Have Yourself A Merry Little... *

CENTRAL PARK on Pools Christmases Past

Well here we are again, the Christmas edition.  What can I say to cheer up the faithful reader who looks forward to the festive season and has nothing better to do than to go straight to the Monkey Business?

Never mind the shopping for presents or putting up decorations, they can wait – let’s see what the fanzine has to offer. I suppose as a treat we could give consideration to producing a compendium of all my best bits from the previous years but sadly I think that would produce a volume even slimmer than ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Prince Charles’, a publication that the world awaits with a complete lack of interest.
There was a time when all I wanted for Christmas was two points.  I’m going back a bit here you understand.  In the really bad old days you only got two points for a win rather than the three points you get now.  I’d look at the fixture list towards the middle of September and think ‘if we can only pick up maximum points from those three games over Christmas and New Year it will put us within striking distance of the fifth bottom team’.  It rarely happened of course.  However when it did happen it was absolutely wonderful.  On Christmas Day 1954 we won 1-0 at home against Lord Voldemort’s XI.  We followed this up by tracking them down to their lair on 27th December and repeating the dose and finished the holiday period on New Year’s Day with a 1-0 win at home to Carlisle.  Six points, marvellous, I didn’t even mind going back to school when the holidays had finished."Some Christmases were extra special. Those were the times when we had got through to the third round of the FA cup and were drawn at home to a team from a higher division."
Of course at the next Christmas I expected the same, and at one point the lads looked as though they were going to pull it off when we beat Crewe twice in two days with an aggregate score of 9-2 (incidentally Crewe must have been heartily sick of Ken Johnson who scored 5 of the goals).  Unsurprisingly we had to go and spoil it by losing 1-5 at Mansfield on New Year’s Eve; I think the celebrations must have started a bit early that year.

The next time we pulled off the festive hat-trick was in the 1967/1968 season when the Christmas fixtures produced the sort of results that made you want to give all your other presents away to good causes.  Two victories in a period of five days against you know who from along the A66 (whatever happened to them by the way?  Are they still filling stadiums far and wide in the Premiership, which I was led to believe they would be joining about five years after that chap took over as chairman?  You know who I mean, I forget his name but I seem to remember that lots of people mistook him for Noel Coward on account of his command of the language and his fastidious, not to say delicate, manners.  I only ask because since they don’t play in the same division as us I have not been able to bring myself to read the league tables as it would be too much to bear seeing them in a higher division).  That holiday period had started on the 22nd of December with a 2-0 home win against Bradford Park Avenue and the six points we picked up went a long way to helping us to gain our first ever promotion at the end of the season.

We achieved the Christmas hat-trick again in 74/75 and 99/00 when the victims were Rochdale, Rotherham and Northampton; and York, Lincoln and Rochdale respectively.

The most recent maximum points haul was in the 2006/2007 season when we had a great Christmas that was part of a marvellous December, January, February and March (if you don’t count the FA Cup) when it seemed that ‘we were unbeatable’ to quote a well known phrase.  The victims over that Christmas were Grimsby, Peterborough and Mansfield.

Some Christmases were extra special.  Those were the times when we had got through to the third round of the FA cup and were drawn at home to a team from a higher division.  We had about four weeks to look forward to it following the draw on the Monday following the second round matches.  What a dilemma.  Eagerly looking forward to the match but knowing it would mark the end of the school holidays.

The first ‘big’ cup match that I can clearly remember when we were at home was against Forest in January1955.  They were only in the then second division but it was still a huge match for us and we harboured serious hopes of beating them.  Sadly after a creditable draw we lost the replay.  However that game was in the fourth round and was free of the ‘Christmas effect’.

The following year things improved dramatically.  Drawn at home to Chelsea the current First Division champions.  The initial excitement soon gave way to the dread that we might be annihilated by ten goals or more.  That was soon replaced by the wild hope that we just might scrape a win.  Most of the Christmas holiday was spent dreading the worst while hoping for the best.  As things turned out Pools put on a magnificent display falling only to a late goal.

If that was exciting then the following year we really hit the jackpot.  The Busby Babes at home in the third round.  The current First Division champions again coming to Hartlepool.  However this time the excitement was even more intense.  To get an idea of how it caught the area’s attention just imagine if Barcelona were coming to town with Messi leading the way.  Those particular Christmas holidays were the longest I have known, they just dragged on and on.  Everybody knows the outcome of the game itself so I won’t go into that but it certainly matched the build up.
Of course Christmas was not taken up totally with football.  Apart from the games over the Christmas holiday period we also had the presents to look forward to.  Back in the fifties there were no video games or the like and if you had a television then it was the old black and white variety and certainly no video tape.  I don’t think that even the old Dansette record player was widely available so the presents we got had to be attention keepers otherwise Christmas could quickly become boring.  Oh sure you could eat yourself sick so that you could get to the ‘game’ or whatever on the back of the box of sweets, but we soon got tired of trying to cut out the face mask that was always printed on the back of the selection box.  It was difficult to cut properly what with all the twists and turns, and then you had to find some string to put through the holes, and when you had done all that your mother still knew it was you and not Captain Hook. 

Fortunately for me I always got football books for presents, which I’ve still got (along with the Beano Annuals which sadly I gave away) so I was never stuck for something to do.  Just so you don’t get the impression that all those years ago Christmas was an unalloyed joy there was always a down side, usually in the form of the Billy Cotton Band Show or some such coming on the tele.  It was terrible; a fat cockney git waving his arms about, Alan Breeze trying to sing, Russ Conway playing the piano with nine fingers (big ‘ead) and a collection of fat lasses pretending to be a dance troupe.  Still, these days I try not to think about it.

So; what about this Christmas?  Chesterfield, Morecambe and Bury stand between us and the Christmas hat-trick and Coventry City are the obstacle to a possible home draw against Manchester City.  I am writing this on the morning following what (if dear old Ivan is to be believed, and why shouldn’t he be?) was a miserable and uninspiring performance at Bury.  It seems that if things don’t improve it will be a case of decking the halls with boughs of deadly nightshade.

*Fill in the missing word(s) yourself; after all we are all men of the world aren’t we?