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Why Jeff Stelling Chose Hartlepool

21 January 2016

On 21st March Jeff Stelling will begin his Men United march when he will be taking his beloved Pools all the way to Wembley in a bid to help beat prostate cancer.

He’ll be walking the equivalent of ten marathons in ten days raising vital funds and awareness of the disease on the way.

And while Pools have never before played on the hallowed turf, he’s looking forward to representing the Club on the walk down Wembley Way.

Victoria Park is a football ground Jeff Stelling knows well. It’s here that he came to watch his first game aged seven with his sister. 

Jeff was lucky enough to see a victory in his first ever Pools game, which, he thinks, was a comfortable win against Workington Town.

“I thought, 'Well this is great, this is how it always is’,” he reminisced.

“Then we didn’t win for 19 games after that, and then I realised it isn’t how it always is!

“I have to be honest, in those days, we could barely ever win a game,” says Jeff, who has presented Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports for over twenty years.

So, why Hartlepool?

“Like every football fan, your home team’s ground is special, where memories are born.

“They call these places Fields of Dreams. It wouldn’t be many people’s field of dreams but it is mine. It’s where a lot of my fondest memories come from. 

“The only reason you’re going to support Hartlepool, generally speaking, is if you were born here and that was me.

“I’m a one-team man, born in this town. They were always my Club, and always will be ‘til I die.”

It was the 1966/67 season which provided the first significant footnote in the Club’s history for any outsider.  

A young manager arrived saying “I don’t fancy the place” but took the job anyway and oversaw a short but successful reign at Victoria Park.

That young manager was none other than Brian Clough, who became one of the greatest bosses of the modern game and, together with his assistant Peter Taylor, changed the fortunes of this Club and set them on course for promotion before moving on to have similar success elsewhere.

“The great thing about a smaller club is you do have special memories. Brian Clough cut his managerial teeth here. I remember that vividly, with Peter Taylor by the sidelines.

“In more recent times I remember we beat Crystal Palace here in the FA Cup in the early 1990s. Palace were flying high at the time. 

“I’ve seen some good players here as well. What people forget is even at the lower levels there are some darn good footballers around.”

Of course, one place Hartlepool haven’t played is Wembley…

And when Pools did reach the League One Play-off Final in 2005, the national stadium was under renovation and the showpiece game was staged at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

“Part of the motivation for doing the challenge is taking Hartlepool to Wembley,” explained Jeff. 

“It’s a journey none of our players have ever made, so I’ll be the man who’s making it, along with their chief executive Russ Green.”

Jeff and Russ will be walking past 30 football clubs through the heartlands of English football – the North East, Yorkshire, the Midlands, Hertfordshire and London.

“I’ve been fortunate that during my broadcasting career I’ve gone to various different grounds, and I’ve never had anything but a warm welcome. It’s great that the clubs and their supporters are all rallying round this cause. 

“Although more women now go to matches, it’s still a stronghold of male life and a lot of these supporters at some stage in their life may get prostate cancer. The more they understand that the better, the more we can help beat it. For them, and for their friends and families.”

On Wednesday 30th March, when Jeff arrives at Wembley, he’ll be a long way from The Vic – but Pools won’t be far from his mind.

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