Showing posts from December, 2012

ELPIN copied this letter before it went off to Lapland

CENTRAL PARK muses on John Hughes

Some of you might have noticed that I failed to make a contribution to the last edition of Monkey Business, but hand on heart, I can’t say that I’ve been swamped by enquiries from readers disappointed by the omission and worried about my general welfare.

The reason for the lack of a contribution was that I was so fed up that I just couldn’t bring myself to put fingers to keyboard. I won’t use the word ‘depression’ as that would be a mockery of all those unfortunate souls who are genuinely ill through no fault of their own. No, my malaise is due to the fiasco being played out at Victoria Park.

Before embarking on this effort I read the last contribution I made in which I mentioned a pre-season meeting of the town end recidivists at which I had confidently predicted a finishing position of 8th (the way things are going I would cheerfully accept that position in the division below next season if it was offered now). I don’t remember what I was drinking that night, but I hope it soon comes to mind so that I can get a crate of it in for Christmas.

Like the rest of the regular attendees at Victoria Park, I have been trying to work out what has gone wrong and who is to blame. I confess that to me it all ‘came out of nowhere’. It’s alright now looking back and saying this or that should or should not have happened, but pre season, apart from those stuck in the 1960s who always predict failure as a matter of habit, I didn’t hear anyone express a fear of what has now transpired.

At the time of my last offering, I still had some hope that things would get better and I was confident that Neale Cooper was the man who would put things right. Although I have turned out to be wrong about that I still don’t hold him responsible for the way things have collapsed. With the benefit of hindsight, it now seems obvious that his approach to man management would only have a chance of working if he had had the scope to replace underperforming players with better ones. This time round that was not the case, with the inevitable result being that the only one under any real pressure was him. I am glad that he was able to walk away with this dignity intact and I hope that he goes on to be a major success in the world of football.
"...a relief for the bookies, but another blow to the tanning salon industry in Hartlepool. "
It’s nice to see that some things don’t change and that IOR kept us all wondering who the new manager would be right up until the last minute - as usual. We should have realised that the least well known on the list of contenders would end up with the job. I could have lost my house at least twice if I had bet it on another particular person getting the job after being given ‘cast iron’ tips that he was ‘nailed on’ for the job. Somebody even told me what number car parking place had been allocated to the new man. Ah well, no doubt a relief for the bookies, but another blow to the tanning salon industry in Hartlepool.

So: what of the new man? It goes without saying that I sincerely hope that he pulls off what will be a sensational feat in keeping the team in the current division. I admit that I had no idea who he was when his name appeared in the list of contenders for the job, but I was similarly ignorant of Neale Cooper back in 2003 when he was first appointed, and he didn’t do badly the first time around.

The new man seems to have a very positive attitude, which I suppose is standard for newly appointed football managers, and is prepared to ‘argue his point’ with anybody remotely interested in the game. So far, so good. However, I am a little bit uneasy about some of the things he has been saying and the way in which some things happened in the match against Oldham.

If I have understood him correctly, then it seems that his ‘ideal’ as far as football is concerned is that his teams keep possession of the ball and pass their way to victory. This is an approach best exemplified, in my opinion, by Barcelona. I enjoy watching them on the telly and I would love it if Pools could play like that. If that is what John Hughes is aiming for, then if he succeeds, I will be delighted.

However what I mean by success is staying in this division, and if to achieve that we have to ‘win ugly’, then so be it. John Hughes starts from the position that nobody expects Pools to stay up this season, so if we go down then he cannot really be blamed. But if we do go down then the manner of our going will mean a great deal to me, for one. I do not want to have to stomach watching us trying to play a type of football not suited to our current playing squad and thereby provide soft goals and easy pickings for the rest of the teams we have to play.

Things are bad enough without us ending up with a playing record to make us a laughing stock as we were in the sixties. If we do go down, and that looks very much likely to be the case, then I want us to go down fighting.

If the quotes in the Mail on Friday 30th November are to be taken at face value, then it seems that John Hughes doesn’t place much store by ‘passion and commitment’ and thinks he may have to ‘educate’ the supporters. I support Hartlepool United John, not Pyongyang Academicals. I won’t be turning up at the education camp.

When Cyril Knowles took charge back in 1989, the team was in a comparable position and he inherited a playing squad that contained much more ‘football ability’ than the current group (McKinnon, Allon, Dalton, Honour, Hutchison, and Baker were already on the books when he arrived), but he wasn’t tempted down the purist route. He saved the day by getting the team (albeit with additions) to play with ‘passion and commitment’. Offhand, I can’t think of any English team winning prizes without ‘passion and commitment’, no matter how skilled the players they had. In fact, I can think of one legendary Scottish manager who wanted to send to prison any player he found who did not have ‘passion and commitment’.

Just so there is no misunderstanding: I too want to have a football team that plays beautiful passing football, but not every player can produce it and it is folly to insist that players try to do things on a football field that are not within their scope. I don’t want us to be trying to play football ‘the way the game should be played’ all the way into the conference and beyond.

If John Hughes thinks the current squad has the collective ability to play the way he thinks the game should be played then that is his call and he will stand or fall by it. If he has got this right and his methods produce enough winning performances to keep us up then I will be leading the cheering. But if things don’t work out and we end up being chopping blocks for the rest of the division then I am sure that I won’t be the only one expressing dissatisfaction – re-education camp or no re-education camp. It won’t do any good to say that the methods will stand us in good stead for next season because whatever the outcome of this season I expect the majority of the players who will be out of contract will not be retained. Come to think of it, perhaps the players have worked this out for themselves, which in turn could account for the lack of ‘passion and commitment’ that has been evident since Mick Wadsworth left.

Oh, by the way, Merry Christmas everybody.


BILLYS CONTRACT on Pools and other struggling teams

John Hughes? Never heard of him, but then again until he was appointed I had never heard of Neale Cooper either. Cooper will forever be enshrined in the annals of Hartlepool United's history as the man who not only brought an element of fun to the proceedings, but will always be remembered, nay revered for the total football that his teams played. The King is dead long, live the King.

What of Neale Cooper's successor? John Hughes’ name did in fact ring a bell with me and caused me some concern, as in the early seventies there was a John Hughes who starred for Celtic. He moved to Crystal Palace and did not star so much for them. He starred even less at Sunderland. After fifteen minutes into his debut for the Black Cats, he was carried off with an injury that ended his career.

This John Hughes who was the older brother of Sunderland's Bobby Hughes was also nicknamed Yogi. My concern that I mentioned earlier was that Pools had appointed a manager who would be in his mid eighties. Mind you, IOR are full of surprises.

I still reckon he was not IOR's first choice, purely based on the fact that Phil Brown was at the Pools reserve match at Gateshead the day after his interview. I am not sure if Brown would have been right for Pools. Hartlepool United could have just been a platform for the 'Phil Brown show'.

Brown’s "John Hughes ...certainly talks the talk, although the players probably need an interpreter to understand what he is saying."track record at Preston was far from good, bearing in mind that at the time he was there they had similar quality players to which Pools have now. Poor.

My early impression of John Hughes is that he certainly talks the talk, although the players probably need an interpreter to understand what he is saying. Like Neale Cooper, he has a passion for the game and a keen sense of humour. Unlike Cooper, he has the coaching badges and from what I have heard, he will, if the situation demands it can be a right nasty pasty who is not afraid to mince his words and give failing players a rollicking, or if the situation requires a much needed cuddle.

Hughes' problem is that he has inherited the same group of players that Neale Cooper had and as I said in the last issue of Monkey Business you can't polish a turd ...but you can put glitter on it, as my son rightly pointed out.

John Hughes has said that he wants to play one touch passing football. Sadly that is what we have been doing most of this season. As soon as one of our players gets the ball he gets rid of it with his first touch, as he does not want to make a mistake and have the crowd on his back.

Hughes also said that he wants play to build up from the goalkeeper and the back four to get the ball forward. We did this, or should I say we attempted to do this against Oldham. I was having heart attacks by the dozen watching this. I am all for total football but Oldham read the script and closed our defenders down as soon as they got the ball and ushered us in to making numerous mistakes.

The other problem with 'the' passing game, and it may be me being picky here, but we do not have the players particularly at the back who can pass a ball (I am not counting sideways passing here). Our central defenders, Jack Baldwin being the exception, are unable to can carry the ball beyond the half way line. Preferably with the current squad unless they have intensive training with regards one/two touch football I would rather see our defenders hoof the ball as far away from each other as well as our own half away from danger.

We also have a midfield player whom I won't name but for the record I call him BB King. BB King for our younger readers is one of the last American legendary blues guitarists. He is now in his eighties. For all he is one of the world's great guitar players, one of his failings, so he tells his audience, is that he is unable to play the guitar and sing at the same time.

That is why he reminds me of this midfield player who can't run and pass at the same time. Each time he receives the ball he has to stop, look around and then make a pass (invariably a poor pass at that.) The other similarity that this player has to BB King is that when he does move it is no quicker than an eighty year old.

One player who has seemed to have upped his game as if to make an impression on his new manager is Andy Monkhouse. I have been massively disappointed with his contribution over the last 3 seasons, His rating with me fell even further when he grabbed a recent last minute spectacular equaliser which he acknowledged with a show of petulance that a four year old child would have been proud of.

Of late now he seems to be getting his act together he is getting stuck in and making his presence felt, and dare I say showing leadership qualities by setting an example to his team mates. In our last home game against Oldham he actually took a man on and beat him, something that I had not seen for over eighteen months.

If I have do have an initial criticism of John Hughes, it is his use of (or should I say lack of use of) his subs bench. When they have been introduced it is usually too late for them to make an impact on the game. As many older readers are aware, I hate all things to do with Middlesbrough FC, but I for one would like to see the boy Wyke be given a run in the team. I have only seen him play less than a game and a half but I like the cut of his jib, reminds me of a young and very mobile Stevie Howard.

Will they survive relegation? Three weeks back I paid my Man Utd supporting mate the twenty quid I had on with him at the beginning of the season that Pools would make the play offs. He has since offered me double or quits on Pools remaining in League One. To date I have declined his offer.

And now for this weeks schadenfreude moment. Okay, we might be cut adrift at the bottom of League One by a zillion points.

We might have had 6 goals knocked past us in our the FA Cup by a very average Chesterfield team, from the division below us.

We might well have conceded 5 goals at home in a second half collapse to a pedestrian Coventry City.

However, we have never been beaten by a team consisting of sports psychologists, librarians and inebriated members of the Newcastle Student Union:

Team Northumbria 2 Darlington 0

Things could be worse, a lot worse couldn't they?

KT POOLIE has a plot for a new film

Despite recently celebrating its 100 year anniversary, Jellystone Park, a third-tier entertainment venue is struggling.

The park’s owners continue to spend money maintaining the grounds; the park-keepers charged with providing the facilities come up with award-winning, innovative ticketing incentives; regular visitors remain true to the whole venture but attendance is down.

The body responsible for all the country’s grounds, the park association, seems to have forgotten the traditions of old Victorian parks and is keener to encourage new grounds attracting foreign investment. With exotic names like Etihad, Emirates and Madejski, old-fashioned parks such as Jellystone, located in the remote North-East of the country are overlooked.

Indeed, few in authority would shed tears if the park closed down. Local councillors keep stalling on their promise to sell the land. Perhaps it is the economic climate, but a gloom pervades the whole park and visitors are disappointed.

If the park is closed, all the bears will lose their home. Ranger Ken acts to save Jellystone from closing forever.  He brings Yogi in from a Scottish park and charges him to prove he is "smarter than the average bear".  Pull this off and he can have all the picanic baskets he wants.

GREAT GRANDAD SHOUTY gives his take on things

Yes, November has been quite a month to forget. A 6-1 drubbing at Chesterfield which dumped us out of the FA Cup; a 5-0 thrashing at home to Coventry; and then a last minute defeat against Oldham. 

Then, of course, we appointed a new Head Coach in John Hughes and it certainly didn't take him long to realise what he'd let himself in for. It led one Poolie to ask if there might be a cooling-off clause in his contract. Some might think that the way we're shipping in goals at the back it is the defence that is the whole problem. It is certainly a matter for concern but not the whole story. It might surprise you that the goals against (37) isn't the worst in League One - that dubious honour belongs to Carlisle (38). Scunthorpe have leaked in 37 (the same as Pools) and Bury's tally against is 33.

The depressing reading, however, comes with the goals scored - a total of 15 and all the other clubs total in excess of 20, with some being in the 30s. There can be no doubt that Neale Cooper tried to address this problem, but to no avail. Loan signings of Ryan Noble and Charlie Wyke have failed to solve the problem and the only short term possibility might be Colin Nish who is, of course, on loan at Dundee. The suggestion is that Dundee might want to extend his loan but even if he came back to Pools there is no guarantee that things will improve. His style of play is similar to Steve Howard's - in other words, he needs players around to support him and that's not happening at the moment.

Last year, when we were in Scotland we were picked up by a Celtic-supporting taxi driver. The patter soon turned to footy and I explained that we only had one Scottish player in the ranks and that was Nish. He roared with laughter; obviously, Nish didn't have a good reputation in Scotland.

There are grounds for believing that there may be some optimism on the horizon. Andy Monkhouse is back to near full fitness; Tony Sweeney seems to be getting his confidence back - and hitting the net; and Luke James is now back in training. And, of course, as Evan Horwood proved against Walsall, we can hit the net from the penalty spot.
"Some Poolies have suggested that we've been punching above our weight for years but shouldn't we celebrate that fact instead of griping at every opportunity? "
All of Pools problems have, of course, been subject to comment in the Hartlepool Mail and some correspondents have been pointing the finger at IOR by suggesting that there is a lack of leadership at the club. Their role is to look after the business side of the club and appoint the management - in the former they have done very well but in the latter things haven't quite worked out. One correspondent even suggested that we need someone like the late Harold Hornsey - that is, someone who is born and bred in the town. I'm sorry but these kind of benefactors no longer exist and they aren't going to return.

Being an old fogey, I remember the time when Burnley were run by a wholesale butcher by the name of Bob Lord. His passion for Burnley was total and 'Butcher Bob' was never short of a comment, particularly if he was able to ruffle a few feathers. In one infamous match against The Mags, he complained that his players had been kicked from here to eternity and every Sunday newspaper carried his forthright comments - as well as showing the Burnley players carrying their bruises. On the Sunday evening, when Sunday Night at the London Palladium was on the go, Jimmy Tarbuck introduced two boxers and announced that the winner would be at home to Newcastle United. He brought the house down - the audience were obviously aware of the thoughts of Chairman Bob.

But for IOR, Pools would not have been an established League One club. Some Poolies have suggested that we've been punching above our weight for years but shouldn't we celebrate that fact instead of griping at every opportunity?

One thing I'm pleased about is Pools' attitude towards the payment of agents. I've always believed that these people are parasites who cling to the game to make their fortune. Some of the fees paid out to agents over the past year make horrifying reading - Manchester City (£10.5m), QPR (£6.8m) and Liverpool (£8.6m) Did all that money buy success? I leave you to look at the bog standard Premier League table and the tables for the Champions League. At least I know that my season ticket money will benefit Hartlepool United and not agents.

In the past, I've used words like 'optimism' and 'pessimism' and an article in one of my wife's magazines suggests that people who are instinctively pessimistic and bad tempered are liable to get nigh blood pressure. Don't say you haven't been warned!

This is, of course, the time of the year for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Its certainly going to be a star studded event but the main question is not going to be 'Who will win it?' but 'Where are they going to find room for footy?' I suppose Chelsea will get a mention for winning the Champions League but other than that the mind goes blank. Is there anyone left who can get a lifetime award?

Speaking of the BBC, I followed their coverage on the internet of Sunderland v Queen's Park Rangers on Tuesday, 27th November. The comment was made about the empty seats at the Stadium of Light and the compiler suggested that it was because of the quality of football that might be served up. Now, I don't go to the Stadium of Light but I know they're mad about their footy. Presumably the BBC hadn't heard that there were floods in County Durham and that a journey in those circumstances would not be deemed as necessary. Torrential rain was falling at Sunderland - so what's the point of going to a footy match and not being able to get back home after the game has finished?

Finally, as this is the last Monkey Business before Christmas, may I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a better 2013. I'll be sending the usual cards out but there's maybe one or two others I'd like to send. One would be to the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, containing pictures of all the Chelsea managers he's appointed. This would be to remind him of how not to run a football club. To the younger Pools fans I'd send a card of the old Clarence Road stand and the Cyril Knowles stand together with league tables of the 1960s and the past ten years. Just to prove how far Pools have come.

Happy Christmas everyone!!!

Grim Expectations

More Christmas Bus-ness

ELMO makes cuts again this Christmas

It's December. And that means the Christmas bus will be out again, with Santa on the roof. No, not the one that used to go around the town in the days before Stagecoach, but the Monkey Business cardboard cutout model. Like last year's, it's a bit of nostalgia for those who remember it, a history lesson for those who don't, and something to do over the holiday for those who are bored.

This one is for people with even longer memories than last year's effort. The real thing appeared in Hartlepool some time over 30 years ago. It was the first incarnation of the Christmas bus, when it was still in its mostly-red livery. Later versions usually had, besides Santa, a sleigh and reindeer on the roof, but this one had - another roof!

To make your bus, first open this PDF file Then print it via your computer's printer onto printer-compatible card (glossy photo paper will give the best result. Simply follow the instructions on the PDF file. You'll need scissors, a glue stick (or double-sided tape), and a sharp knife for cutting out the tab slots. Don't risk using thicker card than your printer is designed for. Apart from on Santa, no other glue is really needed. As glue, knives and scissors are required, care should be taken if kids are also involved in making the bus. An easy way to crease and fold the smaller parts is to use long-nosed pliers.

This is how it will look, cut out, creased and slotted. Santa is cut out again after gluing to ensure the two sides line up.

And here's the finished bus, end-to end with last year's version.

Hartlepool Corporation Transport used the same bus every Christmas for many years. OEF77K was new in 1972, was sold off after serving the people of Hartlepool for a quarter of a century, and was still being used in 2010 at the age of 38 years, and may still be around.

If you want to see what the real thing looked like, there's a photo here:

Last year's version is also still available here:

And as it says on the bus, Season's Greetings to all Poolies.


It was absolutely hoying it down as I drove to Walsall, and it put me in mind of many travels to watch Pools in shite weather the past, a lot of them with very positive outcomes. Luckily I don’t seem to have fallen prey to the cliché of seeing your team play crap and lose on cold and wet days very often. I did have a feeling of quiet optimism about the game, as the margin of our defeats was shrinking by the game.

Because of the heavy rain, the traffic on the M6 was moving predictable slowly, and it was going to be touch and go whether I would get there in time for kick off or not. I think I would have made it, had it not been for someone in a Rover in my way, driving through the suburbs of Walsall at just over 20 miles per hour, seemingly also heading to the ground. Luckily, after a mile or so, I found a spot where I could overtake safely, and go to the ground a minute before 3.

I managed to park in my ‘secret’ spot once again, and legged it through the rain to the away end. Well, I thought it was the away end, as there were big signs above the turnstiles saying ‘Away Fans’. The turnstile doors were all shut, so I gave them a good few kicks to see if there was any life within. After 30 seconds or so, someone fluorescent appeared to let me know the away end was round the corner now.

I scarpered around said corner to find an open turnstile. The old gadgie confirmed that I was in the right place, and informed me that the score was still goalless. Once inside, I spotted Andy Ramalamadingdong, who informed me that nowt interesting had happened yet. I was just glad that we hadn’t conceded.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been to see Pools at the Bescot, probably about 8 or 9, and I don’t think I’ve ever managed to find a seat where the view isn’t restricted. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing when watching the current Pools side though.

After an even first ten minutes or so, Walsall began to turn the screw, and it was a great joy to see us win a penalty after half an hour. Steve Howard latched on to a very careless back-pass, and took it round the keeper who caught the ‘flying’ Pools forward. Definite penalty, which was tucked away nicely by Evan Horwood. Some wag behind me commented that the keeper should have just let Howard have a shot, as he probably would have missed the target anyway. Harsh but funny.
Walsall were evidently embarrassed to be losing to the potential 2013-14 League Two Champions, and stepped on the gas again. Plenty of attacks had us at sixes and sevens, with long range shots whistling past the Pools goal. We managed to hang on until half time, and for the first time in ages the Bovril tasted sweet. Well, not really sweet, as that would be minging, but tasty in a satisfied-to-be-one-up sort of way.
"...the side collectively seems to have less pace than a one-legged tortoise"
Deep down though we all knew it wouldn’t last, and a few minutes after the restart Walsall levelled. Sam Collins generously headed a speculative cross back across the face of our  goal straight to the feet of a grateful Walsall striker, and despite a good first save from Flinders the ball was eventually bundled in.

The couple of hundred or so Poolie faithful sat and awaited their fate. Except it didn’t come. The game became quite end to end, with a few potential breakaway attacks for Pools. They didn’t come to much, as the side collectively seems to have less pace than a one-legged tortoise, but we did have shots on target, and managed to keep Walsall at bay.

The second half was noticeable for one bizarre thing – Howard took an elbow to the face which floored him, and despite it being a head injury, the ref didn’t stop play. He eventually left the field for treatment, and when play restarted, he waited patiently on the touchline as you do, waiting for the signal from the ref to come back on the pitch. Except the ref didn’t wave him back on, and Howard had to stand like a lemon for a good few minutes until play stopped again.

The ref spoke to Howard when he did finally come back on, and I can only assume that the ref wanted to check that there was no blood. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Howard had lumped him, such was his frustration, but after their conversation he ambled away in a placated manner.
The final whistle sounded, and avoiding defeat felt like a victory. In reality, if Walsall hadn’t been on such a poor run themselves we would have been thumped again, but the record books will show that Pools earned an away point.

I can’t see it making much difference, as it would take a miracle to keep us up. Never mind the feeding of the 5000, it’s the placating of the 3000 or so diehard Pools fans that needs to be performed. All eyes will no doubt be on the retained list over the summer, to see if we get the right fresh blood in to mount a promotion challenge next season. At the moment the squad looks anaemic at best, and a total transplant seems to be in order. Nurse, please pass the scalpel to Dr Hughes.

This is Keith McManus, who went to Barcelona, and stood outside of the home of the best football team in the world, proudly wearing a Pools shirt, and showing that we Poolies may have the worst team in League One, but we can still be proud of our allegiance. 

Keith didn't say whether he bumped into Lionel Messi or not, and if he did a sales pitch for Lionel joining Pools in January, but we suspect not, as he'd have probably told us about it. Keith that is. 

Lionel would have done an Asprilla anyway.