Former Pools star James Brown reflects on his career at The Vic and explains why he remembers exactly when the Club last started a season against Colchester United.
The fixtures for the 2016/17 season were revealed on Wednesday morning and Pools were handed an opening day game against Colchester United at Victoria Park.
The campaign curtain-raiser against The U’s sparks memories of the same fixture kicking-off our 2008/09 season when the Essex outfit were consigned to a 4-2 defeat in the North East.
On target twice that day was James Brown, the skilful forward giving Pools the perfect platform for victory by scoring twice in as many minutes just before the quarter-hour mark.
“I can remember it quite well even though it has been a few years,” Brown told us when we called him this week to reminisce about the game.
“Obviously I remember that it was the first game of the season against Colchester United who had just been relegated that season so it was quite a big game for us.
“I know we scored four and I got off to a flyer myself, as did the team. I think I scored quite early on, if I remember right? It was quite canny goal as well and then, a minute or so later, I remember I caught Willie Boland’s eye and he played me in down the side for a second from a free-kick.
“They weren’t bad goals, you will take any goal you can at any time but they were two decent strikes.
“Ritchie Jones scored a belter that day as well but I can’t remember the other scorer? It wasn’t Willie Boland was it? Oh yeah, now I remember – everyone went nuts celebrating and there’s a photo of Willie in the middle looking delighted! It took quite a bit to get a smile out of Willie, like!”
Perhaps what helps to stir the memories in Brown’s head is the fact that his opening two goals of the campaign were celebrated in striking fashion by Jeff Stelling on Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday.
The presenter was obviously delighted to see Brown and Pools get off the mark – and to mark the occasion he introduced a new friend to the panel on his popular live results show.
“That was another reason I remember that day,” Brown laughed. “It was the first day Jeff got the doll out!
“I don’t remember anyone saying anything to me at the game but when I got in the car and looked at my phone I had about twenty messages about it.
“I spoke to one of my friends who told me Jeff had got a doll out and when I asked what the doll was he said it was me! I was wondering how Jeff Stelling had a doll of me until I got home and saw it was obviously a doll of the singer James Brown!
“It has been a few years since I was at Hartlepool but people still mention the doll to me now!”
It had been a perfect start to the new season for Pools and Brown as they looked to further establish themselves in League One following a record-busting promotion campaign of 2006/07.
But things were about to take a dark turn for the popular but luckless Brown when, during a game against Bristol Rovers at the end of November, he ruptured his cruciate ligament for the second time in his career.
“It was a good time for Hartlepool as a team, we’d had a brilliant season when we got promoted and then followed it with a good season in League One. It was looking like this was going to be another one.
“It obviously started well for me as well - until the November time when I did my cruciate again and we dropped off a bit from there, I think.”
Brown was eventually released by Pools in 2011, spending time at Gateshead before a short stint with Whitby Town at the start of last season, where he played alongside doing his day job as a driving instructor.
Despite the frustration that injury brought about a premature end to his professional playing days, the 29-year-old still has a passion for the game - and for Pools.
“I still love my football, my girlfriend is sick of me at the minute with all of the football on the TV, I get sent upstairs to watch it!
“Hartlepool is one of the first scores I look out for though – Sunderland and Hartlepool and then I have a look to see if Newcastle have lost! Ha!
“I have had a bit of time off from playing but I do miss it so I think am thinking about getting back in to it in a local league next season – I just miss the banter of being in a changing room.
“I actually spoke to Colin Larkin this week, he’s at Sunderland RCA now so I’m going to go and have a training session there because, although I have been keeping fit, the most I have kicked a ball recently has been with my nephew in the garden!
“I’ve been a driving instructor for about a year now and it’s going well - I would obviously prefer to still be playing football but I am my own boss, which was great when England played last week as I could take the afternoon off to watch it. So football is definitely still my priority!”
Brown is now hoping to get along for a game at The Vic during the new campaign and is confident that his old Pools team-mate Craig Hignett can do the business when the action resumes in August.
“Higgy was quite a character I remember.
“He seemed to do a brilliant job at the end of last season. It looked like Hartlepool were going to be in a bit of trouble but in the end they comfortably beat the drop.
“He’s made some good signings so hopefully it will be a better season to come for Hartlepool this year, I’ll certainly be looking out for the results and hopefully get to a game or two.”