November 11 2003
Part 4 of Pools Online's history of Hartlepool United covers the years from 1968 until 1989 - back in the basement of the Football League.
Hartlepool's time in Division 3 was to be shortlived. We were relegated in our first season, suffering from drawing too many games (19), and it was back to business as usual in the basement division. A re-election zone finish in our first season back, and Bradford PA being dumped out of the league in favour of Cambridge United. A next to bottom finish in 1970/1 saw us applying for re-election for the tenth time, and with increasingly strong challenges coming from the non-league sides the question was how long before it was Pools turn. The following year was a case in point - we escaped re-election in 18th place, but a strong case from Cup heroes Hereford was enough to see the name of Barrow wiped out of Football League history.
1972/3 saw Pools just avoid re-election once more, and then came a considerable - and potentially vital - improvement. 11th, 13th, and 14th may not have been pulling many trees up, but it meant that when Pools did slip into the re-election zone again in 1976/7, we hadn't been up for the vote for a full five years. We'd also had some Cup success, reaching the fourth round of the League Cup in 1974/5. Workington had finished bottom for the second season running, were making their fourth successive application for re-election, and lost out to Wimbledon.
It was however the last season for Hartlepool AFC; another renaming, this time to the current name of Hartlepool United, took place over the close season. Not that it brought the club much luck, with a 21st place finish and another re-election campaign to fight in 1977/8. There had been some Cup success - including a victory over Crystal Palace in the FA Cup 3rd round - but improvement was needed. It came to a degree as Pools pulled up to 13th, avoiding re-election narrowly, and then confounded many expectations to finish 9th in 1980/1. Sadly, the improvement wasn't sustained, and by 1982/3 Pools were once again staring re-election in the face. Another campaign to remain in the Football League followed the next year - and although our re-election efforts were once again successful, the gap was narrowing. Pools were consistently polling the lowest number of votes of the league clubs, and with 14 re-election campaigns behind them, patience was wearing thin.
Narrowly avoiding re-election in 1984/5 was a huge relief therefore, and it was an improvement that continued with a vengeance in 1985/6. Pools spent some time in the promotion places before fading, but an eventual finish of 7th was still highly encouraging. With playoffs coming in the following season - and the end of re-election - more of the same was what we wanted - but it was not to be. Pools avoided relegation to the Conference by three points in the end - but 18th place was not a good place to be after the heights of the previous season. Finishes of 16th and 19th followed, but it was to be the next season that saw Pools finally hit rock bottom and then start rising - for a while at least. Bobby Moncur was about to sail into the sunset, but Cyril Knowles was to turn the club around.