FA Cup Second Round, Victoria Park, 5/12/14.
Normally in a situation like this my sympathies would be with the underdog, in this case Blyth. However, long ago in my youth I conceived a liking for Hartlepool United, adopting then as my wee English team. (Not that I have a big English team.) This may have been because Pools were continually crap for much of my childhood several times having to be re-elected to the Football League. (In those days the Conference did not exist and there was no relegation from the League.) Under Brian Clough as manager – his first such job – their fortunes improved and they gained promotion just after he left. Immediate relegation was followed by two re-election close shaves. They had another such brush with loss of league status in the year before automatic relagtion came in and only just missed that the next season.
When Cyril Knowles took over as manager (yes, Nice One Cyril himself) things got better. Despite his tragic death they won promotion in 1992 but were relegated again two years later.
In the very early years of this century they endured promotion play-off defeats three years in a row before finally achieving elevation again in 2003, competed well in the higher division for a while but dropped back down in 2013.
This game was my first glimpse – courtesy of the BBC – both of Pools and of Victoria Park, which looks a tidy ground. At its start Pools were rock bottom of the Football League once more.
You couldn’t have told that from the first half, they played well, knocked the ball about, created chances which only desperate defending and an inspired goalkeeping save prevented and scored a beautifully crafted goal. But if you don’t put your opponents away when you’re on top football can punish you. A silly free-kick concession gave Blyth the opportunity to score – with a dead ball strike from a former Pools player – and the sucker punch came in the last minute of normal time, a defensive error allowing Blyth their one and only chance from open play, which they took.
In the first half I couldn’t understand how Pools were in the league position they are; they looked way better than Exeter whom I had caught sight of in Round One of this season’s FA Cup. In the second they just faded away. The Conference looms.