Hartlepool 0-2 Dover Athletic analysed – one of the most shamefully ridiculous games for all the wrong reasons amid racism controversy

It was one of the most extraordinary games you are ever likely to see – for all the wrong reasons.

Sunday, 22nd September 2019, 5:25 pm
Gime Toure of Hartlepool United hits the post during the Vanarama National League match between Hartlepool United and Dover Athletic at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 21st September 2019. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

3,500 people left Victoria Park utterly shell-shocked as to what they had just witnessed. Hartlepool United had just been beaten 2-0 by Dover Athletic but it remains up for debate as to whether a game of football actually took place.

Pools boss Craig Hignett didn’t acknowledge the game following the full-time whistle as the result, performance and one of the most ridiculously misjudged refereeing performances you’ll see at a professional level from Joe Johnson ultimately came secondary to an alleged racially charged attack on the Dover players following their opening goal.

The incident came about after a fairly even opening 35-minutes as Inih Effiong won a penalty after appearing to make the most of a sliding challenge from Aaron Cunningham.

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Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett leaves the field after being shown a red card by referee Joe Johnson during the Vanarama National League match between Hartlepool United and Dover Athletic at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 21st September 2019. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

The Dover striker dispatched the spot-kick with aplomb before walking in front of the Town End and clearly goading the Pools fans.

Several members of the crowd were making their feelings known towards Effiong and the Dover players, as they had the right to. But that was completely ruined when one individual allegedly made the awful decision to turn what should have been typical charged banter between players and fans into racist abuse.

Should Effiong have conducted himself in the manner he did following the goal? Not really. He was probably more than aware he’d get some stick from the home fans as he cupped his ear.

But there’s absolutely no place for racism in football or otherwise and he may be a Dover player, but he’s just another person and no one deserves the alleged abuse he and a few others were subject to at The Vic – this issue is far bigger than football.

Trouble broke out at the Hartlepool United v Dover Athletic game during the Vanarama National League match at Victoria Park, Hartlepool, on Saturday 21st September 2019. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

The scenes had clearly distressed both sets of players as there was an extended stoppage in play at the end of the first half before 11-minutes were added once the clock hit 45-minutes.

The incident seemed to take a while to sink in with those in attendance. You couldn’t quite fathom what just happened and the home crowd were getting agitated as now a goal down, there was no clear sign that the game would actually continue.

It was difficult to work out exactly what took pace at the time. But based on the way both sets of players reacted and a clear consideration whether to actually continue the game, something serious had obviously taken place.

A half-time PA announcement condemning racist abuse effectively confirmed the nature of the alleged incident.

Referee Joe Johnson during the Vanarama National League match between Hartlepool United and Dover Athletic at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 21st September 2019. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

Both sets of players deserve huge credit for continuing and finishing the match. Things looked in serious doubt at one stage and there would have been no complaints had it been abandoned.

It’s been a while since Pools were making national headlines, now they shamefully have once again for the wrong reasons – but rightly so.

What happened at The Vic on Saturday should get as much coverage as possible in order to make moves to stamp out a poison that should have never existed in the game in the first place – yet in 2019 it still seems to be as painfully prevalent as ever.

The club will be punished for this, not only with negative press but with the inevitable fines and other disciplinary actions imposed on them.

A club statement from chief executive Mark Maguire confirmed the individuals responsible have been identified and will be dealt with in the ‘strongest possible manner’ by the club and police. A life-time ban at Pools would be getting off easy as a police investigation is currently ongoing.

The incident should be the only real talking point from the game but the 90-minutes on the pitch was still – without being hyperbolic – one of the most extraordinary spectacles possible to witness in a football stadium.

The second half became more and more ridiculous as it wore on. Pools were on top after the break as they pushed for an equaliser and had several strong penalty shouts turned down.

Gime Toure burst through on goal but was denied by the post and Luke James and Michael Raynes (twice) saw close range efforts somehow scrambled off the line by Dover.

Things started to come to a head again when Toure was chopped down inside the penalty area and nothing was given. A fan appeared to be escorted onto the pitch by a steward to make his feelings known to the referee, who was painfully inept all afternoon.

The Pools players also voiced their frustrations and in Ryan Donaldson’s case, too much so as he was shown a straight red card for dissent. Hignett was given his marching orders shortly after for criticism aimed at the officials.

Still, the hosts continued to push for an equaliser despite their numerical disadvantage before they were finally caught out by a Dover break which was bundled over the line by former Gateshead striker Steve Rigg.

Things turned ugly in the aftermath again as substitute Nicky Featherstone became the third Pools person to be handed his marching orders for dissent.

From the first half penalty incident, the referee lost all control of the game. Had the crowd trouble not overshadowed things, the main talking point would be an astoundingly shocking display of officiating.

The standard of officiating is an issue but perhaps one for another day as there’s something a lot more serious that needs addressing as soon as possible.

Kick it out.