Hull FC Rugby Club

Introduction

The black and white rugby strip of Hull’s ‘Airlie Birds’, or Hull Rugby Club, is over 100 years old and a part of Hull’s history, but it is also a symbol of the city’s regeneration. The club has been through hard times both on and off the pitch and has even been on the point of disappearing altogether a number of times. However, recent years have seen a renaissance for the team, with national success making their future, once so insecure, seem increasingly bright.

The Early Days

Hull Rugby Football Club was formed by a group of ex-schoolboys from York in 1865. The club was originally associated with a parish church in Hull, but soon joined the Rugby Football Union and stayed there until it became the Northern Union in 1895.

That same year, the club moved into The Boulevard, the ground which was to be their home for over a century, and promptly won their first match against Liversedge. From 1908 to 1910, Hull made it to the Challenge Cup Finals, but each year they failed to take the cup. Nevertheless, the early years were good times for Hull, courtesy of their work ethic on and off the pitch which was way ahead of its time.

In 1913, they paid a (then) world record of £600, plus £14 per match, to Hunslet for Billy Batten. Batten remains one of Hull’s greatest players and is the only representative from Hull FC, to have been inducted into the British Rugby League Hall of Fame. With Batten on board, Hull won their first Challenge Cup in 1914, beating Wakefield Trinity in the final. After the First World War, they resumed their winning streak in 1920, defeating Huddersfield in their first ever Championship final to take the cup.

The 1920s were more uneven for Hull. In 1921, they won the Yorkshire Cup but lost the County Championship, both against rivals Hull Kingston Rovers. They then lost a further two cup finals in 1922 and 1923, but still managed to win the Yorkshire Cup and finish top of the league. 1935-6 saw them repeat the success with a win in the Yorkshire Cup. However, the coming war and post-war years were to be lean times for Hull, with few achievements to write home about.

In 1954, again ahead of its game in terms of professionalism, Hull hired the first professional coach in British team sport when they employed black Welshman Roy Francis. Under Francis’ tutelage, Hull took the Championship in 1956 and again in 1958. These two triumphs gave the illusion of improvement, but they could not escape from the Challenge Cup final curse when they lost in 1959 and 1960. Indeed, 1960 proved to be a decisive moment in their history, as the club declined dramatically for close on two decades.

Finally, in 1979, Hull exploded into life under new coach Arthur Bunting, winning all of their 26 Division Two matches that season. However, they lost out to Hull KC in the Cup final only the next year, and in 1982 they took the John Player Trophy and the Challenge Cup but lost out to Widnes in the Premiership final.

In 1983 they were back at the top of the league, also reaching the Premiership final, the Challenge Cup final and the Yorkshire Cup final