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Hartlepool United 0-1 Southend United - Hangin’ around Hartlepool

By Brian Jeeves

Brian Jeeves undertakes a mammoth away day with his beloved Shrimpers.

Why would anyone clamber out of bed at 4:57am on a Saturday morning? It’s bloody stupid I know. Nonetheless, up and down the country, week after week, hoards of football supporters from different walks of life are falling out of their pit at “stupid o’clock” in a quest to watch the beautiful game in far flung places and today it’s me.

I creep out of the house careful not to wake the wife and kids and set off to meet sidekick Mark Edwards. “Ed” has sneaked out of his house too. I’m not sure his wife Hayley was thrilled about our impending adventure, I think she believes I lead him astray, and you don’t get too much further astray than a 562-mile round trip to Hartlepool.  Somewhat jadedly, we board the 6am Travelzone coach heading for the North-East. The trip is headed up by Paul Marshall aka Wino. Paul, a 47-year old wood machinist has followed Southend United for donkey’s years. He started running coaches to away fixtures believing he could offer fans cheap and efficient travel with entertainment and food thrown in. Shrimpers’ fans have responded to this, with more than 800 people using this service during the last campaign. Despite the long trip ahead, it is another full house aboard the Travelzone express today. As the coach reaches its various pick-up points, Phil Cox, a 48-years old Civil Servant who hasn’t missed a Southend game for 24-years joins us. Phil has often travelled more in hope than expectation and when asked how the match would pan out, he responded, “Is that a trick question?” we are also united with Fred “senior” and a bloke called Alan who has travelled from Alicante in Spain for our adventure.

With all collection’s complete, we hurtle Northwards up the A1, eventually arriving in the picturesque town of Thirsk. The Cross Keys public house warmly welcomes us in with a buffet and good selection of ales, which the travelling Shrimpers put away with gusto. I love pubs like this, old fashioned and homely; it instantly joins my unofficial list of top ten boozers in the world. 

Whilst there, we meet up with Simon Twinn, fondly known to Shrimpers fans as “Yorkshire Blue”. Simon was born in Essex but moved to Yorkshire when he was12. He recalled taking a fair amount of stick at his new school from kids who followed the likes of Leeds and Middlesbrough, making him feel like the proverbial round peg in a square hole. However, now at the age of 47, he seems to have won the locals round. Many of his friends now look out for Southend United as their second team. I ask him if he feels confident ahead of today’s match, he replies with adopted Yorkshire grit “Yeh, why not, it’s the start of the season.”

We arrive at the Victoria Ground in good time. Ed and I go in search of a programme and team sheet along with some pre-match grub.

Approaching the entrance, we see a couple of legendary figures of North Eastern football. I miss out on an autograph from former Manchester United and England defender Gary Pallister, but manage to get a photo with Hartlepool’s famous mascot H’Angus the Monkey!  The tale of H’Angus goes back to the Napoleonic war. A French vessel was shipwrecked off Hartlepool, legend has it the only survivor picked up was a monkey in a French uniform. Believing it was an enemy spy; the locals held a trial and subsequently hung the poor creature. All these years later, the monkey’s myth lives on in the shape of the football clubs lucky charm.

As the turnstiles rhythmically click our admission to the ground, I bump into Nicola Stott, an office clerk by day, football and cricket fanatic the rest of the time. Nicola first watched Southend United on New Year’s Day 1992, a fond memory as Southend thrashed Newcastle United 4-0. She is a regular on the away coach, and readily admits her support of Southend has cost her a boyfriend or two. After last week’s win over Plymouth, she’s confident the Shrimpers can make it two out of two, although cautiously adds, “You never know with Southend.”  

The games starts at a frantic pace with both teams showing intent within the opening minute.  Indeed, it is not long before the ball nestles in the onion bag. Only four minutes have been played when Southend’s Will Atkinson made a dash into the Hartlepool box before constructing a chance for Freddy Eastwood. The Shrimpers front man needs no invitation to steer the visitors ahead sending the travelling support into raptures. Led by Scott Peters, the visiting fans burst into a chorus of “Oh Southend we love you”, Scott is a 27-year-old Cab driver who is unashamed to confess that Southend United are his life. He can be seen at home games, often shirtless, beating a drum and generally trying to whip up the crowd. Today, he’s drumless, but the away contingent follow his lead in trying to rally the boys on the park.

Southend had clearly settled the better; Ben Coker and Anthony Straker continued to cause Hartlepool problems down the left flank while a fired up Eastwood chased and hustled as the home side defended nervously.

Hartlepool were forced into an early change. Ed suggested the announced substitution sounded like a 1970’s TV scheduling change. Sweeney was replaced by Walton!

After twenty-four minutes the home side produced their first meaningful effort at goal, however, Shrimpers custodian Daniel Bentley expertly turned aside James Poole’s low strike. Buoyed by this, Hartlepool started to mount pressure. Jonathan Franks effort was hacked away by John White while a thundering shot from Poole was brilliantly turned over by Bentley.

After Eastwood had seen a drive whistle past an upright, Hartlepool got on with peppering the visitors goal. Both Bradley Walker and Simon Walton fired wide as “Pools” struggled to find their range.

Just before the interval, the game ignited by a couple of flash points. Firstly, Walton’s robust challenge sparked a melee amongst the players, which strangely resulted in Pool’s Austin going in the book, then within a minute Barry Corr clashed with Jack Baldwin; whistler Mark Brown stunned the visitors, showing the Shrimpers man a red card on the advice of his assistant.

Presumably, both managers used the break to restore calm. Nevertheless, it wasn’t surprising that Hartlepool, wanting to make the numerical advantage count, started on the front foot.

As the home side probed, the Southend support became more vocal in an attempt to lift their charges. The Shrimpers responded by creating an opening of their own. Eastwood’s free kick picked out Luke Prosser, but the defender was unable to direct his header towards the target. Meanwhile, Hartlepool threatened through Walker and Christian Burgess, the latter’s attempt was greeted with a cry of “I bloody live closer than that!” from Lee “Mr Pie” Venus in the visitors stand. Lee received his nickname after finding the back of a Torquay United goalkeepers head with a steak ‘n’ kidney pastry; this after the custodian in question had goaded us following a Gulls goal against the Shrimpers some 20 odd years previous.

The home side’s efforts became somewhat desperate as time continued to move on against them. Substitute Steve Howard became the target of a series of “doffs” forward, as Hartlepool looked to utilise his aerial presence. Nonetheless, Southend defended resolutely, quite comfortably in fact.  The Shrimpers support belted out the tune of The Great Escape, but this was no flee from danger, they had stuck to their guns and played some controlled stuff. A shriek from Mr Brown’s whistle signalled the end of the game. Southend captain John White led his troops over to the jubilant group who had set off from the Essex Riviera some eleven hours previous.

The journey home was boisterous. Two victories on the trot have filled us with a bout of early season optimism. Freddy “senior” has enjoyed his first away day with the Travelzone crew. He holds his phone aloft as the inhabitance of the coach sing the name of our talismanic goal scorer to the recipient of the call, his son Freddy Eastwood.

Our voyage is interrupted with another welcome stop at the Cross Keys where we say farewell to the Yorkshire Blue, followed some way down the road by Peterborough services. It is here that we find our triumphant team. Travelzoners race inside to congratulate our heroes, it’s great to see the team respond by posing for pictures and signing autographs, to the untrained eye they are just League Two footballers, to us they are, at least today, Gods.

This act of solidarity between players and fans isn’t something many Premiership followers will comprehend. The chances of getting anywhere near their cotton wool warriors are almost non-existent, as are the odds on these footballers really giving a monkeys about the throngs who adore them.  However, clearly, it’s not all allure in the lower leagues, I’ll leave the last line to the cashier in W.H.Smiths at the services who told us, “You should have been here ten minutes ago, we had Halifax Town in, they’re a right bunch of miserable buggers!”

Hartlepool United; Flinders, Austin, Baldwin, Burgess, Holden, Walker, Franks, Sweeney, Poole, Compton, James.

Hartlepool United subs; Rafferty, Collins, Walton, Howard, Richards, Rodney, Boagey.

Southend United; Bentley, White, Coker, Laird, Phillips, Prosser, Eastwood, Corr, Straker, Atkinson, Leonard.

Southend United subs; P.Smith, Timlin, Reid, Cowan, Clifford, Payne, Thompson.

Attendance; 3,479 - (215 from Southend)    

Next up;

Sky Bet League Two - Saturday 17th August 2013 – 3pm

Bootham Crescent - York City v Hartlepool United

Roots Hall Stadium - Southend United v Northampton Town