On this Throwback Thursday, Club Historian Bill Dalton looks back at how Hull FC defied the odds to reach their first League Cup Final, becoming the first Second Division side to reach any national competition final in Rugby League History back in 1976.
The early years of the 1970’s was not a happy time for Airlie Birds fans. Lower third positions in 1971-72 and 1972-73 had consigned the club to the lower tier of the newly adopted two-division football in 1973-74. Frankly, that is where we looked like staying for the foreseeable future.
Attendances were at the lowest the club had ever experienced, there was perpetual boardroom disharmony, little or no money available to spend on fresh talent and the Yorkshire Cup winning team from 1969 had all but retired or their best days were far behind them. What’s more, the club struggled to keep a head coach in place for any length of time.
However, in May 1974, in stepped David Doyle-Davidson to pick up the reins. Progress was slow, but there were still players such as Brian Hancock, Keith Boxall, Keith Tindall, Len Casey and Chris Davidson to provide substance. In February 1975, the club managed to secure the signature of ex-GB Lion Bill Ramsey from Bradford Northern. He provided the pack leadership needed to bring about a sustained improvement.
The revival seemed to stem from the League Cup 1st Round tie at Doncaster, resulting in a 23-12 passage to the next round, which brought First Division high fliers Leeds to the Boulevard.
A rejuvenated Hull fought through to a 9-9 draw and of course, had to face a daunting replay at Headingley. Hull never stuck to the script and Brian Hancock produced the finest performance of his life, scoring atTry and a hat-trick of drop-goals in a 23-11 success.
Hull were then drawn at home to St Helens in the quarter-final, four days after visiting them in the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy. “DD” decided to rest a few players for the evening encounter in the belief that St Helens would come to Boulevard over-confident.
By this time Peter Flanagan had joined Hull’s ranks to solve a hooker crisis and he supplied plenty of possession from the scrums to help Hull to a narrow 9-8 win, and justify the coach’s strategy.
The semi-final draw sent Hull to the Willows to face Salford, who were League Leaders and were to finish the season as Champions. Here again, Hull turned up another hero in the shape of two-try Keith Boxall who rampaged through the Salford defence time and again to clinch a place in the final by 22-14.
The scene was, therefore, set for a showdown with current Challenge Cup Holders Widnes at Headingley on 24th January 1976. Hull had become the first Second Division club to reach the final of any competition in which the full complement of the Rugby League had ever participated.
Indeed, only Hull KR (1974) and Leigh (1963) from the Second Divison had ever reached their respective County Cup competitions prior to Hull breaking the mould. Moreover, the path to the final could hardly have been any tougher.
In the event, Widnes were 7-0 up after eight minutes and Reg Bowden added a demoralising drop-goal, but Hull, through pure grit and tries from hero Mick Crane and Paul Hunter, drew level by half-time.
Widnes, however, always looked capable of soaking up the pressure that Hull applied, and they engineered a repeat of the early first half scoring with two brilliant tries by left-winger David Jenkins.
Again, though, Hull showed they were at their most dangerous when things looked dark for them. Mick Crane intercepted a John Foran pass to race in and Hull were back in it at 13-14 with 20 minutes left. Ill-discipline started to creep in though and Hull wasted penalty kicks to touch that never reached and ‘talking back’ produced two penalty goals for Ray Dutton. Widnes therefore came out on top, winning the final 19-13.
Mick Crane and Bill Ramsey were both strong challengers for the Man of the Match award but it inevitably went to Widnes scrum-half Reg Bowden.
It was noteworthy that of the Hull 15 players representing Hull that day, no less than 12 were local-born.
Although disappointed at the final hurdle, the new spirit forged by David Doyle-Davidson and the team created the first inklings of the success that the team over the ensuing decade would achieve.
Hull eventually went on to finish the league campaign in the Second Division in fifth place, missing out on a promotion spot by points difference, but could be proud of their efforts in the league cup competition having beaten three of the First Division’s top four on their way to the final.
Hull evetually went on to win promotion to the First Division the following season, finishing top of the league, but would have to wait until 1982 to claim success in the League Cup, defeating Hull KR 12-4 at Headingley in a memorable season for the club.
Hull’s Route To The Final
First Round: Doncaster 12-23 Hull
Second Round: Hull 9-9 Leeds
Second Round Replay: Leeds 11-23 Hull
Quarter-Finals: Hull 9-8 St Helens
Semi-Finals: Salford 14-22
Final: Hull 13-19 Widnes