FA Cup hero Keith Houchen backs Hartlepool United to beat Coventry City

Keith Houchen during his Pools playing days

Keith Houchen during his Pools playing days

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FORMER Hartlepool United player and manager Keith Houchen – famous for his diving header to help Coventry City win the FA Cup – has backed Pools to come out on top in the battle of his former clubs.

The 53-year-old started his professional career, aged 17, with Pools back in 1978 and spent a successful four-year spell at the club scoring 65 goals in 170 appearances.

He topped the goalscoring charts for four seasons in a row and by the age of 21 had firmly established himself in Poolie folklore.

Houchen was then sold to Leyton Orient and also played for York City, Scunthorpe United, Coventry City, Hibernian and Port Vale before returning to Pools in August 1993.

His first season back ended in relegation from the old third division but the following season saw Houchen again finish top scorer, with 14 goals and he also ended that season in the manager’s dugout.

Sadly, that was were his time at Pools turned sour, leaving the club in November 1996 after a difficult spell with a small budget.

But he is most famous for his diving header for the Sky Blues in the 1987 FA Cup Final at the old Wembley, in the 3-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur.

Houchen said: “The FA Cup is a competition that I get remembered for more than anything else.

“The 20-year career goes out the window and it always seems to come back to the FA Cup with me”, he joked.

Houchen, has fond memories of the FA Cup though, adding: “My first experience of the cup was when I was at Hartlepool and we had a bit of a run going in 1979, when we drew Leeds United, who were huge at the time.

“They came down to Victoria Ground, which is not the beautiful ground it is now. It was a horrible place to work back then.

“Leeds weren’t particularly impressed with the dressing rooms and came straight back out and got changed at the hotel instead.

“They scored six that game.

“My real glimpse as a giant killer was when I was at York City, we had drawn Arsenal in the Fourth Round in 1985, the biggest team in the country at the time and we beat them and I scored a penalty in the last minute.

“That was life changing because back then it was the biggest competition in the world.”

Houchen, who now covers matches as a statistical analyst for Opta, added: “It is a fine line between playing at that level and the top level and two years later I was playing at Wembley in the main event.

“I was very lucky and we had a fantastic cup run, played some great teams and played some really exciting football.

“Looking back, we played in one of the Wembley classics.

“It was just an incredible trophy to win. It was THE trophy to win.

“Then two-years later we were knocked out by a non-league side on a horrible pitch, so I have seen every side of the FA Cup.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s match, Houchen favours the side that helped launch his career.

He added: “I would go for Pools with the home advantage. But having said that Coventry haven’t got a home, so they can play anywhere.

“It is about time Hartlepool had a really good cup run though and a bit of glamour.”