a bit of festive goodwill from CENTRAL PARK

Well here we are again, the Christmas issue and everybody full of good will towards everybody else, except perhaps for the unfortunates from down the A66; back to them later.

The last five at home lost and already out of the cup. Am I down hearted? Well just a bit, but not too much. We have had bad runs before; I was there for the one that lasted from 1959 to 1964 so this is just a blip to me. I remember that whenever I was fed up with something when I was a kid my mother would try to cheer me up by saying that I should remember that there were other people worse off than me. Quite how that was supposed to relieve the current predicament was not made clear. I used to think, ‘so bloody what – they might be living in mud huts in Africa or have to spend their time listening to a David Whitfield concert or some such but they don’t have to go into a woodwork lesson run by the mad carpenter from hell next week like I have to’.

Who was David Whitfield? Well he was a boring singer of the most boring songs you could imagine; classical he was, like a failed opera singer, straining his puddings to reach the high notes. He had just established himself with a couple of hits when along came Elvis who finished him off and consigned him to the workmen’s’ clubs, and quite right too. The mams and dads weren’t too happy about it, but the kids cheered in the streets when rock ‘n’ roll came on the scene and delivered us from David and others of his ilk like John Hanson. This is getting out of hand; it’s supposed to be about football. "As long as they had lost then any disappointment at our result was rendered less painful."

Back to the point I was making about being cheered by the fact that there was always someone worse off than me. As I grew up I began to appreciate just how useful an approach to life this could be. It wasn’t long before I was looking for other teams’ results on a Saturday night just to make me feel better. Fifty odd years ago it was usually Arsenal that I wanted to see on the receiving end of a good stuffing, though I have to confess that the football they have been playing since Mr. Wenger took charge has won me over. If it wasn’t them then it would be some other bunch who had incurred my displeasure for no good reason that I can remember.

However there was always one constant, much closer to home. Not Gateshead, not York but ‘you know who’ as mentioned in the first paragraph above. As long as they had lost then any disappointment at our result was rendered less painful. Of course on the other hand it was a sickener every day they were above us in the league, or got a good result, or an approving mention in the national press.

There was even a two year period when they were in the division above us, and what a marvellous day it was in 1987 when their relegation back to the doldrums with us was confirmed. It can hardly be imagined what they must be going through knowing that we have finished above then in the league for the last ten years and are currently two divisions above them. In consolation I can only repeat the words of Windsor Davies in his role as Sgt. Major Williams; “Oh dear, how sad, never mind”.

But, here we are in the season of ‘peace on earth and good will towards men’; but does that include them? There was a time when I thought that the phrase was ‘peace on earth to all men of good will’ which allowed me to exclude them with a clear conscience but I think that the theologians have over-ruled me on that and removed my justification for leaving them out of the good wishes for the festive season.

I must admit that I have been conflicted about their plight of late. Yes I was jubilant when Peterborough beat them in the play-off final in 2000 and I have rejoiced at their every downfall both before and since then. I remember their crowing when ‘the mad hair grip’ took over as chairman and they sang to us ‘we won’t play you anymore’ (looks as though they got that bit right). I chortled when aforementioned chairman and the manager ‘the 50p header’ fell out and argued on the local radio for all to hear. I even (God forgive me) derived pleasure from listening to the anguished tones of Ray Simpson (surely a decent man in all other respects) as he described yet another debacle at the ‘Arena of Broken Dreams’.

I often imagine their chairman trudging the streets outside the council chamber on Christmas morning hoping that the window will open and a bewiskered old man (or woman it being the place it is) will shout ‘you boy - what day is this? ...Here, take this £5 note and improve your strike force’.

Yet lately I have been feeling like a bit of a bully. It’s all very well mocking them when they are a threat to us or when they could shortly become a threat by getting promotion, but their current situation is pitiable. A team with no motivation, a chairman losing £80,000 a month of his own money, an obstructive local council with no intentions of helping out (now why does that ring a bell) and precious little prospect of things getting better (I know we would be in the same boat without IOR but this isn’t about us).

It seems unworthy to take the Mickey out of them. All things considered it is the sort of thing only the likes of Frankie Boyle, Jimmy Carr or Ricky Gervais would do, and I like to think that Hartlepool fans are better than that. But I’m not so sure that we are.

I talk to quite a few lads at the town end that are quite genuine when they say that they would welcome them back into the same division as us so that they could resume the derby games because they miss them so much, and one or two who would just as soon that they went out of business altogether. There are even one or two, like me, who would like to see them linger on and suffer, so long as there is no danger of them ever overtaking us (I’ve always been a bit rotten like that).

Mind you, I’ve never really enjoyed the derby matches myself. Even at the last one when we were 0-3 up in injury time I was shouting for the final whistle because I was worried in case they scored 4 goals in 3 minutes. I’m not really a ‘glass half full sort of person’ I suppose.

All in all I think I will settle for my Christmas present being them surviving but never being allowed to finish in the football pyramid in a higher position than us. Thank you Santa Claus. As usual at this time of year I will conclude by wishing a very Merry Christmas to almost everybody.

Well, what do you know? I’ve been able to write an article without mentioning Alistair Brownlee – DOH!