Following the release of our #JW90 2021 Match Day Range, inspired by the jersey worn in our 1956 Championship Final winning campaign, Club Historian Bill Dalton looks back at that famous season for the Black & Whites…
There can be little doubt that Hull had become a power in the game – particularly at The Boulevard – to the extent that the 1955-56 season could be judged as a watershed in putting the club back on track for a sustained spell as a top club in the game.
The team dropped only three league points from the 18 fixtures at ‘God’s Little Acre’. An 11-11 draw to Swinton and a 7-13 loss to Barrow were the only blemishes on the home record. In fact, Swinton were the only team to take three points off Hull.
There was still a smattering of surprise results. Defeats at Bramley and at Boothferry Park against Rovers, albeit narrow on both occasions (8-10 at Barley Mow and 20-21 at Boothferry), could so easily have cost Hull the fourth place in the league which they eventually achieved.
Once again, the Yorkshire Cup Final was reached – the second occasion in their history in which the club had contested three successive cup finals and, co-incidentally losing a replay in the third of them, just as it had been in 1908-1910.
Batley had been accounted for at the first stage at Mount Pleasant by 25-13, followed by Featherstone (12-5) and Bradford Northern (23-16) both at the Boulevard. The stage was then set up for a repeat of the previous season’s final against Halifax. Alas, yet another final at Headingley which again did not conclude with a result in favour of The Faithful – although a draw at 10-10 was a step nearer.
The game itself was a typical Hull-Halifax ‘Rough House’ and the Yorkshire County Committee conducted an enquiry into the brutal play which was a feature of the game. Only one man had been sent off and Halifax felt that his subsequent eight match suspension was unfair. Once again, however, Hull failed to rise to the occasion in the replay at Odsal on a damp Wednesday November afternoon, losing 0 -7 despite benefitting from a penalty count of 28-11 in their favour. Revenge over the Thrum Hall outfit would be sweet some six months hence.
The Airlie Birds also took an early exit from the Challenge Cup, losing to old Cup foes Leeds at the Boulevard by 4-9. That defeat, however, could be seen as a blessing because the team was successful in nine of their last ten league fixtures following that cup exit. Amongst those successes was a revenge win at Headingley to the tune of 20-7.
Local rivals KR were also accounted for on Good Friday with Keith Bowman scoring a hat-trick of tries in a 27-9 success. The really significant result was achieved at Barrow in the final league match when Hull gained revenge for the home loss by 30-11. Barrow were a fine team in those years, led by one of the best Half-Backs of all time in the British game – Willie Horne.
The league table had Warrington, Halifax, St Helens and Hull as the top four clubs, decided on a percentage basis on account of Belle Vue Rangers withdrawal from the league, resulting in an imbalance of fixtures played (Hull still finished five points ahead of Wigan in 5th place).
As a result, Hull had the daunting task of travelling to Wilderspool to take on the reigning champions. Nobody told Bill Drake and Harry Markham how daunting the task was supposed to be, because the Hull pack showed no mercy that day and ran out semi-final winners by 17-0.
Astonishingly, Hull had become the first Yorkshire team to win at Wilderspool since Castleford did so in January 1939! Second-placed Halifax gave the Saints the run-around to the tune of 23-8 at Thrum Hall, so the stage was set for the Championship Final at Maine Road, Manchester on May 12th.
Initially, Hull objected to the venue as the final was to be contested between two Yorkshire teams. The Rugby League overruled their objection, although bearing in mind Hull’s relatively poor record at Headingley or Odsal Stadium in finals, it was probably for the best.
Halifax, in the meantime, had a return date at Wembley with St Helens a week before turning their minds to Hull in the League Final. Saints turned the tables with a 13-2 victory, thus taking the Challenge Cup for the first time in their history. Surely, Halifax could not be beaten in both of the major Rugby League Finals within a fortnight? Yes, they could and yes, they were!
Saturday 12th May, 1956 – Hull FC vs Halifax, Rugby League Championship Final (Maine Road, Manchester)
The Championship Final had probably the most dramatic finale imaginable when Hull were awarded a penalty for offside at the play-the-ball out on their right wing with barely two minutes to go to full-time. From a difficult touchline angle, full-back Colin Hutton insisted to Captain Mick Scott to let him kick for goal and then calmly landed the penalty to secure the Championship Trophy by the narrowest of margins – 10 points to 9.
Despite Halifax enjoying favouritism through already having accounted for Hull in the Yorkshire Cup Final (although both had won their home games in the league fixtures), Hull enjoyed the better of the first-half play on a fine and sunny, but breezy, afternoon.
Tommy Harris. as ever, ensured a good supply of possession from the scrums but Hull’s lead was only 5-0 at the break. Tommy had supported a break by Johnny Whiteley to score under the posts in the 30th minute, Colin Hutton obliging with the conversion. Tommy Finn extended the lead to 8-0 in the 48th minute with an interception try in the corner.
Halifax got themselves on the board only two minutes later with a try from Geoff Palmer, followed by further efforts from Arthur Daniels (57 minutes) and winger Johnny Freeman (72 Minutes) to lead 9-8.
Fortuitously for the Airlie Birds, Halifax were without their full-back and goal-kicker Tysul Griffiths who had never failed to kick a goal in every match he played that season. His understudy, Peter Briers, missed all three conversion kicks, although, to be fair, they were all wide out.
In the 78th minute, Brian Darlington – who had been off the field earlier with a leg injury – was tackled some five yards from the try-line. It was at that moment when that great character, Referee Charlie Appleton, spotted several Halifax players offside. Initially, Captain Mick Scott was inclined to take a quick tap penalty in an attempt to go for the try, but he remembered that Colin Hutton had implored him to give him any penalty kicks in the Halifax half as Hull had the wind in their favour.
‘Scotty’ duly threw the ball to Colin Hutton, and with the Boulevard faithful afraid to watch, the ball sailed between the uprights from wide out, just creeping inside the far post. Hull were Champions!
Hull: C.Hutton (2 goals); B.Darlington, B.Cooper, J.Watkinson, K.Bowman; C.Turner, T.Finn (1 try); M.Scott (Captain), T.Harris (1 try), R.Coverdale, H.Markham, W.Drake, J.Whiteley.
Halifax: P.Briers; A.Daniels (1 try), T.Lynch, G.Palmer (1 try), J.Freeman (1 try): K.Dean, S.Kielty; J.Thorley, A.Ackerley, J.Wilkinson, J.Henderson, D.Schofield, K.Traill.
Referee: C.F. Appleton (Warrington)
Attendance: 36,675 (Receipts: £9,179)
Rowley Moat finished that Championship season as leading try-scorer with 27 and Colin Hutton kicked 133 goals – none as memorable as that last effort at Maine Road – and he registered a handsome 272 points.
Mick Scott (3 times), Bob Coverdale (twice), Keith Bowman, Harry Markham and Johnny Whiteley all represented the Yorkshire County. Indeed, in the match against the New Zealand touring side, Hull provided four of the forward pack in Scott, Markham, Coverdale and Whiteley.
As the game was played at Hull KR’s Craven Park, and the hooker was Sam Smith (ex-Rovers), the pack was playing in a virtual backyard. Wales had withdrawn from the European Championship, so Tommy Harris missed out on representative football, albeit temporarily.