I'm a Lot Happier Now


says CENTRAL PARK


Well, as the great Max Miller used to say ‘it doesn’t take much to bring me back’.


Five wins in a row, (three of them away), and my writer’s block just crumbled away. I have been pretty pessimistic about our prospects since before the season began and the early results just deepened the gloom. Not even listening to the ‘Boro Hour’ could raise my spirits. I’m sure the medical profession would scoff at the notion that football results could make you ill but during the early part of the season I definitely suffered a general feeling of malaise that I just couldn’t shift. Any little twinges or aches seemed to be magnified and I wasn’t my usual happy go lucky, easy to get on with, self. (You can imagine what my school attendance and general demeanour and outlook in the sixties, seventies and eighties were like).

However there is no denying the fact that my spirits soared after the game against Plymouth. Truth be told we were under considerable pressure before Jack Compton was sent off and with a little bit of luck and better finishing by Plymouth we could have been two goals behind before Jack went for the early bath. However, even as he was trudging off I did not feel that we were bound to lose, although I did feel that a win would probably be beyond us. This was in marked contrast to earlier in the season when in similar circumstances I would have been expecting a rout. "Then when we scored a second before half time I still thought ‘another sickener on the way – we’ll manage to lose from being two up'"

I came away from the Plymouth match not just in a good humour at a win, but with my spirits raised at the way in which the team went about the whole business of dealing with the situation that they had found themselves in. They played with concentration, courage and a self belief that has not been evident for some considerable time. It was obvious from the way that the crowd responded to the effort and desire being shown that this was an exceptional performance. Of course, as the manager said, it would not be reasonable to expect the team to now take all before them and storm to the top of the division, but there are certainly strong grounds for believing that they have it within them to achieve a respectable position (by which I mean a top ten place) by the end of the season.

So, what sequence of events led to this state of comparative bliss?

Feeling thoroughly despondent after the Oxford game and operating more on auto pilot than any anticipation of an enjoyable afternoon I settled down to listen to dear old Ivan commentate on the Mansfield match. I was expecting an afternoon of mayhem being dished out by a much stronger and ‘more physical’ team. Even when we took the lead I was not optimistic that we would retain it. Then when we scored a second before half time I still thought ‘another sickener on the way – we’ll manage to lose from being two up’. When the third went in I cheered up thinking – ‘well, at least we are in with a chance of a point.’ Their penalty went in to make it 3-1 to us then, to add to my forebodings, either Ivan or his able assistant Nick (a W. Barrington Dalby in the making if he can only get the voice right) had to go and mention that we had once been 3-1 up at Mansfield in the recent past, only to lose 3-4.

That did it as far as any possible enjoyment was concerned despite us scoring a fourth goal. Even in injury time (I know, it sounds a little old fashioned but that’s just the way I am, so it will always be injury time to me) I was longing for the final whistle. Eventually there it was an away victory against the team that was third top of the division. I casually sauntered downstairs and hung around waiting for my good lady wife to ask how they had got on (something that she always asks straightaway when we have lost) and when she did I was able to make the grand announcement.

Discussing the game with a friend we came to the conclusion that fluke results happen in football and that is one of the great attractions of the game. No result is 100% guaranteed and the occasional upset is what keeps the punters coming, no doubt order would be restored when we played Sheffield United on the Tuesday. But no, a well deserved 1-0 win for us saw a second Sheffield United manager lose his job because of defeat against lowly Hartlepool in just a few years. Could this be the start of a great revival? Don’t be silly, Sheffield United are bottom of their division, you’re just getting carried away. However by the day before the game at Exeter, another team now in third place in the division, I cheerfully told one of my friends that I fully expected us to win. (As I said at the outset, it doesn’t take much to bring me back).

Would you believe it? A trip to Exeter and once again Ivan and Nick brought us glad tidings of great joy, another three goal win and a standing ovation from the home fans for Luke James as he left the pitch. Corner turned, we are now on the up. Just a minute though, we now have two home games in four days and our record so far is: played 5, won 1, lost 4. The first of these tests was against Plymouth when in all honesty we, ‘got away with it’, as described above. Now, what about Wimbledon? I have to say that I thought a two goal margin flattered us. Wimbledon played well throughout and wouldn’t let us get on and play how we like to. Nevertheless the team stuck to its task and ground out a win by dint of hard work and two excellent goals. We even had the crowd singing ‘We are unbeatable’ with a conviction that I had not heard since that one and only visit to the pit of despair along the A66.

How on earth has there been such a transformation in the team’s results and my expectations in such a short time? Well the manager did keep saying that he had a good squad and that he had confidence that we would soon be producing better results. There didn’t seem to be much support for that idea on the terraces that I could hear as most of us were convinced that we were on our way out of the football league. Could it be that a man who had played 606 league games and had played twice for England could know more than the experts of the Town End and the Cyril Knowles Stand? No that couldn’t be it. That would mean we would have to accept that somebody knows more about football than we do, and we’re not having that. The bad run must have been because somebody forgot to wear his lucky socks or some such. Well you know how irrational some football fans can be when it comes to supporting their team.

They will do almost anything no matter how daft it might seem if they have persuaded themselves that it will have an effect on the result of a game. For instance one well known medical man, not a million miles from Hartlepool United, wore the same pair of 'lucky' underpants throughout the 22 match unbeaten run under Danny Wilson. There again I wore my ‘lucky shirt’ to every home game last season, and much good it did us.

As I have said before, I don’t really believe in the mumbo jumbo of star signs and omens and such (especially in the hours of daylight) but I can’t really come up with a rational explanation as to what has happened.

There is however one coincidence that I can’t help pointing out and that is this: both performances and actual results improved dramatically when Craig Hope left his job with the Hartlepool Mail to seek his fortune elsewhere. I wish the lad every success in his endeavours and hope that he is so successful that he never needs to report on Hartlepool United again. Not that I believe in such nonsense of course.