Buckle up, Here We Go Again!


You know, I was really starting to enjoy the close season. Long summer days, Saturdays and the occasional Tuesday evening were now my own, enjoying day trips to Northumberland and North Yorkshire and even The Headland. 

Best of all, excluding the Women's footy, there was no Match of the Day to watch and having to listen to Gary Lineker pontificating about anything and everything with the exception of the taking away of the TV Licence from over 75's. I noticed he did not say anything at all on Twitter about Pepsi closing the Walkers crisp factory down in Peterlee. I was horrified to learn that it would take 11,500 licence fees to pay his annual salary. Don't get me on about Claudia Winkleman or Graham Norton. But I digress.

It has to be said that the back end of May and early June were so relaxing and stress-free for me until Craig Hignett started signing players en masse for Pools. It was even rumoured that at one stage Hignett was looking to sign the entire Gateshead squad. Surprisingly for some, Scott Loach hadn't got the words out of his mouth that he was leaving the club when Ben Killip from Braintree becomes Pools' number one. Suddenly my appetite was re- whetted and I went down to the Vic and ordered my season ticket much earlier than in the past.

I began counting down the days not to when the football season began but when the pre-season matches started. At one point it seemed as if Pools were signing players on an hourly basis. Craig Hignett then stated in the media that he had used up all of the budget that Raj had allocated to his recruitment of new players. Fair enough but then in the next breath the excellent Jason Kennedy puts pen to paper.

Reading between the lines, the number and quality of players that Pools have signed all point to Raj and Craig Hignett having an agenda of making a genuine and realistic attempt of getting Hartlepool United out of this God-forsaken league. Close season I had my doubts, and like many I was once again, not unlike the previous season, more than disappointed when the club announced its retained list as in my view three or four more players should have been released. 

I began to question Pools' ambition for the 2019/20 season as I could not understand why Carl Magnay was apparently offered a new deal. A good player and a nice lad but on his own admission he did not want to play right back any more because of his lack of pace, much preferring to play in a central role, where we already have a surfeit of centre halves. Allied to this is his recent record of injuries which showed that, through no fault of his own, we were only getting half a season out of him. I know it sounds hard but surely freeing up his wage would allow someone else to come into the club. Worst-case scenario financially and from a playing point of view for the club, could possibly have seen both Magnay as well as Luke Williams in the treatment room for most, if not all of the of the season.
"At one point it seemed as if Pools were signing players on an hourly basis."

You could have knocked me sideways and bowled me over backwards when I read in the Mail that a certain midfielder had resigned. However when I re-read the piece I had obviously mistaken 're-signed' for 'resigned'. In light of the number of quality midfielders that we now have in the club I am wondering if Craig Hignett might be regretting his haste in re-signing this player.

Having been on holiday I only managed to get to the Billy Town and Macclesfield pre-season games but out of the new signings the two who have stood out so far are Gus Mafuta and Jason Kennedy. Mafuta has a physical presence. He has pace and something that our midfield has not had in many a year - he's a midfielder who will actually break up attacks as well as bring the ball forward, and he is not afraid of letting his opponents know that he is there. I am surprised that Salford actually let him go. I firmly believe that he will become a crowd favourite in time.

Kennedy only played in the second half of the game against Billy Town but in that short time he controlled the game without running round like a daft Alsatian and was involved with everything. That is called experience and the lad has shed-loads of it. Not once did he lose the ball. He was always available to give and receive a pass and linked up well with Liam Noble, even having a hand in one of the goals.

We seem to have a decent-sized squad blessed with central defenders and midfielders, so much so that when it was announced that Hawkes and Molyneux are likely to be out for the first few games of the new season, instead of that being a crisis, other players seamlessly slot in and take their places, which also offers competition for the shirt and reduces the chances of players feigning injury.

A problem area which looks as if steps have been taken to resolve is that of the man between the sticks. Scotty Loach was a fans' favourite who gave his all for the club but has now moved on. In truth I would have let him go in any event. Despite having the benefit of a goalkeeping coach at the club, the lad would rarely come off his line and preferred to punch a ball out rather than catch it. Loach was probably one of best shot stoppers in the league but in almost every game he would parry the ball back into play in a dangerous area, normally straight into the path of an on rushing opponent, with dire consequences in some cases. It was definitely time for a change. Ben Killip seems very assured but in truth, apart from videos of his time at Braintree, I have only seen him play twice and apart from one save he did not have anything to do in either match.

The left back position since Ritchie left the club has never been suitably filled but R.C Noble, who has signed for the rest of the season from Huddersfield Town, seems capable of addressing the problems in this area. Some of the main attributes needed at National League level are pace, physicality, height and aggression, things that Pools have lacked in abundance for many a season. Hignett seems to have taken this into account and hopefully we will not see Pools bullied, even on home turf, as they so often were last season. It will be good to see Pools dishing it out for a change both physically and vocally - Raynes and Mafuta spring to mind.

Pools also need to be more savvy re opponents' time-wasting and play acting and need to be in the ref's ear more often, in the manner of Liam Noble.

My main area of concern is the forward line as we do not have a natural instinctive goalscorer. Hopefully I am wrong but I am sure that James, Kabamba, Muir and Toure will all chip in but I would be surprised if any of them reach double figures. Once again I think the goals will come via the midfield or, if he is fit, Luke Williams.

You know, it just could be our season.

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We Won't Have a Better Chance


Well here is another season almost upon us and we will never have a better chance to get out of this jumpers-for-goalposts league than this season.

The teams we are competing with look strictly average and it has to be said the squad looks infinitely better than last season. It looks like it has a lot more height, pace and power than in previous seasons and a nice blend of youth and experience. Probably four players kept on from last season who we do not need, ie Xavi, Anderson, Catterick and Kitching and it would have been nice if Andrew Taylor and Dimi Konstantopoulos had been given places in the squad to make us even stronger. That being said, our owner has done very well to get the players in the squad that we have got. Mr Singh is doing s wonderful job and has turned the club around in a short space of time.

The ground is looking in good shape again and the new strip looks very smart and is a change from the usual stripes. Maybe this will bring some better luck and see us pushing for a top seven place. There does not appear to be an outstanding team to worry us and I am sure some of our new signings will turn out to be among the top players in this league. And we have Liam Noble and Luke Williams from last season to bring their talent to the team.
"There does not appear to be an outstanding team to worry us and I am sure some of our new signings will turn out to be among the top players in this league."

Manager Craig Hignett looks to have strengthened our midfield so much that he is now spoilt for choice. After looking for a midfield destroyer for years he has landed Gus Mafuta who looks ideally suited for the role. After promotion last year with Salford, who would bet against him doing it again this year with Pools? I for one can't wait to see him bossing the midfield. With four strikers all looking to add goals from the off and with the two Lukes, Molyneux and Williams ready to step in, realistically we should not be short of goals. Our new keeper looks very capable and is certainly no worse than Scott Loach, Although it would be nice to have Dimi in competition for a place between the sticks.

The number of season tickets taken up is very encouraging and in response to the quality of the new arrivals at The Vic this summer. With the games coming thick and fast in the first few months of the season a good start to the season is essential, and once you get the momentum who knows where it can take us.

Put it this way: if we don't finish in at least the top seven I will be very surprised and disappointed.

Come on you Pools.

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Looks Good...


As MB comes out, the wagons are set to roll. And I’ve not known such optimism for a long time. We’ve come a long way since those dark days two years ago. Raj has certainly given his support to Craig Hignett and we can only hope that the new signings bear fruit.

All of the signings - whether permanent or on loan - should contribute to a promotion challenging season. We’ve a new goalie who comes with a very good reputation; Michael Raynes and Romoney Crichlow-Noble will make for a stronger defence; Gime Toure and Luke Molyneux should add to a midfield that hopefully creates chances and wins the ball in breaking down attacks by our opponents. And in midfield in looks as though we’ll finally see Luke Williams. How we could have done with him last season. And then in attack we’ve signed on a permanent basis Nicke Kabamba and brought in Augustin Mafuta. All of this means two things - firstly, there’s competition for places and secondly we might be able to plug a weakness that had bedevilled us for the past two seasons, namely that we’ve been exposed when opposing teams break out of defence. It also means that we’ll have a decent bench.

Even though there’s optimism it's still not going to be easy getting out of this league. Notts County were identified as a club who would immediately mount a challenge but their financial problems might rule this out. I would expect Chesterfield to mount a more serious challenge this season.

In terms of the National League generally, I cannot for the life of me see why the play-off final has to be played at Wembley. At the end of last season, AFC Fylde and Salford City attracted the vast total of 8,049 spectators – would it not have been easier on the spectators to have allocated a smaller ground nearer to two north-west clubs? Even though a lot of Poolies would disagree with me, I wouldn’t fancy travelling down to Wembley. Far better to allocate a suitable ground when the finalists are known and printing the tickets could be done in 24 hours and then dispatched to the clubs by courier. But all that’s too easy – so to avoid all the nonsense, Pools, get automatic promotion for heavens’s sake!!
"We’ve come a long way since those dark days two years ago."

Mind you, the National League aren’t the only ones who mess things up. The silver medal (assuming the National League gets the bronze) goes to the English Football League. On Saturday, 11th May, they staged three play-off games: Derby v Leeds, Aston Villa v West Brom (Championship) and Sunderland v Portsmouth (League One). The Villa v West Brom game kicked off at 12:30pm (presumably before the pubs opened). Derby v Leeds kicked off at 5.15pm and Sunderland v Portsmouth kicked off at 7.30pm. This late kick off would have precluded Portsmouth fans from getting home by train. Could the Sunderland v Portsmouth game not have kicked off at 3pm? Another case of fans being short-changed.

The gold medal for stupidity, however goes to UEFA. Why on earth drag two English teams to Madrid for the Champions League final? Again, why not wait until the finalists are known. As it was, ticket prices, air fares and hotel accommodation rates went through the roof. The exploitation that took place must have surely made Mafia godfathers seem reasonable and compassionate people. But what took the biscuit was the choice of Baku in Azerbaijan to stage the Chelsea v Arsenal game. No wonder lots of supporters refused to travel to one of the most inaccessible places in Europe. Aren’t I glad I support Pools!!

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Mike Ashley faces big business problems with a large tax bill, his acquisition of House of Fraser having not gone well, and little progress in his intended sale of Newcastle United.
From a suggestion by Shedrick.
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Weird Hair


In the days long before egomaniacs with weird hair like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump were trashing our ideas of the way public figures ought to behave, the world was a much simpler place ...until someone with weird hair and erratic behaviour came along about twenty years ago, someone who could well have been a role model for those two esteemed* gentlemen.

Now, in the first weeks of Boris Johnson's prime-ministership, it is instructive to read what was being said about the early days in the public eye of ...George Reynolds.

Twenty years on, we know that George's time in charge didn't go well either for him or for Darlo, and it would be interesting to know how people will view The Donald and Boris after two decades have passed.

* Esteemed by some though despised by others.

(This piece has lain in our files for a few years and we didn't know where it came from, but a bit of internet searching revealed it to be from from this month twenty years ago, and was from The Times, for which George Caulkin still writes on North-East football.)

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Dear Vicki

VICKI, our agony aunt, answers your problems

Dear Vicki,

I spent eight years in top-level management in London and have now secured a position managing my jolly old country's national team, despite having very few skills other than being a bit of a character. In securing that position I suggested that willpower and optimism can achieve anything, but now I'm not so sure that will be enough.

Have you any tips?
BJ, Downing Street, London
Dear BJ,

Management requires a complex mix of abilities. Willpower and optimism are obviously important, but also delegation, an eye for detail, an analytical mind, vision, and an ability to get on with people all come into it. You have to know when to praise people, when to criticise or even sack them, and you have to be able to foresee the results of your actions.

But the most important thing is to maintain respect, and to avoid what in football parlance is called "losing the dressing room". And a large part of achieving that is to always show dignity, like England manager Gareth Southgate. While things like wearing a smart three-piece suit and combing your hair won't keep you in a job, it may at least postpone the day when you get found out.

Dear Vicki,
I am a recently-retired, rather tall international footballer, and I am considering what to do with my retirement so wondered if you could give me some pointers. I'm not keen on football management or being a pundit, but I have some experience of doing podcasts and TV ads.
PC, Stoke-on-Trent
Dear PC,
There are lots of examples of footballers having separate careers outside of football. Mick Channon became a racehorse trainer, Francis Lee built a toilet roll business (though in his day football fans used to throw toilet rolls onto the pitch so that's perhaps where he got the idea!) And further back, Charlie Williams became a comedian. I'd just go with whatever interests you and before you know it, you may end up with a second career.

If you do continue down the celebrity TV ad route I'd avoid doing ones for potato crisps, however.

Dear Vicki,
I am a Spanish football club manager who has won lots of trophies with various clubs. Until recently I managed an English Premier league team, with whom I did wonders considering its owner's reluctance to provide funding for new players.

I am now managing in China for an exorbitant salary while my former employer is struggling to keep his business afloat due to tax liabilities, an ill-advised takeover, and being unable to sell the football club.

Would it be ungracious of me to gloat?
RB, Dalian, China
Dear RB,
Assuming your previous employer was a decent, hardworking businessman caught up in difficult conditions in a fast-changing world, then yes, gloating may not be very appropriate. However, ...
(Unfortunately the remainder of Vicky's reply was illegible - Ed.)


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The Bald Facts


It was great to hear that Pools are supporting minority groups. With the signing of Jason Kennedy Pools have their first balding, experienced midfield player in many a year. I think Paul Haig was the last follically-challenged midfielder that we have had.

Craig Wignett stated that Kennedy was keen to sign for Pools and that he is here for the long perm and won't be hair today and gone tomorrow, even though that is the case. Wignett added that Kennedy is a big strong lad who will brush his opponents aside and is head and shoulders the best midfielder at this level since Dan Druff.

At his previous club Kennedy was voted Player of the Year and was presented with a comb. In his acceptance speech he said he would never part with it. I guess it will become a family hairloom. He missed most of last season through injury due to a hair-line fracture.

(The words 'pot' and 'kettle' may come to the mind of anyone who has met this author - Ed.)

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A good friend of mine is shortly due to have an operation and he was told that he would have to have a tattoo put on his bowel as a marker to ensure the surgeon knew which part of the bowel to remove - I didn't believe this at first, either! My mate has a weird sense of humour and told the consultant that he'd never previously had a tattoo and so could he choose a design? The consultant went along with him. "What would you like?"

"Is it definitely going to going to be put on the inside of my bowel?"

"Yes, that is correct, the inside of your bowel."

"In that case, please can I have the Middlesbrough FC crest?"

I was half expecting my mate to tell me that the consultant was going to say "Sorry, but they have all been used up."


There was a photograph on the club website showing both Nicky Featherstone and Gavan Holohan modelling the new kit in the club shop. Someone pointed out that the one Featherstone was wearing was obviously targeting for the larger-sized prospective buyer, to give an idea of what an XXX large would look like.

With that in mind and in an effort to increase sales further, I would much prefer for the 2020/21 season strip to be launched not in the club shop but in a far more exotic landscape. Not only would I have the players modelling the kit but also the fans themselves, to show and give a true representation of what the strip would look in everyday real-life situations.

My first photo shoot would be on a tropical beach (Fish Sands will do) with a group of ageing grey-haired and balding (or both) Pools fans playing volleyball on the dogdirt-free beach to see how silly they look in a football top.

The next scene would see four or five fans leaning against the bar in their local, all with pints in their hands chatting away but in each case their shirts would be one size too small for them and we could see the skin-tight shirt stretching to bursting point from just below the sternum to the lower stomach, revealing in some cases, dare I say, lint-filled belly buttons.
"four or five fans leaning against the bar in their local, all with pints in their hands chatting away but in each case their shirts would be one size too small for them"

A snap involving the players is always a winner. I can visualise a group of them staring in disbelief at the sign in Verrills' window advising what the opening times are. Better still, how about a picture of a group of players with food stains on their new shirts, arguing as well as eating from carry-out boxes as they are leaving a takeaway ...Oh, I've just been informed that this has already been done, last season at Dover.


As we were leaving Bedford Terrace after the traditional pre-season bumper-pay-day match with Billy Town, Pools' second XI were about to begin their warming-down routine.

Liam Noble shouted across to Poolie photographer Frank Reid: "Hey, don't take any photographs of me running." Frank's brilliant quick-as-a-flash retort was: "I didn't get any of you running in the whole of the second half."

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700 years ago, Robert the Bruce, grandson of Robert de Brus, Lord of Hartlepool, became King of Scotland and fought against the English for Scotland’s independence.

After losing one battle he had to hide in a cave for three months until a spider’s example made him realise that if at first you don’t succeed you should try, try and try again.

Which is what he did …subsequently sending the English packing!

700 years later, Geordie Bruce, possibly also a descendant of the Lord of Hartlepool, was offered a position as servant to the penny-pinching Lord of Newcastle, Michael de Ashley. This was to succeed Sir Rafa following his departure to the Orient (the real one, not the one darn sarf!)

Geordie went for a quiet think in his dusty shed and pondered on whether or not to take the position, knowing that getting money out of His Lordship would be next to impossible.

Then he looked up and saw a spider on its web in the corner and he was, like Robert the Bruce before him, inspired to tell himself (and the spider) that he would try, try and try again, and he would get more money out of His Lordship, and so he accepted the job anyway.

And the spider simply said “Pillock!”

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Any Other Business


So, some of the non-performers have left, a lot of new players have arrived and Luke Williams has even played half an hour in a Pools shirt (scoring a goal) and we have a team that inspires confidence of a fruitful season to come.

Of course we have similar confidence every season at this time, and a few weeks later the doubts creep in.

Pre-season friendlies are little more than public kickabouts really. There are too many variables in there to conclude anything. The wholesale changes mid-match, the frequently mis-matched opposition, the large number of trialists who may never be seen again and the lack of competitive-match pressure all combine to render them useless as a clue to how things will go when the season starts. Yet we latch on to the 17 goals in the first three games and conveniently justify the sloppy goals conceded against better opposition because we "won't face that quality in our league".

However, this is what we Poolies (and probably all footy fans) do. Hope for better, but wear rose-coloured glasses.

So let's just enjoy the next few days and hope that they turn into enjoyable months, and especially an enjoyable April and, failing that, an enjoyable May.

I was in a park in Darlington a few weeks back and saw two people wearing football shirts, both of them Boro ones, and I felt annoyed on Darlo's behalf.

Could that be because Darlo are now irrelevant to Poolies and thus to be pitied rather than hated, or because we non-league clubs have common cause against league clubs (well, for now at least), or perhaps because Boro have always been one of the most boring clubs in the country, or could it just be because hating Boro is the natural order of things for Poolies?

Open Day 2019 at the Vic

The recent predicaments of Bolton Wanderers, Bury and Notts County will make fans of all clubs who have gone though what we did say "Not again", but at least the Football League seems to be doing something at long last. 

The problem is that businesses facing problems like those that Rover and BHS did, which no end of football clubs have also done, all need a fairly quick takeover to avoid liquidation, and time is never available for regulatory authorities to do thorough investigations, even if they have the resources to do so.

The reality is that people who really shouldn't be owners will probably always be able to exploit the desperation of the fans and owners of failing football clubs because investigation time is what they haven't got.

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The Hard Work Now Begins


Well, that’s another season over. No relegation scares but plenty of improvements to be made. Strange how we can play like Barcelona against the top teams yet play like a pub side against the lower placed clubs. So a need for some kind of consistency then. 

Against Salford City last week, Pools’ second half performance was one of the finest I’ve seen all season. There was even a certain amount of arrogance as Pools sprayed the ball about – backwards, forwards and in a straight line across the pitch. How we enjoyed it.

So it now comes to the retained list. How should it shape up?

Scott Loach: Has to be retained. Without him, we might have been facing relegation.
Mark Kitchen: Definitely coming on. Keeps going for the whole game.
Gavan Holohan: A good find. Keep him on.
Peter Kioso: Maintained his good start and will only get better.
David Edgar: Never took any risks but a good stop gap. Probably will seek another club.
Liam Noble: Good ball winner but distribution a bit wayward at times. Keep him.
Nicky Featherstone: Probably epitomises Pools’ inconsistency. When on song, Pools are brilliant.
Luke Molyneaux: A good loan signing. An integral part of Craig Hignett’s attacking approach. Shame he’ll probably be seeking a Football League club. But try and get him.
Nicke Kabamba: A fantastic loan signing. Lays the ball off well and more often than not is in the right place at the right time. Get him signed on.
Ryan Donaldson: Looks to have got better after given the captaincy. Many of the attacks on the right start with him.
Luke James: Now starting to find the net. A good striking partner for Nicke Kabamba. Slowly getting back to the player we knew before signing for Peterborough.
Carl Magnay: A difficult choice as to whether to retain him. Has been injured for much of the time.
"Strange how we can play like Barcelona against the top teams yet play like a pub side against the lower placed clubs."

In terms of incoming signings , we need a centre half. Could Michael Raynes return to Pools on a permanent basis? Certainly shows leadership qualities at the heart of the defence. The squad a it stands is paper thin and we might need further signings to cover injuries and suspensions.

So far as Salford City are concerned, I would have expected their supporters to have filled the Rink End given a remote possibility of guaranteed promotion. Despite having a reputation for being money bags, they could be built on shaky foundations. Their association with ex- Manchester United players certainly makes them a target for the cynics. Some Poolies even hope they get promotion through the play-offs on the basis that its good riddance to them.

Anyway, enjoy the close season and come back refreshed. Don’t get too stressed out being dragged round shops.

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Old Pals' Act


Thankfully we are at the end of another season of inglorious failure which our manager justifies by saying "Halfway or thereabouts is what we were looking for."
If he cares to look at the final league table he will see we finished in 17th place - our lowest league position in the club's history.

With one of the most unfit squads it has been my displeasure to watch we ended up coming second best to teams of part-timers who looked infinitely more fit than our bunch of talentless losers. Indeed our first manager of the season Mathew Bates thought 70 minutes training a day was sufficient for our lot. No wonder we ran out of steam.

Giving Bates the job was a massive mistake and a case of not what you know. Likewise the case of Raj Singh bringing in his mate Craig Hignett, first as director of football and then manager. Not forgetting that when Bates was in charge he brought in his two mates Ged McNamee and Ross Turnbull who are still at the club with no signs of improvement forthcoming.

The idea of the Old Pals Act and jobs for the boys has been rife at Victoria Park for far too long now, well before Mr Singh took over and we really need to look a bit further away even though when we did for a manager Richard Money we got our fingers burned. Most people agreed with giving him the job but it seems that his time as a football manager was long gone which is a pity because in his prime would have been a real asset to the club.

The jury is certainly still out on his successor Hignett who hardly shone at the job first time around and is still liable to make some baffling decisions. His worst one was bringing Conor Newton on at left back to see out a game only for us to concede two goals in the last three minutes to lose the game. And the form in the last five games when it was back to the bad old days until we overcame the ten men of Salford in the final game. In these we saw Xavi starting every game with Josh Hawkes, Liam Noble and Gavan Holohan sitting on the bench.

Hignett keeps spouting off that he wants to get a tall midfielder, who is mobile and can tackle yet plays the little fat feller as an ever present with the obvious results. Hignett certainly needs some back up or preferably goes back upstairs if Mr Singh can't get rid of him. I would like to see someone like Darrell Clarke or Gary Bowyer or Keith Hill given the job.
"Hignett must take this chance to clear the deadwood and not just get rid of the odd player here and there."

I welcome the move to give Antony Sweeney more responsibility and would make him first team coach or assistant manager. I believe he has a big future in coaching and we may have a gem right under our noses. No mention yet of season ticket prices for next season which will no doubt take a bit of selling with the dross we have on show. And the £20 charge for pay on the day needs to be looked at. We are Hartlepool not bloody Liverpool as Tommy Widdrington would say.

At the time of writing the retained list has not yet been announced and once this has been revealed we will have a good idea of what to expect for next season. Hignett must take this chance to clear the deadwood and not just get rid of the odd player here and there. For the record these are the players I would release:
Scott Loach,
Kenton Richardson,
Ryan Catterick,
Carl Magnay,
Myles Anderson,
Mark Kitching,
Ryan Donaldson,
Conor Newton,
Paddy McLoughlin,
Lewis Hawkins,
Jake Cassidy.

Of the loan players I would try and sign Nicke Kabamba and Luke Molyneux. Obviously the money will be tighter next season with the parachute payment gone and the Academy to be closed down which is not a bad thing while we are still in this jumpers-for-goalposts league. There will be any number of players looking for clubs this summer and it is hoped we have some decent ones sorted out. Because more than one more season in this league doesn't bear thinking about. Leyton Orient managed it this season without spending a fortune but they had two experienced men in charge, Justin Edinburgh and Martin Ling. 

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