The BIG interview: Gary Liddle opens up about return to Hartlepool United on loan from Walsall

Nostalgia seems to be top of the menu for Hartlepool United this festive season.

Saturday, 21st December 2019, 8:00 am
Gary Liddle (C) of Hartlepool vies with David Di Michele (R) and Herita Ilunga (L) of West Ham during an FA Cup, 4th round, football match between Hartlepool United and West Ham United at Victoria Park, Hartlepool, England, on January 24, 2009 (Photo: GRAHAM STUART/AFP via Getty Images)

Less than a week after Dimi Konstantopoulos made his return in between the sticks for Hartlepool United 15 years after his initial debut, Gary Liddle is now in line to follow suit against Dagenham & Redbridge today.

The versatile midfielder come defender made around 300 appearances for Pools between 2006 and 2012 and this week confirmed his return to Victoria Park on a one month loan deal from League Two outfit Walsall.

“It’s good to be back, see some old faces and some new ones as well,” Liddle said.

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Bradford City's English midfielder Gary Liddle celebrates winning 4-2 at the final whistle during the FA Cup fourth round football match between Chelsea and Bradford City at Stamford Bridge in London on January 24, 2015. Bradford won the match 4-2 (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

“I’m looking forward to it. I played over 300 games at the football club and loved my time here, won a few personal awards and got promotion in my first season so I’ve always had a good affinity and always wanted to come back.

“I’ve been very close to coming back to the club a few times. Under Higgy [Craig Hignett], under Colin Cooper, Gary Coxall called me a couple of times back in the day but the timing just wasn’t right.

“This time it’s all fallen into place with a new manager as well with Dave [Challinor], so it’s an exciting time.

“I know he’s spoken about changes being needed and I suppose I’m a piece in that jigsaw, we’ll wait and see what happens with that.

“The previous times I’ve had offers to come back but there were also offers from bigger and better clubs really and I didn’t really want to drop out of the league but this time everything felt right.”

Former Pools midfielder and current Walsall manager Darrell Clarke signed Liddle over the summer. The 33-year-old was a regular starter in the opening months of the season but hasn’t featured in a league game for The Saddlers since October.

So when the opportunity to return to Pools came about, it was a no brainer.

“It was a straightforward decision to come back, I just spoke with Sweens [Antony Sweeney, first team coach] and that was it,” Liddle added.

“Speaking to Darrell, he was of the same mindset as me, he wanted me to come out and play football and at the end of January when the loan ends, we’ll see how all parties are.

“If Hartlepool are happy with how I’m doing and want to extend it then hopefully that’s the case. On the other side of that, if Darrell isn’t happy with his squad then he’ll assess things so it’s an open ended one.

“One big positive coming here is that it’s taken about two and a half hours off my journey which helps!

“Being away from home is difficult especially when you’ve got two young children like I have and spending half the week in Walsall.

“It’s a short career and sometimes there are things you’ve got to do, I don’t regret moving to Walsall, it’s a great club and I obviously know the manager very well but he didn’t bring me in as a mate, he brought me in because he thought I could do a job for him and I still think I can.

“Circumstances have come about where I haven’t played in a while and I’m not one who will just sit around without getting itchy feet.

“It’s good to be home and back around the family, especially over Christmas.

“The main objective is to start playing football again and firing Hartlepool up the league because it’s a very important period in the season around the new year.

“There’s a lot of games over Christmas and New Year so it gives me plenty of chances to show what I can do. It gives the manager and the staff the chance to have a good look at me then and extend things further which hopefully they will.”

Manager Dave Challinor has spoken of the need to strengthen his side defensively and views the signing of Liddle as a centre-back loan signing.

“To be fair, I feel more comfortable with the game in front of me so I do feel more natural as a defender,” he admitted.

“When I was at Hartlepool the first time, I probably played half my games in midfield and the rest at centre-half with Sam Collins and Peter Hartley so I feel more comfortable there and as I’ve got older.

“I feel as though I can bring a bit of composure and get us playing the way the manager wants us to.”

The well-known camaraderie of the Pools squad from Liddle’s first spell is something that many of those involved felt was key to the side’s success at the time.

And while the defender doesn't know too many members of the current United squad, there is one player he seems to follow around.

“I’ve played with hundreds of players and you don’t keep in touch with 90 percent of them but coming into Hartlepool the first time and getting in with a group like that with the spirit they had at the time was brilliant,” Liddle continued.

“I came in on the back of a relegation but the club had success in previous years with the [play-off] final where most of those players were still involved in League Two and that went a big way to getting us promoted that year.

“Now I don’t know a lot of the lads in there, maybe four or five through playing with them. It’s my fourth club playing with JK [Jason Kennedy] so he can’t quite shake me off but it’s good to be around the lads and hopefully it’ll be a good spell!”