Caretaker Matthew Bates on becoming Hartlepool United’s unexpected firefighter and how he’s better equipped to fight relegation second time around

Matthew Bates.
Matthew Bates.
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Matthew Bates always had eyes for stepping into management when his playing days were over.

But the Hartlepool United caretaker did not expect the opportunity to come around so soon and under such challenging circumstances.

At 31, just 307 days after throwing in the towel on a career that earned him England youth honours and Premier League football with Middlesbrough, he’s been thrust into the top job at Victoria Park, for a second time.

It’s a role confident, deep thinker Bates, who does not live up to any unfair footballing stereotypes, is relishing.

“Long term I want to do this,” he said of management.

“Do I want to do it now? I just get on with things.

“There are a lot of things going on here. A new owner could come in two weeks and could change things. It is literally game-by-game.

“I want to enjoy this and take as part of my learning curve.”

This time last year all Bates had to worry about was making sure he was fit enough for the weekend.

Now he’s responsible for the hopes and dreams of a town, which would be lost without its pride and joy.

“I always fancied it but probably not as soon as last season,” said Bates of hanging up his boots and moving into the dugout.

“I took my UEFA B licence five years ago so coaching is always something that I had in my mind.

“It was never something imminently on the cards but football never works out how you plan it so you have to grab it with both hands when the opportunity comes.

“I haven’t slept the last couple of days – excitement, anxiety, all of the emotions.

“It is a learning curve. I feel like I am ready for it and feel like I can do a good job.”

Meanwhile, Bates has confirmed that he will have absolutely no fear throwing the kids into his side against Ebbsfleet today and beyond.

One of the criticisms from the terraces was that previous boss Craig Harrison did not have trust in the youth at the club, rarely turning to them even though a number were named on Pools’ bench when squad numbers dwindled.

Bates says every player will be picked on their merits, no matter what age.

“I had a chat with the players and I told them that I need everyone’s backing,” said 31-year-old Bates.

“We have a small squad but I am prepared to put youth team players in if they want to play more than the first-team players.

“That is not a threat it is just the way it is, the way I do things.”

One of the key differences for Bates this time, compared to his 2017 stint in the job, is the mood around the camp.

Morale was at an all-time low after the debacle of Dave Jones, this time he does not have to get the players back on side.

But he admits the job this brings a whole different kind of challenge, although he feels that this time he is a lot better equipped.

“It is a little different,” he said.

“I have last year as an experience, I have worked under a manager this year.

“I feel more prepared in that sense but it is similar that we still need to lift the lads to start getting results.”