Teessiders Go North

BILLY'S CONTRACT on that final home match

The night before the home game against Exeter was like the night before Christmas. Going to bed late, not being able to sleep until the wee small hours then after falling asleep, having to get up to 'wee' in the 'wee' small hours. Then waking up a good hour earlier than usual absolutely 'Cream Crackered'.

The big day had finally arrived, Though without the Christmas presents (Ronnie Moore would deliver these later in the afternoon).

The morning was spent wondering what to wear as the weather could not make up its mind what to do. The club had asked the fans to wear something blue on the day so for a change I thought I would go for one of the striped home shirts. Sadly as I had not worn them for so long they must have shrunk in the wardrobe. I must say that a good number of other middle aged Poolies have experienced this same problem. I really must take issue with the club shop, as this must be a common fault either within the fabrics that they use or some quality control malfunction or other within the manufacturing process.

Mind, an afterthought did occur to me that my hearty breakfast of two stotties filled with black pudding and sausage, as well as three mugs of tea, might have contributed to the problem. Not to be deterred I tried on a few of the other home tops that I have and I could not help but notice that the blue and white stripes on the shirt did look distinctly wavy from just below the chest area down. Obviously not very flattering for those with a fuller figure. To that end, I abandoned all thoughts of the blue and white stripe ensemble and opted for a dark plain colour which would hide a multitude of sins.

So, thinking that it might bring 'Pools some luck I donned the navy away shirt that 'Pools wore at the play off semi final against Tranmere ten years back. Amazing to think that ten/eleven years back Cheltenham Town Tranmere Rovers and 'Pools were battling each other for a play off final place, and on this day all three are all battling each other to stay in the Football League.

I had pre-arranged to meet a group of my ex- work mates (Two Boro fans and two Mags) who travelled over from the far flung parts parts of Teesside to take in the game and lend their support to the 'Poolie Cause. Kev, who had left his home town of Marske in glorious sunshine, wearing a short-sleeved T shirt. could not believe how cold it was in Hartlepool. I told him that he should come and visit us in winter time then he would know what real cold was all about. With that he ordered a hot meal from The Ward Jackson grill."I overheard an Exeter fan on the next table say to his mate that sadly it would probably be many a year before he would see his team play at the Vic again."

As the alcohol began to hit I was starting to become quietly confident of a Pools victory, but as we were quaffing away I overheard an Exeter fan on the next table say to his mate that sadly it would probably be many a year before he would see his team play at the Vic again.

Further discouraging news filtered thought that Carl Boyeson, that most pedantic of all pedantic referees, would be officiating at the match. Then my worse nightmare was confirmed, much to the delight of my Boro mates, that David Mirfin would not be playing and that his place would be taken by Matthew Bates. My son, who a few moments earlier had placed a £20 bet on a 'Pools win, having heard of Bates' inclusion in the side, wished he had not been so hasty in his trip to the bookmakers.

I won't comment too much on the actual match itself here as I am sure it will be covered elsewhere in this issue.

The atmosphere was second to none and The Vic rocked for the full ninety minutes with a vociferous crowd behind the team, unlike the last couple of home games when the crowd became very quiet after a short while, and it was a case of "does the crowd get the team going or does the team get the crowd going?" I think both supporters and players were very - and probably rightly - nervous, and neither really got going!

For the early part of the game I kept telling my mates that I couldn't understand Ronnie Moore's logic in playing Bates, as a fair percentage of Pools' goals-against column is down to his lack of pace and the ability of attacking players to turn him with ease. Dave, one of the Boro lads, who had not seen Bates in the flesh for some time (have a look on the internet Dave!), thought Bates was portly and very slow and could not relate to him being the player that he used to watch in Boro's heyday (Did boro ever have a heyday?)

I had not got the words out of my mouth when Bates gave away a needless corner when he could have shielded the ball out of play from the attacking player. From the resulting corner Bates failed to pick up his man who sent in a header which Scotty Flinders pushed out for another corner. Now re-read the last sentence, but this time the Exeter forward headed the ball firmly past Flinders.

For the next ten minutes Exeter began to throw balls into the box and our back four, particularly Bates, were all over the place, and at that point I genuinely thought that we would be lucky to get a result. Fortunately Exeter seemed to take their foot off the gas and as they say the rest is history.

At one point I was beginning to think that Ronnie's decision of playing Bates was nearly as bad as when Danny Wilson put in Mark Tinkler at centre half in place of the injured Micky Nelson at Rochdale (06/07 season.) Like Bates, Tinks had no pace, and had also been out injured for some time. Rochdale won two-nil, both goals were down to Tinks, and the result would effectively cost 'Pools the title.

I was praying that history would not repeat itself as instead of losing out on silverware we could lose out on our league status. Hopefully. Ronnie would do the right thing: hook Bates at half time and put Neil Austin in at centre half with Duckworth filling in at full back. Thankfully Hugill and Fenwick kept Exeter occupied and took the pressure off our defence for long periods.

Just before half time Kev, in his now wet T shirt is starting to shiver quite violently, and has offered Dave £10 for the loan of his coat. In a matter of seconds the transaction is complete and Kev is wrapped up in Dave's coat and Dave has pocketed the tenner.

Dave in an effort to stay warm himself joins in enthusiastically with the chanting and singing and urging on the boys in blue so much that at the end of the game we have momentarily lost sight of him, until one of the other lads sees him celebrating with the players on the pitch! What is it about 'Pools that can have such an effect on people?

Afterwards, back at The Ward Jackson in West, then at The Highland Laddie and The Red Lion in Norton, we exchanged our post-match thoughts. The four lads loved the day, saying it was great being on the terraces and so close to the play, and that the atmosphere was nothing short of brilliant.

They had to admit that at times the quality of football was a bit rough and ready. and lacked the finesse of the Premiership and The Championship respectively. The thing the lads enjoyed most was the physicality and contact side of the game, and in particular when Scott Fenwick and Exeter's centre half well and truly clattered each other when going up for a high ball. Both of them lay on the ground for a second or two then shook their heads and were up and running again. If that had been in the Premiership they would have been rolling around the pitch in feigned agony for twenty minutes, awaiting the air ambulance or a coroner to arrive on the scene!

All four lads said it was a great day out and were absolutely delighted that Pools had beaten the drop, and they said that without no mistake they will be back next season. ...and so will I.

Postscript My son won £50 on his bet. So all and all not a bad day.