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Word Of Honour: My Winner At Sunderland

4 October 2016

Pools legend Brian Honour talks us through his iconic winning goal when the Club took on Sunderland at Roker Park in 1988.

Hello and welcome to my latest Blog here on the Official Website.

I thought it was an opportune time to do the next instalment because playing against Sunderland always stirs big memories for me in terms of looking back to that famous night of Tuesday 9th February 1988 when we beat them 1-0 at Roker Park – and I got the goal direct from a corner!

It was a massive for us. Sunderland were a big catch in the lower two divisions at that time when we drew them in what was then the Sherpa Van Trophy. There was no Under-21s or anything like that about it – this was a competition that gave lower league players a chance to get to Wembley.

Sunderland had slipped down in to the old Division Three that season and they went on to win the league on their way back up but this competition was a chance for them to do the double in a way by getting to Wembley as well.

From our side we were really looking forward to it too because it was a quarter-final and that stage you could see you weren’t too far away from the final so it was getting quite exciting. It was a mega, mega game.

It’s quite weird looking back but the manager John Bird had us in for training on the morning of the game to practice set-plays of all things! We never ever trained like that before a game but I think it was the gaffer trying to give us that professional edge and, as it happened, we spent a lot of time practicing corners!

The drill was that Paul Baker would be at the near post and he would flick it on for the two centre-halves Tony Smith and Paul Haigh to attack. Every team in the country did that sort of set-play but we really practiced it that morning and a lot of emphasis was placed on its importance in the game at Sunderland.

We went back in to the changing rooms afterwards and had a bit of a meeting before we were sent home to get our heads down for a few hours before meeting up again at 3.30pm to travel to Sunderland. We had a pre-match meal booked at The Swallow Hotel in Seaburn – again, this was something we very rarely did but it was all down to trying to be more professional and getting the best out of the lads in the big game.

We had our beans on toast and then the manager rounded us up go for a walk – and as we left the hotel we were met by what can only be described as something like a hurricane! There were gale force winds on the front at Seaburn and trying to walk was a problem – and all the time we were out there I was thinking ‘how am I supposed to float a ball in to the front post in these conditions?!’ Haha.

One thing that did give us a laugh was when the Chairman John Smart decided he was going to join us on the walk but as soon as he got out of the hotel door his combed-over hair flew all over the place and he decided against it! It was a great moment and it really lifted everyone’s spirits, to be fair, and probably settled our nerves too.

I remember we were kicking towards the Fullwell End in the first half of the game and we had the wind in our faces. We knew it was going to be tough so we had more or less eleven men behind the ball and we defended for our lives to get in goalless at half time. We felt like we had done very well to keep the score at 0-0 and as we went out for the second half the gaffer reminded us about the corner routine and how important it was to hit Paul Baker…

We started the second half brightly and we really penned Sunderland in their own half – and then we got the corner. I vividly remember John Bird out of the dugout shouting and bawling down the touchline “Hit Bakes, hit Bakes, make sure you hit Bakes!” His hair was flapping about like mad and the wind was nearly pushing him down the touchline towards me!

I remember putting the ball down in the quadrant and it kept blowing away so in the end I had to dig my heel in to the pitch and make a mound to keep it where it was. I felt more like a kicker in rugby than a football player. It’s funny what your memory keeps hold on to because as I walked to take the corner I remember seeing Pools fans behind the goal in the Roker End with carrier bags rolled up and on their heads to protect them from the pouring rain!

“Hit Bakes, hit Bakes!” I looked up and Paul Baker was there at the front post making himself bug shouting “near post!” And I remember thinking that if I tried to hit the near post I wouldn’t even reach him in the wild wind and rain so I just tried to aim it towards the edge of the eighteen-yard box. As it floated in the air John Bird was screaming “that’s useless!” and he got even angrier as it floated over Bakes’ head but then it started curling towards goal and it flew in to the top corner. Then everyone was going bananas and the manager was shouting “good goal!” Haha!

There was euphoria in the dressing room afterwards. We’d just beaten a massive club in Sunderland and there were plenty of black and white connections in our team which gave the victory some added spice. John Bird went out and told the press that we had been very professional in the build-up to games and revealed that it was no fluke because we’d been working on our set-pieces…

We made national headlines. ‘Gone With The Wind’ was one of them, if I remember rightly but I have dined out on that goal for nearly thirty years now, I guess. I can still see it in my mind as it looped over Iain Hesford who had misjudged it and Reuben Agboola couldn’t keep it out of the top corner at the far post. Everything seemed to stop for a second – even Birdy shouting on the touchline. And then there was just bedlam.

The press did a photo of the lads in the dressing room and then we were on the bus back to Hartlepool and we were back in town for about 10pm – and in 42nd Street not long after. We were treated like superstars for the rest of the night and it’s a game that’s gone down in club history really.

Anyway, let’s hope that somebody can emerge as the Pools hero in this latest meeting with Sunderland. If we win, it might not be quite as dramatic, but it would be nice to give ourselves a chance to progress in the competition.

Enjoy the game.

Brian.

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