A Litany of Woe


BILLY'S CONTRACT


As the season draws to a close I've been thinking of those many end-of-season games that cost Pools a title, a trophy, a relegation or just plain heartbreak. I hope against hope that the 2020/21 season doesn't end in more tears - worst-case scenario being to remain stuck in the National League for another term because of yet another officious official.


Right then - all aboard, hold tight - as the bus the drives itself and takes a trip down Memory Lane...

2002 Season This will be remembered for Ritchie Humphreys' penalty miss at Cheltenham in the play-offs. Mind, many fans forget about Paul Stephenson's dreadful penalty miss beforehand and worse still was Darrell Clarke's shocking second-half miss when he failed to connect with the ball to put it into an open net.

2003 Pools gained promotion from the Third to the Second Division but in some ways the heartache and disappointment along the way was, despite our semi-success, the worst that I have experienced as a Hartlepool United supporter.

At one stage we had a fourteen point lead over our nearest rivals Rushden and Diamonds which was gradually eroded away and surpassed.

The last match of that campaign was against Rushden and Diamonds with their having a two point lead over Pools. A win on the day at Nene Park would have seen Pools take the title.

Coming back from a goal down with a late Chris Westwood goal earned Pools a point but it was not enough and the league title went to Rushden. It would have been so different if Graeme Lee's earlier goal had stood when Diamonds' keeper Billy 'cheating' Turley flapped at the ball, collided into Kevin Henderson and fell into a heap groaning and rolling around the pitch as if he had been hit by a tractor. The referee gave the decision in the the keeper's favour and the goal was disallowed. Talk about daylight robbery and incompetent refereeing.

Three weeks before the Rushden match, Pools had been given a four-nil hiding at the hands of Scunthorpe. However, on the day other results went in Pools favour which meant that they had gained promotion to the Second Division, but what an anti-climax. You didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"'Let's all go to The King Power Stadium' doesn't have the same ring as 'Let's all go to Wembley.'"

How can you celebrate promotion on a day that your team has been given a good thrashing? It was a very strange affair after the final whistle had been blown, what with half the Pools fans cheering for the team to make an appearance to celebrate their promotion and the other half wanting to lynch them.

It was the same with the players, only a handful of them daring to make a fleeting appearance at the far end of the ground with the remainder of them seeking sanctuary and succour in the away dressing rooms. All round, one of the worst promotions ever for both players and fans alike.

2004 saw Pools play Bristol City in the play-off semi-final. After a one-all draw at the Vic, Pools travelled to Ashton Gate and were leading by one goal to nil. Late in the second half in a seven minute spell we lost both Chris Westwood and Mickey Barron through injury, the latter being carried off the field unconscious. With the loss of our two central defenders Bristol smeled blood and the ball was in their court and eventually they put it twice into our net.

2005 Wembley Stadium is the mother of all football grounds, where the play off finals are played. Not in Pools' case. Wembley was a heap of rubble and we had to make do with The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. For the record, the Millennium Stadium and Cardiff were both excellent but it was not Wembley with all its history.

We all know about the dodgy penalty and subsequent sending off of Chris Westwood which cost us promotion to the Championship. Sorry, I just don't want to say anything more on the subject.

2005/06 Season Pools might have got into their comfort zone having gained automatic promotion at Wycombe three weeks before the season ended. With three games remaining Pools only managed one point out of nine. One of those games was against Rochdale where Pools imploded and both Richie Barker and Andy Monkhouse got their marching orders and The Dale ran out two-nil winners.

Last match of the season was at home to Bristol Rovers and a win would have seen Pools win the title over Walsall. On the day the team looked in holiday mode and never really got going and lost two-one. Had Michael Mackay's perfectly good goal stood - it was ruled offside - we would have still lost out to Walsall on goal difference anyway. The irony is that Walsall had gained a one-all draw with Pools in the earlier part of the season, but had Pools beaten Walsall they would have won the title by one point. For the record Chris Westwood was Walsall's goalscorer on the day.

2016/17 Season Even our relegation from the Football League was not without drama. Last match of the campaign saw Pools needing a win over league leaders Doncaster Rovers and to stay in the league needed fellow relegation candidates Newport County to lose.

Pools bring on a late sub in the form of the very raw Devante Rodney, who scores two goals in eight minutes, one being the equaliser and the second the winner, at the time also taking Pools out of the relegation spot and Newport, who were losing 2-1 to Notts County, into it. Sadly, as we all know, with virtually the last kick of their match, Newport grabbed an equaliser and into the National League we went.

Much like the Rushden and Diamonds scenario in reverse, at one stage Newport were eleven points from safety and still caught and overtook Pools.

All the above stats are not only heart-breaking bit gut-wrenching to boot, and, if anything, Pools always seem to go about their business the hard way. 'Always the Bridesman never the Bride' it would seem - or perhaps just plain cursed!

2020/21 Season: My fear now is about how this season is going to pan out for Hartlepool United.

After today's defeat at Bromley we are sitting in fourth place and I pray that I am wrong but barring some sort of miracle it looks as if automatic promotion might be a bridge too far, which will mean the play-offs.

I have this reoccurring dream that we draw Stockport in the play-off final and late on in the game the Hatters substitute their £250k striker Paddy Madden in favour of Ritchie Bennett and you all know what comes next. Yes, he scores in the last minute but Pools' years of hurt are consigned to history as... it is only a consolation goal!

The rumour doing the rounds is that this year's National League play-off final will not be held at Wembley but possibly at The King Power Stadium. Based on that, it is now a dead certainty that Pools will be in the final. However 'Let's all go to The King Power Stadium' doesn't have the same ring as 'Let's all go to Wembley.'

Typical Pools, missing out yet again.

Basically what I am trying to say is surely Pools' luck has got to change for the better sometime. The sooner the better as far as I am concerned.

Postscript: What goes around comes around

Excluding their geographical rivals, many fans have 'other' clubs that for one reason or another they dislike.

Rushden and Diamonds fell into that category for me for no other reason than, as previously mentioned, the antics of their goalkeeper Billy Turley being instrumental in having Graeme Lee's goal chalked off for going to ground like he fell out of a plane from 15,000 feet without a parachute.

The following season the two newly-promoted clubs played each other at Nene Park and Adam Boyd caught Turley dribbling the ball at the edge of his penalty area, robbed him and put the ball into the back of the net with Turley chasing after him like a lost puppy. I smiled all the way back up the A1 that evening, re-living that goal over and over in my mind.

That same year Turley was sacked by Rushden for using cocaine. Mind, he had the last laugh, joining Oxford United and playing over 150 games for them, then 140 for Brackley Town before retiring in 2015.

Rushden and Diamonds themselves, previously owned by Griggs Brothers, makers of Doc Marten Footwear, eventually went into administration. In 2011/12 season the re-formed and AFC Rushden and Diamonds played at Wellingborough's Dog and Duck ground. Honest, you could not make it up. I always said that they were a pub team.

On a sad note, in 2017 Nene Park, one of the newest and smartest grounds in the former Football League was demolished. Even I, borer excepted, am not so small-minded as to wish that fate on a football club or their fans just because I disliked the antics of their cheating goalkeeper in denying Hartlepool United their first-ever piece of silverware.

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