The Hull derby has to be the biggest rivalry in Super League, hasn’t it? After all, it’s the only example of two clubs based in the one city. Wigan and St Helens can’t offer that, neither can Leeds and Bradford. Today, televised on Sky Sports, the fierce rivals come together in the latest battle and it has developed into a much more significant match-up than some might have envisaged back in the winter when the fixtures came out.
Every single game matters to those on the two sides of the River Hull but some matter more than others. Wembley 1980 springs to mind. Hull FC against Hull Kingston Rovers. Would you believe it! The city emptied that day. A sign on the side of the motorway outside Hull read, ‘Last one out turn the lights out’. Rovers took the honours by ten points to five.
I started following Hull FC, the Black and Whites, in 1977 and was thrilled by the intensity of the city derbies, not least on Bank Holidays. Hull FC’s home in those days was the infamous Boulevard to the west of the city centre. The Threepenny Stand was notorious as the source of many a chant and rebukes aplenty for visiting players. It needed a strong disposition to play on the opposition wing in such a hostile and intimidating environment. The Boulevard was a tough place to come and win. Equally iconic and imposing was Craven Park, home of Hull Kingston Rovers in east Hull. No quarter was asked or given when these two rivals came together and the derby dates were the first to be noted in the diary. Many supporters claim that to finish above their local rivals in the table is what it’s all about, irrespective of final position or trophies.
Legends have been etched into local folklore, not least that of Clive Sullivan who played for both teams in a distinguished career. The Welsh winger is immortalised in the name of the road into the city centre from the Humber Bridge. Sullivan played on the wing for Hull, then Rovers, on nearly six hundred occasions, scoring over a thousand points in the process. Many others will be forever present in the hearts and minds of their fans including Millward, Flanagan, Casey and Lowe for Rovers; Norton, Crooks and Topliss for Hull FC. I watched many a titanic struggle, not least the Bank Holiday derbies. I also saw my team win the Challenge Cup twice.
In the Super League era, both clubs have moved a short distance to new stadiums in line with the modern, summer-based spectacle. Rovers host Friday’s meeting and it is a big game, make no mistake. The Rugby Football League, the governing body of the sport, have proved to be inventive and forward-thinking these days and a new plan has been hatched for the 2015 season. The top eight split off and will play for the chance to reach the Grand Final at Old Trafford, Manchester. The bottom four clubs who don’t make it will join the top four from the Championship below in order to decide who plays in the coveted top flight next season.
And guess what?! Hull FC hold on to eighth spot with Rovers ninth. All to play for beyond just the bragging rights in and around Hull. With just one more league game for each side to come after today’s game, this has emerged as a tantalising local derby which could match any that have gone before.