Slightly Riled

SAM SENGELOW watches Countdown

If there is one thing that Pools fans have in common and connects them across a common ground, it’s that they love to hate a pantomime villain.

I know that Pools fans famously disliked former England international Carlton Palmer after his legendary mythical altercations with Pools legend and cult hero Brian Honour during their playing days in the early 1990s.

But it looks as if Pools fans could have another one of those pantomime villains to moan about – but this time, in one of the areas a Pools fan would maybe least expect - as faraway from the pitch as you can get.

I remember an incident I found out via word of mouth that apparently occurred whilst Jeff Stelling was host of Countdown between 2009 and 2011.

I have never been a regular Countdown viewer. However, when Jeff Stelling became the host of the show, I made a few rare visits on YouTube to see the odd clip from the programme here and there.

"Can I have one from the top, and five from the bottom, please, Rachel?"Meanwhile in The Granada Studios in Manchester, in one episode of Countdown two or three years ago, whilst Pools were avoiding relegation to League Two by the skin of their teeth, Mr. Stelling's co-host and successor to Carol Vorderman, Miss Rachel Riley was about to begin a numbers round. The contestant asked, in true Countdown tradition:

“Can I have one from the top, and five from the bottom, please, Rachel?”

“Certainly” Miss Riley rather chirpily replies.

She took one large number sign and five small number signs, and before she turned around to the numbers board to insert the numbers, she points her head towards Jeff Stelling and the audience and she said:

“Ah, one from the top, and five from the bottom …that’s a Hartlepool, isn’t it?!!!”

Apparantly, at that point, Mr Stelling was rendered speechless by this - he was less than impressed.

However, he did not say a single word himself.

When I heard this, I personally could not believe this.

Now, on television at least, Miss Riley has never been nothing less then a very likeable, seemingly friendly person. However...

Had Miss Riley, an Oxford graduate, intended to make a witty remark which seemed to have flopped, or had she genuinely made this remark thinking the club which she supported was better than Pools?

I’m not sure.

I did not know what Hartlepool United had done to deserve a remark like that at that time. You had to take pity as a whole, on a harmless, good-natured, friendly club with harmless, good-natured, friendly, funny supporters, whose only crime at that time seemed to be the fact that we had been struggling for consecutive years to stave off relegation into League Two after promotion in 2007, and were lucky. In my opinion, it only seemed inevitable that one of those years, we would not be as lucky as previous seasons.

So it proved last May, when relegation to League Two proved so obvious. I believe last season was one of the worst seasons in the twenty years or so in which I have followed Pools. And I wish never to see a season like 2012-13 ever again at The Vic. And that’s why John Hughes had to be sacked as Hartlepool United manager in my opinion.

Now, according to a quick bit of research, Miss Riley is originally from Rochford in Essex, but surprisingly, she does not support Southend United or Colchester United ...she is actually a Manchester United fan.

And at the time of writing of this in November 2013, Manchester United, once mighty, 13 times Champions of England in the Alex Ferguson era, are an incredible EIGHTH in the Premier League!!!

Who would have thought it?

That would have looked improbable during the last three consecutive decades, while Manchester United dominated English football.

And at the same time, Miss Riley bowed out of the latest series of Strictly Come Dancing, on the same week as scoring 30 out of 40, finishing below the actor Mark Benton, who is a lifelong Middlesbrough FC fan. But what people may not know about Mark Benton, is that before he famously played THAT banker bloke from the Nationwide Building Society (at a time perhaps before the financial crisis when bankers had a very high approval rating) he also played Ricky, a man from Hartlepool, in a Mike Leigh film called Career Girls, in 1997.

The film tells the story of two female mature students who meet at university in London, one from the North-East and one from Southern England, who meet Ricky and befriend him and eventually travel to Hartlepool to see him. It was only by pure chance that I discovered the film whilst peering over Mark Benton's CV. I had liked his performance when I saw him in BBC sitcom Early Doors, set in a Manchester pub called The Grapes. There are several scenes in the sitcom talking about football in Manchester. The film Career Girls is less well-known across the country, when compared to the more illustrious play adaptation for television Abigail's Party made for the BBC in 1977. And it is now some 16 years since the film was released in the UK.

And indeed, after Miss Riley's exit from the competition, there was one overriding message in the media afterwards:


In hindsight, with Man United struggling and Pools' momentum seemingly unstoppable, she may look back at the remark she made then, and may think it rather foolish.

Now, I can’t help but feel that Miss Riley has had one massive lecture on karma.