When Dan asked me to write a few lines about what I remembered about the 1991 Premiership Final, that question was so wrong…. in so many ways.
“Firstly mate,” I said to him, “I can’t seem to do anything in ‘a few lines’ and secondly I can’t remember what I had for breakfast never mind what happened 25 bloody years ago.” However, we decided that the best thing would be to take his request to ‘The Cholmley’ and after a lot of head scratching, several pints and a deal of discussion, we at least came up with some befuddled memories of a massive day in the history of Hull FC.
Billy (The Wizz) Spriggs who is a bit good with statistics said that in the 1990/91 season we finished third in the league, primarily because of the then departed Brian Smith’s under whom we won our first seven games, whilst Widnes, who finished one place and six points in front of us, were hailed by the pundits as ‘The Cup Kings’. Good stuff that by Billy we thought, but then after another double Brandy he soon fell fast asleep in the corner. Although that signalled the end of his input, at least it got us started in what turned out to be something more akin to an Old Codgers reminiscence project.
Then, Harry (the Horse) commented that so unlikely were we to succeed that at William Hill on Coltman Street he had got 8-1 on us to win. Our lass also informed me, as I wrote this up last night, that I was really nervous about the game, in fact, she said, on the morning of the match I had a whiskey with my cornflakes.
That fine Sunday morning in May 1991 we all arrived at Cholmley Club at 10am and to chants of “We’re on the piss” we loaded several crates of Hoffmeister Lager (the brew landlord Stephan used to work off on us on such occasions) onto the bus and were soon on our way to Lancashire. We weren’t on our own either as the game was attended by 42,000, of which over 25,000 made the trip over the Pennines from Hull. There was speculation aplenty on the coach and as the lager ‘took hold’ we were all heartened by stories of poor morale in the Widnes camp, following the rumours about their head coach, Doug Laughton leaving for Leeds and their star player Martin Offiah moving to Wigan. In fact, we all recollected, both these rumours were to be proved completely correct in the following two weeks.
The M62 was ‘chocker’ by the time we got to Saddleworth as the traffic ground to a halt and vehicles with black and white scarfs hanging from their windows were everywhere. Guys left buses to have a ‘wazz’ on the hard shoulder, before chasing after their coaches as they crawled along the motorway towards Manchester. In what was turning out to be an alcoholically fuelled carnival, we had a few more pints at the Trafford Hall Hotel and then went to the ground, where we stood with thousands of FC fans on the Stretford End, as we all sung ourselves bloody hoarse.
One of my strongest and fondest recollections of the day was it being the first time that I had ever drunk beer from a floppy plastic glass, something that no doubt contributed to every pint I had that afternoon at Old Trafford being ‘as flat as a fart.’
As for the game, well all of us in club tried to piece together what exactly happened, but I’m afraid it’s still all a bit hazy. We recalled that in the first few minutes Karl Harrison and Andy Dannatt really battered the Widnes’ front row and when we got the ball wider, Patrick Entat and Greg Mackey showed the Widnes half back pairing of Hulme and Dowd a thing or two. The first Hull try was a classic as Richard Gay scythed through the Cheshire Club’s defence to touch down and after Paul Eastwood had stepped inside to beat about four would be tacklers and put Russ Walker over, we were 8-0 up at half time and all I wanted to do was go to the loo and ‘hide’ for the next forty minutes. Instead, I remember, I had another flat pint in a floppy plastic glass and panicked.
The second half started predictably, as a fantastic 75 yard move following a Soronson break, saw Offiah fly in at the corner. Boy, he was a fast bugger wasn’t he, give him the ball and he’d be off like the proverbial shit off a stick. Then as a growing sense of the inevitable enveloped us all, I couldn’t watch as at the other end, firstly Offiah and then Davies were tackled into touch whilst Tait and Hulme were each held up inches short; it seemed just a matter of time before we cracked.
It was however then time for some real ‘fairytale’ stuff, the sort of thing you see as a fan only a few times in your life. That day Gary Nolan, the newly signed hero from the win over Leeds the previous week, made history and it all unfolded right in front of where the ‘Cholmley Boys’ were standing. Gary had just come on as substitute for Damion McGarry when Mackey slung out a sharp short pass to Nolan who was immediately swamped by four Widnes forwards just five yards out. He writhed around in mid air and as they held him at 45 degrees, there, right in front of us and as we all held our breath, in slow motion an arm came out of the ruck of players and plumped the ball over the line. The bloody place went barmy. Eastwood converted from near the touchline and as ‘Old Faithful’ rang around that great Stadium, we held out for the last ten minutes to finally lift the Trophy. The scenes that followed were fantastic and as the team came over to us with the Cup and as Chesney Hawkes’ hit, “I Am the One and Only” blasted through the speakers, it was a moment when even this hardened old git has to admit to shedding a tear or two.
One thing a couple of the guys in the Club remembered was the way that all the Club’s Directors ran onto the pitch to receive the adulation of the crowd, all that was, except one. Ironically, Mike Stanley, the guy who had brought Brian Smith (the Coach who had made all this possible) over from Australia, was content to stand out of the lime-light on the touchline, as showing great humility, he applauded the players with us lot and the rest of the fans. He’s a top bloke is Mike and one who I still see about sometimes when I visit our Alice in Cottingham.
However old and cynical you are (and I’m both) sometimes in sport something magical happens and so the Garry Nolan moment is seared onto my addled old brain forever. Those of us who were there at Old Trafford that day will never forget that final (well I forgot most of it but not that try, and with help, a lot more came back to me…eventually).
What happened next is all a bit hazy but sufficient to say I didn’t get home till well after 3am on Monday morning and our lass had locked me out, so, at the top of my voice, I sang Old Faithful up to the bedroom window and then got my head down in the garden shed. However even that couldn’t dampen the fantastic feeling I had of winning that trophy. The 12th of May 1991 is still a very special day and one that will live with all us old buggers till the day we die—or at least as long as we can remember what the hell it was all about.