Defeat to Blyth Spartans and Paul Murray sacking latest problems
13 December ~ It has been a depressing week both on and off the field for Hartlepool. Humiliation at home to Blyth Spartans in the FA Cup heaped more pressure on a team who are six points adrift at the foot of League Two. Meanwhile the sacking of Paul Murray after just 45 days in charge has embarrassed the club and attracted criticism from fellow managers and the national media. Murray’s departure was confirmed by a brief, vaguely worded statement on the club website, which as usual failed to shed much light on what is going on.
The financial state of the club and owners IOR is unclear, although it doesn’t appear healthy. Hartlepool have not paid a significant transfer fee since 2009, despite having recouped around £1.5 million from the sales of Jack Baldwin and Luke James in the past year alone. Gate receipts are poor, despite well-intentioned discounted ticket offers, and the cancellation of the AGM as a cost-cutting measure suggests that the situation is not improving.
The near total lack of communication from the board particularly infuriates supporters, although things may be about to change. On Friday, chairman Ken Hodcroft and chief executive Russ Green took the unprecedented step of responding to ten questions from a local newspaper, with lack of investment being the main subject of interrogation. Hodcroft and Green argued that Salary Cost Management Protocol (SCMP) rules do not account for the James/Baldwin money arriving in instalments, which means money received after next year is not regarded as income and is therefore unavailable for transfers.
It is an argument that does not really stand up – the SCMP expenditure cap applies only to wages, not transfer fees, while there is no real explanation as to what happened with the £200,000 that was paid up front. For Hodcroft and Green to then slate fans who would criticise the lack of investment but "not support the club by buying a £20 FA Cup ticket" was tactless and will have done nothing to improve already strained relations
In the meantime, the unsustainable and damaging trend of selling star players and plugging the gaps with free agents and bit-part loan deals will continue. The current squad is lacking in both depth and quality. Matthew Bates and Stuart Parnaby have demonstrated little of their supposed pedigree since arriving on frees in the summer, while the defensive chaos is best summed up by the emergency acquisition of Matteo Lanzoni from Cambridge United, after the return of Scott Harrison to Sunderland left us almost totally bereft at centre-half.
A trip to high-flying Burton is the probably the last thing that Hartlepool need at the moment, although the result of chairman Hodcroft’s recruitment process is likely to prove more significant than that of today’s match. Murray was not the most popular of appointments, and after the failure of two enthusiastic but unproven young managers, an experienced hand may be needed to get the best out of the players at his disposal. Despite frustrations over lack of investment, the club have remained financially stable throughout IOR’s tenure; should Hartlepool drop out of the Football League, then our long-term security may be far less certain. Tom Acey