Looking Back

BILLY'S CONTRACT er... looks back!

Well, thank goodness that is all over. What a roller coaster of a season that was. I'm still dizzy and feeling a little queasy after that ride; it seemed as if would never end.
Just in case anyone's memory is letting them down let me remind you of some of the highlights, sorry I meant to say low lights of the season:
- Duff injury-prone signings.
- Knocked out in round 1 of the League Cup, shipping five goals in the process. 
- Having the lowest number of  league goals scored.  
- Having the worst goal difference in the division. 
- No attempts at goal in a run of four matches 
- At one stage twelve points adrift from the relegation pack.
- Leading goalscorer sold on transfer deadline day. 
- Two Managers sacked. 
- Defeated by Blyth Spartans at home in the FA Cup in front of millions on TV. 
- Old owners go. 
- New Owners come in. 
- Old owners reinstated (Did they ever go away?)
- Fans' boycott.
- Inception of a supporters trust.

I do apologize if I have omitted anything; Oh, goodness, the pink away shirt! 
At times there was too much to take on board.  It is only fair to say that Blackpool have topped Pools with what their fans have been through in these past ten months, and by some considerable margin indeed.

Then along came Ron. And as they say, the rest is history (a bit like some of the players that will be on the free transfer list this week!)

Good managers at this level have to have good pedigree, have been around the block a few times, not be afraid to say how it is, and above all to have contacts, as well as some good fortune.

Saint Ron, by speaking his mind, got one or two of the team motivated. His contacts within the game got us the loan players that Colin Cooper could only dream about signing. Cooper was once quoted as saying that it is difficult to get players to come to the North East, but Saint Ron did it against all the odds when we were ten points adrift, and what signings they were, from all corners of England and not just Middlesbrough. 

Unlike most football managers as well as fans, he did say that he didn't think luck evened itself out over a season. For a time you could not argue with that statement. Ryan Bird and Rakish Bingham were recalled to their respective clubs after shining for Pools, due to their clubs' concern that Pools might just overtake them in the league. Then the in-form Michael Woods broke his leg. Leading goalscorer and, to quote Saint Ron, "young pup" Scott Fenwick was ruled out through injury for six weeks, and Brad Walker lost form (again.) Then there was the massively-deflected goal conceded against fellow stragglers York, and the injury to David Mirfin. The list goes on and ...on.

However I must take issue with Saint Ron, as to my mind we had several  massive slices of luck. Ryan Bird's penalty at Oxford was saved but Neil Austin slammed in the rebound. We had a number of dodgy refereeing decisions go our way, riding our luck in the last ten minutes of several home matches when we were being pushed back deeper and deeper in our own half by the opposition. 

One fantastic bit of luck was Scunny not recalling David Mirfin, which would have been a disaster. However the biggest stroke of luck was that our relegation rivals kept losing and dropping points. At one stage Cheltenham were fourteen points ahead of Pools. I also recall the then Tranmere manager Nigel Adkins saying, after they had been on a bit of a run, that Tranmere were now looking at the teams above and not below them. So I have to disagree with Saint Ron and say that luck does even itself out, and sometimes, certainly on this occasion, we got more than our fair slice of it..

It goes without question that Saint Ron's loan signings were, bar one, inspirational, and hopefully one or two might be back with us next season. The pick of them all for me were David Mirfin and Aaron Tshibola. 

Mirf steadied the ship at the back and gave leadership to the rest of the defence, and Scott Harrison must have  benefited massively from having played alongside him. You only have to look at the goals conceded column when Mirfin was out injured for the last few games to realise what a big miss he was. I was surprised that, during an injury crisis, his manager Mark Robins did not recall the Scunthorpe fans' favourite back. It may well be that manager and player do not see eye-to-eye, and although there would be a fee involved as he still has one year of his contract to run, Pools could, if they were ambitious enough, make the move permanent.

Tish,  I thought in his early games for Pools was exceptional, winning every second as well as every 50/50 ball. I was wondering who the heck it was keeping him out of the Reading team. At times he played in a manner that belied his young years, and the fact that he was prepared to come so far north to play regular football is all credit to the lad, and was rewarded when the fans took to him big style and had their own song for him. As well as that, looking at his Twitter account, he absolutely loved it at Hartlepool so who knows, if this wonder player who is keeping Tish out of the side at Reading continues to do so, we might get him back here on loan. He was carrying a thigh injury in his last few games - the cut and thrust of League Two football had probably taken its toll on him - and at times he looked a little off the pace, not dictating play as he had done in his first days at Pools, so it speaks volumes for him that he continued to play.

I also have a feeling in my water that we might not have seen the last of Jordan Hugill... Hopefully not.

I won't dwell on the match itself only to say that it was a game of two halves...

- First half: Hartlepool of old
- Second half: Hartlepool of Ronnie we want Moore

The highlight of the day for me, and there were many, was very shortly before kick off.  Ronnie Moore, presumably having given his team talk, strode across the far side of the pitch dressed in full Rasta regalia to acknowledge the travelling 'Pools support. If it had been noisy beforehand the noise level went up several decibels.

As I said, I won't dwell on the match.but Pools were dreadful in the first half and left the field of play lucky to be only three goals down. Rumour had it they only had their first training session on Thursday. Many of them I guess were still hungover after celebrating retaining league status.

Pools took to the pitch wearing a dazzling day-glo bright all-yellow strip. Luckily I had my Rasta sunglasses with me so, unlike the team in the first half, it didn't dazzle me too much much. To be honest I could have done with a pair of ear defenders as well, as the shirts were really loud. 

I was thinking long-term about all the confusion this could cause. The amount of passes that would be directed out to the wings by Scotty or our midfield players only to see the ball landing at the feet of a Safety Steward (Or just a man in a jacket). 

This confusion was confirmed at the end of the match when the players came across to applaud the travelling fans, and the police also took to the field in their hi-vis vests. If it wasn't for the fact that the bobbies had their Alsatian dogs with them, you could not distinguish who was a policeman and who was a Hartlepool player.

I have since heard that this strip is a one-off limited edition. A new away shirt will be on sale for 2015/16 season. The hi-vis yellow shirts will be auctioned off, with funds raised going to Pools youth development. 

However when one reads the extract from the Pools commercial department (See the small print below!) It would appear that the shirts are to be A Homage to IOR. What next? Sacrificial offerings of fans to the altar of IOR?

"Today’s decision of incorporating the IOR logo on the front of the shirts for this one-off game is a gesture from our Football Club to IOR who have supported this Club magnificently, especially over the past 12 traumatic months, contributing greatly to the Great Escape.”

I did say that I would not dwell too much about the Carlisle game, but what about that goal from from Ducky? Goal of the season. One right out of the Hugh Robertson top drawer.

I see that the commercial department have come up with a novel way of raising funds for the club in offering sponsorship of parts of the pitch. That is the likes of the penalty spot and the corners, and presumably the centre spot. So I assume the sponsor's name will be given out over the tannoy every time a corner or a penalty is awarded ...to either side. 

Billy's Contract junior thought that Darlo could make themselves a few bob by adopting a similar scheme by offering by auction to the highest Poolie bidder that part of the Arena pitch that Eifion Williams was stood on when he scored that wonder goal against our travelling friends.

Not to dwell too much on the Carlisle game, but I have got to say that Marlon Harewood's display when he came on as a sub was the ultimate masterclass in centre forwardness.

One had to feel sorry for the Carlisle players who came out to do a lap of honour at the end of the game. They had to wait some time for the celebrating 'Pools players to leave the pitch. When they eventually showed there were only a handful of their fans left in the ground to offer their applause which they probably could not appreciate as the 'Pools fans were chanting "Three nil and you 'Messed* it up."

Gingerly the Carlisle players sauntered to the half way line, but without crossing it towards the Poolie masses, who nevertheless gave them a bigger round of applause than their own fans could muster. After which they started chanting Antony Sweeney's name, who in turn acknowledged the Hartlepool contingent.

Got to say, in fairness to the Carlisle supporters in the main stands, that as they left the pitch they gave the Pools team and their fans a respectful round of applause.

* Messed was not the actual word chanted, so use your imagination dear reader (could be children reading this!).