Showing posts from August, 2012
Swindon - As I seen it!


Pools 0 Swindon 0   Saturday August 18th

Match report by RUNNING MONKEY at Victoria Park


There always seems to be a special atmosphere at the first home game of the season. A new beginning, a few new signings. 

Some great displays in the pre-season games, despite the Mags just showing off to their illustrious north-east neighbours by tonking their lowly neighbour. It matters not one jot as we will probably not play them again till next pre-season. It has to be said they are a very slick side and on the day we looked like lowly neighbours. We have been tonked before and survived to fight another day so why worry. Is it only last week we played Crewe and we got tonked, but cup games don’t really count, do they?

After meeting up with the leading member of the Hartlepool RECIDIVISTS, and discussing the Mags game, the cup game and this forth-coming Swindon game, I was ready to go home and give my ticket to the wife. What a bloody pessimistic sod he is, complaining about the defence before he had seen a ball kicked, relying totally on statistics from last season to make his point. 

"All water under the bridge", I said. "Tommy Miller will give us a penalty and we will storm home 3-1." "You claim that score every week you come!" he said, "And one day I will be right!" I chimed. 

Super Tom was given a good rousing Poolie cheer on the announcement of the visiting team. Remember only a few short weeks ago he was desperate to become a born-again Poolie. "Never heard of Mr Brown the ref" says Ken, who is a bit of a connoisseur on refs at Pools. 

First home game, the sun was shining and a good crowd, not full but still a good crowd. The nice Mr Ivan Ash of Tees fame was on the PA and was struggling. I could be holding a winning ticket for the match day lottery but I just never heard the draw. He tried valiantly to rise to the occasion but could only let his hair down playing a cricket ditty with a da di da hoi hoi hoi every time a sub was made.

Well, onto the game, and the lads won the toss and we were kicking the right way in the first half. Typically we were under the cosh for the first ten minutes as they piled on the pressure, even Miller blazing a shot over the Town End stand. 
"Typically we were under the cosh for the first ten minutes as they piled on the pressure"
The ref was a bit picky about bodily contact and gave a free kick against us after Hartley and a Swindon player played pat-a-cake while waiting for a high ball to drop. Monky looked up for it as he tried to get Pools on the front foot. He had a great chance from a Franks cross but seemed to slip as he was about to shoot and the chance was gone. 

Ned did a great job spreading himself to block a Swindon shot with his knee. Pools, growing more confident, started to press Swindon and this caused a great deal of arm throwing, head slapping and gesturing from the Swindon technical area. Howard was winning some great balls but nothing was coming from them, and his solo effort was scrambled away in a goalmouth scramble. 

Howard’s long-range shot was collected easily by the keeper but at least we were asking questions now. Poole had the last chance of the half when his header went wide. Despite the first ten minutes, when we were run a little ragged, we did ok, sharing the honours for the first forty-five.

Pools stepped it up a bit following the break, and after an off-the-ball chopping-down incident, we got a free kick, which Sweeney headed just over the bar. Poole, on a great run, had the Town End screaming for a penalty when he was bundled over in the box. A crime like that outside the box would have brought an instant card. 

A great run and cross from Aussie had Sweeney steaming into the box, but he was fractionally beaten to the ball by the keeper. Howard had the chance of the game. Standing near the spot he connected with a great cross and smashed it against the far post and dropped for the keeper. Hartley picked up on a rebound ball and smashed his shot into the box only to see the retreating Pools players offside. 

Pools were building up the pressure on a shaky Swindon defence as another cross found Franks on the edge of the box, but his drive was straight at the keeper. A loose ball was chased down by Howard, the scrambling Swindon keeper hit his clearance straight at Monky, who snatched when he had time, and hit it over the Town End. 

At the other end, after a succession of Swindon subs, Pools were scrambling a ball clear and a shot cum cross bamboozled Hartley, who handled the ball and up steps Super Tom for the penalty. Chants of “there is only one Tommy Miller" wafted over the lush Victoria Park turf as Super Tom hit his shot into the Rink End car park. It was such a bad penalty it had Ned laughing and Di Canio throwing his cup onto the park, which he thought better of and soon retrieved it.

Swindon rued their luck, or lack of it, throwing everything at us and pegging us back for the last ten minutes, but although we did not do enough to deserve the win, neither did they, so just maybe the football gods who deserted us at Crewe are now back on track, after a hard fought point to start the league campaign.

Man of the Match : Hartley, despite the handball.


GREAT GRANDAD SHOUTY looks back and forward

Here we go again - the start of a new season. Dare we hope for something to cheer us up? The signs are good - at least, we’ve now signed a proven striker in Steve Howard who should help us to increase the goal tally. Forget about him being nearer 40 than 30 - he’s got the experience under his belt and, just like Kevin Phillips at Blackpool, he’s got the young ‘uns to run round after him.

Last season wasn’t really depressing - more like frustrating. Had it not been for the away victories then we could have been sucked into the relegation dogfight. Buoyed by the sale of over 4,000 season tickets there were grounds for believing that we were getting somewhere and the early unbeaten run added to the optimism. Yes, it all went pear-shaped and we were all left wondering where a home victory would come from. (Britain’s sluggish start at The Olympics brought back memories of the previous season at Pools!)

For me, the Chesterfield game summed everything up. The expectation that we would finish off the season with a bang just disappeared. Pools, already assured of a mid table place, could have thrown caution to the wind against a side just about relegated. After taking the lead, we caved in and were beaten 2-1. Three things stood out in that match. Firstly, over twenty minutes elapsed before the first foul, secondly, there were no cards issued by the referee, and thirdly, neither physio was called into action. The referee must have thought that it was his birthday and Christmas rolled into one. The level of commitment from both sides was evident and as I sat in my trusty seat in the Niramax Stand I could be forgiven for thinking, “I’m paying for the privilege of watching this crap”.

Elsewhere, it now looks as though Victoria Park could revert to Pools’ ownership in the not too distant future - and this can only improve still further the facilities available to spectators. One area, of course, where an investment would bring dividends is the away end. There have been occasions where demand has exceeded supply and the proliferation of League One with ex-Premier League clubs should further benefit the coffers. I’ve been trying to think of ex-Premier League clubs who have played (and will play) at The Vic. The following come to mind: Leeds, Charlton, Southampton (they once brought over 500 for a Tuesday night game), Coventry City, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest, Portsmouth and Leicester City. They all bring with them large followings, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t cash in on their presence."...All that happened at the Ibrox club should serve as a reminder to those clubs who overstretch themselves and try to achieve dominance."

How will things pan out this season? Looking around, I can‘t think of any club that will dominate proceedings this season, so I’ll have to go for the top six - Doncaster, Sheffield United, Carlisle, MK Dons, Coventry and Pools (definitely not Portsmouth!) The punters’ favourites will, of course, be Sheffield United, but after Ched Evans’ stupidity they may find goals hard to come by and could struggle to make the play-offs. Still, there’s enough quality there to mount some sort of a challenge. At least this season, the Football League computer has been kind to Pools. We’re at home in the first game, but maybe they could have given us a better last game - away to Crawley. Maybe the Football League wanted a game where Pools supporters would have to travel on the London Underground and so bemuse all those Cockneys on their way to the match.

Looking further afield, a number of things caught my attention - some good, some bad. At the end of last season, the FA decided in their wisdom to start the FA Cup final at 5.15pm instead of 3pm. No problem for Chelsea supporters, but it was then discovered that there were no trains out of Euston to get Liverpool supporters home. No doubt the decision was made to reach a global audience via television, but don’t our supporters who go to games matter just as much? I would suggest that if overseas audiences want to watch our show games then they should get up early or go to bed late. We’d have to do the same if the boot was on the other foot.

Later on, of course, the FA appointed Roy Hodgson as England manager and, for this the FA deserve a pat on the back. It meant that the England manager was chosen by the FA and not the London-based tabloid press. And so to the GB Olympic team which was dominated by English players and a few Taffies thrown in. Here Stuart Pearce resisted the tabloid press and left Beckham out. Good on yer, Stuart. I don’t think that Beckham would have made for a more successful team - there were a lot more things going on without him being the focus of attention. Are the FA starting to get some backbone?

Then there was the double header of warm up games at the Riverside Stadium. Anyone who attended both games couldn’t leave the stadium between games. Why - was it that they wanted a captive audience for the food? Anyone who went for both games would have been imprisoned in the Riverside Stadium for six hours - more like, life in a padded cell don’t you think?

At the beginning of June, me and my good lady escaped to the solitude of Scotland and cruised round the Western Isles on a paddle steamer. No escape from the good old game though, as their local newspapers were devoted to the goings-on at Rangers. The whole business seemed so complicated - or should I say a mess? All that happened at the Ibrox club should serve as a reminder to those clubs who overstretch themselves and try to achieve dominance. I think we can sleep safely in our beds that nothing like this will happen at Pools. For that, we should be eternally grateful.

It’s not all doom and gloom in Scotland, though, and that well-known ex-Poolie Jon Daly seems to be going from strength to strength since he joined Dundee United. Last season, he scored 22 goals in 43 matches and was nominated for the PFA Scotland Player of the Year - just losing out to Celtic’s Gary Hooper. In addition, there’s been the experience of European football.

By the time these offerings appear, we’ll know how the new signings are coming along. Whatever happens, keep the faith!!

BILLY'S CONTRACT on Pools, Olympics, Euros ...and Boris

By, that came around quick, didn't it? Where did the close season go? In truth, it seems an age since we boarded the coach for the long journey home after the Charlton game, wondering how we would pass the summer in what then seemed to be an age before the football season 'kicked off' once again.

 I, like pretty much everyone else only had a passing interest in the Euros, and no interest at all in the Olympics. As it turned out I watched England predictably slump to yet another penalty defeat once again, in an Irish Ireland, which was a great laugh. Not so much the result, but the Craic was mighty, and the quality of the Guinness was not far behind.

A famous old wise man once said to me that from every negative no matter how bad there is a positive within. Come to think of it, it was an retired electrician who told me that. So taking that mantra on board, and looking back on the plus side, it was far better losing to Italy in a play-off shoot out than it would have been losing it to Germany in the same circumstances. With that I ordered another pint of the Black Stuff.

My wife asked me if I was going to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics. I said I had better things to do, particularly as I heard that there might be some 'dogging ' going on over at the Headland as I was tipped off that there was going to be a 'blow job' on Hartlepool's biggest erection. So I took myself off, along with my camera to Old Cemetery Road to take a few photographs of Steetley's (Or The Palliser for those of a certain age) Chimney, before it was demolished a few days later.

It turned out that I got back in the house bang on nine to see the opening ceremony (I thought it actually started at seven o'clock). I am really pleased I caught it. Everyone beforehand thought it would all be done on the cheap a la Blue Peter style, with all the props made from old Squezy washing up liquid bottles, Advent crowns and sticky tape. To say it was sensational would be an understatement. As for Boris Johnson, the sooner he becomes Prime Minster the better for all of us."I will still be down at the Vic next week watching the lads rather than turn up at Burn Road Harriers’ training session!"

This got me thinking that at the start of each new football season all the clubs should have their own opening ceremony.

In the case of Pools, I could envisage an 80 foot inflatable of Lawrence hovering over the Vic, dressed in sling back wellies and an off the shoulder donkey jacket with a mother of pearls necklace. The Stadium would be full of under-sixteen mothers pushing their offspring around the touchline in their buggies, whilst holding a Greggs Steak Bake in one hand, a can of lager in the other, with a tab stuck in between their lips. I obviously haven't fully thought this through yet, but it is early days and I haven't had my medication.

"...I will still be down at the Vic next week watching the lads rather than turn up at Burn Road Harriers’ training session!"

As for the Olympics themselves, I haven't been able to tear myself away from the TV in case I have missed anything. The cycling and the rowing have been exceptional, and as write this it is so called 'Super Saturday' when GB won three golds in the athletics. I was well and truly proud to be British...even though I have Irish blood running through my veins.

It is a strange phenomenon, for all I am a passionate football fan and have seen numerous play-offs and cup finals, as well as world cup and Euro matches, plus the many exciting relegation battle seasons with Pools over the years, some of the events in this Olympics in my view are just as comparable.

Similarly, the year that the England Rugby team beat Australia in their own back yard after extra time was something I will never forget. When the ball was being passed to Wilkinson before he even caught it to drop kick it over the bar to win the World Cup for England I was jumping up and down and roaring my head off. In terms of entertainment it was better than any FA Cup/World Cup final that I have ever seen and the excitement was on a totally different level. Bear in mind this was only the third rugby match I had ever watched fully through. In fairness, most of the time I hadn't a clue what was going on but I was exhausted after the event.

So stand up Jess Ennis, Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Mo Farah et al as well as all the other Olympians, winners and losers of all nations, you truly put the average and so-called superstar footballers to shame with your dedication and commitment to your respective sports. Mind, having said all that I will still be down at the Vic next week watching the lads rather than turn up at Burn Road Harriers’ training session!

I was really pleased when Neale Cooper announced the signing of Jonathan Franks. How this contrasted with my depression when at about the same time last year it was announced that Nobby Solano had put pen to paper for us.

Although a number of message board Poolies were not too keen on Stevie Howard signing for us, I think it is a massive coup to get him. In the one pre-season match I attended, he won every header put his way against both the Borer teams Tony Mowbray fielded on the day. He played the role of the traditional target man, holding up the ball, providing knock ons and knock downs, as well as making the opposition aware of his physical presence. Not sure how many times he will hit the back of the net this season, but he will make a lot of goals for his fellow forwards.

Simon Walton for me could be the pick of Neale Cooper’s signings. Plymouth’s captain and leading goal scorer last season, with an ‘I don't like to lose’ attitude. I have always said that Pools have never been the same force since Mark Tinkler was forced to hang up his boots. Tinks to me was one of Pools all time great but unsung heroes.

He was a box to box player like Sweeney who could score goals. He was a tenacious tackler and work horse, who could put himself about like Paul Murray. On top of that he could do whatever it was that Gary Liddle was supposed to do, whatever that was...only ten times better!

Basically, in Tinks you got three players for the price of one! From what I have seen in Simon Walton he could be the new Mark Tinkler. He has the type of hair that looks as if it will go grey quite prematurely, which is a good sign to start with. Plus, I like the fact that he was not afraid to rollock Horwood for being responsible for Borer’s first goal. He also gave Monky some grief over something as well. Hopefully he will be Neale Coopers voice on the park, as in the past we have had too many quiet players who perhaps did not like shouting at their 'mates' to get their fingers out.

I am confident that, provided the defence get their act together (and in particular the two full backs stop making basic mistakes and giving the ball away cheaply) we could nick a play-off spot at the very minimum.

KT POOLIE has a scoop of Olympic proportions

The Twittersphere is buzzing with excited rumours this month as fans anticipate a season opening spectacular at the Vic. Buoyed by the success of the London 2012 opening ceremony, the gossip from a well-known Throston establishment says that Pools have hired an Oscar winner to direct the players and some volunteers in a never-to-be-forgotten celebration of the new season.

Now, in a sensational scoop, this reporter can declare the rumours to be true. Searching through a waste disposal edifice at the back of the shops, I chanced upon a blueprint for the event. There can no longer be any doubt.

I have the envelope in front of me now. Inside a green, rectangular slip of paper appears to be a scribbled early draft, containing the words:

18 Aug. My tips for the big day. These are sure things so keep them to yourself! See you in the theatre of dreams, Boydy.

1:15 – Flying Vic

1:30 – Party Doctor

1:50 – Exiles Return

2:10 – Dazzling Light

2:30 – Barons Spy

3:00 – Kicken Off

What does it mean? Fortunately my footballer’s knee flared up last week and during a day of analgesic treatment from my hash pipe the truth emerged.

The green paper represents the award-winning surface at the Vic - you don’t need a brain trained on the novels of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to deduce that!

‘Flying Vic’ is a reference to that stalwart of all good ceremonies, an aircraft display. The afternoon begins with a low fly past by a light plane from Teesside airport. Its passing heralds the appearance on the pitch of...

volunteers dressed as doctors and nurses supporting a youth team who are carried about on NHS stretchers. Clearly an allegory of the poor performance of the team in recent times, before...

the homecoming of the Scot. Carrying a Never Say Die flag, Neale Cooper leads out the team bedecked in blue and white kit to complete a lap of honour before...

fireworks and floodlights brighten the sky causing the supporting masses to peer upward as...

the aircraft returns trailing blue and white smoke through which a lone parachute opens and Micky Barron dressed as 007 lands in the centre circle to take his seat in the dugout in time for...

...the big kick off.

And the director’s name? It can only be the nickname of legendary Hollywood director, Danny Boyle.

Well done Ken and Russ – another marketing first for League One.

Hope you’ve got your season tickets, it’s going to be a year of great sporting achievement.

POOLIE IN NOTTINGHAM goes to the Ricoh Arena

When I heard that some of the Olympic footy matches were to be played outside of that London, I looked for a suitable fixture for me and the bairn to go to. I'm not a big Olympics enthusiast, but I felt like he ought to have the opportunity to go to an event whilst it was on.

Due to the times the games were played, the only suitable match was the double-header ladies' games of Sweden v Japan followed by Canada v South Africa, in Coventry. I've never seen much in the way of female football, and whilst I'd heard the quality was pretty poor, I was willing to give it a go.

I've got to say that it wasn't easy to get tickets. A complete pain in the arse, to be frank. The official website let you select the tickets for the game you wanted to watch, but then you had to register on the site and confirm your registration thing by email and so on. When it finally got to the checkout, you had to choose a 'delivery' option. Except the only option available was to collect the tickets from Stratford. I thought it was a bit odd having to go a few miles out of Coventry to Shakespeare's birthplace, and then I twigged that it meant Stratford in London, not Stratford-on-Avon.

Bollocks to that, I decided to just turn up on the day and pay on the gate. Having previously been to the Ricoh (renamed The City of Coventry Stadium for the duration of the games to avoid upsetting the sponsors) to watch Pools in the League Cup, I was pretty confident that the 30,000 + capacity would not be reached. So me and Ewan set off for Coventry expecting to bool up and saunter in.

I knew that the stadium car parks weren't available for plebs, and that we'd have to park and ride from the city centre. This bit was pretty good to be fair - plenty of signposts for the car parks, £3 to park all day, and loads of free shuttle buses to take you to the stadium. When we got off the bus we made our way round the ground to the ticket office (basically a tarted up portakabin). Not surprisingly, the merchandise side of it was right in your face, with loads of stalls selling overpriced gear to anyone willing to part with their hard-earned.

What we found was that every word of the much-publicised ticketing fiasco was true. After a long wait while the ticket office gadgie wrestled with a slow and on-the-verge-of-crashing computer system, I and many others were told that the match had sold out. I severely doubted this, so I thought I'd bide my time in the hope that the system would correct itself. Me and Ewan sat and had some of our picnic on a grass verge by the stadium, and saw dozens of distraught fans heading away, some of them on their mobiles arranging to be picked up as they couldn't get into the game.

After some scran we went back to the ticket office, to be told be the gadgie that another 1100 tickets had now been allocated. £23 for me and the bairn wasn't bad value really, and I made sure I paid with cash, in a one-man stand against Visa."The Swedes were mostly tall, broad, strapping lasses, with thighs thicker than your average Darloid"

The stupid ticketing arrangements didn't end there though, as a Japanese woman at the booth window next to me was told that she couldn't have the tickets she'd bought online for her family as she didn't have any photo ID on her. Even though she presented the Visa card she used to make the purchase, she had no choice but to pay for the tickets again. Poor cow.
The next thing we had to get through was the security. There were about three queues, each a mile long, containing people with bags that needed to be searched meticulously before they could enter the stadium. Thankfully, we were told that as our bag was smaller in size than a magazine, we could just get searched on the turnstile. Our bag contained some scran, a small bottle of water, and a few Matchbox cars for Ewan if he got bored. I started to panic, thinking that a small die-cast VW Beetle may be construed as an offensive weapon and the security gadgie would hoy it along with the others into the big bin for confiscated items. Thankfully, all we had to do was neck all the water, get patted down, and we were in.

Inside the concourse of the stadium the atmosphere was great. There was no fan segregation, everyone was mingling very happily and politely stepping aside for each other. As well as loads of fans wearing their team colours - Sweden, Japan, South Africa, and Canada - there were loads of other shirts on display, mostly Coventry City. I was pretty confident that Ewan was the only one in a Pools top, and I didn’t see any others. 

Needless to say, I didn't buy any of the overpriced food or drink within the stadium, so we made our way in. Our allocated seats were in one corner of the ground, and we had several hundred (if not thousand) to choose from. We decided to go right up to the top, which gave us a cracking view. I suppressed the urge to start the chant "They're here, they're there, they're every f***ing where, empty seats, empty seats" but stood up to applaud the teams as they entered the pitch. I thought of all the poor buggers that would have liked to have been there watching the game, but believed that it had been sold out and returned whence they came.

Ewan ...and those empty seats

The first thing that struck me was the difference in stature between the two teams. The Swedes were mostly tall, broad, strapping lasses, with thighs thicker than your average Darloid. By contrast, the Japanese bewers were diminutive and slight. This difference played a huge part during the game, with the Japanese on average being quicker, nimbler, and more skilful. They couldn't make it pay though, as despite getting round the back of the Scandinavians (fnarr) several times, their finishing was awful. The Swedes had their moments too, but the game ended goalless.

Despite the blank scoreline, it was an entertaining game, and having not seen any live women's matches before, I noticed a few differences with the men's game. Firstly, there was very little long-ball stuff, mostly short passes to feet. Secondly, it was nowhere near as physical, with little in the way of crunching 50/50s. Fouls were few and far between, and this meant there was very little simulation either.
After the final whistle, the tannoy announcer informed us that the next game would be starting fairly soon, but it would have been pushing Ewan's tolerance a bit, so we headed off to the shuttle bus with all the face-painted hordes back to the centre of Coventry. 

In conclusion, I think having the Olympics in the UK was a good thing, although the events should have been spread around a bit more rather than centring on the capital. I know Coventry fairly well, as our lass was living there when we first met and so I spent a fair bit of time there. Hosting some of the games seemed to have given the place a boost - at the very least the council had scrubbed up the bus station. What got on my tits with the thing was the difficulty we had in actually getting tickets, and the radged processes in place for security. I won't go on about the free seats for sponsors/Olympic family aspect as that has been done to death already, but it still makes my piss boil.

Ewan was a bit disappointed that there hadn't been any goals during the game, but I assured him that there would be some when we came back to Coventry in March to watch Pools in action. Hopefully they will be scored by Pools, but we'll have to wait and see... 

CENTRAL PARK on pre-season games of many years ago

I know that I usually harp on about the ‘good old days’ in these offerings, and now it seems that this year I should be pleased that one of the old traditions has been restored. 

The league season doesn’t start until after the middle of August. Yes, I know it hasn’t been done just to please me, and that it probably has something to do with that overpriced, free show for the rest of the world, we are all having to pay for and that nobody asked if we wanted , nonsense taking place in London.

All the same when I saw what had happened I was delighted, not least because I thought it would give me an extra couple of weeks to think of something to write for this esteemed organ. But noooo, thanks to the whim of our editor (a man who is doing a great job and whose place I would not take even for the promise of a 6-0 win against you know who), the deadline has been brought forward a week. I am presuming that this is because we are playing in the first round of the league cup on 11 August, so here I am, slaving away over a hot keyboard.

What I liked about the later kickoff date all those years ago was that it gave us plenty of time to calm down after the excitement of the Carnival, talking of which, I still have nightmares about that bloody camel, and the bloke who used to lead the parade on his roller skates while playing a piano accordion. If that wasn’t enough, he would wear open toe sandals with grey socks, an outsize baby’s nappy, and an absolutely huge stuffed bra. Nobody ever saw where he came from to join the parade, or where he went to afterwards. These days we would vote for him to be mayor.

"...he wasn’t a particularly good looking lad (he’s 79 now, so if he reads this I’m not in much danger)"

So because of the truncated deadline, I’m writing this just after the friendly against Sunderland and before the friendlies against Middlesbrough and Hull. "...he wasn’t a particularly good looking lad (he’s 79 now, so if he reads this I’m not in much danger)"

We didn’t have such luxuries when I first started watching Pools. In those days it was a cut price match between the ‘probables’ and the ‘possibles’, and that was your lot. Mind you, such games were usually well attended, and it gave us a chance to cast our eyes over the new signings, and guess who was who.

No loudspeaker system in those days, just the lad with the blackboard trudging round the ground about 10 minutes before kickoff. So with new players to identify, and only a fleeting glimpse of the mobile board, there were arguments galore about who was who.

The task wasn’t made any easier by the photos that had been printed in the Mail (The Northern Daily Mail to give it its full title in those days). They might as well have been mug shots of Al Capone and his crew for all the resemblance they had to the actual players. Of course, things got even trickier in the second half when one or two were required to swop sides. Still, these games were a chance for the new lads to show us what we could expect, and it could be a make or break time for some of them.

The minds of some of the fans were made up on the strength of one game between players of the same club. I have a couple of mates who still do that sort of thing today (no names, but you know who you are).

I remember one unfortunate individual (back in 1959 – I’ve checked the web site), who completely wrecked his chance of ever being accepted by the Poolie faithful. This was a full back called Eric Oldham. His name is still invoked to this day by fans of a certain age, when they wish to conjure up the image of a man who isn’t very good and who goes out of his way to alienate the crowd into the bargain.

To start with he wasn’t a particularly good looking lad (he’s 79 now, so if he reads this I’m not in much danger), and when he came onto the pitch he looked like one of those wrestlers who snarl at the crowd as they climb into the ring.

For those of you over the age of 50, think Mick McManus or Steve Logan. So, with all these natural disadvantages what did Eric do? Well, he tried to knobble George Luke.

George was the winger from heaven, the idol of the terraces, revered by young and old alike. The player we prized above all others. And Eric Oldham tried to knobble him in a practice match. The cries of outrage were loud and long, and in that moment Eric was finished – before he started. According to the POOLstats web site, he only played 12 games in the first team and left at the season’s end.

In anticipation of the new season, we had our usual meeting of the Town End Recidivists, motto “Senex scire Melior” which as you know translates as “Old Enough to Know Better” before any of the home friendlies were played and came up with the usual spread of predictions for the coming season. For my part I am very optimistic, as I reckon we will finish 8th but I didn’t have much support at the meeting.

Another point of disagreement with my colleagues was in the matter of IOR getting control of Victoria Park. I think it won’t happen. In the last edition of Monkey Business I admitted that after years of thinking that IOR would never gain ownership of Victoria Park I had been converted to the view that I had been wrong.

The reason for me changing my mind was the publication of the independent report that valued the ground at £650,000 and showed that the club is worth £5,000,000 a year to the town. On top of that, IOR had already spent about £13,500,000, so there didn’t seem to be a way they could make a quick profit at the town’s expense. In addition it seemed that things were already moving with Gus Robinson being declared the preferred bidder for the project.

Then the doubts started to come back. It started just before the local council elections when a Labour party candidate came canvassing. As he stood on my doorstep I asked what his position was on the subject of Victoria Park. He immediately launched into the pre-prepared speech he had evidently been supplied with, mentioning the overall good of the town, all things being considered etc. I interrupted him and said I wanted to hear his personal opinion. He told me that he had been a regular supporter for 40 years, never missed a match and re-launched into the prepared speech. When I reminded him of the yearly benefit to the town of £5,000,000, it made no difference to what he had decided to say.

So, knowing the position of the party that were to retain control of the town was not enthusiastic, to put it mildly, and then seeing council discussion of the topic being postponed I began to fear the worst.

When the council did get round to discussing the matter they put off a decision because they wanted more information. As someone on the Poolie Bunker message board remarked, this is the usual way organisations avoid doing things they don’t want to do.

As is usually the case, there are all kinds of rumours and ‘inside stories’ floating around, none of which I can mention here for obvious reasons. My opinion is that, for whatever reason(s), there remains in the council a very deep rooted opposition to IOR ever being allowed to take ownership of Victoria Park. I fully expect that after further ‘very serious consideration’ by the council they will come up with a scheme that will be described as ‘more realistic’, or ‘more affordable’, and which does not include any place in it for Victoria Park. It might just be my natural pessimism at play here and I hope I am wrong, we’ll just have to see. However while I am still in pessimist mode, if I am right about the ground then I find it difficult to see why IOR would continue to spend money in a town that so obviously doesn’t trust them.

There now: I’ve gone and thoroughly depressed myself on what should be the happiest time of the year, the beginning of a new football season. I wonder if I can cheer myself up by going down to the carnival parade. You never know, that bloke on the roller skates might turn up again.

ANDY RAMALANGADINGDONG bends the elbow with Roberto

Some people put the unexpected success of Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo down to his unassuming nature, international experience and winning trophies on the pitch. However, I can exclusively reveal that firstly the FA Cup win and then the Champions League triumph was down to him taking in the Charlton v Pools game.

I wasn’t planning on going to Charlton, but Coops, the Poolie In Nottingham talked me in to it. Originally it was going to be the train down to the big smoke, then the National Express coach, then I finally decided to drive it.

"We hadn’t mentioned anything about the fancy dress thing to Roberto, and he thought he was hallucinating when he saw over a hundred of Hartlepool’s finest dressed in identical Smurf outfits."
I can’t remember ever needing to wear a coat to the last game of the season, and it was pretty cold as I left my home in Derby to pick Coops up. As everyone knows, driving in London is a pig, but Coops had done his homework, and we parked up near Colindale tube station at the bottom of the M1.

We had decided not to go in fancy dress – it’s one thing travelling on a train from Hartlepool with dozens of others, but just two blokes on the Northern line in Smurf outfits is something else.

We got off in Leicester Square, and headed straight for the Wetherspoons, cos we’re pure class us Poolies. Coops even had a voucher entitling him to 50p off a pint, so it was a cheap round old round. Positioning ourselves in the window, we watched all the tourists walking past and tried to guess what nationality they were.

After Coops had necked his pint we moved on to another pub across the square, a posh place where it was getting on for 4 quid a pint! Being chauffeur, I was on soft drinks, but I could have bought two gallons of coke for the amount I was charged for a pissy little glass full.

Surveying the people in the pub, it was mostly a mix of well-heeled theatre-goers, but we noticed a shaven-headed man in a black coat floating about near the bar, and he looked a bit familiar. The American couple on the table next to us got up and left. The man drifted over to the empty table and sat down. He looked worried, as he sipped on his coke, quietly mumbling ‘Mamma Mia’ to himself.

At first I thought he was worried about missing the stage show about Abba which was on at one of the venues round the corner, then the penny dropped and I realised who it was – Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo!
I asked him what he was doing in the pub, when Chelsea were due to play in the FA Cup Final in just a few hours time. He confided in us that he was having a bit of a crisis, and didn’t know how to motivate the players enough in order to win the game against Liverpool. Me and Coops tried to bring him round, pointing to how he got the tactics spot on against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final.

Roberto sipped on his coke and sat silent for a bit, before explaining that he didn’t feel as if it was much to do with him, more that Messi and co just had two very bad games in front of goal. “They couldn’t hit Pavarotti’s arse with a banjo” he said. Coops decided that Roberto was too uptight and needed to relax a bit, heading to the bar and coming back with a pint for Roberto.

I don’t know what it was, but it certainly did the trick – after the first mouthful he seems to breathe easier, and before long we were all laughing and joking, doing impressions of Frank Spencer, who it turns out was Roberto’s favourite comedian whilst growing up as a boy in Italy.

I lost count of how many drinks we had, but I was high as a kite with all the sugar from the cokes, and Coops and Roberto were starting to openly ogle any passing ladies. As we got to the bottom of yet another round, Roberto insisted we go for a walk round to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. We soon realised what he had in mind. A couple of streets away from Leicester Square, Roberto led us to the dingy streets of Soho, tongue hanging out as he eagerly surveyed all the fleshpots.

He obviously had seen what he wanted, and dived into a doorway, telling us he would only be a couple of minutes. Sure enough, he soon reappeared, looking very red-faced as he marched onward towards another pub.

As the time ticked on, me and Coops told Roberto that we would need to get the train over to Charlton soon, but he asked if he was welcome. We were more than happy for him to come along, he really was a good laugh, especially when doing impressions. As well as Frank Spencer, he did a mean Fabio Capello, and the bloke off the Go Compare adverts. He had even made up his own version of that ultra-annoying song, which involved Alex Ferguson doing something really rude with Jo Brand, but I can’t remember any of it unfortunately.

Once on the train, I think the drink caught up with him a bit. He bounced about on the seats, trying his best to keep his balance. Thankfully it wasn’t too long a journey, and we soon arrived in Charlton. We hadn’t mentioned anything about the fancy dress thing to Roberto, and he thought he was hallucinating when he saw over a hundred of Hartlepool’s finest dressed in identical Smurf outfits. It’s only when one of them gave him a big drunken hug that he realised it was all just a bit of fun.

Once we got inside the ground the atmosphere was electric. Charlton fans were in jubilant mood after a very successful season, and the Poolies were all mostly bladdered and having a great time.
“That’s it boys!” Roberto exclaimed, “I just need to make the team relax, have fun, enjoy themselves! I do a Suarez impression for them just before kick-off and we win the FA Cup!”

Me and Coops thought it was worth a shot, and encouraged him to get another round in before the match started. Pools were well up for it, and to our delight they took the lead through Peter Hartley. Despite Charlton looking quite sharp, Pools defended the lead well, and kept their lead until the break.

It was a different story in the second half though, and Charlton showed their class, scoring 3 quick goals. Roberto said he felt a bit deflated after the promise shown in the first half, but a late consolation from Gary Liddle seemed to make his mood a bit more buoyant.

After the game we headed back to Charlton station and boarded the train back to central London. It was at this point we started feeling bad for leading Roberto astray, He slumped on his seat, before lying down across it and spewing up all over the floor, just before the London Bridge stop. Me and Coops jumped off here to get the tube back to Colindale, leaving Roberto to it.

I’ve got no idea how he managed to get to Wembley in time for the cup final kick-off, and when we got in the car I nervously put 5 Live on, expecting to hear the worst. As it happened, Chelsea dominated the game, giving Roberto his first ever trophy as manager.

When the fixture list for this season came out, I was very excited to see that the last game is away at Crawley, presenting another excuse for a London day out. Hopefully we might bump into Roberto again, but even if we don’t I’m pretty sure another great fancy dress turn out will make it one more day to remember.

RUNNING MONKEY took his camera to the Olympics 

ELPIN kindly brought this letter to our attention

RUNNING MONKEY sees Pools lose again

After the miserable trip to Whitby in unseasonal fog, mist, hail and rain, I had no time to do the Mackem and Borer matches at the Vic, where I understand there was a vast improvement in performance, so I looked forward to my first visit this season to watch us take on the mighty Toon.

I think my last experience of this fixture was a 6-0 drubbing - then they took Shearer off. A strong Toon side had us two nil down in two minutes with some very slick football and a suspicion of offside in both goals. We were pulled apart by some great football and even the penalty they were given was dubious.

One of my pet hates in football is to see a player hit the deck as soon as any bodily contact was was made, and like all Prem sides, the toon are masters of their trade.

We did rally a little in the second half, and Sweeney hit a shot into the roof of the net from close range and the whole of the Millhouse stand celebrated our goal, even though it was packed with 3500 mags fans. Great improvement in our new striker. He looks the business - lets hope we can keep him fit.

The side has a good balance, and Franks and Walton look very good signings. thank you very much Mr Cooper.

We are now 1-10 on aggregate with the Toon. We CAN catch up!

BILL THE BIRO has a sneak preview of a match programme from one of the minor leagues