Showing posts from April, 2012

the online fanzine for Poolies

CENTRAL PARK sums the season up

Well, the last edition of the season , and even if there is a month to go (and it seems far too early to be doing a post mortem), I’m going to have to do my best, with the body still warm and twitching.

At the time of writing (just before the Sheffield United game) we have 50 points with the reasonable expectation of getting at least another 7. Consequently I am sufficiently satisfied in my own mind that, despite the mathematical possibilities of the situation, we are now safe from the threat of relegation. With seven games to go that is sheer luxury. So that’s me sitting relaxed with my feet up, assured of League One football next season and smirking contentedly at those poor slobs in Manchester going through hell wondering if they will finish first or second in the Premiership. The only good thing about that is that one of them won’t win it.

Before the season started, I attended the customary AGM of the Town End recidivists when we all put forward our expectations for the coming season. The usual pessimists predicted that we would finish 18th in the table, the mindless optimist predicted 8th, and I went for 10th. I was basing my opinion on my great faith in Mick Wadsworth’s ability to pick good players combined with his great organising skills, which he had demonstrated in the season that had just finished. I think it is fair to say that Mick’s signings were a mixed bag, but he certainly did a good job of organising them to get the best out of them in the style he chose to play. I was delighted with the start to the season, going unbeaten for nine games in the league, but sadly we fell away and Mick seemed to accept that he didn’t know what to do to stop the rot when things started to go against us. That run of home defeats did for him, and there was no arguing with Mr Hodcroft’s reasoning when he finally terminated his employment. I was sorry to see him go, and I was very grateful for what he had done for us in his time here. I sincerely wish him well for the future."...those poor slobs in Manchester going through hell wondering if they will finish first or second in the Premiership. The only good thing about that is that one of them won’t win it."

Knowing IOR’s habit of waiting for weeks before appointing new managers, I feared the worst. I could see things just drifting away, with us ending up in the bottom four. Then all of a sudden, as a football club, we got the best possible Christmas present. I remember back in 2003 when a friend phoned me at work and simply said ‘Neale Cooper’. My reaction was ‘who is Neale Cooper and what has he got to do with us?’ He hadn’t heard of him either, but he was letting me know that he had just been appointed as the Pools manager. When the same friend phoned me in late December 2011 and said ‘Neale Cooper’ I thought he was winding me up, knowing that I had always regretted him leaving. But no, it was true ‘The Great Man’ was back. I think it is fair to say that everybody who wishes Pools well was given a lift by his appointment. I thought ‘if we go down at least it won’t be for the lack of effort’.

My only reservation over the appointment was the fact that Neale Cooper had made himself such a wonderful reputation in his first spell in charge that I didn’t want him to have it tarnished if things didn’t work out this time. To date those worries have not been realised. Same old Cooper, same old candour about performances, and same old effort from the team – whoever is in it. See, it doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Believe it or not, things have started to look even more promising. Those of you who have been following my contributions to this fanzine (I can dream can’t I?) will know that I have never believed that the council ever had any intention of selling the ground to IOR, and that I have never been shy in saying so. Well, in a phrase I never thought I would write, it seems that I might have been wrong. Not only might IOR get the ground, with all the development opportunities that this will bring, but they might get it for nothing (nothing that is if you discount the £13,000,000 they have already spent on the club).

Oh, there are a few misanthropes (quickly Kenneth – the dictionary) who want to put a spoke in the wheel and try to squeeze more money out of IOR, but as a full Council Tax payer it seems to me that in the light of the independent report that says the club is worth £5,000,000 a year to the town, then it would be downright churlish to try to get even more out of them. They could end up killing the goose that is laying the golden eggs.

To sum up:

Neale Cooper is in charge.

It looks like IOR are going to get ownership of the ground.

We have some excellent young players coming through.

There are prospects of getting some new players in the close season.

Now if only I can persuade Phil Dunn to play brass band music over the speaker system before the game and get the players to get ‘short back and sides haircuts’ then all will be well. All this and I don’t know how much the season tickets are going to cost, but I don’t care, I’ll still blow my heating allowance money on one.

So come on Franklin, play the music “Happy days are here again...”

BILLY'S CONTRACT confesses all

Many people have their fears in life. It could be anything from the fear of flying to being scared of the dark. My son for instance has a phobia about all things ears. Won't touch his ears if he can help it, and does not like the bony texture or feel of an ear. His other fear is spiders. I would love to see how he would react if a spider crawled into his ear.

As for myself, I have my own private nightmare, well three nightmares to be precise. The first fear, albeit the chances of it ever happening were indeed, somewhat remote, even more so now I rather suspect, and that would be to wake up in bed next to Amy Winehouse.

Secondly, and this one scares the life out of me, would be the thought of owning a French car of any description.

Saving my worst fear until last (and this one sends the shivers down my spine even writing about it) would be to have Alistair Brownlee, the Radio Cleveland presenter, as my best friend, or even as a distant relation (the further the distance the better)."Lately, Pools reserves beat Borer reserves and BrownPants was on the radio going out of his way to point out that Pools had several first teamers in the side on the night"
 Many years ago in Monkey Business I wrote that, even though I had never seen Alistair Brownlee I could imagine what he looked liked just by the sound of his irritating voice. So it came as no real shock the first time I saw him on television. He was exactly how I imagined him to be, even down to the jumper he was wearing. A ‘poor man's Alan Partridge’ I think would be a fair description.

I know a few people who have been guests on his football show on the radio who originally shared my sentiments, but since meeting him their views have softened. They tell me he is not so bad, and pass him off as a daft lad with a passion for The Borer. Fair do's I say, but why does he have to inflict his passion on the rest of the civilised world? Every club, including Pools, have their share of mad or cross-dressing supporters, but Brownlee should be sectioned.

No matter what subject he is talking about, somehow or other he manages to drag Borer into it . However, what narks me most about him is that he actually thinks they are a big club. Pre-season he was doing the commentary when Darlo were playing them, and despite the fact that the non-league club won four-something, it was down to the fact that the Blue Square side had raised their game when playing their 'bigger neighbours'.

Lately, Pools reserves beat Borer reserves and BrownPants was on the radio going out of his way to point out that Pools had several first teamers in the side on the night. Recently on my way to Pools I heard him on the radio ten minutes before the West Ham v Borer game kicked off. He commented that it looked as if there was going to be a small crowd in at Upton Park on the night. As it turned out, only 27,500 were in attendance, one of West Ham's lowest crowds of the season (obviously the opposition were not exactly a star draw). That crowd was almost twice as much as the Borer get for a home game. For the record Mr Brownlee, for the reverse top of the table clash when Borer entertained West Ham at the Cellnet, only 18,500 turned out ...and 2,500 of those fans were from East London.

What is even worse is that Brownlee now fronts BBC Radio Smog's breakfast programme. I don't know how many Monkey Business readers watched the excellent, nay, brilliant Father Ted, but in one episode Father Dougal picks up the remains of a smashed television set and pops his head through the frame. Father Jack wakes up, and seeing Father Dougal throws an empty (naturally) whiskey bottle at him, asking “is that Gobshite on the telly again?” Substitute the word telly for radio and that is how I feel about 'Ali' Brownlee.

In common with most people from the Headland, my radio is tuned into to Radio Four on my way to work. There is nothing better than listening to John Humphreys tearing into some hapless politician and giving him/her some right chew.
Even though my car radio is not tuned into Radio Smog at the most interesting bit of the Radio Four interview, or they are just about to inform the listener on how the currency markets and the FTSE is performing, the next thing I know there is a fanfare of tat music and the Radio Smog traffic bulletin interrupts my listening. Alaistir Brownlee tells us that (like any other day of the week) that traffic is slow moving on Marton Road. The amount of times I have tried to switch the radio off before the traffic jingle finishes and Brownlee speaks is a challenge in itself with me at the same time shouting “is that Gobshite on the radio again?”

He really does my head in. I do really pity his wife.
Once upon a time I used to listen to Radio Cleveland on a daily basis, but since Hartlepool's Alan Wright left the station I seldom have it on. In fact the only time I make a conscious effort to tune in to that station is if the Borer have been beaten yet again and listen to Brownlee and the Borer fans berating their lot.

Come to think of it, of late I am listening to Radio Cleveland on a regular basis on a Saturday night nowadays.

An upbeat assessment of Pools by BILLY'S CONTRACT

It is nearly the end of yet another footie season. As ever with Pools, in retrospect there has never been a dull moment. The season ticket offer kept our interest during the close season. Hopefully something similar will be repeated over the summer.

Mick Wadsworth sadly lost his job. I had a lot of time for Mick, but I think the step up into management was a bridge too far. I have previously stated that he would have been an excellent foil for Neale Cooper. Very much Ying and Yang. But alas not to be.;"Problem was, too many people were blowing his own trumpet for him even before he kicked a ball for Pools"

I hate to say that I told you so, but I did type on this keyboard that I did not think that Nobby Solano was going to cut the mustard, which indeed was the case. I will admit that he did have a couple of good games (only a couple), but once Wadsworth had gone Micky Barron dropped him and Neale Cooper followed suit. Basically in the main he was a passenger. He was never a ninety minute player, and to my mind a bit like David Beckham - no substance and a lot of a luxury. Solano was going to be subbed pretty much every game as he was not up to the rigours of League One football. Basically he should stick to trumpet playing. Problem was, too many people were blowing his own trumpet for him even before he kicked a ball for Pools.

Luscombe was another that many fans here on the terraces and the message boards were demanding should be in the team ahead of the likes of Ritchie Humphreys. Ritchie may well be nearing the end of his career but he is the consummate professional. If Luscombe took a leaf from Sir Ritchie’s book he too might have enjoyed a successful career. As it happens unless Luscombe has been handed a two year contract he will be heading down the non-league road ...if he is lucky.

Talking of Sir Ritchie, before a recent home game it was great to see him pitch-side, presented with a framed football shirt bearing the number 500 on the rear, to commemorate his 500 appearances for the club. A few weeks later James Brown received a similar accolade with a shirt bearing the number 5 on the rear ...this was celebrating five consecutive appearances without injury. Joking aside I think Brownie has done well and deserves to be given a contract for next season.

For me the worst of the season was that we got well and truly found out, mainly due to lack of pace, and some very below-standard performances, particularly from some of our more senior players. As a result ...or not a result, we lost 8 league home games on the trot. Even if we had won three of these games or drawn a few more, with a fairly average side we could have made the play-offs. Which just goes to show how poor this league is (think Stevenage).

Without doubt the defining moment of the season was the rightful reinstatement of The Laird Neale Cooper as manager. Like Burton and Taylor, Hurst and Peters, Laurel and Hardy (perhaps not), Cooper and Pools are a great double act. They were made for each other.
It has to be said that as yet we have not seen the fast-flowing attractive style of football we saw under his last tenure, but he has had to make do with the resources he has inherited, and to be fair, if the football hasn't been pretty as it once was, at least the results are pleasing.

I envisage a mass exodus of players leaving the club at the end of the season players including a few of the fans’ favourites.

If Cooper gets his men for next season I would not mind taking a bet on reaching the play-offs or even a good run in the JSP.

Hats off to Micky Barron for his out with the old (Solano), and in with the new (Luke James) policy. In Luke James we have one of the most exciting prospects to have come through the youth academy for some time. In many respects he has eclipsed Jack Baldwin who has largely gone unnoticed, but who in turn I feel will become a first team regular who I am sure will progress to a much higher level at centre back.

I am already looking forward to the new season, particularly if IOR take ownership of the Vic.

The future is bright. The future is Hartlepool United.

KT POOLIE reports on another problem for hard-pressed clubs

Premier League giant Manchelsea Hotspurs football club is tonight in disarray after the latest budget changes. Reeling from the lost revenues following their early exit from the European Champions League, the club was dealt a double whammy by Mr Osborne’s action on Pasties.

The Chancellor insists he is doing nothing more than tightening the VAT regulations to ensure that all hot food outlets pay the same tax on hot foods, a decision which has seen him ridiculed as the Nasty Pasty Chancellor or The Half-Baked Treasurer.

Manchelsea’s manager Benny Dallglish bemoaned the change. “Noo jist haud on! Ah dinnae ken wha the Skinny Malinky Tattyboggle in yon number 10 is thinkin’. It’s a’reet for thon Prime Minister wi’ his fancy-Dan, subsidised Hoose a Parliament lunches, but we cannae sell hot food? After the cock-up o’er Andy Carroll, ahm on a restricted budget.”"One can simply switch back to quail’s egg, aubergine and venison panini, but what about the unemployed chap on benefits in the North"

Fans protesting outside the club’s Emirates stadium were upset too, “OMG! I couldn’t believe it, to be honest. It’s like the dark ages of the 19th Century ‘n that, to be fair. The Gov’ment is ‘aving a laff, innit?, OMG!”, said one.

Another was more sanguine, “One can simply switch back to quail’s egg, aubergine and venison panini, but what about the unemployed chap on benefits in the North?”

Mr Osborne hit back on Tuesday’s NewsNight, describing his own love of fast food, “Like every Friday evening, I was in my local patisserie, J’Adore Mangetout where chef Albert Le Gausse makes a delicious lobster, orchid and jubi-berry turnover. Let me tell you, he welcomed the VAT increase as an aid to driving up the eating standards of ordinary people. The game wasn’t on the curriculum at Eton, so I’m unsure how a pasty is used to net a goal, but like Dave says, we are all in this together, so soccer has to move with the times”.

Late last night the Government appeared to be on the brink of a U-turn. This reporter understands the PM’s office has sent invitations to all Premier League managers for discussions over an informal lunch at Downing Street, £150,000 per head, plus VAT.

CHIP FIREBALL looks back on the season

And so another season draws to a conclusion, on a run of poor form, lacklustre performances, and dwindling attendances. Its hard to believe as I sit here typing on Aprils Fools Day, that at times this season we have been on the fringes of the play off race. I think that probably says more about the general lack of decent sides outside the top 5, than it does about our own performances.

The season fortunately got off to a record breaking start. Then 6 weeks after winning all our league games in September, IOR decided to sack the manager. The reasons given were poor results, a lack of entertainment and dwindling crowds at home. For the record we managed 26 points from 19 games under Wadsworth at a rate of 1.36 points per game.

Since Wadsworth left we have picked up 24 points from 21 games at a rate of 1.14 points per game. As often happens when a manager is replaced mid term, there is a temporary improvement and then the team returns to its previous level. Obviously in our case following a return of 13 points from 12 games under Cooper in February and March in which we managed to score just seven goals, things have got progressively worse. Indeed in eight of those 12 games we didn't manage to score at all.

So bad has this current run been, we are now actually generating fewer points than we were under Wadsworth, and scoring less goals. If the sacking was done to achieve better results and more entertainment, it hasn't worked."had Wadsworth not just offered Luke James a permanent deal but actually played him in the first team he would probably still be in a job"
 So apart from telling us that Hodcroft made a decision which hasn't improved matters what have we learnt? Well firstly it seems pretty clear that had Wadsworth not just offered Luke James a permanent deal but actually played him in the first team he would probably still be in a job.

Secondly that Cooper has got no more out of the current squad than Wadsworth did. As both of them are decent managers and a pretty good judge of players, this suggests that rather than the manager, it is clearly a large chunk of the playing squad who are probably not good enough or consistent enough to suceed at this level.

Last season we picked up something like 7 points from our last 10 games. Once safety was secured the players just seemed to go through the motions. This season has seen a similar pattern. At the end of January we were genuine play off contenders. Then Cooper got the same slump in form in February and March that Wadsworth got in October and November. Essentially the players could not perform well week in and week out.

As a result Cooper has reverted, as Wadsworth did before him, to a safety first 4-5-1 formation, which keeps chances at both ends to a premium, and produces bore fests like the game at Walsall and the one at the Vic against Oldham.

Another thing we have learnt is that the fans seem willing to cut Cooper a lot more slack than Wadsworth. Even after the Sheff United game where for the third home game in a row we neither scored nor won, fans were still prepared to state on the message boards that he had turned the season round and saved us from relegation, neither of which is actually factually correct. You could just as easily argue that it was the points Wadsworth picked up at the start of the season that kept us up, and that in terms of points per game the change in mamagement made things worse not better.

Clearly Cooper did not sign the players in the squad, he inherited them and he can only be judged truly, once he has had the opportunity to bring players in during the Summer, assuming he is still the manager. I say that because IOR have actually sacked managers previously ( Cooper and Newell ) who on paper at least appeared to be achieving.

I did state In my Bizz column when Cooper took over that he would struggle to get any more out of this squad than Wadsworth did and this has proved to be the case. This I believe is because a lot of them are simply not good enough, and packing the midfield to generate low scoring games in which we lose by 1-0 margins cannot disguise this.

Clearly there needs to be a major overhall in the Summer, but we say this every year and every year the usual suspects escape the chop. Obviously players such as Luscombe, Solano, Haslam, and Larkin are expected to go. Likewise Nish if he is out of contract. However will Hodcroft be minded to release a few others?

Personally I see no benefit in retaining the services of Gary Liddle. He made it clear last Summer he wasn't going to commit his long term future to the club, and he has played much of the latter part of the season like a man going through the motions. Just how good a player he thinks he is I do not know. What I do know is that he has played a large chunk of the season in a 5 man midfield where having the extra player should help him to shine. The reality is that in most games he has been totally anonymous, and in none of them a genuine contender for man of the match.

He has something like 2 goals in 32 appearances this season, a woeful return for a man playing in the middle of midfield with the luxury of having a holding player behind him in Paul Murray.

It must surely be time to end the playing career of Ritchie Humphreys. He has also made getting on for 30 appearances this season either in midfield or up front and has scored once. Like Liddle he poses virtually no goal threat to the opposition either directly or by setting up a team-mate and rolls around the field achieving very little other than to clutter up the place. Loyal servant and all that, but his wages could be better spent on someone younger with more of an eye for goal.

Adam Boyd is another that has been a fans favourite in the past but who is well beyond his sell by date. Ten goals in the last two seasons is a sorry return for a striker, and the fact that even with our injury crisis this season, he hasn't been able to hold down a first team place says it all.

You could also argue a pretty good case for releasing both Monkhouse and Brown, and even getting shot of Sweeney if he was out of contract (which he isn't) so in and out has their form been this season. Likewise Austin and Horwood.

A good indication of just how ambitious Pools intend to be will be displayed by the retained list. If only 3 or 4 of the senior players in the current squad go then I can't see much room for improvement or grounds for optimism. However if the cull gets up to around 6 or 7 then clearly both Cooper and Hodcroft are intending to really go for it.

Only time will tell.

GREAT GRANDAD SHOUTY offers his take on things

The day after we registered a 1-0 win over Yeovil, I decided to go on to the Yeovil website to see what they had to say - and, by God, they came up with some cracking bits.

They weren’t happy chappies as the following indicate:

 “Styles of approach as different as chalk to cheese”

“they (Yeovil) found their visitor’s agricultural clearances and time wasting tactics robbed the encounter of any real tempo”

“Hartlepool’s tactics … slowing the game at every opportunity”

“… striker Noble was trying his hardest to get booked with several displays of petulance and niggly behaviour while the time wasting from keeper Flinders and his lace tying defenders was annoying the Glovers’ faithful at goal kicks”."Oldham did their homework and got their tactics right in hanging on to their rather strange goal. Don’t know who was more surprised - Oldham or Pools!"

After the 5-0 drubbing at Wycombe, it was about time we showed a bit of true grit. Had we tried to play open and attacking football then Yeovil would have no doubt taken us to the cleaners. I certainly don’t want home fans saying “What a fantastic game. Best there’s been here for a long time. Oh, by the way, thanks for the three points”. Our mission in life is surely to win footy matches and not necessarily to entertain home supporters.

Like everything in footy, crap evens itself out and we’ve had a fair share of it at The Vic in March. Take the MK Dons game. A fair result against a good side, but why did we have to get several previews of what Tom Daley will be doing at The Olympics? Luckily the referee was wise to their tactics - pity he didn’t get the yellow card out for their diving. Then there was the Stevenage game. Not a dirty side by any means but they had the propensity to nudge in the back at every opportunity. Not a case of ’nod, nod, wink, wink’ - more a case of ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’. Unfortunately, the referee let them get away with it - which encouraged them even more. Another thing about the Stevenage game - have you ever seen so many throw-ins at a game of footy?

The game which we didn’t deserve to lose was the encounter against Oldham. We saw enough of Ryan Noble to know that his loan signing has possibilities. However, it must be said that Oldham did their homework and got their tactics right in hanging on to their rather strange goal. Don’t know who was more surprised - Oldham or Pools! Tony Sweeney was obviously seen as the man to be curbed and what a good job they made of it. More often than not they had two players marking him out on the right and this nullified any effectiveness he might have had. Sometimes, you can get frustrated when things don’t go right but when a team, by fair means, gets things right tactically you have to have a sneaking admiration for them.

So we come back to Yeovil. I never thought I’d use a quote from the bible in Monkey Business. But here goes: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Barring a disaster of catastrophic proportions, we’ll be playing League One next season. and the indications are that Neale Cooper is already planning to improve the squad. Arriving in December, he had the dismal home record to turn around and the encouraging signs were not long in coming. When the injuries start piling up, it shows what a threadbare squad we have. No problems for the moneybags of League 1 like Huddersfield Town who can cover themselves for such eventualities. Still, a good finish will encourage still further the sale of season tickets.

Once the season’s over, everybody (??) will be turning their attention to Euro 2012. I’ve never known such a lack of enthusiasm before an international tournament - the last World Cup has obviously blunted everybody’s expectations - which is not a bad thing. And there is the travelling army. Ukraine is hardly the tourist centre of Europe and the would-be fanatics seem to be voting with their feet by stopping at home. Let’s hope there is the same kind of resistance come The Olympics. One way of curbing high prices is to refuse to pay them.

And then there is the manager’s job. Will he, won’t he? Frankly, I have my doubts as to whether Harry Redknapp will take the England job. Some years ago, when Terry Venables resigned as the England coach, some guy in one of the broadsheets said that the ideal qualifications for the job were to have a thick skin and not be too bothered about what was written in the tabloids. He offered the view that the only man around with these qualifications was the former England cricket captain, Ray Illingworth. Still, if Harry refuses to take the England job, I wouldn’t blame him. As someone who is nearing state retirement age, why should he have to take all the crap that goes with the job. (There’s that word again).

Another thing about the FA was a recent report by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on the governance of the English game. Most of it went over my head and quite possibly the Committee missed the point. What is probably at fault is the actual people running the game and I see that Sir Dave Richards has been making a fool of himself yet again. At a recent conference, he said: “England gave the world football. It was the best legacy anyone could give. For 50 years, we owned the game. We were the governance of the game. We wrote the rules, designed the pitches, everything else. Then 50 years later, some guy came along… and stole it. It was called FIFA. Fifty years later, another gang came along called UEFA and stole a bit more.”. Its this kind of arrogance that’s given the FA a bad name - can’t we have people who live in the real world? In addition, Sir Dave fell into a swimming pool on his way to dinner. Up to his ears in water - or was it crap? If you want to talk in terms about stealing things - how about the ability to win international competitions? This is, of course, something which England have singularly failed to do - with the exception, of course, 1966.

As this is the last Monkey Business of the season, it remains for me to say : enjoy the close season. May you not get too bored with Euro 2012, going shopping on Saturday afternoons to Asda, Tesco’s, Morrison’s, Primark and Gateshead Metro Centre. As the build up to Euro 2012 gets under way, I’ll be travelling around a place where they’re not bothered about England and that’s Scotland. You don’t have to get on an aeroplane to escape it all.

Remember, its only three months before the start of a new season. Keep the faith everybody. It won’t be long before we see more crap to keep us amused.

POOLIE IN NOTTINGHAM trots along to Walsall

One of the weirdest things I've seen in Walsall was a few weeks ago when I was working through there. Walking along a street near the town centre I noticed a parked car which had a fully misted up windscreen, despite it being a sunny and fairly mild day. I looked a bit closer, and saw that the passenger seat had a healthy covering of mouldy fungus.
This was presumably from where the sunroof had been leaking and dripping on the seat. The driver's seat was mushroom-free, and the tax disc was in date, so I can only think that someone in Walsall drives it round in that condition without any worries.

I was hoping the trip to the Bescot to see Pools would be a bit more exciting than this, but unfortunately it wasn't to be. This has been one of those seasons where I'd settle for a point before the kick off of most away fixtures, particularly against a team at the bottom who are desperate for points. By the end of it I was just relieved that it was over.

It was such a shame that the game was a bore draw as I had another young brain in tow ready to be washed blue and white. My nephew Wilf had accompanied me to the pitiful display at Wycombe a few weeks earlier, and enjoyed the experience so much he had convinced his twin brother Dan to come along as well. Dan isn't into sport like Wilf is, but even so I reckon he can be another young member of the Poolie fraternity. "prior to this match the fixture always guaranteed goals. Last season's fixture saw the net bulge no less than 7 times, and the season before that featured 5 strikes"

Now it's all a distant, hazy, squelchy memory now, but in the week leading up to the game all of my family (and more or less everyone I know) seemed to be suffering from a sickness bug that involved plenty of spewing and skittery turds. My mam gave me a warning, ruefully shaking her head when recalling what had happened when she picked Wilf and Dan up from school a few days previously.

"When they got out of the car, Wilf was walking like John Wayne. I thought he was messing about, so I told him to stop walking like that or people would think he had sharted. He just looked at me and said 'I have.' Poor little bugger."

I've never been one to let a bit of a virus stop me following Pools, so me, my son Ewan and the twins left Leamington and joined the M40 north to get on the M6. After ten minutes or so, Ewan informed me that he needed the toilet, and it wasn't just for a slash. I told him to hold it in and I would stop at the next services. I didn't realise how few services there are on the motorways round Birmingham, but I was made well aware 5 minutes later when Ewan turned red with the effort of keeping his duds clean, just as we passed a sign informing us that the next services were at least ten miles away.

There was nothing else for it, so I left the motorway at the next exit, and headed up an A-road where I soon found a lay-by. Ewan got out of the car, squatted down and let it flow, much to the relief of both of us. After that little diversion we got back onto the motorway, and it wasn't long before we got to the Walsall junction.
Time was ticking away, and I managed to get parked up in the train station car park right next to the ground with minutes to spare before kick-off. The Bescot is one of those newfangled characterless stadiums sandwiched between the motorway and an industrial estate, but it is one of my favourite League One away days. Walsall fans are probably the friendliest of any team I have seen Pools play at, and prior to this match the fixture always guaranteed goals. Last season's fixture saw the net bulge no less than 7 times, and the season before that featured 5 strikes.

The Walsall niceness was in evidence at the turnstile, when the cheerful old gadgie on the gate said I only had to pay for one child admission to cover the three of them. No wonder the club has experienced financial problems over the years!

We got in just as the game kicked off, and found some seats to the left of the goal. After a couple of minutes, I was delighted to hear Wilf ask where Luke James was. He had obviously made an impression on Wilf during the Wycombe game, and I explained that he was injured.

Absolutely nothing of note happened in the first half, other than Walsall demonstrating some poor finishing from the few chances they managed to create. During half time, I spotted Andy Ramalamadingdong, and he sat with us for the second half.

The second half was more of the same, until Ewan suddenly announced that he needed the toilet really quickly. Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough, and there was a fair bit of skidding in Ewan's undercrackers. He was a bit embarrassed as I dropped them in the bin, but I assured him that many a great Poolie before him had followed through and needed to discard their duds in a football ground.

Whilst all this was going on, I heard the biggest roar of the game, and feared that Walsall had taken the lead. Emerging from the bogs, my fears were unjustified, and Andy filled me in. The lumbering Macken had gone up for a header in our box, Flinders more or less flattened him, and the ref gave us a free kick!

Sweeney got put through on goal but the Walsall keeper made a good save, and that was about it for excitement. Dan summed it up perfectly when I dropped the twins back at my sister's. "Was it a good game?" she enquired. "The best bit was when they kicked the ball really high and it went over the stadium roof" he replied. And I think he was right.

CENTRAL PARK raises an important issue... or two... or...

There are those who say that I am easily irritated, but I don’t think so. I will admit that there are certain things that go on in the world in general and in football in particular that greatly annoy me, and at my age I usually say so, generally by hurling abuse at the telly.

I’m sure it’s not just me that has noticed, but the amount of public emotion expressed seems to have taken off in the last few years, and I don’t like it. I’m not talking about people expressing grief at the loss of a loved one, but about people crying at sporting events. I can understand people being overcome by emotion at a time of triumph, like Bobby Charlton at the World Cup, but grown Englishmen crying because they have lost a football match is embarrassing.

I can remember seeing an old black and white newsreel of the1948 cup final with a little lad aged about four crying because Blackpool had lost. That was just about OK, but in those days if he had been not very much older he would have received clip around the ear and a lecture about keeping a stiff upper lip. Quite right too."leaving aside the fortunes of your own team, most of the pleasure to be had from the game is watching other teams fail"

If crying at losing a prize isn’t bad enough then what are we supposed to make about a grown man crying because the opposition has scored a goal? Before you ask, yes, this did happen in England. I was watching the sports news on the telly the other day when they showed a Manchester City supporter actually crying because his team had conceded a goal. The game was still in progress and, given the talent at their disposal, it was not unreasonable to suppose that his team still had a chance of at least equalising, and he was crying. Clearly he is a man who had never been taught how to cope with the vicissitudes of life (come along Kenneth, you know where the dictionary is by now). It was almost enough to make me want to see Manchester United win the title.

Mind you, despite what I have been saying, I have to confess that I was once very close to tears myself over a football result. It was when Bury lost a match in 1986, but I had a very good reason, they were the tenth match of a ten game accumulator and I would have picked up more than £300 for a 50p stake if they had won – I’ll always remember it, despite what the therapist says.

Now that Pools are safe and sound for the season, I can now smugly watch the efforts of less successful teams struggle to achieve promotion or avoid the drop. I will be able to urge them on, or not, and not have to worry about the effect their results might have on Pools. As I’ve said before, leaving aside the fortunes of your own team, most of the pleasure to be had from the game is watching other teams fail. I don’t suppose that it will come as any surprise to learn that I have my eye on two teams in particular who operate not a million miles away.

I almost feel ashamed of myself where one particular team is concerned. There was one wonderful late spring a few years ago when they missed out on a play-off place by a goal difference of one. Is it too much to hope that they will be relegated to the Blue Square (North) by the same margin this year? What a wonderful double it would be if Middlesbrough missed out on the play offs in the same way. I would definitely record the ‘Boro Hour’ if that happened.

Dean Lewington: an apology

In last month’s article I drew attention to the expected depredations to be perpetrated by the above mentioned full back of MK Dons. This was based on experience of his shenanigans in the past which I confidently expected him to repeat. All those people who had never seen him play before were looking forward to roundly booing him for the cad I had assured them that he was. Darth Vader had never had a build up like I gave this lad, to anybody who would listen.

What a letdown. Throughout the match he didn’t do one unkind deed and behaved like a perfect gentleman. During the match I thought he was just leading us on and would come out in his true colours when the need arose but, not a bit of it. I do hope the lad isn’t ill, and that he will soon be back to his ‘best’.

From the state of the League Two table it would look like a good bet that Crawley will be joining us next season. This isn’t something I am looking forward to after seeing the end of their recent game with Bradford.

I heard both managers interviewed after the game and the contrast was telling. Remember five players had been sent off after the match had finished. The Bradford manager sounded shell shocked and suitably ashamed, but made reference to Crawley’s reputation for pre, during and post match ‘aggression’. The Crawley manager by contrast clearly couldn’t give a monkey’s, and was conducting himself as though nothing much had happened. Those of you with only average memories will remember the reports of our games against Boston United in the early 2000s and the way they conducted themselves before, during and after those games, especially in the FA Cup in 2005. What’s the connection? That’s right, the manager. If they do come up it will be interesting to see if he manages to intimidate Mr Cooper.

So the dark days of the close season are almost upon us. What will I do to combat the withdrawal symptoms?

Well there’s England in the European Championship so that’s one week taken care of. What’s that you say, the Olympics? Don’t make me laugh. What a waste of money, even if we do manage to collect a barrow load of medals courtesy of a bunch of foreigners shipped in especially for the occasion (oh er Premiership anyone?). With the possible exception of Los Angeles in 1984 I don’t think any Olympic city has ended up with anything other than a clutch of white elephant stadiums and a heap of debt. I was distraught when we were ‘awarded’ the games in 2005. It was like being awarded a life time ticket for the ‘you know where Arena’ and being forced to use it. The French looked glum at the awarding ceremony but I bet they were having a little chortle off camera when they realised that we would pay for the games and they could come and watch them on a day trip by Eurostar.

I can just hear the last government now, ‘I’ve got a good idea; let’s spend a whole lot of money we can’t afford to give the rest of the world a couple of weeks holiday’. It’s like the Tall Ships on steroids. It is going to cost us somewhere in the region of 11 billion pounds just to see how good the Chinese pharmaceutical companies are.

Well they won’t darken my telly, and if that bloke with the Olympic torch comes down our street; I’ll chuck a bucket of water over him and put it out. Bah humbug.

RUNNING MONKEY enjoys a lesson in refereeing

As expected it was a good crowd for the game today, as the Blades' end was sold out, and I witnessed Blades fans buying tickets for the home stands.

After a poor start to the day weather-wise, it was in bright sunshine that the game started but it was a bit chilly to say the least. Kicking the right way again we started the game well and took it to them with a Collins header setting up Noble for a volley that won us a corner but it was cleared easily. Sam was caught in possession in our box but a smart turn helped him clear the danger under pressure.

We were pressing them back and won three corners in succession but could not break them down. I was about to set up a chant 'Boyeson is a Poolie', as he was giving us so many free kicks, till Ken pointed out free kicks, yes, but no bookings, despite them kicking us off the park. Noble looked sharp and broke free but it was a poor shot to end his effort.

Horwood was having a good game but we lacked any real threat from the pressure we put on them, and the amount of ball we were getting. Twenty-one minutes on the clock and the Blades had their first real chance but shot over the bar. Sweeney went close with a header but the ball was scrambled clear. "On the break Hartley was booked for pulling his man off balance as he forgot only the visitors are allowed to carry out that manoeuvre."

A touch of genius from young Luke James, back in action after his problem with growing pains, who chased back into our box and, showing good anticipation, cut out a threat with a deft back heel that left the attacker beat all ends up. Hartley played a poor ball that allowed an attacker a free run but he made amends in the next attack as he got his foot in fend off a an attack that looked dangerous.

It was becoming a bad-tempered game, and a scything tackle took out Aussie but no card from Boyeson. Someone started another chant about the ref being a fat person but I did not join in. Monky got flattened and it was obvious that, when at Hartlepool, big time Charlies like Boyeson allow big clubs to get away with a lot of what can only be called disreputable behaviour. Blocking players, even wrestling them to the ground, is all-acceptable at a Boyeson bash. No, I am not exaggerating - running into players and off-the-ball stuff was commonplace today, so much so that when our manager, that nice Mr Cooper challenged the fourth official, Mr Boyeson had to go over and have a quiet word.

Mr Boyeson did find his card after Noble was almost put into the stand. Then to even things up across the pitch he booked Monky for an offence that he had been letting go all day. No 28 Steve Quinn should have been booked when he fell to the ground claiming Aussie had slapped his face. Don’t you just hate cheats. The consensus at half time was we were as good as them and had more of the ball in the half.

Sweeney latched onto a ball and ran down the line but his great cross was wasted as no one managed to get up in time to receive it. Sweeney, again running in the middle, laid a ball on for Monky, who crossed it back in, and Sweeney was just beaten to the header.

We had learned the lesson of the first half that old sage Mr Clough once said: “there are no goal posts up in the air”, or words to that effect. We were playing some good stuff in patches, which only angered the visitors.

Horwood sent in a good cross that beat the keeper and the lively James won the ball, but could only win a corner, which was cleared. On the break Hartley was booked for pulling his man off balance as he forgot only the visitors are allowed to carry out that manoeuvre.

It was about this time that there was a death of a visiting player, who crumpled and, while feigning death, was appealing for a penalty as he was falling. A good opportunity you might say for Mr Boyeson to get involved, but he was just not interested. Another foul on Monky saw him square up to the offender, but as he was two foot taller than the Blades player, it was no contest. Mr Boyeson did get involved but only to give them a warning.

A run and cross from Lidds saw Monky with a good chance, but his volley was collected by the keeper. A shot at the other end had Ned scrambling as they stepped up their game. Noble had the best effort of the game, stretching the keeper who dived high in the top corner to beat a ball away. Hartley had a great effort blocked on the line as Boyeson and Co were riding their luck.

Young James sent a lovely head in for Noble to chase through, but he was bundled off the ball. Ned had to dive into a melee of flying boots to smother a chance for the Blades. Brownie came on and his first touch was a header at the keeper. Another fluffed kick out from Ned almost gifted the Blades a goal as the ball dropped for an attacker, leaving Sam and Hartley spectators.

The next attack saw Sam challenge for a ball and once again the ring-a-rosie action was used and the lino put his flag up, as Boyeson had dozed off by now. The roar of disapproval woke him up in time to give the visitors a very debatable penalty. It was harsh, but seeing as we were playing the elite of the division, and remembering who was in charge, there was no other outcome. Initially Boyeson ignored the challenge as he had been letting them go all day but the lino gave it and the kick duly sent Ned the wrong way.

Boydie came on for Luke, and like Brownie, almost scored with a chip shot that had the keeper struggling. I did not see the incident in which Hartley was sent off once again by Mr Boyeson, but he was not happy, and said something to the visitors’ bench as he was escorted off.

We had lost, undeservedly so in my opinion, but considering we were playing one of the top teams, we held our own and were unlucky to fall to a penalty like that after a good display.

We still need a striker or at least get some good service to James and Noble while we have them. Murray once again was outstanding and Hartley was named man-of-the-match just after he went off and before the end of play, which again was a good choice as he was immense again today. Once again, as the game ended, the chant about the fat person could be heard all around the ground, this time with the added extra banker verse. Questions have to be asked - do these fast-tracked referees get hauled around the country to officiate for the big clubs? I think it is inappropriate for the ref to be shaking hands with these players from the elite teams during the game, who spend the time to walk around the pitch to do so while they are being taken off in a substitution. Or am I just an old cynic?