CHIP FIREBALL talks about the summer's goings-on at the Vic

Hello readers, and welcome not just to a new season, but also to the first online edition of Monkey Business. I had hoped when John and Lol advised me that the fanzine was being made redundant to be enjoying my retirement, but here we are once again embarking on another season, I think my 13th writing for The Bizz. Hopefully it won’t be an unlucky 13th.

As ever, much has happened during the close season, and as often seems to be the case at Pools most of the news has been centred on matters off the pitch. This time last year we were going into the season with a sense of dread, under a manager nobody really wanted, who claimed it would take a miracle just to see us avoid relegation, and owners widely rumoured to be selling up. Twelve months on there is a real buzz about the place, home sections of the ground are sold out, and fans are expecting, not without good reason, a finish in the top half of the table.

The seeds for this transformation were sown by Mick Wadsworth and his management team about 10 months ago, when there were signs the team were finally looking organised and able to compete, even with the better sides away from the Vic. Players who had looked bereft of confidence and out of their depth under Chris Turner, were finally starting to fulfil their potential.

Some of the younger players were being given an opportunity to play first team football at the end of the season, and by May our main worry was which of the better players might be poached by other clubs!
"Players who had looked bereft of confidence and out of their depth under Chris Turner, were finally starting to fulfil their potential"
As it happened, Wadsworth was able to keep all of the players he wanted, with only Gary Liddle not committing to a long term deal. There were no surprises when the announcement came as to which players were leaving. A few on the message boards expressed surprise that Joe Gamble and Leon McSweeney were released, but neither player impressed me much, and I wasn't sorry to see the back of them.

No sooner had the dust settled on the publication of the retained list, when the news that has been the talk of the town all summer came. Many of us had been calling for a radical overhaul of the season ticket pricing structure, but what Pools announced took even the most optimistic by surprise.

The offer of watching first team football for an entire season for just £100 seemed too good to be true, but eventually over 5,500 took advantage of the deal, meaning potentially full houses for most of our home matches. It was certainly a bold piece of marketing by the club, and the gamble to guarantee prices when sales were faltering around the 2600 mark paid dividends when the herd mentality kicked in and those hanging back suddenly laid siege to the ticket office.

Strange as it may seem to say this, selling the tickets may actually have been the easy part, such was the generosity of the offer. I'm sure those buying season tickets for the first time will turn up on warm days and nights in August and September. Whether they will do so once the bad weather kicks in will largely be determined by how well the team fares on the pitch.

We saw during the reign of Martin Scott how quickly an optimistic and large Pools support can turn against its own players and manager, which is why a good start this season is vital to keep the new fans and those returning on board. Under Scott Pools picked up just 4 points from their first 6 home games, and never really recovered. While the expectation levels will not be as high as they were on the back of the trip to Cardiff, simply surviving in League One, which was the goal last year, will no longer qualify as a success.

Whilst nobody is expecting us to walk away with the league title, most of the 3,000 who didn’t attend last season but will be this time around, will have expectation of seeing a side not just winning but playing good football as well. I really can’t see us putting in the sort of shocking performances we did at the start of the last campaign at the Vic, when we contrived to lose 5-0 and 4-0 against Sheffield Wednesday and Carlisle respectively, but early season home Tuesday night games against Huddersfield and Preston should give a good indication of where we stand against sides expected to be challenging for promotion.

All in all the fixtures in the first 6 weeks or so do not look particularly demanding, and with a bit of luck, and some expected improvement being wrought by the new signings, we could get off to a good start and keep the positive vibes about the place.

Whilst IOR deserve immense praise for the resounding success that was their bold marketing of season tickets, the much less well publicised 25% increase in matchday seating to £25 per game disappointed me and already looks like a bit of an own goal.

The move has already been picked up by the Supporters United organisation who described it as a cynical ploy to make visiting supporters pay through the nose to subsidise home fans season tickets. Given the increase by Pools was made when seating areas for home fans were guaranteed to sell out, it is very hard to disagree with the comments of those representing supporters as a whole. It is also noticeable that the increase has already been picked up by Huddersfield Town fans on their message boards, and widely slated with several of their fans recommending a boycott of the game at the Vic. With sales for seats for the Huddersfield fans planned to commence on the 1st August this is the first test of IOR's increases and to say they have met with some negativity would be an understatement.

By making the £5 increase, Pools now have the honour of being the most expensive ground in League One, along with Charlton Athletic who also intend to charge £25. Had Pools made a smaller increase to say £22-£23 then it probably would have slipped under the radar. Making your club the most expensive never goes down well, and in my humble opinion was a marketing error.

Yes, diehard supporters of other clubs will still attend, and in all likelihood IOR will increase revenue as a whole from the Rink End. However it also goes without saying that the move has already, and will continue to generate negative publicity, and sets a worrying precedent for those who like our away games should other clubs follow suit.

Going back 10 years or so I went to pretty much all of Pools away games. During the last couple of seasons I have been very choosy as to which away games I attend, because I can no longer afford it. Price is a major influence when picking which games to attend. I did very reluctantly go to Charlton last season and paid my £25, as it was a new ground for me following the abortive trip the previous January. However, I certainly did not get value for money paying what I consider an obscene amount to watch a meaningless end of season third tier game and I certainly won’t be going back in a hurry.

Stevenage would have been my first away game this season, but the £23 admission is very off-putting. I hear through the grapevine it’s a fixture where half price admission may apply if I collect tokens from a national newspaper, and if this is the case I may well still go. I was also relieved to see Pools trip to Notts County is being televised (assuming Rupert Murdochs empire hasn’t crumpled within the next 10 weeks). Given admission there is also £23 it's another fixture I would happily have swerved anyway.

Going to away games is tough enough in the current economic climate, especially with ever increasing transport costs. While the whopping increase for away fans at the Vic won’t affect me personally I really hope it isn't something that is going to be replicated by other clubs, otherwise working class fans are going to be priced out of going altogether. Supporters United also highlighted plans by QPR to charge £50 for visitors to their ground next season, a 150% increase in the price since we were last there. I'm not sure that sort of price is worth paying for a bit of success.

Anyhow, back to matters on the pitch and as usual I will be making a prediction for how the season will pan out. I haven't been to any of the pre-season games so have no idea how the new signings will fare, but the team has a solid enough looking feel about it, there was improvement last season, and I expect that to continue this season. I think we will finish in the top half of the table, but only just, and will stick my neck out and say we will end up tenth. I have however had a small wager at 4/1 with Corals that we will finish above Stevenage, Walsall, Tranmere, Oldham and Yeovil.