Showing posts from November, 2011
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GRANDAD SHOUTY muses over the Pools slump and other, less important issues

When Harold Wilson was Prime Minister he once famously said that a week’s a long time in politics. By the same token, a month in football is an eternity.

At the end of September, Poolies could be forgiven for taking a short break on cloud nine as the wins and the draws left us undefeated. Yes, it all went pear shaped during October, didn’t it? Four home games lost on the trot (one goal for and ten against) changed the complexion completely. Of those four games, I thought we more than matched Sheffield Wednesday and certainly did the same in the first half against Tranmere. Unfortunately, we lost goals in those two games through poor concentration at the back and when it came to fighting back we found crowded midfields which were more than capable of snuffing out any build-ups.

It can be argued that the injuries to Solano and Sweeney played a part yet during the unbeaten run everybody put in a valuable contribution. Good players don’t become bad players overnight." Still, we’ve got rid of October - November is another month so maybe there’s something to look forward to. We’re still nearer a play-off spot than the bottom four despite our shortcomings. "

And so to the game against Charlton. This game couldn’t have come at a worse time - it seemed that the confidence of the players was at rock bottom and Charlton took full advantage. In short, we needed a psychologist or a motivator. I couldn’t help noticing the reaction of Bradley Wright-Phillips when he scored Charlton’s second goal; unklike his first goal, he didn’t go overboard in his celebration. Maybe he won‘t score an easier goal all season and didn‘t want to humiliate us.

The despondency even seemed to get to the fans- I’ve never seen so many Poolies stream out of the ground before the end as Charlton popped in their third goal. Throughout the game, they seemed to fear the worst.

Still, we’ve got rid of October - November is another month so maybe there’s something to look forward to. We’re still nearer a play-off spot than the bottom four despite our shortcomings.

One of the tinkerings that Mick Wadsworth made was to pair Andy Monkhouse and James Poole as central strikers. This pairing certainly paid dividends against Chesterfield and in the long term has possibilities. I’ve always been an admirer of Andy Monkhouse; he’s got skill and pace and his all round ability, together with positional sense, make for problems for opposing defences. Yet, come the Charlton game, Monky was back on the left wing where his abilities were surely wasted. Colin Nish and Adam Boyd certainly aren’t delivering the goods at the moment - they seem to be two players affected by the loss of confidence.

Still, the next five weeks may give us a chance to re-group. League games against Orient, Scunthorpe, Yeovil and Preston plus two FA Cup Saturdays is maybe what the doctor ordered.

Plenty going on elsewhere. The Olympic Stadium fiasco seems to have played itself out and Leyton Orient’s future looks more secure. Whether we’ve heard the last of it is anyone’s guess.

Something else that bears the imprints of a high level cock-up is the composition of the Great Britain Olympic team. I must admit I’m in agreement with Arsene Wenger when he says that the Olympics is more about track and field events than football. Remember, football is the one event which still has bucket fulls of tickets left. I was once asked by someone in the States if many people would be going to watch the footy - my reply was no chance. I would expect an epidemic of hamstrings when Stuart Pearce comes to select his side -there’s no way the clubs from the bog standard Premier League are going to risk their players for a Mickey Mouse tournament.

Talking about the bog standard Premier League, two recent events only served to focus minds on what its all about. First there was the statement emanating out of Liverpool that the big clubs should get a bigger share of the TV receipts as they are the ones most watched on television, particularly overseas. The Premier League as a whole is underwritten by TV and it's easy to work out that the so-called big clubs will dominate things even more. What I believe they’re after is getting more money in so that they can get round the forthcoming restrictions laid down by UEFA.

The other thing which came out of somebody’s big gob was that the Premier League may do away with relegation. I’ve always been brought up to believe that promotion and relegation is the life blood of any sport and creates a competitive environment. So whilst Richard Scudamore sought to assure everyone that nothing would change his words may not have any long term meaning. In some sports in America, there is no such thing as relegation and there are some who will want to change our footy culture. After all, if in the long term nearly all the clubs fall to foreign owners, the chief executives of the Premier League (whoever that may be) will have to do as they are told by the clubs. Nothing more - nothing less. That will also apply to taking Premier League games abroad. I thought that idea was dead and buried but as things are going, nothing will be sacred.

On the other hand, let’s look at something a bit more light hearted. According to the press, Harry Redknapp has been saying that the well-known ex-Pools player, Neil Warnock might make a good manager for England when old Fabio retires after Euro 2012. Quite honestly, I’d never thought of that but the mind works overtime, doesn’t it? There wouldn’t be a dull moment - and Neil Warnock’s been known to swear at the press from time to time.

Some years ago (I think it was when Terry Venables resigned as the England manager), one hack asserted that the ideal qualifications to be the England manager were to be thick skinned and not to be too worried about what was in the tabloids. Unfortunately, said the hack, the only man around at the time with such qualifications was Ray Illingworth - the former England cricket captain and one time chairman of the selectors.

Still, it could be just as entertaining with Martin O’Neill at the helm. Arising out of his interest in legal matters (he was a first year law student at Queen‘s University, Belfast), his hobby is researching murders and once diverted the Wycombe team coach to visit the grave of James Hanratty - the last man to be hanged for murder in this country.

I suppose we should belatedly congratulate England on reaching Euro 2012. I’ve no doubt that the BBC will be sending the army of pundits over there at considerable cost to the licence payer and that some of them will be plotting England’s way to the final before we even get to Poland/Ukraine. Still, nothing’s straight forward, is it? Rooney gets sent off and will miss the group matches thus triggering off miles and miles of column inches as to whether we should take him along. Quite honestly, I couldn’t care less. I’ve more important things to think about - are Pools going to end their dismal run?

CHIP FIREBALL looks at how thing are going

It's been a long time since I read the book, so I can't remember for the life of me whether Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde had a happy ending. If forced to hazard a guess I would say probably not. Which may be a forebear for the remainder of the season for Hartlepool United.

A season that began with records being broken, and fans chanting "We are unbeatable, we are unbeatable" has seen within the space of a month those chants turn to "Wadsworth, Wadsworth, sort it out !"

At the beginning of October, Pools fans were up in arms that MW had been overlooked for Manager of the Month, by the end of October some had started suggesting on the message boards it was time that he was replaced, such has been the massive turn around in results and performances. The manager’s worst nightmare is of course the slump, the run of consecutive defeats that can set alarm bells ringing, or be the final nail in the coffin." last season’s relative success, especially against the stronger teams, was largely down to exceptional workrate and a refusal to allow the opposition time to settle on the ball, or find any kind of rhythm"

At the time of writing, Pools have played 15 league games, winning 6, drawing 4 and losing 5, which is a decent first third of the season. Indeed had those wins and losses been evenly interspersed I doubt anyone would be having a go at the manager. Unfortunately for Wadsworth they haven't, and to make matters worse only 2 of the wins have come at home, or in the televised away game, which are the games that the majority of the season ticket holders will have seen.

Fans are notoriously fickle, and many have very short term memories. Many of those baying for blood on the message boards will care not a jot for our excellent away record, they will simply bang on about 4 home defeats in a row, where we have conceded a boatload, and scored just the one, solitary, debateable, penalty.

And of course fans are justified in slating the performances against Charlton, Tranmere, and Wycombe because they were indeed abysmal. Nobody wants to see their side capitulate in such pathetic fashion. At the same time many fans in the ground and on the message boards do seem to see things as either being black or white. The manager is great or he should be sacked, an individual player is either hopeless and should be sent packing, or he is Championship material. Some of them seem incapable of comprehending that managers and players are human, and therefore vulnerable to the same failings as the rest of us. None of us are perfect, we all make mistakes, and all have our good days and our bad days. Yet for some so called fans, when it comes to Third Division footballers, common sense seems to go out of the window.

As a result we now seem to have a whole plethora of message board pundits who have to lump players and managers into certain categories, often on the flimsiest of evidence, at the earliest opportunity, and once they have labelled these players and pigeonholed them, they will hardly ever change their minds.

Thus after 2 games we get those who have decided Nish is shyte and can't head a ball, Luscombe is class and should be starting every game, Horwood can’t defend and has no positional sense etc, etc. There is no need for common sense in the world these fans inhabit, merely a need to be vindicated, and an over-riding belief that anyone who sees things differently is obviously wrong.

Remarkably, at two games already this season I have seen Pools fans squared up to one another and ready to trade blows over a difference of opinion on a footballer. Footballers who have normally come to us as untested youngsters released by bigger clubs, or as journeymen lower league players. You may get the odd player like Solano or Sweeney who have come via a different route, but most are here on free transfers because they were not able to perform consistently at the clubs who released them. Players who can have a few good games, followed by a few bad games, indeed it is very rare at Pools to see a player play to his best consistently for 30 or 40 games in a row.

Generally what most decent fans ask is that players give of their best, put the effort in, and do as much as they can to be competitive, and only really gripe when they believe players are not doing that. They can also see that certain players may be playing with an injury or are up against better opponents and cut them some slack. When a bad run comes, as it will as sure as night follows day, though maybe not to the extremes seen this season, they look for a rational explanation, rather than for a scapegoat.

As one of those level headed rational fans, I look for explanations for the dip in form and results. One possible explanation is the injuries that have affected influential players like Solano and Sweeney. Another is that the players began believing the media hype during their brief time in the spotlight towards the end of the unbeaten run, and became complacent. Another possible explanation is simply that several key players have all suffered a dip in form at precisely the same time: a coincidence of costly proportions. Another could be the manager's constant tinkering with the team and the formation. And of course, most plausibly, a combination of all those things.

What I have noticed is that last season’s relative success, especially against the stronger teams, was largely down to exceptional workrate and a refusal to allow the opposition time to settle on the ball, or find any kind of rhythm. Lads who weren’t exceptionally gifted, like Sweeney, Larkin, McSweeney, Gary Liddle, Paul Murray, and Steve Haslam would run their proverbial balls off and make things as difficult for opponents as possible in every area of the pitch.

In the last few games that simply hasn't happened, and teams have had all the time in the world to play football against us. Charlton for instance had ample time and space (even in our own penalty box) to string passes together and go through the gears at will, without anybody in a blue and white shirt unduly harassing them. 6 months ago this simply would not have happened. I accept that Wadsworth has decided to replace his workhorse players with ones he considers better footballers, but those players need to realise in order to play football you need possession and to get that sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and fight for it, right through the team. Your forwards have to set an example and defend from the front, and ours, Nish and Boyd in particular, do not seem prepared to want to do this.

In some ways it’s a shame that the likes of Sweeney, Larkin, and even James Brown (Huddersfield away springs to mind), are not fully fit at present because these players, as we saw last season, will at least run their blood to water, and right now I suspect that is what it may take to turn things around.

CENTRAL PARK continues his celebrations

Following my pre-birthday treat of a trip to the Stadium of Light (see last month’s Monkey Business), and our subsequent wins against Bury and then away at Bournemouth, I was really looking forward to the next match.

It would be on my actual birthday, and it was Sheffield Wednesday at home. Although they seemed to be picking up, I thought it was well within our capacity to beat them.

I’ve always considered myself to be a rational man – well during the hours of daylight at least – and the idea of there being such things as ‘bogey teams’ and the like generally leaves me cold. However, having said that, I do always wear the same shirt on match days to bring us luck. I also wore it during the 2005-6 season at the end of which we were relegated –so much for lucky charms. I checked on the excellent ‘Poolstats’ web site, and there was nothing in our record of previous meetings to suggest the need of lucky white heather or eye of newt or some such to see us through to victory.

(While I’m on the subject of the irrational and lucky charms, there is a certain medical man, well known to all of us, who did confess that he always wore the same pair of lucky underpants throughout that wonderful run of 23 unbeaten games in the 2006-7 season. I’m sure it came as a great relief to his family when that run came to an end.)

So, yet another birthday on the way, the team playing well and getting results - ‘happy birthday to me’ it would seem. Yet there was still something disquieting at the back of my mind. I didn’t remember there being very many happy birthdays as far as watching Pools is concerned, so back again to the Poolstats website. It has a feature that shows all the fixtures and their results on any specified date since the club was formed.

I looked up 1st October and there it was: since 1910 Pools have played 25 league or cup games prior to our match this year, and the record was won 5, drawn 4, lost 16. What a record to mark your birthday. Having now read the ‘history of the date’, my earlier confidence was a bit undermined and I once again had to remind myself that a past sequence of results is no guide to the present.

Refortified I went to the game with my expectations newly underpinned. Sadly nobody informed Sheffield Wednesday. Unbeaten run ruined, birthday ruined, generally fed up and hoping that we would not be playing on my birthday in the near future. I checked this out, and have calculated that as we generally play on Saturdays or Tuesdays and next year is a leap year, then the next probable year for us to be playing on my birthday is 2013. What a wonderful life I must be having if all I can worry about is football being played on my birthday. Euro currency going down the pan, the Middle East in flames, the country’s economy on the brink of recession, but things aren’t too bad because it will be at least two years before Pools have to play on my birthday again.

I think this shows that I *have a balanced and mature approach to life/am a small minded and inward looking individual.

I mentioned my concerns to my good lady wife and as usual, got a robust response - it was along the lines of ‘you should be grateful for any bloody birthday you get at your age, no matter what happens’. Thank you dear, perspective restored.

While I was looking up the match information on the Poolstats web site, I also found out that other significant events in the life of the club happened on my birthday. No less than six managers have been appointed on that date, and two left by ‘mutual consent’. I love that phrase. It can be used for a multitude of situations. I’ve even used it when arguing with vegetarians at Christmas by telling them that the chicken was on my plate ‘by mutual consent’.

Well at least St. Michael got past my birthday this year without any change in his status, ‘by mutual consent’ or by any other management speak gobbledegook, so it looks as though he will have at least another year to get things right. I certainly hope so, as it is my belief that our current tribulations will be solved by an application of the Great Man’s football knowledge, probably via the sole of his boot, and ‘mutual consent’ won’t come into it.

Back to counting the number of points for safety then. There are still some constants in life, lucky shirt or no lucky shirt.

*Delete as appropriate

" --Your Pullquote--"

BILLY'S CONTRACT gives his take on the Pools slump

In the last edition of 'The Bizz' I was going to write about my concerns about Pools and Mick Wadsworth. However I chose not to, as I thought it a bit churlish considering that Pools where on a great run and winning on a regular basis. Somehow I could not bring myself to voice my concerns about 'The wheels coming off the Poolie wagon'. Now, however, is that time as the wheels have well and truly fallen off ...from third in the table to looking like relegation candidates in a matter of weeks.

Mick Wadsworth has done a great job in securing League One status for Pools, particularly with the resources that he was left to work with. However, I now firmly believe that he has taken Pools as far as he can, and now is the time for him to step down and let an experienced manager take the reins. Last season my main concern was that we played too defensively, with 5 across the middle, and once we conceded a goal it was normally game over. Tactically at times MW left me bemused.

Last season, away to a very average Sheffield Wednesday side, Pools, not having had a shot on target, played 5 across the middle. It was only when Pools went 2 nil down around the hour mark that substitutes McSweeney, Behan, and ten minutes later Michael Mackay were introduced. Collectively they had scored one league goal between them all last season. Even now I am at a loss to understand why Mick Wadsworth used these subs when Humps and Colin Larkin were also on the bench, and to my mind offered the better options in terms of skill and commitment as well as goals. What is more bizarre is that all three subs are no longer with the club. Were they just being put in the shop window on the day? "What happened to the attractive football we played a few seasons back, when Sir Ritchie would play to feet and to the likes of Monky or Matty Robson who would in turn terrorise their opponents with mazy runs into the box?"

I get the distinct feeling that MW is more concerned about avoiding defeat that actually winning matches.

If my memory serves me correctly, making allowances for the close season, from March 15th until August 20th, Pools only won one match.

I really do not think that MW knows what is his best team is or what his best formation is either. So far this season I have seen 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and 3-5-2, the latter being used against Wycombe, who prior to playing Pools were in the bottom three and had not won away from home.

Against Rochdale away we played really well, and came away with a 3-1 result. In my opinion you shouldn’t change a winning team, but in order to accommodate Nobby Solano's return from injury, against Exeter, Monky was benched and Ritchie was moved over to left back. To my mind Ritchie (who had a blinder against Rochdale) should have stayed in midfield. Moving him over to left back, not his best position, changed the whole balance of the team and served no purpose at all. Since then Ritchie has not played in the middle, which is a total waste of resource as at present he is probably the only creative midfield player we have at the club.

Too many players are being played out of, or not in their natural positions. We have seen Sweens playing out wide, Monky playing on the right and up front, Stephen Wright at right back as well as left back, Neil Austin as a wing back and Evan Horwood in a midfield role of sorts. None of which works, as in the main the following week the same players occupy a different position.

What of Mick Wadsworth's signings – Poole, Luscombe, Solano and Nish. At present only Colin Nish, and that is only of late, are not capable of playing for a full ninety minutes. Poole and Luscombe (as well as Jack Baldwin) are all for the future. Nobby Solano to my mind is a bit of a luxury at this level, and I would rather have a grafter out on the wing, running up and down the line and putting pressure on the opposing full back whilst covering his own full back. Stephen Wright looks comfortable at centre half but I am not so keen on him on either full back roles.

Pools have picked up some great wins this season particularly on the road, but from what I have seen in pretty much all cases they have all been 'backs to the wall’ performances, with the opposition having the majority of play in terms of possession, shots on targets, and corner ratios almost double what Pools achieved in the same game. This was a major concern as at some point these stats show that we are constantly under the cosh, and eventually this will lead to more defeats than victories as our luck deserts us. And so it has come to pass.

My main gripe about Pools is the style of football that we play, or should I say 'hoofball' that we play. After the Bury game their manager, former Poolie hero Ritchie Barker was lambasted on many of the message boards for daring to suggest that we were not a footballing side, and that we opted to lump the ball upfield for our forwards to latch on to. I think he was absolutely spot on, and could not argue with his observations.

There is a time and place for the long ball game, and it can be quite exciting taken for what it is. For instance, when all other options have been exhausted, with three minutes to go before the final whistle, being a goal down, chasing the draw, or pushing for cup replay it can really get the crowd going.

Unfortunately we are not even very good at the long ball game. Our centre halves play the ball out wide to our full backs and they in turn hoist the ball as hard and as high as they can. 9 times out of 10 the ball comes straight back at us in the form of the opposition's attack.

What happened to the attractive football we played a few seasons back, when Sir Ritchie would play to feet and to the likes of Monky or Matty Robson who would in turn terrorise their opponents with mazy runs into the box, and either create or score the odd goal or two. I cannot recall of late either full back pushing up and supporting the attack.

We have a lot of decent players at the club. We have seen what they can do and what they are capable of, but at this time of writing too many of them, particularly the senior players, are under performing or lacking in confidence.

It is a good season and a half since I saw Monky skin and put the fear of God into his full back like he used to. When he gets the ball nowadays, he always passes back and as such it slows our momentum down.

Many a time I have watched a game and did not know that Gary Liddle was playing until I read the match report ratings in the Mail. Lidds needs to spend some time on the bench.

Neil Austin, the ex-Barnsley man, is not the player he was when he first joined the club. His crossing, distribution and more alarmingly of late his defending is woeful.

Big Sam is going through his seasonal bad patch, which as ever is proving costly for the side, and in my view his place should be taken by Stephen Wright. Evan Horwood is another who is looking shaky in defence and does not seem confident going upfield.

None of our defenders seem capable of carrying the ball over the half way line and making a decent pass. All of them bar none tend to lump the ball in a hit and hope attitude. I wouldn't mind, but it is not if they cannot make a decent pass. Against Charlton I counted 13 of them...all back passes to Scotty Flinders...who lumped the ball forward.

I do have some sympathy for the forwards however, as the service they are currently getting is poor if non-existent at times, which must be frustrating for them. However, Boydie needs to look like he is putting some sort of effort into his shift like he did at the early part of the season otherwise I can see another trip to Boston for him to recharge his batteries.

I think the televised horror show which was the 3-0 defeat by Notts County showed up all our recent shortcomings. Poor tactics. No midfield. No presence. No motivation. No leadership. No confidence. No hunger, and worst of all, no idea.

I always had reservations about Mick Wadsworth being appointed as manager, as I always felt he would an excellent number two, preferably to Neale Cooper. Now that would be my dream team.

RUNNING MONKEY on another home drubbing

This looked like plan “B” - first we change the dugouts around to make the opposition walk a few extra yards to their bench - Nish and Boydie to be the strike force - Poole and Monky to be the suppliers. We needed a big result after the dismal showing of late so we might as well wallop the top team in the division. 

 We started bright enough but from the start you could see there was quality in the opposition that we do not have in our side. We continued to wallop the ball out to the corners either for Monky or Poole on the opposite side. 

The first goal came from a raid down our left side, a pin point cross to Phillips who had acres of space and could have done a pirouette before he deftly guided the ball past Ned into the net. Monky in his desperation let one fly but it was well wide of the mark. 
" I nearly did not write this. I could have just changed the score line from the last report"

Almost their second attack and it could have been two through Kermorgant, who was causing both Sam and Hartley problems with his presence. 

Nish and Boydie managed to link up but Nish shot wide. Boydie was next up after some good play by Poole but his powder puff shot come scoop of the ball was gathered easily by their keeper. Ned was called on to make a good save after Horwood swung at the sky and missed putting Ned under pressure that he was equal to. A low shot from Aussie, who was in a dilemma all game on whether to stick or twist, and his effort did not trouble Charlton. 

We looked a yard slower than them in reacting to balls and they used their possession more effectively despite us have more than them in the first half. The second goal, in much the same way as the first,found Phillips again unmarked and he slotted home to make it 2-0. 

Monky did win a corner before half time but it was wasted by poor delivery. Second half we did try to stem the flow with people harrying a bit more but they are not top of the division for nothing and ten minutes into the half it was three and as a competition all over. 

Another free kick and it was four and in truth another football lesson for a very mediocre Pools performance. The subs Luscombe and Brownie came on and gave us a brief lift but all to no avail. It may sound a bit harsh but we could have dropped all the back four and half the midfield today on performance. If we continue to leak goals as we have recently, and all we can do is hoof the ball over the midfield and hope the opposition do not win it then we are in dire straits. Lets hope our FA cup is at least half full and can change our luck.

Ps . I nearly did not write this.  I could have just changed the score line from the last report on our home defeat. How can you be positive when it looks shambolic. The unbeatable side we had has disappeared.


RIFT HOUSE RADGIE looks at managers

In issue 105 of this esteemed publication, I ranted at length about two former England managers (McLaren and Sven), and how badly they were doing at their respective clubs. Well it wasn’t long after that they found themselves on the dole, but no doubt with a nice payoff to tide them over until their first Giro.

I’m happy to say it looks like they’ve finally been found out, but I wouldn’t bet on either of them surfacing at one of the struggling Premiership sides at some point during the season. It’s surprising that at the time of writing none of the top flight managers have been sacked yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long.

When you look at Pools managers, we’ve had plenty of poor ones over the years, but then so have most other clubs. Now and again they pop into my head like that annoying gobshite off the Go Compare adverts – Bob Moncur, Keith Houchen, Martin Scott – and plenty of others besides." “Who is Cyril Knowles?” I sometimes hear the younguns ask, and I am more than too happy to tell them"

To be fair, anyone who took the reins at Pools over the years prior to IOR’s ownership had at least one hand tied behind their back when it came to resources. A lot of them did bloody well considering what they inherited. And we have had a few gems as well, particularly recently.

I have had several debates with other Poolies about who the greatest Pools manager has been, and usually there are the same three candidates – Cyril Knowles, Neale Cooper and Danny Wilson. Brian Clough is usually dismissed early on as he didn’t see the job through, and there isn’t really anyone else in the frame. Chris Turner would probably be in there if he hadn’t had a second go at managing the team, and lots of folk point to the money and time available to him the first time round.

Lots of other managers may have performed miracles by preserving the club’s league status in the face of so much adversity, but the three I have mentioned actually brought success to the club.

When Cyril Knowles took over in 1989, Pools should have dropped out of the league. Rooted to the bottom of the fourth division, cast adrift with seemingly no hope, Cyril came in and totally turned the club round. By making canny use of a few free transfers, Pools gradually edged their way out of trouble and were mathematically safe with games to spare.

This was an achievement in itself, but the following season, with virtually the same set of players, Cyril had transformed Pools into real promotion contenders. Indeed, we were promoted in 1991, but sadly Cyril had to step aside because of his health towards the end of that season, and Alan Murray (another bloody good egg) guided Pools to only their second ever promotion.

Neale Cooper came to the club at a strange time – although Mike Newell had secured our promotion only months before, his contract wasn’t renewed in the close season. Maybe it was something to do with the fact that we threw away a commanding lead at the top of the table, to surrender the title to Rushden and Diamonds, or something else, I don’t know. Newell was gone, and Cooper (completely unfamiliar to most Pools fans) took the hot seat.

Most Pools fans would have been happy just to survive in the third tier, but under Cooper all expectations were surpassed. Finishing 6th in a play-off spot was the highest ever finish, and we were very unlucky not to make it to the play-off final. Next season was more of the same, and whilst we finished 6th again, Cooper had left the club in strange circumstances before the final match.

After the farce that was Martin Scott then Paul Stephenson, Danny Wilson took over what was quite a demoralised club. A slow start to the season didn’t bode well, but something clicked, and Pools went on an amazing unbeaten run of over 20 games, surging to the top of the table and eventually finishing second. Again we should have won the title, but Wilson got us up at the first time of asking, and the following season we finished comfortably away from the bottom four.

Wilson’s reign kind of petered out as he appeared to lose interest, and when he left it was quite a relief to a lot of Pools fans. Very few managers leave a club on good terms, but I will never forget Wilson’s contribution and that unbeaten run.

Everyone has their own opinions, but I will say that the best has to be Cyril. Cooper and Wilson have their merits, but they were at the club during stable times, with plenty of good players already in the squad. Cyril however completely transformed the team on a shoestring, bringing the best out of underperforming players and making some very shrewd signings. I was over the moon the day I heard that they were naming the new stand after him, meaning his memory lives on.

“Who is Cyril Knowles?” I sometimes hear the younguns ask, and I am more than too happy to tell them – “Only the greatest Pools manager of all time, that’s who.”

ED PARKINSON on football friends

This article first appeared at the end of last season in an English language newspaper in France

POOLIE IN NOTTINGHAM goes up the road

I was quite pleased when Chesterfield got promoted at the end of last season, firstly because it is about half an hour’s drive from where I live, and also because it would be my first visit to another new ground. I am not a fan of new grounds, but I live in hope that one day there will be one which I prefer to its predecessor.

Along with lots of other grounds which have gone by the wayside, I will miss Saltergate. Despite being one of the worst grounds in the football league, it was absolutely packed with character. It was a relic from football past – rusting, crumbling, no roof on the away end (or the bogs in the away end), and it was one of the few grounds you could queue up at the pie stall and whilst still having a great view of the pitch from the top of the terrace.

It was the perfect choice for the makers of ‘The Damned United’, when looking for a location which evoked the essence of a ground in the 70s. Sadly it is probably now where a supermarket or housing development now stands, but at least it has been preserved on film. "One day in my lifetime I reckon there will be a decent sized town somewhere in the UK which will just have a huge Tesco store in the centre, with no other shops"

The day of the game was nippy but very sunny, perfect for a good game. I picked up Mark, another Nottingham-based Poolie who lives not far from me, before heading the short distance to Derby to get Andy, another Poolie. Luckily both Mark and Andy have Chesterfield-supporting mates who gave some good insider knowledge on where to park close to the ground without having to pay.

As with most new grounds, it was very easy to get to from the main road into town. The advice was good, and we parked up in a spot near to the closed-down Tesco. It is not often you hear about a closed-down Tesco, but it wasn’t all bad news for the mega-retailer. On the other side of the roundabout was a massive replacement store, the biggest I have ever seen. One day in my lifetime I reckon there will be a decent sized town somewhere in the UK which will just have a huge Tesco store in the centre, with no other shops.

We had a quick drink in the bar of the hotel near the ground with Andy’s Chesterfield-supporting mate. It turns out that he was on Chesterfield’s books many years ago, although he never actually made a first-team appearance. The closest he got was a trip to somewhere like Southend for a Tuesday night game, where he was an unused substitute. Close but no cigar or what?

Once we had skirted the omnipresent supermarket, the ground came into view. Pretty much what I was expecting really, neat and shiny in a concretey sort of way. As we got round to the away end there were several coaches and minibuses from the town parked up, promising a good Poolie turnout. Rounding the corner this was confirmed by a huge queue leading to a small hut. It turned out that they weren’t queueing for pies or pints, but tickets to get into the ground.

One poor old dear was struggling to serve the visiting fans quickly, and it was a good ten minutes before we got our mits on the barcoded bits of card which permitted our entry. I can’t understand how the authorities responsible for planning the games make such a cock-up of what should be a simple logistical process. At least we made it in before the teams ran out, giving me a minute or two to ‘admire’ the architecture. As new grounds go it is definitely one of the best I’ve been to, seemingly inspired by Huddersfield’s arched roofs.

The game started well for Pools, plenty of pressure, passing and movement. Unfortunately disaster soon struck, with sloppy defending leaving a striker lots of time to pick his place to slot past Flinders. Pools quickly hit back though, and a long-range diving header from Paul Murray looped into net before James Poole shot us into the lead with a pearler.

The Pools fans had been in great voice throughout the match, but midway through it all went quiet briefly before a minute’s applause for the memory of Michael Maidens, who tragically lost his life 4 years previously. This superb tribute was timed for the 25th minute, 25 being Maiden’s squad number, and the rest of the match saw several chants celebrating the life of the Pools player.

Half time came and went, and Pools increased their lead through a James Poole header from a perfect Horwood cross. Despite being in control of the game Pools wouldn’t be Pools unless they made us sweat for a bit. Chesterfield got back into it through a scrappy finish and when the board went up showing 5 minutes of additional time to be played my fingernails got some abuse.

The final whistle finally came, and Pools took a deserved three points back up the road. Chesterfield were pretty poor, and on another day they would have wiped the floor with them. The journey back home after an away win is always a jolly one, and featured much speculation about Mark’s forthcoming date with a nurse. I haven’t quizzed him about it yet, but if she was anything like Chesterfield she will have been a bit toothless, baggy in the middle, and loose round the back.

BILL THE BIRO on a football institution

When I first started taking an interest in watching football (before I got into Pools), that meant watching it on telly. In those days football on television meant one of two things: either international matches, or the FA Cup Final. There weren’t even any footy highlight shows - Shoot! and George Taylor were still a few years in the future. Then, as now, international matches came along fairly regularly, but the highlight of each season was always the FA Cup Final. I’ve always been hopeless at remembering sporting facts, but the Cup Finals of the 1950’s and 1960’s became etched in my memory, even the ones I never saw.

It’s only comparatively recently that I learned that the FA Cup was not only the very first cup competition in the world, but also the very first football competition of any kind. But back in the late ‘50s, the Cup Final excitement lay in its exclusivity - it was the only live club match that appeared on television, and you could watch it once every 365 days (most years).

So it was special. We looked forward to it, and it was usually a great disappointment, but a mere 12 months later we’d have forgotten that, as the excitement built up again."We looked forward to it, and it was usually a great disappointment, but a mere 12 months later we’d have forgotten that, as the excitement built up again"

Now we move forward a few decades, when live matches are available on television all the time, the Champions League lasts most of the season, and the FA Cup seems to be unable to compete.

Pools are still in “the lower leagues” that they were in all those years ago, but I, as a Poolie, now no longer view the FA Cup as a great sporting event, just an irritation that spoils the November fixtures. Perhaps there’s an element of disdain for the Premiership, from whose ranks the winners usually come. Perhaps there are too many memories of first-round exits to non-league opposition. Perhaps the Johnstone’s Paints Trophy, being less prestigious but more winnable (not that, as a Poolie you’d notice), seems more worthwhile. For whatever reason, I’ve fallen out of love with the FA Cup.

These days it’s sad that what was a great tradition is now just used for what the participants can get out of it. It’s a nuisance to the top two divisions, but it’s a way into Europe. It’s a nuisance to everybody else, but it’s a way to a lot of money.

After its first 140 years, I can’t predict what the future holds for the FA Cup, but I think it needs to find some magic if it is to make 150 years.

ED PARKINSON on shock results

Another of Ed's articles written for The French Paper, this one from last February

As RUNNING MONKEY wishes he hadn't saw it!

After results in recent weeks and the fact that we had beaten Chipperfields on Saturday, albeit by a one goal margin, I was actually looking forward to this home game. Mainly because, unless the F A cup draw is favourable to us, then it will be a full month before we have another home game.

News that MW was sticking with the same line-up seemed to cheer a few. Early doors, Luscombe, who came home from Chesterfield with good reports, had a dip which the keeper tipped over, but similarly Ned was called into action as Aussie lost the ball and allowing a shot on goal.

Pools started to take things in hand and there were some good passages of play and Poole made a great run and crossed to Aussie coming in the other side, who set up Monky but he hit wide of the mark. Pools were really pressuring Tranmere who looked to catch us on the break but Pools kept them on the back foot.

Twenty-five minutes into the game the three Pools stands started clapping which they kept up for a full minute then the chants for Michael Maidens rang out over the Vic. A nice tribute carried over from Saturday’s game. The significance of the twenty-five Maidens shirt number lost on the stewards.

Ned was called into action as Pools took their foot off the gas and allowed them back into the game. A shot blocked and another tipped over must have set the alarm ringing for MW, who was up on his feet shouting orders. I could feel it in my water - Pools were going to have one of those days - play them off the park and end up with a draw. The consensus at half time was just that we would do better second half kicking to the Town End.

How wrong could one be? Almost as a throw back to the Turner days when we invariably gave away silly goals after his team talk, we did just that: two passes, a shot blocked, and then the ball was in the net. Once again we find ourselves one down before we even get settled. Someone really must take those easy chairs out of the dressing room; we are far too casual in our approach after the break."I could feel it in my water - Pools were going to have one of those days - play them off the park and end up with a draw."

I was saddened to see Luscombe take a dive on the edge of the box to win a free kick. I always thought we were above that kind of shenanighans. Thankfully we did not profit from it.

Their second goal was even easier than that. A long throw seemed to go straight in the net but I found out later that it had been nicked in by a Tranmere player and in truth they deserved it. We won the first half nil nil and they won the contest 2-0. We did rally a little but it was never enough threat on their goal. We did have three shots in succession that were beaten away, but with Monky, Brownie, Poole and Boydie on together, it was desperate measures, and apart from an attempted scissor kick from Lidds, we did not trouble their keeper, and the incessant hoofing the ball up was wasted effort.

Roll on Saturday