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.