November 11 2003
Part 2 of Pools Online's history of Hartlepool United covers our years in Division 3 (North) - from 1921 until 1958 and the end of regionalisation.
Our first game in league football was away to Wrexham, and saw Pools record a win; that season we ended up a creditable 4th in the table, some way behind the champions Stockport, but a highly encouraging performance. However, with only one side promoted in the days of the regionalised divisions, it was not enough to even get near Division 2 - and in fact this was to prove our highest placeing for some years. A 15th place (out of 20) followed the next season, and the following year saw us finish next to bottom and face re-election for the first time. Fortunately there were no other teams seeking election, and the club continued in the league.
The 1920s continued with Pools more often than not being at the wrong end of the table - although there was one finish of 6th place - but it wasn't until 1929 they had to seek re-election again, finishing top of the ballot - but Ashington, who had finished bottom, weren't so fortunate and made way to York City. An improvement followed to 8th, but the next season saw us avoid re-election on goal difference as Nelson went out of the league.
The rest of the 1930s saw Pools pregess to mid-table obscurity, and then to consecutive top 10 finishes before needing once again to apply for re-election in the last pre-war season. Once again, they had not finsihed bottom and topped the poll for the league place.
On the resumption of the League programme after the war, Pools had a new manager in place: Fred Westgarth. After somewhat humble beginnings, Westgarth turned Hartlepools United into a team that won respect across the country for their cup exploits, took them as close as they have ever got to the exalted heights of Division 2 (now Division 1), and left the Pools fans with many happy memories and some names that have passed into Poolie Folklore. Frank Stamper, Watty Moore, Jackie Newton, Ken Johnson, George Luke, Leo Harden...
Pools avoided re-election, and gradually started to improve - finishing 9th in 1952 before another couple of mediocre seasons, and then in 1955 finishing 5th, ten points behind champions Barnsley - their best season since entering the league. The FA Cup 4th round was also reached, for the first time in the club's history. Better was to follow, with 4th place the following year and then 2nd - runners-up to Derby by 4 points after leading the table for much of the season. Sadly, Fred Westgarth didn't live to see it - he had taken ill earlier in the season, and died that February. It's arguable that had he survived we'd have gone up. He did however have the satisfaction of seeing his side take part in one of the all-time classic FA Cup ties; more than 17,000 crammed into the Vic in January 1957 to see Pools take on Manchester United. At the time they were the champions of England, about to win the title for the second consecutive year, and the Busby Babes were in their pomp - tragically to be cut off in their prime in Munich a few months later. Man Utd won the tie - but only after a titanic struggle that saw them win 4-3 in a match that Sir Matt Busby later described in his autobiography as the most exciting he'd seen.
Much was expected of Pools in the next season, but everything turned sour; with the end of regionalisation, far from challenging for a place in Division 2, Pools finished well down the league and found themselves facing life in Division 4 - the new basement division.