Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Final Countdown No.3

Finally - a Final that will Finally Cure My Finals Blues?

A former Hornets chairman once said (on national TV) "We're a very modest club - and some people say we've a lot to be modest about".

Whilst his tongue in cheek comment about Hornets' long history of under achievement was meant to be a light aside, it did - does - reflect that, as Rugby League clubs go, we do tend to go an awful long time between drinks.

Our Challenge Cup win in the 1921/22 season was reported in that year's annual report & accounts with a single line that says how well the lads played, that it was a commercially successful venture and that the board looked forward to doing it again sometime soon.

As it transpired, a couple of semi-final apprearances in the 50s were as close as we got to achieving that goal.

When I started watching Hornets in 1971, we'd already gone 50 years without a sniff of glory, but in my first season we reached the Floodlit Trophy final v Saints at Knowsley Road, losing by 8 points to 2. I didn't go, and I don't remember watching it on TV. Though I was only six.

The following year, Hornets marched to the Players No. 6 Trophy final at Wigan where we played the pre-lupine Warrington, losing 27-16 in front of a crowd of 9,347. I went with my dad. It was the biggest crowd I'd ever stood in. I wore a bobble hat and scarf and a Hornets rosette I got from Trevor Butterworth's. All I really remember is that we had to move to get a good view, that Warrington Hooker Kevin Ashcroft murdered us in the scrums - and that I didn't remember there being this many Hornets fans at the Athletic grounds when we played Bramley in the semi-final.

But losing a final in February didn't hurt for long, as at the season's end we got promoted to Division One. I'd been there two years and seen two finals and a promotion. I thought "Wow - watching Hornets is brilliant!"

As it was, we yo-yoed our way through the next few years, sinking for the last time in 1977. We were to spend a long time out of the spotlight.

By the time we got our next sniff of glory in the 1989/90 promotion season, I'd had almost 20 years to realise that the reality of watching Hornets was often a long way short of 'brilliant'. And, by then, I'd been going home and away for close on 10 years so had actually found a way to double the frustration. Character-building stuff.

Despite a disastrous year in the top flight - pretty much burning a hundred grand to get one win all season - we did, somehow, manage to sneak our way to the John Player Trophy semi final at Headingley on 22nd December. We were bored to a 13-2 defeat by a ponderous Bradford Northern in front of 3,500; our impotence broadcast live to the nation on GrandStand. Ruined my Christmas.

The following season - having been dispatched whence we came - Hornets shocked the Rugby League world by reaching the Lancashire Cup final at Wilderspool. The last four in the competition were Wigan, Saints, Hornets and Carlisle. We drew Carlisle at home. Book the coaches!

As it was, we gave a fantastic account of ourselves, leading twice through tries by Darren Abram and Ronnie Duane, only to succumb to the brutal cheating of Paul Bishop to lose by 24-12.

Fast forward to this week. 22 years is a very long-time without a big day out. As Gareth Walker reminded us, it's the longest hiatus in the UK professional game between finals of any description. Excited? You bet.  It's been an up and down season, but we're 80 minutes away from breaking my - our - finals duck. 

And I was right when I was six - watching Hornets IS brilliant. Let's bring it home - we're overdue a party.