“Giddy up old fella ‘cos the moon is mellow tonight.”
It was quite fitting that a yellow and bright moon flared down on the Boulevard during Hull FC’s emotional farewell to the famous old ground against New Zealand.
The clubs spiritual home and the place, including the smell of staled piss and scalding Bovril, that every supporter lucky enough to cling on to their own personal memories, remembers so fondly. The Boulevard was a special place, and after the 2002 Super League season had concluded, the Airlie Birds got one final crack on it against the Kiwis, the country in which so many of it’s sons had graced those famous irregular hoops and that hallowed turf, most famously the three from the 1980s; Dane O’Hara, Gary Kemble and James Leuluai, for what was the greatest ever spell in the clubs history under the late great Arthur Bunting.
Fittingly then after a domestic defeat to Bradford, it was New Zealand who provided the opposition for one final time. Adorning their famous black jerseys with the white V, they won the game 28-11 and that was that, a weird and emotional night, with the shiny new ‘Super Stadium’ lurking in the backdrop. That night, 12,092 people crammed into the Threepenny, the Best Stand, and the two end terraces for one last night of action. Of course, the legend himself Johnny Whiteley led Hull FC out to a spine tingling rendition of Old Faithful, with Black and White balloons everywhere. We hadn’t quite mastered pyrotechnics yet.
Hull gave everything against a strong Kiwi side, with then coach Shaun McRae wanting to put on a spectacle, and that he did as a captivated Boulevard crowd watched on.
Hull-born hooker Lee Jackson, once deemed the greatest hooker in the world, had returned the year before for a second spell at the club, and on this occasion captained the side. Jacko was ahead of his time and modernised the role, conquering the game on both sides of the world. We forget sometimes just how good he was.
Elsewhere Hull fielded the likes of Steve Prescott, Richard Horne, Adam Maher, Paul Cooke, Matt Crowther and Craig Greenhill, not to mention youngsters Paul Fletcher and Craig Poucher, and came up against a tough New Zealand side, ironically boasting the talent of Richard Swain, a man who just three years down the line in Cardiff, would put himself into legend status at Hull FC himself. The Kiwis also had talent in abundance, boasting the likes of Francis Meli, Clinton Toopi and Joe Vagana, plus two more players who’d go on to play for the club in Motu Tony and Stephen Kearney.
Hull cruelly lost Prescott to a shoulder injury but struck first as Jackson provided a kick for Horne to dive over. The Black and Whites, playing in a special commemorative kit on the night, didn’t drop off the pressure, but the Kiwis hit back through David Vaeliki.
Remarkably so Hull’s kicking winger Graham Mackay then slotted over an incredible drop-goal. Think Pat Richards against St Helens in Super League not so long ago. It was unreal, 51 metres out in fact, and right before the hooter to give Hull a half time lead.
Though New Zealand stepped it up after the break and scored through Henry Fa’afili, with Vagana soon crossing for a third try. Fa’afili then went over for his second and after Meli intercepted a Cooke pass their superiority in the second half had told at 28-7.
But every great story gets his fairytale, and this one got just that. In the games final play, Greenhill’s kick found Paul Parker who stepped round Vaeliki to score the final ever try at the Boulevard – securing his place in history, at a venue which, whether it was Clive Sullivan’s glistening legs, the swan dives of Wilf Rosenberg, the famous 50s pack or the golden era era of the 80s, never failed to captivate you.
And that was that, 107 years of proud history confined to the record books. Today the Boulevard is the Boulevard Academy school, but it remains the final resting place of so many supporters, and is without doubt the graveyard of legends. Nothing will ever come close to it.
R.IP The Boulevard.
Hull Starting XIII: 1. Steve Prescott, 2. Paul Parker, 3. Richard Horne, 4. Graham Mackay, 5. Matt Crowther, 6. Jason Smith, 7. Tony Smith, 8. Craig Greenhill, 9. Lee Jackson, 10. Adam Maher, 11. Scott Logan, 12. Sean Ryan, 13. Chris Chester. Interchange: 14. Paul King, 15. Craig Poucher, 16. Richard Fletcher, 17. Paul Cooke.
Tries: Horne, Parker. Goals: Crowther 1/1, Jackson 0/1. Drop Goals: Mackay.
New Zealand Starting XIII: 1. David Vaeliki, 2. Henry Fa’afili, 3. Joe Vagana, 4. Clinton Toopi, 5. Francis Meli, 6. Motu Tony, 7. Lance Hohaia, 8. Nathan Cayless, 9. Monty Betham, 10. Paul Rauhihi, 11. Tony Puletua, 12. Shane Wiki, 13. Logan Swann. Interchange: 14. Craig Smith, 15. Richard Swain, 16. Awen Guttenbeil, 17. Stephen Kearney.
Tries: Fa’afili (2), Vagana, Vaeliki, Meli. Goals: Hohaia 4/5.