Darrell Clarke: Hartlepool United must respect and embrace National League

Former Hartlepool United player Darrell Clarke.
Former Hartlepool United player Darrell Clarke.

Hartlepool United must respect and embrace the National League if they are to come straight back.

That was the message from former Pools favourite Darrell Clarke as the club begins to prepare for life outside the Football League for the first time.

Pools already have Padraig Amond and Nicky Deverdics who have been successful in the National League


And Clarke knows all about the National League, having led Bristol Rovers to promotion in 2015.

The two-time promotion winner during his time at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium is proof it can be done, but says Pools need to get a lot of things right.

“On a personal note, I’m gutted for Pools and the town,” Clarke told SportMail. “I had a great six years at Hartlepool.

“For me for Pools now it’s about respecting the league, don’t think you are bigger and better, go and embrace it.”

Like Pools, Rovers dropped into the relegation zone late in 2013-14 and Clarke had to pick up the pieces and fast.

“Pools need to get a good mix in their squad,” said the 39-year-old. “They need the good players they have now, but bring in players who can play National League and can handle the pressure.

“Next season, every game for Hartlepool will be like a cup final.

“All the teams in the division will be raising their game when they play Pools, especially when they come to a great stadium like the Vic.

“It is going to be very tough and that’s why they must get the squad balance right, get the right pedigree of player.

“You will need players who know what it’s all about – Pools already have Padraig Amond and Nicky Deverdics who have been successful in the National League.

“I can’t stress enough how everyone has to embrace it.

“I think I’m right in saying only six or seven clubs have come straight back into the Football League.”

Clarke took Bristol Rovers to immediate promotion, via the play-off final at Wembley, a glorious conclusion to a job which had started in difficult circumstances.

“I cleared out 16 players and brought 13 in,” said the goal-scoring midfielder.

“There was a lot to do, there were massive budget cuts, to the playing squad and in the club.

“I was lucky in that I knew what the National League was about.

“I had been at Conference level with Salisbury where I was player-manager and I was already aware how hard it was.

“It was tough, but we did it.”

Clarke began his managerial career at Salisbury at just 32 and did a wonderful job at the Wiltshire club before joining Bristol Rovers.

He does not see any reason why Matthew Bates should not take his first management steps in the National League.

Bates was the head of the interim team put in charge at Pools for the last two games of the season.

The gang of four, Bates, Billy Paynter, Stuart Parnaby and Ian Gallagher, almost pulled off a great escape when the side led Doncaster 2-1 on Saturday, only to be relegated following Newport’s late winner against Notts County.

“It’s down to the qualities of the individual,” said Clarke. “You don’t have to have experience of the league.

“There are a lot of people he could pick up the phone to. It’s not rocket science, is it?”