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.


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!