“A sad day for football” said Dover manager Andy Hessenthaler. It was an even sadder day for all connected with Hartlepool United, while it was a desperate day for referees.

Pools’ home defeat to Dover was, in the grand scheme of things, a sideshow to more important things at Victoria Park.

Both sets of players were given the nuclear option by their managers to walk off the pitch and abandon the game after Dover’s players were racially abused as they celebrated the opening goal in the first-half.

It led to an eight-minute hold up in the game. The repercussions and fall out will go on for a lot longer.

This game also had two dismissals, a manager sent to the stands, a referee who didn’t have any semblance of authority, a supporter entering the pitch to get at the official and a home team who didn’t score but hit the post, had three cleared off the line in a matter of seconds and had the clearest of penalty claims knocked back. And Pools lost at home for the third time in six games this season.

Pools take on Chesterfield at Victoria Park tomorrow evening. The need to win at home is vital, the need to stamp out the racists is of greater importance.

It’s wrong to label Hartlepool United a racist club, or to tar all supporters with the same brush.

A handful of idiots in the Town End brought about the shame. But the rest will have to live with the tag.

“Society today, it’s ridiculous we are talking about it in 2019,’’ reflected Pools’ boss Craig Hignett.

And there lies the issue. It’s not just a football thing, it’s not exclusively a Hartlepool thing. It’s the mentality of a few, the great unwashed who are quick to spout their bile when passions are stoked.

Dover had already riled the home team and crowd with their ability to win cheap free-kicks as referee Joseph Johnson decreed the way to manage the game early on was to hand out yellow cards, when they were awarded a penalty.

Aaron Cunningham’s challenge didn’t appear errant, but Johnson felt it was.

Inih Effiong converted it very well, hitting the top corner.

He ran to the corner of the Town End and Cyril Knowles Stand to celebrate and was joined by his team-mates. They were allowed by Johnson to linger and gloat for too long. Longer than necessary.

If the referee had dragged them away to restart the game, as most officials do these days, then there would not have been an issue.

Dover’s Ricky Modeste tweeted on Saturday evening that the referee said Effiong encouraged the incident by celebrating for too long. If that was the case then why didn’t he intervene when he had the chance to?

A burger was thrown in frustration from the Town End. The visitors reacted to the greasy missile and bread bun. The crowd vented their fury back.

The black players were called out by one, perhaps two idiots. Tempers flared.

Players and fans always live on the edge during games, abuse, banter as it’s known these days, is part and parcel of it all.

Going a step too far isn’t.

Pools black players realised what was happening and got involved, with Gus Mafuta especially animated. It turned into a slanging match between home players and home crowd. It was as embarrassing as it was stunning.

“Mafuta, f-off” could be heard in a Hartlepool accent after the midfield powerhouse marched along the front of the Town End, shepherded by Nicke Kabamba as he pointed out one individual who was heading for the exit.

The referee and his assistants are not supposed to get involved and perhaps Johnson was right to step away. What followed was an eight-minute delay in the game restarting. Pools’ chief executive Mark Maguire left the stand and was on the pitch to join in the discussions.

Players from both sides were given the option by their managers to walk off. It would have been the ultimate statement against racism, one which has been spoken of at a higher level than a National League game.

When the game got going again, there were 11 minutes of added on time at the end of the first-half.

As the second half was about to start, the club’s PA announcer read a statement denouncing racism and racist comments. It was greeted with warm applause from the crowd.

There’s a lot of positive things gone on inside Victoria Park of late, plenty instigated by supporters. The North West Corner movement is to be applauded for their efforts.

However, the presence of a St George Cross with the Football Lads’ Alliance logo on doesn’t sit well. In the current climate the club should insist it is removed before tomorrow’s game.

Pools started the second-half well. Kabamaba was blatantly checked in the area, but Johnson played on. Cue more terrace angst. There was more to come.

Gime Toure went on a mazy run, slalom skiing through the defence. He curled his shot around the keeper but against the inside the post.

Luke James had a shot blocked on the line, Michael Raynes had both of his follow ups stumped out on the goalline.

Toure burst into the area again, this time wiped out by a defender. Referee Johnson looked at the assault and played on. Pools were livid.

Ryan Donaldson, Pools’ skipper, had been in the referee’s face earlier when decisions went against this side. This time, he was red carded.

Hignett was next to follow. He had already been yellow carded once this season, by referee Gareth Rhodes. He was bad enough when he took charge, Johnson probably worse.

He was sent to the stands.

“It was a joke,’’ he mused. “I’ve had two players sent off for saying it’s a disgrace. The game was stopped and I was there because we had a clear penalty not given and Ryan was sent-off.

“The fourth official spoke to me in an arrogant manner. Told me to get back in the box, so I did and told him not to speak to me like that. He’s then told the referee and …

“I’m struggling to come to terms with what I’ve seen, but nothing like this. We have had really poor decisions go against us this year. I’ve showed them to the powers that be and it’s alright them coming in and saying ‘you are right’ but it’s costing us.

“Then for that today after the meeting, wow. It’s just … .some things you can understand and put into context, but for this I’ve no idea what happened.’’

Hignett actually had a meeting with refereeing officials on Saturday morning, where he was able to express his unhappiness at the standards of the men in the middle this season.

Fat lot of good that did then.

After that, one supporter opened the gate on the Neale Cooper Stand terracing which leads to the pitch and made a bee-line for the referee, stopped in his tracks by Pools players who bundled him back from where he came.

Dover pinched a second on the break, Steven Rigg bundling in from close range. The celebrating players were again allowed to celebrate for as long as they liked and take their time.

When Nicky Featherstone complained to Johnson about the timing he was instantly red-carded.

Two men and a manager down. It was, perhaps, the least of Pools’ worries on Saturday.