Ghost of Christmas Past


Back in the days of my youth I would be preparing for Christmas as far back as August. No, I was not buying the presents early but looking at the just published fixture list to see where Pools would be on Boxing Day...and invariably they were at home. 

The other ritual we all had was counting down the days from mid-December, eagerly awaiting the arrival of, not Santa, but the Christmas editions of the Radio and TV Times in our local newsagent so we could stategically plan our Yuletide viewing. The blockbuster Bond movie on Christmas day, Zulu, The Great Escape, Where Eagles Dare. Ironic, really how the Christmas schedules were all full of death violence and a bit of the other, and not too much of the good will to all men scenario.

Christmas night viewing usually comprised of The Morecambe and Wise, Mike Yarwood, Nana Mouskouri, Lulu and (best of all) Val Doonican Christmas Specials.  I have got to say that despite the industrial unrest at the time, the blackouts, the miners, power workers and bin men all being on strike, there was nothing, and I mean nothing, more reassuring than Val smiling at the camera, standing in front of a blazing fire place bedecked with tinsel and Christmas cards and stockings as we bloody froze to death, crooning away to himself in a comfy jumper and all in the world for that magical hour was well. Ah those were the days.

A couple of weeks ago the Housekeeper/Carer and myself were in the supermarket. Whilst The Bride went to stock up on our depleted supplies of corned beef and other essential victuals for Christmas dinner, I decamped into the reading library section of Sainsburys. To my absolute surprise and delight the first thing I came across was rack upon rack of both the Radio and TV Times. I honestly thought that they ceased publication at about the same time as the demise of steam traction. So for old time's sake I had a quick peek at both magazines and instantly had to double check the date on their front covers -- that it was actually the 2017 edition and not  the 1971 one,  as,yes, The Bond movie The Great Escape, Zulu, Morecambe and Wise and Val Dooncan et all still featured prominently. Some things never change. Afterthought: What a great name The TV Times is. The title says it all really. The TV Times -- that is all you need to know. More or less does what it says on the tin ...oh, sorry I meant paper.

Fast forward to Christmas day 2017 and I am opening my pressies and wondering if Pools' financial worries are all but over owing to the number of items that have been purchased for me for Christmas from the club shop. I handed the Housekeeper her pressie and thought that she would roll her eyes when she opened the envelope which contained a ticket for the Gateshead match on Boxing Day. Never let it be said that I don't know how to treat a Dame.

She was actually quite pleased as she used to be a regular at the Vic, but apart from the pre-season friendly at Dunston she had not seen Pools in many a good long year. "Lucky her", I hear you say.

The fixture list was kind to us as it meant that we were able to drop my son, after his Christmas stay with us, back home in The Heed. After a pleasant run up there,we parked on the banks of the mighty Tyne just outside of my son's local, The Schooner, the second best pub in Gateshead, so the sign reads on the outside of the building. I am near enough a regular here myself. and I would not argue with that statement.

Reinvigorated by a few craft beers, a short walk saw us inside the Plastic Geordies' Stadium in less than ten minutes and that allowing for a quick frisk from security at no extra charge.

Due to the nature of the stadium being geared up for athletics we were seated a fair bit away from the action but unlike West Ham's Olympic Stadium the players did not look like micro dots, and you could see, with a decent telescope, who was who and got a decent view of how the teams and formation were set out. That said we did not get a clear view of Oates' penalty call and Blair's second booking, both of which when viewed later looked extremely harsh.

Pools' travelling contingent of nearly 2,200 were very vocal prior to and just after kick off, bringing back memories of the good old days under Neale Cooper and Danny Wilson. However Craig Harrison's men managed very successfully in a matter of minutes to quieten down the hordes who travelled up the A184 via the A19 with the quality of football that was being served up. The first half saw Gateshead do most of the attacking and looking at our back four we did not have a defender among them.

In a rare foray into the Gateshead penalty area we were fortunate to get penalty which I think was our first and only shot on target during the first half. As half time approached The Heed gained a corner and I pointed out to the Bride Craig Harrison's illogical and insane tactic of having 11 men back in the penalty box when defending a corner; actually it was only ten as Blair Adams had been sent off by this stage, with no one left up front.

 I hadn't got the words out of my mouth when The Plastic Geordies scored from a well-worked set piece that Loach had no chancewith, owing to a wicked deflection off a Hartlepool player which wrong footed him.

Five minutes into the second half and it is Deja Vu time. Dear reader, just re- read the above paragraph word for word to describe the goal that put The Heed in front. Talk about Dog day afternoon. (For the record, The Heed's first goal at the Vic a week later stemmed from Harrison's eleven men back in the penalty box strategy.)

Give Pools their due, in the last twenty minutes they decided to take the game to Gateshead and Louis Laing, who cannot defend for nuts, made three excellent runs carrying the ball forward, beating opponents, Franz Beckenbauer style and on his third run he passed the ball to Rodney who slipped it to Woods who in turn neatly slotted it home. Probably the best worked goal Pools have scored all season.
" you could see, with a decent telescope, who was who and got a decent view of how the teams and formation were set out."

Minutes later Woods nearly grabbed the winner but all in all a draw was a fair result. The whistle went, I took £18 from the bookies, guessing the correct score, and whilst glad of salvaging a draw with ten men it still felt like a defeat. It was  noticeable that Craig Harrison did not join in with the players by coming on the pitch to applaud the massed ranks of  Pools fans, but in retrospect that was perhaps a wise decision.

Back to the Schooner 'to sink' a few sherberts and we later we made our way to Saja's and although there was no sign over the door stating it is the best Indian restraurant in Tyneside we knew from past experience that it was and it, unlike Pools, did not disappoint.

Over Liver Tikka I asked the bride for a summary of the game. She could not believe how poor Pools were. She said that they did not appear to have a set formation or even a plan. Lacked pace and did not anticipate danger. She saw little or no communication between the players. Some looked liked they'd never played together before. She could not recall the forwards winning any headers or making any meaningful challenges or there being a midfield. She added that Rodney ran like a girl (Apparently she can say that because she is a girl whereas Bono, as much as I dislike him, has been pulled to pieces by the liberals for saying something similar in the press about someone or other.)

Having said that, as I said earlier, in Pools' defence the bride had not seen them since the halycon days when we were blessed with the likes of Joel, Ritchie, Tinks, Eifon, Westy, Nelse Clarkey and the rest. On the drive back home she asked who was the manager of Pools anyway. I answered by giving her a quiz question inspired by her own question. Q; Who Sang 'Better Go Now?' A: The Moody Blues. Very apt in the circumstances I thought.

I asked he if she would like a ticket for the return match on New Year's Day but she declined. Instead she spent the day taking down the Christmas decorations which spoke volumes really.

The match on New Year's day was a repeat of the one of Boxing Day. The Heed once again could feel aggrieved at not having taken all three points, being the better, quicker and seemingly fitter footballing side. Big plus for Pools was the return of Keith Watson, who scored twice and with his feet, and who not only showed our forwards how it is done but also the players who attempted to fill his boots when he was out injured the art of defending as well as scoring.

Sadly all his good work was undone by sloppy defending from Lewis Hawkins who was responsible for both the Heed goals. After the match over a pint we worked out that the gate receipts Gateshead took from the 2,000 plus travelling Poolies would net them around £27k plus whatever was taken at the refreshment kiosks. What was supposed to be the seasons biggest away following at the Vic today amounted to a paltry 352 Heed fans who only filled a third of the Rink End, which we estimated only contributed less than £5k to Pools' coffers.

Heed v Pools (and vice versa) were both billed as derby matches, the first time these two teams have met in any league for over 60 years and yes, whilst both matches, certainly for the neutral, were enjoyable to watch, they lacked the passion and fight both on and off the pitch to be considered as proper derbies. Come back Darlo all is forgiven.

Against Gateshead some wag in the Town End shouted across to Devante as he slowly limped off from the field of play. "Don't worry Rodney, this time next year we'll all be millionaires."  Unlike Rodney. Priceless.