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Showing posts from August, 2015


At Last, After 27 Years


Match report by RUNNING MONKEY at the Vic


York City 1 Pools 2 (League 2) Saturday August 15th 2015

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As you all know, I do not usually do away games. I have excuses, which I won’t bore you with but suffice to say that today, with the offer of a free lift, I decided to take the plunge. 

You have all heard the jokes about the Englishman the Irishman and the Scotsman. Well today I have a new twist on that one. I travelled to the game at York with a teacher, a solicitor and a football club mascot. Sadly I cannot relay the punch line here as it is a family show, but I will mention the Scotsman, who used to be a Poolie but has now become the unlucky mascot for a Prem side whose fortunes are going awry. I think he should take lessons from a teacher and go and see a solicitor, as it is inhuman to send such an ardent Poolie to watch that rubbish. 

OK I may have got a lift from these Pools fans but they made it plain they did not want an old codger like me cramping their style (all say 'Awwww'), so I was dumped out of the car in some back lane in the middle of York and told to go off and play. Awwwww. 

Well, as you know, we Bizz boys are made of stern stuff so I had a walk around the town centre hoping to see a friendly face, but York was full of tourists so I sat on a step till this old bag lady gave me half a sandwich, which I shared with a pigeon called Fred. 

So after my meal I made my way to the ground and, still not having seen a friendly face, I queued up at the turnstiles, I say queued but I was the first in the queue. Another Awwww is due. The stewards were friendly enough; one asked me if I was ok and did I need an ambulance. I said "no, I am sure my 'friends' will be back soon", but they never arrived, and I stood on my own watching the game. 

The game was a tough old scrap for Pools, against the New York Giants, and one statistic bandied around was that it was in 1988 when we last won a game there. I remember going a couple of seasons ago when it persistently rained on us. I just hope that when they get their new stadium in 2020 covered terracing will be compulsory. 

With an unchanged team and the manager, Mr. Moore, still stranded in Portugal looking after his daughter, who had taken ill while on holiday, Big Sam was still in charge. York, really did have some giants in their side and we lost one of our bigger men to a dirty tackle from a forward who deliberately left his foot in on Worley, who had to go off in the first five minutes of the game.

"I sat on a step till this old bag lady gave me half a sandwich, which I shared with a pigeon called Fred"

There was even an argument developed between Fenwick and a York player, who took exception to Fenwick picking up a huge divot they had left after the pair went into a tackle. Fenwick picked it up and threw it over the barrier where the York player remonstrated with him, and went to pick it up and replace it -maybe he was a golfer! Obviously Fenwick had whispered something in the opposition player's ear and he went mental, facing up to Fenwick till the ref told him to get on with it. I say ref in the loosest of terms because if the hacking of Worley had been a tad later in the game it would have been a card offence.

The giants played to their strength, which was a direct long ball up to the big men, and in this game we were second best to the second ball for most of the first half. We were being overrun in midfield and they were a pretty good side. My notes say Pools under pressure from the big boys, and a succession of corners looked dangerous.

Bartlett, who is in fantastic form, made a couple of great saves, and one of them was a fantastic one-handed save to keep us in the game. York went really close on a couple of occasions during this spell of pressure, one ball bouncing off the angle of the bar and post. We had to sit back and take it, as we could not break loose. We were not playing our usual style of football and they just came the long ball route and we struggled.

There was some desperate defending from Pools to get us through to half time with a clean sheet and, like last week, if we had been two-nil down we could not have complained.

Pools, after a chat from Sam, started to play football and looked better kicking towards our fans, but we went down to a scrappy goal when the ball bounced around like ping pong ball before someone hit it home.

Pools, a goal down, started to get things moving and Fenwick went close with a shot. Flinders, who had earlier been applauded by the Pools fans, was now taking some stick, and looked really as sick as a parrot after Pools scored the equalizer. A great ball from the overlapping Carroll found Paynter, who seemed to have plenty of time to curl a ball over Flinders into the top corner, which sent the travelling fans wild.

I think it was such a relief that we were now playing our football and getting some joy. Bingham became provider for the second, picking up a ball and running on the goal, and found Woods, whose shot hit a centre half giant, who deflected the ball past Flinders. Some would say an own goal, but Woods deserves the credit.

It was a much-deserved win for Pools, for their Never-Say-Die attitude. A great day out for the fans as a chant of "We are unbeatable" rang around the stadium. Not the best of performances, but when you have to grind it out then we did just that.

I made the lonely trek back to where my ‘FRIENDS’ had dropped me off. They had waited for me so I was happy after our 2-1 win, and I did not mind them putting me in the boot as the teacher had bought some shopping and it was taking up my seat. So if they do read this I would just like to thank them for their hospitality and hope that one-day I can repay them in kind.


Flying Start


Match report by RUNNING MONKEY at the Vic


Pools 2 Morecambe 0 (League 2) Saturday August 8th 2015

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First of all I have an apology to make, after last weeks piece, Pre Season Blues. I was a tad critical of our new captain and striker Billy Paynter. You would think by now after quite a few seasons watching Pools I should know better.

Not every player enjoys playing friendlies, The have become a necessary part of the pre-season ritual which generates a few shillings for the clubs concerned and helps to get players fit after the summer lay off. Well, just maybe this season, when we have had ten new signings in the squad, I should ignore the poor fare served up in our pre-season games and wait until the season gets under way before I start offering my opinion on players. To my cost I have found it a foolish decision to criticise a player who looked as if he was idle, not bothered about the game, and would only be a burden as so many of our past signings over the years have been.

Today I was taught a lesson, “keep your opinions to yourself until you have all the facts". Today the new team captain makes me eat my words, as he played a blinder, scoring one and making another, in a fine two-nil win at home over Morecambe.

Billy Paynter led out the team with his own family as mascots, for his first captain’s job and a one hundredth career goal to boot. After winning the toss he led his troops up bank for the first half giving his team the downhill advantage in the second.

Some pre-game comments from the Ditchburn and his uncle Keith about the size and muscle in the new look team, and that we would be a hard team to bully off the ball this season.

It was a brisk start to the game, and a goal ruled offside by the visitors made it look a little too easy to break us down. We all knew he was well offside but with a brand new referee fresh from non-league football, we were not going to take any chances with Mr English.

Another chance for the visitors came shortly afterwards, when a cross was headed onto the Pools bar and was cleared. We were racking up a few unnecessary fouls and giving free kicks in dangerous positions, but I put this down to the ref, who had no idea there were two teams on the pitch, and the enthusiasm of our new recruits just back from army camp training.

Pools surprised quite a few people today in their application; we were linking players, carrying the ball swiftly up field and threatening their goal, putting them on the back foot with some great passing football played at speed, and some very deft touches, especially from Bingham.

Woods was superb today. After winning a hard fifty-fifty challenge he raced forward and his shot was blocked. Bingham, who was a real live wire throughout the game, picked up the rebound and with a deft scoop lifted the ball over the defenders, and the waiting Paynter headed it home. I wrote in the notes ‘ALL IS FORGIVEN.’ Pools then put into action their army training during the goal celebration, which a lot of people including me missed, but I did have notes to write. The sprog explained that as the lads celebrate, the goal scorer shouts ‘’GRENADE’’ and all the lads drop to the deck and start crawling like squaddies. Lets hope we see a lot more of this “ACTION” this season.

Pools were playing some very good football; it was team football, as it should be played, with everyone joining in. Duckworth had a great game and one track back he did with the dangerous Ellison, he chased him fifty yards, harried him all the way and robbed him of the ball deep in the Town End corner, and raced back up the wing, setting up a decent cross that was cleared by Morecambe.
" It was one of those games in which, if the opposition had taken only a few of their chances, we could have been beaten six-two. "

One small criticism would be our two central defenders at times got caught and turned back on our goal, putting us under pressure a few times by losing the ball.

Paynter was once again pulling the strings and set up Fenwick, whose shot was blocked. I have yet to see Carson play but the number two keeper seems to be doing a canny job. He looks confident and made some good saves. One, late in extra time, was a superb dive to his left to palm a ball away. Just on half time a Morecambe attacker broke through and had the goal at his mercy but he must have known he was miles offside and with no whistle he fluffed his effort well wide of the goal.

At the beginning of the second half the visitors really stepped up a gear and we lost our shape and looked less confident for a long spell. They were doing what we had been doing in the first half - putting us under pressure, and mistakes were abundant as we tried to get back in to the game.

Paynter once again used his experience to start to get us back in the game and a beautiful ball placed perfectly for Bingham who used his speed to slot the ball home, making it two nil to the Hartlepool. It was one of those games in which, if the opposition had taken only a few of their chances, we could have been beaten six-two.

As I said earlier, a great victory with some excellent football from Pools, four bookings was more down to a poor official, who was so bad he will probably turn up at the Vic about once a fortnight for the rest of the season.

You could pick anyone from five as Man of the Match: Bingham, Featherstone, Magnay, even Paynter, but my money was on Woods. Considering his injury last term the lad was involved in everything and made some wonderful tackles throughout the game.

Three points in the bag and all is well at the Vic.

Here is the 'News'


BILLY'S CONTRACT tells us what's happening 



New season New owners, New Players, New Pitch, New strip, New reduced gate prices and New Contracts for the management team. The list goes on and on. It is little wonder that the close season flew by as, almost on a daily basis, something New seemed to be happening down at the Vic. 

I don't believe that The Silver Fox, Ronnie Moore, has even had a holiday let alone a break since the final whilst was blown at Carlisle. There is a real buzz going around the town and most Poolies that I have spoken to are talking about promotion, or at the very least looking at reaching the play-offs, and have the betting slips to corroborate this optimism. As a precaution, I have informed The Bride that no holidays are to be booked in the first two weeks in May unless they are to be long weekends in London.

Normally I give pre-season much of a miss as it is mainly about getting the players fit and adapting to new systems, and results are pretty much irrelevant. If I remember correctly one pre-season we lost all our matches and ended up reaching the play-offs. On another occasion we won all our pre-season games having a torrid season and only missed relegation by the skin of our teeth. This year was different due to the concessionary pricing for over sixties (one of the few perks of advancing years other than dodging the Grim Reaper) and the locality of the games to be played.

I ended up attending five of the fixtures. First up was Billingham, only ten minutes away. A crowd of 1,300 plus saw Pools field different teams for each half who played some nice stuff on the deck with lots of good running off the ball. In truth Billingham were not much in the way of competition and I cannot recall either Pools keeper touching the ball for the duration of the game.

Highlight of the night - just before kick-off there was a rather large portly gentleman ( I'd say around 20 clem) pushing a roller around the pitch. In the second half much to the mirth of the travelling 'Poolies this same groundsman was playing in goal for Billingham. The laughing soon turned to geniune applause when the same lad pulled off a world-class save from one of our forwards, along with some other fine saves during the course of the game. I saw the keeper in their social club later on, expecting him to be knocking back the Guinness but I was well impressed to see him sipping a diet fizzy drink.

Next was a trip up to Spennymoor. I have a soft spot for Spenny, particularly as they have this awful habit of trying to play fast, one-touch, attacking football. Over the last couple of years I have seen them half a dozen times or so. On the last occasion Scott Fenwick was up against them, playing for Durham City. Alas on the day he did not score for Pools.

Prior to kick-off, whilst the teams were warming up, my mate pointed to this player who was sporting a beard in the Spennymoor side and he was convinced it was Matty Robson. After ten minutes of deliberation and consultation with the team sheet and Spenny fans we all agreed that it wasn't. Ironically, five minutes after the kick-off, who should come back to help defend a corner at the end where we were standing, though without a beard, was none other than 'The' Matty Robson (his name was not on the team sheet, only his shirt number and the word 'triallist' beside it). Sadly Matty did not shine on the day and he did not appear for the second half. Hope the lad gets fixed up somewhere.

Pools again fielded a different X1 for each half and won comfortably, but I have to admit that, apart from one possibly leg-breaking tackle on Scotty Harrison, Spenny were on the whole very average by their standards, and this was reflected by the four-nil scoreline in Pools favour.

When the pre-season games were announced I was surprised at the home fixtures with Scunny and Chesterfield. Normally we get one or other, or even both, of the big two North East teams (and occasionally Middlesbrough) travelling to the Vic. In retrospect, although less revenue is generated, playing clubs from the division above us would be more in keeping with the level of football that Pools are used to, and I feel more beneficial to us. With regards to playing friendlies with the Fancy Dans from the Premiership, there is little or no physical contact involved and hardly a tackle takes place (would suit Jonathan Franks down to the ground), so it is not really a contest but more of a show. Might as well be on Play Station.

Scunny came to town and treated the friendly as if it was a full-blown relegation dogfight, or a battle for the last play-off spot. Their players, and in particular Luke Williams, were well up for it and looked like that they had not seen meat for a month. Williams controlled the proceedings and when Scunny were awarded a free kick he snatched the ball from the 'Pools player who was holding it and took the free kick in the wink of an eye. He had a hand in two of their goals and scored a belter of a free kick to boot. Based on Scunny's performance I would have them down as possible promotion contenders.

I made a day of it for the Gateshead match, meeting up with a few mates as well as my son who lives in the Toon. The only time previously that I was at a ground with a running track around the perimeter was the Olympic Stadium in Berlin (and no, it was not to go to a rally and listen to a speech by a chap wearing a small moustache and shouting a lot!) On the day of the match we attended, there were only 7,000 spectators in a Stadium that could hold 60,000.We were fairly high up in the stand behind a goal to avoid our view being obscured by the security fencing. Beneath the fencing was a three foot wide path all the way around the pitch, followed by a moat, followed by another ten foot breadth of waste land of sand, (Could have been a minefield for all we knew), and then the running track.
"if Bill Shakespeare was writing up the match report of Pools' 5-3 defeat for the local newspaper,  he would used the strap line ' The Comedy of Errors' "
After that there was a small green thing about the size of a stamp in comparison to all around it, which I think was the actual football pitch. To see the game close up one would require field binoculars (as used by Irwin Rommel), as the players were like dots. We only knew the scores and the scorers by viewing the electronic scoreboard behind us (Yakuba, who eventually went to Leeds, was one of the scorers on the day, but what sort of goal he scored - header, tap in, overhead kick or penalty, I could not confirm, as he was that far away from sight, he was almost on the horizon.)

This was my first visit to the Heed International Stadium and I have to say that despite the running track it is a pretty impressive. The sightlines were good. But what caught the eye for me was that the spotlessly clean toilets had numerous mirrors in them ...made out of glass ...and all intact. How the other half live. All I will say about the game is that if Bill Shakespeare was writing up the match report of Pools' 5-3 defeat for the local newspaper,  he would used the strap line ' The Comedy of Errors'. Hopefully if Ronnie Moore gets this 3-5-2 system working properly, at the end of the season the strap line could well read: All's well that ends well". It was nice to see Ben Clark get a good reception from the the Poolie contingent.

The performance and the result were easily put behind us after calling into several drinking establishments in the Toon, none of which, it has to be said, served either Fosters, Carling or Carlsberg. It was my first taste of Camden Hell lager and Sierra Nevada beer - absolute lush (bit of product placement here for tasteless continental-style beers. Ed.)

 As for the last train (9.30 p.m!) back from Newcastle it should be renamed the party express. I have been on it several times and it is all good natured fun, mainly mad women who are a bit tipsy, but well worth the ticket money. The train terminates at the Boro but 80% of the passengers get off at Hartlepool. Speaks volumes.

The final friendly, against Chesterfield, was an even affair and Pools had made a massive improvement after the Gateshead debacle. My main concern was lack of goal attempts and too much passing around at the back which ultimately led to Chesterfield's goal. Ritchie received a warm round of applause when he came on for the last ten minutes, playing at right back, of all positions.

Players that have stood out for me to date: 


Rakish Bingham looks lively and will get goals.
Billy Paynter I don't think is a goalscorer, but is a good target man and links up well.
Bartlett, unlike Scotty Flinders, does not seem as hesitant to come out of his box and is very vocal indeed.
Jake Carroll looks good coming forward and seems to have goals in him. Ducky seems to be returning to the form he was in when he first signed for us.
Michael Woods however, who is now back, a month ahead of his scheduled training date, is the one player that has impressed me most, not only with his performances but also his bravery. Considering his horrific injury, he has picked up where he left off last season. He was only on the pitch a few minutes when he put in his first 50/50 tackle, which lesser players would have shirked out of, or not even gone into in the first place. He has also been on the receiving end of a few tasty tackles as well (I'm thinking of the one in the second half against Chesterfield) and just got up and got on with it.

I have some concerns, but nothing like those that I had last pre-season when I said in Monkey Business that we would get relegated.

Concerns:


Hopefully by 3pm on the 8th of August the players will have adapted to the 3-5-2 system that The Silver Fox favours, with the ability to adapt to other systems as and when required.
Bates is still with us. I would love him to prove me wrong.
As I write, Parnaby is still on the scene, on an upaid basis to keep his fitness levels up. What would Pools' liability position be if he sustained yet another injury. Is he insured?
We need someone in midfield like Tshibola.

My main concern, however, and it should be one all season ticket holders in particular should be worried about, is the non-availability of the blue plastic wallets for the season tickets themselves. Honestly, this situation would never have occurred on IOR's watch!

Funny Old Game



Here We Go... The Wagons Are Rolling Again!


GREAT GRANDAD SHOUTY looks back - and forward




Yep, here we go. The start of another season and let’s hope we don’t go through the trauma of last season. 

Certainly a lot of activity on the ins and outs front and whilst there were a lot of grumbles after the 4-0 defeat against Scunthorpe I thought we more than redeemed ourselves in the Chesterfield game.

What were the pluses during this game? Starting at the back, I thought that Adam Bartlett came out of the game very well. Should Trevor Carson be called up into the Northern Ireland squad then it looks as though we’ve got the position well covered.

The defence seemed to cope reasonably well but the midfield performance was particularly pleasing. Michael Woods and Nicky Featherstone look capable of taking games by the scruff of the neck; Michael Woods certainly made his presence felt in the Chesterfield game. Indeed, there were times when I thought he’d forgotten it was only a friendly!
"Bingham certainly has the pace... Paynter can hold the ball... and, well, Scott Fenwick is Scott Fenwick."

At last, we have some striking options in Billy Paynter, Rakish Bingham and Scott Fenwick. Bingham certainly has the pace and Paynter can hold the ball and bring others into play – and, well, Scott Fenwick is Scott Fenwick. A recurring nightmare is the 2005/6 season when Adam Boyd and Joel Porter were out injured for most of the season and we just didn’t know where the goals were coming from. Hopefully, with a striker being out injured this season we should be ok.

How will we finish this season? Despite some crackerjack from Newport suggesting that we will be relegation candidates I have a hunch we’ll be mid table or thereabouts. Two of the automatic promotion places could well go to Luton and Portsmouth who have the necessary gates to mount effective recruitment.

An interesting development at Newport is that their main backer – a guy who won the Euro lottery – has pulled out. So maybe they will struggle. Another club who could struggle are Accrington who must be on the breadline with the gates they get – around a thousand. And, don’t forget, they only brought just over twenty fans for their visit to The Vic last season.

All in all, its been an interesting close season off the field as well. IOR were good for Pools and when it really mattered they gave Ronnie Moore the support that was necessary to mount The Great Escape. Now, with new owners, let’s hope we can look forward to better times ahead. Just from reading the financial press, companies which serviced the oil industry were living in difficult times and I’m sure this affected IOR. The season ticket sales have been impressive once again and maybe there will be price reductions for pay at the gate sales for selected games.

On to general matters and this close season has resembled the ones we used to get years ago when attention turned to other sports. However, we did have the Women’s World Cup and, at last, we beat Germany in a game that mattered. Of course, we have had the nonsense with FIFA and I see that even the Russian President Vladimir Putin has been getting in on the act by suggesting that Sepp Blatter be awarded a Nobel Prize for his contributions to world footy. Yikes, Blatter has been angling after that for years! Still, it took the Yanks to sort out the seedy little corrupt empire and I’ve never known them be so popular in this country.

Anyway, enjoy yourselves this season. Our fame does spread. When talking to a Portsmouth fan in Scotland during the summer he said ‘The Monkey Hangers’ when learning me and my good lady come from Hartlepool. And then there were the locals who said ‘Yes, Jeff Stelling’s lot’. You can’t keep us down!!*

Cardiff, Ten Years On


BILLY'S CONTRACT remembers a special day




I cannot believe that it is 10 years since we made the trip down to Cardiff for the playoff final with Sheffield Wednesday.

As the lad said when he threw out the clock from his bedroom window: ‘My, how time flies’.

So much has happened since then, and like many others I have experienced births, deaths and marriages, and on a personal level, become a Grandad as well as taking early retirement. Some might say I am older and much wiser. Others might disagree as I still have a season ticket for Hartlepool United.



It is easy to support the big clubs. Sunderland is only 20 miles away and if I want to see the Mags they are only a further 15 miles up the road. However they are not my clubs and not my towns.

I boil with rage when I see someone walking around my town wearing another team’s colours; even more so if the shirt in question is of the Premier League variety.

There are however some exceptions. I did once ask a lad why he was wearing a Donny shirt (my favourite Yorkshire club). He told me he was holidaying in Hartlepool!

Pools have played a big part in my life and I would like to think that I have played a ‘bit’ part in theirs. I can recall in the 70s when the club was so hard up that at half time the ballboys would walk around the ground with a blanket for the fans to throw their loose change into, to contribute to the players’ wages.

Many’s the time I would throw in my bus fare and walk the three miles back home, more often than not with a force nine blowing off the North Sea.

On another occasion, when I found that I was due to have a surgical procedure on my back on the same day as Pools' away fixture with our local rivals Darlington, I rang up the hospital to cancel the operation.

Even though we nicked a point, watching that match was like having the operation only without the anaesthetic.

When the NHS finally got around to performing my cancelled operation some 18 months later I was told to recuperate at home, which meant that I would miss three vital home games which would determine our league/financial survival.

How did muggins here support his club during that time when both myself and my football team were literally on our backs? I sent a letter to the chairman along with my gate money for the three matches that I would miss.

He in turn wrote back to me saying that he read my letter out to the team before kick off, as well as telling them of my financial contribution, and Burnley were dispatched two goals to nil (my part in Burnley’s downfall).

ALWAYS THE BRIDESMAID


It would not be unfair to say the word ‘successful’ and Hartlepool United do not sit comfortably together in the same sentence. We hold the record number, never to be beaten, of 14 re-elections to the Football League.

When I last checked we still hold a record of going 1,227 minutes without scoring a goal. Even the goal that broke the drought was a penalty!

Our first ever promotion was 1967/68 season. Our first relegation was season 1968/69! All of our subsequent promotions were also tainted:

1990/91 – finished third, one point behind the champions, and our deadly rivals, Darlington.

2002/03 – finished runners-up by one point to Rushden and Diamonds, despite earlier having a 12-point advantage over them. Our last game of that season was at Rushden, a match that would determine who would be Champions. With minutes remaining, Pools had a legitimate goal ruled out which would have given us the title.

Their keeper Billy Turley missed a cross, Pools scored, and he went down rolling all over the place as if in some sort of drug-crazed convulsion, and the ref disallowed the goal. Turley got up laughing his head off. A few seasons later he was banned from football for taking cocaine. Not long afterwards his club folded. Here endeth the lesson not to mess with Hartlepool United. What goes around comes around!

A few weeks earlier in this same campaign, despite a 4-0 thrashing at Scunny, we had gained promotion as other results went our way. It must be the first time in history a team who had been promoted got booed off the pitch.

2006/07 – runners-up again, this time finishing one point behind Walsall. Once again, we threw the title away.

PLAY OFF SEMI-FINALS


Pools were involved in five play-off semi finals, losing the first four:

We kind of gate-crashed the play-offs in 1999/00 as uninvited guests. In truth we were not really ready or equipped for them let alone gaining promotion. This was compounded when derby rivals Darlo beat us to reach the final.

The following season, Blackpool’s Brett Ormerod carried out his one man demolition of Pools. This was made the more galling as we had done the double over them during the course of the season. Even more galling was that Pools should have gone up in third spot due to Chesterfield making improper payments to players as well as other financial irregularities. The Spireites got off very lightly when the League very conveniently docked only 9 points, keeping Pools out of an automatic promotion spot.

Chesterfield are forever known in Poolie circles as ‘Cheater-field’.

Cheltenham (2001/02) went to penalties. Ritchie Humphreys’ penalty hit the bar, bounced off the goalkeeper's back then rolled along the line, hit the post and went out, as indeed did Hartlepool. Always the bridesmaid.

Bristol City, 2004 – last few minutes, winning 1-0. ‘Pools lost two experienced central defenders to injury, Micky Barron was carried off unconscious as City took advantage, nicking two goals in quick succession.

A famous ‘Blues’ singer (‘scuse the pun) once penned the words which seemed to sum up Hartlepool United very well. 'I have a lot of luck …all of it bad.'

However that was about to change when we drew Tranmere in the playoff semi in 2005.

THE PLAYOFFS, 2005


We comfortably beat them 2-0 at the Vic but we were unsure if it was enough to carry us through at their place. As it turned out, at Prenton Park they absolutely battered us for the best part of 90 minutes.

At times it was like the Alamo, and our ‘keeper, Dimi, played an absolute blinder and kept us in with a shout.

The game went to penalties and it was fitting that, after Cheltenham, Richie Humphreys’ left foot spot-kick sent us to Cardiff and the Poolies into delirium.

We got our final tickets online without any problems at all, mainly because Pools outsourced the allocation to a ticketing agency. If it had been left to the club ticket office we would be still waiting for them to be printed off now…

Support to be proud of
Pools sold 17,500 tickets which was less than half of what Wednesday sold but that accounted for nearly 20% of the population of Hartlepool. Those who did not make the journey to Cardiff said on the day of the final that Hartlepool resembled a ghost town, with nobody about, and shops shutting early as they were devoid of people.

Someone else remarked that it put him in mind of the day of Lady Di’s funeral when everyone was at home and off the streets watching the proceedings on the TV.

One of the advantages to being a one-club town resulted in the following joke doing the rounds, that the whole town of Hartlepool and half the city of Sheffield were all rooting for ‘Pools.

We travelled down the day before the final and it seemed an age getting to Cardiff. I was thinking that it was going to be one hell of a long drive back if we get beat.

After checking into our hotel, which was about eight miles from Cardiff, we then headed into the city to get the lay of the land and more importantly a bite to eat. Back to the hotel and we shared a few pints and a good laugh with some Preston and West Ham fans whose finals also took place that weekend.

Quite a few ‘Poolies billeted themselves over the water in Bristol, however some friends of my son decided they would break the journey by staying overnight …in Norwich! They only just made the kick-off with seconds to spare. It always makes me giggle whenever I see the BBC weather forecast map on the TV and see how far away these two cities are from each other.

29th MAY 2005, COCA-COLA LEAGUE 1 PLAY-OFF FINAL


On the big day we decided to get into Cardiff as early as possible.

Leaving our car at the excellent park and ride facilities we got dropped right in the centre of town and even at ten in the morning the place was a sea of blue and white, with many of them quaffing pints, even at that hour.

We opted to go on an open-top bus tour of the City, and it has to be said, Cardiff was not the ‘doss-hole’ that I had expected it to be. It was obvious that vast amounts of money had been thrown at the place, particularly the marina area of the city. It was nothing like the images I had previously envisaged of Shirley Bassey busking on the docklands of Tiger Bay.

Our bus took us past the hotel that the Pools players were staying in. Outside, on the forecourt, we could clearly see Chris Westwood and we gave him a shout and he waved back at us.

Little did we know that he would later be waving the Millennium Stadium goodbye eight minutes from normal time… Little did we also know that Westy would also be waving goodbye to Hartlepool United. His girlfriend, unable to settle in the North East, wanted him to move to the Midlands (women!). He subsequently signed for Walsall.

On his return to the ‘Vic with the Saddlers he got such a great reception from the Poolie faithful that manager Martin Scott complained about it in the local press. Every time Westwood touched the ball the home fans cheered. Each time he came up for a corner they chanted ‘Westy Westy’. You could not believe the racket the Pools fans made when he scored the ‘inevitable for it is written’ goal. Needless to say, he did not celebrate.

What are you doing here?
I asked my wife ahead of penning this what was her main memory of Cardiff. She said that it was like being in Hartlepool shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon as she knew every second person she bumped in to - many of whom had never even seen Pools on a Saturday afternoon in Hartlepool, let alone a Saturday afternoon in Cardiff.

Indeed it was the same for me. I would bump into someone from the next street or down the road and I would begin my conversation with ‘what are you doing here?!’

The city centre was a sea of blue and white stripes, you could not distinguish who was friend or who was foe. I am sure this created a few problems for the authorities in trying to segregate both sets of fans. Unable to get into the pubs in the Hartlepool quarter we had a bit of a wander and without knowing it ended up in the Wednesday part of town.

Very civilised it was too, got served in no time at all in the pubs in this area. They mustn’t have the same drinking culture in Sheffield as we do up north.

We said that we would stay for one drink and then move on but soon we were having the craic with a great bunch of lads and lasses from The Steel City. After a few pints with them I said that we would take our leave and head back to ‘our end’ of town to seek out a few mates but they insisted that we stay with them, so we did. Who said that Yorkshire folk are dour?

Before finally taking our leave of our new-found friends and wishing each other ‘all the best’, one of their lads predicted a 4-0 win to the Owls. I went 2-1 to Pools. To many outsiders, Pools might have been viewed as the underdogs but we Poolies did not think that was the case.

Yes, Wednesday were the bigger club, but in terms of what happens on the pitch there was not a lot to choose between the two teams. Wednesday finished one point better off than Pools in the final league placings. But a few weeks earlier Pools tore the Owls to shreds at the Vic with an Adam Boyd hat trick.

His last goal is probably the best goal that I have ever seen. If a Manure player had scored that goal it would be on the opening credits of Match of the Day for the next 50 years. If you have not seen it I urge you to view it on YouTube. The bit when the Wednesday defender tried to slide tackle him and skidded ten feet past him, and nearly off the pitch as Boydie tucked the the ball away from him is pure class. What follows after is even better…

MONKEY BUSINESS...


Monkey Business
My 12 year old son was mad keen to get into the stadium as soon as it opened up for business, so along with a four foot blow-up monkey that he carried about with him all day, partially obscuring his tee-shirt with a picture of an Owl with a rope around his neck and big block lettering saying ‘WELL HUNG’, off we set.

As kick-off approached the atmosphere in the Pools end stepped up to a different level when we began singing Two Little Boys. I have to admit to telling my son that I had to wipe some dust out of my eye when he asked if I was crying.

THE MATCH


The first half from Pools' point of view was a bit flat. Martin Scott surprised many by his team selection, leaving out John Daly and Eifion Williams.

The Owls' goal just before half time was the catalyst to force Scott’s hand and Pools stepped up a gear, and grabbed two quick goals from Williams and Daly who had come off the bench.
Pools take the lead
The more the match progressed the more it looked as if there was only going to be one winner. Wednesday did not offer much and their fans despite their numbers had gone very quiet. Then, the turning point in the game came when I said to my son ‘it looks as if we have done it’.

At that precise moment that referee, sorry, that clown Phil ‘Bosseyed’ Crossley awarded the most dubious of penalties; and to rub salt into the wound, send Chrissie Westwood off in the process.

I dug the video of the match out only yesterday and the more you look at the penalty the worse it gets, as the Wednesday player was falling and conned the ref, who was a mile off the pace, and is not even seen on the screen.

Basically the ref was conned, and today the Wednesday player in question would probably have been cautioned for simulation..

Wednesday only just managed to convert the penalty but none the less convert it they did and that was effectively game over. Our lads had given their all including losing three first-teamers to injury during the course of the game and were now down to ten men with another 30 minutes to play in the heat. The records show that Pools lost 4-2 but that does not tell the full story.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES


The following text, excluding that in brackets, is all taken from the book The official History of Hartlepool United

Rumours of the match officials seen up late the night before (I think that is a euphemism for being on the lash).

The penalty decision. How could the referee have seen the exact circumstances from behind and a long way from the run of play? Why was the linesman not consulted? (this was in the days before assistant referees – Why did Sky television not show and re-show the penalty during the match or in the post match analysis? Usually they analyse such instances in great detail)

The mysterious letter: 48 hours before the final Hartlepool United received a letter postmarked Tyneside, warning of a penalty decision (Detailed investigation by all concerned, included the police, could not trace the source of the letter. Did Pools deserve to go into the Championship? Was it allowed? Were they big enough?)

WHY WE LOST


On the day there was little to choose between the two sides overall. The Owls had the better exchanges in the first half and thereafter Pools were in control of the proceedings until they went down to ten men.

Several key Pools players, including the influential Darrell Clarke and Hugh Robertson were ruled out through injury, and unlike the Owls, Hartlepool’s squad was not the biggest in the league. Many of its number were youth players who lacked match experience and were just learning their trade (Darren Craddock had less than 20 games under his belt , mainly as a sub, before coming on for the injured Mickey Barron.)

Three members of the team who played in the final came off injured. Captain Micky Barron, Joel Porter (14 goals in that season) and wide man Thomas Butler.

MARTIN SCOTT


Another factor in why we lost was the decision and timing of Hartlepool’s owners IOR to dismiss Neale Cooper just a few weeks earlier. This was crass bad management, the highest level of incompetence. This was Neale Cooper’s team and he knew what made it tick.

This decision had far reaching effects that ultimately led to the team's relegation the following season. as well as Martin Scott’s belated but welcome dismissal as manager.

Cooper, the fans' favourite, was sacked just before the last league game of the season against Bournemouth. Although rumour and counter-rumour abound as to why Cooper lost his job, ten years on, the truth is yet to come out.

The timing of Cooper’s sacking would not have given Martin Scott (Cooper’s former assistant) time to put his own ideas into practice. He seemed to be more defensively minded than Cooper as was displayed in the away semi final at Tranmere and the first half at Cardiff.

As for Sheffield Wednesday on that day - a hard-working, no-nonsense team who played nice football in part, but their heads dropped when Pools went two up. At one point they seemed to be expecting Pools to get a third until ‘Cross Eyes’ Crossley intervened.

The Owls had obviously done their homework on Adam Boyd, Pools' leading goal scorer with 28 goals, and man-marked him pretty much out of the the game, not to mention cutting off much of his line of supply. I can only recall Boydie having one shot at goal all game.

To quote from the official History of Hartlepool United Pools weren’t beaten by the Wednesday team that day, ‘they just lost’, which in retrospect is a fair comment.

My own theory as to why we did not win – we lost the toss and had to wear our red away shirt, nice though it was.

Recently there was a reunion of the squad, organised by the fans to mark the tenth anniversary of Cardiff. With the exception of Jon Daly, who was in the Rangers squad for a match the following day, pretty much the whole squad was in attendance.

It has been put on record on many occasions that this group of players were a very close knit group, who really got on with each other. Prick one and they all bled. If they did have a fault, they were too nice, both on and off the pitch.

It spoke volumes that centre forward Joel Porter flew in from Australia on the Thursday to attend this event, and jetted back off home again on the following Monday!

The whole squad sat on the top table. Sat in the middle of his players was the manager the man who got ‘Pools to Cardiff. No it was not Martin Scott, but Neale Cooper. Martin Scott did not attend, perhaps because of Cooper’s presence, or perhaps he was not invited.

AND FINALLY


On our way back to the hotel we stopped off at a curry house in the Valleys and had a very enjoyable, though very quiet and subdued meal.

Half way through, four Owls fans came in and sat at another table. As we were leaving, passing their table we wished them luck and a safe journey home. One of them without raising his head and looking at us told us that we were really unlucky. Respect.

MEMORIES OF CARDIFF


The whole Cardiff experience, despite the result, was really enjoyable. The organisation itself was excellent including Park and Ride. The people of Cardiff we spoke to were very friendly as were the police and stewards at the stadium.

Happy Poolies
Unlike Wembley, everything was bang in the city centre, including the stadium, not to mention the many pubs which did not charge an arm and a leg for a pint.

Moving the play-offs and various finals back to Wembley must have cost the city of Cardiff millions in lost revenue.

Ten years have gone. Ten years ago Pools played Tranmere and Cheltenham in the play-offs and this season all three of us were in a battle for league survival. Fortunately thanks to Ronnie Moore we beat the drop despite at one stage being 12 points adrift. Maybe, just maybe, perhaps Pools are not always The Bridesmaid.

For those not in the know on Hartlepool’s relationship with simians and ropes, Google 'Hartlepool monkey hanging'. And for the record, we still have the blow up monkey in our garage, awaiting his next big day out!

This article was originally written as a Poolie's view of the day at Cardiff, for the Sheffield Wednesday fans' website Owls Alive (www.owlsalive.com), who did a special feature on it for the 10th anniversary. We thank them (and of course Billy's Contract) for allowing us to use it.

Funny Old Game


Choosing Your Scapegoat


BILL THE BIRO gives you the rules



After following Pools for half a century, I've seen a lot of Pools managers and players, and heard a lot of opinions of them.

In my early years at the Vic I'd be constantly amazed at how different fans would see players differently and would shout abuse at them accordingly. So one would constantly shout abuse at Cliff Wright or with another it might be Amby Fogarty, and according to each abuser that player would be the sole cause of Pools' dire position at the time.

To a young lad it was quite educational that two people could see the same evidence as I could (in this case, two of the better players in a poor team) and manage to focus on one person as the cause, even if other fans had chosen a different victim.

Of course, standing in the same spot every week, and hearing the same abuse from the same people became a bit tedious, but not to the abusers, obviously. Every miss-hit cross was further proof that they were right and their victim was the cause of all of Pools' problems. So for them Hughie Hamilton or Willie Bradley could have a nightmare match but that made no difference. Their man was the real culprit.

So now we move on 50 years to the internet age, and in some ways things have hardly changed. Pools are still annually dicing with death at the foot of the fourth division and fans are still picking their victims. But whereas the Cliff Wright haters didn't tend to congregate together at the Vic, and so their campaigns were likely to be lone ones, often attracting comments like "Change the record", the internet tends to reinforce random views among groups, and so a collective view emerges which from afar often seems to be less about the facts and more about finding someone to agree with.

Take the recent ownership issues at Pools. Despite IOR's infamous lack of openness, it was no secret that they had been been trying to offload Pools for a few years. Add to that the downturn in the oil industry and it was natural that they would be cutting back their funding of Pools. So a struggle to stay in the league was the inevitable outcome.

IOR had Russ Green as chief executive. He is the current League Two Chief Executive of the Year. He was taken on by short-lived owners TMH, and subsequently by the current owners, so presumably three lots of owners and also his peers have had confidence in his abilities. Yet among Poolies, many are surprised that Russ wasn't shown the door. Why on earth would he be?
"football has always been a game that generates strong opinions, but some of them were, are, and probably always will be laughable"

Was it Russ's fault that Ken Hodcroft tightened the purse strings and wanted out? Russ's job was, and is, solely to run the club according to the policies of the owners, and to my mind his effectiveness or otherwise is very difficult to assess, other than the fact that Pools still survive. We can have views on individual footballers and the team manager, but I can't see what grounds people have for
abusing Russ.

To be honest I'm not even sure the critics of Ken Hodcroft are being fair. Should Ken have been blamed for simply, like anyone else, getting bored with, or being no longer able to fund one of his hobbies? Sure, his regular rants on a small number of topics got increasingly odd, bizarre even, and better communication could have done wonders, but his funding of the team and of the club in the latter half of last season showed some concern for the club, even if it may have also served to protect his investment.

Then just this week I read a few comments online from people who didn't go to the Chesterfield friendly simply because Ritchie Humphreys, a previous scapegoat, would be there. So scapegoaters have long memories.

No doubt there will be times this season when things go wrong, and someone will be made to take the blame, as ever, so I've devised a set of rules for scapegoating:

1 Scapegoat search begins whenever the team is doing badly
2 Fans' favourites, be they players, coaches or whatever cannot be scapegoats
2 The scapegoat must be in some way senior (e.g. chairman, manager, coach, senior player, has-been striker)
3 If the real culprit is a crowd favourite, someone junior to him must become the scapegoat
4 In extreme situations, double-scapegoating may be necessary
5 If a crowd favourite is sacked for lack of success, a scapegoat will be chosen who will be blamed for actively undermining the said crowd favourite.

So my prediction is that the scapegoat candidates for this season will be Billy Paynter and Sam Collins

Just the Ticket


Ticket collection report by BILLY'S CONTRACT at the Vic


Monday August 3rd 2015


Today was the day the tickets for the away fixture with York went on sale. As I missed out on same tickets for last years corresponding fixture I got my wife to drop me off at the Pools ticket office bright and early at 9.30a.m (the middle of the night for me!) a good half hour before it opened. 

Ahead of me were around a dozen or so fans including Krimo who said that he had been at the head of the queue since 8.50 a.m. The half hour we waited until the ten o'clock opening time passed fairly quickly, what with having the craic with a few other Poolies who were standing in line. The ticket office opened promptly at 10.05am on the dot ...five minutes late.

Only one member of staff was selling tickets and it took nearly eight minutes to serve the first fan. It took nearly as long to process the next sale. At this stage the fans who were in the queue were raising their eyes to heaven or shrugging their shoulders. Nobody complained or got angry - we just resigned ourselves to it being business as usual on the Pools administration side.
"we just resigned ourselves to it being business as usual on the Pools administration side"

After about twenty minutes another girl came in, to assist the lone ticket seller on the counter (I thought that there was some health and safety legislation about 'lone workers'), who asked for another computer to be 'opened up'.  'Deep Joy', I sighed, but this used up a further ten minutes while it booted up. Shortly afterwards the phone rings and one of the ticket staff serving on the counter answers the call, and is taking a ticket enquiry from someone who has now effectively jumped the queue. Apart from anything else, I felt this was bad manners.

Eventually I got served, and as I was leaving I said to another punter who was a couple of places behind, that due to the speed that they were selling each ticket, that he might as well go home and not bother to get a ticket, as the office closes at 4p.m.

Maybe it is just me, as my previous working backround was related to customer service, and it is something that I am still passionate about. Based on previous experience regarding the York game, surely Pools would/should know that tickets for this game sell out very quickly. If I was running the show I would have made sure that:

1 The ticket office opened bang on ten o'clock (if not before), which after all is their opening time

2 At least two two sales people would be on the desk

3 That the computers would have been up and running before they opened up for business

4 Any incoming phone calls should be diverted to the main office

In the time I spent queuing,  my wife dropped me off at the ground, picked the monster-in-law up (sorry, mother-in-law), which involved putting her walking frame in and out of the car, and took her shopping at Asda. She had to wait a further 20 minutes for me in the club's car park before I showed up.

On the topic of customer service, when I got home I rang a plumber's merchant about a spare part that I required for a sink repair. Althought the sales girl answered the phone politely, I went to give her the reference number of the part and she said... "hang on, I haven't got my screen opened up on my computer".

In the end she said she would ring me back in half an hour. In the interim I rang another company and they could not have been more helpful, and I gave them the order straight away. The girl did return my call... two hours later, so you can guess which company will get all my future business.

Funny Old Game




A View from Gateshead


Match report by ALREET at the Gateshead International Stadium


Gateshead 5 Pools 3 (Friendly) Saturday 25th July 2015


Being in Donny for a few days, I decided to pay a visit as it offered the chance of a few firsts for me:- I had never seen a Pools pre-season game; I had never been to Gateshead and I had never seen Gateshead play before.

Because of all the summer changes, it took a while to get to grips with who was playing where, not helped by the fact that one needed a pair of bins to see the players due to the running track and distant seats. That said, even the distance couldn’t disguise just how poor our defence looked. I know it’s ‘only’ a friendly but... The back three seemed to be still learning their lines while those in front weren’t always in position to offer cover as, shown by their first goal when a hard, low cross from our right went straight through to the centre of our goal where it was easily turned in.

A Pools player, looking well offside on our left, was allowed to carry on and the cross led to a shot which was blocked but it rebounded out to Bingham who blasted it in from around the penalty spot.

Shortly afterwards, a neat passing move between the same player and Magnay ended with the ball being driven narrowly past the far post. Bingham then put Pools ahead, slotting home a loose ball after their keeper and a defender confused each other.

The lead didn’t last, however, as we gave the ball away which allowed their man a neat turn and low shot into the corner. Half-time and honours even.

Moore brought on a Zac Thompson to replace the struggling Walker and I assumed he was another triallist as his introduction brought about a collective “Who?”.

Pools regained the lead with a rather fortuitous goal as Bingham mis-hit a shot from the edge of the area but it somehow squirmed out of the keeper’s grasp, hit his left-hand post and bounced behind him into the right side of the goal.
"Bingham stole the show with his goals but he also showed pace and brought others into play."

The home side equalised when a low shot eluded Carson who hurt himself while diving to keep the ball out and was helped off with what appeared to be a leg injury. This led to the introduction of Bartlett who, if nothing else, is extremely vocal. He was soon picking the ball out of the net, however, as a superb lob into space found an attacker totally unmarked and the ball was cooly passed into the goal.

At this point, some additional excitement was introduced to the proceedings with a flypast from the Red Arrows.

Back to reality and Gateshead notched a fifth when a shot from a pulled-back left cross was blocked, only for the rebound to be turned in. Game over.

To sum up, the defence was shocking, with Harrison in particular missing tackles, and his distribution was poor. In midfield, Woods ran his socks off and Featherstone provided some neat touches while Nelson-Addy, when he came on, put in a couple of decent tackles and long balls. The player pushing forward on our left (who I assume to be Whittle?) had a neat left foot, good control, took men on and provided some dangerous crosses.

Up front, Bingham stole the show with his goals but he also showed pace and brought others into play. Paynter, on the other hand, was largely anonymous, as was Fenwick when he came on for the second half.

Arriving back at the station in the rain, the Red Arrows made a noisy return which, at least, momentarily took my thoughts off Pools!

Pre-season Blues


Match report by RUNNING MONKEY at the Vic



Pools 0 Chesterfield 1 (Friendly) Saturday 1st August 2015



I probably have a cheek to make that statement after last season's fare and the subsequent ‘Great Escape' engineered my Mr Moore and his staff.

Despite what look like some good signings, in the pre-season games I have watched, our team is obviously still a work in progress. O.k., early days and you have to blend in new players to a “Pools” system of play, and we have a week left to do that before the season starts in earnest. I am not going to pretend I know anything about “systems”, I just know by instinct what I like and what I don’t like. I have to say, having seen the pre-season games against Billingham Town, Whitby Town, Scunthorpe United and Chesterfield, I have been suitably unimpressed. I just hope that these friendlies get the bad games out of the way before the real stuff starts.

A win at Billingham, followed by a hard draw against Whitby and then an absolute trouncing against Scunny, when former loanee Luke Williams tore us apart, did nothing to instil any confidence. Today however, against a side that just missed out on promotion last season, we looked as if we had at last found our feet, at least in the first half.

We played some good football in patches. Woods looks good and he took some heavy tackles today. One, late in the second half, was a revenge assault after he had robbed and skinned a big centre half on his own dead ball line. We reckon the ref bottled it and apart from the free kick no action was taken, not even a finger pointed in his direction.

Carroll had a quiet game but he has impressed me in other games. Duckworth for me was man of the match, as he looked dangerous in attack and caused them problems, harrying players and chasing back. Bingham has some good speed on the ball but today found it difficult to break free.

Bartlett the keeper had a good game and looks very confident - maybe Carson has a job on his hands. Featherstone had a quiet first half but came to life late in the game with some impressive football. Harrison we know is a good player and Worley looks like a clone of him but has lapses of concentration. Bates looks a better player and it makes one wonder if he has won himself a contract.
"our team is obviously still a work in progress"

I was criticised today after the game for voicing my opinion on Paynter. In any of the games I have seen he has not shown a lot. He goes down too easily, in fifty-fifty tackles, and he invariably ends up on the deck without the ball, and totally ignored by the ref. This tactic is ok in the Premiershi* but not in real football. I pray that this feller is not another “Great White Hope” in the Howard mode.

A very scrappy goal after a bit of pressure from the visitors left us once again with an empty pot. No real noticeable progress has been seen in the friendlies. We have good numbers in the squad now and a smattering of youngsters, so I have faith in Mr Moore to turn it around once the season gets under way.
Any Other Business


MERVYN THE MONKEY mops up



Well, it's certainly been an interesting summer at the Vic.

Ken and IOR are departed, as are many of last season's players, with new owners and a shedful of new players replacing them. It remains to be seen what effect any of the comings and goings will ultimately have, so all we can say is that the early signs are positive (as long as we don't have to play Scunthorpe or Gateshead again!)



Here's a pic from the 1950s, of Pools training. The Mill House side still had a wooden roof over a very small part of it and the fashion for concrete terracing hadn't yet reached County Durham, so training on a cinder-covered hillside was an option that few modern-day footballers get to experience. Watty Moore, as befits his hard-man image, is the only one not wearing a complete tracksuit.



This clip was sent in by Wallace and Gromit, concerning a player we also know to be a good up-and-coming goalkeeper. As Ronnie has been signing up goalkeepers all summer, we wonder if Jake was ever under consideration - not that it matters now.

The previous item about Manchester United kit prices makes us wonder how much use anyone would get out of a baby-sized football kit. And whether the club badge would cover most of the front of a baby-sized shirt.



And finally, congratulations to the Pools under-16 girls' 5-a side team, which won the tournament held at Wembley on Ladies' FA Cup Final day. It's not often that players in Pools shirts are even seen on television during an FA Cup Final broadcast, let alone actually winning a trophy.

First team - please take note!

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