Victoria Park, Hartlepool United
League One v Charlton Athletic
Tuesday, February 15th 2011, 7.45pm
I have followed Charlton to around 60 odd grounds or so, and this was to be my first visit to Hartlepool. The ground is easy to find - just head up the A19 and follow signs to Hartlepool and keep on going until you see the floodlights. There are plenty of places to park nearby. In fact there was hardly anybody around an hour before kick-off. We went for a drink in a nearby pub which was very quiet. In fact I was beginning to wonder if the game had been cancelled. It turned out the attendance on the night was only just over 2,000.
The ground is smart and clean but tiny. It was a strange experience watching league football in a small ground that was about a quarter full. We could hear the noise we were making because the away stand only has about six rows of seats and has a low roof, but we could barely hear the home fans at all. Perhaps the infamous north-sea wind was in the wrong direction. I liked it though as the Pool faithful were all friendly and amiable and the stadium had a nostalgic feel about it despite having been modernised.
The stewards were all very friendly and efficient, with none of the officious insistence on sitting down that you often get at some other stadiums. There is a tiny snack bar for visiting supporters called the Hungry Monkey. It is not big enough to cope with any sizeable away following. You can swiftly see why it is called that because even with the modest following from South London on a cold Tuesday night they swiftly sold out of the much-hyped pies! A tray of chips had to suffice and to be fair they were chunky and hot and there were plenty of them. There is an equally small 'bar; although sadly it was closed throughout our visit meaning the away section was alcohol-free. Apparently, according to the steward, it opens if the guy turns up and not if he doesn't!
An unusual feature is that the Hartlepool VIP lounge is situated in a separate building behind the away end so that the VIPs make their way to and from their seats through the away section. That could be 'interesting' for them with some away supporters (not us, obviously!)
Ah, the game itself! As is now customary for Charlton under Chrissy Powell, we didn't turn up for the first half at all. The away fans sang 'gap in the middle, we've got a gap in the middle' in case 'Sir' Chris hadn't noticed. Pool scored from a free kick for a foul near the corner of the penalty box that the ref kindly let them take from close to the "D" and although Elliott pushed it onto the bar, "Bob" Monkhouse" had time to put the kettle on before picking his spot to smash home the rebound whilst the Addicks' defence stood around watching.
There was a slight improvement in the second half but after "Bernie" Eccleston had equalised for us, we swiftly conceded Hartlepool's one and only corner of the game from which "Rod" Liddle headed home unchallenged at the far post. Pool must be wondering why they didn't force a few more corners and help themselves to a hatful of goals.
A late flurry saw us hit the bar, but it was one of those nights when we didn't really deserve a draw. As we wandered away from the ground we had to accept that Pool weren't very good but that they had beaten us.
The only game I have ever been to that was easier to get away from afterwards was Doncaster Belles vs Charlton Ladies. It's a long drive home.
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