A Balanced Team

BILLY'S CONTRACT has been pondering

It has been mentioned in several quarters that Ronnie Moore is playing with an unbalanced team. I am not exactly sure what that means. Obviously if it was referring to a motorcycle display team or even a tight rope walker I could possibly understand what they are talking about. When 'Pools played Spennymoor pre-season I did not see any of our players sliding off Town's notorious sloping pitch at any stage, and based on that premise I would say that the team look pretty well balanced on the day.

I would not disagree that in an effort to incorporate a 4-4-2 system into our repertoire we could do with a couple of wingers. Someone who could get the ball nine inches above ground level, and at the same time could get a decent cross into the box, even whilst unmarked and taking corners.

That same someone would not do a disappearing act during the course of the game and would need to be able to put in the odd tackle now and again and not be scared of putting their head in where it hurts, as well as not spitting their dummy out when being dropped. Jonathan Franks (described in the Scottish press as 'unused sub') or Jack Louis Compton need not apply.

I pondered this 'unbalanced' question for some time. Then it came to me in a blinding flash. No, it was not about having players playing out of position, nor was it too many of the same type of player in the side, but in actual fact it is the TYPES of players that are in the first team squad.

I recall reading an article at the start of last season in the right-wing, jingoistic, celebrity-riddled, Johnny-Foreigner-bashing, southern-biased Daily Mail - but for all that it's a good read (really? Ed.), that Hartlepool United were the only club in the Football League whose entire squad consisted of Englishmen. At the time I thought that this spelled trouble (T R O U B L E trouble) as indeed it did, as the season unfolded.

When I was a lad any team worth its salt had a Scotsman or at least an Irishman in its starting lineup, invariably in a midfield capacity. The successful, but damn awful to watch, Leeds United team of the seventies had both, in the form of Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles. Talented in their own right, but a couple of cheating thugs nonetheless.

At the end of last season Ronnie scattered half a dozen of his English players and cast his net to look for players with the make up to strengthen his squad into a so-called balanced team. It was obvious to the manager that we had no black players, Irish players or Cockneys in the squad and so in one fell swoop he got all three with the signing of Jake Carroll.

Moore then turned his attentions to getting a player whose name would cause confusion among fans and journalists alike, so in comes Olalekan Kudus Oyenuga. He has only made a couple of sub appearances to date but you can bet your bottom dollar when Pools host Orient in the live televised game in November, out of badness Ronnie will give him a place in the starting line-up just to confuse Jeff Stelling and the Sky T.V. pundits. Can you imagine Chris Kamara trying to pronounce his name. Oyenuga not Kamara. I meant!

As it turns out, Ronnie did not have to look far for a ginger-haired player as there was one already in his ranks in the form of Michael Woods, but to my mind what he really needs to 'balance' his squad is not a ball-winning, box-to-box, free-scoring midfielder, but (and tell me if I am wrong), a player with a receding hairline. I understand that behind the scenes Moore was trying desperately to re-sign David Mirfin from Scunthorpe, but this has been put on hold as Mirfin has not been in either Scunny's first or reserve sides due to a head injury. Ronnie wants clarification as to whether this was sustained during a hair transplant session in Harley Street. If so the deal is off, and he will look elsewhere for a follically-challenged (baldy git) player - even one with a comb over ...irrespective of what position he plays in. This would also encourage youngsters with the early stages of male pattern baldnesss, or indeed the first signs of widow's peak, to sign for the club, as very few of the North East and Tees Valley clubs have slap-heads in their first teams. Very few people realize the Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul wears a toupée. This is an area our scouting department needs to get a grip of.

The manager's next problem was that, since the departure of Steve Howard, we were in desperate need of a boo-boy. Moore's dilemma was that he had a choice of two players from his current squad to choose from for this coveted role, both of whom he inherited from Colin Cooper, himself a boo-boy. Was it to be Stuart Parnaby, who had only played five games for 'Pools and had been subbed in most of them, or was it to be Matthew Bates? Both have the perfect credentials to be boo-boys. Ex-Boro for a start (need I say more?), and neither of them, when they have actually played for 'Pools, have set the world alight. It would appear that Ronnie has opted for Bates, (mainly because of his 'members only' section on his Facebook page) as he has now featured regularly in the first team of late. but as yet has not fulfilled his obvious potential in his new role. To quote from Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe 'He did nothing in particular, and did it very well.' On current form Bates is avoiding 'boo-boy status with all of the fans, but it is early days - give him a chance. His second half display against Bristol was a starting point, however.

Ronnie needed to have a 'Sick Note' player in his side. Again this was a straight choice between Bates and Parnaby. Bates, having played a few games, left the path wide open for Parnaby to be the injury prone/ravaged player of the side. Both players were ideal for the role. At their previous club Muddlesbrough they must have fought furiously between themselves to see which one of them would get first dibs (dabs in Yorkshire) to occupy the treatment table. Total career appearances for both players is 342 games. Combined age: sixty-one. Ritchie Humphreys need not worry about these two breaking his club record number of appearances. They don't even come close. In a recent reserve match, after just seven minutes, Parnaby left the field when he pulled a hamstring. As a result he decided to call it a day on his football career and we thank him for this.
"Parnaby ...pulled a hamstring. As a result he decided to call it a day ...and we thank him for this."

From some of his comments last season about Michael Duckworth's defending, and Scott Fenwick being a 'Young Pup', it would appear that Ronnie was not happy with these former non-league signings by his predecessors, Colin Cooper and Paul Murray. Every lower-tier team should have at least one ex-non-league player in their side, and so Ronnie went out and signed Carl Magnay from Grimsby, a defender ...who is now playing in midfield.

Harry Redknapp had a remarkable track record in signing other teams' cast-offs - bad boys and ne'er-do-wells, and turned them into star performers. John Hartson, Julian Dicks and Paulo Di Canio immediately spring to mind. Ronnie Moore, not to be outdone, smartly and surprisingly nipped in, Redknapp-style, and signed the still-under-contract Billy Paynter from Carlisle United. A very shrewd move by the Silver Fox. Mind it did help that Sam Collins was a mate of Billy's, so Ronnie cannot take all the glory for signing the former Swindon Town and Leeds hitman. You only had to see Big Sam's reaction at the end of the York game after Paynter's fabulous winning strike. Sam was the first on the pitch to congratulate him. Here's hoping Ronnie has resurrected Paynter's career.

Some possible other signings the 'Pools management team are considering are:
A free-scoring blond Jehovah's Witness.

French quadruplets who would make an excellent back four.

An ageing drama queen (haven't we already got one of those?)

A Welsh player of the calibre of Eifion Williams. Would not need to pay him much as long as he got a club car such as a 'Rhondda' Civic.

When was the last time 'Pools had a legendary, beer-guzzling, near-alcoholic, free-scoring centre-forward? (Libel laws prevent us from publishing any answers to that. Ed.) I know the game has cleaned itself up in recent years but there must be one out there somewhere. You also have to ask yourself when was the last time Pools had a commanding Poet Laureate orchestrating the midfield. Have no fears, readers, these are the types of players that are on the Pools management's radar, in an effort to propel us up the league.


I know that I have criticised the lad in the past in these columns, but a big well done to Brad Walker, who came on for the final ten minutes against Cambridge and became the first Hartlepool midfield player all season to have a shot at goal. Again, the same scenario, coming on as a sub for the last fifteen minutes against Yeovil, and he had a shot at goal, becoming the first Hartlepool midfielder to score a goal all season. Woods Bates and Featherstone please note: if you don't buy a ticket you have no chance of winning the raffle. 

As previously mentioned, I have been Walker's biggest critic, mainly because his ego got the better of him and he became a legend in his own lunch time. However I think now is the time to give him a second chance and put him in the starting line up to see, if nothing else, that he has 'manned up' and proved himself worthy of the talent he undoubtedly has, to make him a first team regular. (Apologies - this bit on Walker was written before the Bristol Game. Mind, having said that, he was still the pick of the midfielders.)