Hartlepool United: Lady Luck deserts Pools after 96 years in the Football League

By Matt NewsumBBC Sport
Hartlepool United
Hartlepool United were relegated to the National League despite beating promoted Doncaster Rovers on the final day

Before promotion and relegation were introduced between the Football League and non-league in 1986, no club had to re-apply for re-election on more occasions than Hartlepool United.

They were the cat with nine lives, or 14 to be precise, surviving each time to preserve their precious League status.

However, Lady Luck has finally run out of patience with Pools as they tumbled out of League Two on Saturday, thereby ending 96 years of League football.

Newport County's dramatic late win over Notts County meant Hartlepool's fine final-day victory over Doncaster counted for nothing.

BBC Sport looks at the factors behind their decline.

On the cusp of history

Jon Daly
Jon Daly's goal in the 2005 play-off final put Pools 2-1 up against Sheffield Wednesday with 19 minutes to go

On a hot, late May day in Cardiff in 2005, one half of the Millennium Stadium dared to dream. Hartlepool United were just 19 minutes away from a place in the Championship after substitute Jon Daly - with his first touch - headed a Gavin Strachan free-kick past Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper David Lucas in the League One play-off final.

Wednesday, backed by 40,000 fans from the Steel City, eventually battled back level to take the game to extra time - during which they overpowered Pools.

Amid the pride, there were tears. Pools had been so near but so far from clambering into the second tier for the first time.

That was arguably the biggest game in the lifespan of Hartlepool until Saturday, when even a win over title-chasing Doncaster could not save them.

What happened in those 12 years?

Struggling without stability

Win percentage chart of Hartlepool managers, with Danny Wilson top with 43.6
None of the subsequent nine permanent managerial appointments at Hartlepool United have achieved a higher win percentage than Danny Wilson (43.6%), who left in December 2008

If science was applied to the running of a football club, then most likely there would be an equation which said thus: High turnover of managers = Lack of success.

There are plenty of case studies, notably at Sunderland - a short hop on the A19 away - where relegation has also finally caught up with the club after consecutive great escapes that followed year-on-year changes at the top.

Hartlepool share more than geographical proximity with their more illustrious neighbours. The town was named among the most "dangerous" places to manage by a BBC feature in November last year - and that was before the departure of Dave Jones with two games to go and Craig Hignett's exit in January.

Since Danny Wilson departed in December 2008, Pools have rattled through nine different permanent managers. Only Paul Murray's 14.3% and Neale Cooper's second spell 17.1% win ratios were worse records than Jones' 22.2% success rate.

Be careful what you wish for

Former chairman Ken Hodcroft may not have been the fans' favourite by the end of 18 years at the helm of Hartlepool, but he oversaw a prudent business where every penny was accounted for.

He was a private man, with a Late Kick-Off interview with the BBC in 2012 one of the rare occasions he was filmed and placed in the spotlight.

Hodcroft's successor Gary Coxall arrived as chairman in June 2015 to bring that term to an end, as his JPNG company took over at Victoria Park.

His first interview with the BBC promised investment, not taking money from the club. However, Pools' financial status has been a constant concern, with three winding-up petitionsexternal-link issued this season and the late payment of wages.

While Coxall has been open with supporters, right up to his own departure with a game to play on the basis it would "unite fans" split by his tenure, results on and off the field led to the most disappointing period in Pools' history.

Finance director and replacement chairperson Pam Duxbury's job now will be to pick up the pieces, a task she has already started in the shape of dialogue with the Supporters' Trust about fan involvement in future plans.

From bad to worse - analysis

Nick Loughlin, Northern Echo reporter and summariser on BBC Tees at away matches

Dave Jones
Dave Jones has been a top-flight boss in England, but managed just four wins from 18 games with Hartlepool

"It's a big culmination of factors. The biggest finger of blame over the past year has to go to Gary Coxall and Dave Jones.

"Gary came in with promises, high hopes and ambitions but it's been two years of decline. He has left the club in a worse position.

"He took over from Increased Oil Recovery (IOR) - a stable and very safe pair of hands who looked after club superbly over the past 20 years. The past two years have seen winding-up petitions and financial troubles.

"It was a disaster under Dave Jones; a manager of his calibre and CV should not have taken 13 points from 51. His tactics were terrible and man-management was non existent. It did not work one iota at Hartlepool.

"The club has to stay full-time. You look at the amount of former EFL clubs in the National League that are floundering. York are a prime example of what can happen. It's about getting back in the Football League as quickly as possible."

Rare moments of success a pattern

Brian Clough
Brian Clough's managerial career began at Hartlepool, where he helped build a team fit for promotion before leaving for Derby

Formed in 1908 and entered into the Football League in 1921, there was little major to cheer for Hartlepool United until the late 1950s, when the long-serving Fred Westgarth took the club to the heady heights of second place in Division Three North in 1957.

Promotion was missed as only champions Derby clambered out, and struggling seasons of re-elections followed until retired former England international Brian Clough, who went on to win two European Cups with Nottingham Forest, arrived as manager in 1965.

Clough and trusted ally Peter Taylor laid foundations for promotion - even taking on handyman jobs around the ground - an achievement that was completed after the pair had departed for Derby County.

Gus McLean continued their work to complete the job but it was a temporary stay and Pools were back in the old Division Four within 12 months.

Much of their time since has been spent in the basement division - barring a few promotion highs in 1991, 2003 and 2007 - and recent struggles have brought back sad memories for older fans.

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