Gill is a black and white through and through and has many great memories watching them all over the world. When Hull Vixens was formed in the 1990’s she had many happy years playing and was club secretary. As soon as her son Joe was old enough, he began to play at Beverly Braves and Gill became their secretary and chief bottle washer. Julia Lee catches up with Gill as she shares the thrills and spills of rugby league[Tell me how you got involved]
It was me dad. Hull FC signed Steve Knocker Norton back in, I think it was 78, round about that time and me dad wanted to go him see and play at Boulevard.[Had he been before?]
Me dad had been brought up on rugby league. He played rugby union and he’d always gone. But then he didn’t really go. He watched whatever he could on TV which weren’t a lot in them days. But then Hull signed Steve Knocker Norton and he said, “Oh, I’m going to go and watch him play. Are you going to come with me?”
I’ll have been about 12 then. And I went with him. We’d gone just to see him play. Didn’t mean anything to me, Steve Knocker Norton. But at the time, my uncle was playing for Hull FC as well.[What was he called?]
Brian Hancock. And he were captain of Hull FC.[So, did you get free tickets?]
Occasionally. But me grandad – I think he got 2 tickets. Me grandad got one and me mum’s brother got the other one usually. Me uncle Philip took me grandad to every game so he could watch Brian play.
So that was my first thing of going to watch rugby really. And then, for whatever reason, I don’t know why – I liked it or what really, but I got into it. And then obviously it wasn’t long before I… The following year, that’s when they went undefeated, didn’t lose a game in the Second Division. And then 1980, was when rugby league was rugby league in Hull, weren’t it? Hull and Rovers got to Wembley, so everybody…[Did you go to Wembley?]
Yeah. Me uncle was on the bench in that game. He were lucky to play, as well, because in the semi-final, we’d gone to Swinton to watch Hull play Widnes in the semi-final and I’ll never forget that day, because it was the day that the Grand National was being run and a lad down my street said Ben Nevis’ll win the Grand National. So, I’d put my money on Ben Nevis. We were stood on this pylon, watching Hull v. Widnes, we won – and Ben Nevis won the Grand National. It’s just one of them sporting days! I was like, 14 at the time, whatever, and that’d happened. And my uncle then wasn’t getting in Hull’s team. And for the semi-final, he was away I think, on holiday somewhere, but somebody got injured and so he got brought back into the team and he made it onto the bench for Hull and Rovers at Wembley.[Has he got a medal?]
Yeah, he will have, yeah. And he’s still involved in a lot of the player stuff now. You know, what do they call them, vice presidents past. Yeah, he’s involved in all that.
So that was really my introduction to watching Hull FC really. And we started going then, as a family. Me, me mum, me dad and me sister. Going home and away. I’ve watched it virtually, probably, since 78/9 onwards – that’s when I’ve been watching rugby league.[Do you ever miss a game?]
Not now. We still go, home and away, just about every game. On an average, I’d say we miss two or three games a year. But that’s about it, really.[Is there anything that sticks out in your mind?]
There’s good bits and bad bits really that stick out.
I remember being at Huddersfield when Hull lost the semi-final and they ripped down the posts. And the strange thing was right, in them days, cos I had Joe then, and Joe was only about… I don’t know now… sixish, fiveish, between that sort of ages. And Hull weren’t particularly doing that well, Leeds were a lot better team. And because Dave’s from Leeds and like, I’m Hull, I’d taken him to Boulevard, and he had a Hull FC shirt on and Leeds shorts on. And Leeds went in front, so he zipped his top up and was just going for Leeds. When that happened, like there, and we went down, they did something where we had to go down to Boulevard – they were getting fans’ reaction to what had happened or whatever, and they were saying “Is there anybody here from Leeds?” and Dave went, “Yeah, I’m from Leeds”. I remember that day.
Memorable days watching Hull. Obviously, there’s 3 Challenge Cup wins. Cardiff. What I remember is the semi-final, 2005, we played St Helens in the semi-final at Huddersfield, which was a week before I got married. So, we’d gone there, and we didn’t really expect to win, and we were there, and we won and the nice thing about it afterwards was all the Saints fans lining up, clapping all the Hull FC fans. Really gracious in defeat. Spot on, they were. The following Saturday, I got married. And then we went to Benidorm for me honeymoon – but me whole family came wi’ me. Me mam, me dad, me sister, me nieces, you know, everybody. And then we came back and then the following Saturday we went to Cardiff and we won the cup. So that was a great month, that was.
As me mum and dad have got older, cos me dad’s like 80 now, and all he wanted to do was obviously see Hull win at Wembley. 2016, he got to see that happen.[How did that feel?]
Oh. I shed a tear, I must admit, cos you just didn’t think it was ever going to happen. Didn’t think we were ever going to get that monkey off our back. Seen us win the cup, but we hadn’t done it at Wembley. And you just turned around and everybody was just in tears. And everybody was just hugging each other. And all I can remember in that game – cos they talk about title 52, don’t they, with Danny Houghton, and it was like right at the other end, right in front of Warrington fans, and all we can see is Curry going for the line, but all I can remember is they didn’t cheer. The Warrington fans didn’t cheer. So, I’m thinking… We didn’t know why they hadn’t cheered – I mean obviously we found out he’d knocked on, hadn’t he? But at that point all I can remember is they weren’t cheering. And that’s what made me think, “We’ve done it”. Finally.
And that night, you’d expect it to be one massive party, but we was emotionally drained. You just sat there, just stunned. That we’d actually done it. So, they’re gonna be the days, got to be the ones that stick out. Then to go back, following year, and do it again. And it was a different kind of pressure. Because we’d done it then, you know. And I think in a way we’d gone there a little bit cocky, thinking well, we’ve done it now, we’re going to do it again. I know we did, but…
You don’t forget. That’s I suppose what you spend all your money on. For days like that.
And then going to Australia. In February 2018. That was absolutely… That was brilliant. To see… I don’t know how many went from Hull. People say between 2 and 4000 people went, I don’t know how many actually went, but that was just great. The whole experience. We took me mum and dad.[That was for the World Cup Challenge, wasn’t it?]
No – we’d just played Wigan, didn’t we? We played Wigan and we played St George. They’d invited us across, hadn’t they? They’d asked Wigan to go and then Wigan asked if Hull wanted to go. Cos, they say financially, we made more out of that game, going to Australia, than winning the Challenge Cup. Hull as a club. The money that they got.[How long did you go out for?]
We only went for 2 weeks. Cos of work and whatever. But it was just brilliant. Wherever you went, there was somebody there from Hull. And you either knew them or you stopped and spoke to them and it was… The Aussies have just got such a fantastic lifestyle. When we came back, they were saying, Joe and Hayley I’m going to move out there, I’m gonna move out there. I couldn’t blame them. Me mum and dad did, they absolutely loved it in Australia.[How many of you went?]
7 of us. We rented a house through Air BNB and just made our own way around to everything. We used to use the local bus more than anything. Even that, it’s just so much nicer than catching a bus here.
They’re the good times. Plenty of bad times as well, following Hull FC. Like travelling to St Helens mid-week and getting beat like 58-2 or something like that. We always go back though, don’t we?
I suppose they’re me most memorable ones.
When Hull won the cup back in 82 – was it 82? – when we won the replay at Elland Road. I’d got to Wembley on the Saturday, and it was a draw, so we had to go and play at Elland Road ten days later. And I was in Hull Royal Infirmary, having an operation. So, I’d got me ticket, but I couldn’t go. So, me dad give me grandad my ticket. Obviously, there were no social media, no phones or anything then, but they used to have Sports night, midweek, and Hull was going to be, the highlights were going to be on Sports night, so I thought right, I’ll try and not find out the result and then I’ll watch it on Sports night. And I’d lasted I don’t know how long and then I just heard this nurse shout down the corridor, “Hull have won the Cup”. So, I knew. So, I watched Sports night and then the following day, James Leuluai and Gary Kemble came to visit me in hospital.[Who organised that?]
A woman at work.[Have you got pictures of that?]
No. They came in to see me. She’d rung up Hull and said, you know, that I went every week and blah blah blah. So, yeah, they came in to see me.[Icing on the cake]
Yeah. Cos I was only 17 then. I’d forgotten about that. Them coming in to see me.[How did you get involved with Hull Vixens?]
I’m sure that they put an advert in Hull FC’s programme about it. Or I’d heard an advert. I must have seen an advert somewhere. So, I thought right, I’d seen this advert, women’s rugby team, so I just thought, well, surely, if you’re a female and you’re a certain age, then you’re gonna go. You’d want to play. You’d want to play rugby. I had a friend who went, who I used to go to some games with at that time, and I said to her, Joe, are going to come down with me? So, we did, we went down on the Friday night. I don’t know how many sessions had been held by then, but when I went down there, there was a real good turnout. Really good turnout, down at Costello. And that was it. I went that night and stayed right till the very end.
Obviously, they just liked playing sport, whether they’d come from hockey, or some played football. They just wanted to come and have a… Whether it was a way, and I think some of it was, to make new friends, to be part of something.[How old would you have been then?]
I was 26.[Had you wanted to play before/}
Yeah, I would have done. If an advert had come out 10 years earlier, I’d have gone as a 16-year old. But I suppose like there wasn’t really women’s rugby. Certainly, it weren’t at school or anything like that. The opportunity weren’t there at school for girls to play football or rugby or whatever. You played netball or hockey. That’s how it was. It was great. I went along and that was it. I loved it.[How long did you play for?]
I played my last game I think I were 39. Which was the last ever game that Hull Vixens had as Hull Vixens. So, I played in the first game and I played in the last game.[What position did you play? What were the memorable times?]
It was all memorable. I think them years of playing rugby were the best years of my life, really. That time. Just loved it, being part of that group. Such I diverse group of women who would never ever have come together if it hadn’t have been for rugby. And even to this day, like now, there’s still a core of us that’ll meet up, we go to watch rugby together, we meet up, we have a drink, or we meet up at birthdays, weddings or whatever and that’ll never go. And it was all because of rugby.
My only thing was, because when I started, I was thinking, “Can I play?”, because I’d had a kidney out, you see. When I was 17, I had to have a kidney removed. So, I’m thinking, am I alright to play rugby, because I’ve only got one kidney. And Anne, Tommo, the coach said, well, just make sure, just ask your doctor to see if you are OK to play and the doctor just said yeah, just remember at the end of the day you have only got one, but there’s no reason why you can’t play. You’re just at risk. So, when they used to teach you to drop on a ball and put your back between you and your opponent, I used to think that maybe from my point of view, I’m better off dropping the other way, because I don’t want knees in my back. I’d rather look after my kidney than look after the front bit.[What was the league like then?]
I suppose in a way it was beginning to develop a little bit. Our first ever opponents that we played was Barrow, in Cumbria, and they were just setting out as well. Setting up a new team. And they came all the way down from Barrow to play us in a friendly which we played at Norland on First Lane, that’s where we played our first game. So, they were developing up there. If I remember rightly, Wakefield were the top team. And were the top team for the whole 15 years that I played. There was Dudley Hill, Halifax. There was Halifax I think then at that time. York, Redhill. There wasn’t a lot of us, really. And then in Cumbria we had Laporte, from Warrington, Rochdale, they were there. Cos that’s who we played when we got to the second division final at Batley, didn’t we? And won. That was good, that day.
And predominantly I would say I played most of my games at prop. But I did go and fill in at hooker as well. Not cos I could get out of acting half quick or anything like that, but I could pass a ball. I think that was the one thing that I could do, was pass, so that was probably why I stayed there. My dream position, I always thought the best position on the pitch was number thirteen. An old-fashioned forward, where you were a link between the forwards and the backs, so it was up to you whether you ran it in, or you try and create summat. And Anne Thompson, who was our coach – I thought that I knew a lot about rugby league, watching it as a fan, but actually when you start to play it, there’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t understand or didn’t appreciate in terms of playing it as to being a fan. Just marker systems and you know… Her knowledge was first class. I can’t knock Anne as a coach. She certainly knew her stuff and she was good, and her sessions were good as well.[Did she do fitness with you?]
Yeah, yeah. We used to do pre-season fitness. I could always probably done to have done more, cos there’s only so much that they can do. Cos we were only meeting up on a Friday night, so I could have done more really. But there’s nowt I can do about that now![Tell us about your role at the club]
Initially, when we set up as a group, we didn’t even know what we were going to call ourselves, what our club colours were going to be. So, we had to decide all them things. Where we were going to have a home ground from. At that time, because I’m from Beverley, Beverley rugby league, they were doing quite well – I think they were probably in the conference then. And a guy who I worked with was on their committee. So, I’d approached him about was there a possibility that we could play our own games in Beverley from the cricket club on Norwood. And I remember there was me and a couple of others, we went and met them in a back room of a pub in Beverley to discuss going there to play. And we’d decided by then that our colours would be red, white and black, which would – black and white Hull FC, red and white Hull KR – we were incorporating both sides of the city, so that’s how the colours were decided. It was Anne who came up with the vixens. When she put it to us and said what about Hull vixens, we were all, yeah, that’s good. And I still think it’s a good name now. It was a good choice of name. And we went down there and had a meeting and they agreed for us to play our own games down there. I can’t remember now really how long we played there for. But you can remember your first game, playing down there. I don’t know if we played Wakefield, actually, but you know, you had the usual remarks at the end of the game, “You gonna swap shirts then?”. All this lot. I remember me dad having a go at a couple of them for some of the remarks, but you just take it on the chin, don’t you?
We played there for a while and then I suppose it was when maybe Nicky came along really, to the club, and her husband then, Dave, he played for Northern Dairies, which played at Northern Foods at Coop, and that’ll have been how we got our link. And they were great facilities down there. When you look back now, them facilities we had, not many people had better facilities than us. To have your clubhouse, your changing rooms, your pitch – great facilities.
And then we had a committee, so I took on the Secretary’s role, which predominantly meant organising the communication between the clubs for match days, to make sure they had directions of how to get to us, what time kick-off would be, make sure we had a referee organised. So that were them roles and then we had our monthly meetings whereby we took minutes for, which I took the minutes and that for. Making sure we got players signed on – player registrations. Janine – at the time, she was our first treasurer. Great treasurer – accounted for every single penny – and when she passed that tin on to Jan Gordon, it was exactly the same. Them two, you couldn’t have got two better treasurers to run your coppers, because they were brilliant, them two. Spot on.[Did you do the secretary job through?]
Yeah, I think so.[Did you have to attend W… Meetings?]
I did go to some. I don’t know how regular I went to them, but I did go to some meetings. But I think Anne tended to go to a lot of them. Cos they’d meet up…I can’t remember that guy… from Guiseley? Dave Clayton. He was a bit of a nuisance sometimes, weren’t he?
Rugby league, women’s rugby, was just beginning to get some momentum really. Teams were joining the league and it was looking good. We had two divisions, which I don’t suppose there will have ever been two divisions before. We obviously went in the second division and then we went up.[Tell us a bit about the community of women’s rugby league]
We used to have our annual trip to Blackpool, which was the awards night for the whole league. They were great weekends. The first one we went to, we went to Morecambe. We stayed in this fleapit of a place – oh god! It was funny though, because it was like the first time we’d ever been away as a group, so it was funny. I always remember like Jo Wray, and Gail, and everybody was like, had brought all this gear to dress up in and she was just a trackie and a T shirt girl, you know. “I ain’t got nowt to wear, what am I going to wear?”. I don’t know if we had to go and get her summat or whatever for the night. They were, they were brilliant weekends. And they were good for team spirit. Just getting to know people outside of just playing rugby. You just laughed and no matter who you were who came to rugby, you were made to feel welcome. But going to Blackpool as well. We went to Blackpool for many a year. It was for the league presentation awards. I don’t think people were that particularly bothered about who was winning. It was just about a get-together. Because over the years as well, people had got to know a lot of people from other teams and other clubs and it were just nice to all get together and see each other just in a social environment. The one year that Stevo from Sky Sports, he got invited to come and do the presentations – and to be fair to him, he was spot on really, it was very brave of him to come and do it, really, to come to a venue that was probably about 2 or 300 women in it and to come and be part of it and then to come out clubbing with us afterwards. He were good. And he got women’s rugby, to be fair. He wasn’t judgemental in any way, he just came along, and it was good. They were funny, them weekends. I’d like us to do one of them again. Just for old times’ sake.[So, you’re still involved in the community game via your son?]
When I was coming to a… Yeah, he was born in 93. He started playing when he was like about 5. So, I would be playing at the same time as what he was playing. So, I got him to come along and he would come and watch me play, and there was a couple of times he ran the touchline if we didn’t have any touch judges. He would come and do that. And then I became involved in his rugby and again, I ended up coaching down at his rugby. I would referee their games as well. I was secretary at Beverley Braves, and I ended up being chairperson at Beverley Braves as well. So, it was just a continuation.
Supporting him through his rugby, again, those years, second to none. Taking him from under 8s right up until under 16s. You just meet so many people through rugby and no matter where you go, you bump into these people and they’re your friends for ever, really. Cos, he went on from Beverley and then he went and played at West Hull for about 3 years and loved it down at West Hull, made great friends down at West Hull and we went with them every year. They used to run a Wembley trip, so we’d go with them to Wembley. Until he went to Uni. And we even used to go across, because he went to Sheffield, we used to go across and watch him play at Sheffield, at Uni. And then he come back 4 years later, back playing Beverley rugby league. And now I’m just a fan.
When you think about it, from just being at school yourself, being a fan, and then you become a fan and then a player yourself and then you become a mum and then you become a parent of a child and it’s just… continuation really.
I didn’t like the refereeing though. I refereed them for 2 or 3 seasons. It was me and another guy, Pat Howdle and he was like head coach and I used to help him. But when it come to match days, you had to referee half the game each, so I always used to do our half. And it’s just a thankless job. They shout at you when you do something wrong, but if you do something right, nobody ever comes up and thanks you at the end and says that was good today, or whatever.[Has that changed your perspective on the terraces?]
Not really. It is a thankless Job though. It is a hard Job. And you do try and do it rightly, even though one of them is your team, you still try and be as fair as you can, but… Pity there ain’t more refs, but that’s how it is, isn’t it?[Anything else that we haven’t touched on?]
Did me coaching badges as well. I did a refereeing course which Steve Taylor ran down at Craven Park. And that was quite funny, cos they’d shoved a lot of the… there was a lot of the Rovers lads on it that day. As much as like… People assume if you’ve played the game that you know the rules. But there’s a lot of people playing the game who don’t know the rules. All they want to do is pick the ball up and run, don’t they?
I’d have a 40-year gap I think if I didn’t have any rugby league in my life. It’s what’s kept us together as a family as well. It’s something what I still do now, with me mum and dad. Still take me mum and dad to the home games. Can’t get to the away games now, but… And I go with my sister and I go with my niece and I go with my son and it’s something that you can just do forever. With your family and it gives you something that you can all do as a group. We’ve gone all over watching rugby. Like, we’ll go – we’ve gone up to Cardiff for magic weekends and Edinburgh for magic week. Stayed in caravans. We’ve had some really good times, you know. Cos even when I went to Bolton, when we just got beat against Warrington, before, the women’s game had been on, hadn’t it? Yeah, it was Cass and Leeds, weren’t it? I saw some of it and I was stood, watching it, and this steward came to talk to me, and he said, “Do you play rugby?”. I went no, I used to do. I was quite flattered that he thought I could still play. He went, oh, I can’t play rugby. So, I said, why? And he said, oh, I’m not very big. And I said, look, I’ve said this to people all the time. It isn’t about what’s on the outside, it’s what’s inside, that’s what gets you over the try line. But he assumed you have to be a certain shape. You know, my son’s too small, he can’t play rugby. My daughter’s too little, she can’t play rugby. I say, of course they can!