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Jo Pearson

Jo Pearson

  • Hull

Jo grew up in East Hull and is a red and white through and through Julia Lee talks to Jo about her Hull KR memories.

I’m an East Hull girl, I grew up in a rugby family. My dad was red and white, my mum was black and white. My mum was from West Hull. And she married an East Hull lad. She didn’t have a lot of say whether we turned red and white or black and white – it was always going to be red and white. I went with my dad when I was about 10 years old.

I feel like it’s in my blood really. It is like a religion, it’s like my religion, it’s part of me. So I’ve always had that passion. More so than my dad really. I don’t like to day this, but my mum is much more passionate rugby league fan, although she’s misguided.

So, I’ve got 2 sisters and a younger brother and they’re all red and white fans, but it was mainly me that had that passion, you know, to go along.

[Can you remember your first game?]

The first game that I went to – that I remember, anyway – was against Wigan. And I remember being really shocked at how vocal the Wigan fans were. I mean, Rovers fans were vocal then anyway, but I remember because Wigan had brought so many fans. I can’t remember if it was a league game, I can’t remember what kind of game it was, whether it was league or cup or whatever. I remember particularly night games, I remember the Yorkshire cup and all the competitions that they had then. They were just special. Really special. I think that there was more atmosphere then, because they were winter games. I don’t know why – or maybe it’s just that I remember it like that because I was younger. As I say, it’s always been part of my life and then I’ve always been to Rovers with my friends. That’s how I met my husband, Ian. I’d gone away to watch Bradford and I met him in the Hilltop pub. Very romantic! His chat-up line was are you going to the match then? And I was decked out in red and white. And I said yes, how did you guess? Our relationship stemmed from there – he was a big Rovers fan, but he used to go away to sea, and I used to go with friends when he was away. And it’s just a bone of contention with him that he was away when we won at Wembley. We weren’t together then, but it’s something that I always tease him about, that he never saw that.

[Do you remember being in the crowd?]

When I went with my dad, I stood along the front, near the pitch, the atmosphere was just fantastic. When I was older, I went and stood in the east stand, the excitement and the crush at the old Craven Park – sometimes you were being crushed and your feet weren’t even on the floor, you know, if they’d scored a try and they’d like surge down. Thinking about it, it was probably quite dangerous, but it was really exciting.

I loved it, I absolutely loved it. And we were competitive a lot of the time when I was younger. We had some really good players. Just the excitement of it all. You know, everybody wore scarves then – it wasn’t so much the replica shirts, was it. I think we were quite poor, for one, we couldn’t afford one. I think I just got the bug. Yeah, it was good.

I used to play hockey in those days and I’d play on a Sunday morning and I was the first to leave the changing room and get back to get to Rovers which was always a 3 o’clock kick-off on a Sunday. And I remember walking to the ground – it was just a throng of people. Just a red and white caterpillar walking down Holderness Road. Really happy memories.

Even just the people in the crowd. I didn’t know their names, but I see their faces even now at Rovers, you know, and I know you’ve been a fan a long time. It’s not always been like that though, has it. When we were relegated, the fans were really like, I don’t know, just 1000 fans at some games. And I’m quite proud to say that I was one of them, really. Ian and I were there with our boys.

My other milestone with Rovers is that my oldest son, Matthew, he was born on the same day that Rovers had the first game at the new Craven Park on Preston Road. I remember being in the delivery suite with Ian and Ian was listening to the game. And it was Rovers vs Trafford Borough, of all teams. And that was the first game at the new stadium, and I missed it, obviously. I think Ian would have been there if he could have been, so that was like, that’s what we told Matthew, when he was old enough to understand about Rovers, that he was born on that day.

When the boys got older and they came with us, our life revolved around Rovers activities. We did lots of other things, we’re not that mad, but it was things like when the club was in dire straits and they were raising money with the sponsored walk, the boys did that. That was important for us, to walk to the new ground with all the rest and I just remember the outpouring of support for the club, everybody getting their sponsors and doing the walk. I’ve got photographs.

[Where was the walk from and to?]

I can’t really remember now, and I should do. I think it was from the old ground to the new one on Preston Road. I can’t remember where we started from, I just can’t. It’s really vague. It was quite a long time ago.

[How many fans came out to do it?]

It was over 1000, I know that, it was a lot of fans. I’ve probably got newspaper cuttings about it somewhere. I don’t know where they are – probably in the loft, stuffed in a programme somewhere.

[Are there any games that stick out for you?]

Yeah. Too many to mention really. It’s usually those ones where we win at the end, right at the death or there’s that excitement right til the end. One of the ones that really sticks out is away to Wigan in the first season in the Challenge Cup. I think we were winning 26-0 at half time, against Wigan. And I think we went on to win by a point, I think. I can’t remember whether we scored in the second half or not, but we went on to win and it was just magical. It was fantastic.

Obviously, the Wembley win against Hull was really special. What I remember about that was just how friendly everybody was. And the black and white fans were so gracious in defeat and we were gracious in our win, I think. I’d like to think we’d have been the same as the Hull fans had we lost.

[How did you get down there?]

Went on the train with one of my friends. Brilliant. I only went with one friend actually, but people were singing on train, decked out in their red and white. It was just like one big family, black and white mixing with red and white.

[Did you go there and back in a day?]

Yes. But I remember just how quickly the game went. It was like when the half time whistle went, I thought, heck, is that half time already? It was just so exciting, and I remember being on an absolute high afterwards. It was just so good, and I remember I was quite young and naïve and I was walking around London with my flag and my friend and people… You know, it’s a big place, London, isn’t it, and they just didn’t realise what was going on at Wembley Stadium and people were asking me, oh, what’s happened, where have you been? And we’d say, oh, we’re from Hull and we’ve won the cup. Just brilliant.

I think I was 17, 18. Very naïve and green behind the ears. Probably the first time I went to London, actually.

[What a great experience!]

Yeah, it was. I’ll never forget. They’ll never take it away from …

[So, tell us about the derbies]

The derbies are very special. I think you can have such a terrible season, but as long as you’ve beaten the black and whites at least once, it’s not so bad really. And fans can be really forgiving of the players if the players do the business on derby day. But I think they are really stressful. I find them more stressful now, I think, because it means such a lot because we’re quite often the underdogs and if you’re coming into work and there are black and white fans here and they like to take the mickey. About their little brother, you know. The club that I support. So it’s just so lovely to not have the mickey taken. Although I never brag when we’ve won. I don’t even mention the game to them. It’s funny how they never do either. But they do when they’ve won. I think that just recently there’s been an overkill of derbies. One season, did we play them 4 times? Cos of the magic weekend and… But then it’s a valuable income to Rovers, having a big crowd. I think they’ll be really missed if there’s ever a day when they don’t happen.

[Tell us about the 1980s]

I’m getting old and my memory’s going, but we just had such brilliant players. Really good players and we had a good team. It really was just a community thing, part of your family. I’ve used the word before, religion, it’s like a religion. It’s part of your life and our boys were born in the 80s and they became part of it. And they loved it as well. They were mascots, we supported the club however we could, by going to the players’ sponsorships and the testimonials and the Lord Mayor’s Parade that they used to have, and Rovers had a float one year. It was just lovely; all the players were on it with certain children. It was really special because you felt the players – I don’t know how they felt, they must have thought they were all bonkers, these Rovers fans – but I think the players were almost like part of your family, some of them. And I think they got a lot of pleasure from playing for the club, because they were so welcomed, and we were really grateful that they were playing for us and they were some good players.

[Which were your stand out?]

My favourite player – I mean obviously I loved watching Roger Millward, Mike Smith – but Gary Prom was my favourite. And I’ve got one of his shirts up in the loft. And another one of my favourites was Mark Broadhurst. And when you asked me before about special games, special memories, I was really lucky that I saw Rovers play Queensland and that famous punch of Sean – I can’t remember his name, his name began with a B – but he was the hooker and I was standing right in front of the famous punch where Broadhurst played the ball, just got up, and he just laid him out with a right hook, because he used to be a professional boxer. And I got his tapes from that game as well. Cos my brother used to help out with the kit. And he had them. In a right state they were, but he gave them to me and they’re one of my prized possessions. Just two bits of like Elastoplast. Ridiculous in ’t it? I’d have got married in them if I could have done. But I remember that game because really Mark Broadhurst wasn’t a dirty player, he played the game in really good spirit, but there was so much niggling throughout that game that the Aussies – they’re still a bit the same, they don’t like to be losing. And they were niggling and quite dirty that game, and it was Fred Lindop, I think, no, Whitfield, was reffing and he just turned a blind eye to it and I was so pleased because it would just have been a miscarriage of justice if he’d have been sent off. I think there would have been a riot. So that was a really special game. I’ve got the programme at home for that as well.

There’s just so many games. I mean, obviously, our promotion game when we played Widnes. Because there was so much riding on that and leading up to the game, I didn’t really know if I could go, because it meant too much, really. It meant so much to me, it was like – I don’t know, I don’t know what I can liken it to really. Like a child opening their results? No, it was more than that, actually, it just meant so much. I’d have traded so much to get in Super League, on a personal level. And just when we went, I felt quite confident towards the end of the game, but we’re Rovers fans and we felt like that before, so there was always that feeling. Are we going to do it or are we going to blow it? But just the feeling when that whistle went! I just sobbed. I sobbed like a baby. I was euphoric initially and then when it sunk in, I was just crying. And when I looked around there were loads of people just crying and hanging on to each other, really, really sobbing. It was just a wonderful feeling. And once we got into Super League it’s been a struggle, but some enjoyable moments. Like I say, the game against Wigan, one of the top teams, our debut season in Super League, and beating them. The derbies, when we turned them over. The derby that we really needed to win to stay up, at the KC, that was special. Really, those buzzes that it gives you, you just can’t get it from anywhere else. So special.

Coming up to the end of this season, there’s that thought of are we going to maintain our Super League status? And it’s, you know, you’ve got the euphoric feeling of complete joy and now I’m starting to worry – the depth will be just as bad, really. Because it could be a hammer blow to us as a club. But I’m not thinking about that yet.

We’ve done lots of travelling that we never would have done. We used to go home and away, been to places in the UK that we would never have been to. Mainly around Yorkshire, Lancashire! But just fantastic. You know, all the rugby league community coming together at the magic weekend, that’s really special as well. It’s just such a fantastic sport to be involved in and I feel so lucky that I was introduced to it. It’s an honest, a really honest sport. Played by really brave men. And women. And that’s why I admire anyone who takes to the field in rugby league. Cos it’s hard. It’s a hard game.

[Did your boys play?]

They both played, yeah. And they played quite well. Matthew got a scholarship for three years at Hull FC. He was very skilful, and he could read the game really well. But, and only a mum can say this,  he certainly had the ball handling skills and he could read the game brilliantly, but it was tough at times fitting everything in. So, he went to play cricket instead. And Michael, Michael played rugby, but really his heart was in football. He enjoyed playing football.

[Do you still go as a family?]

Yeah, Matthew goes in the East Stand. Michael doesn’t go any more, but he never had the same passion. We began to feel a bit guilty, him coming along with us, at times. And he’d stay with friends or his grandparents. He played football and he was quite a good player and a lot of the times they had tournaments on a Sunday, so he doesn’t go. He doesn’t go now.

[When they were playing, did you get actively involved?]

Yes, I did. All the parent duties that you have – collecting subs and organising events and washing kit and cutting oranges. Hosing them down after the game.

{Who did they play for?]

Lamworth Lions. Not one of the best teams in Hull but a nice little community team. And then Matthew stopped playing when he got in the scholarship for Hull. But Matthew was funny, because he was proud that he’d been picked at that level, to play at that level, but he played for the service area initially. Sorry – I should have said that before he got scouted for Hull. And we used to go around the country, really, playing. Well, it was just a lot of transporting them around all over the place. And in all weathers. Because it was winter, siling down, freezing… Not always that enjoyable at times.

[Lets have a look at your photographs}

I’ve got one here of Ben Galea, and that was the magic weekend and all the players were on the Stobart lorries and I loved that. And I did have a soft spot for Ben Galea, before he went to Hull, obviously. He signed that one. That was at the magic weekend.

There’s photographs here of my son being a mascot at the Dewsbury game. And there’s a photograph there of Whetu Taewa. He stayed at my parents’ house with us. He came over from New Zealand and he didn’t particularly like the flat that Rovers had put him up in. Well, his wife didn’t. His partner didn’t. So, my parents were in Australia and New Zealand for 6 months, so we moved into my parents’ house while they were away and we let Whetu and Marie, his girlfriend, stay in our house until the club had found them somewhere else. So that was nice, and we became friendly with Whetu and Marie, who were a really nice couple.

[Are you a member of the supporters’ club then?]

Yes, and … We always have been, really. We’ve always supported all the fundraising, done everything really that’s been asked of us. I’d say we’re quite good fans to have, really.

This is an example of it really. There was the tall ships that came to Hull and Ian asked Neil Hudgell – the clipper event it was, in Hull – Ian asked Neil Hudgell if we could have a Rovers shirt to donate to the Hull clipper. So he gave us a shirt and we asked them if they’d wear it when they was in different cities in England, just to spread the word. I don’t know whether he did or not.

They’re just photographs from the… It’s a fond memory for me, and that’s why I took so many photographs. It was the Lord Mayor’s Parade and there was a Rovers float and there was a Hull FC one. And Hull FC were in the Super League and we were still in the Championship, but our float was just so good, and the players were so professional. Whereas the Hull FC one – I shouldn’t say this – they were on the float, drinking cans of lager… And you compared the two clubs, we just looked so much more professional. I even felt like going over and saying, “You’re the Super League club and look at the state of you”.

This is a photograph of when – that was a special game as well – Matthew is wearing one of my old shirts there. It was a plate cup final at Wembley. It was like a curtain raising game before the main event of the challenge cup. There’s Mike Fletcher there – he was one of my heroes as well. Best kicker that I’ve seen, I think. There was a bomb scare, so we couldn’t go into the stadium for like 2 hours while they checked it. So, there wasn’t a build-up really, which was a bit of a shame. That was a good day out. We went on the train with my brother. I wanted Matthew to go because that might be the only time, we got to Wembley again.

There’s the Rovers players at the magic weekend, waiting to get on.

That’s the sponsored walk we did for the club.

I’ve got loads more at home. I think Rovers were one of the first teams to play in the south of France. I don’t think that they were called Catalan then. I can’t remember really.

[You went off to France to see them play?]

Yeah, we went off to see them play. In Perpignan. It was a lovely day. But that was before Catalan were in the Super League. It was when they were in the Championship. It was really good.

I have not mentioned something that I should really. When I met Ian in Bradford, it was at the Hilltop pub and we didn’t get a programme of the day of the game. So, we wrote to Bradford Bulls, saying that I’d met my husband at the club on the day of our – you know, it was our wedding anniversary, and do you have a programme from the day? And the Bradford club were absolutely lovely. They wrote back to us and said we’d like you to be our guests at the next game, which was really nice. And they took us to the Hilltop, gave us a bottle of – I think it was called Hare and Hounds then – they gave us a bottle of champagne and presented us with glasses with engraving on it, of when we met. They looked after us really well, in the best stands, gave us tickets for the game. At half time, Colin Hutton presented us with the programme of the day, which was lovely. Colin Hutton was lovely and that was special for us, because he did so much for Rovers and was part of the Rovers fabric, really.

They presented it in front of the Rovers fans. I must admit, I didn’t really want to go on the pitch. I’m a bit shy like that, but I did. It’s really sad to see that Bradford are not in the Super League now and are struggling a little bit. Same with Dewsbury.

Yeah, it’s really been part of our life and I hope it is going forward as well. Met some lovely people that are friends for ever. Including your sister actually. Lizzie and Chris, we met them. In Spain and they were there for the Catalan game, as we were. And it turns out Chris used to live in the house that we’re living in. It’s all these links.

[You used to go to Colts and A team as well, didn’t you?]

Oh yeah. And I always have done. I’ve just enjoyed it, watching players come through the ranks. And not just Rovers players. I always used to get a team sheet and I’ve kept them, and I’m glad I have, because there’s some really cracking names on there that went on to play for Wigan’s first team and Saints’ first team. Really good. I can’t think of any of the names now, but really household names that we’ve seen playing as youngsters. It’s just really good. I love the sport, it’s not just Rovers. They’re my team but I just love rugby league, because it is, like I said before, it’s just an honest game, really honest people playing it. There’s nowhere to hide on that pitch.  And it’s just a fantastic spectacle of a game. Toughness and stamina and skill and bravery. I just like it.

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