KEITH Houchen says he has “mixed feelings” over his time at Hartlepool United but is still grateful for the club helping to launch his career, writes Richard Mennear.
The striker started and ended his playing career at the Clarence Road club and also endured a tough spell in the manager’s dugout before leaving The Vic for good in 1996.
He took over the manager’s reigns at the age of 34 and admits, looking back, that he was too young.
Houchen was still playing as much as he could, alongside running the team, but financial pressures at the club and frustrating results on and off the pitch proved to much and he left in November 1996.
The 53-year-old played for seven clubs in his career which spanned three decades and finished with him scoring 184 goals in 687 league and cup appearances.
Houchen said: “Playing at Hartlepool was my first chance as a pro and I learned the hard way.
“My time there also helped put a yard on me, because when you got paid you got a cheque and if you didn’t get down to the bank in Church Square at least fifth or sixth in line then your cheque would bounce.
“The rest would have to wait another week,” he reflected.
“I managed Hartlepool when I was 34 and I was probably far too young to be honest with you,” said Houchen.
“At the end it was really hard and it was difficult, I was working on a tiny budget and trying to make things happen and trying to play but I shouldn’t have been playing because my knees had gone.
“It all turned sour at the end but that is football and life.
“I played with some real characters at Hartlepool and we had a lot of laughs and there was some real good pros that taught me a lot.”
Houchen added that from the outside, he believes Hartlepool United has improved a lot on and off the pitch and is now a club that similar sized clubs “aspire to be”.