Hartlepool United's bet on new owners to make monkey of survival odds

A Life Beyond The Premier League

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The Independent Football

Hartlepool United once signed a player for “£10 and a box of kippers”. This glorious fact, related in the club’s official history, makes all others in Hartlepool’s 106-year history relative – even the reparations claim against the German government for the Zeppelin bombing of Victoria Park in 1916.

Over the decades, Hartlepool United acquired a reputation for grim, grey survival and re-election votes, but there have been sporadic outbreaks of colour and optimism, kippers among them.

Another arrived this week when a consortium, TMH, took over the club resident at No. 92 in the four divisions.

The new chairman, Peter Harris, and his associates have called themselves TMH, which tickled some, if not all, as TMH stands for The Monkey Hangers.

The fabled hanging of a monkey, suspected of being a French spy during the Napoleonic wars, by Hartlepool’s towns folk is the reason the club’s mascot is called H’Angus.

“TMH is a new company set up specifically to buy Hartlepool,” Harris said on the Victoria Park turf, HUFC badge on his lapel. “We wondered what we should call it and thought the fans would quite like it.”

Harris, a boyhood Watford fan, said that those behind TMH are experienced in various industries – “construction, nightclubs, inward investment” – and that the priority is to get away from relegation trouble, then mount a promotion campaign next season.

It is ambitious talk given Pools are six points off safety,  with three wins from 20 League Two games, and have just been knocked out of the FA Cup by Blyth Spartans.

But the mood is suddenly buoyant, due more than partially to the previous owners, Increased Oil Recovery, writing off “£14m of debt”, according to Harris.

IOR, an Aberdeen-Norwegian oil company, had been at The Vic since 1997 and were not immune to colour. A limelight-avoiding Norwegian oil man, Berge Larsen, was behind the scenes. The description “maverick” has been used about Larsen in his homeland, where he has faced investigation over tax avoidance.

Ken Hodcroft, the outgoing chairman, was more visible. Together, IOR gave the club an era to remember. Pools were eight minutes from the Championship in the 2005 League One play-off final, and as recently as 2011-12 were third in League One.

“IOR have been here 17 years and they’ve invested heavily in the club for those 17 years,” said chief executive Russ Green, who is staying on. “But the oil industry is not what it was, and – it sounds silly – we’re affected by that. Oil prices have dropped, big-style.

“IOR have been brilliant and saved the club, but after 17 years we’ve come to a crossroads. We knew this new investment would give us impetus at a vital stage of the season.”

TMH’s first decision in post has been to appoint Ronnie Moore as manager, Hartlepool’s third of the season.

Moore, 61, has been out of work since being dismissed by Tranmere Rovers in April. He had been accused of illegal betting. Moore accepted the FA charge, though he was keen to give some context.

“I know what happened and the FA realised there was nothing in it,” Moore said. “It was a £1 bet on Tranmere, to win £3.60 odd – do they really think that was my bet? The account was in my name but that is all it was.

“I feel I needed to come back. I have 900 games as a manager and 700 as a player under my belt, I didn’t want to be remembered for some stupid betting thing.”

Moore was back at Tranmere on Tuesday watching tomorrow’s opponents, Oxford. Hartlepool are offering a £15 ticket deal for that game and Morecambe on the 28th – £7.50 each. With one home league win since April, pricing is one of a few issues Hartlepool need to get right: somewhere between oil and kippers.