Hartlepool United skipper Ryan Donaldson reveals the dressing room scenes at Bristol ahead of the League Two season
The memories of that dramatic afternoon in Bristol will live long in the memory of club captain Ryan Donaldson, but he knows Hartlepool United have to quickly focus on the League Two campaign.
There is little time between the two seasons given how late the National League campaign finished following the delayed start due to the pandemic.
The Pools squad, who beat Torquay United in a dramatic penalty shoot-out in the play-off final, return to training in a little over a week with attention quickly turning to building a squad capable of competing in League Two.
It has been a tough four years for everyone connected to Pools since dropping into non-league but they are back in the Football League now.
And club captain Donaldson says there is no time to lose.
Donaldson said: “It feels good, it’s been a long four years, a tough four years to be honest.
"This was always the goal for everyone and to finally do it, you saw the relief from everyone, it was just huge that was the moment to get back in.
"Four years seems like a long time but there has been a lot of clubs who have stayed down there longer.
"Luton were down there seven, I think, Wrexham over 10, Cambridge was nine, Grimsby was nine so to get up in four years out of a bloody hard league is a proud moment.
“It’s tough because we don’t have much time to turn it around.
"Teams have got a head start on us and pre-seasons are already starting.
"The staff have worked it out already and it’s just about getting a squad together and pre-season will start in about 10 days I think, it’s a huge opportunity that we’ve given ourselves. Imagine if we’d been beaten on Sunday and then had a 10 day break before starting to prepare for the National League again, that would be very hard.
“After the game, we got back to the changing room, all the fans had left and we obviously celebrated for a bit then after the music was on but no on was really talking, just on their phones and I think we sat there for around an hour, 45-minutes and that’s when it hit me what we’ve done, what we’ve achieved and how long the season was.
"That’s a moment I’ll remember because everyone was just so emotionally drained and the dancing had stopped by then and we just wanted to sit down and take it all in. Those are the moments that you remember, sharing that with the squad and it was just brilliant.”
Donaldson was supported in Bristol by ex-Pools midfielder Liam Noble, who had come to watch complete with a ‘Ryan Donaldson’ facemask.
He added: “I knew they were coming down, I didn’t know about the masks!
"They sent me a photo about 10am saying, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you’ and I just though ‘ah what are yous doing man’.
"I was grateful for all of the support, my Dad couldn’t get down so it was nice to get my friends down, I spent a lot of time with them away from football so for them to make that effort, come down on the day was great and I’m glad they saw us win.”