Re: 17 weeks shielding . Recalling 57 years of coming to EP
Posted by charter on 18/7/2020, 1:12 pm, in reply to "Re: 17 weeks shielding . Recalling 57 years of coming to EP"
"Young man" eh. Not what my sons regard me as!! But my writings have reflected on the times I spent "on the road" with them. |
I first took them to an away game at Ewood Park, (c1997) they were 9 and 6 then. And they both kept coming with me on away trips regularly. The eldest had move to Brum by the time we were in the Conference (first time), but the youngest and I did every game, (bar one), home and away, of those two seasons. They are great memories - not of the football on offer of course, but the times we could spend together.
It's that sort of thing that has really been a boon over the last 4 months. When I've finished the thing I really do hope that it will generate memories for others as well. As a 'taster' here's a piece I crafted about the Victoria Ground Hartlepool. The original was written in early 2017 - I've added a bit at the bottom as a postscript. (The photos down at the bottom are of the VG when I first went).
Hope you find it interesting
Ground: VICTORIA GROUND
Opponents: HARTLEPOOL UNITED & GATESHEAD
First Visit: Saturday 28th March 1981
Competition: Football League – Division 4 (Tier 4)
Result: Hartlepool United 1 – 0 Stockport County
County Visits: 18
I note that they call Hartlepool’s home “Victoria Park” these days. Maybe it’s a reflection of the absolutely brilliant regeneration work that has happened over the last decade or so just across the road. The transformation from what could only be described, gently and kindly, as a wasteland prior to that is a testament to the vision, plus of course the brass, of the city fathers up there. Maybe it had something to do with Peter Mandelson being the MP – Hartlepool always seemed to be a pretty strange place for somebody from the Islington set. He more than likely knew the way to access all the funding needed. And without understating a single thing the change that has been undergone is remarkable.
A matter of just over three years before the first trip on that pleasant journey up the A19 British Steel had announced the closure of its Hartlepool steelworks with the loss of 1,500 jobs. By the time I came to visit in early 1981 the term ‘ghost town’ was never more apt. Its heart had been ripped out, and without a word of a lie a conversation on that initial visit put everything in context. Having found the ground and parked up, Arthur Brotherton and I walked back. Not certain of our whereabouts, (and absolutely no reason to know them anyway), we asked a local where the main street was in our search for sustenance.
Forlornly he said “You’re on it, or what’s left of it”. It came from behind what I can only describe as empty eyes, and seemingly devoid of hope. It seemed as though all hope had been sucked out of the guy, and his forlorn response matched the surroundings. Hardly a shop not boarded up and metaphorically tumbleweed blowing down the thoroughfare. A truly sorry sight, but more importantly it felt like a community just broken apart. So all credit where it’s due to the driving forces behind the regeneration.
Victoria Park it may be now, but previously, and therefore for the purposes of this book, it’s always the Victoria Ground for me. It did however cause me to wonder whether my memory was failing but a check back to the programme for that game in 1981 shows it to be a ‘Ground’ rather than a ‘Park’. Maybe, in the context of the huge changes that have taken place at the ground, a renaming could well have been in order.
Without being unfair it’s not an exaggeration to say that the VG of 1981 was on the rudimentary side. I’ll call it the Main Stand, built with a capacity of only 600 or so, and presenting a grim appearance from the road, It couldn’t have been a good view. It extended a bare third of the length of the pitch, and was propped up by 9 posts. Peter Tyldesley, a good friend of mine; avid County fan and a former Football League referee, tells me that it wasn’t much better underneath. Cramped dressing rooms, heated by a coal fired burner, and apparently the players having to queue up for showers. It certainly seems to be a place which no player would fancy visiting.
To the left and right were similar structures, if that word isn’t too grandiose. Both terraces were covered by something akin to a bike shed. Not much cover from the elements, and many of the days I went up there the wind and rain whipping in from the North Sea just across the road took its toll given the paucity of protection. The one impressive part of the ground was the Mill House Stand on the far touchline. Built in 1968, and housing 1,700 it offered a great view not only of the pitch, but also, for when the unfolding game might not have kept the attention, a beady eye could be kept on the shipping movements in the distance. I always liked the stand, with a decent option of standing in front. Summing up, an archetypal lower division ground of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Things have changed of course now. The regeneration work on the docks across the road has extended itself into the ground. A new main stand and decent covered ends now complement the still extant Mill House Stand. If nothing else there’s no need to get wet these days.
Totting up the visits it came to 17 in games against Hartlepool, and not a particularly successful record at that. A couple of wins, five draws and 10 defeats. Given that the two clubs were fellow travellers around the nether regions of the League I was a little surprised. I thought we’d have done better than that.
The game in February 1990 saw County in 4th spot travel to the North east to face Hartlepool who were struggling down in 22nd. Four and a half months previously the home game between the two at Edgeley had seen County come out on top 6-0, with Brett Angell notching four, and foregoing the chance of a 5th when he, rather generously in my opinion, handed a penalty to George Oghani. Cruising north on the A19 this could be surely nothing less than an away banker. About as far as possible from the reality that was to unfold. I suppose you could call it an eleven goal turnaround. A five goal defeat was hard to take but the manner of it was shameful. Arthur Brotherton worked himself into a state of apoplexy having seen County go into the break already well behind. Danny Bergara had clearly given up on it - other than a cursory visit to the dressing room he spent the majority of the half time period sitting in the dugout whilst the team, (albeit they hardly looked like one that day), hid away in the dressing room. As County fell further behind in the second half Arthur strode with some purpose from the terracing in front of the Mill House Stand, around along the Rink End and made his way to the dugouts. Never one who was shy to voice his opinions he let Bergara have a verbal volley which had the homesters gathered around there doubled up in laughter, and myself cringing in the background. I’ve no doubt that these days the stewards would have been far more interested and could well have invited Arthur to make an early departure such was the level; volume and piquancy of his invective. Maybe getting on the road earlier would have been a blessing. Sadly we had to endure the whole affair. Five goals without reply.
There’s been eighteen visits in total, and the last didn’t involve Hartlepool at all. The relegation season from the Conference National saw a game against Gateshead take place at the Victoria Ground. It was April 2013, and an utterly shameful 4 months in County’s history was, as it turned out, only 4 days from its denouement.
A home defeat against Mansfield in mid-January gave the “gang of three” the opportunity they had been craving. Lord Snape; Spencer Fearn, and the blue skies whizkid Ryan McKnight had been desperate to get rid of Jim Gannon. Talk about Len Shackleton’s classic chapter in his autobiography. Something like “What the average Director knows about football” it was called. Shackleton left it blank. That was donkeys years before but with regards to these three he was spot on. Gannon had forgotten more about football than Snape; Fearn and McKnight could ever aspire to know, but he was at that time a pretty singular character. He’s mellowed these days, but then he didn’t suffer fools, and in them he was confronting footballing cretins. There was always going to be a battle of wills, and the defeat to the Stags saw Gannon given his marching orders. Catalogued elsewhere in this tome is the nonsense that followed. The appointment of Swiss born Bosnian Darije Kalezić, with absolutely no experience in English football never mind the non-league scene was one of the most bizarre decisions ever taken. The connection with McKnight was far too close for comfort, (something to do with the World Football Academy whatever that might have been). It was a complete unmitigated disaster. You’ve got to feel sorry for Kalezic – he’d been sold more than a pup. Lasting no more than a few weeks, and departing with tales of having been set up as a patsy, he was replaced by Ian Bogie, who came in with a handful of games left to rescue County from dropping into the sixth tier. A win against Newport, and one at Alfreton, gave hope, but with two games left things still looked grim. All that remained were two away games at Gateshead and then table toppers Kidderminster. A win in the North East was vital, because the prospects of anything at Aggborough were beyond slim.
But why Hartlepool? Gateshead played at the International Stadium, which by mid-season was completely impassable; unplayable and more resembling the Grimpen Mire beloved of Arthur Conan Doyle in the Hound of the Baskervilles. The Heed had been nomads since the turn of the year. Home games taking place at Bootham Crescent; Brunton Park; York Street, (yes a home game at Boston, 151 miles from Gateshead and necessitating a 3 and a half hour drive – each way!!!), The Riverside and half a dozen fixtures at the Victoria Ground. Somewhat implausibly, given these travails, Gateshead came into the fixture just above the dreaded relegation line, having staggeringly thumped Luton at Carlisle the previous week.
Fixtures elsewhere were also interesting. A win for County and defeat for Tamworth at Ebbsfleet would give the Hatters more than hope going into the game at Aggborough four days later. Lincoln weren’t out of it either but their last game was at Hyde who had packed up their bucket and spades weeks before safe in the knowledge of their survival. It dragged more than a few County fans out. 685 was the gate, with at least two thirds of them, sporting the blue and white, tucked into the new Rink End. The Heed took a lead, and things were more than grim as news filtered through that Tamworth were ahead down near the south coast. As the game went into injury time an Ebbsfleet equaliser down at Stonebridge Road gave no more than scant hope. We were still down and the awful prospect of 6th tier football just a decade or so after playing in the Championship was about to become a reality. That was until the ball ended up in the Gateshead area, and Adnan Cirak struck home an equaliser. A Kalezic signing purportedly, (although strong rumour had it that he was a fixture in McKnight’s contact book), this was about his only meaningful contribution in a County shirt. Ecstasy reigned for a minute or so. But the realists still knew that it was long odds. The local derby the following year wasn’t going to be Macclesfield or Hyde but rather Stalybridge. And of course so it proved.
It’s not a particularly happy parting memory to a place I quite liked going to, successful or not. Maybe one day I shall return. Hopefully in League 2, but is it possible for Hartlepool to avoid the waiting embrace of Conference National? They’ve managed it for nearly 30 years now, and to be honest I’m never sure how. After all they have been regular companions over the years in the basement. But that’s being uncharitable, so far better to say “Good luck to them and all involved at the Victoria Ground”. An old fashioned Club steeped in what a community organisation should be about!!
Postscript – March 2020
Hartlepool did not of course avoid the waiting embrace of the Conference National. They tumbled into it in time for the 2018/19 season and failed to make much kind of an impression on the promotion stakes. County’s promotion from NLN meant that a further visit was on the cards in 2019/20, and it was one that I was looking forward to. But since my health problems which manifested themselves in January 2017 Away Days can’t be planned with any certainty. It’s all dependent on energy levels and forecast weather conditions. I made the mistake of going to Altrincham on a cold, wet, damp and dismal day in December 2018. The cold I picked up, and the lack of immune system, left me housebound for nearly 5 weeks. A simple cold that I would have previously shaken off in 3 or 4 days is now a real challenge. So on January 25th this year the day dawned cold, and the prospect of that wind whipping in off the North Sea, made the decision for me. Good decision as well – we went down 2-0 and listening to the commentary were in that time honoured phrase, “lucky to get nil”!!