Helen was born into a rugby league family and has been a Hull KR supporter all her life. Have a listen and read as Helen shares the highs and lows to Julia Lee[How did you get involved?]
For me, it was all about family. I have three older brothers and my dad, and they were all really big into sport and in our house if you didn’t know about sport or politics or music, there wasn’t a lot to talk about. One of the big things was that my dad and my brothers would take me to all the sport that they went to. I think it got me out the house, out from under my mum’s feet. I ended up getting involved in rugby league more than any other sport, because the first game I went to, I was about 4 or 5, and I just got hooked.[Can you remember your first game?]
I can’t remember who played and I can’t remember who it was. It was down at the Craven Park on Holderness Road and we walked down there, and it was the noise more than anything. The noise got me really hooked, because as you walked to the ground, the noise sort of got louder and louder and louder, and then you’d walk into the ground and the roar…
So, first game I remember walking down Holderness Road and it felt like quite a long walk – it wasn’t. We lived on Bilton Grange at the time so actually it probably was quite a walk. And walking down to the ground, you can hear the noise, but it’s so distant and it’s quite magical in a way, this noise that’s going on in the background. I remember there were more and more people as we walked down the road and getting into the ground, I remember the noise of the turnstiles was amazing – and they were fascinating anyway. And then going through those and into the ground and suddenly that hubbub became really loud. Then people were singing and there was so much noise around and as the game carried on, just the cheering and the singing and the chanting… All of this was going on around us and I just got absolutely fascinated by it. And there was a real feeling of – you know, I was only a small girl, and there were lots of people around – but I didn’t feel scared or intimidated or anything, I just felt like I was part of something. I don’t know if I knew that at the time, but I remember feeling comfortable and happy. And it was a really lovely feeling. We must have won, because I am sure my dad was in a really good mood on the way home. So that was my first experience of rugby league.
And Dad and my brothers, I just went along, kept going to the games, and it just became part of our routine. Our Sunday routines. I remember always getting really excited that we were going to a match. Sundays were real good in our house, because Dad was at home, my mum was at home, there was always music playing, different music in different rooms, cos Mum loved her classical music, Dad loved his Bing Crosby and his easy listening and all of that and so they’d be playing music in different rooms. Mum’ d be doing Sunday dinner and the lads’ d be messing around somewhere, and it was just a noisy house. And then Dad’ d take us swimming in the morning and if it was a day of the game we’d know, because we couldn’t stay in the lido for long. We’d go down to the lido at East Park, couldn’t stay in the lido for long, then we’d get back home, have Sunday dinner and then we’d be off to the match. And it was a really nice routine and I think as a child, routines are really important. It was just part of our Sunday ritual. It was great. It was a way of spending time with the family and I learnt a lot by going to rugby league matches. As I grew up, it was all part of the conversation, the chat on the way home, how we’d played. You’d learn player’s names, you learnt about numbers, tries – those days it was 3 points for a try. Things like that – it’s difficult to add up in threes as well. So, there was all of that side of it as well. I’d make friends – there were other kids there, you’d make friends and then some of my friends from school would be there and it was just a real sense of everybody knowing each other and getting used to each other and staying alert. You’d walk through the ground and say hello to all these people. And you’d see the faces every week and it was a real routine thing to do. It was just great. I loved it. Loved it – and I’ve never turned back since.[Did you go home and away?]
No, not to begin with. Dad never went to away matches really. And then as I got older, I’d started going to the rugby with friends as well, so sometimes I’d go with my dad and my brothers and other times, I’d go with my friends and it was a really big thing. I wanted to go to away games and a couple of my friends would go. We were only 11, 12, but I think there’s something about that time when kids were… I don’t know whether they were just more independent, I’m not sure, but we were allowed to go to an away game. I think it was only Castleford – it weren’t far, and we went on the coach. Didn’t go with any adults. I knew that if we could do that, then I would be allowed to go to away games again, so that was how going away started. And then as I got older, me and my brother would go a lot away and it was great. A particular season was the 83-84 season – I don’t think I missed a match that season. Maybe I need to start going away again! It was a great season, it was a great time to be a Hull KR supporter, it was amazing, and we went everywhere. We went to every ground that we could at that point. And then as I’ve got older, I’ve dropped off from going away again. But I do try never to miss a home game.[Did you get involved in the supporter’s club?]
No. I was one of those supporters that actually that was it – I came to games. And probably my involvement was about watching and supporting the team. So, I didn’t get involved in any of the other stuff that went on. I think we volunteered a couple of times to do things, you know, where you’d come and do the pitch or help out. Dad’ d say we’re off down there to help out and off we’d all trudge and we’d do all sorts of stuff to help out on match day. But other than that, there wasn’t much involvement with any of the other stuff that went on. But it got me interested in sport. That was a good thing for me. Those were the days when the cricket was at West … I’ve forgotten the name of the ground now. So, we’d go there – great memories of going to watch cricket, and I’d go to Hull City – my brothers would take me to watch football, so I’d watch the football, but nothing really got me like rugby league did. Like Hull KR. There was nothing that actually, as much as I loved Hull City and I loved going to watch the cricket. Cricket was a rare thing – you’d go once a year or something. But Hull KR was just there. It was always there. And I went to schools that were very East Hull. So, when St Richards, which was a great rugby league school. Mr Wiltshire was a big rugby league… He ran the teams, he did the trips to Wembley, all of those sorts of things. And actually, I could play at school, so it wasn’t a big thing for girls to play as well, so I got to play, I was able to play rugby league a little bit at school, junior school, so I was really connected to the sport in that way. But yeah, Hull KR was the thing. It was always going to be, and it’s never been different.[Have you got any memorable games?]
There’s a couple. There’s one – the game was terrible. It was the worst game ever watching Hull Kingston Rovers and that was when we played, I’m going to say Barrow or Batley, here, and we lost 1-0. And it was cold, it was snowing, it was freezing, stood in the well. And I was with my dad and I was really fed up at that point – and then we missed the goal kick. And that was it. I just don’t think I’ve been grumpier in my life. And my dad said, he come over to me and said, remember this moment, remember it – it’ll never get any worse than this! And it was one of those moments you have with your family member or your parent and he really meant what he said and actually he was right. It’s never ever felt as bad as that and there have been some bad things happen. 2016 in particular. Million-pound game. But even then, it didn’t feel as bad as that day. Everything about that day was depressing. So that is a poor memory, but not so much, because you learn things from these moments. A couple of really good memories. One was when we played Leeds, I think it was Leeds, in the semi-final and we ended up having a replay and I think it must have been some of the best rugby I’d seen from the Rovers team. There was something about those two matches that… I don’t know why it was so good, it just felt great. I always thought I’d always remember every try scored and everything that happened in the game and if you asked me, I wouldn’t remember. But for me, a lot of the memory is about feelings. Those two games were incredible and the feeling and the sense of winning, after the replay, was just great. So, they stick out for me and then… I would say that semi-final win against Warrington. Challenge Cup, most recent. And again, that was about the buzz, the noise. I’ve never seen a Rovers crowd bounce as much as that one did at the end of that game. And it was just great, that feeling, that euphoria that you get when that happens. Just amazing. And those are sort of the memories I have.
Then there’s one… I had a favourite player in the 80s, David Laws. Weird sort of player to have as a favourite, but there was something about him and Gary Prom’s centre-wing partnership that was special, I thought. They scored a lot of tries between them. He wasn’t probably the faster winger, but he was very evasive. I remember him scoring – and it was one of the few games, cos I really hated going to Boulevard, couldn’t stand it. Still struggle to watch derbies live – for some reason it sends me a bit crazy. But I was at this game, and I hadn’t gone with my family, I’d gone with some friends. And David Laws went the full length of the pitch and he went round I think it was Dane O’Hara and he absolutely just bamboozled him. It was a great try. And it was at the Boulevard which made it even more special. That was one of my biggest memories. I remember that for some reason. I think it was just the way he did it. I think we were losing at the time as well. And it was great. Him and Gary Prom would just play some very special rugby on that wing-centre that I really enjoyed watching. Those are some of the memories.
I suppose one of the saddest memories – I’m probably going to get a bit emotional… D ’you know he’d be laughing at me and telling me not to be so stupid. I don’t normally get like this. One of the saddest memories, I think, is probably my dad passed away during a season. And having his empty seat was really strange. But the greatest thing was that he actually saw Rovers in Super League. I’m so sorry – I wasn’t expecting that to happen. Cos, I don’t get really soppy about these things. My dad always said to me, “There’s two things certain in life and one of them’ s death”. I suppose most of our bonding would be around sport, and especially Rovers. Two of his brothers played for Rovers and he was a massive Rovers supporter, so not having him there that season was really tricky. And unexpected. I suppose that’s quite sad, but not. Cos it was a good season as well. He’d seen them promoted, he’d seen them in Super League. He died in 2008. So, he’d seen the best of what could happen. I’m quite happy he’s not around now! They’d be driving him mad. Some of the big memories in your life, especially connected to Dad, were around the rugby. Very special memories. He used to get very angry at people. He hated people targeting players, cos his big thing was you go out and play – if you think you’re better than that, you get out on that pitch and do it. And he used to get in to some real arguments with people about that. Especially Paul Harkin. There was one guy who really, really didn’t like Paul Harkin and he would just constantly have a go at him, and Dad would get really angry with him. He’d just be… He didn’t like negative supporters, he didn’t like supporters who spent the whole game criticising. He’d say, “That’s not a supporter. A supporter is somebody who goes out there and cheers them on and encourages them even when it gets bad”. So, he taught me a lot about that, that side of life, you know, people are only human, and we forget that. I suppose all of that comes out of our chats about sport and Rovers and players and you know, he had a real compassion for rugby league players. So yeah, some really good memories. And poor mum! She tried her best. I don’t think she ever came to a game. I can’t ever remember her coming to a game. But she loved Rovers and she – unfortunately she ended up with Alzheimer’s and then ended up in Elmtree, just in front of the ground. But it was great that she was there, because she had that connection still and she’d always talk about Dad coming to the games and the memories of that, so it was a big focus for us as a family. The whole rugby league and the whole KR and it was a massive focus for us.[Tell me a bit more about Derby days)
Ohhh Derby days. I struggle with derby days. The tension and the nerves on derby days are incredible. I have to honest, I can’t stand them. The most negative feelings I have are on derby days. Even now, even now. And I know I have friends who are Hull FC supporters and things like that. I can’t talk to them on derby days. I cannot until I can gloat. And then if they’re gloating, I’m not having it. I struggle. It’s really weird, isn’t it, how you get this sense of being in a tribe and you know, there’s another tribe on the other side of the ground that are dressed in black and white. Every single one of them. And I just can’t bear it. I’m really rooted in East Hull, which is strange, because the history of the club is that we started in the west. And it breaks your brain if you think too much about that. But East Hull is the thing. And it’s somewhere engrained in you if you’re born in east Hull or you’re born in west Hull that that’s your side of the city. And the two clubs represent that, they really represent that. So, derby days are incredibly stressful, and I try not to come to games because people see a side of me that I don’t particularly want them to see, which is quite aggressive, quite noisy, just angry and it’s always been the same. I’ve never been able to deal with those days. But it’s great when we win. It’s the best feeling when we win.[Is there any particular derby?]
No. There isn’t as such, I suppose. It’s always hard, because again I’m terrible at remembering specifics and tries and scores and things like that, but I suppose Dave Hodgson’s try. It’s always the one that sticks in your brain and then the one that shouldn’t stick in my brain is the terrible offside decision that never was, where Hull scored. Those are the ones that really get me. But most derbies feel like, I get the same feelings of every derby. I can’t think of any specific one that sticks out. Obviously, Wembley is a big one, but I didn’t go to that game. For some reason my dad wouldn’t let me go. I don’t know why, he just wasn’t having it. I didn’t see that live and I just remember the horrendous thing that happened to Roger in that game, so… There’s nothing really that sticks out except for David Laws and that try, which was great. Yeah.
Oh – I’ll tell you where there is a memory. Headingley. That’s just brought one back. A John Player final I think it was. And we were at Headingley and we were playing, I want to say it was Castleford. 1984. And there was a lot of tension in the ground, because there was the miners’ strike and the Castleford fans were not a happy bunch with each other, let alone anything else. I think it was Castleford. And it was the days when you were allowed to walk across the pitch, if you remember. What other sport does that? So, people would move across the pitch when players swapped at half time and teams swapped at half time. I’ve never seen anything like it. You know, we just took these things for granted. But it got quite… It was just… You could feel the tension from the Castleford supporters, if I’m right. And I think it was all around the miners’ strike. Cos there were families falling out and there were friends falling out and it was really difficult time for them. But despite all of that, I remember I was there with my friend Louise and we stood, I never know which stand it is, but we were playing and Gary Prom was on this wing and David Laws was on this wing and I think Gary Prom scored and he ran back, and I’ll always remember, he gave a massive smile and he winked and it sticks in my mind. Cos these were special people. But the great thing about rugby league players, I always find, is that… Not all of them, but I would say the majority of them, don’t see themselves as stars or superstars, cos they come from quite working-class backgrounds. They’re lads, basically, who’ve grown up playing rugby. And they don’t get fed a lot of the rubbish that I suppose other sports feed their stars, and so they’re very community-focused and they don’t worry about getting involved with the fans during the game and giving them a wave and smiling. You know, that sort of thing. But that day was really good. There was a lot going on that day. But it was a really special day. And I think we won the John Player trophy in that game. I’m sure we did. And that was a great day out. I loved it. Then Cass beat us at Wembley as well. 86? I remember going to that as well. I was there. I can’t go to any more Wembley’s, cos we’ve never won one. To any that I’ve been to, we’ve never won. But I remember that day. That was John Dorie taking a kick at the end and I remember I couldn’t watch it and I remember thinking, I want him to kick it, but we don’t deserve this win. That was another good day. That was with Louise as well. Me and Louise used to go to a lot of games together.
There’s individual bits that I remember, but most of it is around family, friends and feelings, that side of the game. You remember players coming into schools. They’d come into St Richard’s. And it was just that things were so close. The community side of it was massive. And the fans brought the community side to the club. They would get involved in pre-match and they would get involved in helping out and I’ll always remember the old Craven Park coming down. That’s a big memory. And I didn’t go, but my dad went and helped with dismantling and stuff. He said people were taking all sorts. He brought home a bit of a bench from the old ground and it sat in our garden, this bit of wood, for years. Well, basically, until he died. This bit of wood and he was so proud of it – it was from Craven Park and he was so, so proud of it. But that was sad when that went, and people felt a real sense of loss around it. We’d lost our ground and we were coming here, and nobody knew what it was all about and there was a lot of stuff happening with that. But this is a new ground and new home and it’s not a new ground any more. In my head it is, but for the younger supporters, this is their ground. It’s their spiritual home, like the old Craven Park, now this is theirs. And the younger supporters will cherish it, I think, like we did.[Tell me a bit about the dream job you’ve got with Hull KR]
It is a dream job. It’s just one of those things where everything comes together really well. My background is in charity and not for profits. And 2014, November 2014, a job came up to run the Community Trust here at Hull KR and I looked at it and I though about it and I thought oh, it just feels so right. So, I thought well, I’ll apply, and somebody said to me, apply for the job. And actually, somebody gave me some advice who was a bit outside of all of it. They said you do know – because I’m a bit of a workaholic and I will work long hours and I don’t care about it. I absolutely don’t mind. But the one time that I would forget about work and I would forget about what I was doing was coming to games. And I would have three hours of not thinking about anything other than what was going on that pitch, what was going on in the stands, all of that stuff. The pre-match, you know, talking about the game. And somebody said to me, you’re about to turn your hobby into your work. And I remember thinking, that’s great. That actually would be great. So, I applied for the job and got the job, so now I’m managing the Community Trust here at Hull KR and it is a dream job. Sport is a real powerful tool when it comes to community development and making real positive changes in life. It breaks down all those barriers that, you know, unfortunately, some statutory agencies can’t break down with people and they talk about people being hard to reach and I hate that saying. People are not hard to reach. We reach people all the time. It’s not that they’re hard to reach, it’s just that you need to make the effort to find people and get them involved with stuff. We love, our trust loves what we do. It’s a dream job for me. We go out to schools, we spread the brand of Hull KR, we get them physically active. We make differences in people’s lives and that’s what it’s all about. It’s what Hull KR is all about, it’s what rugby league is all about – using what is a commercial operation and entertainment at the end of the day to make a difference in people’s lives if they want one. And what a job that is, eh? Great.
It’s been 6 years nearly now that I’ve been doing this job. The Trust was in a funny place when I took it over. We had five staff, we were doing a little bit of work in schools, we had one bit of funding that came from the Rank Foundation around young people, providing youth services and that was really all that was happening. But then Sky Try was on the horizon and Sky Try is great way of introducing kids to rugby league and getting them involved. So, we built on that – there’d just been a new coach appointed. So, we have our community coaches and one of them has been appointed. He’s now the head coach for the women’s team. And we were just getting out there and one of the things that really needed to happen is that we delivered what we said were going to deliver. We built up our reputation as a reliable provider of services and so we did that. The team’s built up over the years. We’ve got a great team of community coaches, community development workers who go out there. We’ve got projects that help people get back into work, we’ve got a massive girls and women’s programme which I’m so proud of and I’m so proud that Hull KR back that. Girls have had very little opportunity to play rugby league for a long, long time in the city. We saw that what we had was girls that were playing up until 11 with boys and getting player of the match and scoring tries and being really skilful and then we’d lose them, because there was nowhere for those girls to play other than at school. And a lot of schools don’t like playing contact rugby – for boys and girls, sometimes. It’s only in the last 3 or 4 years that we’ve seen that build up again.
We needed somewhere for the girls to go. So, we set up a little Hull KR girls’ team and now we have three Hull KR girls’ teams, who play in leagues across the north. And this year we launched our HULL KR women’s team, which is a really proud moment. Those girls now have a full pathway of where they’re going through. They start at the community clubs, move to Hull KR girls, move through the academy system for the girls and then hopefully into the women’s team. Or if not, have some involvement, somewhere. Coaches of the future, referees of the future, managers. You never know, you never know what these girls and women will achieve. So that’s massive for us.
And also, the boys in the community game is really big. We need to keep building and building on that and we do a lot of work around that. And our big heritage project, you know, that’s huge. You’ve seen that go up around the club. Really proud of our heritage. We talk about our heritage, our past, but also want to build that new heritage for future generations, so focus on the future as well. You can’t live in the past. You live in the moment and you build for the future and I think that’s what the project’s all about. So, we’ve loads going on at the Trust. It’s amazing. Helping people get back into work, helping people make friends, new places to go, new events, all of that. Hopefully reducing some of that social isolation that people talk about. Getting girls and women really involved in the business end of rugby league. All of that is really good stuff that we do. I’m really proud of what we do. It’s a fantastic team.