Pools v promotion: A brief history as Hartlepool United make it number five

1968. 1991. 2003. 2007. 2021.

Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 12:30 pm

Promotions have been few and far between throughout Hartlepool United’s 113 year history. It was certainly an ‘I was there’ moment for the 3,100 Poolies at Ashton Gate on Sunday as the side secured a dramatic promotion back to the Football League.

It’s been 53 years since Pools finished third in their first ever promotion season. On May 11, 1968, over 11,000 supporters packed into Victoria Park to witness Gus McLean’s side beat Swansea Town 2-0 thanks to goals from Cliff Wright and John McGovern.

A week prior, 16 Poolies travelled down to watch their side secure promotion at Swansea by the same scoreline – Bobby Cummings and Wilson Hepplewhite the scorers.

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The promotion seeds were sewn by the great Brian Clough prior to his move to Derby County in the summer of ‘67. And hats off to the ‘Swansea 16’ who got to witness its confirmation in the flesh.

Unfortunately, Pools came straight back down to the fourth division and it would be 23 years until their next taste of promotion.

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A generation later, Hartlepool finished third in what proved to be an emotional 1990-91 campaign.

Celebration scenes in the Hartlepool United's changing room following the successful 1968 promotion campaign.

It was 30-years ago – May 11 once again – when Pools earned promotion with a 3-1 win over Northampton Town at Victoria Park.

A remarkable run of form at the back end of the season saw Pools head into the final day of the season in fifth but knowing a win could be enough to sneak an automatic promotion spot and potentially the title.

Darlington’s win over Rochdale and Stockport County’s victory against Scunthorpe United saw Pools miss out on the title but defeat for Blackpool at Walsall meant they were able to secure third place and promotion thanks to goals from Paul Dalton, Joe Allon and Paul Baker on a memorable afternoon at Victoria Park.

Allon, who was just a year old when Pools secured their previous promotion, hit a club record 35 goals to help the side return to the third tier.

Hartlepool United players celebrate their 1991 promotion from division four.

"I can’t believe it like,” Allon said with his recognisable Tyneside twang following the promotion. “It’s great for the club, great for Pop [Robson], Alan Murray and let’s not forget Cyril [Knowles] as well.

"Most of all for those lads, not a lot of them have had much success. Fair enough I’ve had a few awards and all that but those [players] know what they mean to me and I’m nothing without them, I’ll put it all down to them like, they’re absolutely brilliant.”

The promotion came after manager Cyril Knowles was diagnosed with a brain tumour and forced to hand over the managerial reins to Alan Murray in March 1991. Knowles would sadly pass away later that year but his legacy at Victoria Park remains to this day.

The early 21st Century would be halcyon days in Hartlepool United’s history with six top seven finishes in a row and a promotion in 2003 to boot.

Hartlepool United promotion history.

Again, Pools would be within touching distance of the league title as they headed into the final day of the season against leaders Rushden & Diamonds in poor form but knowing that victory would secure top spot.

Ultimately Pools stumbled over the line with a late Chris Westwood strike confirming a 1-1 draw at Nene Park as they settled for a second place finish following a run of three wins in their final 13 matches.

Unlike previous promotion campaigns, Pools went up not simply trying to survive in the third tier but to go up again. Two heartbreaking play-off campaigns followed before Pools quickly found themselves back in the four tier.

Thankfully this time their stay was short but sweet as they bounced back at the first attempt under the management of Danny Wilson.

A club record 23 game unbeaten run saw Pools climb to the top of League Two, beating rivals Darlington 3-0 along the way. That first ever league title would continue to elude Pools as back to back defeats to end the season saw them finish second behind Walsall.

14 years, two relegations and four seasons of National League football later, Pools finally achieved promotion number five.

Nicky Featherstone and Ryan Donaldson of Hartlepool United lift the Vanarama National League Trophy during the Vanarama National League Play-Off Final match between Hartlepool United and Torquay United at Ashton Gate on June 20, 2021 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

But they had to do it the hard way.

Pools finished fourth, meaning a play-off eliminator route was their only way of securing promotion – a feat no team had achieved before.

The play-offs hadn’t been kind to Hartlepool over the years with each of their five previous campaigns failing to result in promotion.

Before this season, the club had won just one out of 11 play-off matches in its history.

But under Dave Challinor things had changed. Despite a up and down final month of the regular season, they came alive in the play-offs.

It couldn’t have got off to a better start as they found themselves 3-0 up against Bromley just 25-minutes into their eliminator match at Victoria Park.

Typically, Pools made the scoreline less comfortable than it needed to be but crucially they progressed with a 3-2 win.

Stockport County were Pools’ next victims as Challinor’s side edged a tight affair at Edgeley Park thanks to Rhys Oates’ 17th goal of the season.

Then it was on to Bristol and Torquay United in the promotion final. Little did we know what the game would have in store.

Arguably the best play-off final in recent memory saw Luke Armstrong give Pools the lead only for promotion to be briefly snatched away from Pools in the fifth minute of stoppage time by Torquay goalkeeper Lucas Covolan.

After 30-minutes of stoppage time, the match ended 1-1 and penalties followed.

It would prove to be Pools’ day as Brad James tipped Matt Buse’s sudden death spot kick onto the crossbar to seal promotion in the most dramatic of fashion.

Much like they did in 91’, Poolies charged the pitch to celebrate promotion back to the promised land after the longest and most turbulent of seasons.

Number five is sure to live long in the memory.

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