It may now cease to exist, at least in a physical form, but the Boulevard will always be Hull Rugby League Football Club’s spiritual home.
Featuring, prior to a brief nineties renovation, two wooden stands and two end terraces, the famous old ground was as intimidating as any for the opposition, with a boisterous home backing emanated from the Threepenny Stand leading the atmospheric and hostile reputation it still has today.
Located deep in the clubs historical roots off Hessle Road, the Boulevard, situated on Airlie Street, got its name from the road it joined on to.
Proud to associate it with a rich history, ex-players and supporters alike hold the famous ground in the highest regard, with its influence and lasting legacy cherished through the memory of all who laid eyes on it.
Evident by the famous victories, the mud, the ‘golden rain passage’, and the burned Red and White scarfs, the Boulevard justified its place as one of rugby league’s most iconic and famous stadiums, with 107 years of proud Hull FC history adorned upon it until its emotional farewell in 2002.
Boulevard street sign at the corner of Boulevard and Hessle Road.
Airlie Street housed the Boulevard’s main entrance.
Hull FC’s first ever game at the Boulevard saw them defeat Liversidge in the maiden season of Northern Union Football, aka what we call rugby league today, way back in 1895.
The RFL plaque at the Boulevard Academy.
Following the ‘rebel clubs’ breakaway from rugby union, the Airlie Birds, playing at the Boulevard, were to establish themselves from rebellious to feared as they became a driving force in the early years of rugby league.
Largely due to the prolific try scoring of Boulevard hero Jack Harrison, Hull FC and finals were regularly put together, with the club wining the most prestigious trophy of all, the Challenge Cup, for the first time in 1914.
With its heritage and status as an iconic rugby league stadia, the Boulevard was the graveyard of legends, from early year stars to Joe Oliver and Billy Batten, to more modern-day heroes like Steve Norton and Richard Horne.
It was the caldron of noise and intimidation that brought the peak of the historic and sometimes brutal Hull Derby, a marvellous occasion, in which the Boulevard brought fear into the old enemy – it was a war zone, and never a place for the faint hearted.
The most famous of rugby league songs, “Old Faithful”, was first heard fresh on the Boulevard terraces in the 1930s. Often considered as the spark to ignite the fire in the team, final appearances often ended in heartbreak, yet still the Boulevard remained as hostile as ever.
During the Hull blitz in World War Two, the Boulevard was hit three times by Nazi bombers. The ground wasn’t nessecary a target, but became something of a landmark due its proximity between the docks and railway lines. Hull of course was second only to London in damage by the air raids, with 95% of homes destroyed and 1,200 people killed. The Boulevard however never became surplus to requirements during the war.
On a lighter note, under Roy Francis’ guidance the 1950s were ruled by a fearsome pack adorning the famous turf. Ankle deep in mud they were, but eminent to history, the Drake Twins’ physical authority, the steel of Harry Markum and the flair of Johnny Whiteley brought dominance, respect, and finals aplenty. The Boulevard was their church, they lived on it, with modern training methods seen in the modern-day game lavished to their daily routines.
The Boulevard was, of course, home to Hull FC record try scorer Clive Sullivan, who crossed over the white line no fewer than 250 times during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Home also to heroes such as Arthur Keegan, Ivor Watts and Mick Crane, all idolised during their respective careers.
Though met with both triumph and adversity, the Boulevard had its share of darker times. From the troubles in the 70s to liquidation fears in the 90s, Hull FC’s illustrious history is met with heartbreak, but that’s what makes it so elusive.
In 1979 Hull’s fortunes changed for the better, with an emerging side concluding a 26 game unbeaten season with promotion against New Hunslet at the Boulevard. What was to follow sparked the Golden Era of the early 80s, an era that saw some of the greatest ever players to pull on the Hull FC jersey ply their trade on the Airlie Street site. The likes of Peter Sterling, Steve Norton, and Lee Crooks, all compelling in a League Championship, Yorkshire Cup, and Challenge Cup winning spell.
In 1991 a hard-working squad, conveyed by the likes of Richard Gay, Andy Dannatt and Greg Mackey won the Premiership Final at Old Trafford, but Hull’s decline in the 90s saw them originally miss out on the new ‘summer rugby’ Super League competition. The Boulevard was becoming run down, as owner at the time David Lloyd flirted with liquidation, bankruptcy and a dreaded merger with our noisy neighbours.
Though on the rise once more, Hull FC gained promotion in 1998, with the Black and Whites defeating London 6-4 in the first ever Super League fixture at the Boulevard. A new era of Hull-born talent was evolving, with Paul King, Lee Jackson, Kirk Yeaman, Paul Cooke and most significantly of all Richard Horne stamping their mark on the competition itself.
The Black and Whites then grew into a Super League force, with play-off appearances at the iconic stadium starting to evolve, most famously against St Helens, until the Boulevard’s final season of 2002, concluding with an 18-32 defeat to Bradford, and then an emotional farewell against New Zealand a few weeks later.
1983 League Champions. The best Boulevard moment ever?
Hull FC’s final Super League match at the Boulevard, 2002
The Boulevard in its heyday could hold a lot of people, 28,798 of which crammed into the ground to watch a Challenge Cup third round match against Leeds in 1936.
Whilst this is the official attendance record given for the Boulevard, it wouldn’t surprise us if there were many more packed into the ground throughout the early years, a common occurrence in sports grounds across the country, where the only way you could watch the action was by being there yourself.
The Threepenny Stand – Sacred to many Hull FC fans, the Threepenny generated the atmosphere of which made the Boulevard such an intimidating venue.
From the burning of Red and White scarfs to the ‘urinals’ at the back of the stand, the Threepenny housed the hard-core supporter, with the ‘golden rain passage’ familiar to all who made the half-time end to end venture.
In more recent times the old stand was demolished and a new half seating, half standing build replaced it, as the Boulevard undertook a modern makeover. For many fans it wasn’t quite the same, but it kept Hull in check with the games modernisation.
The infamous old Threepenny Stand.
The new Threepenny Stand, with the seating area (right) as seen from the Gordon Street end.
The Golden Rain Passage.
The Best Stand – Like the Threepenny the Best Stand housed both standing and seating, and like it’s opposite certainly changed its shape over the years. The stand featured a well, plus the smell of staled piss, with a family seating area post-renovation located near the dugouts.
The Best Stand at the Boulevard.
The Best Stand from the Airlie Street end.
Airlie Street and Gordon Street Ends – The main entrance to the ground, Airlie Street, is what gives Hull FC the Airlie Bird nickname. Both ends were an open terrace, often switched between both sets of fans at half time.
The Airlie Street End scoreboard.
Looking at the Gordon Street End.
Following Hull FC’s move to the KCOM Stadium in 2003, the Boulevard was originally saved from demolition and reopened in 2007 as the home of greyhound racing in the City.
There were plans for it to be used as a community stadium hosting rugby league matches and speedway, but it eventually closed and was, heartbreaking so, demolished in 2010, with the Boulevard Academy School now standing on its former site.
After years of organising and planning by supporters group FC Voices, the decision was made to erect a memorial on the Boulevard Academy School where the namesake ground once stood.
“Opened back in 1895, the Boulevard was a special and spiritual place not just to us all gathered here today, but for our fathers and their fathers and indeed many generations of Hull FC fans.
For all of them and all of us, today’s unveiling marks the final milestone in that 120 year journey. In many ways in fact we are all gathered here today to witness the last rights of the old place, but paradoxically it is also a celebration of great days, great matches and great times and a lasting reminder for future generations of the importance of the Stadium to the fans and to the local community.
It was of course for years our spiritual home and everyone has a memory. It could be Knocker ghosting through the defensive line, Sully tearing down the Threepenny Stand with the crowd roaring him on, Johnny Whiteley striding majestically through the middle or one of those unforgettable last-ditch tackles of the late great Arthur Keegan.
But perhaps for you, like me, the Boulevard was also all about the stale Wagon Wheels, those Westlers Hot Dogs in brine and that watery Bovril that burnt your mouth at half time. I remember too the Floodlights with most of the bulbs missing and everyone changing ends at half time. Plus of course there was the weekly ritual of wading out of the gents and that rather unique smell that always seemed to surround the Threepenny Stand.
Those are just my memories and the greatest thing of all about the old place is that we all have them, they are all personal to us and we will cherish them forever. What a very special place The Boulevard was.”
An extract from Pete Allen’s FC Voices introduction to the unveiling of the Boulevard memorial, which took place at the Boulevard Academy on Saturday 19th September 2015.
FC Voices members pictured with Johnny Whiteley MBE before the opening of the memorial.
Bobbie Goulding: “As an opposition player if I could describe the Boulevard in one word that word would be hell.”
Richard Kirk: “The Boulevard was heaven on earth to me. It was primitive, it was intimidating, and it was atmospheric, but most importantly it was our home. I watched great Hull sides. I watched crap Hull sides. I watched the greatest side ever, the 82 Aussie touring side – we beat them but for that bloody ref. I saw us lift trophies, I saw us lose games we really should have won. Relegation, glory, drama, fights and even bloody cricket and greyhounds. We can’t go back, but just for one day I’d love a Delorean car to take my kids back to 1982 when we played the Aussies, or 83 when we won the league, or the 79 Floodlit final, or any number of games when for a few oh so short hours nothing else mattered in the world but the 15 men representing the greatest team in the world.”
Christian Lody: “I felt 20ft tall, a proper bloke at the grand old age of 11. They were some of the best days of my life, the camaraderie and characters were a joy to be hold. For an opposing player it must have been a nightmare especially if you had a peculiar name or distinguished feature, it was relentless, soul destroying and crucifying, that stand had the power to make or break players. It wasn’t always sinister though, if an opposing player gave as good as he got and came out on top on the pitch he was always given a massive respectful round of applause (Ask Henderson Gill). Those glory days of the 80s and been a Threepenny stander was what dreams are made of, nothing compared to them and never will.”
Glenn Tasker: “The Boulevard is where I started my love affair with Hull FC way back in 1978. As a fresh faced 7-year-old my mother and aunty took me along to my first match and I was instantly hooked. Our place in the old wooden stand and the banter with some of the old wags was something to look forward to every other week and learning and chanting the songs felt like you really were a part of something special. Special memories for me are spending time with some family members, some of whom are sadly no longer with us, watching some of the true greats from our club. Whether it were the muddy days of Paul Woods playing on a pitch that resembled Withernsea beach, watching the squad do the Haka in front of us after winning the Div.1 Championship (Bunting’s cigar et. Al), FC Monkey playing in Keith Tindall’s testimonial match, the all-conquering Kangaroos, Nolan’s last gasp try or falling from grace under Lloyd, the church of FC was always a welcoming sight. A million memories were made under that ramshackled old stadium for many people and I am glad that I have my personal ones to cling to.”
Johnny Whiteley MBE: “The Boulevard was special, I’m not saying we would always win, but there used to be a saying that no team came to Hull with a full strength side because we were so strong and the pack was so feisty. People used to say well he never came to the Boulevard as he backed off. None of us backed off, we got cocky, we knew we could bang people about and run people off their feet. We had the skill and we developed an arrogance under Roy Francis, he was a pure out winner and he developed this arrogance to be winners and I can assure you the Boulevard for nearly ten years was a place where everybody feared coming.”
Chris Young: “The Boulevard from my first visit as a four year old boy standing in the Best Stand with my Dad to progressing up to standing on the Threepenny meant everything to me. There isn’t a home game now where I don’t miss going to the Boulevard instead of the soulless KC Stadium. I met some great people whilst stood in Threepenny, people who are still part of my life today. I miss the spirit, intimidation and feel of the Boulevard, it will always be our spiritual home.”