Even the kindest of Hartlepool United fans will admit their 2016/17 will go down in the history books as totally disastrous.
From on-field struggles to off-the-pitch pain, Pools fans’ fury at the way the League Two side have plummeted into the National League will not be forgotten quickly.
But what were the flashpoints and key moments that defined their season? We’ve compiled the following list, which will not make for happy reading for fans of the struggling side.
1 Saturday 3rd September 2016 – Stevenage 6-1 Hartlepool United
The omens were not looking good just six games into the League Two season, as Hartlepool fell to a 6-1 defeat at the hands of Stevenage.
Nathan Thomas got the away side off to the perfect start, scoring four minutes into the game, but things soon fell apart as Craig Hignett’s side slumped to an embarrassing defeat.
2 Wednesday 9th November 2016 – Hartlepool 1-2 Rochdale
The EFL’s Checkatrade Trophy didn’t win many fans with lower league clubs, and while Hartlepool struggled on the pitch in their match against Rochdale, off the pitch things were even worse.
Only 380 people turned up to watch the fixture, as Pools were dumped out of the trophy – and while it was bad enough on the field, it was the EFL that were left to claim that the competition was a worthwhile venture… despite the lack of fans.
3 Saturday 10th December 2016 – Hartlepool United 0-5 Cambridge United
Pools’ heaviest home defeat of the season came at the hands of Cambridge United, who thumped Hignett’s side 5-0 at the start of December.
Despite going in at half-time with the scores level, the U’s came out all guns blazing in the second half and scored five goals in the space of 37 minutes.
The result left Hartlepool 18th, and things weren’t to get much better…
4 Sunday 15th January 2017 – Craig Hignett sacked as manager
After a poor Christmas period and back-to-back losses, Craig Hignett was shown the door by the club, with Pools floundering in 20th place.
Hignett was less than a month from his one-year anniversary, but soon learned in his first managerial job that the business is brutal.
5 Sunday 5th February 2017 – Hartlepool win the internet
Some respite off the field, at last – though they should never have had to deal with this.
After a fan tweeted the club asking for women to be banned from the players lounge, including the spectacular grammatical failure of #menneedtherespacefromwomen, Hartlepool responded in kind.
Yep, they went there – and called out a fan, tweeting ‘We could bar sexists instead if you like?’
The tweet no longer exists, to the surprise of no-one.
6 Saturday 4th March 2017 – Hartlepool United 3-1 Exeter City
On the pitch, things looked like they might not be so bleak for Hartlepool after all.
Back-to-back victories, including a 3-1 win over Exeter City in early March, made things a bit brighter at Victoria Park.
The result put the League Two club six points clear from the relegation zone with 11 games to go. All good? Not quite…
7 Monday 17th April 2017 – Leyton Orient 2-1 Hartlepool United
With Orient languishing in the relegation zone, staring the drop in the face, an away win would have done nicely for Pools, who were still just about outside the relegation zone themselves.
However, things in football are never easy, and the O’s, whose fans invaded the pitch after the match to protest against their owners, ran out 2-1 winners.
Not good at all for the visiting side, who were now just a point outside the relegation zone.
8 Saturday 22nd April 2017 – Jeff Stelling’s infamous TV rant
Perhaps the defining moment of Hartlepool’s season.
Seeing his beloved club’s demise and witnessing their drop into the League Two relegation zone, Sky Sports’ influential presenter Jeff Stelling lets rip on the Pools’ hierarchy, calling for manager Dave Jones to walk, live on TV.
“Dave Jones, for the good of the club, just go now. You’ve got 13 points from 51. This is not your level of football,” Stelling said in his impassioned plea.
9 Monday 24th April 2017 – Dave Jones leaves club by mutual consent
Two days later, Jones was gone. The manager left the club by mutual consent, with the North-East side staring relegation in the face and only two games in the season remaining.
10 Saturday 6th May 2017 – 29th April 2017 – Hartlepool United 2-1 Doncaster Rovers
There’s no easy way of being relegated, but there certainly is a hard way.
With the scores level at Newport County and Hartlepool trailing 1-0 at home to Doncaster Rovers, it looked like curtains for the Pools.
That was until Devante Rodney scored a second-half brace to send Victoria Park into raptures.
Escaping relegation was on, but news of a last-gasp winner for Newport County filtered through and Hartlepool’s relegation was confirmed.
A devastating blow to the club, whose 96-year stay in the Football League was now over.