The FA Cup
The FA Cup used to be seen as the pinnacle of English football and was renowned throughout the footballing world. In recent years, the competition has taken a back seat to the riches that come from TV station payments to the Premier League and the Champions League.
We have seen the top clubs devaluing the competition by putting out reserve teams, the FA opting to get rid of replays and thus cutting off another vital source of income for cash-strapped lower league clubs and the latest ignominy of making the 5th round a midweek game.
With this in mind, the FA Cup seemed like a perfect place for me to reignite my footballing odyssey and stick it to ‘the man’. Nearby Hartlepool United had a ground I’ve not visited before, having only moved to the Northeast in recent years and thus my new hobby was born.
Hartlepool – Pre-Game
Setting off from my home town, we took a local bus to Sunderland and from there caught a train to Hartlepool, costing £14.45, added to the price of the tickets to the game (£15 each), there was a total cost of £44.45 for the wife and myself.
Upon arrival in Hartlepool, we had about an hour and a half to kill and the marina seemed an ideal place for a wander before the game.
We didn’t have enough time to take a proper look around, so it wasn’t worth paying for entry to the Naval Museum but it gets great reviews on Tripadvisor (avoid the car park!), so if you are in the area for a future visit, I would suggest it worth your while to make time to visit.
Despite not going into the museum, the marina area is nice in itself and has plenty of bars and places to eat. Perfect on a nice sunny day. The problem was, it wasn’t a nice sunny day, so we made our way to the ground and went into the Corner Club.
The Corner Club is the Hartlepool supporters’ social club and is built into one corner of the stadium, hence the name. Despite being for Hartlepool supporters, away fans are also welcome and this is indicative of everything about our experience at Hartlepool United Football Club. The fans in the bar are more than happy to mingle with people who don’t support their club and talk about football.
The other very noticeable thing about Hartlepool is the number of youngsters at the stadium. There seems to be a very proactive campaign to attract the younger generation to Victoria Park and that can only bode well for the future of the club.
Angus the Monkey, Hartlepool’s furry mascot, walks around the club greeting all the kids and having his photo taken with them and also a few adults, it has to be noted!
After a couple of pints and a chat with the locals, we made our way outside and were surprised at the queues to get into the ground. It seems we had enjoyed our time in the club a little too long! Even locals in the queue were surprised at the turnout and it seems the FA Cup still weaves its magic for lower league clubs.
We got into our seats about two minutes into the game and the first thing I noticed was the atmosphere. To our left, a drummer was setting the beat and the people around us were happily joining in… “Every Saturday we follow, to see the boys in blue. The finest fans in football, we’re Poolies through and through” and it was hard to argue with that sentiment by the end of the game.
Hartlepool – The Game
For the ‘Hopper’, the game itself doesn’t really matter too much. I see it as more of a bonus, which is the complete opposite of someone who goes to watch their favourite team, where the match (and the result) is everything.
So, the fact that this was a good game to watch was definitely a nice bonus.
This was the first-ever meeting between Hartlepool and Blackpool in the FA Cup and the home team showed early nerves, letting their opponents from two divisions higher dictate the game. It was no surprise therefore when Blackpool got an early goal in the eighth minute through Keshi Anderson.
More surprising was the fact that the away side couldn’t add to their tally in the first half and it would cost them dearly as the match went on.
The second half saw a different outlook from the hosts as they took the game by the scruff of the neck and looked far more confident of their ability to do so.
It took them only three minutes to draw level through the man of the match, David Ferguson, who ironically played previously for Blackpool.
Striker, Mark Cullen, was replaced in the 59th minute by Joe Grey and it took the new man just two minutes to make his mark and put the home team ahead. A lead they would hold for the rest of the match despite heavy pressure from Blackpool.
The full match report can be read here, courtesy of the Gazette of Blackpool
Throughout the second half, the atmosphere was tremendous and the exultation following the final whistle was contagious. Despite being neutral, I couldn’t help but be happy to have seen a giant killing and I applauded the team along with all the Poolies as they took their plaudits from a joyous crowd. The 583 visiting supporters from Blackpool had already exited by this point to make their long journey home, feeling disappointed to have lost to a team currently two divisions below them, in League Two.
Hartlepool United – Stadium Gallery
Attendance – 4,942
Entrance Fee – £15.00
Programme – £3.00
Hartlepool United – Match Highlights
Hartlepool – After the Game
Following the game, we decided to soak up a little more of the happy atmosphere and headed off to the Hops and Cheese for a couple of pints that turned into three or four pints!
Although on the expensive side, the craft beers and snacks (that’s the cheese part of the name) are well worth it.
Did I mention they have games littered around the place to play while you drink and snack? We sat for quite some time doing a trivia quiz with our drinks and it was a lovely way to top off a great first day of groundhopping before making the trip back home.
I would highly recommend both the Hops and Cheese and Hartlepool United for anyone who has the hankering to start visiting a few grounds themselves.
You can buy tickets from the following link: Online tickets