November 11 2003
Part 3 of Pools Online's Club History of Hartlepool United covers our first spell in Division 4 - and the arrival of a young man called Clough...
Division 4 was something Pools fans were to become very acquainted with, only spending two seasons outside it from it's formation until it's renaming in 1992. During that time, we were to waste all of the good work of the Westgarth era, and it was to take an exceptional young manager to put us back on the right track briefly before yet another period of doldrums.
Our first year in the new division saw us finish 19th, but there was one notable result: a 10-1 win over Barrow that to this day remains our biggest league win. The only time Pools have bettered it was in the North-Eastern League era, when Workington were thrashed 12-0. It was to be our only bright spot for a while....
The next season saw Pools finish bottom for the first time in their history. More than 100 goals conceded, and a strong chalenge from Peterborough looked to have sealed our fate - but it was instead Gateshead that went out of the league, and the decision still rankles with some who followed them at the time. In 1960/1 Pools improved marginally to 23rd - but received least votes of any of the league teams. We were perhaps lucky that with no well-defined pyramid in place, no less than 16 teams stood against the four re-election candidates; had all the votes for the non-league teams gone to one place, Pools would have been out.
The next season Pools again finished next to bottom, suffered the indginity of being beaten 10-1 by Wrexham, and it's entirely possible that had Accrington Stanley not gone out of business in mid-season to create a vacancy that we would have been for the chop. Not that this encouraged the side - we finished rock bottom again the following season (1962/3), next to bottom the season after and only escaped the re-election zone in 1964/5 to finish 15th - after five successive years in the bottom two. 1965/6 saw us once again avoid re-election, but it was a landmark season for the club in another sense: the arrival of a new management team at the Vic. Brian Clough had made his name as a striker for Middlesbrough and then Sunderland before injury finished his career; now, he was given the opportunity, together with his assistant Peter Taylor, to rescue Pools from the lower reaches.
Clough and Taylor worked hard - Clough would regularly do the rounds of the pubs and clubs to raise funds, and even famously learnt how to drive the team coach as an economy measure - though he showed plenty of nous to turn it into a press occasion! John McGovern signed from school to become the youngest player to pull on a Pools shirt until his record was broken in 2002 by Steven Istead, and others arrived as well. Pools improved from 18th to 8th under their stewardship, and Derby County came a-knocking at the end of the 66/7 season. Gus McLean then took over, and guided Pools to the first promotion in their history in 1968 - a win at Swansea in the penultimate game securing third division football, Pools eventually finishing third. Clough had been gone a full year - but even now, most regard it as his team.
Promotion secured, Hartlepools United still never played in Division 3. Over the close season, with the boroughs of Hartlepool and West Hartlepool merging, the club's name seemed no longer appropriate - and so Hartlepool AFC took centre stage at the Victoria Ground the following season.