January 03, 2014

Howard's End

Howard's End


by E M FORSTER ALAN ESSEX


Well, it had to end and after a torrid second spell at Hartlepool. Big Steve Howard has departed. A mutual agreement is the official line – all rather sad really considering the high expectations when he returned in July 2012. 3 goals in 42 league appearances was not what then manager Neale Cooper was after and ultimately cost them both their jobs. 

I remember Steve Howard when he first arrived at Hartlepool United from Tow Law Town in 1995. He stayed 3½ years scoring 32 goals from 164 appearances, nearly a goal every 5 games, not bad considering he often was played in midfield and even at centre half on some occasions. Pools then struggling in the 4th tier of English football finished 20th, 20th and 17th in his 3 full seasons – he was very consistent scoring 7 league goals in each of those seasons.

I know many people were surprised when he moved on to Northampton then in the 3rd tier for £120,000, a tidy sum back then. Northampton made the play offs (1998) but lost in the final to Grimsby Town. The following season Northampton were relegated back to the 4th tier – relegation following a play off – who would have believed that!
"...this time the fee being a massive one and a half million pounds! Yes, one and a half million, it’s a lot – count it. "
Steve was then on his travels again, his destination Luton Town. This was in March 2001 with Luton doing badly in the 3rd tier, eventually being relegated to the 4th tier. Interestingly, Joe Kinnear was their manager. Steve stayed at Luton for over 5 years scoring 103 goals in 228 appearances, a goal in just over every 2 games – a great return. In his first full season at Luton they came 2nd and were automatically promoted back to the 3rd tier. One game that stays in my memory is the 3-2 defeat at Kenilworth Road on a glorious summer's afternoon at the end of August. After 23 minutes Pools were 3 down. Steve Howard had scored 2 and had a hand in the other. In the 2004 / 5 season Luton finished top of the division on 98 points, 12 clear of nearest rivals Hull City and therefore gaining a place in the Championship. In retrospect it’s interesting to see the different paths these two clubs have taken.

During the close season of 2006 Steve moved to Derby County for a million pounds. This was probably the peak of Steve’s career, Derby finishing 3rd in the Championship and promoted via the playoffs to the Premiership. The following season however was to be dire for Derby, winning just one Premiership game and being mathematically relegated in March. Steve did have the pleasure of scoring at Old Trafford in the 4-1 defeat to Manchester United, Steve’s only goal of the season. Mind, they only scored a total of 19 and one of those was an own goal! In all he scored 20 goals from 73 appearances.

In January 2008 following one loan appearance as a substitute Steve was transferred to Leicester City, this time the fee being a massive one and a half million pounds! Yes, one and a half million, it’s a lot – count it.

Leicester city were then in the Championship but had won just 5 games by the time Steve arrived. They managed another 7 victories that season finishing 22nd and were relegated to the 3rd tier for the first time in their history. This was to be a brief stay at this level, being promoted as champions, Steve netting twice at the Vic in a 2-2 draw. They made the play offs as well, losing on penalties to Cardiff City in the semi final stage.

After a poor start to the 2010 / 11 season Sven Goran-Eriksson was appointed manager and he was quoted as saying “Steve reminds me of Vieri. Strong, but clever at the same time.” Eriksson had managed Christian Vieri at Lazio 12 years previously, before his then world-record £32  million move to Inter Milan. Leicester finished 10th. The following season they finished 9th but Steve had only made 4 starts, scoring once.

Which brings Steve back to Hartlepool – the big name forward from whom so much was expected, and for a club with limited resources so much was invested. In his time away he had scored 10 goals in 10 matches against Pools. If only he could be convinced he was playing against us we would have been invincible. A brief loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship (where he scored one goal in 8 appearances) failed to result in a permanent transfer. His contract meant he returned to Pools for the current campaign but it didn’t work out.

I for one wish him well for the future and thank him for his contribution to Pools history – it’s good to see an ex roofer and road worker do well in the football world and give others the hope to the dream of what can be achieved.

His leaving has been said to release some funds for future loan signings should they be required. Now where can we get an experienced, proven target man with a decent goal scoring reputation?