Saturday 4 March 2017, 15.00, Northern Gas and Power Stadium
A trip over the border to see the League Two clash between Hartlepool United and Exeter City.
‘Hartlepools United Football Athletic Company’ was founded in 1908, after West Hartlepool Rugby Club went bust leaving their ground vacant. The stadium was purchased and new club founded which would represent the town of West Hartlepool and Old Hartlepool.
When a Third Division North of the Football League was created in 1921, Hartlepools became one of the founder members.
Brian Clough began his eventful managerial career at Hartlepools in 1965 before leaving to go to Derby County in 1967. In 1968 the “s” and the “United” were dropped from the team name as a result of West Hartlepool, the smaller town of Hartlepool and the village of Hart becoming a new borough named “Hartlepool”. The “United” was reattached in 1977.
The club began dropping into the dreaded re-election zone in the 70s, and although there was some improvement in the middle of the decade, it looked only a matter of time before they dropped out of the football league.
At the end of the 70s and beginning of the 80s the club’s fortunes looked on the upturn again, but financial issues were starting to cause real concern and selling their best players to survive saw them drop back into trouble in the table again. This continued with managers changing, some improvement, then dropping again. Not always in that order.
The 1989-90 season saw a horrific start, and former player Cyril Knowles took over before the turn of the year and guided them to safety. He then had them challenging for a play-off place the following season before he was diagnosed with brain cancer in the February. Alan Murray took over on a temporary basis and form improved even further and automatic promotion was attained. Knowles sadly passed away in August 1991 at the age of 47.
Season 1992-93, with Murray in permanent charge, they were in the play-off hunt for promotion to the Championship until after new year, but fell away. Finances became a problem again and the team was again broken up on the verge of something special to pay the debts. Relegation came in 1993-94 and some tough seasons followed.
The appointment of Chris Turner in early 1999 saw Hartlepool on the rise again and they lost out three times in the play offs before gaining promotion again in 2002-03. They had a chance of another promotion the following season, but the play-offs again were not a happy hunting ground. They lost out once more in the play-off final of 2005.
Relegation came again in 2005-06 but they bounced back at the first time of asking. They stayed in League One until they dropped down again in 2012-13. Finishes since then of 19th, 22nd and 16th last season make it hard to know which way the club is about to go.
No potted history of Hartlepool United is complete without mention of the team’s mascot “H’Angus the Monkey”. “Monkey hanger” is a term by which those from Hartlepool are often referred to. According to local folklore, the term originates from an incident during the Napoleonic Wars, when a French ship was wrecked off the coast of Hartlepool. The only survivor was a monkey, allegedly wearing a French uniform to provide amusement for the crew. On finding the monkey, some locals decided to hold an impromptu trial on the beach; since the monkey was unable to answer their questions and because they had seen neither a monkey nor a Frenchman before, they concluded that the monkey was in fact a French spy. Being found guilty the animal was duly sentenced to death and hanged on the beach.
In the 2002 council election, the team’s mascot “H’Angus the Monkey” was elected mayor of Hartlepool as an independent, under the slogan “free bananas for schoolchildren”. I haven’t made any of this up.
Hartlepool still play at their original home of Victoria Park, which is currently known as the Northern Gas and Power Stadium for sponsorship reasons.
Exeter City were established in 1904 after Exeter United F.C. and St Sidwell’s United agreed to join to form one club. The new team continued to play at Exeter United’s ground, St James Park, where Exeter City still play today.
Their first season in the East Devon League saw them win the title, and they left to join the Plymouth & District League. They then became a full time professional side in 1908 and joined the Southern League.
They changed from their original colours of green and white in 1910 to their current ones of red and white after the former was considered unlucky.
City made an unprecedented tour to South America in 1914 and played eight matches against teams from Argentina and Brazil. This included what is believed to be the first ever game of the Brazilian national team, played at the ground of Fluminese in Rio.
They became founder members of the Third Division in 1920 and reached the sixth round of the FA Cup in 1931.
A first ever promotion was achieved in 1964, going up to the old Division Two (now League One). They lasted two seasons before dropping down again and stayed there until promotion in 1977. Their only major trophy was the old fourth division title in 1990 and they stayed in the higher division until 1994. They went into administration and sold their ground to Beazer Homes, but were able to remain there after the Council took it over.
In 2003, they were relegated from the Football League and stayed in the Conference until they gained promotion in 2008-09. They followed this up with another promotion the following season, but dropped back down again in 2011-12. They only survived these turbulent times in the Conference thanks to the Exeter City Supporters’ Trust who still own the club.
Since then, Exeter have finished in 10th, 16th, 10th and 14th last season, when they also drew with Liverpool in the FA Cup.
In 2002 pop singer Michael Jackson was made an honorary director of Exeter City. He visited St James Park with celebrity friend Uri Geller, who was also a director. Again, I’m not making this up.
The club is nicknamed “The Grecians”, a name whose origin remains the subject of much speculation.
The sides went into the game with vastly different reasons to need the points. Hartlepool had suffered three defeats and two draws in the month of February, before an impressive 4-0 win at home to Crewe Alexandra in midweek. They sat one place off the relegation out of the football league positions, but the midweek win had seen them create a six point gap. Exeter were in sixth place, in a play-off position, four points off the final automatic promotion spot and three points away from dropping out of the play-off picture. They drew three games in a row before winning 2-1 at Crawley Town in midweek.
I had never been to Victoria Park before and it is a compact ground which underwent much improvement in the 1990s with the construction of two new areas. A small stand named after former manager Cyril Knowles is on one side of the pitch, facing the Niramax stand which has seating to the rear and terracing to the front and was built in 1968. The Town End is a covered terracing behind the goal which was erected shortly after the Cyril Knowles Stand in 1995. Behind the other goal is the Rink End Stand, which is a small seated stand for away supporters.
The ground is very close to the centre (We could see it from our hotel room) but you can’t walk all the way round it, as there is a big Morrisons immediately behind one end, which is right to the wall of the ground. We sat in the Niramax Stand, with the terraced bit in front. It’s easily the biggest structure in the ground and the others looked very small from our vantage point.
United made two changes to their starting eleven with Padraig Amond returning to the side after coming off the bench to score during the week. Sean Kavanagh returned to left back after injury. Louis Rooney and Kenton Richardson dropped to the bench. Exeter were unchanged.
There were 3,775 at the game, 166 of whom made the long journey from Exeter.
The home side were the first to show, with Thomas on the left cutting the ball back for Alessandra in the box, but his shot was half blocked by Brown and ran through to Olejnik in the City goal.
A long ball forward by Oates almost had Amond through for Hartlepool in 7 minutes, but Olejnik was out quickly to gather at the edge of the box.
Hartlepool made a horrendous mess of a short corner in 9 minutes. Tomas played the ball back up the touchline, but overhit it. Alessandra went back to collect and played it inside to Featherstone. He attempted to play it back to Thomas, but once gain it was hit too hard and rolled out for a bye-kick. Not one from the training ground I’d imagine.
Despite Pools’ promising start, City had a great chance in 11 minutes to take the lead. James’ cross was headed on by Wheeler and found Reid with some space in the box. He thumped goalwards, but Fryer did well to parry. Wheeler ran in to steer into the empty net but somehow managed to smash the ball against the bar from close range. The ball spun up in the air and Walker headed the ball off the line.
In 14 minutes, Watkins picked up the ball on the right for the Grecians and showed good strength to hold off Kavanagh as he made his way along the edge of the box. Once he got into a central position he struck a low shot which seemed to go pretty close to Fryer, but he got nothing on it and the away side led.
Stacey brought the ball forward for City in 21 minutes and played it right to Wheeler. He hit a first time cross into the area from the corner of the box which was just too far in front of Reid at the back post for what would have been a tap in.
Hartlepool broke quickly in 26 minutes and Thomas showed some good skill on the left before firing a dangerous ball into the box, but Brown did well to get a leg to it and divert it over the bar.
United’s Kavanagh required treatment in 28 minutes, but had to succumb to his injury and was replaced.
Just before the half hour mark a third ball of the afternoon sailed over the stand opposite us and out of the ground.
Watkins came close to doubling the lead in 41 minutes when he headed a free kick just wide from close range.
There was little action of note in the last minutes of the half, with Exeter looking the more dangerous, but there was little between the sides. Reid and Watkins looked dangerous up front for Exeter. Alessandra and Featherstone were trying to create for United and force their team mates forward. Amond had been completely isolated up front and Thomas had looked most likely on the left wing, but was too often crowded out.
Interesting to hear “Get Ready For This” by 2 Unlimited as Pools returned to the pitch. I’d not heard the 1991 hit since probably about then and it seemed a strange choice.
The home side began the second period with Oates pushed forward to give Amond some much needed support.
Woods was down injured for Hartlepool in 48 minutes but played on after treatment, although he went off 10 minutes later.
Some decent build up play by Pools in 52 minutes ended with a deep cross by Donnelly being headed back across goal by Pates, but Amond couldn’t get enough power in his header to trouble Olejnik.
The 55th minute saw another ball leave the ground, this time over the stand behind the goal housing the away supporters.
Brown had a chance for Exeter in 56 minutes from a corner, but headed too centrally and Fryer held on before a minute later, Woodman’s corner found Watkins inside the six-yard box at the back post, but he couldn’t find the target.
Pools attacked in 66 minutes and Amond played the ball to Thomas on the right. He sliced the ball into the box and Moore-Taylor got his head to the ball but only diverted it to Alessandra. He volleyed the ball first time from close range high into the net for the equaliser.
Three minutes later, Watkins went down in the Pools box under Donnelly’s challenge. The referee waved away penalty appeals and the ball was cleared up to Oates.
Still in his own half, he took the ball on his chest and turned away from Brown before striding into the Exeter half. He laid the ball off to Amond on the left and he took one touch into the box before blasting high past Olejnik to put his side in front.
Hartlepool were looking dangerous every time they came forward now and in 73 minutes Thomas controlled the ball well and took the ball towards the City box. He played a pass left to Amond, but this time he could only poke wide.
As Exeter chased the game, Pools kept catching them on the break and Oates gave the ball to Alessandra on the left in 77 minutes. He cut inside and shot narrowly over.
Olejnik booted the ball over the stand opposite us in 82 minutes to make it the 5th ball out of the park of the day.
Hartlepool were still working very hard to win the ball back, with Amond in particular still sprinting to close down the City defence.
The crowd was announced, as well as a thank you to the City fans who had travelled who were given a round of applause by the home support.
As the clock ticked past the 90 minute mark, Alessandra showed good strength and skill on the left before cutting inside and rifling a low shot past Olejnik to put Pools two in front.
There was still time for some pushing and shoving between Pools’ Thomas and the Grecians’ Moore-Taylor who were both booked for their troubles.
A fine win for the home side and it was hard to tell which team was near the top and which near the bottom of the league. Oates moving up front changed the game and he was given man of the match at the game. He had a fine second half, but Alessandra was best for me. Amond looked dangerous when he was given support and Pools look more than capable of getting out of trouble.
Exeter seemed to run out of steam and despite looking solid at the back in the first half, they struggled when put under pressure and this was a blow for their promotion hopes. Brown looked a good defender and Watkins will cause problems for most defences.
Full Time: Hartlepool United 3 Exeter City 1
Hartlepool United: 42 Joe Fryer, 33 Liam Donnelly, 8 Brad Walker, 26 Scott Harrison, 39 Sean Kavanagh (Richardson 29), 14 Michael Woods (Hawkins 58), 4 Nicky Featherstone, 15 Lewis Alessandra, 11 Rhys Oates (Hawkes 94), 9 Pardraig Amond, 7 Nathan Thomas. Subs: 6 Matthew Bates, 13 Adam Bartlett, 18 Lewis Hawkins, 20 Jake Orrell, 28 Louis Rooney, 34 Josh Hawkes, 35 Kenton Richardson.
Exeter City: 1 Bobby Olejnik, 28 Jack Stacey, 39 Troy Brown, 15 Jordan Moore-Taylor, 3 Craig Woodman (Sweeney 87), 11 David Wheeler, 4 Lloyd James, 25 Jake Taylor (Grant 79), 7 Ryan Harley, 33 Reuben Reid (McAlinden 65), 14 Ollie Watkins. Subs: 5 Troy Archibald-Henville, 6 Jordan Tillson, 12 Joel Grant, 19 Liam McAlinden, 21 James Hamon, 29 Luke Croll, 31 Pierce Sweeney.
Referee: Robert Lewis