Hartlepool United takeover, 12 months on: Jeff Stelling discusses Pools' future under Raj Singh, Craig Hignett's key role and his transition from fan to part-owner

Twelve months tomorrow Raj Singh's takeover of Hartlepool United was on the verge of collapse.

Wednesday, 3rd April 2019, 1:04 pm
Updated Wednesday, 3rd April 2019, 1:24 pm
Jeff Stelling in the Pools away end last season, prior to Raj Singh's takeover of the club.

Owner John Blackledge, of Sage Investments, was still holding firm with his want to recoup all or part of the £1.7million he'd invested at Victoria Park during a failed, reluctant 12-month foray into the world of football.

The clock was ticking, livelihoods, history and a football club's future were hanging in the balance.

Raj Singh is taken on the Victoria Park pitch by Jeff Stelling, following their Pools takeover 12 months ago.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But up stepped Teesside businessman Singh to save the day - although he does not like the idea of being labelled Hartlepool's 'knight in shining armour'.

In yesterday's Mail, the man who helped Singh financially, Jeff Stelling, discussed in an exclusive interview the talks which took place prior to the takeover, his own concerns about Singh's past and the time-wasters who stalled the deal.

In the second part of his interview, the club president discusses what the future might look like under Singh, how he's adapted from being a fan to a decision maker, albeit on the fringes, and the key role manager Craig Hignett played in the whole process.

"Twelve months on from taking over I think we are about where we wanted to be," said Sky Sports Soccer Saturday presenter and lifelong Poolie Stelling.

"I cannot speak for Raj when I say this, but I think he is comfortable with where things are at the moment. He will, though, want to see a return on his cash at some point.

"I think there have been a lot of things that have pleased this season, and some disappointments, too.

"I was disappointed that things did not work out for Matty (Bates). He was a good man and a decent coach with good ideas, who deserved the chance to manage Hartlepool. I am also disappointed we have not won as many games as we feel we should have and also how the Andrew Davies deal did not work out for us.

"On the positives, I am happy with some of the players we have brought in, Mark Maguire is also a big asset to the football club. I am pleased that the Richard Money appointment eventually had a plus side and brought Higgy into the role we (the fans) all knew he would be best suited to. And that's without even going into the off the field stuff.

"I feel as a club we are in a fantastic position to kick on. We will not have the budget of some of the sides at the top of the table, but football is not always about that. Wrexham have been in here for more than a decade and Salford still might not get up having spent unprecedented sums for this level.

"We will be competitive on and off the field and I think we have the right man in Higgy to be fighting towards the top end of the National League. A top seven target is what we want to achieve at the club."

Hignett's role in the whole takeover, then transformation of the club he loved is not lost on Stelling.

Hignett was the man who introduced Stelling to Singh in the first place.

According to Stelling, Hignett was also the man who kept the deal alive, constantly, even when things appeared impossible to unravel.

"Higgy is friends with Raj and I have absolutely no doubt he was in his ear every day to get this deal done," said Stelling.

"He could see the potential, and what we could do with the football club and when others backed away Hignett and Raj kept coming back, whatever the obstacles."

Stelling had, for some time, been a proud honorary president of the club, but he admits it was nothing more than being a fan with a blazer.

Having put cash in the bank, he's now on the other side of things, and while it's a role outside his usual comfort zone, it's one he's happy to fulfil.

"I am not on the board, but I do get told of decisions when they happen," said Stelling.

"That is unusual for me. I am normally the fan saying 'why are we selling that player?' or 'why is he getting a new contract?'. Now I can see it from both sides.

"I am not part of the decision making process but I do offer my opinion when told what is happening. So far, things have been working well. And I have every trust we now, as a football club, have all the right people in all the right positions for us to progress."