Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Hartlepool United - Victoria Park

10th October 2003

Hartlepool United 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday

This was a Friday evening match, and having drove down, found accommodation, I thought I had nothing more to do than present myself at the ground, pay my money and enter.  However, arriving at Victoria Park just on kick-off, I was more than slightly alarmed to find no turnstiles open.  The match was on - there was no doubt of that.  

I could see the floodlights and hear the throaty throng inside, but the doors had been closed leaving me and half a dozen other stragglers meandering around like lost sheep.  It then dawned on me “This game is Sold Out.  I am not going to get in!  Fuck.”

Then a really magical thing happened.  One of the turnstile doors opened and a tiny waif of a girl popped her head out and said “In here, quick”, and us small group of wastrels filed swiftly in.  The guy in front of me offered the girl admittance money, but she waved it aside.  

Then I realised she was not sneaking a few of her friends in to make a quick buck for herself, but was letting us bunch of strangers in simply because she thought we, like she, were Hartlepool supporters.  And she did not want us to miss the game.  I pressed a £5 on her as I passed which she reluctantly took.

This rather blurry shot does, serendipidously, give a good
impression of the frantic pace this match was played at.

Once inside, I could see why they had closed the doors.  The place was bouncing, and it finally dawned on me that I had totally underestimated the magnitude of this match to the town of Hartlepool.  Reading the programme, I discovered this was actually the first ever league match between these clubs.  

Such was the (usual) disparity between the two, they had never before found themselves in the same league division.  Promotion for the home side last season, allied to relegation for Wednesday had thrust these unlikely combatants together in Division 2.  The match had been given extra spice, as a few weeks earlier Hartlepool had travelled to Sheffield and eliminated Wednesday from the League Cup. 

The game seemed to fly past and my impression was, as always whenever I come down to England, of just how much higher the standard of football was.  Players just seemed that bit bigger, fitter and more comfortable on the ball.  A breathless, goalless first-half seemed to last around 15 minutes, during which time the visitors enjoyed the bulk of possession, but the home lot came closest to scoring when a shot from Ritchie Humphreys thudded back off the Wednesday crossbar.

Two minutes after the break, Lloyd OWUSU put the visitors in front capitalising on a poor back-pass by home defender Michael Nelson.  This encouraged Wednesday to enjoy their best spell of the match, and both Adam Proudlock and Terry Cooke squandered opportunities to extend their side’s lead.  

But as the match entered the final quarter, play began to flow more and more in the direction of the visitors’ goal; the final ten minutes being real backs-to-the-wall stuff.  The inevitable, and well deserved, equaliser finally came with 6 minutes remaining from the blond head of Marco GABBIADINI.

So, only two goals, but some quite scintillating entertainment, and I send an eKiss in thanks to the wee lassie on the gate.    

The club badge on the wall above the club shop.

The Millhouse stand from the rear, with the wee blue door on the right which magically opened.
Panorama of Victoria Park, Hartlepool.

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