The graveyard of legends. The Boulevard is, and will always be, Hull FC’s spiritual home.
Featuring, prior to a nineties renovation, two old 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.
Both ex-players and supporters alike hold the famous ground in the highest regard, with its stories, memories and history cherished by all who laid eyes on it.
Evident by the famous victories, the mud, the bovril, 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.
Hull FC acquired the Hull Athletic Ground, aka the Boulevard ahead of the 22 ‘rebel clubs’ breakaway from rugby union. On the 29th August 1895 at the George Hotel in Huddersfield, they formed the Northern Union which is what we know as rugby league today.
The following month on the 21st September 1895, Hull defeated Liversedge in their first ever game at the Boulevard.
The Hull side that played Liversedge in 1895.
The RFL commemorative plaque at the Boulevard Academy school, where the Boulevard once stood.
1914 Challenge Cup win
The Airlie Birds went on to establish themselves from rebellious to feared as they became a driving force in the early years of Northern Union.
After so many near misses, Hull finally won the Challenge Cup in 1914 with a star studded line up including the likes of Alf Francis, Jack Harrison, Jimmy Devereux and Billy Batten.
They beat Wakefield 6-0 in the final at Halifax’s Thrum Hall. Harrison and Francis scored the tries.
Jimmy Devereux in front of the Threepenny Stand, 1909. The Australian was the first Hull player to reach 100 tries for the club.
The 1914 Challenge Cup winning team at the Boulevard.
Hull won back-to-back League Championships in 1919/20 and 1920/21. Jimmy Devereux was still lighting up the Boulevard, as was Billy Batten, Johnny Whiteley aside, who is the most highly regarded Hull player ever. They were joined by Jim Kennedy, who holds club records for the most points in one match with 36 against Keighley, and his 14 goals in a game against Rochdale is also a joint record along with Richard Horne and Matt Crowther. Most of the cup team were still around for the Championship wins, and the feat has never been since achieved by a Hull side.
Billy Batten was the stuff of legends, with Hull advertising “Batten certain to play” for their home games at the Boulevard.
Mr Old Faithful
Joe Oliver is the Hull FC points machine with 156 tries and 687 goals giving him a grand total of 1,842, many of which were scored in front of the grand old lady.
The Boulevard was the cradle of poetic excellence in rugby league and goes back to a match against Wigan in the mid 1930’s when one supporter decided to sing a cowboy lullaby by Gene Autry called Old Faithful towards point machine Joe Oliver. He must have been bloody blathered, but he has to be the greatest ever ‘starter’ of chants there is or was. You couldn’t pick a more obtuse and removed song could you? Perhaps the only thing that is keeping his ashes from the poets corner in Westminster Abbey is the fact that no-one knows who the hell he was. But it stuck and the most famous chant Old Faithful was born.
The Boulevard was always packed to the rafters in the early days of Northern Union, and that continued right to the point where 28,798 supporters crammed into the ground to watch a Challenge Cup third round match against Leeds back in 1936.
World War Two
During the Hull blitz in World War Two, the Boulevard was hit three times by German bombers. The ground wasn’t necessary a target, but it became something of a landmark due its proximity between the docks and railway lines.
The City of Hull 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.
Johnny Whiteley and the 50s
Hull signed their greatest ever player Johnny Whiteley in 1950, with many of his 418 Hull appearances coming at the Boulevard.
Under Roy Francis’ guidance the 1950s decade was 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. After three Yorkshire Cup runners up medals came two Championships in 1956 and 1958. The Boulevard was their church, they lived on it, and they were ahead of their time. The Boulevard then was a place where everybody feared coming.
Hull FC’s greatest ever player Johnny Whiteley.
Clive Sullivan and the Golden Era
The Boulevard was 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, and all of whom played in some tough times for the club.
However in 1978 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 masterminded by Arthur Bunting 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 graced the turf and Hull won everything, topped with the 1983 Championship ‘Haka’ celebrations after a victory against Barrow to secure the league title.
Clive Sullivan running down the Best Stand side.
1976-77 John Player Trophy, Hull v Bradford in front of the glorious Threepenny.
1979 Floodlit Trophy, Vince Farrar and Steve Norton after Hull beat Rovers at the Boulevard.
1983 League Champions. The best Boulevard moment ever?
The 90s and Threepenny Stand Renovation
Hull’s decline in the 90s saw them originally miss out on the new ‘summer rugby’ Super League competition. Owner at the time David Lloyd flirted with liquidation, bankruptcy and a dreaded merger with our noisy neighbours, but not before the Threepenny Stand had a knock down rebuild, the biggest renovation in the Boulevard’s history.
The last match in the old stand was against St Helens in a Regal Trophy match in 1995.
The Threepenny Stand, 1988
The Threepenny Stand half rebuilt, and half original.
Last part of the Threepenny Stand Demolition, original 1895 part.
Last part of the Threepenny Stand to be rebuilt.
The completed rebuild of the Threepenny Stand.
Super League era
Hull FC gained promotion to Super League ahead of the 1998 season 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, Kirk Yeaman, Paul Cooke and most significantly of all Richard Horne stamping their mark on the competition itself.
Super League and the Boulevard were only a match for four years, but it was enough time for the Black and Whites to grow into a force again. Hull were brilliant in 2001 but lost to St Helens in the play-offs at the Boulevard. The farewell season of 2002 concluded with an 18-32 defeat to Bradford, before the famous old ground got an emotional farewell against New Zealand a few weeks later.
The Boulevard, 2000.
Farewell to the Boulevard, Hull vs New Zealand, 2002
The Threepenny Stand – The most famous stand at the Boulevard, the Threepenny, who’s shape changed over the years, generated the atmosphere of which made the ground 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, the fisherman, and those generally who you wouldn’t want to pick a fight with. You had to earn your place. It was full of camaraderie, the likes of which we’ll probably never see again.
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.
Super League Survival, 1999.
The Best Stand – Like the Threepenny the Best Stand housed both standing and seating, and like it’s opposite stand it certainly changed its shape over the years. The stand featured a well, the dugouts, and a seating area.
The Best Stand, 1950s.
Welcome to the Boulevard, Best Stand.
Best Stand, 1980-1990s.
Director’s Box, Best Stand.
The Well, Best Stand.
View from the Best Stand.
Airlie Street End – The main entrance to the ground, Airlie Street, is what gives Hull FC the Airlie Bird nickname. The end housed the scoreboard and was an open terrace, often switched between the Gordon Street End for both sets of fans at half time.
The Airlie Street End scoreboard.
Gordon Street End – Also a standing terrace and what was considered as the southern end of the ground.
A packed Gordon Street terrace with the Threepenny Stand to the left.
Looking at the Gordon Street End from the Airlie 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.
The Boulevard, 2009.
Best Stand Demolition.
Gordon Street End Demolition.
The Boulevard Academy School.
Best Stand, then and now.
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.
Boulevard Memorial, 2015.
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 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.”