BELIEVE it or not, it is 15 years since West Hartlepool said their final farewell to rugby’s Premiership.
It all, sadly, ended in disaster, relegation with debts the size of a small country.
The team was very good under an excellent coach in Mike Brewer and the few who went to watch saw a couple of sensational wins, over Wasps and Gloucester.
However, it all went belly up and given my belly was in the vicinity that was always going to get ugly.
West were lucky to survive as a club and there were some painful seasons as they visited and departed the divisions.
But they are now competing at North One East/ National Three North level and doing pretty well.
If you did a poll of who has been West’s best player post-1999 collapse, the bloke I am about to mention would certainly be top three, and from this writer’s perspective a little bit higher than that.
Step forward Jonny Boatman, who has brought down the curtain on a decade of unbelievable service.
Kelly’s Eye has to admit, when he first saw him play I wondered what all the fuss was about.
He arrived at Brinkburn with quite a fanfare and won the place which had been held by one of the club’s favourites.
His debut was nothing out of the ordinary but his form since has been extraordinary.
There are often cliches about ‘natural leaders’, men who ‘lead from the front’. That was Jonny Boatman.
He never stopped going forward in all his 10 years and even on days when West were struggling, and there’s been a few, he’d often stand above the mediocrity.
Jonny has led the team with distinction, including the 2010-11 promotion triumph, when his season was cruelly cut a few weeks short because of a broken leg at Carlisle.
West have kept it in the family since then by installing brother, Dan, as skipper.
However, when Dan hurt his shoulder against Cleckheaton, Jonny took the armband again.
Jonny has the occasional brush with the law, a yellow card is not unusual for him ... or any good, combative back row player forward.
Fittingly, for a man called Boatman, Jonny is also an accomplished sailor, so he’s not just a pretty face though may be only his missus and mam might say that.
Some opponents would certainly dispute it.
What is undisputed is his ability and an unwavering contribution to the West cause. Not bad for a lad from Washington with no Poolie blood in him.
Jonny though has work and life commitments which are set to make time shorter for rugby. West, Kelly’s Eye is sure, will try to twist his arm for “one more season”. I may even put in a word myself.
But if it is the end, bowing out with two tries against Northern and third place in the league aint bad, is it?
IF you love cup rugby this is your lucky week.
Two cup finals in three days, both involving Horden.
Tomorrow night it’s the Pyman Cup, the Hartlepool & District competition for Second XVs, West and Horden slugging it out at John Howard Park in Grayfields (kick-off 6pm).
Horden will start as favourites given they put 90 points on West Stags in the CaNDY League just a few weeks ago.
The Colliery side also won 33-22 at Brinkburn in February in the regional league so are looking for a quickfire treble.
Horden and West both had exciting wins in the semi-final – the Stags edging out Rovers Heughers at Brinkburn and the cup favourites winning at BBOB.
There was fun and games at Catcote Road where West, for some bizarre reason, decided to feature the gifted Gavin Painter.
A West boy? Absolutely. A member? We hope so. Gav’s a born and bred Westie, but also a player in National League Two with Darlington Mowden Park.
The irony was that his sub appearance made little difference to the outcome.
It’s not as if he was a prop and the tie could not have gone on without him, so instead of supporters leaving Brinkburn thinking ‘what a cracking derby’ and ‘isn’t the Pyman Cup great?’ they talk (and argue!) about this instead.
Don’t get me wrong, Kelly’s Eye has seen liberties taken in team selection over the years – I recall one Horden v Rovers final when Andrew Turner and Paul Kirton played in opposite teams.
Both were fully fledged first XV regulars! Tomorrow night will hopefully be about the second teamers and what is a fabulous local competition.
All the best to both clubs and officials for a great occasion.
Then on Friday, Horden’s attention switches to Westoe, where they are contesting the final of the Durham Third Teams Cup (kick-off 3pm).
Horden are chasing part two of a potential third team treble.
They already have the Tees Valley Social League in their possession and later this month they will face Hartlepool in the Pyman Shield final.
Who could write off a team including men of the calibre of Micky Wood, Paul ‘Capt Jack’ Brownless, Eddie Pigford and Thomas ‘the Tank’ Turnbull.
That is not the end of it. On the subject of South Shields, it is Westoe v West on Saturday in the Durham Cup.
Westoe have not pulled up too many trees in National Three North this season, finishing eighth. Given West were third in North One East, that in the league ladder is only nine rungs. Yes, West are underdogs, but they have already won at Blaydon this season, so why not another upset?