Hartlepool United FC are a football club based on the north east coast of England, around thirty miles south of Newcastle. The club were formed as Hartlepools United FC in 1908 as they represented both West Hartlepool and Old Hartlepool. A seperate club West Hartlepool FC won the FA Amateur Cup in 1905, but soon lost players to the newly formed club. United moved into the Victoria Ground, as West Hartlepool Rugby Club went bust and left the ground unoccupied.
The club began life in the North Eastern League, having being denied a place in the Football League owing to the proximity of the other clubs in the region already having membership. However, in 1920 the League was extended and United were given a place in Division Three North.
United struggled for many seasons, and often had to apply for re-election at the end of the season. They fared a little better in the 1950's, reaching the FA Cup fourth round in 1955. Two years later a record gate of 17,264 flocked to the Victoria Ground to see Manchester United's Busby Babes in action. Hartlepool trailed 3-0 but drew level before going down to a late goal.
Despite this the club were placed in Division Four the season after following re-organisation. Things improved following Brian Clough's appointment as manager in 1965 despite him not been keen on taking the job at first. He rallied the town to get behind his team and generally dragged the club from its slumber, upsetting his chairman along the way. In may 1967 the impressive Clough was snapped up by Derby County, with the club changing its name to Hartlepool FC a year later after winning promotion.
Their spell in Division Three lasted just one season, and Hartlepool returned to a struggling existence. In 1977 the club took on its current title as several managers tried and consequently failed to improve on the field fortunes despite the goals of Bob Newton and Keith Houchen. Financial problems also dogged the club off the pitch with Vince Barker threatening to move them to Scarborough in 1980 after he claimed that the local council reneged on a deal concerning the ownership of the Victoria Ground.
The supporters became totally dissatisfied with the board with gates dipping. A low of 790 was posted in May 1984 for the home game with Stockport County. Barker departed with John Smart taking over. Billy Horner continued to do his best managing the team with limited resources until he was replaced by John Bird during the 1986-87 season as relegation from the Football League seemed a distinct possibility. It was during that same season when Middlesbrough used the Victoria Ground for a few early games as they were locked out of Ayresome Park after going into administration.
Bird's team with the goals of Paul Baker and Andy Toman showed signs of improvement but he departed to take the vacant job at York City, to be replaced by a highly unsuccessful spell under Bobby Moncur. New Chairman Gary Gibson appointed Cyril Knowles, who would go on to gain legendary status in his short spell with Hartlepool fans after initially helping saving another relegation threat.
Joe Allon joined Baker up front as fortunes improved as the team were in the top ten all season until tragedy struck. Knowles was diagnosed with a brain tumour and passed away in August 1991. Former chief executive Alan Murray took up the reigns and led the team to promotion as Allon was sold to Chelsea. Several good signings were made as the team vied for promotion a couple of seasons later before eventually missing out.
|The 'temporary' Main Stand at the Victoria Ground|
However, during the 1992-93 season it was revealed that the club had major financial problems, so players had to be sold. Murray was sacked and replaced by Viv Busby as a relegation was escaped. However, a return to the bottom tier followed the season after as no money was available for players. Busby departed and other managers also tried their best. Local businessman Harold Hornsey bought the club and stabilised the finances for a couple of years before selling to oil company IOR while remaining chairman for another couple of years. At around the same time United's home ground was renamed Victoria Park.
Mick Tait was manager during the 1998-99 season but was replaced by Chris Turner as United's League place was in danger, but helped by the experience of Peter Beardsley the team stayed up. Turner turned fortunes around as United reached the play offs for the following two seasons, but lost out each time in the semi finals. He did lead the side to automatic promotion in 2002-03 before moving to Sheffield Wednesday to be replaced by Mike Newell and then Neale Cooper who continued to build on the good work.
Cooper departed surprisingly near to the end of the 2004-05 season ashis assistant Martin Scott took the team to the Play Off Final, where in a classic encounter they were defeated by Sheffield Wednesday at the Millennium Stadium. Scott and then Paul Stephenson spent time as manager, with the latter in charge as the team were relegated in May 2006.
Danny Wilson was appointed as the new manager and he immediately led the club to success as the team were promoted as runners up. However, the owners proved difficult to please and Wison was on his way during the 2008-09 with Chris Turner returning to the hot seat. His position caused much unrest as he was also involved with a consortium looking to buy Sheffield Wednesday, so in the summer of 2010 he was replaced by Mick Wadsworth.
During the following close season, a scheme selling season tickets for just £100 attracted 5,500 takers as Norberto Solano was added to the playing ranks. Unfortunately after a great start the form dropped off with Wadsworth being replaced by the returning Cooper in December 2011. The team ended in mid table, but following another season ticket offer the side started the 2012-13 in awful form with fellow Scotsman John Hughes arriving as manager in place of the sacked Cooper.
Hughes was also shown the door, in April 2013 as United were relegated. Colin Cooper was employed as the new manager.
Hartlepool United FC will play in Football League Two in the 2013-14 season
Hartlepool United 1 Scarborough 0 (Saturday 26th March 1988) Division Four (att: 2,453)
My first visit to Hartlepool was made on the Gas Club/Post Office mini bus run by the much missed George Johnson. As ever he'd arranged that we left in good time with an intended pub stop before reaching town. On this occasion, as many others, we hit the jackpot. We travelled along the main A689 and near the village of Newton Bewley we saw the Blue Bells over the carriageway Driver, Rich Carsey pulled round at the next opportunity and soon we were enjoying some magnificent pints of Tetley's Imperial.
I was in excellent form as we arrived at the Victoria Ground, even more so on finding that my pal Steve Adams had left me a complimentary ticket! I walked inside not expecting to find a work of beauty, which is as well, as I wasn't let down.
Where there was once a small wooden Main Stand, which in itself was only meant to be temporary when erected in 1921, there was now a row of portakabins and a small enclosure for directors. The club had been enforced to remove the old structure following the Bradford Fire Disaster. We were stood on the open Town End, behind which stood Hartlepool Stadium, which was used for greyhound racing. Behind the other goal was the open Rink End. Finally the far side was occupied by the Mill House Stand, offering the only public seating and cover at the ground behind more open terracing.
The game was unremarkable. Boro still had hopes of reaching the play offs, but on a blustery afternoon the game just drifted along. Ian Ironside, making his first league appearance in the Boro net saved a penalty.
Post match we headed back and attempted to stop at Sleights for beers, which if I remember rightly we did at the second pub of trying.
Hartlepool United 3 Scarborough 1 (Tuesday 11th April 1989) Division Four (att: 1,845)
This was a really foul evening to go anywhere, but the howling winds and driving rain coming off the nearby North Sea made it really miserable. The decent following of Boro fans huddled in groups against the back wall to try and hide from the weather while sneaking a look through the holes at the dog racing next door.
Boro badly needed a win against lowly United to continue their promotion charge, but in truth the teams of Colin Morris often failed where Neil Warnock's side would grit out a win, despite there being very few differences inthe starting line ups.
They capitulated to a hungry team who wanted it more and didn't look bothered by the conditions. We were not best happy as we clambered back on the mini bus to try and thaw and dry out. Our mood wasn't aided by the friendly Cleveland Police escorting everyone back past Scaling Dam to prevent a beer anywhere north of Whitby.
Hartlepool United 4 Scarborough 1 (Tuesday 26th December 1989) Division Four (att: 3,698)
Just when we thought the previous visit couldn't have been any worse, it most certainly did. We set off in good spirits on the bus with turkey sarnies and mince pies aplenty and arrived at a pub somewhere near Middlesbrough with a charity football match taking place on the pitch next to it. All was good as we left there at 1pm to head for some more fine ales at The Blue Bell. This is where it all went downhill.
The kind constabulary had decided to hammer home the overtime and were waiting in vans to stop all Boro supporters as they left the roundabout from the A19. Several coaches and mini buses were all held until 2pm when they kindly escorted us to the ground and made sure we all went to stand in the freezing open end for an hour or so before kick off.
Cyril Knowles had only recently taken over at the bottom of the table Pools and had signed several new players including Ian Bennyworth from Boro, where he'd only ever been moderately popular. Basically, Boro were outfought and out thought and looked like they'd overdosed on Christmas pudding and were missing their fireside's.
The home fans were delirious under the new roof at the Rink End, especially when Bennyworth scored. It was a day when we wondered why we ever bothered?
Solace was sought by stopping for beers for an hour or so in Whitby on the way home. I think it says everything that it ranked as the days highlight.
Hartlepool United 1 Scarborough 1 (Saturday 6th January 1996) Division Three (att: 2,252)
For reasons listed above, I gave Hartlepool a wide berth for a few seasons, but decided it was time for another go after Sean Hunter announced in the Tap & Spile that he was prepared to drive, so I thought I'd accompany Col Whelan.
I was interested as to how we'd get on up there with the locals. Bunner and some of the boys had erected a mock scaffold and hung a toy monkey from it on the A171 before a home game with them as a mickey take of the famous story of the town when they hung a ship's monkey as they suspected it was a French spy. Luckily their intelligence and humour had improved from those days and they were fine!
Victoria Park, as it was now called, had changed out of all recognition. It was now an impressive arena. We were placed in the Rink End, which was now seated. The far Town End now had a cover and accommodated the vocal Poolies. The Mill House Stand and terrace remained the same, but the portacabins had been replaced by a new structure, The Cyril Knowles Stand. The teams emerged from a new changing room block in the corner nearest our entrance.
Boro put in a reasonable performance with Kevin Magee scoring the goal. Hartlepool must have been poor at the back!
It rained all day.
Hartlepool United 3 Scarborough 0 (Saturday 17th April 1999) Division Three (att: 5,098)
My visits to Hartlepool were hardly filled with joy, but they were like music hall comedies compared to this classic. I was a little disorientated as Karl Theobald, who'd kindly agreed to drive, parked up in a warm sunny and wind free town. The pubs were sound enough around the harbour area and then the town, although the big Elvis tattooed barman in one pub frightened the life out of us. Karl said it was fine that he'd poured him a full pint of coke without asking!
I was nervous about what we were about to receive, with both clubs scrapping at the bottom of the table along with Hull City and Carlisle United to try and retain our place in the League. Boro had been woeful until Colin Addison had arrived in the New Year and results had picked up, but this was a huge game. A large turnout of Seadogs made the journey north, but we all had the stuffing knocked out of us as Pools ran into a two goal early lead.
I was devastated. This was a game we really couldn't afford to lose, yet the players had barely turned up. I asked scorer Chris Freestone why he'd been let go by Middlesbrough? He replied by scoring. Peter Beardsley boosted the home team as they ran Boro ragged. The home 'fans' boosted by many from up the coast goaded us for the rest of the afternoon.
We sat in the car in deathly silence and listened as the other scorers didn't help us either. Then the news headlines came on offering my Pièce de résistance. I was to move to London the following Sunday to start a new life. I was tense about the decision as I hadn't any work sorted in advance; just a place on my brother Paul's settee. The newsreader announced that a bomb had gone off in Brixton, a mile or so from where Paul lived. I had to break the silence before one of my fellow passengers wet themselves and burst out with laughter. It was the only thing I could do.
I walked straight into the Gas Club to announce to Bob Hall that we were as good as relegated. I can't remember much else so I must have drowned my sorrows good and proper.
The colour photos of Victoria Park have been taken from the internet. I didn't take a camera on any of my visits, and even if I had my hands would have been too cold apart from the last time to use it properly. My black and white image has been scanned from Simon Inglis' excellent book of the Football Grounds of England and Wales.