Jeff Stelling has described Hartlepool’s recent promotion as one of the “happiest days” of his life and hopes the region’s other sides can return to former glories too.
The long-standing host of Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday, Stelling is passionate Hartlepool fan and this summer saw his side return to the EFL when they beat Torquay in the National League play-off final.
“It was incredible, like the cliché, it was an emotional rollercoaster,” he told the PA news agency, with Pools seventh in League Two, three games into their return.
“To be surrounded by thousands of Hartlepool fans, I mean there were only 7,000 in the crowd, but both sides could have brought two, three times as many spectators as that had we been allowed, the atmosphere was incredible.
“It was almost a game we had no right to win, they [Torquay] finished above us in the table, they won 5-0 at our place, but I think it was fair to say first half we battered them, second half I think it’s called game management, but I think it’s called hanging on!”
Hartlepool were 1-0 up before Gulls goalkeeper, Lucas Covolan, scored the equaliser from a corner and the game went to extra-time before Hartlepool eventually won on penalties.
Stelling added: “It was a great feeling, and once the trophy had been awarded, I was there with my son, and I said ‘we’re not going on the pitch’ and then I saw the chairman and his sons on the pitch and I said to Robbie, “come on, we’re on!”
“My part was negligible, but I remember [Mark] Shelton put the trophy in my hands in front of 3,000 fans to be lifted up and they were chanting my name, which was crazy, but it was still a fantastic feeling.”
Stelling, one of the north east’s most famous footballing faces, was speaking on behalf of the Sky Bet Fan Hope Survey, which found Newcastle fans are the most pessimistic in the Premier League with a score of 3.94 out of 10.
The lifelong Pools fan has been a supporter since attending his first game with his sister.
“I think [I remember my first game] but when I looked back through the record books it doesn’t quite tally up,” he said.
“I went along with my sister to a game and I’m pretty sure it was at home to Workington, when they were a Football League side.
“We won, I think we won 3-1 and I thought ‘this is fantastic!’ and ‘it must always be like this!’ and then we went on a run of about 20 games without a win.”
Having a long association with the north east, he also discussed the changes and challenges football has faced recent years and the importance of success in the region.
“Quite often I would get the train up to Newcastle to watch top-division football, and the same for Sunderland and there were huge crowds,” he said.
“I mean they still get that now, but (then) watching them, not just playing against, but competing with, some of the best teams in the country.
“In that sense, there has been a definite decline. I was covering Middlesbrough in the top division, the first game I was ever sent to as a football reporter was Leeds against Middlesbrough at Elland Road, and they were both in the top 10 of the top division then.
“If those three football teams were successful, can you imagine the feelgood factor in the north east?
“An area that’s been depressed, jobs have gone and life can be hard, and to have a successful football team means that once every couple of weeks you can put that grind and that day-to-day survival behind you and just indulge in something else.
“It’s so important to have some successful teams in the area.”
– Stelling was speaking on behalf of the Sky Bet fan hope survey.
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