IOR In the Dock

even BILLY'S CONTRACT is speaking out

On the plaque above the Centenary wall is the mission statement  ''Remember the past, Imagine the future,''

Not many Poolies would, I wager, dare to imagine what the future holds for our beloved club at this present time. The way things are going we could end up swapping places with Darlo and playing in the Jumpers-for-Goalposts or Next-Goal-the-Winner League. 

For all their faults and strange ways, and some of them are bloody strange ways, I have never openly criticised IOR in this column, but ultimately they must shoulder the bulk of the blame for what has gone wrong with our club.

May 2005 seems a long time ago and despite the defeat in The Play Off Final at Cardiff the future looked rosy indeed for my club. 

When IOR took over the reins from Harold Hornsey it has got to be said that with their support and drive it allowed the likes of Chris Turner, Ritchie Humphreys and the other back room staff to transform the club from a Music Hall joke to a slick professionally-run outfit which was the envy of many other football league clubs. I will never forget the chairman of Notts County, saying in the press, after 'Pools had nipped in to sign Richie Barker from under their noses that they could not compete with a team like Hartlepool. This was reflected in the many players that the likes of Chris Turner/Mike Newell/Neale Cooper and, dare I say it, Martin Scott signed for 'Pools from all four corners of the United Kingdom. Nowadays we are signing players from all four corners of the labour exchange.

 Back in the day Hartlepool United was an attractive destination for many a footballer's signature.

However IOR have a dark side. 
Example: Despite gaining  promotion Mike Newell's services were dispensed with pretty much after after the open top bus parade around the town.
Example: The craziest decision ever made in football, (apart from the FA not giving Brian Clough the England manager's job) was when IOR sacked Neale Cooper and appointed Martin Scott as manager on the eve of the crucial last match of the season away at Bournemouth to clinch a play off place. As history tells us Scotty managed to lose the final and get the club relegated the following season.
"The way things are going we could end up swapping places with Darlo and playing in the Jumpers-for-Goalposts or Next-Goal-the-Winner League."

In many ways IOR remind me of Margaret Thatcher. Yes, agreed that she sorted out the mess the country was in, won a war, then started to believe she could do no wrong and then would not listen to anyone's advice or opinion but her own, and and ended up falling on her own sword.

IOR have done a lot of good but like Mrs.T they want things done their way or not at all. An example being in the manner which several years ago that they tried to bully the Corner Flag into giving up their premises so the football club could avail themselves of those facilities.

I recall a time when there was once a great rapport between the club's fans and the players. IOR however knocked that on the head by banning the players from popping into the Corner Flag or accepting prizes at award ceremonies other than those organised by the club. (Which admittedly they did very well).

Can anyone remember when was the last time there was a question and answer session with a Hartlepool United Manager (Neale Cooper first time around?) No sooner had John Hughes suggested such an event he was given a non-return bus ticket back to the highlands of Scotland.

Then we have the ongoing saga about buying Victoria Park from the Council. Whilst few would deny that our Council are not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree lights, I would not disagree that the Council should get the best price they can possible for the ground on behalf of the town's ratepayers and scroungers alike, even if the Council do decide to blow the money on increased councillors' allowances. 

What I do object to though, is Ken Hodcroft blaming the current on-the-pitch problems on the Council for not selling the ground to IOR for peanuts. 

Sometimes  as fans we complain about the deafening silence from IOR but then on occasions when they open their mouths they don't look too clever. Ken has recently announced that IOR have taken their bat and ball home and are refusing to talk to the Council over the purchase of the ground,  which is very grown up indeed and will get both parties nowhere. ''It is good to talk'' declared the old British Telecom advert. Even Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness ended up talking to each other in the hope of progress. Take note Mr Hodcroft.

Then we have Ken bleating on week in and week out about how there is no money available for team improvements as the club would be breaking league rules relating to wage structures versus crowd attendances/gate receipts. I'm sorry but that does not wash with me. Surely our wage bill has been significantly reduced as in the last couple of seasons we have given free transfers to all our high wage earners Ritchie/Monkey/ Horwood /Sweeney/ Walton and errr Howard. We have also lost Luke James/ Peter Hartley  and Luke James all who are no longer on the payroll and all who commanded sizeable transfer fees for the club. Whether it was Colin Cooper's or IOR's decision not to appoint a replacement for Craig Hignett until the close season , it must have put a few more coppers in Pools' coffers.

It is strange how other similar-sized football clubs have got around this problem. Look at the likes of Bury, currently in a play-off spot with crowds about the same as our own. Rochdale, a division above 'Pools and again in the play off zone with crowds of less than 4,000. Even Accrington Stanley who along with Dagenham and Redbridge are lucky to get crowds of 1,700 are currently well above 'Pools in the league placings. Ken should take note of these clubs and see (ask) how they have achieved success on a limited fan base.

The Chairman in his recent programme notes/Hartlepool Mail regarding Colin Cooper's resignation accused the fans of getting what they wished for when they were shouting for Colin Cooper's head. He was virtually blaming the fans for Cooper handing in his resignation. Then in the next breath almost in reflection he goes on to say that after all it was Cooper's team and his signings, and recent results had dictated that he would eventually walk.

Ken also said if the fans were not happy with him as Chairman that he was also prepared to go. If he did resign what then? All we would get is another puppet in a different suit spouting off  the same hymns from IOR's hymn book.

I am hoping that with the appointment of Paul Murray things may change. I would like to believe that Paul Murray is not a 'Yes man'  and that he  has an ''in house'' knowledge of how the owners operate and that he will work in conjunction with the owners for the  overdue success the team and the long-suffering fans deserve whilst at the same time not tolerating any nonsense from IOR regarding team matters. 

Some voices in the game recently made comment about the owners of Hartlepool United and the way that they run the football club. Autocratic management style on a Kim Jong Un model springs to my mind.

The day Colin Cooper left the pitch whilst the crowd were calling for his head, his wife made comment to the effect of 'You don't know the half of it', which would perhaps suggest in some ways Cooper's hands might have been tied and promises given were not kept.  Was it conceivable that once Craig Hignett had scampered back to Middlesbrough the board asked Colin Cooper to run the team without a number two until the end of the season to save money? 

 I was not exactly enamoured when Colin Cooper was appointed as first team manager of Pools, mainly because of his connections with Middlesbrough FC, who, in fairness to them, are perennial under-achievers (though they might prove me wrong at the end of this season), and are not exactly known for their sexy style of football.

So it proved, despite Colin Cooper telling the Daily Mail that Pools like to play their football on the deck, nothing could be further from the truth. For the majority of his tenure it was like watching a team jointly managed by Sam Allardyce and John Beck. 

Cooper's statement that he was going to bring in better players than those he released at the end of the previous season also proved unfounded. Instead we ended up with a couple of proven crocks from the Boro (jobs for the boys on mates rates?)

It was patently clear that Colin Cooper lacked one of the most essential qualities of a manager - a network of contacts within the game. It would appear he only had one contact in the game, the tea lady at M'bro FC.

I am firmly convinced that he thought that the furthest south the A19 reached was the Middlesbrough Junction at the Tees Flyover, as that is where all his signings came from.

To his credit he did bring in Michael Duckworth, and Luke Williams was the only decent Boro player he did sign on loan.

As I said previously in Monkey Business Colin 'eleven men back' Cooper's style of football was one dimensional without a plan 'B' and his managerial record backs this up. He narrowly, by the skin of his teeth,  avoided relegation last season and this season he would have had us relegated by Easter. I think that he found the step up from managing kids at Boro youth level to managing a football club at first team level a 'Transporter' bridge too far.

It would be fair to say that over the last five seasons IOR have presided over Hartlepool Uniteds' decline and possible demise, one relegation battle after another.  Even with special offers for season tickets the crowds have dwindled  because no-one, no matter how cheap it is to get through the turnstile, wants to watch the poor quality football that we as 'Pools fans have been subjected to over the past few years.

In short IOR needs to make clear their intentions regarding their commitment to Hartlepool United Football Club. If they want the club to be successful then they should put their hands in their pockets. On the other hand if  they don't want any involvement with the club then they should put a For Sale notice up outside the ground (mind they would ask a daft price for it!) and move on.