Exclusive: Dimi Konstantopoulos opens up on time at Hartlepool United, second spell at the club, coaching aspirations and joining Thornaby FC
EXCLUSIVE: Former goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos discusses his time at Hartlepool, second spell at the club, coaching aspirations and joining Northern League side Thornaby.
Former goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos still remembers his first visit to Hartlepool – the place which offered him a first chance in English football.
The Greek shot-stopper became a popular figure at Victoria Park during his time at the club between 2003 and 2007, making 121 appearances while helping take Pools to the cusp of the Championship.
Fast forward 13 years and Konstantopoulos, 41, still has strong ties to the North East. His wife is from Hartlepool, he spent six years at Middlesbrough before departing last year and has recently joined Northern League Division One side Thornaby ahead of the 2020-21 season.
And the former stopper still has fond memories of those early days at Hartlepool, particularly during the 2004/05 campaign when the club reached a League One play-off final before losing to Sheffield Wednesday at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Pools also reached the fourth round of the FA Cup that season, while Konstantopoulos was then part of the club’s 2006/07 League Two promotion team
"I was lucky to be there at a time when Hartlepool was really well organised and had a great squad, great manager, in general the club was on the rise,” Konstantopoulos told the Mail when reflecting on his first spell at Victoria Park.
“I really enjoyed my time there, it was similar to Middlesbrough as I came in as a back-up and worked my way up to number one.
“Obviously the season we got to Cardiff was the highlight and I think we deserved more from the game in the final.”
Konstantopoulos was playing for Portuguese side Farense and was about to move to Spain before Hartlepool came calling.
“I was with a Spanish club in the second division and was about to sign a contract there,” Konstantopoulos explained. “But as soon as I heard there was a team in England who were interested I just left.
“I just jumped on a plane and flew to Hartlepool.”
Konstantopoulos’ performances for Pools resulted in a move to Coventry, which also led to loan spells at Nottingham Forest, Cardiff and Swansea.
The Greek stopper then reached his peak by helping Boro win promotion to the Premier League in 2016, following a brief stint back in Greece playing for AEK Athens.
After leaving Boro last summer Konstantopoulos returned to Hartlepool to train with the squad under former manager Craig Hignett.
Hignett, who was a coach at Boro under Aitor Karanka, knew the keeper well, while Pools fans were keen to welcome back a former hero.
A short-term move seemed to suit all parties, yet Hignett’s sacking in October last year reduced the chances of Konstantopoulos extending his stay.
The Greek did agree a non-contract deal with Pools in December but made two costly mistakes during a 3-2 FA Trophy defeat at Harrogate Town.
When asked about the keeper’s future after that match, Pools boss Dave Challinor said: “A lot of it will be down to him and how he’s feeling.
“Gamewise he felt he was in a good condition and able to do a job at this level. I suppose that’s easy to say when you’ve been out of the limelight and not really played any real games over the last three years because it can catch up with you.”
And despite his admiration for the club, Konstantopoulos felt it was time to move on.
When asked about his second spell at Pools, the keeper said: “When I went back there to train when Higgie was there, I’d worked with him in the past and he’s a great lad and a great coach.
“I went to train just to keep fit and Higgie said to me if you want we can sort something out and then we started thinking about it, but after a while Higgie left and things changed.
“I think that was when I decided it was not for me anymore.”
There is a possibility Konstantopoulos could return to Pools again, this time as a coach.
The 41-year-old is keen to stay in the game and is still based in the North East following his professional playing days.
“I think that’s the next part of my career,” said Konstantopoulos when asked about his coaching aspirations. “I’m finishing my coaching badges now, obviously the coronavirus has set things back a bit.
“I’m looking forward to starting something in that field now because I want to be involved in football.
“I’ve had a couple of discussions but it wasn’t what I was looking for but when I get the right opportunity I’ll get straight into it.”
For now, though, the keeper is looking forward to helping out at Thornaby, who are set to start their 2020/21 campaign against local rivals Billingham Town this weekend.
“The lads from Thornaby contacted me and asked for some help to raise the club a little bit,” explained Konstantopoulos when asked about the move. “They have a good project there and ambition to try to get the club higher.
“It’s a local club and I like the community, I’ve lived here for a while and decided to help by any way I can, by playing some games or being around the club when I’m needed.
“It’s good for me and good for the club.”
After 24 years in the professional game, the Greek’s footballing journey isn’t over yet.