The imperative role chairman Raj Singh played in recent racism troubles at Hartlepool United
Disaster never seems to be too far away from Hartlepool United and last weekend saw the club suffer one of it’s worst days in recent memory.
The alleged racist abuse that took place at Victoria Park during the 2-0 home defeat against Dover Athletic cast a shadow over the club and tarnished its reputation.
The inevitable fallout stretched far and wide, making national headlines as Pools worked frantically to try and combat the very serious issue. The ‘Love Pools, Hate Racism’ initiative was launched and demonstrated in the two games that followed against Chesterfield at The Vic and away at Eastleigh on Saturday.
Hartlepool were also impacted internally with a number of players distressed by the incident and thought to be considering their next step.
“It’s been really difficult for a few of the players in there and they’ve been questioning stuff, there’s no doubt about it,” said United boss Craig Hignett.
“But the professionalism they have showed and they way they’ve carried themselves is a real credit to them.”
Although Pools are currently five matches without a win in the National League, they have been able to take some solace in the fact that they are unbeaten since the controversial incident that has threatened to derail their season.
The 1-1 draws against Chesterfield and Eastleigh may not have been the most inspiring but they’ve proven to be something of a settler after a turbulent period.
Midfielder Liam Noble looks set to leave Pools this week though it remains unclear whether his exit has anything to do with events that took place during the Dover match. The 28-year-old was dropped to the bench for the following match before not travelling to Eastleigh amid interest from Morpeth Town.
With the club wrapped up in controversy, it’s up to those at the top to step up and take charge. And that’s exactly what chairman Raj Singh, chief executive Mark Maguire and Hignett have done.
“The chairman has been vital for us, absolutely,” admitted the United manager.
“I think for the chairman to go and visit the players on a Sunday after what happened showed what he thought about it and showed how important he took it and how much esteem he holds the lads in.
“He could have easily cracked on with his day-to-day business and spoken through Mark but he wanted to do it himself as we all did.
“Mark spoke to the lads, I spoke to the lads. We did the bit with Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card and that went some way to showing the lads how seriously we took it and how we weren’t gonna brush things under the carpet and that everyone who was involved in it we’ll find and we’ll do as much as we can to make sure they’re punished as strongly as we can.”
Pools have endured some troubled spells over the years but things have settled down somewhat since Singh took over the club back in 2018.
The ship has been steadied off the pitch with the club operating on a modest yet competitive playing budget in the National League. For once, some degree of financial stability is in place.
But things could be going better on the pitch as the team currently sit 16th in the table after 14 matches.
Results can be forgotten about and moved on from quickly but last Saturday’s events at Victoria Park undoubtedly shook Pools to its core.
The club’s potential punishment is yet to be made public but the implications reach far further than football.
While any owner of a football club should want to combat racism swiftly and effectively – Singh admitted to having a vested interest in dealing with the situation.
“As an Asian going to school in Middlesbrough, growing up in the 1970s and 80s and going to many away games following Boro, I feel I am well-qualified to make comment on the subject,” he said.
“I can speak about racism at first-hand and could write a book on all the incidents and altercations I have had over the years.
“We will continue to condemn racism in all its forms here at Hartlepool United and would ask all supporters to work with us moving forward so that we endure no repeat of what happened here on Saturday. It has no place in the game we all love.”
And Hignett expressed his gratitude and admiration for the Hartlepool chairman.
“I’m sure it’s been difficult for him like I say, everyone’s been questioning themselves – I’ve had some difficult weeks here but this has been right up there,” the Pools boss revealed.
“He’s come in and saved this football club and to have that happen last Saturday, it’s only natural to question it.
“He is very opinionated and that’s why he is where he is, why he’s got where he’s got and done what he’s done in business.
“He’s forthright and he believes in what he believes in, and he was brought up in Middlesbrough in the 70s so there’s not a day gone by probably where he hasn’t had it, everyday he’d get something.
“I’ve spoke to him about it at length and he was saying that it made him, one, thick-skinned and two, want to prove everyone wrong.
“I’m sure that part of his drive comes from what happened to him growing up. But who’s laughing now?
“So if anyone needs an example, they only need to look at the chairman.”