AS he prepares to make the short trip from his East Hull home into the furnace of Craven Park, it is strange to think Hull FC head coach Lee Radford’s rugby league career only started out due to a chance conversation in Salou.
For someone now so involved and obsessed with the sport, a former prop who especially thrives in the derby atmosphere and brought up in a rugby league hotbed, it seems even stranger that his first love was football.
To add to the bizarre nature of it all, that chance conversation in northern Spain came about with someone who lived barely 20 miles away from him back home.
Ahead of tonight’s Super League opener at fierce derby rivals Hull KR, Radford recollected to The Yorkshire Post: “I was a football player as a kid.
“I was a centre back and played for Barham Boys. I played for Hull City district so I was all right.
“I had aspirations to play Premier League. But that soon dwindled when I realised I was actually rubbish.
“We’d gone on holiday to Salou, though, and my mam and dad befriended a couple from Cottingham who had just started up Cot’ Tigers.
“We didn’t know them beforehand or anything.
“They asked me if I wanted to go training and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I was late to it all – I was 12 –and Cot’s a fair trek from where I live in East Hull.
My dad used to take me twice a week but I loved it; I loved this sport, got in to it almost straight away and never looked back.Lee Radford
“My dad used to take me twice a week but I loved it; I loved this sport, got in to it almost straight away and never looked back.
“My family are all rugby mad so I don’t know why I didn’t get into it before. My dad played.
“Maybe I had to grow into what I needed to be!”
Radford’s rise was rapid; after moving to Myson (now East Hull ARLFC) scouts marked him out at Under 15s and he swiftly signed for Hull.
He made his first-team debut within six months of agreeing professional terms – in a side that had former England coach Steve McNamara as its captain – and was still only 19 when a Bradford Bulls team on the rise came calling at the end of 1998.
After signing, the teenage Radford had doubts and second thoughts about leaving his home city but there was no room to manoeuvre out of the deal.
As it happens, the sliding doors moment proved one of his best decisions; having gone on to win two Grand Finals, a Challenge Cup and a World Club Challenge with Brian Noble’s star-studded side, was he glad he opted for Odsal in the end?
Radford responded: “Yes. And the 100 grand Hull got for me – I’m led to believe – kept them afloat so they’ll be pretty glad I went as well!
“They were very glad to see the back of me!”
Radford, of course, returned in 2006 and went on to play approaching 200 games for the Black and Whites, before retiring in 2011 and taking up a role as assistant coach.
Always adored by the Old Faithful for his no-nonsense, full-blooded style, his star reached new heights when – after succeeding Peter Gentle as head coach at the end of 2013 – he went on to end their famous Wembley hoodoo, lifting the Challenge Cup in 2016 and again 12 months later.
Still, as the new season gets underway, the pressure is quickly on the 39-year-old.
Let’s not forget, Hull’s campaign finished disastrously last term with an 11-match losing sequence as they descended into chaos at times amid an admittedly wretched run of injuries.
Winning the 234th derby would be an ideal way to put that to rest but it will be far from easy; Rovers have recruited well in the off-season with the likes of Josh Drinkwater, Kane Linnett and Mitch Garbutt all coming in while the Airlie Birds are still struggling with selection issues.
Star stand-off Albert Kelly misses the return to his former club due to a shoulder injury and his obvious replacement – England centre Jake Connor – must sit out a one-match ban for dissent.
Still, as head coach, Radford has not lost at Craven Park since his first trip there back in 2014 when FC fell to Craig Hall’s dramtic late drop goal.
Radford has a tremendous record across the river winning each of the last three meetings including that famous Good Friday game in 2016 when the Old Faithful charged back from 20-0 down to win 22-20.
“Craven Park?” he said.
“Hatred. You feel it when you get on the bus.
“And the juices start flowing during the week.
“It’s not ideal losing Alby and Jake but we won’t use that as an excuse.
“There’s no better way to go start a season – and to right some wrongs from last – and see all the hard work come to fruition on Friday.
“It’s really important for us.
“I can’t wait to be singing that song in the changing rooms at the end of the game; everything we have done has been striving to that.”
Forget the snow and frost; Craven Park will be as hot as a summer’s night in Salou this evening, and Radford, for his part, would have it no other way.