With over 150 years to account for, here's the story of Hull Football Club...
Hull & Proud - for over 150 years
The Early Years
Led by a certain Anthony Bradley, a group of ex-public school pupils, mainly from Rugby School but also from St Peter’s, York, Marlborough and Cheltenham, the Hull Football Club was formed late in 1865. Amongst the founders were Beevor Lambert, E.W.Wade, E.Waltham and W.H.H.Hutchinson as well as the five Scott brothers, sons of Rev. John Scott of St Mary’s. Two of them are known to have played in the early days of the Club. F.E. Scott also served as the President of Hull Football Club for a short period during its formative years.
In a far cry from what became their traditional black and white, the early colours worn by Hull were of a striped cherry and white shirt with white flannels and a white cap, if worn. The first fixture arranged for the fledgling Hull FC was played out at Lincoln in early 1866 and further matches were arranged with clubs in Newark, Louth and St Peter’s School, York. It is clear that most of the very early matches were played as soccer games with 11 players each side, but it is not clear as to what rules actually governed these early contests but, generally, they were played out in accordance with home club rules, of which there was a great disparity.
However, at the annual meeting in the George Hotel, Land of Green Ginger, on 20th October 1870, the decision was taken to formally adopt the rugby rules. Hull FC, like many clubs in their formative years, led a nomadic existence. Their first ground was at Woodgates Hall, North Ferriby, playing there for a short time from 1866. With the founding of new clubs in the far-off West Riding and in a measure designed to make it somewhat easier for those clubs to come and fulfil fixtures with Hull FC, the club obtained use of a ground at Selby, opposite the Londesborough Arms, to play some fixtures. In 1871, Hull moved on to play at the Rifle Barracks field in Anlaby Road, Hull, and it was at this time that they became the first Yorkshire club to attain membership of the fledgling Rugby Football Union.
1877 saw the introduction of the Challenge Cup. Hull were regarded as favourites to win it but were beaten in the semi-finals by York. They did, however, reach the Final in 1884 but were beaten by Bradford. Hull Football Club merged with Hull White Star in 1881 and after some years searching for a suitable location for a new, bigger, ground, they moved home in the autumn of 1895 to The Athletic Grounds in The Boulevard. Hull Kingston Rovers had been tenants there since January 1892 but could not afford the rental increase asked of them in 1895.
1895: Post-Rugby split
With the breaking away of the leading Northern Rugby Union clubs from the Rugby Union in August 1895, Hull’s move to The Boulevard coincided with the commencement of the Rugby League game, although it was still to be known as “Northern Union” until 1922. Liversedge were the first visitors and Hull won 3-0.
The early years in the new game were not particularly successful for Hull, but with the opening out of the game and the reduction to 13 players from 1906-07, their fortunes improved and they appeared in the Challenge Cup Final in three successive years between 1908 and 1910, the latter of which ended in a draw. All three were lost, however, a glorious decade beckoned. Jack Harrison, a Hull-born teacher, joined from York in 1912 and featured in a three-quarter line that included Alf Francis from Wales, the great Jimmy Devereux, from the pioneering Kangaroo Tour in 1908 and the Australian centre and captain, Herbert Gilbert from the 1912 Kangaroos.
They were joined in April 1913 by the immortal Billy Batten for whom Hull paid a staggering fee of £600 to Hunslet. He had been a member of the Hunslet team which had won all four Cups in 1907-08. When he arrived at Hull, they had never won a trophy. When he left 11 years later, they had won them all and Bill had another full set of winners’ medals.
The first of these successes came with the winning of the Challenge Cup in 1914, overcoming Wakefield Trinity at Halifax. Batten and Gilbert led Hull superbly and laid on tries for Harrison and Francis in the 6-0 win. Harrison set a try-scoring record the following season (1914-15) with 52 which has never been surpassed. That was to be his last full season for Hull, as he gave his life saving the men under his command in France in May 1917. He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously, having already secured the Military Cross three months earlier.
After the War, Hull strode the heights of Rugby League and won two successive Championships in 1920 and 1921. The Yorkshire Cup was won in 1923 but that was to be the last sight of Silverware until the Championship again in 1936. In the September of that year, the Hull FC ‘anthem’ was first heard on The Boulevard when the Threepenny Stand crowd sang ‘Old Faithful’ in tribute to points machine Joe Oliver.
The Second World War saw Hull carry on when many other clubs closed down for the duration, but the aftermath saw a struggle on the field with many of their former stars having retired or simply not able to resume after the War. Hull secured the services of several Australian players such as Bruce Ryan, George Watt, Duncan Jackson, Keith Gittoes and Johnny Payne but the capture of ex-Test centre Roy Francis as player-coach was a master stroke. His coaching methods were, in the words of many of his players, ‘20 years before his time’. A young Welsh Rugby Union hooker was signed to be followed by a young Hessle Road back-row forward, who would go on to be legends of the post-War history of the Club – Tommy Harris and Johnny Whiteley, respectively. They eventually became mainstays of the Great Britain team in an era when the Ashes were considered to be a British preserve.
The Golden Years
Hull, in the latter half of the 1950s, were a real force and their pack of forwards were virtually untouchable. Three successive Championship Final appearances in 1956-58 followed, the prize being secured in ’56 and ’58. Three successive Yorkshire Cup Finals were also achieved in 1953-55 – like the three Challenge Cup Finals 45 years earlier, the third was drawn and all three lost. However, Hull’s first Wembley appearance came along in 1959 but on a day when Wigan’s forwards gave a superb performance and Hull went down 13-30. After a further Yorkshire Cup defeat, Hull returned to Wembley in 1960, only for a patched up, injury ravaged team to go down by a record 5-38. Tommy Harris was a real hero that day, though, winning the Lance Todd Trophy as Man of the Match having returned to action time and again between injuries.
The 1969-70 saw the Yorkshire Cup once again at The Boulevard and in 1976, Hull became the first Second Division team to reach the John Player Trophy Final.
1978-79 saw them set a world record as they became the first team to win all of its 26 league matches in a season. They secured the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy in December ‘79 with a 13-3 victory over Hull KR before the biggest attendance in the competitions’ history. Rovers got their revenge later in the all-Hull Wembley Cup Final, but Hull compensated in the John Player Trophy two years later before securing the Cup ‘Double’ in taking the Challenge Cup after a draw at Wembley. A never-to-be-forgotten night at Elland Road, Leeds, saw Hull triumph in style over then ‘Cup Kings’ Widnes. That team went on to take the League Championship in 1982-83, but lost at Wembley to Featherstone Rovers, and a further Wembley final saw Hull go down unluckily by 24-28 to Wigan in what is still regarded as the greatest Wembley Final in 1985.
Yet another trio of Final appearances came about in 1982-84 but in this instance, the brilliant team coached by Arthur Bunting, with Steve Norton, David Topliss, Lee Crooks and the Kiwi quartet of Kemble, O’Hara, Leuluai and Ah Kuoi won the Yorkshire Cup on each occasion.
More success came about in 1990-91 with the winning of the Premiership Trophy before the game underwent a revolution in 1996 with the advent of Super League and a switch to summer activity. Hull won promotion to the new elite in 1998. Progress was slow and in 1999 they only avoided relegation by a last-day victory over Sheffield Eagles.
The Modern Era
At this time, the Club was near to extinction and very nearly paid the ultimate price, but a merger with Gateshead Thunder provided the catalyst for improved fortunes both financially and in performance. As always, optimism never left the Black and Whites and, perhaps surprisingly, the team containing a nucleus of young local talent nurtured through its own Academy and brilliantly led by New Zealand Test hooker, Richard Swain, fought their way to yet another Challenge Cup Final in 2005, this time at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Against all expectations, the Cup was secured for the third time with a thrilling victory 25-24 over Leeds Rhinos.
In the following campaign, Hull put together a 13-match winning run which contributed enormously to a 2nd place finish in Super League and an eventual Grand Final encounter with St Helens which proved just a game too far for Hull.
Hull FC reached the Challenge Cup Final on two more occasions, losing in 2008 and 2013 and top eight finishes in the league has been achieved in all but one year since.
A New Era?
But a new era has well and truly begun for the Black & Whites over the past three seasons. Under the stewardship of coach Lee Radford, Hull went on a spectacular cup run in 2016, and going up against Warrington at the national stadium, finally ended their Wembley hoodoo after 151 years.
But the club ensured they were indeed writing a new chapter in their history the following season, by defending the Challenger Cup and retaining the trophy for the very first time against their great rival in the competition, Wigan.
With a current crop of Hull-born stars leading the way for the Black & Whites, the future is bright, with the club now firmly setting their sights on their first Super League Grand Final victory to ensure this current side go down as potentially the greatest Hull FC side of all time
Compiled by Bill Dalton (club historian)