We lost a few of Pools' more memorable people in September: Len Ashurst, Martin Burleigh, Alan Fox and Tony Toms. Some younger fans may not have heard of them, but in their different ways they were all Poolie legends.

LEN ASHURST - by Bill the Biro

After the excitement of the Clough years, followed by our first-ever promotion and immediate relegation the following season, Pools returned to their old ways somewhat, with more re-elections.

There were also regular great escapes, but the greatest of them was to be after Len Ashurst joined Pools in 1971 as player-manager as his Sunderland career was drawing to a close (he still holds their record for his total of 409 outfield appearances.)

Pools found themselves in a situation where non-league Hereford United, after their giant-killing of Newcastle, were more or less guaranteed a place in the league and Pools were very much favourites to give up theirs. In the end Pools finished 7th bottom with Hereford taking Barrow's place. Len was to have a long managerial career with Gillingham, Sheffield Wednesday, Newport County (taking them to the quarter-finals of the European Cup-Winners' Cup), Cardiff (twice) and Sunderland (taking them to the League Cup final) before calling it a day, and he would put in the odd appearance at Pools afterwards.

In the close season during his time at Pools, Len could sometimes be heard on Radio Cleveland reporting from Park Drive on the cricket.

One comment that has been made in the week or so since he died (aged 82) by anyone who ever met him, is that Len Ashurst was a perfect gentleman and, although I only met him once, briefly, I doubt anyone else could say anything different.

BBC Radio Teesside sports producer Peter Cook with Darlington Manager Allan Jones (left) and Len Ashurst (right) in a photo kindly provided by Stan Laundon. BBC Radio Teesside would later be renamed BBC Radio Cleveland and then BBC Radio Tees.

And finally, a reminiscence from Running Monkey:

I liked Lenny. He once came to the Catholic Club to do a presentation to the Sunday Afternoon League champions, Owton Manor Rangers, for whom I then played. He was still playing at that time.

In those days we used to go to first team games and every reserve home game too. Lenny brought some good players to the club. The legend that was Willie Waddle soon became a fans' favourite. Neil Warnock was in the same side too, probably one of the best wingers we have had. I remember him scoring a goal at the Town End from a corner. Another legend from that era was Bobby Smith - far too good for our league at that time.

One of the minuses was Kenny Ellis, who was so far ahead of his team mates that he was playing in another game. He had a habit of dummying a pass and leaving it for the man behind; the trouble was that there was never anyone there. Maybe his team mates were not on the same wavelength as Kenny.

George Potter was a player I rated very highly - he never ducked challenge. I cannot leave out the great Barry Watling or Ron Hillyard who replaced him. But the legend's legend to my mind was Malcolm Dawes - possibly thought of in the same class as that great Poolie Kenny Johnson.

Martin Burleigh
- by Rabbi Blue and White Stripes

So it’s a farewell to Martin Burleigh who passed away on Monday 27th 2021 at the age of 70. He was one of the last ‘swashbuckling’ goalkeepers whose displays were as theatrical as they were effective. Lovingly nicknamed ‘The Flying Pig’ due to him being rather portly for a professional footballer he played a total of 97 games for Pools between October 1979 and May 1982.

He had cost £8,000 when he signed for us, a fair bit of money back then, the same amount as Darlington had paid for him when he signed from Newcastle in December 1974, where he began his professional career. He had previously played for Willington A.F.C. in the Northern League.

He played 15 times for Newcastle, signing for them in October 1968, being the back-up keeper to Willie McFaul. When he was given the opportunity of first team football his Newcastle career was virtually ended when he broke a finger ruling him out for the remainder of the season, colliding with Southampton’s Mick Channon. When he returned for the new season he walked out following a dispute with manager Joe Harvey who accused Martin of being ‘seriously overweight’. He did go back to Newcastle but only played another 2 games for them.

Martin was a member of the Newcastle United youth team that won the 1969 Rotterdam International Youth Tournament, defeating Arsenal’s youngsters in the final.

a He played 30 times for Darlington (21 games in the league) and was then signed by Carlisle in June 1975. He played 26 games for the Cumbrians in 2 seasons before returning to Darlington in August 1977 where he made a further 71 league appearances.

His most successful season with Pools was 1980 / 81 with the club finishing 9th in Division 4 on 49 points (coincidentally the same number as Darlington!). That season he shared the goalkeeping position with Graham Richardson.

In May 1982 he signed for Bishop Auckland, then Spennymoor United and finally Langley Park. He then became a painter and decorator based in Ferryhill.

For a ‘big lad’ he was surprisingly agile and thought nothing about diving at the feet of opposition attackers and frequently his own defenders. I have often felt that his modern equivalent would be Nathan Ashmore at Boreham Wood (previously with Ebbsfleet). Both of similar size and agility.

A couple of stories relating to Martin. I was friends with solicitors in the town who represented him when he got divorced. They would always know he was going to have a bad game if his ex had been hassling him regarding the divorce settlement. The second, a rather heart-warming story from Johnjo1 on The Poolie Bunker message board. “I’ll always remember him playing for us against Darlo; in the warm ups a Darlo player blasted a ball which went into the crowd and struck my mother. Martin left his goal and consoled her until a St John Ambulance man attended.”

Martin was always a crowd pleaser; his like we will not see again with sweeper / keepers now in vogue – I couldn’t imagine him racing off his line to beat an onrushing opposing forward. He played a total of 222 league games. So thanks for the memories, R.I.P and sincere condolences to his friends and family.

References: A Century of Poolies – Colin Foster 2008 The Definitive Hartlepool United F.C. - Gordon Small 1998 Wikipedia: Gibson, John – Evening Chronicle, Newcastle. 2nd March 2018 and 17th November 1973 Cumbriacrack – 28th September 2021 Poolie Bunker - Johnjo1, 28th September 2021

ALAN FOX - by Bill the Biro

I started watching Pools in the middle of the infamous re-election years and a succession of failed managers were followed by Alvan Williams who finally stopped the rot before moving on to better things.

Alvan Williams was succeeded by Geoff Twentyman. The experienced centre-half he brought in from Wrexham, Alan Fox, proved to be a rock, and was among the players inherited by Brian Clough.

He was a stylish player - a cut above what we were used to, and his couple of seasons with Pools probably showed us how well a defender could play - we were already well aware of how badly Pools defenders could play.

TONY TOMS - by Bill the Biro

While at Pools, Len Ashurst was asked if the Pools squad would like to take part in a fitness TV programme series for Tyne Tees Television.

They duly did and that's how Len met ex-Royal Marines fitness instructor Tony Toms. Tony and a former Marines colleague wrote a book of exercises to accompany the series and the picture shows my well-used copy.

Fairly soon, rather unusually, and especially so since he was a rugby man rather than a football man, Tony would become Pools' fitness coach and he followed Len, firstly to Gillingham and then to Sheffield Wednesday where he remained after Jack Charlton took over from Len. Tony was a hard taskmaster but was well-respected by the players and, both at Pools and Wednesday, Tony had the players marching over moorland and in the case of Wednesday, their hike followed a run of 11 games without a win - and they won their subsequent match!

Running Monkey adds that Tony certainly put the Pools lads through their paces and remembers once watching them running up the sand hills at the mouth of Crimdon Dene which was bloody hard work, even for fit footballers.

Tony died within a few days of Len at the age of 76.

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