November 11 2003
This section of Pools Online's Club History covers the early years of Hartlepool United - from their formation in 1908 until entering the Football League in 1921.
The history of Hartlepool United is long, and not especially distinguished. Just three promotions since entering the Football League, never getting past the 4th Round of the FA Cup, and holding a couple of unwanted records are not exactly designed to attract the fans. Nevertheless, there have always been a faithful few and several seasons of relative success have seen attendances at the Vic swelling.
Hartlepool has always been noted as a Rugby town; Hartlepool Rovers were once one of the highest-regarded sides in the country, and West Hartlepool were in the top flight of domestic rugby not so long ago. Football has had a foothold for a long time though, and in 1905 the amateurs of West Hartlepool came to national prominence by winning the FA Amateur Cup - forerunner of today's FA Vase, and at that time second only to the FA Cup itself in terms of prestige. With the amateur game in good health, and the professional game growing in popularity across the country, it was only a matter of time before the suggestion of a professional club came up.
The opportunity arose thanks in part to the decline of West Hartlepool Rugby Club. They went bust, and various interested parties got together to take over their stadium - the Victoria Ground - and launch the Hartlepools United Football Athletic Company in 1908. Named to try and encourage fans from the two boroughs of Hartlepool and West Hartlepool to unite and support the new team, the club joined the professional North-Eastern League. The amateurs of West Hartlepool lost a number of their players to the new club, but continued on for another couple of seasons - during which time they lost an FA Cup tie to their professional counterparts - before folding and leaving Hartlepools United as the undisputed kings of the game in the town.
Early applications to join the Football League were made, but the proximity of Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Sunderland didn't help the club, and none were successful. The club remained in the North-Eastern league until after the First World War, and prayed for a run in the FA Cup - to raise their profile nationally prior to any further applications.
An opportunity to achieve their ambition of entering the Football League was not far away though. In 1920, the decision was made to form a Division 3; this was almost entirely composed of teams from the Southern League, with the only Northern team being Grimsby, who were relegated from Division 2. The decision was made to set up a Northern couterpart for the following season, and one of the applications was from Hartlepools United. A good performance in defeat against Swansea of Division 3 in the FA Cup heleped their case, and so Pools lined up in the new division as founder members of Division 3 (North) in 1921.