IOR: Increased Our Reputation ... but it was time for a new start at Hartlepool United

CHAIRMAN FOR 17 YEARS: Ken Hodcroft
CHAIRMAN FOR 17 YEARS: Ken Hodcroft

TIMING. It is reputed to be the secret of good comedy.

And there is no doubt it is a gift possessed by Increased Oil Recovery.

IOR came to Hartlepool United at the right time and they are saying farewell at the right time too.

The Aberdeen-based business, who gave Pools, the fans and the town the very best years we have ever seen at Victoria Park, are giving the club a chance to survive.

Thank you IOR and thank you Ken Hodcroft.

They knew Pools needed a new manager so they removed Paul Murray. They might not have said it in as many words, but they admitted they had got it wrong and acted.

But the oil company knew and, please forgive the pun, their well had run dry. It was time to let go and give someone new a chance.

Of course, Pools could have still stayed up with them in charge, but it would have been harder and the atmosphere would always have been strained.

You’d never have believed a year or five ago chants (to the tune of Tom Hark by the Piranhas) of “IOR, taking us down, IOR taking us down”. And the crowd’s ire came before the clocks had even gone back.

Increased Oil Recovery have never really done drama, their painstaking processes have 99 per cent of the time been rigorously adhered to.

But IOR have left as they had arrived, dramatically.

The company no-one had heard of, bought the club, out of the blue, in September 1997.

IOR were looking to take over a football club that was stable, well run and were not up to their eyes in debt.

They liked the look of Pools. Harold Hornsey, the saviour who stopped Pools going into oblivion in the mid-90s, liked the look of them. He sold Pools.

Harold knew he had taken Pools as far as he could and recognised the new owners could achieve considerably more. He was right.

IOR was one of several companies owned by Norwegian millionaire oil magnate Berge Larsen, and this reporter was one of the early IOR sceptics.

In fact, while I can’t recall the exact headline from a sterile goalless mid-season draw with Chester, it was something like ‘Increase Our Resources’. Why would they not put their hands in their pockets and invest in the team I thought?

Almost 17 years on the plea is exactly the same.

A frightening lack of investment – and some woeful performances by the players it has to be said – has left Pools on the brink and given Peter Harris and Ronnie Moore much to do.

But it has to be put on the record that in the intervening years, their contribution has been colossal. In their first decade at the Vic, Pools won TWO promotions, got to the play-offs FOUR times, including that never-to-be-forgotten Bank Holiday trip to the Millennium Stadium in the League One play-off final.

Never forget the fact that Pools came within eight minutes of a place in the Championship on IOR’s watch.

The owners did not just have good timing.

They also had quite a gift at getting the right manager.

Chris Turner was the youth team coach at Wolves when IOR made him their first appointment. The former Man Utd and Sunderland keeper has, arguably, been the best Pools have had.

When Turner left for his beloved Sheffield Wednesday – probably the only club he likes more than Pools – IOR plucked Mike Newell from a Southport golf course to take over. The ex-Blackburn striker, whose only coaching experience had been helping out Tranmere Reserves a few times, became only the third manager to win promotion at Pools.

After sacking Newell, Pools brought in Neale Cooper from the relative obscurity of Ross County. The popular Scot would give Pools the best two seasons in their history.

Then there was Danny Wilson, who led Pools back to League One following the disastrous reign of Martin Scott. Danny had actually finished below Pools with MK Dons, but IOR got it right. Wilson came so close to the League Two title.

The gaffes were the exception rather than the rule – the appointment of Scott and the sacking of Wilson were rare foul-ups.

In recent years, there have been more mistakes than successes – the sacking of Mick Wadsworth when Pools were in touching distance of the play-offs and the second coming of Neale Cooper.

The appointment of John Hughes was not bad in itself but a failure to invest was, and six straight seasons in League One came to and end.

It was the same, to an extent, under Colin Cooper though the manager is culpable as several good players were let go and not replaced. Or replaced by worse players.

Overall, you have to ask yourself, have IOR done more good than bad? The answer is an emphatic yes.

Promotions, play-offs, Cardiff, not to mention the players IOR invested in, like Dimi Konstantopoulos, Micky Nelson, Chris Westwood, Ritchie Humphreys, Darrell Clarke, Mark Tinkler, Richard Barker, Gordon Watson, Joel Porter, Eifion Williams ... and they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Hodcroft, in a rare interview, once sung IOR’s praises, saying: “I think we’ve brought excitement to the club and a proud achievement has been established. The club and the town can now go anywhere with their heads held high.”

Not any longer.

Hartlepool United’s best years have been with IOR. The decision to go now means that their legacy might not be ruined. TMH and Ronnie Moore, it’s over to you.