Charlie Aitken's Rare Goal Against Pools

MERVYN THE MONKEY goes back to1974

Here at MB HQ, in discussing Malcolm Dawes's memoirs we (unsurprisingly) had a memory lapse about one of the scorers in the 1974 League Cup match against Aston Villa, in which Malcolm played.

One of us had been at the replay at Villa Park (which Pools lost 6-1) and still has the match programme, which featured an article about the goal and its scorer, Charlie Aitken. You don't get many in-depth printed articles about individual goals, let alone goals scored in Pools matches, and we reproduce it below:

Former Villa player Bobby Park shook his head disconsolately and remarked: “In all his years in the game Charlie has to go and score his first-ever goal with his right foot against us."

He was, of course, referring to the goal which eventually brought Hartlepool here for tonight's League Cup replay. When Charlie was told of Park's reaction to his ‘off-side-breaker’ at the Victoria Ground he was light-heartedly indignant : “I know I'm not the League's leading scorer or anything like that but l put one in with my right foot last season."

"It was against Nottingham Forest at Villa Park, if you remember, and it was also on TV. Actually, it was virtually a carbon copy of the one I got against Hartlepool, with Chris Nicholl chipping the ball through an advancing defence for me to run clear and beat the goal- keeper”

Goals like this look so easy, especially from the grandstand, where the supporters are looking down on the action and can see the whole theatre of operations. But are they that simple? "Certainly not," says Charlie, "because there are so many ingredients to a goal of this sort and so many people are involved.

"Even though it may look like a two man move, as many as half a team can have contributed to the score. First of all, as the defence streams out of the penalty area the attackers have got to read the move and retreat accordingly. If only one of them is even level with the defensive line then the move is ruined.

"Then the defender in possession- in both my cases it has been Chris Nicholl - has got to see the ball is on and, don't forget, from ground level you are looking for someone breaking forward and there might be ten or a dozen players between you and the man for whom the pass is meant.
"Looking at it critically, as a defender, it was a bad mistake by their defence"

“The pass has also got to be hit bang on right. It has got to be perfectly measured and weighted and just as accurately placed. For my part, l have got to time my own run to the split second and not let it go until the ball has been played.

“There was quite an element of luck about my goal against Hartlepool because the ball bounced high and awkwardly as I moved on to it. I did not get hold of it properly and hit it with the outside of my right foot and it bent well away from the goalkeeper.

"Looking at it critically, as a defender, it was a bad mistake by their defence, for they came out too far too quickly and left far too much space between them and their goalkeeper. You are prone to get caught out by someone running from a deep position if you leave too much room behind you and the edge of the penalty area.

"You will notice that when our defence comes out from a set position in our goalmouth we do not commit ourselves too far upfield which would leave Jimmy Cumbes unguarded if a quick ball is flung back at us for someone running through on a deep run.

"Instead, we come out so far and then check and jockey the opposition. We try to reduce the number of effective passes they can make by moving forward quickly, but we also try to make them think all the time and not leave a huge ‘no man's land’ which they can exploit in our rear."

We do not see Charlie up there in scoring positions as much now as we did a couple of seasons ago when he scored four goals in a season in the Third Division, including the one which gave him most satisfaction of all, the header which took Villa to a 1-O win over Bradford City and clinched promotion into the Second Division. Is there any specific reason?

"When we were in the Third Division, I was told to move upfield for set pieces because then I became another threat to their defence as well as Chris Nicholl.” Charlie says. “By the law of averages, if you find yourself in sufficient scoring positions, you must bag a few.

"We felt we could afford to do this because most Third Division teams did not leave many players upfield when their own goal was threatened by a set situation. But Second Division teams have forwards who are much more adept at breaking quickly from defence and it was thought it would be an added precaution if I stayed back to give cover, leaving Chris to go up to pose additional problems for their defence.

"For, don't forget, defending is my priority. Goals, pleasant as they are to score, are a bonus for me."