Hartlepool United: The highs and lows of 96 years in the Football League

Scott Harrison shows the anguish felt by every Poolie at full-time against Doncaster. Picture by FRANK REID
Scott Harrison shows the anguish felt by every Poolie at full-time against Doncaster. Picture by FRANK REID
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Hartlepool United must face up the grim realisation that when they start the new season in August it will be first in 96 years they find themselves outside the Football League.

Despite Saturday's never-say-die 2-1 victory over Doncaster Rovers, Pools were relegated into the National League following Newport's late, late win over Notts County by the same scoreline.

Here, SportMail looks at the the highs and lows of almost a century in the oldest league in the world.


Few people, not even the man in question, could have envisaged how a brash 29-year-old know-it-all could set Pools on their way to their first promotion.

Brian Clough, who would prove one of the greatest managers of all time, was handed the reins at the Victoria ground after his playing career was prematurely ended by injury.

Cloughie saved Pools in his first season and built the team which would go on to win promotion in 1967-68 under the excellent Gus McLean.

Ol' Big 'Ead left for ambitious Derby County but the squad he developed lost just 11 times as Pools finished third, goals by Bobby Cummings and Wilson Hepplewhite clinching a 2-0 win at Swansea City to take their place in Division Three.

MAY 1991

Pools fans had over four decades to wait for the first promotion and only one generation had passed before the second came along.

And the success had uncanny parallels with 1968. The side was built by one manager, Cyril Knowles, but taken over the finishing line by another, Alan Murray.

Knowles had taken over a club in dire straits but steered them to safety, putting together a side which would challenge at the top end the following season.

Sadly, the ex-Spurs defender was taken ill and missed the celebrations as caretaker Murray led a 13-game unbeaten run at the end of the campaign to win promotion.

MAY 2003

It is hard to believe that promotion take three proved a case of deja vu.

Chris Turner, having kept Pools in the Football League in 1999, transformed the club with owners, Increased Oil Recovery.

For three seasons in a row, Turner took the team to the play-offs, only to lose out each time.

However, the foundations had been laid, so when the manager was lured away by home town team Sheffield Wednesday, his successor, Mike Newell, guided Pools to glory.

MAY 2005

In the first half of the noughties, there wasn't a team like Pools, who for six years on the spin either made the play-offs or, in the case of 2003, gone up automatically.

Passionate Neale Cooper guided Pools to sixth place in his two seasons at the helm and while sacked at the end of the campaign, the club reached their first-ever final.

With Wembley being re-built, the side went to Cardiff for the League One play-off final. Goals by subs Eifion Williams and Jon Daly put Pools 2-1 up against Sheffield Wednesday and within eight minutes of reaching the Championship.

But a controversial penalty and red card wrecked their hopes and they lost 2-1 in extra-time, though that May Bank Holiday date at the Millennium Stadium will go down in the annals of HUFC history.

MAY 2007

Twelve months after the pain of relegation back to League Two, Pools returned to League One at the first time of asking.

Danny Wilson was the mastermind with the boss taking a team, featuring the likes of Dimi Konstantopolous, Michael Nelson, Ritchie Humphreys, Andy Monkhouse and Richard Barker, to runners-up spot.

Pools had found the early going tough but a 23-match unbeaten run transformed the season.

APRIL 2015

Pools had no right to do it but under Ronnie Moore, the club pulled off the greatest of Great Escapes when they beat play-off chasing Exeter City 2-1 at the Vic to be safe with a match to spare.

At one stage in a desperate season struggle, Pools were 10 points from safety and written off by many as relegation certainties.

But Moore refused to wave the white flag and engineered a revival never seen until Newport repeated it this season.


MAY 1994

Just three years after Pools were celebrating promotion, they lost by seven goals to Peter Shilton's Plymouth to the Vic on the last day of the season as they fell back into the bottom tier

Under Alan Murray, Pools had established themselves as a force in the division but a financial crisis led to that team being broken up and a young, inexperienced side would then struggle and succumb.

MAY 2006

It was hard to believe that just 11 months from the greatest occasion in the club's history that they were exiting League One via the back door.

The season was a struggle throughout but they seemed to have hope after boss Martin Scott was sacked following a dressing room brawl.

But caretaker Paul Stephenson was unable to keep Pools up and a home defeat to Port Vale on the last game of the programme sent the team back into League Two.


If Hartlepool United's decline in fortunes can be traced back to one single moment, it is this one.

Pools fired manager Danny Wilson with the club only just in the bottom half of the League One table, 13th to be precise.

Wilson had proven his knack of producing good sides with promotion in his first season and 15th in League One in his next.

After Wilson, Pools turned to Chris Turner, the club's director of sport, but it began a long run of chopping and changing both managers and squads.

MAY 2013

Six successive seasons in English football's third tier came to a halt when Pools were relegated to League Two.

John Hughes gave it his all as boss having come in mid-season but he could not keep the team up.

In fact, averaged out over a full programme, the Scot would have kept Pools in the division, but he was sacked at the end of the campaign.

APRIL 2017

If there was one match, one 90 minutes which really plumbed the depths, it was this one.

Leyton Orient, beset by a financial crisis, and forced to send what amounted to their youth team, deservedly defeated Pools 2-1 at Brisbane Road.

The Londoners had won only one of their last 11 games, against Pools, and had lost nine heavily.

This match should have been an absolute cert and put Pools five points clear of danger, but the shocking display left the team in grave trouble.

MAY 2017

Once Pools slipped below revitalised Newport County, their fate was out of their own hands, and so it proved.

Matthew Bates's side came from behind to beat Doncaster Rovers 2-1 at a packed Vic but Newport defeated Notts County by the identical scoreline to send the boys in blue down.

For just a handful of minutes, Pools appeared to be heading for a great escape after supersub Devante Rodney's double, only for Mark O'Brien to steal a late winner for the Welsh side.