Hartlepool United takeover, 12 months on: Jeff Stelling reveals Raj Singh’s Pools concerns and how deal was 48 hours from collapse
Hartlepool United is a club transformed after 12 months under the financial wing of Raj Singh and his accountants.
Long gone are the days of money troubles and phoenix clubs, talk of administration, liquidation and relegation.
Positivity is the order of the day under Singh, with his right-hand man Craig Hignett guiding progress up the National League table on the park.
It’s not been plain sailing - it was never expected to be. But you’d be mad to think Hartlepool United is not on a more firm footing now, than it was 12 months ago.
Sunday marks the year anniversary of the confirmation of Teesside businessman Singh’s Pools takeover - and to mark the date, we are running a week of features speaking to the people who helped make the deal happen.
Yesterday, manager Hignett spoke of his role in changing Pools’ fortunes, now is the turn of Jeff Stelling.
Hartlepool legend, the man on the tele, Sky Sports celebrity, club president, part owner and most importantly a bloke who bleeds blue and white.
Stelling was partly responsible for taking the fight to save Pools on to a national stage. He also put his money where his mouth is, buying a small stake in the club he loves in its hour of need.
But it could have be so different.
In the first of a two-part, exclusive interview with Stelling, the Soccer Saturday presenter discusses how Singh’s Hartlepool deal was just 48 hours from collapse.
“People will not know this but the former owner John Blackledge played a massive part in saving Hartlepool United,” said Stelling.
“The deal was 48 hours from collapse. Had he not agreed to get money back further down the line, we would not have been able to take the club off his hands.
“If he’d asked for his £1.7million there and then, the deal would have been off. But thankfully, at the 11th hour, he agreed to our proposal and we could get the deal done.
“Without Raj Singh and his money, 90% plus of which is his, there would be no football club.”
False dawns were almost a daily occurrence for Pools, who were led down the garden path on a number of occasions by prospective investors.
This was no different for Stelling, who was speaking to said money men hourly.
Stelling, honary president at the time, was outside the inner workings of the club under Sage Investments and Blackledge.
So the news which broke last January from Pam Duxbury - the club was just two weeks away from going to the wall - was as much as a surprise to him as it was Poolies, and those of us who cover the club day-in, day-out.
“It took over my life for months,” he said.
“Plenty of people came forward saying they would invest in the football club, but when it came to it, no one came forward with the cold, hard cash.
“We had Swedish consortia, Canadian businessmen, local investors - the list is endless. Not one of them put their hand in their pocket. Only Raj was willing to do that.”
Singh’s name was a one which had been dragged through the mud during his time as owner of Darlington Football Club.
The Quakers troubles is something that was on the mind of Stelling when he first met Singh, but from then on, he knew the Pools chairman was the man to take the club forward.
“I had been warned off dealing with Raj Singh by a number of people,” revealed Stelling.
“But from the moment Higgy (Craig Hignett) introduced us, I knew Raj was the real deal.
“After that first meeting I went with my gut instinct. No other people I met, or parties that had come forward and made promises convinced me they would be able to save Hartlepool. Raj did.
“It was not just me who was concerned, though. Raj had his reservations as well.
“He was worried about how he would be accepted with his Darlington links but I told him time and time again ‘people will back you’. And since he came in, fans have sung his name and those fears soon became a thing of the past.
“And while things have not been perfect in the last 12 months, Raj can take little blame for the club’s failings. He brought this club back to life.”