Hull rally to positive response.

As one club are praised for the right reaction to adversity, another are criticised for a mud-slinging retort
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The Independent Online

Hull will be under particular scrutiny at Warrington tonight, their supporters rather more so than their players. The meeting of the two sides beaten in the Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-finals last weekend gives an opportunity to gauge how they have reacted to defeat. Unfortunately, we already know how a minority of the Hull fans reacted; the game has talked of little else this past week.

Hull will be under particular scrutiny at Warrington tonight, their supporters rather more so than their players. The meeting of the two sides beaten in the Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-finals last weekend gives an opportunity to gauge how they have reacted to defeat. Unfortunately, we already know how a minority of the Hull fans reacted; the game has talked of little else this past week.

A mass rally of Hull supporters at The Boulevard yesterday, where they were invited to give what amounted to a promise of good behaviour in future, was a conscious attempt to repair the damage to the club's image.

That damage is undeniable, but those supporters and others within the game deserve credit for taking the blow of last Sunday at the McAlpine Stadium on the chin and refusing the temptation to sweep the uncomfortable evidence under the carpet.

That option is hardly open to Hull's new management. They knew that there was a problem - statistically small but still worrying - among the club's supporters before they took over this winter. It was only last season that Kath Hetherington, then chairman of Gateshead and now of Hull, said after what in the light of last weekend's events seems a very minor transgression: "We don't want people like that in the game."

Hull, to put it frankly, have always had a hard core of idiots. There had been no trouble this season, beyond their uniquely vociferous brand of support, until last Sunday, but now much that was previously regarded as unavoidable has been called into question.

"There have been things badly wrong with this club," says their chief executive, Shane Richardson, also part of the Gateshead takeover. "Communications had broken down between the fans and the administration. We recognised that there had to be a change in the culture. We thought it was going to happen grad-ually; last Sunday gives usthe mandate to do it quickly. In that sense, I see it as anopportunity."

The recently arrived bosses at The Boulevard run the risk of seeming to want it both ways. They wanted to be at Hull because of the club's potential mass following, but that mass following contains the very elements that can seriouslyundermine the family atmosphere that has been nurtured so successfully at clubs such as Bradford and even, on a much smaller scale, at Gateshead. They want the apple, but not the maggot.

Where the scenes at Huddersfield may indeed help Richardson and Hetherington is that there is now likely to be a consensus - illustrated by yesterday's rally - that, if it is not OK to invade the pitch and pull down the goalposts, it is not OK either verbally to intimidate and abuse visiting fans and players.

Nobody wants the Threepenny Stand to turn into a church choir, but there is now likely to be a recognition that theirs should not be the dominant tone of voice at The Boulevard. "We are determined to make it a welcoming place for visiting supporters," says Richardson. There is, as they say, a first time for everything.

The truly impressive aspect of the reaction since Sunday has been the willingness of the game as a whole to take the lessons on board, rather than insisting that they are lessons that only apply to Hull, to one bad club on one bad day.

As the architect of the family-friendly approach at Bradford, which he is now trying to reproduce at Warrington, it would be easy for Peter Deakin to sit back smugly and say: "If you'd done what I'd done, you wouldn't have a problem." But the Warrington chief executive - inevitably a nervous host tonight - is doing nothing of the sort.

"This is a wake-up call for all of us," he says. "Every club have a moronic element like Hull's, although theirs might be bigger. But for too long we've sat back and allowed ourselves to be patronised at Wembley every year by London sports editors for our good behaviour, and we've been guilty of self-congratulation over our image as a family sport."

Deakin is enough of an all-purpose rugby league man to know that the cosy picture of a friendly, harmonious sport has never been the full story.

"There were some people from Warrington who blotted their copybooks at Headingley on Saturday by being rough and abusive in the bars there," he says. "My brother coaches the amateur side Oldham St Anne's. Their match was abandoned four minutes from time on Saturday, because there was fighting up and down the touchline. It's not just Hull's problem."

Deakin's biggest fear today is that his local, homegrown idiots might be tempted to "have a pop" at the now notorious Hull spectators. But the first thing he did on Monday morning was to liaise with Hull, his stewards and the police to work on a game-plan to stop that happening.

It is not the case, however, that he has had the Wilderspool goalposts firmly set in concrete to prevent any repetition of the most powerful image from the McAlpine.

He should be on safe ground there. The strong likelihood is that everyone will be on almost unnaturally good behaviour. And, oh yes, the game shouldn't be too bad either.

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