You're right about Hull fans. The only time I've ever been scared at a rugby league match was watching Wigan at Hull in the 1980s when some of the home fans charged the away stand. But it was a midweek match on the other side of the country so most of the Wigan crowd were children and old ladies. There was no one to fight with so they ended up milling about, snarling.Milling about, snarling...I recall a very similar experience (touched-on on Monday) at Keighley in (I think) 1996. It must have been about that long ago, because we were good. So good, in fact, that we went 20-0 up in less than even time.
Now, at Cougar Park away fans tend to pack into one end of the ground, the so-called Turner stand. Or rather, they used to pack - when you're entertaining Chorley Lynx rather than Hull, Warrington or Sheffield in their pre-merger, cup-winning days, "pack" isn't quite the right verb. "Wander", perhaps, or "rattle". But this was then, and the Airlie Birds' away following has always been sizeable, so the place was thronging with Hullers pointing sheepishly at hills, sheep and comparable Dales signifiers. By the luck of the draw, Keighley kicked off towards the unofficial (no football apartheid in RL) "away end", so each try was scored directly in front of a particularly noisy and boozed-up segment of the crowd. Of course, as the beating continued, they got noisier and spirits like our scrawny-but-pugnacious scrum-half, Chris Robinson, were drawn to celebrate each score there..anyway, as we waited for Simon Irving (has my memory just farted, or was his nickname something like Eggs?) to line up yet another conversion for 24-0, there was an ugly yelling and they kicked over the hoardings around the pitch and chased the ref across the park towards us.
The official vanished into the players' tunnel, passing two cops and three stewards who were running, quixotically, towards the mob as if to quell it all on their own. Fortunately, they thought better of this and backed off as they spilled onto the pitch. For a moment, I was wondering if they would keep going towards D stand, where I sat, in some kind of "take the home end" scenario. Note: at Keighley in 1996, there was a main stand called D stand, the Turner stand as described, an open terrace at the opposite end called B Kop, and a decrepit area of covered terrace opposite D stand called the Scrattin' Shed. No, it doesn't make sense, but if you think that's weird you should have seen the club's accounts.
But, as Kevin mentioned, nobody seemed to be looking for trouble from the positively genteel D stand crew and they didn't have the out-and-out football viciousness to provoke themselves further, and ended up milling around and, indeed, snarling. Further back, though, in the stand they had left, a group of Keighley fans were more forthcoming and a succession of brawls broke out. Eventually, Bill, Bob and their many brothers arrived, and herded them back in the Turner, which was temporarily segregated by lines of cops. A number of arrests were made; the only notable one was of a man called Sean Cutler, described by the Keighley News as a "Keighley Cougars financial backer" but better known as a routine thug. The match resumed and Keighley won, heavily. Hull's chairman, an Australian called Shane Richardson, endeared himself to us by telling BBC Radio Leeds that it was all our fault because the hoardings were insufficiently strong to restrain his followers. Which was an impressive exercise in chutzpah.
Another brush with them occurred in Hull itself. Hull FC now perform in a spiffy palace built with the proceeds of Hull City Council's sale of shares in its unique municipal telco, Kingston Communications. The shares were sold, wisely, in the spring of 2000, when anything vaguely associated with telecommunication was valued above diamonds by the stock market. The council proceeded to behave like, well, a Hull fan who won the lottery and blew the lot on a string of ill-advised prestige projects. By RL standards, the ground they now have is positively Saudi in its grandeur. My favourite was the council estate that was refurbished from top to bottom - and then demolished. Back then, they played at a pissridden dump called The Boulevard, so named because it lay on Airlie Street (which is why they are the Airlie Birds). It was one of the most famous grounds in the game, the stage for legendary derby clashes with the ancestral Leeds and Hull KR enemies, touring Australian and New Zealand sides, even Test matches. Like most of the famous Rugby League grounds, by the 1990s it was a dark, dilapidated, filthy shithole fit for some kind of grim documentary film on urban deprivation. When Keighley hit it that year, it was dark throughout the game, with fog smelling in from the oil refinery and the bizarre feature that I could look out from my seat in the stand named, with heavy irony, the Best Stand and look up at the waterline of a ship in the docks.
As it was, we lost narrowly and controversially whilst the far-famed Threepenny Stand - in fact, a plastic 80s prefab plonked on the foundations of its predecessor - bawled foul and bigoted abuse at us and the referee struggled to keep up through the subarctic gloom. The weird thing about Hull is that there is another professional club in town, Hull Kingston Rovers, a distinction the place shares only with Leeds and London (just) among British cities - and their fans are entirely decent. It's not a class thing, because the tribes are separate geographically and HKR country includes the docks and the Bransholme estate, supposedly the biggest council estate in western Europe and by any measure one of the roughest in Yorkshire. Hull FC gets the west half of town, which includes the dirt-poor bits around the defunct fishing port but also the suburbs and the city centre..so what is it?
In case anyone thinks I harbour a prejudice against Hull, I shall follow this up with a similar assault on Leeds RLFC before the cup final..
Update: Did I mention them being touchy? (See the alternate comments thread for details)