to Kilburn for more alcoholic refreshments. The brilliant thing about Rugby League is the communal nature and it was great to converse with so many supporters from various clubs (The St Helens contingent more than happy to pass on their well-wishes!) Once bets were placed and analysis exhausted we headed to Wembley Way to soak up the pre-match atmosphere. After the fantastic scenes of 2016, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Nonethless we weren’t left disappointing as it seemed even more supporters had made the trip as a sea of Black & White waved across Wembley.

Despite the obvious lack of ‘Pie Eaters’ at the game, made more evident still once we got inside the stadium, the atmosphere did not wane. It’s hard to describe but FC fans almost seem to enjoy the fact that they could head into the game with confidence. No hoodoos, no taunts; this was all about winning the match and building the foundations to a legacy. Even after Wigan’s early try courtesy of John Bateman and a fortuitous bounce of the ball, I still felt confident of victory. Crucially, Hull have recovered against teams so many times before and this is the ethos Lee Radford has built within the team. It wasn’t long before Fetuli Talanoa responded with an athletic leap after a testing kick from Marc Sneyd and further scores from Mahe Fonua soon put Hull in a strong position.

Truth be told once Radford’s troops took the lead, Wigan always looked second-best. A combination of immense defence, game management with the boot and individual gamebreakers caused the Warriors to resort to desperate measures. A clearly unfit Joe Burgess was squeezed out of the game, while ‘BBC Posterboy’ – AKA Sam Tomkins was too busy wailing on the floor after losing a verbal altercation with Sneyd. Hull played the percentages brilliantly and while they worked as a team throughout, players like Talanoa, Fonua, Kelly and Sneyd made the difference on the scoreboard with a series of immense kicks, passes and finishes. Truth be told FC could and should have had more as Liam Watts and Josh Griffin both went close but it was all academic anyway. Despite a couple of contentious calls for both teams from Referee Phil Bentham and sidekick James Child, Hull showed great resolve to hold on and the fact they edged the contest throughout probably made the difference.

Up until this point in my rambles I’ve not mentioned Marc Sneyd in great detail and that’s because the now Back to Back Lance Todd Trophy winner deserves a special mention. He was simply unplayable yesterday as he kicked Wigan into submission with a series of accurate kicks. The architect for Talanoa’s try, 40/20 maestro and also the intuition to vary his kicks; Sneyd had it all and yesterday was just another demonstration of what a brilliant player he is. He’s taken his fair share of criticism in recent months but he’s always responded in the most professional way with big-game performances. You could easily take it for granted how accurate he is with the boots and it’s fantastic to see him receiving richly deserved accolades.

As the game drew to a close there was still time for a late scare as time stood still when Joe Burgess received the ball out on the left edge, thankfully the correct call was made by Bentham with (several) forward passes in the build-up and then it was all but confirmed; Hull were going to do the double. As the final whistle blew, my personal feelings were quite anti-climatic; after immersing myself in the game for 80 minutes with a series of shouting, whincing and worries, we’d actually done it!

I took a moment to witness the hundreds of FC flags in unison before my attention was quickly diverted to Captain Gareth Ellis literally jumping for joy on the pitch. After embracing fellow fans in the nearby rows I took a step back. I was so immensely proud but in a methodical way, knowing that this victory was the start of bigger things to come. Back to Back Winners of a prestigious cup, Marc Sneyd becoming the first player outright to win the Lance Todd Trophy; these are massive achievements. As the players received their medals and Ellis held the trophy aloft once more, the hunger and desire was all too apparent on the 36 year old’s face. As we made our way to the exits at Wembley and were greeted by several sporting Wigan fans even in defeat, we couldn’t help but start thinking about the Grand Final and beyond.

There’s such a sense of excitement about how far this side can go; you can’t put a price on team chemistry and camaraderie and it flows through the Hull team on and off the field. Success breeds success as they say and if they can channel this hunger to become a dominant force in the game, then the future is bright. For now however, the lads will enjoy what is a superb achievement.

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