Pools legend Brian Honour reflects on the 1990/91 Promotion Reunion and reveals why he's backing Craig Hignett for success this season.
Hello and welcome to my summer blog here on the Official Website.
I thought now was a great time to have a little bit of a catch-up following the brilliant 1990/91 Promotion Reunion Night on Friday – it was a really enjoyable evening for everyone.
It was a cracking night and obviously, on top of everyone having a great time, we were there to raise lots of money for Hartlepool & District Hospice and I think we achieved that as well by the sounds of things.
It was fantastic to be able to catch up with some team-mates who I hadn’t seen for a while but it was just as good to be able to see former staff from the Club too. The likes of John Williams and his wife, Maureen Smith and Lisa Charlton were all there and I haven’t seen some of those for donkey’s years!
As well as that, there were plenty of supporters there who you recognise from the terraces both these days and back in the 1990s so for them to turn out and support us and the event was superb and I would just like to thank everyone who came along.
Some of the lads stay in touch quite regularly even though it has been 25 years since that promotion campaign – in fact, I have just come back from Magaluf with Paul Olsson and I can tell you now that he was in much better shape on Friday night in Seaton than he was the previous Friday over there!
When we won promotion back in 1991 we went to Magaluf as a reward for that – and I think since then I am one of the only ones who has been back every single year! Every now and then there are really big turnouts when plenty of the lads go over but obviously the lads have other commitments now so sometimes there are only two or three of us.
I think the fact that it’s a tradition which still carries on shows how tight we were as a squad and how strong the team spirit was that we had. When you have a good dressing room with the lads all pulling together it really does help.
In my opinion, we weren’t fantastic footballers, we’d just work our socks off for each other. If one lad was being beaten by his man then you could guarantee someone else would be over there to help him out.
Our training was almost like a boot camps at times under Cyril Knowles and there were times when we all had to pull each other round. It was like a siege mentality. If someone was struggling then you would hang back and try to help them and keep their chin up.
We weren’t magnificent footballers but we did have a couple of jewells in Paul Dalton, Rob McKinnon and, of course, Joe Allon with his goals but we’ll openly admit that the vast majority of us were grafters. Myself, Nobbsy, Paul Baker, Steve Tupling and the others – we just grafted our socks off for the three points every Saturday.
It was nice on Friday evening to have the chance to reflect on that season and it was weird really because even when we were getting close I don’t ever remember promotion being mentioned until the last week. Even then it was all very strange because of all the permutations ahead of that final game with Northampton Town – we could have won and stayed down, lost and gone up, we could even have won the title if things had gone fully our way. It was crazy really but we just did what we’d always done and just turned up and played.
We’d had lots of postponements that season I seem to remember, so we were more or less playing Saturday/Tuesday every week. We would then be off Wednesday, light day or seven-a-side on a Thursday, bit of prep work on Friday and then the game on a Saturday.
It became a bit of a standing joke in the dressing room that Alan Murray would literally walk in on a matchday and say “You know you’re good players. Play with a smile on your face, lads. Same team, same subs.” We never did any work on the opponents or set plays, it was all very simple and straightforward – but he got the reaction he wanted and it worked.
I hope this doesn’t sound controversial because Cyril Knowles did an important job in keeping us up the previous year, but Alan kicked us on again. Cyril was brilliant, there’s no denying that, but it got to a point where he was giving Dalts and I the full-on hairdryer treatment all the time and we were almost frightened to get on the ball when we went out on the pitch.
When Alan and Pop Robson – and Pop’s role should not be overlooked – came in, it changed. We didn’t do as many dock runs and the formula was literally short and sharp training between games and the confidence just went through the roof with all the lads.
As the results kept coming I honestly can’t remember once thinking about where it would lead. We’d just play the game and then see what happened. Every game came quickly and attendances were climbing week on week and it culminated in that Northampton game when it was packed to the rafters.
To be able to look back on that on Friday was fantastic and I have to say – and I hope it doesn’t sound corny – I had a lump in my throat with the reception I was given by the fans there. The fans still remember and still want to be associated with you and have photos taken – it’s brilliant.
Mick Smith was bang on when he said that back in those days the players would have a beer with fans after the games. They would tell you in no uncertain terms if you’d been bad or tell you if you’d been good, but they’d buy you a pint either way! To still be remembered by the fans after all these years is special for all of us and I will treasure Friday’s reception for the rest of my life.
Looking back to the current day and I have to say that I am missing my football already. Obviously, we’ll get a bit of a fix with Euro 2016 around the corner but I’m dying to get back in the press box at The Vic already, to be honest.
Even though we had a bad finish, I just have this gut feeling that we’re going to do well under Hiiggy. I don’t want to put any pressure on them but the signs were there and I think he could be the right manager and the right time and he looks a great fit for us. If we can get off to a good start then who knows what could happen in 2016/17?
In three weeks I am going in to hospital for a knee replacement operation – I think that’s part of the legacy of injections, tables and playing half-fit just to get out on the pitch during my playing days. 25 years down the line that catches up with you! I know Paul Baker had the knee replacement and I am going to the same surgeon as he did. It’s the downside of playing professional sport, if you looked the other night I don’t think we had two good knees between the lot of us!
Having said that, I will be glad when the operation is over and you can bet that by the time the new season comes around I will be kicking every ball from the press box again!
Never Say Die.