THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Ed Parkinson on how Darlington's demise means Hartlepool need a new local rival

For the best part of a century Hartlepool and Darlington were bound together through shared derbies that added a couple of high points to what were, more often than not, long and dreary seasons. Holding little hope of any more substantial achievement, fans of both clubs focused intensely on beating "them" once or twice a year. There was the occasional season apart but the breaks never lasted long as both clubs quickly returned to their natural habitat of the fourth division.

Then the arrival of a mischievous, safe-cracking rogue with an alarming combover called George Reynolds changed things. George turned Darlington heads with his romantic promise of the Premier League in five years. What he delivered was a move from a suitably sized ground steeped in history to an out-of-town vanity project that has become an unbearable financial millstone. It looks likely to keep the club out of the League and in dire peril for a long time yet.

Pools also got new owners too but they took a different approach. We've pretty much stabilised in League One and, with cheap season-tickets boosting crowds, a promotion push is being mooted. Meeting Darlington in the foreseeable future seems unlikely, so some new villains are needed.

At our own level, there has been mention of Carlisle, lacking rivals of their own since Barrow and Workington dropped from the League. The problem is that such matches were local affairs and we are on opposite coasts. Derbies don't need to be city-based but sharing a county, or at least region, is pretty much essential. Even if we could generate a bit of reciprocal loathing it just wouldn't seem right.

Looking down, both Gateshead, with a new stadium coming, and York, recovering from the KitKat years, seem to have a better chance of regaining and sustaining League status than our old foes. Neither measures up for derby purposes though. Ancient Heed fans still seethe with resentment about our 1960 re-election coup that saw them ejected instead, but it is 51 years ago so most people harbouring a grudge have died. Anyway, many Poolies feel you have to admire Tynesiders who refuse to support Newcastle – they deserve nothing but respect.

Historic York is a great day out if you like pubs made of old wood and this used to lead to numerous arrests after matches against them. This wasn't a sign of football animosity, more an indication that the "boisterousness" considered normal over the weekend in Hartlepool is unacceptable in a heritage-themed environment. Most Poolies who remained unincarcerated have fond memories of days out at York and would welcome their return.

Which only leaves Middlesbrough. They were always left out when attempting a top-flight derby threesome, watching and nervously trying to join in as Newcastle and Sunderland rolled around in a never-ending embrace oblivious to the outside world. We could never jump in with those two either, but would a Tees derby work? Dislike of "the Borer" is usually expressed through a profound loathing of Alistair Brownlee of BBC Radio Tees. This verbose embodiment of the "only big clubs matter" myth casts aside Reithian impartiality to specialise in questions along the lines of: "So, Gary Liddle, after 250 games for Hartlepool what are your fondest memories of your time in Middlesbrough reserves?" The club Brownlee drools over are not similarly disliked, however.

After all we did save their bacon by lending them our ground when Ayresome Park was locked up in 1986 and you wouldn't do that for a real enemy. On their part Boro fans mostly just patronise us. Of course, that could all change if we did the double over them for a couple of seasons and wrote rude slogans we didn't really mean about Wilf Mannion on the Transporter Bridge. For that to happen we'd have to be promoted to dizzying heights while they failed to return to the top flight. Possible, but the combination seems too good to come true.

Maybe nobody can fill the gap and all we can do is cherish derbies past. The last one was a 3-0 victory with more of us than them in their giant stadium. Just writing that made me smile.

From WSC 297 November 2011

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