Sixty seconds to FA Cup glory ‘was stuff of dreams’ for Hartlepool United

John Borthwick shows his joy at putting Polls 2-0 up in the game against Wigan on November 19, 1988.
John Borthwick shows his joy at putting Polls 2-0 up in the game against Wigan on November 19, 1988.

The lads of Hartlepool United were celebrating on November 19, 1988 – after 60 seconds of dazzling football led to cup glory.

Two goals from Tony Smith and John Borthwick, scored inside a minute on the stroke of half-time, were enough to put Pools into the second round of the FA Cup.

Hartlepool v Grimsby November 12, 1988.

Hartlepool v Grimsby November 12, 1988.

“They came at the end of a half totally dominated by visitors Wigan, who could have been 4-0 up by then,” wrote Mail sportswriter Richard Coomber.

“But poor finishing, the crossbar and some inspired goalkeeping by teenager Paul Norton kept Wigan out of the glory spot at the Victoria Ground.”

Although the half-time score may have flattered Pools, the United lads matched Wigan “stride-for-breathtaking-stride” when the whistle blew for the second half.

Indeed, they were worthy winners – thanks to the defending of Smith and Baker, the “lung-busting effort” of Brian Honour and the “unforgettable” saves of Norton.

The 2-0 scoreline when the final whistle blew was the stuff of dreams. The romance of the cup is alive and well.

Richard Coomber, Mail sportswriter

“This was the kind of match that makes the FA Cup such a favourite with the fans – an all-action, blood and thunder tie,” wrote Richard.

“It had it all – skill, commitment and plenty of drama. To complete the Roy of the Rovers picture, David beat Goliath – mainly thanks to 19-year-old Norton.”

Pools burst into the attack from kick-off, forcing a corner after just 40 seconds. Wigan, however, then took control of most of the first half.

First up was full-back Beesley, who neatly picked out Pilling – completely unmarked just inside Pool’s penalty area. Luckily for Pools, the teen rushed the shot. Norton then saved Pools from defeat with save after save, including a fierce volley from a free-kick and a shot by Shields-born Hamilton from a throw in.

“All this was inside 15 minutes,” wrote Richard. “McKinnon then went close to opening the account for Pools, but most of the half was nearly all Wigan.

“They were half-a-yard faster, and their passing was slicker than Pools, but they kept coming up against a brick wall formed by Tony Smith and Paul Baker.”
 Wigan were forced to pay a crushing price for their missed chances as the half reached its thrilling finale, with Borthwick the first to score for the home team.

And, before the yells had died in the fans’ throats, Smith latched onto a kick from Honour and hit a shot just out of reach of the Wigan keeper.

“It hit the base of the post and spun back across the line almost in slow motion, which had the defence rooted to the spot,” commented Richard.

“Wigan kept pushing in the second half, but their passes lost their crispness and Pools grew in confidence. The 2-0 scoreline was the stuff of dreams.”