This groundhopping adventure was in doubt after I had suffered through a week of tonsillitis and a diet of just one sandwich. The newest batch of contestants on I’m A Celebrity had eaten more than me. Whilst my flatmates and peers were convinced I had a spout of man flu, both I and the doctor concurred otherwise and a course of antibiotics was the result.
I had managed to attend the Atherton Collieries v Atherton Laburnum Rovers match on the Monday night, travelling straight back to York after the match. This only seemed to exacerbate my illness and it looked like I would not be making Hartlepool.
Fortunately I made a miraculous recovery and I was well enough for the trip and set my alarm early for the Saturday morning, arranging to meet Joe and Ben at York Train Station at 10:00 in preparation for the 10:19 service to Hartlepool. As Carol Kirkwood had predicted on the weather the day before, “The Vale of York” was foggy and visibility was poor strolling through the quiet cobbled streets of York.
The quietness didn’t last for long as when I arrived at the train station I found hundreds of York fans running around purchasing last minute supplies for the day ahead with crates of lager being the most popular purchase.
We hadn’t yet bought our train tickets so joined the lengthy queue and asked for a return to Hartlepool. The woman behind the counter asked us if this was a “Grand Central ticket” to which I replied “Does Hartlepool have two train stations?”. After being asked if we were travelling via Darlington on the way home we really were confused. I just assumed we could buy an open return to Hartlepool, coming and going as we pleased. That wasn’t the case.
It soon became apparent that Grand Central are a small train company who operate rare infrequent services between London and Sunderland. Their cheap fares attracted the travelling York fans, meaning that 90% of the City fans going to the match would be catching the 10:19 train from York and the 17:55 train back home. It felt more like an excursion than an away day, but we went with it.
Pandemonium commenced when the train pulled in and everybody scrambled for the rare set of unreserved seats. Fortunately, Joe and I grabbed a couple of them and it took just over an hour to reach Hartlepool. On the way, we travelled through Billingham and I saw what I thought would be Synthonia’s ground, but it turned out to be the home of their lesser known rivals Billingham Town. It looked nice and it was immediately added to my list of grounds to go to at some stage.
The primary thought of the York fans when we arrived at Hartlepool was to find a pub. Not for the cultured amongst us though. Joe and I saw the masts of an old boat sticking up above the town and decided to head in that direction to see if we could find the sea front. On the way to the HMS Trincomalee we had a quick stop at the ground to familiarise ourselves with the area incase we got completely lost and had to jog back through the town to make kick off.
We couldn’t find the HMS Trincomalee as it is tucked away in the museum which is found in the Historic Quay. The ship holds the distinction of being the oldest British war ship still afloat, as HMS Victory in Portsmouth is in a dry dock.
Whilst we’re on the subject of old things, can I just take a moment to say how happy I was to find a fully branded and presentable JJB Sports whilst walking through the streets of Hartlepool? Not quite as old as the HMS Trincomalee, but every bit as impressive I’m sure you’ll agree?
We had been walking for around half an hour now and passed only two other people. Either nobody lived in Hartlepool or there was nothing of note worth getting up for in the morning. There were some very nice parts of the town along the coastal path, but other than that we struggled to find places of character and importance. We couldn’t even find the statue of a monkey which sits on the headland somewhere.
Many of you will know of the town’s links to monkeys, but if not, here is the most widely accepted explanation. Hartlepool is famous for allegedly executing a monkey during the Napoleonic Wars. It is said that fishermen from Hartlepool watched a French warship sink off the coast and the only survivor was a monkey which was dressed in a French military uniform. The fishermen – having never seen a monkey before – assumed that this must be what Frenchmen looked like and took the monkey to trial.
Questions put to the monkey unsurprisingly received no response and it was executed. These days, Hartlepool United’s mascot is called H’Angus and he is one of the most popular mascots in English football. Stuart Drummond dressed up as H’Angus before he was elected as Mayor of Hartlepool in 2002, winning with his campaign slogan of “free bananas for school children”.
Drummond became the most popular version of H’Angus with his various antics. In 2001, H’Angus angered Scunthorpe United stewards after leading the travelling Hartlepool fans in a chorus of song. He then proceeded to simulate sex on a female steward and was led away in front of a set of bemused away supporters.
A few months later, during a play-off match against Blackpool, H’Angus played with an inflatable doll. The police led him away, but released him without charge after it was claimed by the force that H’Angus was “drunk”. I could not wait to see H’Angus in person, but there was still two hours to waste until kick off meaning that we needed to find a pub to go to.
We ended back at the train station and the Wetherspoons looked more than nice so we nipped in there for some food and a brew. Our inadvertent snobbery continued as we pushed through all the beer drinking football fans to order a latte and a cup of tea. Ben had a table next to a hen do, so that supplied my entertainment for the next hour until we headed off to the ground. The York fans had put their bag of flags and streamers underneath the Christmas Tree which was in the corner of the room.
Various fans were invited to smuggle the streamers into the ground so that they could be thrown on to the pitch when the teams were coming out. I took eight in and my attempts at throwing them towards the field of play were truly woeful, as I hit an old woman on the head and nearly knocked a large hot dog out of a childs hands. I don’t think I’m cut out for this hooligan nonsense.
Having finished my pudding and chips (much to the annoyance of the other York fans in the pub who had been told there were no chips) we headed back to Victoria Park which now had it’s floodlights on. The away end was slightly difficult to find as there were no signposts and the police and stewards didn’t even have a clue what day it was.
Two turnstiles were in operation, leading to a small outside concourse which overlooked the pitch in the corner of the ground. A small step then led into The Rink End which sits behind the goal. The whole of The Rink End had been allocated to the travelling York City fans who snapped up nearly every seat.
To our left was the Cyril Knowles Stand which is all seated and backs on to the main road which runs past the ground. To the right was the Niramax Stand which consisted of terracing at the front and seating towards the rear in the second tier. My favourite part of the ground was The Town End Terrace which was a nice compact terrace found behind the goals; it reminded me of Scunthorpe United’s Glanford Park.
Victoria Park was built upon an a limestone quarry which was owned by the North Eastern Railway Company. In 1886, the land was purchased by West Hartlepool Rugby Club and the Victoria Ground was constructed for rugby use. In 1908, the rugby club went bust and The Hartlepools United Football Athletic Company Limited took over the land. Hartlepools United and West Hartlepool shared the ground until 1910 when West broke up, leaving Hartlepools United as the sole occupier.
The ground was heavily damaged by German bombers in 1916 and a temporary wooden stand was erected on the Clarence Road side of the ground. The football club tried to claim compensation from the German government, but failed and the wooden stand remained until it was demolished in the late 1980’s after the Bradford fire. Small cabins and other temporary measures were put in place until the Cyril Knowles Stand was built in 1995.
The Victoria Ground is one of my favourite football league grounds, but this may not last much longer with the club currently sitting rock bottom of League Two. Hartlepool – a town with a population of 92,000 – sit bottom of the football league, with just three league wins to their name this season. Having said that, their visitors York City weren’t doing much better winning just twice. In fact, York haven’t won at home since I moved there!
It goes without saying that this match was a huge one down at the bottom of the table. Not only could it be called a relegation six pointer at this early stage in the season, it was also labelled a local derby with the vast amount of southern based sides in the division. Just a week before this match there had been a five minute piece on Hartlepool’s current plight on Gillette Soccer Saturday where it felt very much like the club have relegation contingency plans, much to the disappointment of host and fan Jeff Stelling.
With five minutes to go until kick off I prepared my streamers and got comfy for the footballing feast which was in store. I say this sarcastically as it really did have 0-0 written all over it. Not only had both sides been on a poor run of form, I had seen York play five times and they had failed to score on every single occasion.
Both sides were in their traditional colours, with Hartlepool in blue and white stripes while York were in red and white.
York had a shot after just 30 seconds which tickled the hands of Scott Flinders before former Wigan Athletic youngster Lewis Montrose came close to opening the scoring five minutes later with a firm volley.
On the 20 minute mark the home team were claiming for a penalty when Michael Duckworth threaded the ball through to Marlon Harewood on the edge of the box. The former West Ham United and Aston Villa striker bundled his way through the York defence before throwing himself to the floor far too easily for the referee’s liking.
Hartlepool deservedly broke the deadline on 27 minutes when they capitalised on some simply awful defending. Jonathan Franks played it short to Harewood who was advancing just in front of him. The striker then played it square across the face of goal where Scott Fenwick was on hand to score on his professional debut.
Fenwick nearly grabbed his and Hartlepool’s second just a minute later when a Jordan Richards corner landed on his head just feet away from the goal. Rising just slightly too early, his headed effort went agonisingly over the crossbar. By this stage the away fans were shouting at their players who had put in absolutely no effort and didn’t even look bothered.
As the half progressed, I ticked an item off my bucket list when Hartlepool had another effort on goal. The shot was blocked by a York player and the ball spun off towards the back of the stand. Everybody seemed to duck from the ball, apart from me as I went to head the ball. In an ideal world, it would have gone straight back on to the pitch but it wasn’t to be. Bouncing at a right angle, the ball came off my head, hit the roof of the stand and bounced into Joe’s hands as a dust cloud descended on us all. Joe threw the ball over to the corner flag, but as his arm followed through he managed to hit me in the face. If I don’t make it on to Soccer AM’s third eyes section this week I’ll be disappointed.
My favourite shout of the match and possibly of all time came when Hartlepool were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. Goalkeeper Alex Cisak was trying to organise his defenders into a wall, but they still didn’t have a clue. Step forward a York fan who stood up behind the net and shouted “Excuse me! Excuse me! Oi! Excuse me! There’s a man unmarked over there!”. Acknowledging the fan, York defender Femi Ilesanmi took his advise on board and moved over to the left hand side to mark the spare man who had just been pointed out. It says something about the state of a sides defending when the fans have to shout the occasional tip. What made the whole situation fantastic was just how polite the York fan was about the situation. I can guarantee you wouldn’t witness such a polite way of shouting at a player if you were to go and watch other sides in the country!
The home side had various opportunities to extend their lead going into half time but were unable to capitalise on truly awful York defending. I don’t think I had seen such a poor half of football from a professional side before and the York fans were right to boo their side off.
We’ll never know what York manager Russ Wilcox said to his players during the interval but it appeared to do the job as the Minstermen set about bringing the scores level immediately.
York came close to equalising through a corner, but Scott Flinders palmed the headed effort away. Michael Coulson was then denied by the Pools skipper, but he couldn’t keep out the resulting corner. The ball was floated in from the right and centre half Keith Lowe was on hand to head the ball into the left hand corner. It had taken 504 minutes, but I had finally seen York City score.
After waiting so long, it was typical that just two minutes later York scored again. This time the cross came in from the left hand side and Lowe popped up again to bullet the ball into the back of the net with his head. The travelling fans were in raptures, with some running on the pitch and others opting to try and climb up the netting of the goals.
Hartlepool tried to settle, but on 63 minutes York had the ball in the net once more. Jake Hyde picked possession up and burst forward, smashing the ball into the bottom left hand corner from the edge of the area. From that point on, the home side offered very little and York were keen to defend a rare lead.
As the end of the match approached, attentions turned to what we would be doing in the hour that we had to wait for the next Grand Central train. Obviously all the other York fans would be waiting around for this train and Wetherspoons seemed like a popular location, so we decided we’d head there as soon as the final whistle blew.
Our plan worked well. We were the first football fans in there and the police shut the entrance shortly after we arrived due to trouble in the town centre, caused by a few Hartlepool fans who were keen to start a fight with travelling fans. Sitting in the window at Wetherspoons, it was quite entertaining watching various idiots being arrested for arguing. At times it was more comical than York’s defending which really was good going.
Unfortunately after 45 minutes people watching it was time to resurface and head down to the train station where all the York fans were waiting for the train back. A couple of further arrests occurred before the train eventually turned up and the mad scramble took place for the second time of the day. I was booted out of my seat by a woman travelling to London when we arrived at Eaglescliffe, but other than that it was another decent journey.
I think I’ll definitely go to Hartlepool again sometime if I have no other plans on a Saturday. It was a relatively easy journey, the ground was nice and the town was easy enough to walk around.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 60 miles (from York)
- ADMISSION: £10 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3