As the season draws to a close (and dreams about the next season start) I thought I’d avoid any angst over the past year or what the next holds and opt for a look back at some memories of distant years.
So, what have the following got in common?
Gustavo di Lella
Yes, they were all sent off in the same match as another Pools player!
And those matches were against the following:
‘Hold on, ten players and only four teams’ I hear you say! Yes, we had two sent off in two matches against Leyton Orient! Which gets me nicely to the story of Gustavo Martin Di Lella, the Argentinian who signed for Pools from Blyth and went onto play 46 times, scoring ten goals.
It was at Blyth Spartans that ‘Gus’ managed to attract some interest from the professional ranks. Blyth made the FA Cup First Round, and although they went out 4-3 to Blackpool, Di Lella scored a spectacular goal. This was enough to earn him a month’s contract at Darlington (of all places!) in December 1997, during which he made several sub appearances. He wasn’t kept on and was signed by Mick Tait for Pools a couple of months later, making his debut away at Rochdale in March 1998.
It wasn’t long before he had his own song – which owed something to the fact that folk didn’t know how to pronounce his name – was it “Di Lella” or “De Leila” – and so the song rang out, “Why, why, why, Di Leila!” Certainly he seemed an unlikely player for Pools – born in Buenos Aries of Italian parents, throw in a comedy moustache and chiselled features, and add to the mix a career comprising of Blyth and Darlington and you couldn’t expect for much: or could you?
The early signs though were good. His first match at the Vic saw him score twice in a 3-3 draw with Cambridge. A good pre-season, and it looked like Tait might actually have come up with a decent player from Non-League. A good performance against Bolton in the League Cup, and a wonderful free kick to win the game against Hull City showed promise, and whilst he was never a regular starter for Pools, he was a gritty, fully committed player – but it was not long before the other side of Gustavo’s character came to the fore.
Much has been said about “Latin Temperament”, and unfortunately for Gus he had it in bucket loads. He was maybe unlucky to be sent off at Orient in October – as Pools managed a 1-1 draw despite going down to nine men for the second season running at Brisbane Road – but before long he was picking up the yellows on a regular basis
But, putting his yellow card count to one side, many remember Gustavo for his off field assault at Fulham – 5 December 1998. Pools lost the match 4-2, but it was not during the match that Gus’s moment came. Di Lella felt aggrieved about something that had happened during the game – he claimed that Simon Morgan had stamped on his head, and justice hadn’t been done by the referee. So, in the players’ lounge, Di Lella decided to even the score. The story goes that he calmly took off his jacket, handed it to a colleague – and then landed one on the Fulham player.
The incident cost Di Lella two weeks wages, and almost saw him on his way out of the club – but he stayed, survived the sacking of Tait, and played a part under Chris Turner in getting the club away from the bottom. He finished the season with a grand total of nine yellow and two red cards from just 27 games. The following season saw him take part in five games during August before returning to Blyth on loan in November 1999.
That incident at Fulham will make sure he forever has a place in Poolie Folklore.
And another player in the list above with a place in Poolie folklore (or at least a mention in the great book by Harry Pearson – ‘The Far Corner’) is Tony Skedd. ‘Skeddy’, a former youth trainee at Pools, made 56 appearances between 1993 and 1995, notching once. My memory of Skeddy is of me, standing on the Mill House Terrace, physically wincing as he used to fly into tackles; and now he’s a physiotherapist!
And after his days at Pools, Skeddy was still making a name for himself. In January 2001 a cup tie was suddenly abandoned when, according to the Hartlepool Mail, ‘the referee stormed off the pitch following an alleged run-in involving a former professional player. Ex-Hartlepool United star Tony Skedd is at the centre of the dispute following man in black Garry Wallace’s decision to abandon the match with just 10 minutes to go. Skedd’s Hartlepool Rovers Quoit Club side were leading 2-0 at the time when he supposedly verbally abused class one referee Mr Wallace after a clash with an opposition player. Onlookers say the ref then picked up the ball and left the pitch with both teams now unsure about which side will qualify for the next round of the County Cup. Full back Skedd, who played for Pools in the mid-1990s, denied he was to blame for the referee’s decision and said officials should be used to getting stick during football games. He said today: “I clashed with another player, but it was nothing serious. We laughed about it and shook hands. It was a storm in a teacup. “The referee came over to have a word and he got some stick from the touchline. But referees should expect that in Sunday league games. “The next thing we know, he’s picked up the ball and stormed off the pitch like a big baby. The manager followed him off and he said he had been going to send of the other player because he had head-butted me – but he never touched me. “There had been no animosity between the two teams and I’ve seen far worse challenges before. A lot of the lads were gutted because this was an important game and we were going to win it. Now it looks like we’re out of the cup.” Nobody from the Newton Aycliffe football club could be contacted for comment. Garry Wallace, who is a class one referee and football league linesman, refused to speak on the matter when contacted by the Mail. John Topping, secretary of Durham FA, said: “I am awaiting the referee’s report and until then I can make no comment. A decision on whether the game is to be replayed will be made by the committee.” Hartlepool Sunday Football League secretary John Cooper said: “I was on another pitch at the time but from what I heard there was a confrontation between two players and the referee received some verbal abuse. Then he walked off and abandoned the game.”
Aye, those were the days when you got ‘proper reporting’ in the Hartlepool Mail.
And following the theme of multiple sendings off (and in-depth journalism), the Hartlepool Mail carried the following headline in October 1982 : Two up, three off, as United lose out
A later retrospective report (in October 2008) read,‘Hartlepool United’s solid start to the 1982-83 season seemed set to continue after they went two up at Torquay United in only 15 minutes. But that was only the beginning of the story, as GAVIN LEDWITH recalls. MANY a football team has been accused of failing to show fighting spirit on the pitch. The same could unfortunately not be said back in October 1982 of Hartlepool United players Trevor Smith and Kevin Johnson. Frustrated at the end of what the Mail would later call “the most amazing 45 minutes of league football Pool have been involved in for years”, the pair were sent off by referee David Letts after ignoring requests to stop arguing with each other. With Roy Hogan already red carded after two earlier bookings, the last minute dismissals meant Pools ended the game at Torquay United three men down and 3-2 down. Yet there was no hint of the drama to come after in-form Pools strolled into a 2-0 lead after only 15 minutes thanks to goals from current Hull City boss Phil Brown and midfield hardman Roy Hogan. Smith then had a third disallowed for a dubious offside decision before Torquay pulled one back before half-time. Two goals shortly after the interval gave the home side a 3-2 lead before Hogan was dismissed for his second bookable foul. With chances going begging at both ends, Letts was left with no choice but to dismiss Smith and Johnson at the death. Even Pools chairman Vince Barker sided with the red cards and with manager Billy Horner’s decision to fine the pair. Barker said: “It looked like Liverpool against a Church League side at the start. But we could not control ourselves. “We made Torquay look like a team of cart-horses and then threw it away.” Pools’ performance that day mirrored their season as a whole. Undefeated in five games before kick-off, they quickly plummeted down the Division Four table to finish in 22nd place and were beset with continued financial problems off the pitch’.
On the subject of players being sent off, can you imagine a situation where two players were sent off for the same tackle? Well, this actually happened in a match between Pools and Walsall. 13 August 2011. Just before half-time, Walsall’s Andy Butler and Hartlepool’s Nathan Luscombe (who’d only come on after 20 minutes because of an injury to Nobby Solano) were both sent off for a hard, low tackle that left both men smarting but little more.
“I find it hard to see even a yellow card for each player,” said the Hartlepool coach, Mick Wadsworth. “No one goes in two feet, Nath is on the ground, one foot on the side, their guy tumbles over him and falls on top of him.” Said Wadsworth: “If you thought it was a nasty foul, even then, common sense surely: two guys tackling, two yellow cards.”
“Butler goes in one leg, wins the ball, their lad comes in for the ball,” said the Walsall manager. “Both cautions, if that, and both players were very unlucky.”
And the game ended one all – our goal coming from Colin Nish – and as for Luscombe – despite various warnings from Neale Cooper, he always seemed to be one visit to Greggs away from being a decent player.
To end this ramble through sendings off I thought I’d look for the first Pools player to be sent off – and I may be wrong here as the earliest sending off that I could find was 13 October 1920; William (Billy) Short played for Pools between 1920 and 1922 and was sent off in the first qualifying round replay of the F.A. Cup against Haverton Hill; he was sent to the changing room for fighting with a Haverton Hill defender named Boswell.
And this gets me to my quick-fire final points:
1. Morpeth Town beat North Shields 2-1 on 9 April 2019 in the final of the Techflow Marine Northumberland Senior Cup at St James’ Park, Newcastle. An extra time defeat was heart breaking for North Shields, but the match was a great advertisement for this level of football in front of 2,247 fans – and, having attended a number of recent Morpeth matches, I had expected a higher turnout!
2. Tenuous Pools link of the week – Jon Cullen signed from Morpeth Town in March 1997 for £1,000. 45 appearances later (and17 goals) and we sold him to Sheffield United for £250,000 (of which £75,000 went back to Morpeth Town).
3. John’s football website of the week – The Wanderer and, in particular a thread entitled ‘If Bolton Wanderers imploded tomorrow’. Made me think.