Hartlepool United FC
Although this is their centenary year, Hartlepool United have only really started gathering steam in recent times. The club, situated at Victoria Park with its near 8,000 capacity stadium, have been making waves in the lower divisions of the Football League and currently play their football in League One.
Otherwise known as the Pools or, more bizarrely, the Monkey Hangers, Hartlepool play in blue and white stripes at home. In the absence of success in the shape of trophies, much of their focus is on the local, and particularly intense, rivalry with Darlington, who are themselves in League Two. With Hartlepool moving up in the world though, the rivalry has become somewhat one-sided, much to the delight of their fans.
Hartlepool United were the birth child of the amateur side West Hartlepool, who were founded in 1881 and enjoyed success themselves, winning the FA Amateur Cup in 1905. While the football team were on the up, the West Hartlepool rugby side were going the other way and, after going bankrupt and vacating their Victoria Ground, the opportunity arose for a new professional side which would eventually encompass West Hartlepool (who went under in 1910). The new side was given the name ‘Hartlepools United Football Athletic Company’ and they signed up for the North-Eastern League, exploiting the human resources of nearby West Hartlepool.
The fledgling club’s short-term progress was slow, as applications to join the Football League were consistently rejected. Being situated in this area of England, established clubs like Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Newcastle United were perceived to represent the region adequately. Indeed, it was only in 1920 that the opportunity arose to get involved properly. When the Football League set up a Third Division, due to the need for more northern representatives, Hartlepool signed up as a founder member of Third Division North.
Gaining A Foothold In The League
For much of the pre-war and post-war period, Hartlepool’s history was unremarkable. Although the club picked up a 4th place finish in the inaugural Third Division North, they flitted between glory and disaster, being forced to apply for re-election on a number of occasions. Things weren’t helped by their FA Cup performances, which remained rather mediocre. A 4th round finish in 1955 was the best the club managed, which was then followed two seasons later by a nailbiting finish to the Third Division North – again with Hartlepool falling short. The decade was made even worse when the end of regionalism meant Hartlepool were reduced to competing in the Fourth Division.
The legendary Brian Clough’s entry on the managerial scene saw immediate benefits for Hartlepool, and laid the foundations for future improvements after his departure two seasons later in 1967, winning promotion to the Third Division one season later. However, they were relegated almost immediately and were then reduced to applying for re-election in the Fourth Division twice in three years.
Fortunately, the appointment of Len Ashurst saw a revival in the club’s fortunes. In his first season in 1971/1972, Ashurst steered the club away from the bottom of the league and took them up to mid-table respectability before departing two seasons later. Although managerial changes did not help the club improve, Hartlepool (renamed Hartlepool United in 1977) at least maintained their mid-table status for the next decade or so, largely thanks to the efforts of Billy Horner (who was manager on two occasions between 1976 and 1986). Although big names like Mick Docherty (son of the famous Tommy Docherty) and Bobby Moncur tried their hand at improving the club, they all failed and the club continued to languish in Division Four until former Hartlepool Chief Executive, Alan Murray, made the jump into the hotseat for the 1991/1992 season and secured promotion to the Third Division.
With the divisions renamed to accommodate the Premiership the following season, the Pools consolidated their good work of the previous campaign by finishing mid-table, despite losing top goalscorer Joe Allon to Chelsea. However, success was again followed by disaster as, two seasons later, with Murray sacked during the last campaign, the club were emphatically relegated, suffering embarrassing defeats on the way. Thus began another managerial nightmare, as Hartlepool went through a number of individuals and saw their finances collapse. Only the intervention of local businessman, Harold Hornsey, saw a modicum of stability in the early 1990s. Nevertheless, the Pools continued to perform poorly in the league until the end of the decade, when the arrival of Chris Turner marked a change.
A New Millennium And A New Hartlepool
Under the youthful Turner, Hartlepool began to challenge consistently for promotion, reaching the play-offs in 1999/2000, although falling foul of local rivals Darlington in the semi-finals. Finally they attained promotion in 2002/2003 by finishing runners-up, after which Turner moved on to be replaced by Mike Newell, who did not last long and was himself replaced by Neale Cooper.
For once, the managerial changes did not damage the club on the field, as Cooper led the side to the Second Division play-offs in 2003/2004 and 2004/2005. Cooper’s exit from the club at the end of that season did not stop the Pools qualifying for the final but they succumbed to Sheffield Wednesday after extra time.
Although the club suffered under new manager, Martin Scott, and were relegated to the renamed League Two, the following season showed this to be but a blip. Danny Wilson was named manager for 2006/2007 and promptly gained promotion in remarkable fashion, setting a record by winning eight times consecutively without conceding (which was then broken by Stockport County that year) and going unbeaten for 21 matches. This season, Wilson has helped the Pools establish themselves in League One and the side currently sits in mid-table. Their fans will be hoping that, for once, disaster isn’t waiting around the corner.
- League Two – Runners-up (2002/2003, 2006/2007)
- Most Appearances – Watty Moore (472)
- Highest Goalscorer – Joshie Fletcher (111)
- Biggest Victory – 10-1 (v Barrow, April 1st 1959)
- Biggest Defeat – 1-10 (v Wrexham, March 3rd 1962)
- Largest Attendance – 59,808 (v Sheffield Wednesday, Millennium Stadium, May 29th 2005)