Winter of Discontent


Tucked away, for safety, between the pages of one of my books on Hartlepool United I came across (see picture) a yellow single sheet Team Sheet from 1974 which brought a lot of memories flooding back. When historians look back at the years 1973/74 they tell us they were dark times in British History, mainly because the power workers went on strike and for long periods we had no lighting!

The country was almost bankrupt. Inflation was raging, Companies were going bust all over the place, Power workers, miners, bin men and Uncle Tom Cobley an' all were out on strike. The government of the day, in order to save fuel and coal and to keep the lights burning, introduced such draconian measures as The Three Day Week. TV companies were instructed to finished broadcasting each night at 10.30pm. Little wonder that era became known as The Winter of Discontent.

With all that, the the country was in a mess politically and financially but at the time I hardly noticed it. I was twenty one, life was good and I was having a ball. I had a job, started courting and I had a great bunch of pals.

Every free moment was spent either playing or watching football. When we were not doing that we would be in our favourite local supping a pint of Norseman lager and either be reading about, or talking about football. Despite all the hardships inflicted upon us by Government and Unions alike we made the best of it and considered it more of an adventure rather than an inconvenience and having a laugh along the way. I supposed the Dunkirk spirit kicked in.

On one occasion we were walking down to the pub on Durham Street during one particular power cut and it was so dark you could hardly see where you were walking, bumping into unemptied dust bins and wading through litter. In fact the only light available to us came from the berthed ships in the nearby Victoria Dock.

Such was the darkness that when we got to the New Inn I thought that we had mistakenly entered a church midway through a service. Candles (stuck in bottles) everywhere with people singing. The only religious item missing was a collection plate. Pools, in keeping with the times, were in much the same state as the country, only in a bigger mess. Much like they are today come to think of it.

Looking at Pools' results at the time and their lack of goals, one could be forgiven for thinking that their strikers had gone on strike in sympathy with the strikers. With the so called Winter of Discontent proper upon us (both on and off the field), Pools had played 21 games, winning three, drawing six and losing eleven. Sounds familiar.

Owing to the power cuts there were no such things as night matches as there was no supply of electricity to power the floodlights. I recall Hereford beating West Ham in an F.A Cup replay which due to the power cuts was played on a Wednesday. Nothing strange in that you might say, but it was a Wednesday afternoon. And well over 17,000 fans turned up. Mind, most of the fans had no work to go to, or they were taking a break from manning the picket lines. It came as no surprise that they all turned up at Edgar Street on the day en masse for a couple of hours of light relief.

A combination of the industrial unrest and the fact that so many people worked on a Saturday and were unable to attend football matches, led the Government to relax the restrictions on playing football on the Sabbath.

On February 3rd 1974 Pools opened their gates for the first time on a Sunday for league football to be played at the Victoria Ground. I recall it being a sunny day and being quite warm. I stand to be corrected, but I think it was an early kick off, in order to avoid using the floodlights, thus saving energy and not being subjected to power cuts.
"one could be forgiven for thinking that their strikers had gone on strike in sympathy with the strikers"

Due to some archaic law or another fans were not allowed to pay on the turnstiles to gain access to the ground. This minor technicality was got round by purchasing a programme, the yellow team sheet, from the turnstile operator, which coincidentally just happened to be the same price as the normal admission price into the Vic. The powers that be must have had a sharp-suited Manhattan lawyer to work that scam out. When I think about it that must be the most expensive programme/team sheet that I have ever purchased, but having said that I got into the ground for nowt!

As a result of the team sheet being issued there was no official matchday programme. Nevertheless whatever revenue Pools lost in programme sales was more than adequately covered, not only with the non-use of the floodlights, but with 5,747 souls packed into the Vic, almost double the crowd that had seen the previous game against Torquay, and nearly seven times higher than their lowest- ever recorded gate (844) against Scunthorpe a few months earlier.

The icing on the cake was that Pools ran out three-nil winners, Kevin McMahon, Alan Gauden (pen) and Malcolm Dawes being the goalscorers. Pools' following home game two weeks later was also played on God's day of rest when Mansfield were thumped four-nil, in front of a crowd of 4,000-plus fans. The third and final Sunday game was played in early March which saw Pools beat Workington three nil. Disappointingly, although the crowd was still high by Pools' standards of the day, it had dropped to 2,800. Perhaps people had had enough of Sunday football and preferred to spend their time in the pub followed by a full Sunday dinner and a nap on the couch.

At first I was dead against the idea of Sunday football but after the Mansfield game I became an advocate of it mainly because it freed up my Saturdays. Don't forget that back in 1974 Sunday was not like it is now, what with Sunday shopping and the like. There was absolutely 'bott all' to do. With the exception of  parks, churches, the countryside and the seafront, everywhere else was closed. I think it would be interesting to see what sort of reaction we would get if Pools played the occasional match on a Sunday now. What do you think Vicar?

That same season Pools played Darlo twice in the league in December, over a four day period, the crowd at the Vic being 6739 (we lost 1-2), and that at Feethams being 6723 (drew 1-1). Looking at these figures demonstrates that even back then Pools had a far better support than our Durham rivals.