Ticking Boxes


Just for a treat and to see how the other half live my mate and myself availed ourselves of the special discounted price to savour the hospitality of the Michael Maidens lounge for the cup tie against Kidsgrove Athletic.

In reality we were on a reconnaissance mission. We normally stand on the Town end terrace and what with our advancing years and creaking knees and feeling the cold as well as not being able to hear the Tannoy announcements we thought it was a good opportunity to suss out the Cyril Knowles stand for future reference.

I think it prudent to plan in advance and much like choosing the care home that you wish to spend your final years in, equal consideration should be given to the important decision of which stand in the Vic you would prefer to sit in the autumn of your life. My preferred choice is the Cyril Knowles stand as the toilets are quicker to get to than those in the Mill House side. Let's be brutally honest here, watching Pools has aged many of us much quicker than we would have liked.

We didn't get off to the best of starts as the steward on the gate was unable to find our names on the guest list. Turned out they were the first names on the top of his clipboard but the clip had obscured them.

I had hardly sat down and was just getting stuck into the complimentary match day programme when a member of the bar staff took our orders ...and orders must be obeyed at all times so a pint of Strongarm and a pint of Venezuelan goat's urine (Fosters where I come from) were shortly plonked in front of us.

Prior to having my meal I had a bit wander round to savour the ambience of the surroundings ...basically I was going to have a bit of a nose.

Considering that the Michael Maidens lounge, along with the corporate boxes, are in basically a giant Portakabin, it is none the less very impressive: clean and well laid out with many framed photographs in the corridor of the great and the good who once donned the blue and white of Pools. Try as I may, I could not see a photo of David Jones anywhere, not even in the toilets.

The lounge itself was packed with around fifty people but surprisingly only two of the six corporate boxes were occupied. In passing my mate mentioned this to the CEO Mark Maguire when he popped in and he suggested that consideration should be given to reviewing the pricing structure or to offer special one-off promotions to fill these boxes.

Last season most of the boxes were permanently empty and at one point the club were selling raffle tickets in an effort to fill them. Even if the boxes were offered at a heavily discounted rate surely to a club like Pools one percent of something is better than one hundred percent of nothing. The hospitality side would probably generate more revenue on the increased sales of alcohol/half time lottery tickets just by having more fans in the boxes in the first place. The CEO said that he would look into it. Watch this space.

One of the sponsors at our table told us that his employer had to ring the club's commercial department on several occasions, almost begging them to send them an invoice so they could pay for the outstanding sponsorship which had already been provided. Some things never change.

The meal on the day was chicken curry, rice and a poppadom. Very tasty. I asked the girl who was serving what other option there was, if, like my wife, you do not like chicken. I was told that they had vegetables in one of the sponsors' boxes, which were available on request.

Prior to kick off our friendly bar maid/person/serving wench/pump operative/hostess asked if we would like to order some drinks for half time. Although I was on Strongarm and my mate was drinking what was loosely termed as lager, neither of us were impressed by the quality of what we had quaffed. Could be down to the pumps only being used every second or third week. Who knows?

I asked one of the lads on our table what it was that he was drinking as it looked like a pint of mild. He told me it was Guinness. I could not see Guinness on the pumps and he said it was from one of those pressured cans and very kindly let me a sip. Having just come back from Ireland it was light years away from what a pint of 'Yer man' should taste like. Based on this my pal and I put in an order for a pot of tea.

Kick off:
One of the advantages of being in the sponsors' lounge is that you don't have to stand/sit in the cold and can take your reserved seat in the Cyril Knowles just before the game kicks off. The main problem with being sat in the CK stand is the setting sun (Not sure if it sets due west but for the purpose of this piece let's just say it drops somewhere behind the Raby Road area) and nearly everyone has to shield their eyes. From the Town End it looks as if the occupants of the CK stand are all en-masse saluting, U.S Navy style. This is another commercial opportunity missed. Mark Maguire, in order to protect the fans' eyes from damage and UV rays, needs to get someone from the club shop, much like the role of the ice cream lady in a theatre, with a tray of baseball caps for sale, or at the very least for hire. Better still, to save the expense of paying someone to do this job, and taking another example from the theatre, the baseball caps could be installed in a dispenser much like opera glasses behind each seat and issued when a coin is inserted into a slot. Thought should be given to including some rose tinted spectacles within the same dispenser.

We were sat directly behind the Pools dug out and apart from a quick word with the fourth official concerning an industrial tackle on Luke James and much later an even quicker word with Ged McNamee, we never heard a squeak or saw any animation from Matthew Bates. Mind, in Bates' defence, owing to the way Pools were playing, he was probably, like most other people in the ground, he was probably in a comatose state.

Several of us were debating the manager's tactics. We could not ascertain, with all the side-to-side, backward and going-nowhere-in-particular passing that was being employed, if we were trying to tire Kidsgrove out or just bore them to death.

Half time:
Even before the referee had blown the whistle for half time most fans with a weak bladder had made a sprint that Usain Bolt would have been proud of to the loo's, which enabled me to have first dabs of the packet of assorted biscuits that was laid out on the table. The jam cream was mine!

It has to be said that the tea was on a different level altogether. It certainly was stronger and tastier than the alcohol that I had had earlier. A revelation really when one considers that both were made with water from Hartlepool.

Second half:
In the past I have mentioned that the view you get of the game from the side of the ground is totally different from that which you see from behind the goal. For a start you can see how the teams are set up - surprisingly, Pools line up in a 3-5-2 formation, whoever would have thought that?

The other thing that you can see when the sun is not in your eyes is how well or how badly players are performing. This theory was put in doubt when, forty minutes into the game, I sent a text to one of my pals in my usual haunt the Town End, asking him if the game looked as bad from where he was stood as it was from our vantage point in the Cyril Knowles. Much worse was the reply.
"Let's be brutally honest here, watching Pools has aged many of us much quicker than we would have liked."

Full time:
I did not leave my seat and stayed back, not to applaud the team that I have supported for nearly 50 years but for the plucky part-time underdogs The Grove, who at worst should have earned themselves a replay, let alone progressed through to the next round.

Back in the lounge a fair number of people were sat comfortably at their tables halfway through their pints and I could not work out if they had left their seats in the Cyril Knowles stand well before the final whistle to grab a drink or even if they had actually bothered to come out to watch the second half at all. Just goes to show how Pools can drive you to drink.

The main topic of conversation on our table was Pools' poor performance on the day but as my mate in ultra-positive mode correctly pointed out,  we should look at the positives.

1 It was the result and not the performance that counted.

2 Progressing to the next round earned Pools £25,000, which, if nothing else, should cover Louise Laing's contract payoff.

3 The other bonus was that we are in the hat/bowl for the draw of the next round of the cup and who knows, we could making our way up to the Stadium of Light. If he only knew. If he only knew. Bloody Gillingham.

Our trolley dolly sans trolley asked us what we would like to drink.This time we decided that we would give the cider a shout. Not a bad shout either, but I am cannot recall if it was Stowford's or Stow-on-the-Wold or Toe-in-the-Hole cider so I am unable to recommend it.

Overall a very enjoyable day - only spoilt by the football.

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Still on the right lines


Although we didn’t beat Wrexham on Tuesday night, we still emerged with credit. Despite going down to ten men for most of the game, Wrexham could only win 1-0.

After the game, our record read as follows:

Home: Played 9 Won 3 Drawn 4 Lost 2
Away: Played 9 Won 4 Drawn 3 Lost 2

When you consider what it was like just under a year ago, then you’ll realise how far we’ve come – both on and off the field. Its not going to be easy to get out of this league and its suggested that Raj Singh has a three year plan. Wrexham give us some idea of the difficulties involved. They were relegated to the National League at the end of the 2007-08 season and are now making promotion a realistic possibility. Once the foundations have been laid, there’s no reason to be overawed by League 2. Tranmere and Lincoln aren’t doing too badly are they? A look at the current National League table reveals just how badly Chesterfield are doing. Know the feeling!!

Speaking of Wrexham, how many of you remember the home game on Saturday, 5th March 2005? Wrexham came to Pools as certs for relegation but what a surprise we got. It all looked good when Gavin Strachan scored an early goal but what followed shocked everyone. Wrexham ran out 6-4 winners, with Juan Ugarte scoring five of them. I think it was one occasion when Neale Cooper was lost for words. Wonder what odds the bookies would have offered for that score?

"A look at the current National League table reveals just how badly Chesterfield are doing. Know the feeling!!"
Two matters are of concern the National League. The first is referees and nearly every time you go on social network there’s always complaints about the whistlers. I have my own theories – first is that they lack experience and, secondly, they’re a bag of nerves when officiating in front of what for them are large crowds. Its something the National League will need to address and I’m sure that supporters of other teams will have their gripes as well.

The other concern is reported violence at the end of Salford City’s home games. There were reports of crowd trouble after the Pools game and when they played Braintree. After the latter game, the Braintree chairman found it necessary to intervene. Hope it stops pronto.

Finally, after a visit to Sheffield this week I was asked about a game at Hillsborough between Wednesday and Liverpool which was played on Sunday, 11th May 1997. At the time, I was working in Sheffield and thought I’d spend my Sunday afternoon at the game. It was a 1-1 draw which enabled The Mags to qualify for the then European Cup. The talking point of the game was that Wednesday played three goalkeepers. Kevin Pressman had to go off injured and his replacement,. Matt Clarke, was sent off for handling the ball outside the penalty area. Andy Booth went in between the sticks. However, included in the Wednesday line-up was one Ritchie Humphreys. But that’s another story!!

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We're on the Road to Nowhere


There comes a time when if you are serious about reaching the play-offs you have to be decisive. I would suggest with us sliding into mid-table on the back of two successive defeats that the time is now.
Seven wins out of 18 games and a home record this season more or less the same as Craig Harrison's last term. And the team under Matthew Bates is just as boring and shot-shy as last season. Bates is a one-trick pony who likes nothing better than a drawn game. Limited as a player and devoid of ideas as a manager.

It took him 17 games to give Marcus Dinanga a first start and the young man was the bright spark in the team although having to play in a 10-man formation thanks to his captain's stupidity. In fact the second half at Wrexham was probably the best we have played this season with Conor Newton and Josh Hawkes brought on to chase the game. With Andrew Davies probably out for 3 games this could push Bates into a more offensive line-up. This was a formation Bates stumbled upon in the chase for an equalising goal and no way has he ever thought about such an adventurous midfield.

Indeed last season's failures, Woods and Xavi are the first names on the team sheet. Woods of course will never last a full game while Xavi after a bright spell earlier on has reverted to type and as usual can't run, can't tackle and hasn't the energy to get forward. It looks like he has put another two clem on.

Newton has been shamefully overlooked this season. He will get forward and grab a goal, plenty of energy and likes a tackle. All the things that Xavi isn't.

Another non-performing, non-scoring ever-present, Luke James, got the hook for the Wrexham game and started on the bench. How he justifies a place is beyond comprehension unless Bates does not want to admit his mistake in signing him. James will run around like a blue arsed fly and be swatted down just as easily. One goal in 18 games is the proud tally of one of our main strikers. And we all knew about his scoring prowess when we signed him in the summer.

The search for a new striker apparently goes on. It appears Shola Ameobi was too expensive for us but he would have been ideal at this level. Although 36 he has not played a lot of league games as he was never a regular for Newcastle despite all the time he was there. With the wages of Jake Cassidy and Louis Laing off the bill and a £25,000 bonus for an FA Cup qualifying win it would seem there is money available for at least a loan signing. Certainly any chance of a play-off place will disappear without one. And PDQ.
"Bates is a one-trick pony who likes nothing better than a drawn game."

With the squad we have there is no way we should be languishing in ninth place in this jumpers-for-goalposts league. We should be top three all season long but we do not look as we are fit enough. Last Saturday Sutton travelled up on the day with a smattering of part-timers and in the second half looked much the fitter and stronger side to come from 1-2 down to deservedly win 3-2.

Bates despite his shortcomings as a manager is starting to sound a little arrogant in his interviews and saying it is his way or the highway. We will get nowhere with this guy in charge, it is not the players, who are as good as any in this division, it is entirely down to Bates. I hope Craig Hignett is not sat twiddling his thumbs in the office as I am sure he would be able to sort things out. If not, could he find Danny Wilson's phone number?

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A Hundred Years Ago


As we approach the centenary of the end of the "War to end all wars", and we find ourselves in a world that's growing as unstable as the one which caused it, it's right to look back at how that war affected Hartlepool ...and Pools.

The Bombardment centenary
commemoration in  December 2014
There are two big events that stand out. The first is obviously the Bombardment, when German battleships shelled the then twin towns of Hartlepool and West Hartlepool, killing more than a hundred, mostly on the Headland. And the other, of especial interest to Pools fans, is the destruction of Pools' grandstand in the middle of the war by a bomb dropped from a German Zeppelin airship.

But highlighting those events tends to put into the shade the rest of the effects of the war on the area. With thousands of men gone off to fight, this meant that those who remained, the women and children, the shipbuilders and steelworkers, in fact everyone, had to work very hard for those four years while coping with the grief of losing husbands and sons at the front. Little pleasures like professional football were suspended "for the duration", and even pubs suffered the introduction of licensing hours to prevent alcohol affecting the war effort.

However, with war being declared at the very start of the 1914-15 season, and with the general view that it would be "Over by Christmas", it was decided that professional  football would continue, which it did, but with the pressures of war, football attendances were down generally and most clubs, including Pools, struggled financially. Thus it became obvious that there couldn't be another professional football season until after the war.
How Pools' first grandstand met its end
Demobilising at the end of a war takes time, and so football didn't resume in earnest until the 1919-20 season, but the Victoria Ground was still short of a grandstand and was still being used by the military anyway. So Pools had to make alternative arrangements and borrowed the ground of Expansion FC at Foggy Furze* in Caledonian Road.

For this they acquired a temporary, sectional wooden grandstand which subsequently returned with them to the Vic, where it stayed for 66 years until all wooden grandstands were ordered to be removed following the Bradford fire.
"Little pleasures like professional football were suspended "for the duration" "
Pools' first manager, Fred Priest, had obviously not been required during the war, so when football restarted they appointed a former player, Jack Manners in his place, and due to the pace of demobilisation, he, like every other manager, had to take who he could get from whomever was available, usually soldiers who had been footballers from all round the country before the war and who were billeted locally. In the first few months of the season the idea of a settled side was out of the question, but eventually things returned to normal, and within a couple of years Pools became a Football League Club, and the rest, as they say, is even more history.

*Foggy Furze was then a tram terminus but now seems to have disappeared as a place name since its library closed.

Some facts are taken from "Hartlepool United", Ed Law's 1989 history of the club.

The grandstand postcard is part of the National Football Collection of memorabilia, and has its own page on their website: hartlepool-united-victoria-ground-1916-zeppelin-raid-postcard/

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Awkward Poolies


Hartlepool fans and Hartlepool people are a close-knit and distinct community who take madcap causes to heart.

In May 2002 they elected H'Angus to be mayor of Hartlepool - a man in a monkey suit!

And a year later when Mike Newell's loss of a 14 point lead let Rushden and Diamonds snatch away Pools' first-ever league championship, it was possibly the reason Newell's contract wasn't renewed despite Pools gaining promotion. That failure was more memorable for Poolies than the promotion, and they saw their chance of retribution fairly soon afterwards in the bizarre goings-on at Luton as described in this Guardian article.

However that completely omits the fact that many votes cast for Mike Newell were in fact cast by Poolies (orchestrated by members of a Pools internet message board) in an attempt to give him the poisoned-chalice Luton job as an act of revenge. To be fair to Newell, he did a pretty good job of it for a few years, so the idea backfired somewhat.

Then in 2005 they shelled out their three quids in thousands to get the Poolie Pride CD into the BBC Top 30 chart.

And in 2016 they were asked by a Tory Prime Minister to vote for the option he wanted in the Brexit referendum, so the Hartlepool result was by now highly predictable.

Whatever will they ...we ...get up to next?

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118 118


I was delighted to read in the Mail that Matthew Bates stated that in training Pools do actually experiment with other formations such as 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, in addition to the manager's much favoured 3-5-2. That said, I cannot recall any match this season when Pools adopted 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 as their starting formation or reverted to them in the latter stages of a game when change was required.

Don't get me wrong, 3-5-2 works very well on our away day travels so why change it?* Having only won three home league games out of nine this season it would suggest that  the system isn't quite working as it should at the Super Six Stadium. (Victoria Park in old money ...Victoria Ground in very old money!) Antonio Conte's Chelsea won the Premiership using this very same system. On the other hand they do have Eden Hazard in their set up whereas Pools don't.

Every home match sees Pools predictably set up 3-5-2. By half time our opponents, and I include Kidsgrove Athletic in this, have sussed us out, changed their formation then we are given the run around and end up playing like the away team. generally hanging on to a slender one goal lead. And as we are pushed deeper and deeper into our own half we are then dependent on breakaways or clearances which, because we have no-one up front, are sent back to where they came from. Surely this would be the time to revert to another formation and try something different that might even surprise and shock both the opposition and Poolie fans alike.

I am not sure why Bates sticks so rigidly to this system as it is clearly not working on home soil. The proof of the pudding was when Scott Loach was voted man of the match against eighth-tier part-timers Kidsgrove Athletic, who breached our 3-5-2 system with regular monotony, which spoke volumes for the formation. Einstein's famous quote sums up Bates's (and that of his predecessor Craig Harrison) brilliantly: 'Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results'.

I feel one victim of the 3-5-2 system is Mark Kitching, resulting in his getting undeserved criticism from the fans. I think he is a decent young player but clearly looks uncomfortable in the role of a wing back. He doesn't seem to have the confidence to go forward and take his man on. This could be down to the fact that he gets little or no cover when he does break forward. At times he reminds me of the old science fiction programme 'Lost in Space'. What we should not forget is that Kitching, who has less than 40 career games under his belt, is still learning his trade and to my mind would be better suited playing in a back four line as a left back.

Nico Muir should only be employed in one place and one place only and that is, not out wide, defending or bailing out the midfield but in the box, preferably the nearer the six yard box the better as he is a predator. The box is his office and it is where he banged his 40 goals in for Hendon and not from thirty yards out on the wing. With the right tactics and support if he is allowed to ply his trade properly he could be a 21st century Joe Allon.
"I am not sure why Bates sticks so rigidly to this system as it is clearly not working on home soil."
Our midfield which has been a problem for years even with the addition of the combative Liam Noble, bar a little purple patch, has not improved dramatically, mainly because Featherstone Woods and McLaughlin are all birds of a 'Featherstone' and to my mind only one of these three players should be in the side at any one time. The pick of the bunch for me would be Paddy McLaughlin. Although defensively minded he is not as obsessed with passing the ball back to the keeper as much as Nicky Featherstone does and he is a tad more attack minded.

We all like Michael Woods but I don't think that he influences a game as he did in the past. A move would be beneficial for him, as well as Nicky Featherstone. I didn't realise Featherstone was playing against Sutton until it was announced over the Tannoy that he was being subbed.

Losing these two in the January window could possibly free up some cash to enable Pools to bring a speedy forward-thinking midfielder along with the much needed centre forward that everyone has been crying out for. Please do not let that be, as touted in the press,  the 37 year old injury-prone Shola Ameobi who has only scored 14 league goals since he left the Mags in 2014.

* This was written before the Wrexham game.

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Pigeon Post


I suppose I can’t complain about the weather, even if Pools results haven’t been good from an avian point of view. 

Well I ask you, by now fans are usually throwing their pies at the players in frustration, instead they are actually eating them. How is a hungry pigeon supposed to survive on orange peel and the occasional prawn sandwich?

And the visitor-end crossbar was always a safe place to watch the match from, but a few shots have been getting perilously close of late. I shouldn’t really be saying this but I begin hoping that one of our players will be sent off just to stop our lot peppering their goal.

Anecdotally it would appear that Pools players consider it to be bad sportsmanship to take advantage of the opposition’s ill-fortune, so we don’t have to worry too much about flying balls skimming the bar. Still it’s a long winter, so there will be plenty of time for pie-throwing, though we'll probably have to send food parcels to those poor pigeons at Forest Green.
"it would appear that Pools players consider it to be bad sportsmanship to take advantage of the opposition’s ill-fortune"

We also have the seagulls to contend with here. I can’t believe a Premiership side actually has those vicious murderous birds as a mascot.

Come to think of it there is a club just north of here that also has a bird as a mascot, though in their case a thieving, aggressive collector of bling. I suppose it has to be content with collecting as many coins as possible, there being a distinct lack of any silverware to take back to its nest.

Talking of nostalgia and happier days, what ever happened to the spuggies? Those annoying little beggars managed to survive off crumbs, a bit like some of our strikers, but they appear to have dropped off the radar of late, also a bit like some of our, er, ...well, anyway for now the weather’s set fair, hopefully pies will be on the menu next week. 

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Too Lightweight Up Front

Match report by RUNNING MONKEY

Pools 2 Sutton United 3 (National League)
Saturday 27 October 2018
Victoria Park

A good chance to set our selves up to challenge the top six was wasted today.

The first ten minutes looked promising as we played some decent football and had the visitors on the run. Muir got an early chance but the keeper blocked his shot from a couple of yards from the line. Sadly this optimism did not last long as we allowed them to settle into the game.

The visitors were a well-drilled side and they did what we didn’t - getting into our faces and closing us down every time and robbing us of possession at every opportunity. We can only blame ourselves as the passing was poor and we have difficulty picking up the second ball when it is hit high. The strong wind did not help either side but Sutton seemed to get to grips with the conditions better than we did.
"Sutton seemed to get to grips with the conditions better than we did."

A bit of a tussle in front of the dug out between Kitching and an attacker ended up with a free kick to the visitors which was a poor decision. The resulting free kick led to a corner and Sutton scored their first goal, which was a bloody shambles for the Pools defensive unit as the ball was lobbed in and dropped between a flurry of players either trying to kick it in, catch it or kick it out, and it seemed to take an eternity for a foot to actually touch the ball with legs swinging in from all angles and Loach on the floor scrambling to get a hand on it, but it was a Sutton boot that slid it over the line.

Pools went back into their shell as the goal lifted the visitors, who were a good side and attacked in numbers, overrunning our midfield. We could not hold onto the ball and when we did we looked to be lacking in ideas. James and Muir were having to play too deep. We only had the odd chance to get into the box but we looked ineffective and little threat to the visitors' goal.

In the second half Pools were gifted a corner - the ball was never out but they say these things even themselves out over a game. I am just wondering how 60/40 is even. This time it did work with a copycat goal for Pools after a couple of minutes when another goal mouth scramble led to Muir slotting home a ball that was pinging around the box. Noble got a second, it was reminiscent of the Neil Warnock goal from yesteryear when he hit a ball into the top corner from the corner flag. This one of Noble's out wide of the box took a touch on a defender but it was still a goal for Pools.

After taking two goals in three minutes Pools stepped up their game, again taking the game to Sutton but they were the team who played the better football and created the better chances. Sutton drew level after a quick break and even though we had a couple of clear cut chances the ball was blazed wide of the mark and another over the bar as Pools were desperate to get some thing out of the game. Not shy in the tackle the ref seemed to be very lenient after Davies was brought down in the box and Luke was continuously dragged down or tripped every time he made a run. The ref bottled a sending off after an already-booked player blatantly took out Luke as he made a run. As the Ditchburn Poolie said, he is going to get hurt badly in one of these games as the lad is too brave for his own good.

Sutton got the winner ten minutes from the end and they deserved the win. They are probably the strongest side we have seen this season and it was a well-worked goal after some nice play across the box. The shot was curled round Loach who had no chance to stop it.

Bates put on Woods and Dinanga, far too late in the game to make any difference. We need to learn how to pressure teams and not keep giving the ball up so easily when the pressure is on. Sad to say despite only losing three all season we have not done enough to justify a playoff chance. We need to string a few decent games together and of course sign a good striker as we are too lightweight up front.

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Up for the Cup

Match report by RUNNING MONKEY

Pools 1 Kidsgrove Athletic 0  (FA Cup, Preliminary round)
Saturday 22 September 2018
Victoria Park

Pools begin their cup campaign against Kidsgrove Athletic F,C. who are currently three divisions below Pools. I was expecting us to win four nil having just watched Gateshead win four nil against Dunston Town F.C. on the tele before going to the game.

With other punters in our merry band who complain about having to endure troubles with travel to games, until this season I have been very lucky. Living a five minute drive from the ground I have often walked over just for the exercise. I have even tried public transport which is not as regular as one would like. Usually I get a lift over from the sprog who never has any real urgency to get to the Vic early to see the lads warming up, have a natter with the fans around and get a spot on the terrace.

One of my pet hates is people who turn up for the odd game throughout the season and take your space on the terrace. This happened at the last home game and I and the Ditchburn Poolie and the rest of the crew were moved back two steps, although we got our spot back at half time. This week for the cup game I wanted to make sure I was not going to be shunted out, so as we passed the balls roundabout today, once again we were held in traffic as it was backed up all the way to there from the crossing near the new Costa on the Marina  and was moving at a snail’s place.

I got out of the car and walked the rest of the way as the Ditch was there waiting for his ticket. This is happening more and more as the crossing is a request stop so you get dribs and drabs of fans parking on the Marina and using the crossing which in turn clogs up the roads in the area. So any council official reading this - get it sorted now!

I made it to the ground and as I was early, thankfully our spot was free. It was sad to see Poolies expecting to get in the ground with their season tickets and whinging because they were turned away at the turnstile. Either they have not read the rules or they have borrowed a ticket expecting to get a freebie. All the same they should know better.

When the teams came out I was surprised to see the size of their keeper - at least I thought he was a keeper but it turns out he was a centre forward. He was a roly-poly all right but not only him as they had their fair share of fatties in the team. Even the sight of these players filled me with confidence. I remarked to the Ditch that these lads can’t possibly do any training judging by the size of them.

I could not have been more wrong concerning the striker; he ran the game. He was over weight but still had a lot of skill and guile. Late in the  first half he pirouetted on one leg and hit a wonderful shot that Loach managed to palm away but it was probably the best shot of the game.

I think we all were glad to see an early Nico goal from a low shot across the box just to settle the nerves. Bates has been criticised about his selection and game plan but his record speaks for itself and today playing wing backs with a back three it looked as if we were going to overrun the visitors. We did create a couple of good chances Luke tested the keeper with a shot and both Davies and Noble had chances that were never put away but that was the closest we came as the visitors gained in confidence.

We had some decent spells in the first half but once again no real threat. This game should have been all done and dusted in the first half and we were waiting for them to tire in the second half but that never happened. It has to be said that overall I thought the visitors had been the better side; they may have had some heavyweights who fell like trees at the slightest touch but having been down the divisions longer than us they know how to con a ref. OK this feller was nowhere near as bad as some we have suffered this season but he did get conned which makes it look as if he was biased against the home side.

The second half seemed to be a long drawn out affair as we stuttered,  gave the ball away far too easily and Kidsgrove came at us at speed on the break and we were lucky to hold out against them. We only made the odd sortie in the second half as they marked us out of the game and overran us in the middle of the park. It was difficult to turn them round and the odd chances we did make were once again squandered.
"We had some decent spells in the first half but once again no real threat"

It was all long range stuff and Kitchen made some good runs and crossed to an empty box and Luke had no back up once he was free so it made it a hard days work for the Pools team to hang on for the win. Loach was the busiest keeper in the second half and had to be at his best to clear a good free kick and a save from a corner from the visitors. Hawkes and McLaughlin came on together to try and lift the team as the visitors' subs looked like they knew their stuff and pushed hard for the draw.

Why Bates gave Dinanga three minutes at the end was beyond me as the lad came on and apart from Nico's goal had the best shot of the day, which really tested the keeper as he ran into the box, turned on a tanner and smashed a ball that hit the keeper. I do not see the sense of keeping a lad with that confidence on the bench.

For my money kitchen was Man of the Match and he and Luke never stopped running. Kioso managed to get a game without a booking and he too was one of the pluses for the day. I would take issue with Davies who turned and had a go at Kioso in front of the town end after a decent ball was played through the middle of the back three which they all missed yet he rollicked Kioso claiming he should get stuck in. Totally wrong, he should be supporting young players not bawling at them during the game, especially when he was at fault more then anyone else.

So who do we fancy for the next round? A long time since we asked that question.

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A Tough Old Game

Match report by RUNNING MONKEY

Pools 2 Boreham Wood 0 (National League)
Saturday 05 October 2018
Victoria Park

With the CEO of Monkey Business making a long-awaited return to the Vic today we had to be on our best behaviour. Having seen two wins from the two games he'd managed to see this season he was going for a hat-trick. 

He was on a sticky wicket today as apparently we lost Paddy McLaughlin and Conor Newton just before the kick off. With about fifteen fans supporting the visitors it looked as if it was going to be a one-sided game. How wrong can one be. The visitors were a huge outfit. The norm for this division is that every defender is eight foot tall and the attackers all six plus. We knew we were in for a day of more WWW grappling tactics as most of these giants are in the side for their bulk rather than their skill with the ball.

The visitors nearly shocked us early on when one of these lumbering giants managed a free header which he put wide of the Pools goal. Pools struggled to get their football moving and constantly lost possession or hoofed the ball up where we never ever won the second ball. It has to be said that they looked the more dangerous side who attacked down the flanks with quite some pace and fortunately for us their shooting was bloody awful. But their big striker turned and hit a magnificent shot that came off the Pools bar which set the alarm bells ringing amongst the fans.

Pools had a touch of luck as Luke, who was once again getting so much attention I was ready to call Childline to stop him being bullied as the shorthouse ref seemed to totally ignore the treatment dished out to him. He needs a medal the size of a bin lid for the damage dished out to him every week. I did notice at half time he was pleading with the ref to give him a break before they broke something on him.

Luke won a corner. Then Noble sent in a peach of a cross and Davies hammered his way through at the back stick to head Pools into the lead. Luke made a chance for himself just before the break but the keeper scrambled it clear. Some good work by Luke and a rasping shot from inside the box.
"it is very rare to hear the Pools fans booing after a two-nil win"

Second half saw the visitors with their tails up again but once again their fire power was lacking. Pools had two good penalty shouts waved away by Mr. Shorthouse, one against Davies who was playing higher up the pitch today and another shot when Kioso was flattened in the box at a set piece. Pools were fortunate that the ref was ignoring most of the strangle holds as Davies had one on a defender as he scored his second goal to put Pools two up with a late header.

Luke nearly made it three nil as he turned his man in the box and hit a low shot which the keeper partially blocked as Nico was sliding in but the touch from the keeper diverted it from the striker's boot. An odd incident happened today when Kioso was walking from the visitors box after just being floored again. Noble walked up to him, pushed him to the floor and told him he needed treatment - which he did. Noble has the knack of slowing down the game as he did at the second-half kick-off, and nearly got booked for it.

It was a tough old game to win today and it is very rare to hear the Pools fans booing after a two-nil win but the anger was aimed at Mr. Shorthouse and his cohorts who have to be the no 1 in the table of the worst officials to visit us this season.

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Any Other Business


At the Boreham Wood game, Running Monkey spotted a little lad holding up this placard. He asked Dave King about him and here's what he was told:

"His name's Leo, mate. Obsessed with Pools, even more than I ever was.

"Last year when it was all looking a bit bad I tried to explain what it all meant and ultimately what it might mean - no more Pools. I have honestly never seen a kid so devastated.

"He went on and on and on about raising money to save them so we managed to organise it for him to run once around the pitch. He ended up going round twice because he thought he'd make more money, bless him! He'd already raised £800! Not bad for a six year old!!"

And he got his gloves!

Well done Leo, you'll go far!

This headline appeared on the Hartlepool Mail website (and presumably in the Mail itself ) on the day Pools played at Wrexham - the day that one Pools player did just the opposite of what Andrew was suggesting they'd do.

And who was the recipient of that straight red card? It was none other than Andrew Davies himself. We bet he (quite rightly) got some stick for both the sending-off and the headline.

The unexpectedly good start to the season has mellowed into a so-so middle and by comparison it may be disappointing but we still have to accept that we're still here and having a team we're proud of, disappointed with or even hate looked to be an impossible dream a few months back.

Pools' fightback with ten men at Wrexham has been praised, and that perhaps has thrown up some new options. The sending-off of Andrew Davies also probably means a return for Myles Anderson, who has covered well for Davies's absences so far. He may not score as many goals but he's less likely to get sent off, and a sending-off, especially in the first half, is a huge handicap to any team.

Almost a Third of the Season Gone

BILLY'S CONTRACT takes stock

Almost a third of the way through the season - didn't that just fly by - and what do we know? 

Firstly, both on and off the pitch Pools find themselves in a far better place than this time last year. An improved squad of players, more heart, entertaining football, various new sponsors and at the time of typing this, a decent points tally seeing Pools in eight spot - something that Craig Harrison could only dream of at the corresponding stage of last season. That said, a number of fans including myself feel that we should be doing better - a lot better.

 In 2016/17 season Pools should have been converting losses into draws and in the current campaign we should be converting draws into wins especially at home. Currently, of four draws at home, three have come from winning positions and all were when defending a precarious one goal lead. Even the the two wins against Chesterfield and Maidstone were not comfortable - both games seeing Pools having to defend deep and start running the clock down 15 minutes before the final whistle to hang onto a one goal advantage.

It has got to be said that our home form is not exactly setting the world alight or setting the pulses racing in terms of entertainment. Has Matthew Bates got it right or is he following his fellow pupils Colin Cooper, Craig Hignett and Craig Harrison from the Middlesbrough FC school of football whose mantra is "Why push on for three points when we can hang on for one?" Basically our philosophy appears to be to avoid losing ...even if it means not winning.

My other concern about Bates is that he, again like Harrison Cooper and Hignett, does not seem to have a plan B to draw upon. We are geared up in a 3-5-2 formation which by and large works well away from home but with limited success at the Vic. Aldershot took advantage of this in the second half and pummelled our left flank. Salford did much the same with their wing men exploiting our right side resulting in Conor Newton, filling in as a wing back, being subbed when perhaps changing the formation would have been more tactically astute.

As mentioned many times, our main tactic seems to be either from kick off or from Scott Loach to lump the ball out wide in the hope that Mark Kitchen will get a head to it for a knock down for Luke James to run on to. The problem with this tactic is that more often or not the ball goes over his head and out for a throw or that his marker wins the ball. On the odd occasion that Kitchen does win a header he is too deep and by the time James has the ball at his feet he is surrounded by a couple or three defenders.

"A major worry is what effect a possible long-term injury or suspension to Liam Noble would have on the team."
The other tactic seems to be for the defence/keeper to launch the ball up to Muir and James to chase and run on to but owing to their lack of height the percentage game shows that they are going to lose more than they are going to win. I have yet to see a goal scored from this strategy. Muir and James are too similar and having them both play out wide does not make sense as their goal tallies confirm. The way the front two are playing possibly allows goal scoring opportunities for our midfield players but not vice versa.

Against Halifax, excluding his penalty, I noted that Liam Noble had six shots at goal. To date our midfield has ten goals to its credit but this raises the question have our forwards become midfield players and our midfield players forwards?

Another area which I am unable to grasp is the substitutions that Bates makes. He replaces like for like players and not game changers. It sounds like I am having a pop at Matty Bates but I desperately want him to succeed. The fact that he leaves one man up front when Pools are defending a corner is a massive plus and takes pressure off the defence. I am hoping that he is not a one-trick pony and has other options up his sleeve.

Obviously Bates can only do so much with what resources are available to him. Muir and James, as good as they in the system we play, will not get enough goals to secure promotion. Everyone knows that we need an out-and-out centre forward for Muir and/or James to work off. Many criticised the club for loaning out Jake Cassidy but in truth I don't think he was the answer for that role.

A major worry is what effect a possible long-term injury or suspension to Liam Noble would have on the team. He is the nearest thing we have to a Mark Tinkler, who totally dominates the midfield and is always wanting the ball. His loss would leave us floundering unless of course Luke Williams overcomes his injury problems and takes over the baton.  Here's hoping that Luke Williams is not a direct replacement for Luke George in terms of appearances on the treatment table.

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Matt Finish - Too Dull!


While some supporters may be happy with eighth place in the table after all our recent troubles, in all honesty we should be doing a lot better. With a full-time squad, parachute payment and some talented players to pick from, we should be in the top two all season long. 

I said before the start of the season I had my doubts about Matthew Bates but I have no doubts now. He is not up to the job and will never get us promotion. He is a one-trick pony, tactically inept, no Plan B, and with the same defensive outlook as his predecessor. In short, he hasn't got a scooby.

The quality of football is abysmal with the hoofball and if we get a goal try and hang on to it at all costs. The trouble is we can't and the number of points we have thrown away at the death is beyond a joke. And it is not good teams that are doing it. The Braintrees, Ebbsfleets, Harrogates and Aldershots are coming to the Vic and are happy to go away with a point. We have two strikers who don't play as strikers and are more like wingers with no one in the middle.

One striker we brought in, Luke James, has one goal to his name and doesn't remotely look like adding to it. He may buzz around like a blue-arsed fly but there is no end product. But this is no surprise as we all knew his scoring record before we signed him. One of our four strikers, Jake Cassidy, was shipped out on loan with no replacement brought in for him. Of course the first match he is gone Niko Muir gets injured after 18 minutes and has to go off and then is made to play the following game against Aldershot when clearly unfit and didn't last the full game. That he scored a nice goal is credit to the player who will be a good footballer if played as a central striker with a big target man alongside him. Someone like Shola Ameobi who is looking for a club and would do as great job for us till the end of the season. Either that or spring Adam Johnson from jail and get him up front. But the negative way Bates has up set up means that at the moment our goals will be few and far between.

"the negative way Bates has up set up means that at the moment our goals will be few and far between"
Indeed our midfield three included our perennial failures Woods and Xavi and no place for new signing Paddy McLoughlin. And we have an attacking midfielder Ryan Donaldson out of position at right wing back. Even Liam Noble is starting to struggle playing with those two bozos. And Bates comes up with the masterstroke of signing Luke Williams on August 23. No sign of him making his debut just yet and not before November if reports are correct. You would have thought Bates could spot a "sicknote" when he saw one as he was rarely on the pitch himself when he was "playing".

With the league starting to take shape now, it looks like Leyton Orient, Salford and Wrexham are going to be the pace-setters and that none of them have superior squads to Pools. But the way we are set up we are never going to score enough goals to match them. Especially when Bates is unable to teach the team to close a game out if we have not got enough goals on the board.

If I were Mr Singh I would be keeping a close eye on Bristol and the Memorial Stadium in particular. Word has it that Mr Darrell Clarke may soon be losing his job at Rovers and he would be ideal for us. A genuine Poolie and no Borer connection.
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Waxing Lyrical!


Well, why not? The season so far has brought out optimism and there is a belief that we can turn things around. 

I had a sense of foreboding before the game against Salford City and events turned out to be a bad night for Pools. There isn’t much you can do when a club is striving to buy itself into League Two. At least that defeat, plus the draw against Aldershot, meant that Matthew Bates wouldn’t get Manager of the Month. Give that to Salford City. You never know, it might bugger things up for them.
"high balls were lumped up to Luke James and he wasn’t going to out jump their defence."

The game against Aldershot was frustrating to say the least. We took the lead through a wonder goal from Niko Muir (what a find!) but for a lot of the game high balls were lumped up to Luke James and he wasn’t going to out jump their defence. Luke James works his socks off and you can’t fault him for effort but he needs to be coming through the middle to take advantage of his undoubted ability.

And so to some lyrics. As Pools progressed up the table, the following came to mind:
Such a feelin’s coming over me
There’s wonder in most everything I see
Not a cloud in the sky
got the sun in my eyes
And I won’t be surprised it’s a dream.

(On Top of the World, with acknowledgements to The Carpenters)

After Salford City, and Aldershot, I had to go back to the drawing board and came up with the old Scottish ballad:
Keep right on to the end of the road
Keep right on to the end
Tho’ the way be long, let your heart be strong
Keep right on round the bend
Tho’ you’re tired and weary still journey on
Till you come to your happy abode (League Two)

(Keep Right on to the end of the Road – made famous by Harry Lauder)

Speaking of Salford City, I like to have a lie in and listen to Sportsweek on Radio Five Live. Presented by Gary Richardson, the programme covers a wide range of sports and a couple of weeks ago Richardson interviewed the Salford manager, Graham Alexander, and offered the view that Salford would face strong competition from a number of teams, including Pools. Yikes, national recognition. I nearly fell out of bed.

Got some tickets for the Kevin Keegan ‘do’on 16th November. I reckon it should be a good night and KK should have a lot to say on Mike Ashley. That’s what happens when you get taken over by southern interlopers as we only know too well!

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Funny Old Game

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