I was at Catterick Races last Friday – the first day of the 2018/19 ‘Jumps’ season and a decent return of two winners on a seven race card – sufficient to fund the ‘take-away’ on the way home (and I’ll return to the subject of take-aways later). Anyway I mention Catterick as I bumped into a one-time Poolie stalwart who stopped going to Fortress Vic some years ago.

After being a regular home and away follower he gave up after an unsavoury disagreement with a steward over his (season ticket holding) son not getting entry – followed up by a less than acceptable response from the ticket office. That was some fifteen years ago and he has been true to his word and has never returned to watch Pools.

He mentioned one of our away trips – 29 August 1984 to Derby County in the League Cup. We travelled in an old Fiat with a missing rear nearside quarter light window – it was deafening. We got lost due to traffic problems on the M1 and found ourselves perilously close to a pit, surrounded by striking miners and police of the ‘SPG variety’ – so getting beaten only 5-1 was a positive on an otherwise pretty awful night.

Kevin Wilson scored four for Derby, the other goal coming from Steve Powell – the Derby team included the likes of Eric Steele, Kenny Burns and Rob Hindmarsh and our consolation was from Graeme Hedley (and I’ll forgive his Borer background as he notched 9 times for Pools in 32 appearances). A week later and Derby beat us in the second leg through a John Robertson penalty.

Now, in typical Pools fashion we were then drawn against Derby in the FA Cup and, in front of 9,281 supporters, we beat them 2-1 on 17 November – goals coming from Kevin Dixon (42 goals in 158 appearances) and Mark Taylor (8 goals in 56 appearances). Of course we then got dumped out of the cup by York City! Typical Pools. In the midst of the misery they would deliver a cracking performance and all hopes and dreams would then be quickly shattered – but we loved them for it! But why?

Getting back to meeting this one time ever-present fan I got to thinking about the guys who I used to travel with to games far and wide – there was a hard-core of six of us. We even used to skive off work on Tuesday afternoons to go to Billingham Town. Games at places such as Bournemouth, Exeter and Torquay were an excuse for a boozy weekend and, however badly we were playing, there were always at least one or two players who you could rely on to ‘make something happen’, ‘anger the opposition’, or do something memorably good or bad.

Roy Hogan; whether he was a decent player or not, his tackles were something special.

Bob Newton; he knew that the opposition keeper wanted to land in the back of the net.

Billy Ayre (RIP); who didn’t he scare?

John MacPhail, Mark Robinson, John Gill, Mick Smith, Tommy Widdrington – you can spot a theme!

Remember Kevin Johnson? – it was interesting to hear Kevin Keegan talk about him during the recent HUST event.

Anyway, of the six of us: one has only attended the Vic on an occasional basis since relegation, one stopped going to any matches at the beginning of the post-Hodcroft era, one went so far as to get a job in China to avoid having to watch Pools, and one now watches local rugby on a Saturday afternoon. That leaves two of us and we are both struggling to summon up the enthusiasm these days.

And it’s not just us as the crowd on Tuesday night all so clearly showed. 1,680 miserable Poolies and 41 ecstatic Fylde fans!

How many once loyal Poolies are tiring of falling for the pre-season hope/ hype and paying over hard-earned cash for a season ticket? Only to be sickened within months. How many who give up come back? And where are the kids – the future generation of fans?

Obviously TV has an impact; on Tuesday how many will have opted for Manchester City from the comfort of their armchair over the vile weather at Fortress Vic?

But what about the fare on the pitch? I keep hearing folk saying how lucky we are to have been saved and that cash is tight – but, on the other side, is the off-field team (in its widest sense) too large? Is the commercial function delivering at the right levels? Is the investment in ‘youth’ correct? Is the business model correct? I don’t know the answers…..but what happens if the money runs out? (A quick plug for the HUST AGM on 6 December – details on the website! A representative from the Wrexham Trust will be making a presentation which should be interesting and thought provoking. Wonder if the bloke with one suit will go along to listen?)

But, what is being delivered on the pitch can only lead to further declines in revenues.

Now the conundrum is how can you spend money that you haven’t got on a team which isn’t generating a following sufficient to pay for itself?

Compared to others in our current league we have a decent following; we will have banked more in terms of season ticket sales than most. Has that money been used correctly? And note that I used the words ‘used correctly’ not ‘wasted’……………I can’t imagine that Raj would allow any of his limited funds to be wasted.

Obviously success leads to larger gates; for success you do need a decent team and, yes, perhaps we can’t afford success. And remember the Bolton story which I recently explained……………we don’t want to over spend or have excessive expectations.

But I’d go and see a team which tried – a team with characters – teams like those of the pre-Hodcroft era………………….(the teams of the Hodcroft era were generally superior, but there was a price to pay).

Teams like those which used to attract decent home and away followings despite the lack of sustainable success; despite a shortage of quality on the pitch…………players who gave it their all and left you with something to talk about.

OK, my glasses may be rose tinted but who wouldn’t want to see a young Keith Nobbs equivalent tackling hard and racing down the wing? Or a Bob Newton sort providing support to Luke James? Or a young Paul Dobson replacing Luke James?

I’m not talking about the best players that we’ve had – the likes of Steve Fletcher, Paul Dalton, Rob McKinnon, Joe Allon and others who have gone on to greater things. Nor am I talking about some of the once great players who have finished their careers at Hartlepool (or is that ‘had their careers finished at Hartlepool’?). And let’s not forget that, in those bad old days, the players didn’t always get paid and the bailiffs were regular visitors.

I heard a guy on Tuesday say that he missed Devante Rodney and that he’d be a perfect partner for Luke James. No offence to Devante but how far have we fallen? Another bloke bemoaned the absence of any passion.

Passion. That’s it. That is what the likes of Roy Hogan, Bob Newton, John MacPhail, Mick Smith, Steve Tupling, Keith Nobbs, Brian Honour, Billy Ayre, Kevin Johnson, John Bird, and Eddie Blackburn used to bring to a game. Passion and character. Some of them might not have been that good, but I’d forgive that if they tried/ cared. And for character step forward one of my favourites, Derek Hampton – 20 goals in 87 appearances for Pools. I swear that he used to brush his hair back before going to head a ball.

Aye, and it would be good to see some quality of the type that we used to enjoy from Mark Lawrence, Don Hutchison, Willie Boland, Dean Emmerson, the Linacres, the Linighans, and so on – but for now, in times of tight purse strings, I’d settle for players with passion and character. And I’ve not mentioned any of the greats, such as Tinks, of the Hodcroft era.

Folk have been having their say about ‘what’s going wrong’ and everyone is entitled to their views on recruitment, tactics, management, etc. And ‘things’ clearly are going wrong. But I don’t have any answers as I don’t know the facts. What I do know, however, is that I don’t expect a lot, but what I demand of our players is that they care as much as we do. I want passion on the pitch.

And as you go lower down in the leagues, to the more agricultural styles of play, don’t attributes such as passion and character become more important?

Maybe I’m easily pleased; but I don’t begrudge my ticket money when I see a group of guys try hard; I enjoy watching graft: Kevin Henderson was never going to be a star and Cooper moved him on – but, whether it was for the First team or the Ressies, he tried, played hard and usually with a smile on his face.

Is the generation of passion down to the manager or the individual?  I’d argue that the primary responsibility lies with the individual. But then you also need a manager with passion.

A manager with passion. I remember sitting outside the wooden hut which doubled as the away dressing room at Whitby Town after a pre-season friendly. All the players and staff had been sent back onto the pitch so that the manager could have a quick word with one of the players. The wooden walls weren’t that thick. “Andrew”, screamed Neale Cooper, “so long as I am manager of this club you’ll never play for Hartlepool United again”.

Cooper had spent much of the afternoon shouting advice to the poor left back; “Stick your foot in”, “Put some effort in”, “Hit him”, “Get in his face”, and so on. Cooper was good to his word. Jordan never played again. Cooper had passion. Jordan, amongst other things, didn’t.

I can watch an awful team which has passion: how can anybody be expected to pay to watch the passionless football on offer in recent times at Fortress Vic?

Now, what sort of take-away would Cooper have liked? What would he have done last weekend? I doubt that he’d have welcomed any player running to the Press or Board with whinges: but I couldn’t imagine a situation where players would have been allowed on a coach with any strong smelling food. Putting aside what anyone may think about athletes (I use the term loosely) eating take-aways, taking stuff like that on a bus is inconsiderate on any level. So, I doubt that he’d have let the situation happen.

So, am I looking forward to the visit of Dagenham & Redbridge tomorrow? Or to my post- match Chicken Madras, Peas Pillau and plain nan? I know which will leave me with a lasting impression on Sunday.

Another change of manager: will we see much change on the pitch? Doubt it. Think I’ll upgrade to a Vindaloo.

Cheers, John

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