Peter Martini looks back on a momentous day for York City Knights exactly ten years ago today
YOU can’t forget it,” says Mick Ramsden, a decade on. “It was such an exciting time after what had happened. There seemed to be a real buzz back around York.”
Today, for those that don’t know, is a special anniversary for sport in the Minster city. Exactly ten years ago today the reborn York Rugby League Club effectively sparked into life.
It was on January 19, 2003, that York City Knights played their first-ever match, at home to Hull Kingston Rovers, and while it finished in defeat, everyone, not least rugby league in York, ended up as the winner.
A bumper crowd – a far cry from the handful scattered on empty terraces during the last days of York Wasps – had seen a cracking match and, while Hull KR fans went home happy that their team had picked up the Arriva Trains Cup points after a 36-26 come-from-behind victory, York fans had achieved by far the bigger victory: they’d got their team back in action.
Only two players on the pitch back then, on an occasion when fans old and new, young and old, packed into Huntington Stadium, are part of the Knights’ set-up today.
One is local favourite Ramsden, a stalwart of York RL, be it as a player with Ryedale-York, the Wasps and later the Knights, or, since hanging up his boots in 2005, as part of the club’s coaching staff.
He had been on the playing roster when the Wasps went bust in 2002, and had rarely felt so low as he had during the spring of that year when folk scrambled about in vain to keep the club alive. But, in a huge show of faith, he had also been among the local lads who got back on board after supporters had rallied round in astonishing and uplifting fashion to help get a new club up and running.
Such was his pride of running back out again in front of his home-town crowd, following the successful battle to re-establish the club, that he still has in his possession the Knights jersey he wore in that match.
“I’ll never part with it,” he said, recalling this date a decade ago.
“It’s a while ago now, isn’t it. You can’t forget it though. It was such an exciting time after what had happened. There seemed to be a real buzz back around York.
“We’d heard there’d be a big crowd there, and then over 3,000 turn up. I didn’t think I’d end up playing for the club again after what happened with the Wasps. Then that happens.”
The club, with former Great Britain prop Paul Broadbent installed as player-coach, had planned to have two friendly matches in the build-up to the season but both fell to the wintry weather.
It was probably a blessing in disguise as it meant this first match was real, competitive, even more significant. Additionally it was against Hull KR, now a Super League club but then the giants of the National Leagues tiers below, who were sure to bring a sizeable and noisy following.
“They were such exciting times,” said Ramsden.
“There was a big build-up, not least in The Press. We couldn’t wait to play. We had trained all right. A good thing was we had quite a few good local lads playing – like Mark Cain, Daz Callaghan, Alex Godfrey, Richie Hayes – and we were all really keen to get out there in front of a big York crowd.
“It was like York RL had re-emerged. The whole city was buzzing with people talking about rugby league.
“I remember thinking before the game, ‘This is an amazing feeling.’ What a feeling it was running out in front of that crowd. The Pop Stand was packed and it gave us a huge lift. Playing in front of crowds like that raises your game.
“There were a few Hull lads in our team, which added a bit to it as well. It was a close game. Hull KR were in National League One, we were starting out in NL2. It was our first game but it already showed we could compete. We were all really disappointed to lose but the day as a whole had started the club off in a really good way.
“It took us a few games to get our first win but that came at Sheffield and we were up and running.”
• ANYONE know the other current Knights player who was involved that day?
It was actually Adam Sullivan, who was in the Hull KR team, as a 20-year-old making his first strides as a professional player.
The prop joined the Knights the following year and, barring two seasons at arch-rivals Hunslet, has been here since, becoming a veteran of 153 York matches, picking up a promotion and a Press Player of the Year award along the way.
So, does he remember this game well?
“I do,” said Sullivan.
“It was my first proper season in that league. I remember there was a really big crowd. We didn’t expect it to be like that.
“I’m not sure how many people from Hull realised it but it was a big deal for York.”
The 30-year-old added words that will surely make Ramsden, currently assistant-coach at Huntington Stadium, smile.
“I remember Mick Ramsden playing, thinking that guy’s quite good. It was only when I came to know him that I realized it was Rammo.
“I don’t remember much about the game. But I remember walking out of the changing rooms and seeing a massive crowd and a big noise and I thought, ‘Bloody hell, it’s loud’.”
He added: “It’s always good to play in front of big crowds. When we won the league in 2005 and had a family fun day against Hunslet, there were 3,500 people there. It’s a good stadium when there’s a few people in there, with a really good atmosphere.”
... And the big day so nearly didn’t go ahead
IT was a momentous occasion in York Rugby League Club’s rebirth – and it very nearly didn’t go ahead.
In fact, if it wasn’t for the Huntington Stadium manager, Colin Molloy, and a posse of helpers with screwdrivers, York City Knights may well have suffered an embarrasing anti-climax.
None of the players and only a handful of supporters were aware the Knights’ first-ever match nearly didn’t get the go-ahead from the Rugby Football League due to seating issues at the ground.
RFL chiefs had overlooked the fact that, while regulations stipulated new clubs had to have stadia with seating for at least 1,000, this Monks Cross venue at the time fell short with about 960. But they could not overlook the fact many of these seats were either not there or broken in bits, the stadium having not staged a pro rugby league game since the previous March.
The club had ordered a stack load of replacements but they didn’t show up on the Wednesday as planned, or the Thursday or the Friday. They were eventually delivered on the Saturday, leaving Molloy and co with little time to install them. In fact, the staff were still there on the Sunday morning screwing the last few in, just before people started to show up.
And how they showed up.
The official gate figure was 3,105, bolstered by a travelling army from Hull KR, but unofficial estimates put it at nearer 3,500.
At the time, this was deemed full to capacity, although the exact figure which Huntington Stadium can hold has always been something of a mystery. It could hold just short of 5,000, and its record gate was indeed 4,977, against Halifax in 1990, but that included standing on the grassy mounds at either end of the pitch. These areas were later not permitted, hence the reduction in capacity.
‘All Knight party’
Evening Press match report, January 20, 2003“
NOT even a defeat could spoil the carnival atmosphere at Huntington Stadium yesterday.
For despite losing to Hull Kingston Rovers in the Arriva Trains Cup East section, York City Knights proved they are already a force to be reckoned with at National League level.
The buzz around the club continued long after the final hooter in a packed-out stadium bar. Indeed, if there are still any doubters, then the fare served up yesterday – on and off the field – must have helped them catch a bit of Knight fever.
An incredible ding-dong match – the lead changed hands seven times – played out in front of full, noisy stands showed that rugby league was back in York with a bang louder than the fireworks that greeted the players.
The crowd figure was given at 3,105 people through the turnstiles, but unofficial estimates suggest anything up to 3,500 were packed into the stadium. Rovers, as usual, brought their fair share but the massive majority was behind the blues of the Minster city, and what a racket they made.
If only the Knights could have won. They didn’t because of a careless first ten minutes of the second half and a tired last ten, though some controversial refereeing also had a part to play as Rovers ran in three late tries to turn a two-point deficit into a win.
Nevertheless, with Rovers expected to be a major force in National League One and among the favourites for the Arriva Trains Cup, there can’t be too many complaints...”
January 19, 2003
Arriva Trains Cup group match
Knights 26, Hull KR 36
Knights: Chris Beever 7, Alex Godfrey 7, Graeme Hallas 7, Chris Smith 7, Gavin Molloy 7, Mark Cain 7, Trevor Krause 8, David Bolus 6, Lee Jackson 7, Rich Hayes 8, Mick Ramsden 7, Scott Fletcher 7, Darren Callaghan 7.
Subs (all used): Scott Yeaman 7, Gareth Lloyd 8, Carl Stannard 6, Damien Kennedy 6.
Tries: Godfrey 20; Callaghan 33; Yeaman 56; Smith 67. Conversions: Hallas 21, 34, 56, 67. Penalties: Hallas 9.
Hull KR: Poucher, Pinkney, Parker, Farrell, McLarron, Walker, Murdock, Wilson, Pickering, Bovill, Sullivan, Aston, Smith. Subs: (all used): Blanchard, Andrews, Cochran, P Fletcher.
Tries: Murdock 16; Walker 24, 47; Poucher 43; Aston 72; Farrell 75; Cochran 79. Conversions: Murdock 24, 47. Penalties: Murdock 13, 60.