The Only Result That Matters: Paul Cooke & The Fury of The Hull Derby

There’s nothing quite like Hull in derby week
08:00, 08 Jul 2023

“You go to the shops and get told ‘I hope you get f***ing beat’.

There’s nothing quite like Hull in derby week. It is a fixture driven by fear, desire and hatred.

“The edge is pure passion which intensifies the atmosphere and the noise. For a player that is not replicated in any other game of the season unless you reach a final.”

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The Sportsman is talking to Paul Cooke, Hull FC’s Challenge Cup-winning hero of 2005, turned Judas two years later when he made the move across a city that few would even dare contemplate. 

“Life is fine now as I don’t go anywhere other than to work or to see friends,” says Cooke, who received death threats after his controversial 2007 transfer to Hull Kingston Rovers. 

“Life is very much easier not being a rugby player in Hull that‘s for sure.”

Cooke remembers the derbies well, more so the days and weeks either side of a match and a result that can feel life-defining. He recalls doing a big food shop a week before the derby in case he felt unable to leave the house for some time afterwards.

“You have to hibernate if you lose. I used to do a shop for two weeks’ worth of food a week before the derby. I would only ever go out for training, and come straight home. It really is that bad in Hull. You go to the shops and get told ‘I hope you get f***ing beat’ and that is just the way it is. It is so difficult to show yourself within the city if you do lose the game.”

Sunday’s clash at Craven Park has an extra shot of pressure mixed into the usual cocktail of nervousness, adrenaline and dread. 

On paper it is seventh against ninth, hardly the big meeting of two Grand Final contenders. Rovers started the season well but have fallen off. FC are showing signs of going the other way after a dreadful spell of their own. 

“Hull FC are way behind so it is vital that they win to give themselves a chance for the playoffs. But the Rovers narrative is that they are under more pressure because they started the season so well and have tailed off. Both teams are under real pressure to win this game if they want to make the top six. 

“The difficulty in Hull is that it becomes red and white tinted glasses against black and white. That is the only result that matters that season, when in reality it should be about the league and the top six.”

And for Cooke that is the big problem with this Hull derby. It often means too much, perhaps more than it should. 

When St Helens play Wigan it is war every single time. But it is not the result that is remembered at the end of the year. The big target is the Grand Final, the Challenge Cup Final, the silverware, the dominance, the glory. 

It was the same when the great Bradford Bulls and Leeds Rhinos sides went at it, as they did in the Grand Finals of 2004 and 2005. St Helens and Wigan Warriors have contested three Grand Finals and five Challenge Cup finals. The last time the two Hull teams met in a game of any real significance was the 2010 playoffs.

“I call it the Hull Cup, a game that matters more than making the top six,” says Cooke. “It is a very short-sighted way of looking at success for your team in this city. As a player I was all about the knockout games as well as the derby. Losing a derby is horrible, but it is more horrible to lose the Grand Final I can assure you.

“What makes this derby unique is that it is one city, with two different religions if you like, two clubs separated by a river, but with many families still divided.

“In my house my mum and dad were black and white and I grew up red and white with my brother because we lived in east Hull.

“The anxiousness and the nervousness for me always came around not winning the game. That fear of losing should very much be in the forefront of the players’ minds.”

Cooke will be back in the thick of it again on Sunday, albeit this time in the sanctuary of the Sky Sports commentary box rather than exposed to the fury out on the field.

He was hated by the black and white side of Hull after leaving for Rovers, and it was only after releasing his truth in the 2016 autobiography ‘Judas’ that he felt life became manageable again, such was the strength of vitriol around the city.

“Writing that book got a whole heap of people off my back when they understood why I did what I did. There was a middle-aged woman who came up to me at the book launch at a pub in Hull and apologised to me for the way she had spoken to me. I wrote the book for my mum who died five years earlier, but that apology was gratifying. The truth which came out of the book made things much easier.”

Cooke knows it is that strength of feeling which underpins the ferocity of this great sporting rivalry. 

This is a fixture that nobody can even contemplate losing.

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