Well it’s Wembley again and for yours truly it’s all a bit of a bugger really, because when I think about it, the national stadium’s a place that I’ve been to almost as many times as I’ve swore that I’d never bloody go again.
Wembley Stadium, the Challenge Cup Final and abject and reoccurring disappointment have for yours truly always gone hand in hand. Yet the Cholmley Club outings to the final have, over the years, been some of the best times of my life. These days it’s just a case of ‘having to be there’, because when you get to my age there’s little doubt that you really do become a bit of a ‘sad bastard’. I never expect to win and quite frankly in my heart of hearts I don’t believe we ever will. Well not in my lifetime anyway, but don’t despair because times running out on that one fast. It’s a frame of mind and a sort of defence mechanism that I’ve developed over 70 years of watching Hull FC.
In an effort to get away from our lass I went for years whoever was playing, however if there is one thing better than a trip with your mates to the capital to watch ‘whoever’, it’s when your team is playing in the final because there’s nothing quite like that feeling around London when the FC Army are in town. Although of course that exhilarating mood also means that the higher you get on emotion, the further you fall and we’re all used to falling when it comes to the sodding Challenge Cup final aren’t we? You know in your heart that its extremely unlikely you’ll ever come home happy, but then again you might not see the place again either, so you go, on both counts, just in case. However, there is little doubt that trips to London with Hull FC have always been disappointing. You usually end up totally pissed off, trudging along back up Wembley Way, whilst cursing your blooming luck.
Still, it’s all part of the average FC fans life-long learning curve and so, as if to lay bare the whole bloody hurt of it all, here are a few bitter sweet memories of a life time of having to endure Wembley debacles, whilst always somehow harbouring the faint hope, that this time will be different. The mood of the weekend usually swings from beer fuelled euphoria, through panic to eventual dejection. It all started for me back in my 20’s, in ’59 when we played Wigan. We stayed in a bed and breakfast at the Elephant and Castle, met up with a big crowd from Hessle Road including Tom Courtney’s Dad (who was also called Tom) and then we all had a few beers on the night in the ‘Flag and Funnel’ pub in Fulham. Tom was 22 back then and already starting to make a bit of a name for himself as an actor and he joined his Dad at the Stadium for the match in which….we got beaten …easily.
Next up it was Wakefield Trinity in 1960 and we were off again, although this time I remember the Danby’s coach broke down near Peterborough and we all got absolutely blathered waiting for a replacement to arrive four hours later. The local pub in Alwaltan was, I think, called the Cuckoo Inn and they’d never sold so much beer on a Friday lunchtime, as we drank the place dry. At last the replacement Coach arrived, which then had to stop every half hour for the Cholmley regulars to relieve themselves at the road side. After that we always went on the train.
At Wembley we really got stuffed by Wakefield as a depleted FC side which featured Mike Smith, the first and as far as I know, the only player to make his Club debut in the Final, were ran ragged. Tommy Harris got the Lance Todd Trophy after a heroic performance when he played most of the game with concussion and he was, back then, the first player from a losing side to win the award. But that’s all we won that day.
We however then had a long wait, before we went down to the ‘Smoke’ again and then it was for THAT final in 1980, which I never speak of…. and I won’t being doing so in here either. Next up it was the amazing happenings of 1982 when we drew with Widnes. The Falklands conflict was in full swing and we all stood as Ken Dodd conducted the community singing. It made for a poignant moment because in our party Billy Parker and Stu Jenkins had sons down there on the Norland and hearing ‘Abide with Me’ and seeing the tears rolling down so many people’s faces, made for a time this sentimental old bugger will never forget.
The replay at Elland Road was something else and we decided to have a few beers in Leeds before the game. We set off early but our bus was stuck for over three hours in a 40 mile long traffic jam on the M62 before we had to run to the ground to just get in before the kick off. It was the only final I have, up until then, watched sober and it bloody seemed to last a lifetime. However, we at last won that bloody trophy; but it wasn’t at Wembley.
The following year we were red hot favourites, so much so that Shuttleworth’s Bookmakers on Coltman Street stopped taking bets on the outcome. However ‘The Colliers’ of Featherstone who ‘didn’t have a chance’ did for us in the biggest upset the final had seen for years and afterwards, as I drowned my sorrows….again, it was apparent that Oxford Street had never seen so many drunken miners and probably hasn’t since.
Maybe my favourite Wembley final followed when we played Wigan and got narrowly beaten 24-28 after an amazing fight back. What I remember most was the crowd, which was as tight as I had experienced in any stadium. The terraces at the ends were packed as the authorities relaxed the 95,000 capacity somewhat and the game was watched by over 99,000 people. What a time we had, spilling more beer than we drank from those early ‘prototype’ bendy plastic glasses as we all got showered every time we scored. I never get that throwing good beer about stuff, it seems such a waste of bloody good ale to me. Not that you get much good ale in London.
2005 was a monumental year, of course it was, it was a fantastic performance and a great, great moment in the history of the Club, but I still can’t remember much about what happened afterwards as the whole celebration is clouded in the usual alcoholic haze. However we won the Cup, but not, once again, at Wembley.
In 2008 it was back to London and as the Cholmley Club Wembley Weekend ‘excursion’ had, like so many others, been scrapped due to ‘lack of interest’, we all went down on the train and took the wives. Our lass had no idea whatsoever as to what was going on. We had a few beers at the game and the lads tried really hard, it was a heartbreaking result, ‘a disappointingly ‘quiet’ weekend and another bloody disaster on the field. I decided afterwards that leaving the stadium sober after a Cup final defeat, was probably the worst experience I had suffered in my life.
Last time we were there in 2013 was I think perhaps, after 1980, the worst experience yet. To be nilled was one thing, but to be under instructions from the Doctor to have no alcohol at all was completely another. I’d got a bad infection in my throat and was on anti-biotics and so, I had my first ever completely dry Cup final weekend. It’s not something I would recommend and certainly not something I’ll be doing again. It won’t be happening this year for sure because our lass has cashed in a few premium bonds and we’re going down to the Ibis in Wembley and making a weekend of it; with the women going shopping and all us old farts doing what we do best, getting pissed.
So if I see you there, say hello and I’ll gladly blag a pint off you. Above all though, enjoy the experience because you never know how long it will be before you get another chance. See you at the game, I’ll be the old bugger with the home made rosette and the glass of beer in my hand.
If I see you there, Gerrum in….