The Jar Family – Machine, Hartlepool’s entrance theme comes on, and you get the feeling that it’s another painful 90 minutes ahead for Hartlepool fans before the ball has even been kicked. This is the current mood surrounding Pools.
In the space of ten years, Hartlepool United, have went from being an established League One team, to being on the brink of relegation from League Two. But where did it all go so wrong?
In 2005, Hartlepool got their big chance to finally play in the second tier of English football, a play-off final against Sheffield Wednesday, which was without doubt the biggest day in the clubs history. Being 2-1 up with only eight minutes to spare, Hartlepool were on the brink of what could have been the start of something special, only to be denied by a late equaliser by The Owls, ultimately going on to win the game 4-2 after E/T and denying Hartlepool their golden opportunity. The season after that, Pools were relegated and ever since that famous final, things have predominantly been dark in North Tees and have been on a downward spiral. Why?
First of all, a poor selection of managerial choices which date back to 2008, has left the club with no stability what so ever, and hasn’t gave anybody a real chance to develop and build their own squad. Since the 15th December, 2008, Hartlepool have had 15 managers at the helm, dating back to the famous return of former successful manager, Chris Turner. This lack of stability has been a real issue at Pools, they often have the same cycle. Start well, fade off, become under pressure, flirt with relegation and ultimately lose their job, repeat. Furthermore, Pools have in more recent times went for really inexperienced managers, with appointments such as Craig Hignett, Paul Murray and Colin Cooper, who’s first managerial jobs have all been at Hartlepool. This in obvious terms, has been a huge gamble that hasn’t paid off well.
For three consecutive seasons now, Hartlepool have been on the brink of playing non-league football, and have showed any signs of improvement from this, despite increased expectations from supporters. 2015 seen the sale of Hartlepool United successfully completed to JPEG, a company part held by current Hartlepool United chairman, Gary Coxhall, from IOR. Since the takeover(and say may argue, even before the takeover) Hartlepool have been battered and bruised in recent transfer windows, and currently have a seriously narrow squad. Pools have, for years, struggled to attract any sort of major talent, not only because of location issues, but because of an extremely poor budget on offer. In recent times, Hartlepool have signed and often sold any sort of potential talent on offer, either through their own youth system, or pinched from other teams youth ranks. Players, such as Luke James, Josh Laurent and Jack Baldwin have all been shown the back door and been allowed, easily, to move on to better things. This begs the question, where is this transfer money being invested/held? Pools haven’t spent any real serious money on any player for some time, and have the tenancy to snatch offloaded youngsters from either Middlesbrough, Newcastle or Sunderland. Very easily done, since those teams are literally on their doorstep. They have however, purchased the likes of local lad, Nathan Thomas, for very cheap. This very poor transfer policy is having a very negative effect on Pools, as they are now having to rely on youth and inexperience a lot more and, in their current position, this is a very dangerous thing to do.
Having pulled off a great escape only two seasons ago, Hartlepool just haven’t seemed to have learnt their lessons. Having beaten Cheltenham and Tranmere to the drop during this, Hartlepool have had some serious competition from huge clubs, who shouldn’t be anywhere near League Two, and are sleeping giants compared to Pools. Teams such as Portsmouth, Luton, Plymouth, and many more in League Two, have all recruited and strengthened their squads and in stricter terms have a lot more to offer in terms of wages and placement than Hartlepool do. This being said, it is quite frustrating being a Hartlepool fan, as many do believe and have the opinion that Hartlepool have a top twelve squad, and have some serious talent in their current squad. Trevor Carson, Padraig Amond, Nathan Thomas, are all huge prospects that, in my opinion, could make it into a League One/Championship side. Worryingly so, if Pools continue to struggle, this would see, inevitably, the sales of this type of star player. Pools should be no where near the position they are but, in my opinion, are for one reason and one reason only – squad depth. Amond has been solely relied on for goals this season, and with the exception of Billy Paynter playing what looks like when he feels like it, Hartlepool have, again, went for inexperienced youth from Sunderland, by adding young striker Andrew Nelson to their ranks.
Relegation for Hartlepool would be a total disaster. As seen by clubs who have previously went down, with the exception of Bristol Rovers, and Cheltenham, in recent times, it took SEVENTEEN years for any club to bounce straight back from the Conference. And, with their current tightly squeezed budget, and a current manager who has no contract, it will be seen as a very difficult task for Pools to bounce back and gain instant promotion.
Things are however, beginning to light up again, despite no win in six, Hartlepool haven’t actually been playing so bad football of late, and only naroowly lost to a play-off chasing Colchester side by a penalty. Under Dave Jones, with all of his experience, things can only hopefully get better for The Monkey Hangers.