IF Middlesbrough think they have it bleak right now, their period of celibacy is nothing compared to Hartlepool United.
Aitor Karanka’s ten hours and 15 minutes has nothing on Pools... yet.
When Andy Saville scored to beat Crystal Palace in the third round of the FA Cup on January 2, 1993, Pools were making history.
Palace were the first Premier League team to be knocked out of the competition, Pools, in what is now League One, were fourth in the table and had one of their most attractive teams. Weeks earlier they were joint top after a 2-1 win at Bolton Wanderers.
By the time Saville broke the epic drought and scored at Blackpool on March 6, the club was disintegrating off the pitch even quicker than they were on it.
Days before their fourth round tie at Sheffield United on January 23, the club was wound up in the High Court in London. They had to raise almost £300,000 to remain afloat. The money, under chairman Garry Gibson, had dried up. The goals, under manager Alan Murray, were the same.
As the goalless run was in its infancy, Murray was sacked, replaced by Viv Busby.
The players weren’t getting paid, they weren’t even turning up for training.
Little surprise they ended the season staving off relegation.
Brian Honour played 46 games that campaign, including every one of the goalless run. Only seven players have made more appearances for the club than Honour’s 384. Noone went through trauma as much as he did at the time.
“It was the strangest of seasons – we went through everything as a club and a team,’’ he reflected. “It was turmoil on and off the pitch.
“Viv Busby came in and he was a brilliant coach, but it was impossible for him. The lads were shot to pieces and didn’t know what was happening.
“There really was times when we were getting paid in pound coins from the gate money – and then told to come back in on Monday where there could be some more for us. But I think that was just to get us back into training!
“We had lads who travelled in, like Paul Olsson from Scarborough, who didn’t even have ten pound to put in his tank for petrol to come to work.
“You look at Middlesbrough now and, yes, they aren’t scoring goals, but they’ve got everything else they want at their disposal.’’ Honour, who recently turned 50 and is a club ambassador on matchdays at Victoria Park, added: “Look at Boro right now and then look at our results from the time – we were losing games heavily, two and three nil, while they have been drawing.
“We were on top of the world after beating Crystal Palace and then were very unfortunate to lose at Sheffield United in the next round – that was days after the financial troubles came to a head and we took thousands of supporters to the game. The town rallied round.
“We saw the New Year in and we were flying, winning regularly at the likes of West Brom, Preston and Bolton.
Weeks later we were in a relegation battle.
“The lads weren’t getting paid, they lost their spark and, I know it sounds harsh, but also their motivation.
There was a lot of pressure on everyone.
“Viv was putting some great coaching sessions on, but he didn’t know who was going to be turning up for them.
He said all he could do was try and keep things going during the week and try and get us motivated on a Saturday.
“But not scoring goals becomes a bigger issue the longer it goes on. We only had the odd newspaper and Teletext to think about in the day – now it’s the opposite and every little aspect is analysed on TV, in the press and the internet and social media, there’s no escape from it.
“I don’t want to sound like an old pro talking about the old days and the like, but we didn’t have a regular training pitch, we went out there and did what we could.
“Boro will have everything laid out for them – the best equipment, the best facilities and pitches. Everything they do will be geared towards ending the run.’’ Footballers, however, can in some cases be a sensitive bunch and Honour feels the longer the spell goes on the harder it is to break the mould and snap out of it.
“You become anxious, it’s human nature,’’ he admitted.
“And you start going into games thinking ‘what if we don’t score today?’, then snatch at things you wouldn’t normally.’’ When Pools did eventually snap out of their malaise, it was at Bloomfield Road, a goal created by stalwart winger Honour.
By that time, firing blanks run was big news. It was more than just aa brief fad or an interlude, it was a fecklessness of epic proportions.
The national media were following their every move.
The Sun were allowed to sit in the Bloomfield Road dug out alongside Busby and his right-hand man, Eric Gates.
“There was plenty of interest – everyone wanted a piece of us,’’ Honour recalled.
“With it being Blackpool away, and this would never be allowed to happen now, I stopped over and travelled back on the Sunday in a minbus with some mates from Blackhall, and Dean Emerson and Ryan Cross who were part of our squad at the time.
“I suppose we all hoped we would have something to celebrate on the Saturday night! When we did score, it was a massive, massive relief to us all. I actually set it up – I got into the penalty area and knew Sav was a better option than me having a go!
“The strangest thing was that our front attacking four, with me. was Sav, Lenny Johnrose and Nicky Southall.
“They all went onto have good careers in the game and play at a higher level, they weren’t mugs by any means.’’