A message from our Club Chaplin, Tony Cotson.
I saw a memory today. It happened during the last piece of music in the service. I think the final choice of music in a funeral service is the most important, it can sum up everything we have been trying to say, it has the ability to send us out with a smile. As the opening bars led into the first verse he began to sing. That was the moment I first saw the memory. It began in the corner of his eye, slowly forming as his lips whispered the words of the song he knew so well. And as the memory grew, it could hold on no longer, it gently rolled down his cheek, to be followed by other memories.
At funerals I often say tears are the price we pay for loving. That brief moment gave me the idea for this piece I have been asked to contribute. Memories and music and my love of rugby. I’ve lost count the number of times Old Faithful has been played at services. It set me off thinking about my memories of singing our club anthem, an anthem I first heard 60 or so years ago as a young Hessle Road lad who used to get into the Boulevard with my brothers and pals when the gates were opened after half time.
Where were you when you first heard or sang that song? What special memories does it bring back? Surprisingly for me those memories are not always attached to victories. I remember well the week leading up to the 2005 Challenge Cup Final in Cardiff. I had two funerals for FC supporters who both chose Old Faithful for their final song. Those who were invited to the celebration of life service arrived in their club shirts, even the flower arrangement was shaped as a black and white rugby ball. After a prayer and then listening to a lifetime of memories the closest family and friends gathered around his coffin to sing Old Faithful unaccompanied. There was not a dry eye in the chapel. I remember sharing that story once or twice with overseas players down at the training ground when speaking about the passion of our supporters.
One of my recent renditions of Old Faithful will become an abiding memory for me. It was the second time I had sung it in the presence of one of our greatest players. The first time was in Wollongong, Australia during the Brett Kenny fundraising event. After the fans had finished singing, and the roof had been replaced, Peter Sterling turned to his fellow speakers and said with a grin, “That’s one of the reasons I chose to sign for Hull FC.” Two years later I found myself standing next to Peter in the dressing room after we had just won the derby match. He was issued the invitation to lead the song, and with great pride, Peter duly led us into a rousing rendition.
I’m sure many reading this article will have the 2016 Wembley win at the top of their list of abiding memories. My face was wet with memories of finals past when the full time whistle blew that afternoon, as everyone started hugging family and friends and total strangers. That was a good memory wasn’t it. It certainly made up for all those quickly forgotten memories that we associate with losing. In fact when I look back to the 1980 final the song that most comes to mind is Abide With Me, the hymn that unites both sets of fans and neutrals before the match begins. Who will forget the emotion filled rendition of that hymn before the 2015 final sung by Lizzie Jones, the window of Danny Jones, the Keighley Cougars player who died during a match played only three months earlier. That hymn weaves together the strands of music and memory and our great game.
At the moment, we are in unprecedented times. On Monday, our Prime Minister announced the new restrictions necessary to control the COVID-19 virus. Our game, our work, our lives have been put on hold as we face an uncertain future. Where do we look for hope when we are faced by a threat we cannot touch or see or even know where it is. A virus that can be spread by those who don’t even know they are infected. It’s very serious for some and very mild for others. Could I suggest the first line of our club anthem : “Old Faithful, we roam the range TOGETHER.”
We follow a team game, we understand the advantages of working together, this is how we respond. We remind the old and the vulnerable, our loved ones, our neighbours, “You are not alone, we stand with you.” When we are unable to sit by their bedsides and hold their hands, use all the technology available to remind them daily that you love them. The answer to conquering fear is love. The tears of a child wakened by a bad dream are stilled by the embrace of someone who loves them. The uncertainty of someone of great age is often quietened with a familiar voice. The words of a friend can enable us to challenge the fears of illness to reduce our sense of threat. The United Kingdom has a culture of caring, expressed through the NHS, in Social Care, and in many other ways. We are stronger together. Our thanks go out to the key workers, especially those who put their own health at risk, the many that make up our black and white family.
Whether we are people of faith or not, we can find hope and strength in the good neighbourliness and wholesome spirit that in so many ways is common to all human beings. We can use words if touch is not permitted, we can accept advice without grumbling, we can go the extra mile to support vulnerable neighbours, we can help with community activities when able, and we can pray. Pray for yourself, for family, for friends, for neighbours. Pray to our OLD FAITHFUL, the God that Christians call our Heavenly Father. If you feel alone repeat these words taken from our Wembley hymn, I pray they will bring you comfort and strength until this time of uncertainty passes and we can return once again to the stadium and sing our anthem together.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes, Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee, In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Rev Tony Cotson Club Chaplain.