August 05, 2011

Season Tickets

POOLIE IN NOTTINGHAM owns up



Despite the lack of an international tournament this summer, the close (or is it closed?) season seemed to pass pretty quickly this year thanks to the superb season ticket offer. The internet message boards were alive with debate – there were those who thought we would sell them out, and there were those who thought we would struggle to shift 3000. In the end it was the optimists who would triumph, with lines of buyers stretching from the ticket office down the length of Clarence Road during the last week preceding the offer deadline.

Us Poolies have enjoyed the most stable period in our history under the stewardship of IOR, and the season ticket offer has been the cherry on the cake. Despite many Poolies drifting away in the last few seasons, the club stuck their collective cock on the block, and more or less issued a ‘take it or leave it’ call to the good folk of Hartlepool.

At one point it looked as if the magical target of 4000 wouldn’t be reached, but a media masterstroke from the club (capping the price at £150 no matter how many were sold) saw the tipping point, and soon every Tom, Dick, Harry and Sheila took their place in the queue outside the Vic.

Everyone at the club deserves praise for the offer – from those at the top who came up with the idea and pulled the media strings, the ticket office staff who worked their socks off during the rush, and those who did all the running about behind the scenes to make sure nowt went wrong.

Quite rightly, Pools have received praise in the national media for what appears to have been a very successful ‘experiment’. Someone with a calculator and an afternoon off work worked out that around 5,500 tickets sold at a reduced rate would almost equal the sales of around 1500 at full price. And that doesn’t take into account the extra revenue from food/beer/programme/stuff from the club shop which should follow. "I don't think there can be many Poolies over the age of 30 who have never cheated Pools out of the full entry price in some way"

Perhaps most importantly, IOR are sowing the seeds of Pools amongst the young ‘uns, who are force-fed an alternative footballing reality which is televised, money-soaked, artificial, and detached. For the price of a replica shirt of a Premiershit team with some prima-donna’s name ironed onto the back, a whole generation of young Poolies will get to be part of a proper footballing experience, one in which your comments can be heard by the players on the pitch, in which they will watch players who may well have gone to the same school as them, or lived next door to their nana.

The news of the offer broke shortly before my second son Ross was born, and when he dropped onto the maternity bed I immediately thought of getting a season ticket for him, along with me and his older brother Ewan. Although I don’t plan to take him to a match for a couple of years yet, the ticket will be a smart memento for him to look back on when he is an older Poolie.

Plus, I wanted the purchase to generate some publicity for the club. Hats off to the Pools press officer Mark Simpson, who agreed that it was precisely the sort of thing that would fill column inches. His press release did the job, with the story featuring prominently in the Hartlepool Mail, and even getting a mention in the People. Talksport rang me up to interview me, and allowed me to plug the offer in return for a bit of piss-taking banter.

But as well as sentimentality and obtaining media coverage for the club, there was another reason why I forked out 50 bar on a season ticket which isn’t going to get used.

You see, for over 20 years I've been harbouring a guilty secret about ripping Pools off. You need to cast your mind back to when Pools didn’t have a pot to piss in, and the Cyril Knowles stand wasn’t built. Where it now stands was a collection of temporary buildings, one of which was a kind of ‘reception’ where players, officials and other important people would enter the ground.

As a teenager, my mate Scott used to be in the 'Junior Blues', which was a club for young Poolies. As part of the membership, you got given a card which would allow you into matches for half of the regular child's price, provided you went into the ground through the reception area and paid the old gadgie on the door. Laminated onto Scott's card was a small, grainy, black and white passport photo which was pretty unrecognisable. The old gadgie on the door never looked at it - Scott would just say "Junior Blues", flash the card, and hand over the money.

So our matchday ritual was that Scott would go in first, then meet me at the exit gates at the end of the Rink End. He would pass the card under the gate, then I would go and use it. Scott was right - the old gadgie didn't really look at it. After a few times I wouldn't even bother flashing the card, and on one occasion Scott didn't attend so I just walked through, said "Junior Blues", and paid my reduced fare. This went on for a couple of seasons, until I got too tall and old-looking to risk trying to pass myself off as a Junior Blue.

I don't think there can be many Poolies over the age of 30 who have never cheated Pools out of the full entry price in some way - it used to be very easy to jump over/crawl under the fence, some of the gate stewards and turnstile operators were very easy to bribe, and there has always been a large number of complimentary tickets floating around, which some enterprising soul would sell you at a reduced rate. Then there's the simple procedure of paying in via the kids turnstile, even though you are 16 or older. It still doesn't make what I did right though, and hopefully I have restored my karma.

Thankfully for Pools, the ground was much improved under the reign of Harold Hornsey and continued with IOR - hopefully this led to less 'leakage' of gate money. Now that Pools have all the season ticket money up front, there is little room for fans to cheat their way into the ground. Who knows – if the council ever get round to selling the ground to IOR, we might see some of those fancy barcode-reader operated turnstiles as seen at Leeds and MK Dons. There’s absolutely no way you can wave a bit of card at one of those laser scanners and bluff your way in. I should know - I’ve tried it!