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.