CENTRAL PARK tells us what he really thinks

I finished last season in a state of despair and with a deep foreboding of what the new season would bring. Well, I’m not feeling very much better. At the time of writing nothing has happened to make me feel more optimistic about the forthcoming season.

Unlike most previous seasons I feel downcast; not just because of the recent relegation but because so little seems to have been done to rectify matters and engender optimism. 

Even in the bad old days of the 60s, 70s, and 80s there was some activity on the player front to give the illusion of firm and decisive action being taken. Players came and went (about ten out and ten in) and most of us went along with the idea that we had got rid of ten duffers and had just beaten Manchester United to ten top notch players. 

Of course doubts set in at the first probables v. possibles match, and were confirmed by twenty past three on the first day of the season. But at least we had something to cling to over the summer months. Not this time round though. I don’t think that have looked forward less to hearing the sports report signature tune since August 1989. 

Isn’t it strange how your words can come back to haunt you? I have been reading my last contribution to Monkey Business and it is amazing just how wrong you can be and how this can become apparent in so short a time. For instance, I referred to Alistair Brownlee’s co-commentator at Middlesbrough as ‘his scouse mate, Super Brain’ in what may have been interpreted as a disparaging manner, when all along I meant to say that this man’s experience and knowledge of the game would make him an ideal choice as second in command on the playing side at Hartlepool United FC. I am confident that such opinion will continue to be held for the duration of his stay.

"he would have been prepared to manage Barnstoneworth United if the chance had cropped up"
I also expressed my belief that following such a disastrous season that all the senior players who were out of contract would be released and replaced with much cheaper alternatives. Wrong again! Players who had clearly seen better days were awarded contracts for the upcoming season to the astonishment of most of the ‘Pools supporters I have discussed it with.

Even more puzzling was the speed with which said players agreed to new contracts as the ‘common knowledge around the town’ was that they ‘wanted to be away’. Of course we will never know the full story of what went on, or why the people in charge of acquiring playing staff were not confident that they could improve on a squad that failed so comprehensively last season.

As far as I recall the only two senior players to leave the club at the end of last season were Evan Horwood and Ritchie Humphries, and Ritchie only left because he was unwilling to accept the deal proposed to him. I don’t include Nathan Luscombe in this, as whatever his shortcomings might have been his number of appearances on the pitch didn’t really make a material difference to our plight. Never has there been such a massive disparity between promise and delivery since the days of Peter Barlow.

I know that the club’s hands are tied as far as Steve Howard is concerned and I don’t think I’ll find much disagreement by saying that his last year has been a failure, by any measure. However I do think that there is room for argument as to why things went wrong for him at Hartlepool, and the fact is, he was highly praised by the fans of a club in a higher division when he went there on loan last season.

We are now in the unenviable position of being required to pay very substantial wages for a player whose strengths do not fit with the rest of the team and who we are relying on another team (any team) to take off our hands. While he is still an expense for the club that we cannot guarantee will be removed, then that expense will have to be included in the calculations when it comes to the salary cap, so until he goes there is a considerable amount of money we cannot use to pay new players. I can foresee the nightmare scenario developing where we agree to pay part of his wages if he signs for a new club. The only comfort is the accuracy of my predictions in the last issue – none of them came off.

When it comes to departures I have to say that I was neither surprised nor unsurprised by the demise of John Hughes. I have friends who are disgusted at him being sacked saying they felt he should have had another chance. However, despite all indications to the contrary, we are not a pub team where there isn’t anything really at stake, and it would have been a mistake in my opinion to let him commit any money we did have, only for us to sack him before Christmas. I seem to remember him arriving at the club making extravagant claims about what he was going to do only for our hopes to nose-dive almost immediately. I suspect that he didn’t really know what he was getting into, or if he did then he was so desperate to get into English football that he would have been prepared to manage Barnstoneworth United if the chance had cropped up. Well, he knows better now, and I hope he soon recovers from the experience and gets back into football in the not too distant future.

Mind you, the foregoing about his expectations in the job is only speculation because I had great difficulty in following his statements in the post match interviews. (He made Neale Cooper sound like Noel Coward).

I went on at some length in the last issue about the ‘salary cap’ and the adverse effect it would have on our prospects. I was secretly hoping that the chairman would simply pay lip-service to it and then lavish huge amounts of IOR share holders’ money on strengthening my favourite football team at the expense of their dividends. But noooo! The club saw fit to release a statement explaining the workings of the scheme and then went on to say how much the powers that be at Victoria Park agree with it. If this is one hundred percent accurate i.e. that they will always adhere to the letter and spirit of the salary cap then why on earth do they want to own Victoria Park? It can’t really be an ambition of IOR to own the ground only for us to be playing on it in the lower reaches of the conference can it?

As a long standing critic of the town council, on this or any other matter, I have to admit that they might just have had a point in not letting IOR gain ownership of the ground if they suspected that IOR would let the team steadily decline in the way it seems destined to.

On the other hand perhaps IOR really do have a plan in place for when they own the ground so that they will be able to generate enough profit to subsidise a team able not only to gain promotion back to the third tier of English football but also to realistically compete for promotion to the Championship? I say this because I seem to remember when IOR were optimistic of obtaining ownership of the ground they were talking of the need to own it so that they could ‘take the club to the next level’. However, ‘taking the club to the next level’, at the time IOR made that statement would mean we would be competing for a place in the Championship and, if successful, staying there.

Such an enterprise would, in my opinion, necessitate the spending of considerable sums of money that I just cannot see the club generating given the size, location and prosperity of our catchment area. Sadly I can see no way out of the dilemma that will fill me with joy.

As reported in the last edition I have now taken up residence in the Cyril Knowles Stand from where I expected to regale the match officials with my opinion of their performance as they left the field. I made use of the seat at the friendly against Middlesbrough and found that yet another of my expectations has ended in disappointment. I can’t shout loud enough for them to be able to hear me; it’s probably just as well, I’m too old to start doing time.

Happy New Season Everybody.