Comment: Hartlepool United show racism the red card
‘Love Pools, hate racism’ was the message when Hartlepool United welcomed Chesterfield to Victoria Park on Tuesday evening.
With events at Victoria Park on Saturday still painfully fresh in the memory, the club needed to bounce back both on and off the pitch.
Disaster never seems to be too far away from Hartlepool and the alleged racially aggravated attack that took place was yet another low point in the club’s history.
Real fans were left embarrassed, players disgusted and the club ashamed by the actions of a few ignorant individuals.
Pools couldn’t right the wrongs of what happened against Dover, that’s something it will have to live with as will Poolies – whose reputation is tarnished.
What has to be commended is the club’s tireless efforts to raise awareness and combat the pressing and all to prevalent issue of racism in football.
Tuesday night’s programmes featured the ‘Kick It Out’ logo on the cover with an extended interview from midfielder Gus Mafuta reflecting on the situation – a simple but effective gesture which got the message across.
But the most poignant stance was taken by the fans in attendance who demonstrated what the club and town should and ultimately is all about by distributing and displaying cards showing the ‘Love Pools, Hate Racism’ message.
Some fans had contemplated staying away from The Vic following Saturday and some did, their choice has to be respected either way. But those who did turn up as part of a just shy of 2,820 home crowd – Pools’ lowest of the season – made an even bigger stance by showing that racism never wins.
The drab 1-1 draw with the Spireites had few positives or talking points to take from it except the pressing issue that was tackled head on.
Pools may not always win, in fact they tend to lose more often than not! But it’s instances like this – when the beautiful game rears its ugly head – that can see fan-bases, players and clubs come out of it stronger, and that’s exactly what Pools will look to do.
They could prove to be the vanguard club of a still all too necessary anti-racism movement required in football in the UK.
It’s something that shouldn’t exist in this day and age but it’s rightfully not a conversation or issue that will be swept under the carpet and forgotten about until it is eradicated.
We’re only in September and we’ve already seen numerous incidents of a racist nature occur across football so far this season. The issue stretches far beyond football, and in 2019, it’s distressing to see.
Pools are anticipating the result of the Football Association’s disciplinary hearing into Saturday’s events as they’ve provided evidence of the incident while listing the steps they have taken to combat the issue.
The fact that the club have acted both quickly, effectively and transparently could be viewed upon favourably by the FA. An investigation is ongoing and Tuesday night’s ‘Love Pools, Hate Racism’ got the point across well.
Speaking from a personal point of view, Saturday’s incident at Victoria Park was the first time I have witnessed such events at a football stadium and I won’t be alone there.
Many in attendance at Victoria Park will be far more seasoned having watched matches since the 1980s and earlier when racism and hooliganism was rife in the game.
Sadly, a small minority clearly haven't moved on from that bygone era.
It speaks volumes when some of the younger Pools supporters appear to show more tolerance an maturity than individuals four or five times their age.
Footballers are subject to abuse all of the time, rightfully or wrongly, it’s part and parcel of the game. Players get taunted, insulted and a bit of banter thrown their way without it turning racist.
So it’s difficult to imagine to imagine how awful it must feel to be subject to racially charged abuse, especially when doing your job.
For that, the players deserve credit for how they handled themselves for seeing the game out under such unpleasant circumstances on Saturday. Some obviously let their frustrations get the better of them due to the referee’s handling of the game but that’s another issue for another day.
The vast majority of the crowd must also take some credit, not only for their demonstration on Tuesday, but their quick condemnation of what had happened following a PA announcement on Saturday.
I’ve only been covering Hartlepool since June – about the same amount of time as several of the club’s summer signings have been here.
My overall impression, for what it’s worth, was that Poolies are an extremely passionate, slightly mad, but also an inclusive fan base.
The actions of a few individuals won’t change that impression, in fact after Tuesday night it’s hard not to have more respect for those on and off the pitch at Victoria Park. You hope that the players feel the same way.
After the last two home games and the shame felt by everyone associated with Hartlepool, racism should now be a thing of the past at Victoria Park, as it should have been anyway.
While the club and fans can be commended for Tuesday’s demonstration, it wasn’t a victory, it was a necessity.
The message will remain but everyone can move forward and start focusing back on the football.