Having experienced one of the worst days of my life, things are finally starting to take shape at Hartlepool. A new manager, the dead wood clearing and players who showed no passion are leaving one by one.
Going into the final game of the season – Pools needed a win and for Newport to end in a draw or lose. Versing title-chasing Doncaster, this was going to be a far from easy task.
Being one down at half time, and Newport winning, the fate already felt sealed. Having went down to the bar at half time, I sat and relished what was to come in the next half of football. Listening to the taunting Doncaster fans mock us for the terrible position we were in, whilst they sit top of the league. Ironic because they were once in this situation. I wanted nothing more than for us to at least pull one back and hand Portsmouth, who were hammering already safe Cheltenham at Fratton Park, the title.
What happened next was remarkable.
Pools were piling the pressure on and there was a new sense of hope and belief. “We never say die.” Our determination couldn’t accept going out on a wimper. On came young Devante Rodney, who had never got a look in under former manager Dave Jones. Having never scored for Pools, he had a golden opportunity to show his worth. After a scramble in the box, Padraig Amond won the ball just outside of the 6-yard box and the ball fell to Rodney, after the keeper had fumbled. Rodney calmly slotted it away to make it 1-1.
Now, with Newport drawing at The Rodney Parade with Notts County, Pools now find themselves one goal away from safety. The crowd felt a sense of hope, myself included, it almost felt like we could achieve the unbelievable.
What seemed like a battering by Doncaster who kept piling on the pressure, Brad Walker lifted the ball up field to Padraig Amond. Amond found himself away on goal with only one defender in sight. A poor first touch let two Doncaster defenders have the chance to track back. What appeared to be a mis-hit pass, Devante Rodney came out of nowhere. He received the ball, took on a defender, dummied the keeper and smashed the ball into the back of the net.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. We’d done it.
The ecstasy I felt was overwhelming.
Our theme song echoed the stadium and I couldn’t catch my breath. Hugging and screaming with everyone in the stands, looking at everyone invading the pitch – it was a crazy feeling. We had found ourselves eight minutes away from safety hoping that Notts County could hold on, as well as us.
Meanwhile, our Jeff Stelling completely lost his head in the Sky Sports Soccer Special studio, showing his colours in our time of need.
What felt like the longest eight minutes of my life, everybody was checking their phone whilst trying to have the courage to watch what was happening on the pitch.
This was until the 89th minute, when it felt like somebody had just died in the middle of the pitch.
Everybody was looking at each other in despair. Newport had managed to nick it in the 89th minute in South Wales. Totally despondent.
Never in my life will I experience a mixture of emotions as I did in those final ten minutes.
So that was it. The full time whistle had blown.
What was only a minuscule round of applause by the players at the end of the game, felt like a small consolation. With no lap of honour which traditionally happens at the end of the season, they didn’t deserve my round of applause because of how they performed throughout 45 of 46 games throughout the season.
While witnessing the Doncaster fans leaving the ground knowing that they will be playing League One and enjoying some fantastic away trips next year – I felt a sense of jealousy. Knowing we were officially heading the opposite way.
We had been relegated from the football league for the first time since 1921 – ending a 96 year stay.
I stood in the terraces for about 15 minutes after the full-time whistle along with a few other fans. Letting it sink in what had happened. Emotionally and mentally drained.
So Where Do Pools Go Now?
Pools now find themselves in the Vanarama National League and face the expectation of an instant promotion – if not at the most a couple of seasons. They find themselves in the company of some fellow former football league clubs in Tranmere, Leyton Orient and Wrexham, so it’s far from an easy task ahead.
Having faced a deeming and impatient wait to announce a manager – Hartlepool finally announced that they’d hired Craig Harrison with the task of getting them back into the football league, on the 26th May.
Picture courtesy of Hartlepool Mail.
Having been a questionable decision initially, Craig Harrison has already warmed to Hartlepool United fans. He’s set out his ambitions full of enthusiasm and charisma. Having previously managed The New Saints in the Welsh Premier League, Harrison, he has adapted a winning mentality. Some may argue that this isn’t the most difficult task given TNS’ budget, but he has broken records in that division. Having been born in Gateshead, half an hour away from Hartlepool, being from the region and understanding how the fan base works could also prove to be a massive factor.
Another key factor to Pools bouncing straight back is the recruitment. Having already lost Nathan Thomas and Lewis Alessandra, Pools need to keep the core of the squad together and build a solid unit. With club vice-captain Carl Magnay being offered new contracts (and not yet signing them), they may opt to move elsewhere if the offers are right. This could be a huge blow for the club. It is almost inevitable that there will be more departing players from the club over the course of the summer. It is how The Monkey Hangers will replace them that will be key to progress. Having already been rumoured with successful Conference players, things are starting to look up for Pools.
Will Hartlepool make an immediate return to the football league? Let us know what you think in the comments below!
featured image courtesy of BBC.co.uk