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"If God wanted us to play football in the air..." ( Brian Clough Challenge )

Brian of Nazareth

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"If God wanted us to play football in the air, then he would have built a pitch in the clouds" ( Brian Clough, Legend )

The Brian Clough Challenge

In the summer of 2000, an unknown manager walked into the hotseat at Hartlepool Town to the bemusement of the club's faithful followers. He had never managed before, and was happy to freely speak his mind no matter who he offended. His name was Ryan Duff. His ambitions lay elsewhere, at the pinnacle of club football, but like every young first time manager in the professional world - he would have to learn his trade at the bottom and prove himself able. Hartlepool were comfortably mid table in the Third Division when he took over, with no serious worries of relegation, whilst not quite really believing in promotion. Ryan intended on changing that - andf then buggering off soon afterwards - he was not a patient man. He had a few clubs to get through before the big England job came his way.

Within the first week of pre-season Ryan had come to make a fair guestimate of who was worth keeping and who wasn't, both in terms of coaching and playing.

The Coaches and Staff

Well to be precise he should have said coach. Martin Scott was a young qualified coach, though admittedly Hartlepool was in his blood and his passion seeped through on the practice field. If he didn't receive the full attention of his players, they suffered as a result, and this made Ryan happy. A man of similar tastes would make a worthy Assistant Manager - and he duly did offer promotion to Mr. Scott, an offer accepted within seconds, which meant Ryan really had to tell current player/assistant manager 37 year old Colin West he'd lost one of his jobs. The striker could still help out in a coaching capacity if he wanted.

With no other men on the training field, Ryan knew he'd need at least one other man out there helping, especially with the goalkeepers, as frankly neither he nor Martin specialised in that area. There was only so far nailing the b*stards every time they let in a goal could go.

Keith Kerry Knobbs and Tommy Miller were the two scouts affiliated with the club, and Ryan would rely on them to hop in and out of cars and trains whenever he wanted them too. It should be pointed out that Keith did not bear any of the characteristics one might have expected with his unfortunate acronym of a name. Tommy being the elder of the pair would be on the look out within the immediate vicinity for the starlets. Keith would get the rather pointless trip to South America.

John Murray looked after all the scraped, bruised and dead at the club in his little hut of a medical office.

Required: Coaches - at least one specialising in goalkeeping.

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"If God wanted us to play football in the air, then he would have built a pitch in the clouds" ( Brian Clough, Legend )

The Brian Clough Challenge

In the summer of 2000, an unknown manager walked into the hotseat at Hartlepool Town to the bemusement of the club's faithful followers. He had never managed before, and was happy to freely speak his mind no matter who he offended. His name was Ryan Duff. His ambitions lay elsewhere, at the pinnacle of club football, but like every young first time manager in the professional world - he would have to learn his trade at the bottom and prove himself able. Hartlepool were comfortably mid table in the Third Division when he took over, with no serious worries of relegation, whilst not quite really believing in promotion. Ryan intended on changing that - andf then buggering off soon afterwards - he was not a patient man. He had a few clubs to get through before the big England job came his way.

Within the first week of pre-season Ryan had come to make a fair guestimate of who was worth keeping and who wasn't, both in terms of coaching and playing.

The Coaches and Staff

Well to be precise he should have said coach. Martin Scott was a young qualified coach, though admittedly Hartlepool was in his blood and his passion seeped through on the practice field. If he didn't receive the full attention of his players, they suffered as a result, and this made Ryan happy. A man of similar tastes would make a worthy Assistant Manager - and he duly did offer promotion to Mr. Scott, an offer accepted within seconds, which meant Ryan really had to tell current player/assistant manager 37 year old Colin West he'd lost one of his jobs. The striker could still help out in a coaching capacity if he wanted.

With no other men on the training field, Ryan knew he'd need at least one other man out there helping, especially with the goalkeepers, as frankly neither he nor Martin specialised in that area. There was only so far nailing the b*stards every time they let in a goal could go.

Keith Kerry Knobbs and Tommy Miller were the two scouts affiliated with the club, and Ryan would rely on them to hop in and out of cars and trains whenever he wanted them too. It should be pointed out that Keith did not bear any of the characteristics one might have expected with his unfortunate acronym of a name. Tommy being the elder of the pair would be on the look out within the immediate vicinity for the starlets. Keith would get the rather pointless trip to South America.

John Murray looked after all the scraped, bruised and dead at the club in his little hut of a medical office.

Required: Coaches - at least one specialising in goalkeeping.

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The Players

Now for a third division club, Ryan felt the squad was relatively healthy in terms of size, but less so in quality. Pooling the supposed first team and reserves together he sat down with Martin and summarised the individuals at the club.


Now clearly assessing their talents was a little difficult for the pair but they made a decent stab based on how they performed in training and Martin's previous knowledge of them in the preceeding seasons but of the four available the options were pretty good really.

Martin Hollund The 25 year old Norwegian had been a regular the previous years, and his confidence and extra edge meant he'd probably start as usual between the sticks.

Tony Williams A talented back up, the 22 year old arrived from Blackburn the previous year and clearly he's a decent shot stopper, but the Welshman will have to settle for second best for now.

Jim Provett This 16 year old looks more like an 8 year old nevertheless there were evidently reasons behind his presence here. A good reach, and a disturbingly high jump that would have had kangaroos staring in awe.

Chris Porter He's 20. Potential, but given the other two are much better, he's a bit screwed. By the time they sod off Jim will probably be ready for a call up, so Chris would be best searching elsewhere. He lost out on a penalty shoot out and consequently will be the second man for the reserves.


Full Backs


Sam Shilton - 22 year old formerly of Coventry City. Very talented, pacy and loves fish and chips. Could play anywhere on wing. Starter. Probably.

Mark Robertson 18 - in the reserves due to age, but he has talent, needs a bit of time. Given free gymn pass - needs to make use of it.

Ian Clark 25 - also very able - more experience, bulkier than Shilton but will probably be used in the midfield slot for now.


Darren Knowles 29 - experienced and a regular in his time here so far. Honest hard working lad and a fisherman in his spare time.

Rory Barker He's 19 and in the reserves until he changes his name. Useful back up, but again will be joining Mark Robertson on the free weights.

Paul Arnison At 22 he needs to be establishing himself now. Having studied under Keegan's Newcastle he clearly has no defensive abilities whatsover, which isn't all that helpful for a defender. Ryan and Martin will work on him swiftly.

Centre Halves

Chris Westwood The 23 year old former Wolves "star" is an intelligent bloke. He can read the game well and is currently into "Crime and Punishment."

Barry Ferguson This fella is on loan from Coventry for a month, the chairman Ken Hodcroft being a bit bored at the time. Still he struck lucky, and this Irishman will be a valuable body at the start of the season - and assuming he doesn't act the tard on the pitch an extension will be sought.

Michael Barron A regular for the past few seasons and his commanding presence should see him start from the off. He's one of those people who scream all the answers to TV quizes.

Gary Strodder With this 35 year old clearly one of the top players in the back line ensuring Martin and Ryan have plenty of options in this position. Called Gizmo on the training ground for some reason.

Graeme Lee A Hartlepool lad all his career, this 22 year old already has 92 matches and a pair of jeans under his belt, but sadly will not be playing for a year after a sickening injury took out his cruciate ligaments.

John Sharpe . The 24 year old will not be at the club long, despite having only just arrived, due to a vital lack of ability. On the transfer list, several Irish clubs have already started wooing the defender, and when the club goes on tour there in a few weeks a move will no doubt be confirmed.

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Brian of Nazareth:

_ The Players _

Now for a third division club, Ryan felt the squad was relatively healthy in terms of size, but less so in quality. Pooling the supposed first team and reserves together he sat down with Martin and summ <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Oops! icon_razz.gif

Never mind, good luck with this. Nice to see someone else use 00-01 icon_smile.gif

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Pfft, I had my "Did You Know I was A Hartlepool Fan?" title all prepared anyway icon_razz.gif



Paul Stephenson - is one of four players capable here- though two were listed amongst the defenders. He's 32, can play across the midfield line,a creative fella and his currently penning his first novel.

Thomas Tennebo arrived from Norway last year, and at then 25, had never played football before - but that seemingly didn't worry the previous manager Chris Turner, as the former salesman made 11 more appearances. Could struggle to feature this year.


Andy McAvoy the only out and out right winger is 20 and not all that good. A new dietary regime and a work ethic wouldn't go amiss if he's to be involved this year.

Craig Midgeley As one of those players who's hard to fit into any side, he's likely to be listed. The 24 year old is talented, but as an attacker not quite a striker, and not yet a midfielder, he's a bit pointless. He is highly rated though by other clubs so definitely a source of cash for any possible replacements. Posesses stunning collection of stick insects.


Lee Fitzpatrick . This 21 year old holding man emerged last year as a rising talent in the side, and the gritty tackler will be a favourite with Ryan. He speaks his mind and often gets lambasted for it, however given that no-one reads the Hartlepool Evening Standard it's not a big deal really.

Tommy Miller A guaranteed starter - this kid is playing way below what he deserves, he's played 91 games for the club so far and Ryan is hoping prying eyes stay away from his prized asset long enough for him to at least reach 100 games.


Colin West as previous mentioned, he's a coach now. In truth it has to be where his focus now lies because he's a pathetically useless player. With no stamina or legs more or less, he'll not be in any of the games unless it's an emergency. Eats far too many eggs.

Tim Sperrevik Yet another bleeding Norwegian, this lad is also new to football and at 24 will have to work hard. Still he's got a natural athletic look about him so he probably won't find it too difficult.

Kevin Henderson A 26 year old with only one full season of football behind him is the sign of another late starter. Certainly capable he'll need to bang in a few more than last seasons 8 to stay long at the club.

Adam Boyd The 18 year old is a very promising youth though the sooner he gives up his part time acting in blue movies the better to be honest. Energetic and a ladies man, he'll wait a while in the reserves.

Tony Lormor A journeyman amongst the lower leagues this 29 year old should lead by example and put the ball in the back of the net more often. Given the sad lack of options elsewhere the pressure will be on him to score at first. Member of the Baptist Church.

Overall Requirements : Ryan will need at least one if not two strikers, a back up central midfield and a good right winger to mount a serious challenge for the play -offs at least.

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With the scouts dispatched, Ryan continued to prepare his squad for a tour of Ireland at the end of July. Playing to his side's current strengths the side became accustomed to the 5-3-2 formation, with Ian Clark and Darren Knowles providing the width on the flanks. Keith Knobbs was recalled from South America and sent to Scandinavia with the target of finding some decent players, the emphasis on the decent, and not the Norwegian.

James Sharp in the end shocked the club instead moving to Wales, and Cwmbran Town for about 6k, and sadly Michael Barron also left the club soon after but the money involved was simply too good to refuse. Gillingham tabled a 325,000 straight bid up front, with a rather cheeky 85k added on after 10 international appearances, but there was positive news for Ryan on potential players coming in, when he captured the loan signing of Leo Fortune West from Cardiff City for at least 3 months, with a view to extending it for the season. The remainder of the month, leading up to including and following the tour of Ireland saw several more faces enter the club as Ryan began to stamp his authority on the club.

Just before the first match Paul Blades arrived on a free transfer, the 35 year old player coach knew how to coach a goalkeeper and would also provide valuable cover in the centre of defense since Barron's departure as the side warmed up against Galway United with a hilariously easy win thay delighted fans and board alike. In truth it probably spoke volumes for the problems affecting Irish football rather than Ryan Duff's genius. All 6 goals came in the first half, with Ian Clark taking two, and Leo Fortune West helping himself to a hat-trick, whilst on loan defender Barry Ferguson nodded in the 6th. Wholesale changes were made at half time, and the second half was a disjointed mess, but no-one particularly cared.

Such one off shows tempted Ryan into thinking about moving to sign the loanees on a permanent basis, but he resisted. The money was there but the board weren't overly keen to spash so much on two players. Still the next day he was cheered up by the arrival of, ironically, another Norwegian player, on Keith's recommendation. Keith had done well so far, with some good prospects turned out, all Tommy Miller Senior had found was a prat called Romeo. Anyway Endre Hansen was the player in, and he was the sought after competent right midfielder. With another right winger ( albeit future prospect ) Kenneth Jorgensen arriving on a free the next day, Ryan decided it was time to ship the unwanted, as Midgeley went on the list.

Few changes were made for the trip to Cobh Ramblers as Ryan sought to establish consistency, though Hansen had his first start [/b] and Tony Williams started between the sticks. Once again the match was won in the first half, though it proved to be a marginally closer encounter, as the side only scored 3 times. Amazingly Leo Fortune West bagged another hat-trick and it was taking all the will power in the world to stop Ryan biting Cardiff's hand off.

The final match saw several changes, with another new young prosect, Peter Johnson on the substitutes bench. Kenneth Jorgensen amongst others received a first start of the tour. Unsurprisingly it proved to be a tougher match but victory was secured thanks to Craig Midgeley, who was put in the shop window for this match. A few younger guns who came in acquitted themselves well as Ryan and Martin were able to reflect on a highly successful tour. On the way back they even picked up another kid called Aidan Lynch released by Finn Harps. The full back seemed a decent enough prospect so a two year deal was swiftly wrapped up.


Players In :

Paul Blades, 35, DC/Coach, free

Kenneth Jorgensen, 20, AMF/R, free

Endre Hansen, 22, MRC, 14k, Asane,

Phillip Johnson, 21, SC, 5k, Sifhalla.

Aidan Lynch, 19, DMLR, free.

Players Out :

James Sharp, 24, DC, 6k, Cwmbran Town,

Michael Barron, 25 DC, 325k, Gillingham Town.

Craig Midgeley, 24, FRC, 55k, Port Vale.


Galway United 0-6 Hartlepool Clark 7,23; Fortune West 30,38,41; Ferguson 45

Cobh Ramblers 0-3 Hartlepool Fortune West 25, 37, 45

St. Francis 0-1 Hartlepool Midgeley 41

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by flipsix3:

Good luck, will be interesting to see the performance of some of your youngsters compared to their older FM2K5 versions icon_smile.gif <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Yeah I know - It's been interesting to see a few Adam Boyds scoring goals around - hopefully a good sign, and Paul Stephenson as a coach in others - you guys are missing out on his playing ability icon_wink.gif

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August 2000 (1)

With a healthy pre-season completed, and enjoyable foray into the transfer market that brought several decent prospects if few immediate stars, Hartlepool looked to the new season with confidence as 5 matches including a League Cup tie were all crammed into the second half of the month. They were buoyed by the permanent arrival of striker Leo Fortune West, as Ryan couldn't hold his patience any longer and faxed forward an offer of 80k rising to 140k on various appearances with Ken Hodcrofts knowledge. However, given the chairman thought he'd have to be offering a much higher sum straight up he let it go. The forward demonstrated his eagerness to join by taking a pay cut.

York City hosted the season opener and an excellent performance throughout the side saw Hartlepool take the points with a 2-0 victory. Leo Fortune West turned provider in only the second minute of the game for Tony Lormor, as Ryan's side seized the initative. A fast paced match saw York create several openings of their own,

but with Gary Strodder marshall the back line effectively, they could find no way through. Man of the Match Ian Clark then sealed the points soon after the restart firing in low from 12 yards, having been put through by Lee Fitzpatrick. That enabled the side to control the game's tempo, and they absorbed York's possession comfortably.

With interest in defender Chris Westwood growing, Ryan encouraged his board to offer the defender an extension on his contract, which currently runs out in 2002, whilst Ryan quietly told Tommy to keep an eye out for defenders in case the worst occured. That preceeded the sides first home match of the season with Torquay where Ryan was pleased to hear his name chanted early on as the side took to the field. Again the match began very well, this time with Barry Ferguson scoring the opening goal, before midfielder Paul Stephenson volleyed in a Darren Knowles cross moments before the break. However Torquay were exploiting the space vacated by the roving full backs, and in the second half Ryan reigned them in a little to consolidate the lead. The containment policy frustrated the away side, and a counter attack saw Leo Fortune West head in his first official goal for the club from a Gary Strodder chip. Despite losing a goal soon afterwards, the lead was not seriously threatened, and right at the end Tony Lormor finished another fine day for Ryan to make it 4.

The only negative to come from that match was an injury to Darren Knowles that would sideline the full back for ten days, though Endre Hansen despite being a midfielder would be a most able deputy. Ryan and Martin debated the side for the League Cup trip to Millwall - the likelyhood was that they wouldn't win, but changing the side too much might upset the fans and the board. In the end minimal changes were made, with Tony Williams, Kenneth Jorgensen and Adam Boyd the only new faces. What followed however was a stunning performance from the team. Their opponents though struggling in Division 2 were still though viable candidates for the play-offs. In 45 minutes, Hartlepool were 3-0 ahead. The in-your-face approach to the game worked wonders, as Kenneth Jorgensen, Kevin Henderson and Adam Boyd all marked their first starts with goals! Adam Boyd even managed the luxury of a missed penalty on 35 minutes as a shell shocked home side fell apart. The second half saw no such repeat, but the game was over by then and a demoralised Millwall offered little threat, allowing Ryan to rest 3 of his defenders for the weekend game at Cheltenham.

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The jubiliation that followed that victory was astonishing. Plaudits continued in the local papers and, suddenly the fans were perking up - their prospects for the season looking better by the day. Of course this was just a good start to the season, and cynics suggested that teams would soon figure out how to counter Ryan's zestful attack. Until then he and Martin tried to keep the players focused on the task at hand. Cheltenham had made a slow start and had been thumped at home by Walsall in the league cup, but Ryan didn't want any presumptions being made amongst his men. With the full strength side restored ( minus Knowles ), hopes were high. The match tnen proved to be much tougher than anticipated, with the hosts taking the early lead. Tommy Miller did fire a reply back on half an hour but the fluency of previous games was conspicuous by it's absence, and Cheltenham nearly restored the lead on a few occasions thanks to the gaping holes left at the back but some forgetful full backs, who were in for a rollicking at the end of the game. In an open match a 1-1 draw was about the right result, and Ryan was pleased. The fans expected more, fans always do, but the point kept his side's unbeaten start moving. He'd have to have words with the defenders though.

Elsewhere Martin did the business however by persuading Neville Southall in person to join the coaching staff and get the best out of the goalkeepers. A worthy addition - he arrived on the bullsh*t promise of first team football. A contract's a contract Neville. With only a days rest before the Bank Holiday Monday match with Leyton Orient Ryan remembered to note Barry Ferguson's performance. It was his final game before the loan spell expired. Paul Arneson and Sam Shilton came in at full backs whilst Tommy Tennebo came in to rest Tommy Miller. In the toughest match of the season so far for the 'Pool, Orient who topped the table, proved a resilient side. The home side did take the lead thanks to a spectacular strike from Tony Lormor, and dominated the immediate spell thereafter but failed to capitalise allowing the visitors to equalise through Jason Brissett and half time beckoned. The second half again sadly proved to be a tale of efficient striking. For all their effort and numerous chances Hartlepool failed to score, inviting punishment which was duly handed out by Brissett once more who struck 5 minutes from time to bring Hartlepool's fiery start to the season down to earth with a bump.

Before the month was over, Ryan had to reject a sizeable offer from Birmingham City for his talisman Tommy Miller, who'd now completed 96 games for the club, and discovered Coventry too had been monitoring Barry Ferguson's progress. They refused to allow another loan move, and his fee was too high to consider a bid. However he had more luck elsewhere and managed to secure a 5 month loan bid for division 1 side Blackburn's midfielder David Dunn. Darren Knowles also returned to full fitness.

Players In :

Leo Fortune West, 29, SC, 80k, Cardiff

Neville Southall, 41, GK Coach, 16k, York City


York City 0 Hartlepool 2 ( Lormor 2, Clark 53 )

Hartlepool 4 Torquay 1 ( Ferguson 10, Stephenson 39, Fortune West 64, Lormor 89; Holmes 67 )

Millwall 0 Hartlepool 3 ( Jorgensen 9, Henderson 24, Boyd 41, Boyd m/p 35 ) LCR1 1st Leg

Cheltenham 1 Hartlepool 1 (Brough9 , T. Miller 29 )

Hartlepool 1 Orient 2 ( Lormor 25, Brissett 37, 84 )

7th in Div 3

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September 2000

The month began with a trip to Carlisle who's start had been hit and miss. David Dunn sat on the bench, as Ryan sought to introduce him slowly. The game itself began quietly as Carlisle defended deep, but just after the half hour mark, in form forward Tony Lormor broke the deadlock, following up a spilled shot from Fitzpatrick, and then Ryan saw his side press home the advantage in the final minutes of the half, a long ball from goalkeeper Hollund collected by Leo Fortune West who sprinted in on goal and lashed it in to make it two. The second half proved to be a tougher affair, as Carlisle dug in and fought for every ball, and Hartlepool's players began to tire as the game drew on. However, the result was never in real doubt and with 5 minutes to go, substitute David Dunn came on and slotted in a penalty to round off an excellent afternoon for the club.

A spell of three home games followed for the club, beginning with the second leg of the League Cup clash with Millwall . Though it was tempting fate, Ryan placed his faith in several fringe players for this game, to ensure they knew they were in his plans, including young Aidan Lynch. In front of a rowdy crowd, the players performed very well, using the opportunity to stake a claim for the first team reasonably well. After a goalless first half, the game livened up when Millwall threatened to get back into the game thanks to a 62nd Neil Harris strike, but player coach Paul Blades settled nerves 10 minutes later heading in the rebound to Andy McAvoy's shot, sealing a safe passage to the second round of the cup, with Paul Arnison taking the Man of the Match award.

That victory had brought with it 2nd round tie against Queens Park Rangers, a mid table first division side who would surely have enough clout to get past Ryan's team, whilst striker Tim Sperrevik was doing his worst to get into Ryan's plans by not turning up to training. It was bad enough the man showed no effort or application for the sport whilst picking up a tidy wage, but this took the biscuit. He was fined a weeks wages and placed on the transfer list at a minimal price. Ryan wanted rid.

Blackpool were lying in 23rd position when they visited Victoria Park on the weekend and seemingly the odds were against them but it was they who came away with the 3 points after a poor showing from the front line for Hartlepool. Phil Clarkson scored the only goal of the game in the first half, and the hosts for all their might couldn't get past Tony Craig, the Man of the Match, even after Blackpool had defender Phil Thompson sent off. Only Sam Shilton, a player eager to prove his worth particularly impressed, whilst Darren Knowles had played himself back onto the bench.

Trying to analyse the failures behind the goals proved tricky for the coaches as the players were seemingly doing everything right, but the Rochdale game was soon upon them, so Ryan brought a few young reserves onto the bench to see if they could change the fortunes again. The match again proved to be heading for a night of frustration as a stalemate seemed the likely result, until in the 87th minute substitute Adam Boyd headed in a David Dunn cross and earned himself a start in the next match.

In between matches, Ryan and Martin took a little time out to look through the contract situation at the club and they were alarmed to discover a number of the best players' deals ended next summer. Contacting their agents it appeared many were demanding excessive wage demands, and there was no way the club could afford to satsify all the demands, compromises would need to be reached. However, before any decisions were made over the initial offers the club faced a tricky trip to 6th placed Brighton. A decision to go to 442 proved an ill fated one as the home side completed dominated the game. That said it was Leo Fortune West who scored the game's first goal just after the re-start from a Tommy Miller centre. However it took only two mintes before Paul Blades was forced to turn into his own net, and then with 15 minutes to go Scott Ramsay ensured the hosts took the least they deserved from the game.

Back on the contract front and Paul Stephenson, Ian Clark and Lee Fitzpatrick all agreed extensions but the others were less willing to accepting anything less than what they demanded, so Ryan let them be for now - he didn't want to be held to ransom - and if better players should appear on the horizon, he'd let them go. Tony Williams signed on the dotted line after protracted negotiations, but Tommy Miller began throwing a wobbly when he read newspaper reports suggesting a heavy bid from Watford had been turned down for him. It was a problem for Ryan - balancing the loss of a star player against the substantial money the club would earn from his sale. He knew he had to start thinking about a replacement and sent his scouts on their way.

For the League Cup match with QPR a reversion to 532 was in order as Ryan returned to tried and tested. This would be a much tougher proposition than Millwall, but since that cup upset some optimistic fans began to talk of a second overhaul. Peter Crouch silenced those hopefuls inside 5 minutes putting his side ahead and though Tommy Miller equalised 20 minutes later, the visitors were clearly the stronger team, with their superiority turning itself into a winning goal just after half time through Karl Connolly, and barring a miracle this tie was settled. A month long injury to David Dunn didn't help.

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3 days later and it was league action again as Hartlepool sought to find their stylish fluency from earlier in the year. 17th placed Exeter were the hosts and like Blackpool and Rochdale before them, they effectively stifled the home side's threat, and for much of the first half it was the away side who were on top but Martin Hollund was in fine fettle. Just as the half drew to a close a Darren Knowles corner picked out Paul Arnison at the back post who forced the ball home, handing the hosts a barely deserved lead. The second half was another fractitious affair, but no further goals arrived as Hartlepool ground out a needed win that elevated them into 5th.

Before the second leg with QPR, the London side decided, ( so nice of them ) to make a very public bid of intent surrounding Tommy Miller, which narked Ryan off rather severely, telling the arseholes more or less where that offer could go. Of course Tommy had other ideas, he very much fancied the idea of a step up in class. To be fair you couldn't blame him, so a reluctant Ryan considered accepting it - though not before attempting to take a Ranger defending in the bargaining. As for the match, Ryan just couldn't be bothered, it was either the League or the FA Cup for him. Fat Neville grabbed his first start, along with a handful of other young rapscallions keen to impress. The tie provided the inevitable as a poor start knocked any hope out of the side and an exit soon followed.

However, Ryan did have some luck with regards to negotiation with QPR, who allowed him to discuss terms with central defender Chris Plummer as part of the Miller agreement. The defender was of a decent standard and would help provide a little more cover at the back. The deal was drawing to a conclusion, though not yet over when Halifax hosted Hartlepool on the last day of the month. It wasn't a happy side that took to the field, with rumours of discontented players wanting to leave or unhappy with their current contracts - however a thoroughly professional job secured an impressive 3-0 victory over Halfiax to end the month on a high, and it was with particular pleasure that Ryan saw Tommy set up two of the goals as part of a Man of The Match display. Kevin Henderson scored early on to renew confidence, before Paul Stephenson nodded in Miller's cross on the stroke of half time. The final touch was provided by a thumping drive from Sam Shilton as Hartlepool controlled the game from start to finish, and ending the month as they had begun - with an excellent 3-0 away win.


Carlisle 0 Hartlepool 3 ( Lormor 33, Fortune West 45, Dunn 86 )

Hartlepool 1 Millwall 1 ( Blades 74, Harris 62 )

Hartlepool 0 Blackpool 1 ( Clarkson 30 )

Hartlepool 1 Rochdale 0 (Boyd 87 )

Brighton 2 Hartlepool 1 ( Barnes O.G 52, Ramsay 72; Fortune West 50 )

Hartlepool 1 QPR 2 ( Miller 23; Crouch 5, Connolly, 40 )

Hartlepool 1 Exeter 0 ( Arnison 45 )

QPR 2 Hartlepool 0 ( Furlong 7 Connolly 20

Halifax 0 Hartlepool 3 ( Henderson 8, Stephenson 44, Shilton 71

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3rd in Div 3

After a month filled with highs and lows Ryan needed a break, but Sam Shilton wasn't about to give him one as he knocked on the door the following Monday.

" Morning Sam, come in, good game on Saturday. What do you want to see me for then? Contract again?"

" Nah boss. Listen, I'm sorry to say I want out."

" Why!?" Ryan woke with a start.

"Well, whilst I am really pleased with how the side's done so far, and I do enjoy the style of football we play, it gets us goals, and so forth, I still feel I am playing within myself at this level. I believe I can play at a higher level. So er, that's where I want to go."

" Dammit Sam. When I first picked the sides, there was a reason you weren't getting picked - because the other players were training harder than you and as far as I could see, were simply more skilled than you. Now you didn't like that - I saw that - and Martin reckoned you were worth a start, you got it and you took it with both hands - and since when I've seen a kid enjoying himself playing out of his skin. Sam, you're 22 - you've got time on yourside and sadly your contract is up at the end of the season. If you must then you can leave in the summer..."

" But boss! There are sides after me I know...."

" You what? How the hell do you know? Rumours in the papers? Some crap journalist give you a call?"

" No boss, some of the agents for the... oh erm I mean... oh ****."Sam went quiet.

"So you've been tapped up then have you Sam? You know that's illegal!"

"Well what's the difference? I want to leave all the same..."

"Yes but it's because you've heard some fairy tale from agents of clubs chatting you up! That's the f*cking problem."

"So can I leave?"

" No you bloody well can't! You can get the f*ck out of the office now and back with the lads! Give me a 100% until Christmas and I'll reconsider. Good day Sam."

Sam left the office meekly and began to wander grudgingly back to the pitch, whilst Ryan was full of fury. He called Martin in to discuss the matter.

" Well Ry, I think the best bet is to inform the FA, and then force Sam to spill the beans on the clubs, however given they used third parties to find out if he's interested, it's easy for the clubs to escape punishment, claiming no connection to the club. Plus the damage has already been done right? Sam's wanted - what can we do? He's not going to sign a new deal... Martin added.

" Not yet maybe, but give him time. He still can't make any decisions of his own until January anyway - and by then if we can establish ourselves as genuine promotion contenders and I think we can, they I can see a change in heart. Young men eare easily swayed by promises of wealth and prominence, and Sam's just another. If he keeps getting better then maybe I'll accept the next offer that comes in for him, but I can't see him really making it at Division 1 standard anyway."

"He'll have to work hard if he is to. By the way, how's the Miller transfer going?"

" It'll be completed within days I'm sure. Chris Plummer was very eager to join - not having the best of spells down there which is good for us - he's fairly young and talented, and we'll get 200k for Tommy to. Finding a replacement is going to be tough though."

"Aye, he was a talented player, a shame, but he deserved a step up. So what're your plans now Ry?"

" A bit more paperwork and then lunch. I'll see you at the canteen later." Within seconds of Martin leaving, the phone rang.

" Hello Ryan Duff speaking. Whos this?"

" Ah good morning Ryan. It's Timmy Mallett from the Daily Dump. I'm calling about young Mr. Miller - we've got reason to believe he's going to off any time soon is tha' correct?" [i/] Ryan hated the arsehole. TV idiot turned journalist with a penchant for annoying everyone he wrote about.

" Er yes Timothy. I can give you an exclusive, he'll be leaving for Norwich City next week in a deal worth 1.2million pounds."

" My god you've got good business there man!"

" I know. Anything else? No? Bye." He hung up the phone muttering tw*t in the process. Now to look forward to October.

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Cheers pal, if you don't like journalists you'll probably want to keep reading icon_wink.gif

October 2000

No sooner had the month seriously began and Tommy Miller's transfer was officially completed and with extra coffers in the bank, the search was on for a replacement anchorman. A temporary solution was found once again in Blackburn where South African midfielder Burton O'Brien arrived on a two month loan and the player started the first match of the month at home to Barnet , another struggling side. Ian Clark also replaced the confused Shilton. Another laboured effort saw the first half end 0-0 despite the home side, and Tony Lormor having all the chances. The visitors briefly threatened on the break, but that was always dealt with comfortably. The second half was a similar story, when Ryan made a fine substitution bringing on Andy McAvoy for Paul Stephenson and the midfielder sent the home crowd back very much relieved when he converted a 90th minute penalty after Lormor had been felled. It wasn't pretty but the side were in second and the pundits were still waiting for the disastrous collapse.

With most eyes focused on the World Cup 2002 qualifiers, Ryan still had to deal with requests for his players, an inevitable side factor of success. This time it was Darren Knowles - another contract rebel - who was receiving the attention - but Ry was willing to listen this time. Darren wasn't indispensable and with Peterborough making the offer, he believed a compromise could be sought. His scout Tommy Miller had seen one of their youngsters in action, James Bishop an Anglo/Yank 17 year old with potential. A lengthy phone call with opposite number Barry Fry left the deal in the hands of the players involved.

On Saturday 14th the toughest match arrived for Ryan's side as they travelled to table toppers Kidderminster, who held a 100% home record leading up to the match, but given that Hartlepool seemed to bizarrely perform better away from home, there was plenty of hope of taking something from this game. Chris Plummer and Leo Fortune West returned to the starting line up and played very well in the first half, as the quality of the game reflected the sides positions in the league, open chances created at either end but cancelled out by stubborn defending. However, a minute before the break the tide turned when a fast counter attack saw Ian Clark volleyed in Paul Stephensons cross. That proved the turning point and as the hosts needed to open up to get back into the game - a fact swiftly exploited by Leo Fortune West only 3 minutes after the re-start and before the hosts could regroup, they were stunned by another Fortune West strike 4 minutes later from another Stephenson ball - to seal another superb 3 points, and elevating Hartlepool to the top of the pile.

All Ryan and Martin were focussing on now was why the heck the side were so good away from home but struggled at home. Of course they were still getting the points at home, but certainly with none of the style that the die hard away fans relished. A quick f**k off also headed Macclesfield's way when they tried to buy Lee Fitzpatrick, a rejection the midfielder naturally didn't give two hoots about.

Away from the football Ryan did have another life, but so far it had very much taken second fiddle to Hartlepool's success. Ahead of the home match with Scunthorpe he started getting back in touch with old friends who had often left messages of good luck, hard luck, well done and so forth on his message machine - and he hadn't found the time to reply. He decided to invite them to the weekend match and catch up afterwards. Before that though, he did manage to secure the signing of James Bishop for 9k whilst Darren Knowles went the other way to Peterborough for 45k. It wasn't a like for like but Ryan was happy - he had a few very talented young players at the club now. This kid was certainly a future Tommy Miller if he applied himself. He even went straight onto the bench, too whilst Paul Arnison replaced Knowles on the right.

Again Ryan's friends saw the away side dominate most of the early proceedings, but as luck would have it Hartlepool took the lead shortly before the break when Burton O'Brien won a free kick 20 yards out from goal. Ian Clark converted superbly, whilst wantaway Sam Shilton injured himself in the celebrations, the midfielder replaced by Paul Stephenson. It turned out a useful substitution as amid further pressure in the second half, Paul Stephenson firing in an excellent solo effort effectively sealing the result. With Martin Hollund in unbeatable form, and the defence holding form, top spot was consolidated.

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After the match Ryan met up with his friends, Geoff and Bryan at the local balti to catch up.

" Say Ryan that weren't a bad game today - tho' you was a bit battered man. Lucky fer a win."

"Yeah Geoff, it's been a bit odd like that - but you know we're getting the results and I won't start complaining."

" But if you play like tha' against the top sides you'll run into trouble soon mate. Start slipping up and so forth."

" Negative arse Bryan. I'll be fine, Martin and myself have been talking about it, might have something to do with the full backs. Maybe our system catches out people away from home becuase it is so attacking, I don't know. However we've got the lads playing well and scoring goals that's what counts."

" Yeah I suppose, but Duffer man, you got a long term replacement for the Miller lad?"

" Not yet Geoff, but I'll get one sooner or later, fortunately there's not a rush - the players we got are doing a grand job and hey, no injuries so far - meaning enough competition is keeping the lads on the toes!"

" What about that Shilton lad? Stretchered off today and there's been a few reports in the papers..."

"Yeah, well that kid's listening to the wrong people - his heads a mess and all. However he's not going anywhere right now, two weeks on the sidelines - gives me a chance to try others out. He moaned all the time, why hasn't he played this game, that game - ambition money and so forth. Bit of an ego mind.In truth though if a rich Division 3 club came a sniffing he'd join 'em. Yeah, there are mercenaries even right down in this league!"

" Ah well never mind eh Ryan - with that sub whatsisname scoring you reckon you can maintain this run?"

Don't see why not. Paul's usually a regular but I caved into an angry Shilts before the match. I hope we can, but I suppose it depends on the legs and form. We do have good youngsters though - like this James Bishop kid - he's a promising talent for sure. Anyway, I think I can see our food coming now, another drink anyone....?

Back at the ground a few days later and it was business as usual for Ryan - his star players were coming in for bids left right and centre. First was goalkeeper Martin Hollund - who's performances were certainly winning the club points at home, and West Brom were offering a paltry 150k. Testing his luck, Ryan negotiated up to 750k, perfectly happy to know it oculd put his suitors off. A 50k bid for Ian Clark from recently defeated Scunthorpe was laughed at, the fax returned in kind with no small amount of cartoon excrements pictured beautifully around Jamie Hewitt's face. Finally, there was Lee Fitzpatrick subject to a smilar fee from Macclesfield though Ryan did at least act with a little more decorum, simply replying "Bugger Off".

For the trip to 10th placed Mansfield Ryan made a few changes, with Tony Williams and Thomas Tennebo starting after spells on the bench, whilst Paul returned to his place. In hindsight the decisions were a blunder, given that they had come up a side with an ability to take their chances - and ruthlessly so. Facing a half time 3-0 deficit, courtesy mostly of Chris Greenacre, Ryan's side's prospects were bleak. Chris Plummer and Tony Williams were beaten easily to balls, the former missing tackles, the latter letting his guard down. At the other end, Kevin Henderson was only firing blanks, as a lethargic attacking performance let the side down. Leo Fortune West did add some consolation to the scoreline, but only after Mansfield scored a 4th through the impressive Wayne Cordon, as Ryan rued simply a case of a bad day at the office.

It was turning out to be one of those weeks too as the next day West Brom did come back with the negotiated offer leaving Ryan with the dilemma of selling his star keeper for a sizeable sum, or risk p*ssing him off, and losing him later on for a lot less. Confident though of persuading the 26 year old to stay he turned down the offer, which swiftly found it's way to the papers at the West Brom end, and consequently to Hollund's ears. And he was indeed p*ssed. So then clubs decided Paul Stephenson was the flavour of the day and offers from Bradford and Crystal Palace transmitted their way through to his fax, and Ryan blew a fit. Moments later a press release from Hartlepool United read:

"The Manager of Hartlepool United would kindly appreciate it if clubs would stop bidding for his players. Perhaps said clubs could return with a few million pounds and a degree of respect, and then Ryan may answer his phone. Until then, sod off."

Perhaps not the most intelligent ways in which to protect your players, but Ryan was fed up. No-one would tear apart his table topping side just yet, and he had little time to prepare for the Tuesday clash with 3rd placed Chesterfield . Putting out what he thought was a strong side, the cynic in him showed no surprise whatsoever to go a goal down in the first half, nor was the inept attempt to play football by his team. A three man substitute team in the second half thankfully did liven the side up, as chances were created, pressure sustained and an equaliser found with 15 minutes to go through substitute Adam Boyd, following neat passing from Tommy Tennebo and Leo Fortune West which at least salvaged a point, for the increasingly unstable league leaders.

Worse followed in the final match of October, as they faced Hull away, and though the match was energetic and open ended, it was Hull who were the more clinical and blatantly more confident in front of goal. Cayman Island striker Jamie Woods scored twice before the break giving Ryan's side a mountain to climb and despite their best efforts not even a consolation could be found as Clint Marcelle finished the game off with 20 minutes to go, as Hartlepool's month finally ended, and hopefully the side could regroup in time for the match with Macclesfield the following week. Meanwhile Ryan, Martin and the scouts went crazy in their efforts to find a Tommy Miller replacement.

Players In:

Chris Plummer, 24, DC, Exch QPR

James Bishop 17, MC, 9k, Peterborough

Players Out:

Tommy Miller 21, MC, QPR 200k/exch - 10 (3 ), 2 gls

Darren Knowles 29, DR, Peterborough 45k, - 5 (1)


Hartlepool 1 Barnet 0 (McAvoy 90 pen )

Kidderminster 0 Hartlepool 3 ( Clark 44, Fortune West 49, 53 )

Hartlepool 2 Scunthorpe 0 (Clark 43, Stephenson 63 )

Mansfield 4 Hartlepool 1 (Williams 30, Greenacre 31,45, Cordon 61; Fortune West 72 )

Hartlepool 1 Chesterfied 1 (Boyd 72; Tutill 30)

Hull 3 Hartlepool 0 (Wood 28,39, Marcelle 68 )

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Another player left as the month began but few at the club gave much of a care as the ridiculously woeful Tim Sperrevik joined Kidderminster for 22k. Questions were raised over why a promotion rival were willing to buy them, but Ryan wasn't worrying - as soon as the Aggborough side saw what the Norwegian couldn't do, they'd be regretting the transfer - he hoped. Of positive news for the club though was that one of their kind had been called up for International duty. James Bishop realising sensibly that accepting the USA call was his best means to playing at a higher level.

Ian Clark soon became club captain after telling Luton in person to leave him alone after they allegedly persistently cold called him for a week on end, not a fantastic puling technique it must be said, and then Ryan had the dilemma of whether to bid for Norwgian keeper Anders Rasmussen, when a completely obscure side Koge BoldKlub went public with their ambitions. Given the opposition to his signature, he decided not to bother this time.

The first match of the month was seen as a chance to reverse fortunes with a home clash against 22nd placed Macclesfield and indeed the hosts were by far the brighter side earlier on, taking the initial early lead through starting debutant James Bishop, but then fate conspired against them and the luck they had enjoyed earlier decided to switch sides. This time Hartlepool did play the sweeping football, held possession and threatened regularly to score more. Insteas they went 3-1 down before the half hour was up. To say it knocked confidence was somewhat of an understatement, and though an inspired Leo Fortune West tried his best o bring the game back to life, he could only manage one and another defeat beckoned. It was turning out to be a much harder job than Ryan first anticipated.

Turning to customary panic mode, new tactics were tried out on the training ground, one that was slightly more focused on not letting smegloads of goals, and it included a back four this time. It took to the field against Lincoln full of renewed optimism. Being 3-0 down after 10 minutes changed that idea somewhat as the hosts went bananas in the first half due in large part to Lee Thorpe and Paul Smith. It was 4 by half time, and after Gary Strodder's dismissal for a flaying punch in the second half, hopes of a spectacular comeback were vanquished, and only a Leo Fortune West goal proved any consolation as another dismal defeat left Hartlepool lying back in 9th spot.

So the 442 went back out the window into the cesspit it came from as Ryan and Martin spent the next day scratching their heads. A distraction from the collapsing league form was the unwelcome intrusion of more press association members babbling on about his players. Ian Clark was once again widely talked about as moving off to a decent club, a rumour which grated Ryan severely, but this time he couldn't even be bothered to return the calls left by the *******.

The FA Cup was just around the corner and Ryan did take this seriously, he cherished the traditions of this oh so English competition. Chester City were a mid table conference side so the home draw was certainly winnable, and he thought it possible to rest a few senior players who had underformed badly in the previous match. Ryan also tried out a third formation, with a narrow diamond midfield. With a lack of right sided defensive players Ryan though was unfortunately forced for the first time in his brief management career to field a guy called Rory. The young full back made his debut, and shockingly wasn't totally awful. A solid first 44 minutes saw Lee Fitzpatrick and David Dunn hand the hosts a 2 goal lead, but a freak Dean Spink goal tightened the game again. Despite overpowering their visitors the match was always on the edge with just the 1 goal difference, but thankfully the lead survived intact and Hartlepool were through.

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The only piece of bad news was another injury to Sam Shilton, the fiesty left back would be away for a month whilst his kneecap was stuck back on and when he returned to sit back in his recliner, the phone rang. It was Tommy Miller Senior.

" Hey Tommy. How's the scouting going, found me anyone worth considering?"

" There's a few on the list with a bit of talent, some young others out of favour. I reckon they're affordable to. What's your need?"

" a right sided defender and possibly a centre-mid are immediate priorities. I think I'm fairly well covered elsewhere though. You got folk I can look at?"

"Well yeah, at least on the defender, not too sure about the midfielder - just more prospects, nothing solid yet. Jason Gill, is a 30 year old full back at Birmingham. He's out of favour and know he just wants to be playing. Still a two league drop might be too much for him, but he's definitely worth a try - he's talented. The last time he was officially valued by the clubs auctioneer, they estimated him at about 180k but I think you could get him for much less - possibly around the 90k - 100k mark. I'll fax through the clubs details if you want."

"Cheers Tommy - that'll be great. Erm, don't bother with the midfielders then if they're just kids - I'll hopefully be fine for now, anyway talk to you later, I gotta another fax here already to read.

Oh and before you go - remember you're contracts up at the end of the season, but we've got a new one all drawn up ready for you to sign. Just pop into Ken's office when you're around yeah?"

Yeah cheers Ryan. See ou later"

Ryan put the handset back in it's place, turning his attention to the sheet of paper protruding from the ugly monstrosity near the computer. He began reading the paper but within 4 seconds he'd torn it up into little pieces. The words Swansea and transfer bid made him retch, what was it with those planks? Collecting Birmingham's details he soon made for Ken's office next to the canteen, to fax through a bid.

Sunday 19th proved to be another enjoyable day as the draw for the 2nd round of the FA Cup handed Hartlepool another winnable draw, hosting either division 3 side Torquay or Northwick Victoria of the conference - offering a prime chance to make it through to the heralded 3rd round. Developments were also brought to a swift end in the Jerry Gill transfer with the midlands side only too keen to let him go, and the player was desperate to end his horror spell - and subject to the official signing of the contract the deal was as good as done for a pricey 100k.

The lad's desperation to play competitive football shone through in training, and Ryan had no hesitation in awarding him a debut as soon as possible away at Southend . Now the last match of November proved to be a happier one as the league slump was halted thanks to a hard earned 2-0 win over a home side who'd enjoyed a 10 game unbeaten run until that point. A defence that stood firm protecting Tony Williams gave the midfield the confidence to head up field - and Leo Fortune West scored after 20 minutes capitalising on the enterprising run of Lee Fitzpatrick. It stopped the home side's growing momentum allowing Hartlepool a little more time to re-assert themselves. Substitute Adam Boyd then made another decent case for replacing the off form Tony Lormor permanently by heading in a cross from new boy Jerry Gill, making an impressive first start, fitting in with ease.

Before the month ended, there was the surprisingly nice bit of news that Northwich had overcome their division 3 opponents in the replayed FA Cup match. Of course it wouldn't be easy but Ryan still fancied his chances, and then the icing on the cake as sulking Martin Hollund decided he'd rather buck up his ideas be happy for a bit and battle for his place back too - so it all ended well.

Players In:

Jerry Gill, 30 DR, 100k Birmingham

Players Out:

Tim Sperrevik, 24,SC, 22K Kidderminster


Hartlepool 2 Macclesfield 3 (Bishop 13 Fortune West 62; Keen 17,23, Glover 25)

Lincoln 5 Hartlepool 1 (Thorpe 2,4 Walker 11, Smith 30, 84; Fortune West 62 )

Hartlepool 2 Chester 1 (Fitzpatrick 19, Dunn 30; Spink 44)

Southend 0 Hartlepool 2 (Fortune West 20 Boyd 62)

9th in Division 3

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Hopes of a bright start to the month were given a bashing on the 2nd with a bizarre 3-1 home defeat to Plymouth. Bizarre in the sense that Hartlepool had so many chances they should have won easily, but, avoiding a well worn cliche, I guess that happens sometimes. Kevin Nancekivell gave the away side the initiative with an early penalty but thereafter it was all the home side - until the visitors scored on another break away through Ian Stonebridge 2 minutes before the break. Shocked, Hartlepool were on the defensive for the next two minutes, a tactic that saw the striker bag another and David Dunn get sent off. It was game over more or less despite Burton O'Brien pulling a goal back.

With a thankfully quiet week to follow Ryan and Martin were able to prepare for the Second Round of the FA Cup against Northwich and though it often tempts fate Ryan decided to start fringe players for it. Burton O'Brien wasn't available as the player was still deciding on whether to extend his loan spell or not but there were plenty of other options, though irritatingly Jerry Gill managed to fall off his tractor on the way to training and the wheel crushed his left leg. He's supposedly going to be away for a good month. The experimental side just managed to secure the victory but it proved to be a very nervy one despite dominating the first hour of the match. Phillip Johnson up front was enjoying a good game without scoring as was left back Mark Robinson now a little more beefed up, before James Bishop scored the opening goal from a Paul Stephenson pass. Whilst that did seem to settle the home side initially, the failure to extend the lead always ensured Northwich were never quite out of it and a shock breakaway goal from Ged Kimmins threatened to embarrass Ryan's team selection. A draw seemed inevitable but thankfully with 5 minutes to go Adam Boyd's shot was parried into Stephensons path and a third round place was finally secured.

Those of course who did perform well maintained their place for the cup match in midweek - the Autowindscreens Trophy. In truth it was a competition Ryan really could not be bothered with, but personal pride of course meant he'd want whatever side he'd put out to win. Before that though was the FA Cup third round draw - and with an astounding degree of luck Hartlepool had managed to secure another home tie against lower league opposition with high flying conference side Dagenham and Redbridge the visitors. Whilst it was no money spinner of a tie it still left the door open for further progression - and it certainly excited the fans - even Geoff and Bryan jokingly talked up Hartlepool's chances of winning it if they kept "fixing" the draws like this.

Burton O'Brien was back for the side's trip to Mansfield and he was joined by a couple of the youngsters, including, rather sadly, The Rory, but once more the right back performed creditably as the match was won by the two Blackburn loan signings who scored the 3 goals after Mansfield had taken an early lead. Burton O'Brien scored the first and David Dunn bagged the other two, with a belatedly good showing from Kevin Henderson - who's upturn in efforts were seemingly coinciding with his agent asking for a new contract. Cynical? Nah. The reward was a dastardly trip to Scunthorpe - with Martin immediately delegated to taking the team down whilst Ryan would be forced to socialise with his friends at the bar.

Interrupting his train of thought was a telephone call. From Brian Talbot, manager of Rushden and Diamonds. He wanted to buy the recently happy again Martin Hollund. The newspapers had been "tipped off" earlier - and the bid was over 500,000. Ryan went ballistic, and Brian never ever called him again. What was it about these people? Go fish elsewhere. Half an hour later and Max Griggs called. He was the chairman of Rushden. Ryan, with his face redder than a really painful sore, quietly hung up on him, and then made a call of his own. To an old acquaintance of his, Hitman Harry.

" How many? Right. Ok, yeah. So what did they do?... Ah I see, I understand. No traces obviously, don't worry. Double barrelled? No - oh ok. What do you mean not quite dead?? Argh, fine. I'll get the point across Ryan. Yep fees are standard rate, specials on journalists are buy one get one free at the minute. Yeah just give me a bell if that tickles your fancy. Gotta go. Have a good christmas pal."

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As per usual Shrewsbury , a bottom of the table side proved a tough nut to crack when they visited on the 16th. Despite an early goal from Kevin Henderson the match was very even, and it was no surprise when an equaliser arrived after twenty minutes through young Paul Howarth, but class always shines through eventually, well usually, and it was the clinical finishing of Leo Fortune West that seperated the sides as the forward grabbed his tenth league goal of the season. Of course, there's nothing like the mad sending off to keep nails in mouths and Chris Plummer duly obliged by intercepted an opponents long ball forward with both hands clasped around it. Only then did he remember he wasn't a goalkeeper. Thomas Tennebo evidently fancied a spell on the sidelines too as a self inflicted stud in the calf would keep him out for about 4 weeks.

The win kept morale high again, and Ryan was pleased with the news that Hitman Harry was bringing him, with hopefully fewer pestering bids heading his way, as a second home game in a row on the 23rd gave the fans an early christmas present with a 2-0 victory over Carlisle and it was one of Ryan's scandinavian signings, Endre Hansen, who scored his first goal for the club after Kevin Henderson's rasping shot came back off the bar. Leo Fortune West wrapped the result up late in the second half from a Stephenson corner.

Given that he'd focussed his attention on Hartlepool since taking over Ryan had given little thought to Christmas so it made for a pleasant surprise when Geoff and Bryan offered him lunch at the local carvery on Christmas Day, a chance to catch up with his good friends, Geoff a fisherman, and Bryan a priest.

Merry Christmas fella! Here we'll go and get the food in a tick, Geoff's bringing the drinks over now. So how you been?"

" Pretty good actually, well in footballing terms. Results have picked up again."

"Oh aye I've noticed Ry. Especially after that mare of a spell earlier! November wasn't so good was it?"

"Spotters badge for the frickin' obvious Bry. Couldn't get a grip at all. But I think we've picked it up now. The diamond midfield's working a treat for now, and when you've got versatile midfielders who can play across that line with relative ease it really does help."

" That and the team spirit. Twas impressive when they all crowded round that Hansen led when he scored."

"Yeah, I guess, haven't particularly noticed though - we have all these - ah cheers Geoff - we have all these team bonding larks anyway. You're either in or out, do it my way, or f*ck off, and it's working more or less. There's always the odd moaner though."

"I haven't read much of the papers - they still pestering you?"

"Nah not really! Called in an old friend."

"What's that grin for?!"

"Nothing Geoff, nothing at all. Anyway, Bry, what about you - isn't today sort of the big one for you with work and stuff?"

"Technically yes. But I took the day off, can't be f*cked this year."

"You said that last time!"

"Yeah but you know how it is, so many people all of a sudden barge in, same bloody sermon - it's just so boring - lost all meaning for me now to be honest."

"Not really a priesty thing to say is it?"

" Yeah, I think I'm having a career crisis now, if anything because the congregation will have all died within ten years."

"Ah fair enough, well before I forget, you guys are welcome to come to Torquay with us tomorrow if you've got nothing else planned..."

With the festivities over and done with it was back to action on the pitch way, way, way, down in Torquay, which meant a monstrously early wake up call for the squad, and a hefty trek down the motorway, to the coast, the not quite so perfect preparation. Changes that were made to the side were mostly based on fitness, but even so the lethargic start still handed the hosts an early chance to take the lead, and there after it was a case of trying really really hard to wake up and forget the hangover. Surviving until half time at 1-0 down, orange juice was discarded in favour of red bull and vodka in an effort to restore a degree of vitality to the side. Whilst it did no good for certain stomachs it definitely livened up the match and chances were created but not converted. A defeat seemed inevitable until in the final minute a cross from James Bishop flicked off the shin of teenager Adam Boyd to win a share of the points, and a simple text from Geoff that simply read: "Lucky Sod."

With 2000 coming to a close, there was just one more match as Hartlepool went past the halfway point in the season, and that was at Victoria Park to face York City, the first side Ryan had come up against. Then they'd earned a 2-0 victory, but this time around proved to be a much tougher test and after a tightly fought contest it was the visitors who broke the deadlock in the second half through John Williams. A home side on the rampage did everything but find the net thereafter - until again a late, late effort spoiled York's day. The magnificent Adam Boyd proved instrumental in finding the space for Paul Stephenson to rattle it into the back of the net, to continue the unbeaten run.

New Year's Eve had many of the players thinking of the future, with resolutions of new career paths as four of the old men side announced their impending retirement. Gary Strodder felt a calling to join the VSO, whilst Nev Southall and Colin West reckoned they should just focus on their coaching abilities - though of course their decision made no difference whatsoever except Ryan would be able to force their wage packets down for their new contract. Paul Blades too wanted to give up the playing side too - which would be a shame, but a disastrous personal life including a divorce, losing custody of his children and an out of date MOT, meant Paul needed a break from the sport.


Hartlepool 1 Plymouth 3 (O'Brien 63, Nancekevill pen 5, Stonebridge 44,45)

Hartlepool 2 Northwich 1 (Bishop 24, Stephenson 86; Kimmins 58)

Mansfield 1 Hartlepool 3 ( Blake 4, O'Brien 6 Dunn 34, 76)

Hartlepool 2 Shrewsbury 1 (Henderson 4, Fortune West 41; Howarth 20)

Hartlepool 2 Carlisle 0 (Hansen 23, Fortune West 79 )

Torquay 1 Hartlepool 1 (Sissoko 2; Boyd 90)

Hartlepool 1 York 1 (Stephenson 86; Williams 56)

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yeah they were a tad too good sadly

January 2001

The New Year saw a long, boring, dangerous trip south to London for a match with Orient, a side just below Hartlepool, and like the Boxing Day fixture it seemed the players hadn't learned their lessons of avoiding the drink the night before, and a slow start saw the hosts swiftly two goals ahead, before the side woke up and James Bishop reduced arrears. Amazingly, what followed could be described as complacency - bizarre considering the side were still losing, as Orient waltzed through the defense to restore the two goal advantage not ten minutes later.

With David Dunn knocking himself out entering the dressing room at half time, prospects for a bright start were as bleak as the weather. However one raging ramble later and the boys did respond well in the second half, applying pressure almost non stop on the Orient goal, and Kenneth Jorgensen's goal on 57 minutes inspired hope. More fine passing carved open the hosts back line but unfortunately a decent scoring chance was not forthcoming, as Orient made it 4 on the counter attack with 15 minutes to go, and being agiven that Sod's Law was out early this year, Jorgensen did score immediately after, but that was as good as it got, a thrilling, infuriating display which brought an end to the unbeaten run.

The Christmas season still ensuring that half knackered squads could become decimated with the brilliant logic of cramming in game after game just becuase it was the holidays. Darlington hosted Ryan's side and after taking an early lead in the first half, Hartlepool were forced to apply all the pressure in search of an equaliser - however with both Kevin Henderson and Adam Boyd the hosts goal was never seriously threatened as two incredibly tired sides tried to stay awake in the second half and failing quite miserably. Another loss wasn't the best of starts to the years, but with the FA Cup now capturing the attention of all the big sides now, Ryan could still at least hope for a win against Dagenham, and money spinning trip to a big side.

Sam Shilton, a player Ryan thought capable of attracting a sizeable bid, even with his contract expiring in the summer was the subject of a bid from Notts County. They offered bugger all up front and a 10% sell on fee, as another call to Harry would soon hopefully persuade the on form second division side to raise their bid substantially. As it transpired they soon decided it wasn't worth the hassle anymore and sent Ryan a gift of chocolate as an apology. Better news arrived in the form of Jerry Gill returning from injury and David Dunn had decided to join permanently on a bosman from Blackburn.

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There was a full strength side more or less for the cup match as Ryan and Martin both agreed there was no way any chances were being risked as the fans predicted a routine victory. What posessed them to do so is another matter given Hartlepool's inconsistent season, but once Leo Fortune West scored in the 3rd minute it seemed all rosy, but Dagenham showed exactly why they were in the third round of the Cup and 2nd in the Conference with a ferocious response, the cutting precision of their new striker Paul Cobb turned the lead around as he scored twice in two minutes before even a quarter of an hour had passed, and they could have had more as shellshocked home side simply watched on.

Martin took the half time talk, Ryan a tranquiliser, and Martin simply relayed their tactics to the side again. Patience and encouragement was offered, and it paid off, mercifully quickly as Leo again struck the back of the net, the forward in imperious form. More attacks arrived as a winning goal seemed inevitable, but a tendency to find the crowd rather than the net hindered such attempts.

The draw would mean a very much unwanted away replay, though the motivation was fortunately another home tie - against one of two division 2 sides, both of whom were doing fairly well and would probably win, but there was just the teeniest bit of optimism that progress in the Cup could be made - something Ryan was very much enjoying.

Next up in the hectic schedule of games every 3 days were Cardiff the club who decided Leo was dispensible, and now they're 17th in the league. Jerry Gill enjoyed another 90 minutes back from injury, whilst the side belatedly put in a very sound defensive performance AND complemented it with efficient striking, as a 3-0 win renewed confidence and propelled the side back into the play off positions, Paul Stephenson, Leo Fortune West and sub Kevin Henderson all scoring today - and Ken came in to the dressing rooms after to offer his personal congratulations - and good luck for the trip to Exeter - a game he would miss because of fund raising commitments.

That match with Exter it must be said was the venerable cliche - a game of two halves. Hartlepool in theirs ( the first ) scored 1 goal from a plethora of opportunities - Leo Fortune West, whilst Exeter, a lower mid table side, managed 3. The last two matches really were a microcosm of the season so far - the side was rich with goalscoring talent when on form, whilst the defense could be tighted than clingfilm, or leakier than a net with no string. The latter saw Endre Hansen pick up another injury, keeping the young Norwegian away from the side for a month, and also one of those that would irritate his girlfriend too. A yellow card for Lee Fitzpatrick also brought an immediate suspension for the midfielder.

January was turning out to be a very busy month indeed with no more than 4 days maximum between games, and with the replay in the FA Cup to come it wasn't going to get an easier, thus Martin took control of the Autowindscreens match with Scunthorpe whilst Ryan went off the pub with Bryan and Geoff again. There was more catching up on the other's respective professions, with Bryan considering forming a rock band and Geoff's latest girlfriend turning out to be nuttier than the previous one - an impressive achievement. In the match Hartlepool thankfully lost though a spirited performance or two had caught Martin's eye - including a first ever goal for 16 year old rookie Michael Norman - which left Ryan feeling a wee bit guilty. Paul Harsley and Alex Calvo Garcia ensured the fixture list would be slightly easier for Ryan's side however.

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With the majority of the first team having been handed a rest, Ryan decided to revert to 5-3-2 for the trip to Blackpool It had often worked away from home and a few twinkerings with the tactics seemed to work well initially as the defence held up well in the first half, as Ryan's men played their way into the game gradually. The second half was a similar affair but again it was the talismanic Leo Fortune West turning in Jerry Gill's cross just shy of the hour mark to hand the visitors two league wins on the bounce - decent form ahead of the Cup replay in midweek against Dagenham & Redbridge.

The changes that were made to the side for the match at Dagenham were made solely on fitness issues as Ryan and the team travelled in hope of securing their path to the next round. The 532 style continued to work well in the first half, stifling the the hosts midfield and limiting their options. Their frustration to break Hartlepool down allowed little chinks to appear in their defence, and the visitors capitalised shortly before the break when James Bishop volledyed in a Paul Arnison corner. The half time lead was short lived in the second half as Stafford Browne beat Martin Hollund at his near post. However, after a very open spell of chances raining like little droplets of H20, substitute Kenneth Jorgensen crashed in a half volley after a delightful chip pass from Burton O'Brien. That proved sufficient and within three days the side were back at Victoria Park for the 4th round at last, with second division side Port Vale the visitors.

A stunning first half display from the side enthralled the crowd as Paul Stephenson tucked away an early chance on 5 minutes to embolden the hosts and shake the side having a few wobbles in the league above. 15 minutes later and with the visitors still out of sorts Leo Fortune West made it 2-0 as the home side took full control to Ryan's delight, who perhaps follishly began to glance an eye on the 5th round draw and prospective opponents. Half time came and went with the scores still the same, as the fans were in dreamland. So it was no surprise that Port Vale scored twice in 10 minutes to ruin it for everyone. Another draw, another replay but this one would be alot harder, and still the club hadn't had any more than 4 days break between matches - even Ryan was tired. Travelling around all the time on a bus with no air conditioning, no leg space, and no qualified driver at the helm was not his idea of fun.


Leyton Orient 4 Hartlepool 3 (Griffiths 3,17,Christie 37, 76; Bishop 20, Jorgensen 57, 77)

Hartlepool 2 Dagenham and Redbridge 2 (Fortune West 3,51; Cobb 12,14)

Hartlepool 3 Cardiff 0 (Stephenson 37, Fortune West 54, Henderson 86 )

Scunthorpe 2 Hartlepool 1 (Harsley 65, Garcia 81; Newman 53)

Blackpool 0 Hartlepool 1 (Fortune West 58 )

Dagenham & Redbridge 1 Hartlepool 2 (Browne 53; Bishop 43, Jorgensen 75)

Hartlepool 2 Port Vale 2 (Stephenson 5, Fortune West 20; Naylor 69, Brammer 80)

8th in Division 3

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" Ok, yeah got that Ken. Don't worry I'll sort the lad out. Yep, you go enjoy that caviar extravangza - no I don't want to come - I'm allergic to expensive food - sorry."

Ryan switched off his mobile phone eventually after figuring out where the button was, before turning his attention to a 3/4 full pint glass and his companions. "Sorry about that lads, Ken's off his head. I've had another bloody player bin bid fer n' all!"

"Ha ha! Sorry Ryan... hey I said sorry stop staring! So you selling?"

"Bugger off am I selling, Geoff. It's Paul Stephenson they want. yeah 250k for a 33 year old is a lot of money but Reading can find themselves another player. I am sick of this. Are Hartlepool a shop window or something? The lads are doing ok, but all these bids are well... you know!"

"Relax mate. Drink up and wait for the half-baked pastie to arrive."

"If only it were that easy Bry. Anyway Mr. Priest/Rock Star, what do you reckon to our cup chances?"

" You did alright actually. Unlucky in the second half, but Port Vale did look a good side, but there's no reason you can't give em a decent game at their place. Plus you're on Sky Sports for this one!"

"We are? That's news to me, well hopefully that'll bring in a few quid. Ah hang on! That also means..."

"Your players are now on show to the whole country? Yep! Ahaha! Don't worry though, maybe you'll play sh*te?"

"I'm warning you Geoff! And we're not playing sh*te, I've too much pride for that."

"So when is the game then, pretty soon I imagine?"

"Yeah it is Bry. We've sold out our away allotment already. We've got the Cheltenham game tomorrow, and then the cup match is the following Tuesday or Wednesday I think..."

Indeed it was on the Wednesday but first of all there was a home tie with Cheltenham to focus on. A strong side was put out in the 532 formation, and managed to earn a hard fought victory against their resilient opponents, the work was done in the first half with goals from Kevin Henderson and the on-form Leo Fortune West, but the side had to be on their guard against complacency in the second half, with a nice and tidy defensive display earning a clean sheet for Tony Williams.

Of course it was then Port Vale and all hands on deck for the chance to face nearby Premiership side Middlesborough in the 5th round - a tie no-one wanted to miss out on. A more or less unchanged side went out with the express instructions to attack from the off, a tactic which bore fruit early on as yet again the finisher was Leo Fortune West, converting a Sam Shilton cross. The goal sparked an exciting first half with the pace of both sets of wingers ensuring defenders were kept busy, and keepers alert, but a sturdy showing ensured a 1-0 half time lead for the visitors.

With a foot seemingly already in the next round, Hartlepool stepped off the gas in the second half and immediately conceded to Ryan's intense fury, as the hosts regained their confidence, battering United's defense until John Eyre made it 2-1 to the hosts with half an hour still to play. A double substitution from Ryan seemed to work as James Bishop immediately found Leo on the edge of the area and the forward laid the ball off to Kenneth Jorgensen who restored parity merely minutes later and it was game on. Not long after that and the hosts were stunned as this time Shilton smashed home a Fortune West cross. With 15 minutes to go, Hartlepool were in front. With 14 minutes to go, they were level. Appalling defender allowed Tommy Widdrington to make it honours even, and extra time loomed.

The hosts extra bit of coaching was telling as Port Vale completely dominated the 30 minutes, thankfully without scoring though as the ever tense tie moved into a classic penalty shoot out decider.

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Ryan, Martin and the fans were having trouble containing the excitment. Nerves were jangling and legs about to fall off. Hartlepool would go first, kicking into their fans. Having forgotten to practice this situation since pre-season it was a shame Chris Plummer went first as he skied it over the bar to groans. Enjoyably though Tommy Widrington also blazed his effort high over the goal / stadium. Paul Blades and Mike Simpkins exchanged conversions before Chris Westwood missed and Marc-Bridge Wilkinson scored.

At 1-2 down with two to go, missing wasn't a serious option as Paul Stephenson calmed the team down by scoring easily into the bottom left hand corner. John Eyre then became the next player to have scored in normal time and miss in the shoot out as parity was restored going into the final round of spot kicks. For some reason Tony Williams barged his way through to take the 5th to Ryan's shock - and to his subsequent anger, the goalkeeper missed. Someone would be on the bench for the next few games, thought Ryan, though as the tension grew surrounding the potentially decisive final kick, he forgave his keeper as he sprang high and right to tip Tony Naylor's effort behind! It was becoming unbearable.

At 2-2 after 5 rounds this was probably the worst display of clinical finishing ever, but it was about to get worse as David Dunn's weak effort was saved by Mark Goodlad, returning the initiative to the hosts. This time Sagi Burton was charged with the responsibility and as he ran back, Ryan and co feared the worst. Ryan closed his eyes, and heard cheering, and groaned. Of course then he realised it was the Hartlepool end - another save from Tony! He was definitely keen on making amends! Finally Leo Fortune West found his balls, stepped up and showed the others how a spot kick should be taken, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way and piling the pressure on John Finnigan. With the fans doing their best to put him off his stride, the midfielder took his time. Then he ran, placed the non-shooting foot beside the ball and fired high. It went over the stranded Tony Williams - and also the cross bar! They'd won - and Ryan was running onto the pitch to congratulate his goalkeeper and Leo again. What a match - and the 5th round beckoned.

Now are there any better ways to follow up such an night than a home tie with Brighton at the weekend? Well yes frankly there are but there wasn't much of an option. Unsurprisingly there was the odd tired body after their adventures in midweek but it mattered little given morale was certainly high. Brighton to their credit began the first half in fine fettle taking a deserved lead through Richard Carpenter, but once the hosts began to work their way back into the match, the direction of the game noticeably changed in the second half. Adam Boyd struck the equaliser, before the added momentum saw strike partner Kevin Henderson find the winner late on - an excellent result against rivals for the play-offs especially given that Leo Fortune West was given a rest. The improvement in Chris Plummer's recent performances was another bonus.

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That all preluded the big one, the showdown with Middlesbrough. The Premiership side were sitting comfortably in 8th spot but to their credit fielded a strong side for the match, effectively wiping out any idiotic hopes for an upset, but certainly giving the home crowd full value for their money. To say it was a close game and that the hosts were even halfway close to taking a result was naive idealism at the very least. Borough were a class above, with Noel Whelan and Alen Boksic setting up a 3-0 half time advantage. Ryan made a few changes just to try and solidify the midfield, but in truth the visitors took their foot off the gas anyway, but of the 3 chances Hartlepool had in the half none could be taken as a Dean Gordon goal made it 4. The fair spirited encounter was ruined somewhat when Tony Williams lost his head, and punched the Croatian striker - an act that would leave him axed from the side for downright stupidity, before Boksic completed the act in the final minute. A heavy loss but an experience the fans enjoyed nonetheless.

20,000 quid headed Cardiff's way in the next match as Leo notched up his 30th league appearance, but considering he'd scored 15 in those games Ryan was happy to pay for it. The match was against Mansfield a side both he, Martin, Tommy and Keith all knew were a better side and so dangerous on the attack but typically they were one of the sides Ken loved to beat. His fury at the resulting 2-1 loss ( fairly comprehensive in truth ) was heard throughout the training grounds. Only Paul Stephenson was allowed any of the decent food at lunch in training on the Monday for at least scoring a goal. The others were on the mass produced Shepherd's Pie, including Ryan - who was rather annoyed with that. Ken's rambling at signing Chris Greenacre both disturbed and half pleased Ryan. There was a non promotion release clause in his contract ( like Leo's ) so there was extra incentive to ensure Mansfield didn't go up.

Next on Ryan's agenda was dealing with a request for Tony Williams. This time he answered the call politely enough from Division 1's second but 1 worst side, and genuinely considered selling - until the bid was sent through - 45k. Not enough by a mile. Ryan though asked if there were any legitimately talented players who could do a good job at division 3 standard - and he emphasised the quality aspect, to ensure he wasn't offered a bunch of spotty teenagers.

As it happened Brian Laws seemed keen on offloading Alan Miller, 30 year old former Blackburn and West Brom player. Ryan knew the guy fairly well and thought it might be worth giving it a go - so he suggested it to Brian, and they both agreed they'd let the players decide. Tony, for all his ability had p*ssed off Ryan no end with his dismissal against Borough - so he was definitely up for sale, and young Chris Porter wasn't the worst of back ups for now.

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Needing a break from the action awhile, Martin took charge of the Barnet away game, a spirited affair that ended up goalless, whilst Ryan flew to Paris for a couple of days. He took in the sights on offer, and on returning to his hotel, accidentally bumped into a fellow guest.

" Oh I'm sorr - er Je regrette Madame...er desole!"

"Vous etez anglais?"

"Er, Oui! oui I am. "

"Haha! So am I! Funnily enough I'm on a break here too - as I assume you are?"

" Oh. Right, ok. Yes that's true. Should have thought. I'm sorry I knocked into - not watching my step again."

" Oh please, don't be silly Mr - ?"

"Duff, Ryan Duff. And you?"

"Lugosi. Bella Lugosi! No not really. Just my zany sense of humour, Clara Danes is me, from Derbyshire, and yourself?"

" Oh I'm up at Hartlepool at the moment - I work in football. Listen - not that I mean to seem presumptuous but I arrived here on my own - I don't know about you, but I'd enjoy the company... would you like a drink tonight or have you plans?"

" Drinks would be fantastic, I'm all alone too. Say meet here at 8:30?"

"That'll do me grand. See you then. " And Ryan watched the 5"7 blonde bombshell turn on her 3 inch heels and walk majestically towards the lift - a sexier walk he had never seen, and the 34 year old man, who'd been single for the past two years couldn't stop smiling. What a day.

On the final day of February, Ryan returned a little later than planned, but he bore the face of a man not scarred by the pressures of lower league football management and of one who was carefree. It disturbed Martin, Geoff and Bryan but they didn't ask. There was a game that evening away to Rochdale and a good performance was needed to end thge mini winless run and get back into the play off spots. Instead they lost 2-1, fading very quickly after Tony Lormor had score a rare goal in the first half and the club were struggling to keep up the pace with the rest of the play-off pack.


Hartlepool 2 Cheltenham 0 (Kevin Henderson 20, Fortune West 34)

Port Vale 3 Hartlepool 3 (Walsh 47, Eyre 56, Widdrington 80; Fortune West 9, Jorgensen 58, Shilton 79)

Hartlepool 2 Brighton 1 (Boyd 69, Henderson 87; Carpenter 22)

Hartlepool 0 Middlesborough 5 (Whelan 28,39; Boksic 35,90, Gordon 72)

Hartlepool 1 Mansfield 2 (Stephenson 77, Greenacre 22,45)

Barnet 0 Hartlepool 0

Rochdale 2 Hartlepool 1 (Oakes 26, 42; Lormor 11)

10th in Division 3

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March 2001

" Oh come on Ryan, what did happen in Paris? You've been completely different since you got back, happy and that!"

" Well, I bumped into this woman see, another Brit, and we met for drinks, then met again for dinner, then I stayed on again for another dinner... and stuff. Anyway, none of your business. She's a Derbyshire lass, and you may see her fairly soon I don't know what the score is. She may have simply been looking for a holiday fling, I can't say, though we are keeping in touch."

"But it's not a fling for you is it?"

"No Geoff it's not - but I'm not getting my hopes up - and I have to apologise to the lads at the club - I haven't been myself lately, which is unprofessional of me."

"Balls to that Ryan, you need to unwind, you are allowed a personal life you know! It's not like you're a Jack Bauer CTU style agent where it might not be the smartest move. So you lost at Rochdale, you'll get it sorted it, and I've got twenty quid on you reaching the play-offs anyway."

"Only twenty Bry? Why not winning the play-offs? Yes I think we can, though I'm going to look for a few more players. Dunny's loan move has ended so we don't have him until the summer, but it does mean it frees up a loan option. I need to have a look around, maybe another keeper I'm not sure. Tony's transfer to Wolves fell through as Alan Miller didn't want to join us. To tell the truth Tony's going to have to work hard to get back into the side, I don't tolerate time wasters."

"What areas though, defence?"

"Maybe Geoff, we'll have to see - some of the lads are good but getting old, whilst the youngsters are not great just yet - plus they don't even act like proper footballers all the time. All these bloomin' parties, not in my day."

" Erm, Ryan? You're 34 and you were still getting drunk up until about 5 years ago. "

"That's different, I'm not an aspiring footballer like some of those. And some of those foreigners too, dammit - by heck they're not very English!"

" Um... you might want to read that last sentence back to yourself Ry."

"Oh sod off Geoff. You know what I mean. Silky skills but no hard graft. Tommy Tennebo - his contracts up at end of season. A few clubs have already offered for him. Shall I offer an extension? I don't know. Squad value - yeah he gives us that, but he's not great."

"What about the others then? You sold Tim."

"Haha that was fantastic, can't believe Kidderminster fell for that! Dear lord that makes me laugh. Ok, Endre Hansen is doing ok at the moment, and so's Kenneth - but he's Danish they've got that solid Viking spirit about them haven't they? They're not bad them lot."

" Right, well so who's up next for you then?"

"Halifax at home. I don't think we'll beat them but we'll give it a go - we need points."

"Well good luck anyway. Another pint?"

So it was that the Halifax match arrived. With the exception of Sam Shilton who was injured the side was generally the strongest available to hand, and it was the defenders who were by far the busiest in the first half as the struggling visitors desperation showed through but there was fortunately no score. In the second half there seemed to be more of the same until the last quarter when finally the hosts decided to start playing football in the Halifax penalty area - a cunning ploy that actually brought goals. Leo Fortune West bagged his 20th of the season, whilst Jerry Gill made a roving run to the far post to lash in an Ian Clark cross and seal 3 very undeserved points.

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Afterwards Ryan looked into extending a loan spell for Burton O'Brien before turning his attention elsewhere. The side had only a few days to go before another uninviting trip down to Scunthorpe, but Ryan found out that deciding to go this time proved a very fruitful journey as Hartlepool came away with a splendid 5-3 away win. The spectacle began in the third minute with the club's leading scorer Leo Fortune West ending a superbly crafted passing move that began with Jerry Gill. The lead was doubled 15 minutes later, thanks to a long solo run from Ian Clark, before the hosts finally began to play and reduced the arrears a few minutes later. However, the visitors responded swiftly, with teenager Adam Boyd stroking home a penalty after Gill had been felled in the area.

The convincing lead was bashed to pieces either side of half time as a complete lack of concentration brought the scores level as momentarily the initiative was with Scunthorpe. A substitute or three later and Hartlepool and regained the lead - with Paul Stephenson the quickest to react to a loose ball in the area. With the match on a knife edge for much of the match thereafter, it was a relief to see Chris Westwood finally secure the victory in the dying moments of the game.

An attacking display of the previous game, coupled with the defensive performance of the Halifax match would be essential for the match with Lincoln that followed. The visitors were well on top of the table and fairly certain for automatic promotion if not the title. Two suspensions and two injuries only made for a very easy squad selection. In front of a good crowd the home side did indeed put in a fiesty performance, as Ryan began to revel in his side's newfound consistency - a third win on the bounce - this was easily the most impressive even if the 3-2 scoreline suggest the defence could have performed better. A tough defensive battle early on provided the confidence and the stability for the players to push on in search of a goal and on 58 minutes Tony Lormor scored from a Fitzpatrick chip.

Though the side immediately conceded a goal, Ryan saw a bit of character in his side as swiftly afterwards the lead was restored through Lee Fitzpatrick and this steadied the boat a little. Lincoln were of course always dangerous, and when they equalised for a second time on 77 minutes Ryan would have settled for a draw, but impressively there was still more fight left in the tank, and Paul Stephenson, one of the side's top players won the match late on.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">


English Third Division - Tuesday 20th March 2001



2000/1 Table


Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won Drn Lst For Ag Pts


1st Lincoln 37 13 3 2 41 15 7 7 5 39 29 70

2nd Mansfield 37 13 2 4 43 24 9 1 8 33 28 69

3rd Chesterfield 36 11 5 1 33 14 8 6 5 30 22 68


4th Kidderminster 37 12 3 4 33 22 8 3 7 26 23 66

5th Hartlepool 37 12 2 5 32 18 7 3 8 29 29 62

6th Darlington 37 10 5 3 24 13 7 5 7 30 26 61

7th Rochdale 37 12 2 5 32 20 6 5 7 19 19 61


8th Hull 37 10 2 6 37 24 7 6 6 19 20 59

9th Plymouth 37 11 6 1 33 20 5 4 10 35 43 58

10th Brighton 37 8 8 3 29 26 7 4 7 24 23 57

11th Carlisle 37 9 1 9 20 24 7 6 5 19 17 55

12th Orient 36 8 4 7 32 27 6 6 5 22 26 52

13th Southend 37 7 6 4 24 25 5 9 6 22 24 51

14th York 37 7 4 7 26 26 6 5 8 27 31 48

15th Scunthorpe 37 7 7 5 28 26 3 7 8 17 24 44

16th Barnet 37 7 9 3 23 18 4 2 12 18 30 44

17th Cardiff 37 7 5 6 32 26 4 5 10 21 31 43

18th Torquay 37 7 5 6 30 26 4 2 13 23 41 40

19th Cheltenham 37 9 5 5 33 31 1 5 12 16 36 40

20th Blackpool 37 8 3 7 23 20 4 1 14 15 36 40

21st Exeter 37 9 4 6 32 32 1 4 13 21 44 38

22nd Macclesfield 37 3 7 8 24 27 5 5 9 29 31 36

23rd Halifax 37 6 5 9 26 29 3 3 11 15 33 35


24th Shrewsbury 37 4 6 8 15 25 0 5 14 9 39 23


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What followed was an astonishing 10 day break - Ryan hadn't seen anything like it before, what with the league's usual propensity for trying to kill all the players with an unforgiving schedule - so Ryan took all the lads out on club golfing day to maintain high spirits - their recent hard work certainly merited it. The only down side was Kevin's refusal to sign an extension to his rapidly expiring contract. The cheeky sod promised to do so if he lost the golfing competition, but of course he won it by a landslide. Ryan then offered him a better deal yet again, only with a very small minimum fee clause. There was no point losing him for nothing in the summer when a fee, no matter how nominal could be gained instead.

Upon returning to the training ground in preparation for the club's tough away tie at high flying Chesterfield , Martin didn't have great news for Ryan concerning Adam Boyd.

"The kid was out boozing last night on the town, and he only went and got himself arrested for drunk and disorderly didn't he?"

"You have got to be kidding me! Where was he and who was he with? More importantly what the f*ck did that little sod get up?"

"He was at a friend's 19th birthday - a house party not 20 minutes from here - and having consumed a variety of assorted beverages he and friends of his reportedly went outside jumping on neighbours cars, playing noise really loudly, shouting, and breaking windows. They even killed some kids cat."

"F*cking hell. Right, bring the ruffian in here, and close the door behind you!"


" You stupid, little arsehole! What in god's boll*cks did you think you were doing!"

"Sorry boss, it was an accident."

"Accident my f*cking arse! You killed a cat and caused what a few thousand pounds worth of damage?"

"Erm... yeah boss, sorry boss."

"Too late for that now isn't you complete moron! Well listen here, and listen close. I DO NOT TOLERATE party going, mambie pambies who's ego's bigger than their body. Consider this your one and only warning. You're young, and you have talent - I don't want to see that wasted - but one more step out of line and don't even bother turning up training again - you understand?!"

"Yes boss, sorry boss, won't happen again boss!"

"Right, I don't know whats going to happen with this court case, but whatever happens you're going to be in trouble - and you'll have to do a fair amount of community service at the very minimum. You do whatever you can to be Mr. Nice from now on - at least they might show some clemency later when you're found guilty!"

"Ok boss, sorry. Will do sir."

"Good, you can go now. Oh and Adam? I don't need to tell you that until I see some of this community action spirit, you're playing reserve football now ok? There's a good lad."

With that, Ryan left his office and began to rejoin the afternoon training session, the final warm up before the match on Saturday.

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Chesterfield had been on some good form earlier in the season but just recently there had been signs of choking, as Ryan and the side looked to capitalise at Saltergate. What transpired was a match decided by stout defending and luck. The hosts were the more buoyant of the teams early on, but being restricted to long range shots that sailed past each and every part of the goal, Martin Hollund was able to watch on comfortably, the one chance the hosts did have of breaking through the back line was wasted by poor finishing, an unusual trait for the league's 3rd highest goalscorers. It took time for Hartlepool to play their way into contention, but Ryan had patience - and this was rewarded by the only shot on target in the first half hitting the net, as the ever improving Endre Hansen slid in a loose ball in the 45th minute.

That timely boost, spurred the visitors on whilst causing the hosts to panic somewhat - as their continual inability to fire the ball anywhere near the target carried with it a great deal of frustration - and on 70 minutes the match was put out of their reach as the Man of the Match Chris Plummer despatched a penalty kick won by Leo. A 4th win on the trot, and Ryan's men seemed to be finding their stride at the perfect time in the season, now equidistant more or less between 3rd and 8th. The question now - was which way would they go?

Thereafter, there was a player heading out and one coming back as Burton O Brien's loan was extended, and the Norwegian midfielder Tommy Tennebo unsurprisingly deciding to move on having agreed a bosman deal with fellow play off candidates Rochdale and so Ryan dumped the player into the reserves. March continued to bring good news though as Kevin Henderson eventually did sign a new three-year deal to the relief of other members of the coaching staff and the players.

Though the striker hadn't scored as many as some would have hoped - his general all round play was still an asset to the side, and that came on the eve of another tough match, this time hosting Kidderminster , the current incumbent's of the third spot. Last time around it had finished 0-3 in favour of Ryan's men, but as is the way with Mr. Sod, and his insane sense of justice, when a team suddenly starts picking up form and becoming the favourites to win matches, is when they invariably start to falter.

Even Sam Shilton was back from injury for this one, as Ryan really began to fear the worst - their was only so much good news a side could ever be alloted in just one month and after 4 minutes Wayne Sutton had indeed given the visitors the lead. But fortunately this was about the time Leo realised he hadn't scored in two games, as the striker responded immedately, levelling the ties and then shooting Hartlepool into the lead on 28 minutes this time from an Endre Hansen cross. The home fans were loving the show whilst Ryan seemed a little stunned, though of course Kidderminster stepped up a gear in the second half and were easily the better side - but they still trailed for long spells thanks to Chris Plummer and Martin Hollund, but then it came as Ryan thought it might. On came the "useless" Tim Sperrevik against his old club and the jammy, jammy bastard equalised with 5 minutes to go off his left shin after a Dylan Kerr drive. Though it was credited to the latter, Ryan knew Tim would claim it. The git.

Still a point is not one to be sniffed at and Ryan was still happy - a draw against the 3rd placed side was still good, and 13 points from 15 all boosted Hartlepool's play-off chances. There was even time that night to see England defeat Finland in their World Cup qualifying group. No matter what he thought of Slippery Sven, Ryan would always support England till the end. Another week off was used to rest legs and focus minds on the final few games of the season - the so called "finishing straight".

On the last day of the month, with Bolton and Tranmere battling it out in the final of the much derided League Cup Final, Ryan's men were off to Macclesfield a side sitting second bottom of the league. They had no fear of relegation though as Shrewsbury were flipping awful but Ryan had always had problems trying to focus his players minds when it came to playing struggling sides, it was a mental issue and this was very definitely a potential party pooper for March. Changes were made to the starting line up - but again it proved worthless as the home side infuriatingly dominated from start to finish, as Ryan was pulling his hair out on the side.

As he prayed the dim-witted fools would survive goalless until half time, Garry Brady scored to hand the hosts the lead their pressure merited, and in the second half it got worse - as the visitors couldn't get a grip on the match whatsoever. Once Paul Blades saw red for a late challenge it was game over. Richard Barker and Alex Dyer completed the rout, as a woeful Hartlepool side got what they deserved.


Hartlepool 2 Halifax 0 (Fortune West 74, Gill 88)

Scunthorpe 3 Hartlepool 5( Robinson 25, Stamp 42, Calvo Garcia 49; Fortune West 3, Clark 19, Boyd pen 30 Stephenson 64, Westwood 88)

Hartlepool 3 Lincoln 2 (Lormor 58, Fitzpatrick 62, Stephenson 82; Battersey 59, Ramsay 77)

Chesterfield 0 Hartlepool 2 (Hansen 45, Plummer pen 70)

Hartlepool 2 Kidderminster 2 (Fortune West 6,28; Sutton 4, Kerr 86)

Mcclesfield 3 Hartlepool 0 (Brady 45, Barker 77, Dyer 90)

7th in Division 3

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April / May 2001

The penultimate month of the season did at least bring with it some good news, as Ryan himself was awarded the Manager of the Month Award, something the fans and Ken were keen to congratulate him on, and Martin and Ryan did at least take the positives from the loss at Macclesfield - there'd be no more bloody complacency in the last 6 games, with the side only 2 points off from 8th spot. Ahead of the first match of April with Darlington - it was time for a pub meal with Geoff and Bryan again.

" Hey what the hell happened at Macclesfield there man? You seemd t' fall part pretty easy there!"

"Ah Geoff it's their minds see. They've got results against the good sides, so when the play a bad side they can't be bothered to turn up see - it's so stupid, arrogant and idiotic I wish there was more I could to do punish them, aside from a slap on the wrist. I mean how can you go into a game thinking you've already won? It's pathetic. I'll be making some changes in the summer that's for sure!"

"Well if you go up this year I figure that'll be a necessity won't it?"

"Yep. However there's a long way to go before we get there - you could be an optimist and say we're only 5 points behind the top 3 slots, or a pessimist and say we're only 2 points clear. All I can say is that we have to focus on our results and then the rest will take care of itself. There's 6 tough games left, and I want 18 points from them. I think we'll get about 10-12 - whether that'd be enough I couldn't say."

"Well you've got a fit army at the moment, no real injuries anyway - and the transfer window's closed so no more rumours about your players?"

"You're having a laugh Geoff! No more rumours? Clearly you haven't got the mind of a journalist - and thank f*ck for that mind - see they'll print anything to sell papers - if they hear any piece of gossip no matter how mundane they'll blow it up all out of proportion just to suck in some sad bastard into buying their rag, now it's your round I think - and just a half for me, I got work to do later on.

"Right then Bry, how's the rock band coming along?"


It was football soon enough again and 6th placed Darlington were the visitors - it was a big game and though the result probably wouldn't cost either side a play-off place alone, a win would be a big boost to ensuring they finished their at the end of the season. An almost full house were therefore treated to one of the most one sided halves you are ever likely to see as Darlington obliterated an absolutely diabolical Hartlepool side to smithereens - it was only 2-0 at the interval but the visitors were made to look like galacticos by a pathetically woeful absymally poor home side.

Ryan was banned from taking the teamtalk at half time, what with the menacing 6 inch blade in his right hand, but there was a slight improvement in the second half as Hartlepool did manage to construct a few passes together. Towards the end of the half - shock horror- they even found time to of them to create a few goalscoring chances too - which was nice. They didn't go in though.

"You useless bastards!!!! What on earth was that! You call yourselves footballers? - You lot will be bloody lucky if you're anywhere near this club come next August - that was absolutely pathetic! Why have you stopped playing? First of all you were arrogant enough to think you could just turn up at Macclesfield - and you deservedly got battered - and now this is how you repay the thronging crowds for the support throughout the season? You're a f*cking disgrace! That's what you are! A weeks wages the lot of you - going to the community - at least this club will be doing something right, and if any of you lads know what's best for you, you'll get the hell out of my sight right now and be back in training first thing tomorrow morning - cross country running. 8.00 am sharp. Now p*ss off!"

The dressing room had never cleared itself so fast as a furious Ryan tried to cope with his ever mounting rage. Why were they playing so poorly? It wasn't him was it? These tactics had worked before! Darn it was a pain, but he'd have to recover swiftly. They had dropped out of the play-off races and that positive momentum in March had managed to vanish in a single moment. Paul Arnison had signed a 3 year deal before the game which was something - that lad did put in the effort- and he hadn't been one of the players subject to the wrath of the Duffer earlier, which offered some hope.

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Next up was a trip to Cardiff a side near the foot of the table, but they didn't show it as they outfought, outplayed and outclassed another inept Hartlepool side. Sam Shilton was responsible for all three of their goals, and Ryan wondered how on earth that cheeky sh*te could want a move to a bigger club - as far as he knew there weren't many big clubs in the Rymans League. Lee Fitzpatrick had briefly offered hope at the end of the first half but in reality Cardiff's lead was never seriously threatened as Ryan's promotion campaign was unravelling before his eyes.

Sitting in his office, with the same depressed look of resigning himself to failure this season, the phone rang and suddenly there was joy in his life again.

"Hey there, Ry! What you been doing? I haven't heard much from you in a while?"

"Clara!" Ah thank God! I've needed a sane voice around here! How are you? I'm sorry I haven't called recently - I've been under so much pressure, I I I -"

"Relax sweetie. I know - remember I do follow football you know! It's not all too good but it'll get better. You need not to be so stressed with the lads right now... I think it's time I popped up for a little visit..."

"Er yeah! That'd be great! You can come up whenever you like! Listen I'll give you directions -"

"Ssh, don't worry pet. I know how to get there---"

"You do, oh well that's great - got a time in mind?"

"How about... right now!"


A loud knock on the door distracted Ryan further.

" I said, how about now?"

Another knock.

" Erm ok sure, but hang on a minute there's someone at the door - I just have to answer it! Ok?"

There's some laughter on the other end of the line. "Ok Ryan, you do that - you go open that large blue and green door!"

"How do you know... oh"

With the phone in his hand, Ryan had opened the door - and there she was. And she was beautiful, her hair flowing in the slight breeze, sweeping across her face, caressing her ears. The eyes so full of warmth, the figure so startling. Never had a denim top and bottom looked so good, let alone decent, on any person, but for her, and only her, it was sublime. The part opened jacket revealed a somewhat transparent silk undergarment. As she, closed the door, she held her arms out for a hug, that took Ryan a brief moment to awaken from his stunned expression and accept. She was here again. Fantastic. His worries had momentarily vanished as he clung onto her tightly, a little too tightly perhaps.

"What on earth are you doing here?"

"Surprising you. What does it look like?" I took a few days off from work to visit you. That's not a problem is it?"

"Hell no! I mean no it's no problem at all. Please, er, a coffee, tea?"

"No thanks I had one before I arrived, but if you've got any chairs that might be quite nice?"

"Er what flavour's tha - oh right. woops. yeah there's one next to the desk over there."

"So then, you need a bit of a change in the wind round here then don't we?"

"Yeah, but can't we forget about the football right now?"

"I wasn't talking about football..."


"You and me, haven't been in the same company for too long now right?"


"Hence the change in the wind."

"Ok. I understand. I think."

"Ryan, just shut up and come over here." And the light went out.

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That was on the Sunday. On the Monday hosted Hull in what was really a must win game to get the faltering play-off push back on track. With Clara at his side, Ryan instructed his side to simply relax and not worry about any outside pressures if they could help it - and strangely it seemed to work - as the hosts were the better side for the majority of the match, chances came and went before Chris Plummer did score shortly before half time lashing home a rebound. At 1-0 confidence was back with the side and Ryan was relieved. The second 45 was similar though without the goal, as Hartlepool ended the losing spell and with 3 games remaining, they were just inside in the top 7.

"Cheers love, that was fantastic."

"It wasn't me, it was you, just give yourself some belief - and be happy, don't worry!"

"I hate that song. I have belief, I just wish the players did, anyway Plymouth are the next challenge - they're directly below us and we're off to their place."

"You'll be fine. Trust me - anyway - I do have to go now, can't afford to get sacked. Come down and visit at the seasons end - I'll be waiting."

She left with a quick kiss, a turn and headed out the door. Ryan returned to his desk and smiled. What a refreshing break. He was lucky to have someone like her, and though he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was exactly, but he did feel as though perhaps the side would go up this year, well fingers crossed anyway.

The Plymouth match brought out both the best and the worst of Ryan's side in a 3-3 draw. The result, Ryan would have taken before the match but not after an hour's play with his team having brilliant set up a 3-1 led. Rugged defending had once again been required, and with Kevin Henderson, Paul Stephenson and Lee Fitzpatrick all scoring, hopes were high of a fantastic victory, but with 25 minutes to go the team let their guard slip - the hosts scored twice in two minutes and suddenly the direction of the game changed with Plymouth very much on top for the rest of the game.

Still, there were positives - Adam Boyd made a return to the side after spending a few hours each week helping the elderly, and Tony Williams was superb in his return to the side and he had been forgiven somewhat for his sending off earlier. He wasn't at fault for the goals though - they were simply examples of good finishing capitalising on error-strewn passes in midfield, Kenneth Jorgensen not exactly pressing his claim for a regular berth too well on that afternoon's showing.

Soon after there was interesting news from Pride Park - Jim Smith had quit the reigns at Derby County. Ryan's mind was thinking the opportunity to take over at Premiership ( albeit about to be relegated ) club was a good one - and of course he'd move so much closer to Clara. Yet his loyalty to Hartlepool was important to him - and very sadly this would simply be a case of right job, definitely wrong time. The words "bugger" left his lips quite regularly when that news got out. Perhaps he was also forgetting the possibility of a random third division manager getting the offer in the first place, but it was still disappointing.

With their destiny still in their hands though, Hartlepool hosted Southend in the last home league fixture of the campaign knowing that if results went their way a play off place could actually be secured today. It would of course be exceptionally tough - the visitors were 10th in the league but only 4 points behind Ryan's side - they technically still had a chance, and it was therefore annoying to lose both Paul Stephenson and Tony Williams to injury before kick off - for them, their season was over now. Unsurprisingly the match proved a tough encounter, with the visitors extra bit of desire coming on strong in the first half. Leo Fortune West though seemed to turn the tide when he scored his 20th league goal of the season half way through, but an agonising mistake from Paul Blades allowed the visitors back in on the stroke of half time. The second half saw a tight match with chances at a premium, and though Ryan thought his side has scored a winner late on, the linesman decided not so and Kevin Henderson was left very annoyed. A point though still wasn't a disaster as results elsewhere kept Hartlepool in 7th spot, though still just 2 points ahead of Plymouth, Carlisle and York. With Lincoln and Chesterfield secure of their promotion, the focus was now very much who would play whom in the play-offs.

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Now, of course whilst it may have been easy on paper to say Ryan's job was easy - their last match was away at long-since relegated Shrewsbury but several experiences over the season had taught otherwise - leaving Ryan still fretting. Martin worked on the defence, Ryan the attack. It was imperative a win was gained - as though their goal difference was better than the three chasers, it was only marginal and a big win for one of those sides could swing it in their favour should Hartlepool only draw. Burton O'Brien returned to Blackburn before the game as his agreement stated and Ryan's already smallish squad suffered another blow.

With the tension filling the Gay Meadow air, Ryan could only pray - most of the fans there were Hartlepool fans - what with Shrewsbury only having pride to play for now. Radios were almost 10 a penny amongst the crowd as every goal around the country would be studied intently. 3 minutes in and the ball had beaten Martin Hollund - Chris Freestone had scored. Ryan sighed - than thanked the high heavens when he saw the linesman's flag - a let off. After a very nervy start, his side began to look a little more composed. On 28 minutes Kevin Henderson forced a corner. Lee Fitzpatrick took it - and James Bishop scored and this one did count! It was 1-0 and the sense of relief around the ground was very noticeable. Then news came in that both Plymouth and York were ahead to dampen celebrations a little. There could be no letting up yet - but 2 minutes later and Stephen Morgan had hearts in mouths as he too thought he had scored! But no - the very friendly linesman had ruled it out for offside and Ryan wondered if any of his colleagues had bribed the fellow. He hoped not - he wanted an honest victory. As the match entered stoppage time Lee Fotzpatrick's corner was tipped over by Tm Hart. The same player swung the ball in - and there HE was. Leo Fortune West scoring his 25th and possibly one of his most important goals yet. Ryan allowed himself a smile. They were firmly in the driving seat - and to lose it from here would be a disaster. Plymouth and Carlisle were tying now, York still the other winners.

Time for a calm second half. Ryan couldn't sit still as it began - Jamie Tolley crashing a ball against the upright as the home side seemed intent on destroying the party. Plymouth and Carlisle then heated things up by taking their leads back, and adding to them whilst York added to their lead. Just shy of the hour mark and Shrewsbury, the poor sods had yet another goal disallowed - this time for a foul on Martin Hollund who had actually just lost his footing in the muddy turf - but their luck was out and that was when Ryan and co knew they'd secured their places. The hosts didn't seriously threaten the lead any further - and now all Ryan and Martin had to do would be inspire their side for 2 and hopefully 3 more games.


Hartlepool 0 Darlington 2(Nogan 3, Reed 29)

Cardiff 3 Hartlepool 1 (Nugent 42, Bowen 54, Greene 82; Fitzpatrick 44)

Hartlepool 1 Hull City 0 (Plummer 35)

Plymouth 3 Hartlepool 3(Phillips 8, Barlow 65,70; Henderson 13, Stephenson 45, Fitzpatrick 57

Hartlepool 1 Southend 1( Fortune West 19; Midgeley 44)

Shrewsbury 0 Hartlepool 2 (Bishop 27, Fortune West 45)

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">


English Third Division - Sunday 6th May 2001



2000/1 Table


Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won Drn Lst For Ag Pts


1st C Lincoln 46 15 5 3 51 20 10 8 5 49 33 88

2nd P Chesterfield 46 13 6 4 40 23 12 6 5 39 25 87

3rd P Darlington 46 13 6 4 31 15 11 5 7 41 29 83


4th Pl Mansfield 46 15 2 6 52 30 10 3 10 43 39 80

5th Pl Rochdale 46 14 2 7 37 26 9 7 7 24 20 78

6th Pl Hartlepool 46 13 4 6 36 23 9 4 10 37 38 74

7th Pl Kidderminster 46 13 4 6 36 29 8 6 9 30 35 73


8th Plymouth 46 14 7 2 48 31 6 5 12 42 51 72

9th York 46 12 4 7 36 28 9 5 9 32 37 72

10th Southend 46 12 6 5 36 31 6 10 7 26 27 70

11th Carlisle 46 11 3 9 29 28 9 6 8 24 24 69

12th Brighton 46 9 9 5 34 34 9 5 9 33 31 68

13th Hull 46 11 3 9 41 30 7 7 9 20 25 64

14th Orient 46 8 5 10 34 34 9 7 7 31 35 63

15th Scunthorpe 46 9 7 7 35 33 5 10 8 27 30 59

16th Cardiff 46 11 6 6 42 30 4 5 14 25 39 56

17th Macclesfield 46 6 9 8 35 33 7 6 10 33 35 54

18th Cheltenham 46 11 5 7 38 37 2 6 15 19 43 50

19th Barnet 46 8 10 5 28 23 4 3 16 21 41 49

20th Torquay 46 8 7 8 35 32 5 3 15 29 50 49

21st Blackpool 46 9 5 9 26 26 5 2 16 17 40 49

22nd Halifax 46 8 5 10 32 32 5 3 15 21 41 47

23rd Exeter 46 11 5 7 38 36 1 5 17 24 54 46


24th R Shrewsbury 46 4 7 12 18 33 0 5 18 10 46 24


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The Play Off Scene

The last day win over Shrewsbury had actually propelled Hartlepool into 6th which in Ryan's eyes was a definite blessing. They were away to Rochdale in the first leg - and they would have been at Mansfield - a side he detested playing against had Kidderminster won their match. The two meetings showed this to be a very even contest - with Hartlepool having won the home match 1-0 and lost the match at Rochdale 2-1 in the league, so it was very difficult to predict which way this one would turn out. With just a week to prepare everyone was getting rathe excited. Clara rang to offer her congratulations, "told-you-so" rubbish that women always come up with, before Ryan joined his faithful mates down the local for a swift one.

" Wahey! Cheers to reaching the play-offs mate! Well done!"

"Thanks Bry, well we're not done yet eh? I think we can do it now. Just need belief - that's what Clara said."

"Aye she did. Good lass that there, you lucky swine."

"Indeed she is Geoff. So is there anything you're seeing that you think I might be missing?"

"She has a pert arse?"

"The football Bryan! The football!"

"Ha ha, oh right. Well not particularly. Rochdale will be a tough lot - even if it is a much better draw than Mansfield. Attack being the best form of defence has worked for you a fair bit during the season - that Chris Westwood's back now isn't he?"

"Yeah he got over his injury woes now so we can drop the oldies. I think that's the way I'll go to be honest. 5-3-2 first leg, 41212 for the second assuming we don't make a pigs ear of the first. All I want from Spotland is at least a goal,and at least a draw. Not unreasonable I think - though I know we'll have to be on top form and hopefully the lads will actually be focussing hard on winning, and not getting down the bookies making any presumptions."

"They did that?!" Yeah, a couple did for the Cardiff match. Tw*ts. There'll be none of that nonsense with me about that's for sure."

"You thought of summer plans yet then for the club Geoff?"

Nah, not particularly. I'll send packing anyone who's not worth it - but it's difficult until I know what league we're going to be in. I know the chairman is just delighted we're in the play-offs, and most of the fans seemed pleased enough with that but we should set our sights high"

"Ah fair enough."

"So Bry, I hear you're actually releasing single now?!"


It didn't take long for the big day to arrive and the trip to Spotland. Tony Williams and Paul were still both out, and probably for the play-off final too should the side make it that far. Therefore an unchanged side from the Shrewsbury match took to the field with hopes of bringing back a useful result to Victoria Park. Rochdale certainly made the better start though and confident defending and goalkeeping was required. However disaster struck on 26 minutes when Scott Oakes was sent free into the area. He tried to go around Hollund, but the referee saw a trip, sent off Hollund and awarded a penalty.

Jerry Gill was the unfortunate man to don the gloves between the sticks as Ryan feared the worst - the dream suddenly seemed more unrealistic by the second. David Flitcroft converted and the hosts wer in full charge now with a man advantage and the momentum. It was lucky therefore that only 5 minutes later on a counter attack Paul Arnison levelled the scores when he picked up a free ball and fired in. Hope restored again., With only 10 minutes to go before half time, Ryan sensed a chance to calm the chaos and settle the side- but two goals from Scott Oakes and Tony Ellis soon put paid to that, and an igonominous exit from the play-offs - barring a remarkeable home leg seemed inevitable. In the second half Richard Uburd was sent off for the hosts, which at least disrupted their rythym, preventing any further damage, but even so it would now be an uphill struggle.

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Now the situation required serious thought. Martin Hollund was available for the second leg which was all Ryan could focus on right now - how to turn around the 3-1. Clinical penetration was essential, whilst leaving too many gaps that could be exploited. Kidderminster's 1-1 draw at Mansfield offered renewed hope too as Kiddy were certainly the more beatable opponents should they make the final. What the players needed was motivation - what they got was Clara Danes giving them a pep talk for the match. Whether it worked or simply got them aroused, the players still left their changing rooms with smiles on their faces full of optimism - and Ryan wondered how she did it.

The visitors with their cushioned lead in place started the faster side, with confidence brimming they pushed back Hartlepool for the first 20 or so minutes as it was all Ryan's men could do to restrict them to tame long range shots. After about the 4th or 5th miss though, Rochdale began to sit back, and the home side were given more freedom to play their own game - and this worked well as in the 28th minute hope was restored through a Lee Fitzpatrick goal and now the side were only 1 more away from levelling the tie on aggregate.

Pressure came thick and fast, with little success. In the second half, Rochdale upped the ante, with their attacking play proving a little too much for the tired defence at times and Martin Hollund had barely a moment's rest. Changes were made, and fresh legs were brought on as Ryan's men desperately sought that elusive second goal. With 6 minutes remaining, a Lee Fitzpatrick corner was knocked back to Leo Fortune West - the striker struck it well - but it hit the crossbar and flew into the crowd - and that was that. The final whistle soon arrived, consigning Hartlepool to another season of division 3 football.

"Oh come on Ryan, you gave it your best shot - hell it was always going to be difficult after that first leg, and look Rochdale are a decent side, they've beaten Kiddy in the final so yo don't have to worry about them anymore!"

"Lads, I know you mean well, but I'm just not in the mood. I'm a winner - not a loser - that loss hurt, and as much as my players have put in some right shoddy performances this year, I still feel as though I've let the fans down."

"Oh shut up ya daft idiot. The fans still love you, so do the board - it was a gut wrencher to lose but you'll learn - you'll be a better man for it."

"I know that! Stop patronising me for f*cks sake! There's work to do I know but I'm having a break - I'[m going to Derbyshire for a few weeks to take my mind off things. But I'll be back soon - players to be shipped out, players to find and come in. Now give me another drink, and not a pint - a double whisky an ice please."

The season had ended then with extreme dissapointment at the club's failure not to go up, but hopes were high of more luck the following season. With new players the club certainly would stand a decent shout.


Rochdale 3 Hartlepool 1 (Flitcroft pen 26, Oakes 36, Ellis 39; Arnison 30)

Hartlepool 1 Rochdale 0 (Fitzpatrick 22)

End of 2000-2001 Season

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">


2000/1 Senior Club Stats


No Name Apps Gls Con Pens Asts Yel Red MoM Av R


2 Arnison, Paul 32 (9) 2 0 0 1 0 0 1 6.73

30 Barker, Rory 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6.00

12 Bishop, James 16 (12) 5 0 0 2 1 0 0 6.32

5 Blades, Paul 30 (7) 1 0 0 0 4 1 1 6.95

8 Boyd, Adam 15 (20) 7 0 2 (1) 2 2 0 4 6.89

3 Clark, Ian 42 (1) 4 0 0 4 2 0 3 7.21

18 Fitzpatrick, Lee 48 (3) 4 0 0 12 9 0 5 6.96

10 Fortune-West, Leo 46 (6) 25 0 0 6 4 0 11 7.44

31 Gill, Jerry 21 (3) 1 4 0 3 2 0 0 7.00

22 Hansen, Endre 23 (5) 2 0 0 4 0 0 0 6.89

21 Henderson, Kevin 29 (10) 7 0 0 4 1 0 0 7.00

1 Hollund, Martin 42 0 53 0 0 0 1 1 7.31

11 Johnson, Philip 3 (1) 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 7.25

20 Jørgensen, Kenneth 19 (11) 6 0 0 4 0 0 1 6.60

- Lee, Graeme - - - - - - - - ----

9 Lormor, Tony 27 (7) 6 0 0 3 0 0 1 6.85

24 Lynch, Aidan 4 (1) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6.40

19 McAvoy, Andy 7 (10) 1 0 1 (1) 1 0 0 0 6.47

27 Newman, Michael 0 (4) 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 6.50

4 Plummer, Chris 34 (1) 2 0 1 (1) 2 3 1 1 6.94

29 Porter, Chris - - - - - - - - ----

32 Provett, Jim - - - - - - - - ----

28 Robinson, Mark 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 7.33

13 Shilton, Sam 20 (11) 2 0 0 2 2 0 0 6.87

25 Southall, Neville 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 5.00

14 Stephenson, Paul 40 (5) 11 0 0 8 2 0 1 7.07

6 Strodder, Gary 34 (1) 0 0 0 1 2 1 0 6.69

15 Tennebø, Thomas 10 (3) 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 6.92

26 West, Colin 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6.00

16 Westwood, Chris 49 (1) 1 0 0 1 4 0 2 6.80

17 Williams, Tony 18 0 28 0 0 0 1 1 7.06


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cheers lads, it was a bit of a bugger losing out like that.

June 2001

Ryan spent a welcome early part of the month with Clara down in Derbyshire as their relationship grew stronger, and they took a trip to Cornwall for a short spell on the beach before the school holidays arrived and hell broke loose, but inevitably football came a calling once more and Ryan was heading back up north to sort out his squad of half good, half crap players. With little money it would of course be difficult, so the scouts were sent off to check out a few clubs season videos and off abroad where football was still being played, to help Ryan sort it out. A midfielder and a couple of central defenders were immediate priorities for the club, whilst James Bishops non-promotion clause was now activated leaving him open to attack from above.

An ambitious bid was placed for the recently released Teddy Sheringham, but the strikers wage demands were the stumbling block, though it was somewhat surprising to see the 34-year old consider such a drop in leagues in the first place. The forgotten mad Graeme Lee returned from his long spell on the sidelines and he'd provide some decent back up to the defence, but still there was plenty of work to be done before a side capable of promotion would fit together. Before Ryan really focussed on his side again there was good news as James Bishop did sign a new contract eradicating a clause he knew little about anyway thank god.

As pre-season was getting under way, Ken popped his head into Ryan's office for a wee chat.

"Hello there Ryan, how's business? Found some players?"

"Well there's a couple of loan players I've put offers in for - both from Premiership sides actually. I'm optimistic of getting them. Michael Standing and Jonathan Bewers - they're a couple of Aston Villa lads - one's a very good central midfielder - the other's a central defender with talent - they'll not make it at that level but I think they'd be excellent for us."

"Good! Good! What about wages?"

"We wouldn't pay - John Gregory's a decent bloke and he forced that arse Ellis not to be so stingy this time.I'm fairly confident they'll come. Mickey was at Hull last year and he enjoyed it then, so I don't see why not."

"Ok - what about permanent ones then - I assume I'll be hearing a few requests in the future?"

"Aye, there'll hopefully be a couple - you know that Chris Greenacre lad at Mansfield?"

"Ah yes - the little scourge."

"Well he's got a non promo clause too - and I think it's affordable - I'd love to see if we can try for him, Ken."

"OK Ry, I'll see what I can do. Anyone else?"

"Not yet - nothing concrete, but we'll have to replace the outgoing players. I told Andy McAvoy he could sod off too. He's 21 and just not good enough at all - and then Sam Shilton will be off..."

"Ah so the irksome one's not staying then?"

"Nope and good riddance. He wasn't that good in the last few months anyway. His contract's up soon but Luton for some reason couldn't wait and they've offered him a deal. I think we'll get around 90k compensation if he joins - which will come in handy. Paul Blades and Gary Strodder - they're both quitting now, though Paul's obviously still staying as a coach - dunno what Gary's got in his plans... and well that's about it for now, chief."

"Right you are, well good luck with that. I was popping over here just to say well done for last season. I know it probably doesn't fee like it to you, a natural winner, but I was pleased - it was an excellent season for us and now the fans can see us moving in the right direction. Don't worry there's no expectation of promotion this year either - just another good solid finish - though with a little luck who knows eh?"

"Well thanks Ken, but I really do hope we can go up this year! It'll be good for the clubs, fans and the community."

"I know Ryan, but let's not get carried away eh. You know you remind me of a very well known footballing manager who started off here too... I wish you luck. Anyway I'll go off and start chasing up that Greenacre lad then. See you later Ryan. "

The chairman left and Ryan started thinking about more targets - in truth Greenacre was unlikely to join - he liked Mansfield and wasn't really going to consider a move to his rivals but it was worth a shot. An email suddenly popped up on the screen - Shilt's agent - now Rotherham had made a bid. He was definitely leaving then. Still at least in a few days David Dunn would be joining - his compensation see was a hefty one but it'd be worth it to get that lad in.

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The days passed fairly quickly from one to the next, and seeing clubs across the land selling and buying by the dozen made Ryan a little envious - perhaps he should have prepared his signings a little earlier. Wolves had a bid for Tony Williams rejected, with the keeper surprisingly open minded about the decision as he thought he'd rather stay and prove himself which was a bonus though it did get Ryan thinking about another Wolves player - Tony Dinning, the defensive player was wanting to leave the second division club, and though a little pricey he was definitely talented. A quick fax through to Ken of the club and players details would hopefully see that playing come in - he'd boost the defence, and add support to Lee in the middle.

4 days later and Ryan had the call he wanted, Ken had sorted out terms with the club and player, now all he had to do was put pen to paper - the official unveiling would happen later that week. He'd cost 240k, though at least the payments were spread out across the next few months. Not wanting to blow his seasons budget too early, Ryan kept a cautious eye on other prospective players. His loan signings had arrived in good faith - with Standing for the season, and Bewers until Christmas - however if Ryan saw a better option available - Jon would heading back fairly swiftly.

Tommy Miller, Keith Knobbs, Martin Scott and Ryan all went into motor mode in search of new talent amid the the pre-season warm up and tour of Scotland in mid July. Ryan wanted his squad more or less complete before then.

Pre-Season Tour

With further additions including Paul Furlong, Kevin Dawason, a young trialist and a talented young Swede, Hartlepool headed up to The Land That Time Forgot, also known as Scotland. The first match was a rather easy affair as the players worked off their holiday fat with a 4-1 win over Royal Albert. The match wasn't that straight forward, and a few silly errors nearly let the non-leaguers in on too many occasions for Ryan's liking but a solid job was done, with the two trialists, Paul Furlong and Kevin Dawson impressing, the former scoring the third goal.

The tour suffered a slight hitch when Ken accidentally agreed to a friendly with Wycombe halfway through which would mean a stupid 11 hour bus journey all the way south again for one match, followed by another 11 hour trip back. However, before that pointlessness, there was a match at 3rd division Elgin City first of all. A few changes to personnel were made to accomodate a few of the young ones, as another exercise in match fitness followed. It was a much tougher affair indeed and Elgin were worth the leads they took twice but Hartlepool despite making several changes came back to win it. Michael Standing putting in an excellent performance and Paul Furlong netting the winner.

On the subsequent depressing drive down through a clogged Britain, Ryan received a call from Port Vale. They wanted Martin Hollund - and they offered 40k. Ryan then said to hold the line, whilst he spoke to Martin in person about it, which they did, but Ryan just left his phone lying open on the seat next to him for half an hour - though it was unlikely Port Vale had held on that long. Chris Westwood came for a chat too, and asked for an improved contract - Ryan was willing to oblige, phoned Ken back at the club, and asked him to draw up an offer. They picked up the draft on the way down to Wycombe, and Chris subsequently rejected it. Right, ok. The game itself ended in a victory in another match dominated by the profusion of substitutions but another goal for Paul Furlong had Ryan convinced he was worth trying to sign. Kevin Henderson nabbed the winner.

Back up in Scotland, the boys ground out a well earned 1-1 draw with Queen's Park - though if David Dunn, the side's goal scorer knew how to take a penalty Hartlepool would have won - he missed two. Jonathan Bewers was another positive too as Ryan immediately had the impression his team were more suited to a promotion campaign second time around. The final tour match at Stenhousemuir would be the last chance to test the new players out and make anyu judgements over Paul and Kevin Dawson - the latter still needing a strong performance to convince the staff. Before that though Ryan was pleased to be joined by Tony Mowbray from Ipswich, the defender would prove cover whilst mostly adding some quality experience to the back room staff. The match ended 3-1 with a solid debut for Jim Provitt in goal, and a promising performance from young striker Philip Johnson.

Players In:

David Dunn, 21, MC, Blackburn, bos(240k)

Tony Dinning,26, D/DMC, Wolves, 240k

Ole Broden, 20, AMC, Trelleborg 20k.

Tony Mowbray 38,DC, Ipswich free

Players Out:

Andy McAvoy,21, AMR, Don't Care, free

Tommy Tennebo, 27, MLC, Rochdale, bosman

Sam Shilton, 22 Luton, 90k.


Royal Albert 1 Hartlepool 4 (McPherson 6; Dinning 5, Fortune West 34, Furlong 62, Newman 88)

Elgin City 2 Hartlepool 3 (Munro 2,54; Standing 23 60, Furlong 69)

Wycombe 1 Hartlepool 2 (Baird 16; Furlong 48, Henderso 87)

Queens Park 1 Hartlepool 1 (Moore 37, Dunn 45, Dunn m/p 46,50)

Stenhousemuir 1 Hartlepool 3 (Watt 25; Fortune West 13, Boyd pen 67, Johnson 82)

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