Given the clear excitement, let’s start with the answers to last week’s quiz…..
16. How many managers did we have in 2014?
Four – Colin Cooper, Paul Murray, Ronnie Moore and Sam Collins (Caretaker)
17. In what year was the ‘s’ dropped from Hartlepools United?
18. Which Pools player went on loan to Port Vale during 2006?
Ritchie Humphries – following on from being dropped by Danny Wilson, after playing in 234 consecutive games (the last four of which were defeats), he was loaned out to Port Vale for a month. In my humble opinion Danny was one of our better managers, but this was a decision which I never understood.
19. How many weeks was John Duncan manager for in 1983?
Nine! He was offered a permanent contract after a spell as interim manager, but decided to go to Chesterfield instead.
20. How many games did Neale Cooper signing Pedro Dimas play for Pools?
Two – both of them pre-season friendlies during the Summer of 2003. And I don’t believe that anyone got that answer correct!
I was looking at the colourful career of Keith Houchen last week and had got to the point when he joined Hibernian in 1989. And tales of injuries, sending offs and rifts with fans continued………..
He scored on his Hibs debut, in a 2–1 defeat to Edinburgh rivals Hearts at Tynecastle. A further goal against Aberdeen gave him two goals in eight games at the end of the 1988–89 campaign. He hit 12 goals in 39 games to become the club’s top scorer in 1989–90, including two in wins over Rangers at Easter Road and Ibrox, and one in Europe against Hungarian side Videoton. Hibs exited the UEFA Cup at the Second Round following defeat to Belgian club R.F.C. de Liège. Already riled by a telling off from manager Alex Miller, Houchen had a run in with his own supporters following a defeat to Raith Rovers at Stark’s Park. Following this confrontation he was singled out for abuse at Easter Road. He made his last appearance for the club in a Scottish Cup game against St Johnstone, during which he was sent off for kicking Tommy Turner.
Houchen later said that he liked Scotland but did not enjoy Scottish football, and was particularly critical of the standard of refereeing; ‘referees were unwilling to punish fouls from defenders but quick to brandish cards for attackers who reacted poorly to being kicked’.
In August 1991 he returned to England with a £100,000 move to Port Vale. He scored a brace against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux on 3 September, but tore his hamstring later in the month and so he finished 1991–92 with only five goals in 24 games. The club finished bottom of the Second Division, though the introduction of the Premier League meant that they were demoted to the Third Division, which was immediately re-branded as the Second Division. He scored six goals in 28 league games in 1992–93, and did not feature in the League Trophy final or the play-off final. He fell out with manager John Rudge and the two stopped speaking to each other, and Houchen later admitted that “I should have knocked on the door and said, ‘This is stupid'”. In what other line of business could your send your Boss to Coventry?
He left Vale Park on a free transfer in June 1993 and turned down a move to Cyprus outfit AC Omonia (I thought that I was suffering from these when I couldn’t sit down) to return to former club Hartlepool United. Injury meant he did not play for the man who signed him, Viv Busby, and instead he made his second debut for the club under John MacPhail.
This was a horrible time to be a Hartlepool fan and, in fairness, it must have been even grimmer for the players – and those troublesome times put the challenges of the last few years into some context. It is perhaps only fair to Houchen, Busby and Monty to put some flavour around the 1992/93 and 1993/94 seasons.
Having risen to 2nd place in Division 2 (after an away victory at Bolton Wanderers), and after the infamous Brian Honour v Carlton Palmer spat during the second leg of the Pools v Sheffield Wednesday League Cup tie, Pools beat Steve Coppell’s Crystal Palace in the FA Cup 3rd round in January 1993 – and then things began to go wrong!
As a quick aside, strange how I can think of these times as being pretty grim when we were playing (and beating) the likes of Crystal Palace, Bolton Wanderers, Fulham and Doncaster Rovers! Who wouldn’t want a return to those ‘glory’ days?
Back to 1993………………..Pools were due to play Sheffield United on 23 January in the fourth round of the FA Cup………but just three days before the trip to Bramall Lane, Hartlepool United Football Club was wound up in the High Court in London! Pools, who had been 4th in the table at the time of the Palace match, then went on a run of thirteen games without scoring – and a new record of 20 winless games was established – we didn’t win a game until 5 April (Plymouth Argyle – a Brian Honour goal separating the two sides).
Of course Garry Gibson, the then Chairman, shouldn’t have let things get so bad that we were wound up – but credit to him for then getting us out of the proverbial.
Nine games into the winless run the club replaced Alan Murray as manager with Viv Busby. Busby then had to wait five games before Pools eventually scored – Andy Saville at Blackpool. Busby, who had limited experience, did manage to save Pools from relegation and, despite a crop of promising youngsters (Stephen Halliday, Denny Ingram and Antony Skedd as examples) and the signings of former Sunderland keeper Tim Carter and ex-Dundee forward Colin West, the following season was a continuation of the dire first half of 1993. And so Busby turned to Keith Houchen and persuaded him to return to Pools at the age of 33.
Busby was fired before the end of November and he was replaced by John MacPhail – Monty had been a fine player for Pools but it is fair to say that his brief spell in charge wasn’t particularly successful – he managed only seven wins in ten months – but he had little chance given the off-field chaos and loss of Lennie Johnrose to Bury, Ryan Cross to Bury and Tim Carter to Millwall in the weeks after his appointment.
And it was into this chaos that Houchen returned…..like Monty, he had no chance to make a success of things.
Houchen went on to score eight goals in 37 games as Hartlepool were relegated into the bottom tier of the Football League in 1993–94, finishing a massive 17 points behind Blackpool, who were one point above the relegation zone. MacPhail was quickly sacked and replaced by David McCreery; MacPhail blamed the fact that the club was sometimes unable to pay the player’s wages as a reason for poor results on the field. Houchen was a coach at the club, but allegedly quickly fell out with temporary ‘advisory coach’ Sandy Clark. Read more on this in TT35 – and, as you will agree, Houch should have punched him.
Houchen scored a hat-trick against Bury, though was later sent off in the match for allegedly swearing at referee Kevin Lynch.
McCreery resigned on 20 April 1995, and Chairman Harold Hornsey appointed Houchen as his replacement; he became the 23rd manager at the club in 38 years. He appointed his former boss Billy Horner as youth team coach and also employed Brian Honour and Mick Tait. His first game in charge was a 4–0 home win over Hereford United, and a 3–0 defeat at Preston North End and a final day 3–2 victory over Mansfield Town ensured Hartlepool an 18th-place finish. As a player, he was the club’s top scorer with 14 goals in 39 appearances in 1994–95, and was voted Player of the Year by the club’s supporters.
The 1995–96 season was to be his only full season as a manager. He scored six goals in 41 games, leading “Pools” to a 20th-place finish on a budget of £260,000 a year. His team were beaten 8–0 by Arsenal over two legs in the League Cup and – more worryingly – were beaten 8–0 by Crewe Alexandra in the Football League Trophy. He sold Nicky Southall to Grimsby Town for £70,000 and spent the same amount on striker Joe Allon. He proved a disappointment, and both Allon and Houchen were sent off against Gillingham on 28 October. Houchen’s final career goal came in a 3–0 win over Bury on New Year’s Day.
He released goalkeeper Brian Horne, who he described as a “fat slob”; this proved to be an unpopular move with “a lot of nasty people who support Hartlepool… who purport to support this club [but] would rather back fat professional players than people who really care about Hartlepool United”. As his replacement he signed Stephen Pears from Liverpool, as well as young defenders Glen Davies and Chris McDonald, teenage winger David Clegg, Exeter City midfielder Mark Cooper, and Blackpool midfielder Chris Beech. Hartlepool started the 1996–97 campaign with wins over Colchester United and Fulham, but his playing career came to an end after the fifth game of the season, against Wigan Athletic, when he retired due to a persistent knee injury. He continued to bemoan refereeing decisions which seemed to consistently go against Hartlepool – and in fairness, this is pretty much how I remember things from the terraces! This in turn led to continued punishments from the FA over his use of foul language towards officials. With his team on a poor run of results at the foot of the table, he left the club by mutual consent on 4 November 1996. This was after a post-match demonstration on 2 November (after a 2-3 home defeat by Brighton & Hove Albion) which has featured in the Summer Quiz.
A pretty sad end to an impressive career and, as I’ve mentioned, I prefer to remember Keith by his exploits during his first spell with Pools. But looking at Keith’s career makes one think about the teams that we used to play; the financial difficulties of those times; how bad, the bad times seemed; how – compared to now – those bad times were actually relatively good! And I keep thinking about the teams that we used to play and who are now facing financial meltdown, how close to extinction we came, and how, on balance, we are fortunate to be looking forward to playing Chorley.
And so, to this week’s Summer Quiz questions:
21. John MacPhail dropped himself after the 2-0 home defeat to Cambridge United on 15 January 1994 – who did he replace himself with?
22. Which team beat Pools 5-0 on 5 March 1994 – and how is this relevant to our coming season?
23. Who, during the 1994/95 season, told the Pools squad, “You lot are the lowest of the low. You can’t get any further down than this poxy little club”?
24. Which team beat Pools 8-1 on the final day of the 1993/94 season?
25. Who joined Pools during the 1995/ 96 season, from Tow Law Town, on the recommendation of Middlesbrough coach Gordon McQueen?
And my quickie final points:
1. John’s website of the week – https://www.gigglane.com/ – ‘Beardyman’s Big Bury Board’ includes numerous threads which will provoke thought and concern across the wider football community – BOB – Buy Our Bury. Gigg Lane – a ground of conflicting memories as a Poolie, but we can’t lose clubs like this. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, and I very much hope to be wrong, but I see a domino effect of failing clubs this summer.
2. Father’s Day Alert – forgotten the Old Boy? Loads of gifts to be found at the HUST website – including, very much under-priced, my first three novels (all proceeds to HUST!!!!) – and, at the same time, why not make a contribution to the HUST Community Fund? Just a few clicks and you can really help some local folk.
3. Getting ready for your summer holidays – need some cool gear and good books to read? https://www.hufcsupporterstrust.org.uk/shop.
4. John’s early bet for next year’s player of the season – Gavan Holohan – and the female Ashton offspring reckon that he’s ‘bodacious’ too. No idea what they mean. Is it an age thing?
Time for a drink.
Ovaltine or Horlicks?