Ed Parkinson recalls a striker who failed to break through at Chelsea, but scored the goals that took Hartlepool up and returned to save them from relegation
On a wet Wednesday in October 1988, desperate Hartlepool manager Bobby Moncur drove to Swansea to watch Newcastle reserves. At the final whistle, believing he had seen the answer to his goalscoring problems, Bobby invited Joe Allon into his car and persuaded him to sign for Hartlepool.
Four goals in 21 league games were only a taster of what was to come. The following season a terrible spate of injuries flung half the youth team into the first XI and bottom place looked certain. In the 6-0 home defeat to Doncaster Joe claims he “only had three touches and two of them were kick-offs”. Whether it was recoveries from injuries, the arrival of the godlike Cyril Knowles or two free transfers from Scarborough that sparked the dramatic revival is debatable, but from the back end of January onwards even the group of hard-line Marxist atheists I watched with could only put the results down to divine intervention. And Joe’s 18 goals.
In an act which Joe admits “would be frowned on nowadays”, the players started 1990-91 by staking a sizeable part of their meagre kitty on promotion. The bookies, aware this had only happened once before, offered 45-1. In July 1991, 18 Pools players headed for Magaluf with £200 spendies each, courtesy of William Hill. Joe got 28 league goals and I can’t remember him failing to beat a keeper in a one- on-one. The rough diamond had been polished to perfection by coach Pop Robson and a big move followed by stardom seemed assured.
The transfer duly arrived. Chelsea paid £250,000 and on his debut in the first game of the 1991-92 season against Wimbledon, Joe came on as a sub and scored one of the most ferociously celebrated tap-ins the Shed is likely to witness. He followed it up with a spectacular overhead effort against Notts County and fame was not so much beckoning as gesticulating wildly.
But he never got much of a run in the first team. Rumours in Hartlepool suggested Joe and his flatmate, Vinnie Jones, had hooked up with an old mate from Newcastle days called Paul Gascoigne and that lager-fuelled mayhem had been unleashed on west London. But Joe claims “football is about money and the men upstairs make the decisions”. As strikers such as Tony Cascarino, Mick Harford and Robert Fleck came in (with universally disappointing results) Allon fell behind in the pecking order. By November 1992 he had played 18 times for Chelsea when Brentford tabled a club record offer of £275,000. On Joe’s 20th appearance another £100,000 would have been due to Hartlepool, so off he went.
Things went well at Griffin Park, except for a broken jaw, and Joe averaged a goal every other game. But with the Bees’ finances taking a turn for the worse, Joe’s wages meant he was offloaded to John Rudge’s Port Vale. Every time Joe played, Brentford got £2,000, every goal was another £1,000. Again he scored a fair few and Port Vale went up, but Joe, as he saw it, was too expensive to pick and made his way to Lincoln, then back to Hartlepool at the end of 1995.
In the worst period of his career Joe suffered chronic knee ligament problems which ultimately destroyed his capacity to play football at any level. He continued to score but less and less frequently and his general play was severely hampered by lack of fitness.
In April 1997 Hartlepool approached the penultimate match of the season second bottom, with a “goal machine” forward who had scored six league goals all season – just the time for a trip to Darington. With 90 minutes gone it was 1-1 and we were set to end the day bottom. Then, as the final chant of “going down” rang around decrepit Feethams, the ball bounced loose in the box towards Allon. He had been dumped on his arse by a previous challenge but remained seated to prod the ball home. The next week Joe finished the job with a brace in a 4-0 hammering of Barnet.
The national fame Joe’s talents deserved never came, but in one town he remains a hero. It is heartening to hear that when he had been offered a potentially lucrative move to Fulham earlier that spring he had turned it down. “What if I left Hartlepool and then they went down? I couldn’t have lived with it. Even if I never did anything else in football it was all worth it for that thing at Darlington, just to see the Poolies’ faces.”
From WSC 181 March 2002. What was happening this month