Ticking Boxes


Just for a treat and to see how the other half live my mate and myself availed ourselves of the special discounted price to savour the hospitality of the Michael Maidens lounge for the cup tie against Kidsgrove Athletic.

In reality we were on a reconnaissance mission. We normally stand on the Town end terrace and what with our advancing years and creaking knees and feeling the cold as well as not being able to hear the Tannoy announcements we thought it was a good opportunity to suss out the Cyril Knowles stand for future reference.

I think it prudent to plan in advance and much like choosing the care home that you wish to spend your final years in, equal consideration should be given to the important decision of which stand in the Vic you would prefer to sit in the autumn of your life. My preferred choice is the Cyril Knowles stand as the toilets are quicker to get to than those in the Mill House side. Let's be brutally honest here, watching Pools has aged many of us much quicker than we would have liked.

We didn't get off to the best of starts as the steward on the gate was unable to find our names on the guest list. Turned out they were the first names on the top of his clipboard but the clip had obscured them.

I had hardly sat down and was just getting stuck into the complimentary match day programme when a member of the bar staff took our orders ...and orders must be obeyed at all times so a pint of Strongarm and a pint of Venezuelan goat's urine (Fosters where I come from) were shortly plonked in front of us.

Prior to having my meal I had a bit wander round to savour the ambience of the surroundings ...basically I was going to have a bit of a nose.

Considering that the Michael Maidens lounge, along with the corporate boxes, are in basically a giant Portakabin, it is none the less very impressive: clean and well laid out with many framed photographs in the corridor of the great and the good who once donned the blue and white of Pools. Try as I may, I could not see a photo of David Jones anywhere, not even in the toilets.

The lounge itself was packed with around fifty people but surprisingly only two of the six corporate boxes were occupied. In passing my mate mentioned this to the CEO Mark Maguire when he popped in and he suggested that consideration should be given to reviewing the pricing structure or to offer special one-off promotions to fill these boxes.

Last season most of the boxes were permanently empty and at one point the club were selling raffle tickets in an effort to fill them. Even if the boxes were offered at a heavily discounted rate surely to a club like Pools one percent of something is better than one hundred percent of nothing. The hospitality side would probably generate more revenue on the increased sales of alcohol/half time lottery tickets just by having more fans in the boxes in the first place. The CEO said that he would look into it. Watch this space.

One of the sponsors at our table told us that his employer had to ring the club's commercial department on several occasions, almost begging them to send them an invoice so they could pay for the outstanding sponsorship which had already been provided. Some things never change.

The meal on the day was chicken curry, rice and a poppadom. Very tasty. I asked the girl who was serving what other option there was, if, like my wife, you do not like chicken. I was told that they had vegetables in one of the sponsors' boxes, which were available on request.

Prior to kick off our friendly bar maid/person/serving wench/pump operative/hostess asked if we would like to order some drinks for half time. Although I was on Strongarm and my mate was drinking what was loosely termed as lager, neither of us were impressed by the quality of what we had quaffed. Could be down to the pumps only being used every second or third week. Who knows?

I asked one of the lads on our table what it was that he was drinking as it looked like a pint of mild. He told me it was Guinness. I could not see Guinness on the pumps and he said it was from one of those pressured cans and very kindly let me a sip. Having just come back from Ireland it was light years away from what a pint of 'Yer man' should taste like. Based on this my pal and I put in an order for a pot of tea.

Kick off:
One of the advantages of being in the sponsors' lounge is that you don't have to stand/sit in the cold and can take your reserved seat in the Cyril Knowles just before the game kicks off. The main problem with being sat in the CK stand is the setting sun (Not sure if it sets due west but for the purpose of this piece let's just say it drops somewhere behind the Raby Road area) and nearly everyone has to shield their eyes. From the Town End it looks as if the occupants of the CK stand are all en-masse saluting, U.S Navy style. This is another commercial opportunity missed. Mark Maguire, in order to protect the fans' eyes from damage and UV rays, needs to get someone from the club shop, much like the role of the ice cream lady in a theatre, with a tray of baseball caps for sale, or at the very least for hire. Better still, to save the expense of paying someone to do this job, and taking another example from the theatre, the baseball caps could be installed in a dispenser much like opera glasses behind each seat and issued when a coin is inserted into a slot. Thought should be given to including some rose tinted spectacles within the same dispenser.

We were sat directly behind the Pools dug out and apart from a quick word with the fourth official concerning an industrial tackle on Luke James and much later an even quicker word with Ged McNamee, we never heard a squeak or saw any animation from Matthew Bates. Mind, in Bates' defence, owing to the way Pools were playing, he was probably, like most other people in the ground, he was probably in a comatose state.

Several of us were debating the manager's tactics. We could not ascertain, with all the side-to-side, backward and going-nowhere-in-particular passing that was being employed, if we were trying to tire Kidsgrove out or just bore them to death.

Half time:
Even before the referee had blown the whistle for half time most fans with a weak bladder had made a sprint that Usain Bolt would have been proud of to the loo's, which enabled me to have first dabs of the packet of assorted biscuits that was laid out on the table. The jam cream was mine!

It has to be said that the tea was on a different level altogether. It certainly was stronger and tastier than the alcohol that I had had earlier. A revelation really when one considers that both were made with water from Hartlepool.

Second half:
In the past I have mentioned that the view you get of the game from the side of the ground is totally different from that which you see from behind the goal. For a start you can see how the teams are set up - surprisingly, Pools line up in a 3-5-2 formation, whoever would have thought that?

The other thing that you can see when the sun is not in your eyes is how well or how badly players are performing. This theory was put in doubt when, forty minutes into the game, I sent a text to one of my pals in my usual haunt the Town End, asking him if the game looked as bad from where he was stood as it was from our vantage point in the Cyril Knowles. Much worse was the reply.
"Let's be brutally honest here, watching Pools has aged many of us much quicker than we would have liked."

Full time:
I did not leave my seat and stayed back, not to applaud the team that I have supported for nearly 50 years but for the plucky part-time underdogs The Grove, who at worst should have earned themselves a replay, let alone progressed through to the next round.

Back in the lounge a fair number of people were sat comfortably at their tables halfway through their pints and I could not work out if they had left their seats in the Cyril Knowles stand well before the final whistle to grab a drink or even if they had actually bothered to come out to watch the second half at all. Just goes to show how Pools can drive you to drink.

The main topic of conversation on our table was Pools' poor performance on the day but as my mate in ultra-positive mode correctly pointed out,  we should look at the positives.

1 It was the result and not the performance that counted.

2 Progressing to the next round earned Pools £25,000, which, if nothing else, should cover Louise Laing's contract payoff.

3 The other bonus was that we are in the hat/bowl for the draw of the next round of the cup and who knows, we could making our way up to the Stadium of Light. If he only knew. If he only knew. Bloody Gillingham.

Our trolley dolly sans trolley asked us what we would like to drink.This time we decided that we would give the cider a shout. Not a bad shout either, but I am cannot recall if it was Stowford's or Stow-on-the-Wold or Toe-in-the-Hole cider so I am unable to recommend it.

Overall a very enjoyable day - only spoilt by the football.

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