THE width of a crossbar.

Football can quite often by dissected, over analysed, boiled down to the nth degree with every man and his dog giving their piece. But a true example of the magic behind the game is that’s what it took to make 2021 one of the most historic years at Hartlepool United. And everyone of a Pools persuasion wouldn’t have it any other way even it shaved a few years of their life expectancy. Everything about the year encapsulates the club’s Never Say Die attitude.

Following two hours of full blooded, gut wrenching, goalkeeper scoring madness, Matt Buse steps up from 12 yards for Torquay. Brad James dives to his right and the crack of the bar was the sweetest sound any Pools fan will hear in their many years watching the club.

On the whole, unbeaten home runs, empty stands, famous results, free-scoring strikers, the Wolfpack, defensive masterclasses, penalty shootout drama all lead to one magical afternoon in Bristol. From there, a return to the promise land, return of the fans, a shocking managerial change and the return of an old face added to the drama.

As far as calendar years go in football, 2021 was quite something for Hartlepool United.

Dave Challinor had turned Pools into a National League force to be reckoned with in just his second season in charge and by January, had found his settled team with the late additions of Luke Armstrong and Jamie Sterry, both frightening footballers for the fifth tier.

Fortress Vic was a horrendous place to go to for opposition teams and it’s something that the manager promised would be part of his remit at the club. A staggering nine wins out of ten catapulted them up to the heights of a title challenge.

It was the perfectly balanced team. A sturdy and accomplished rearguard fronted by the veteran Gary Liddle and flanked by Sterry and David Ferguson, a tireless three man wolfpack in midfield of Mark Shelton, Nicky Featherstone and Gavan Holohan and the frightening Rhys Oates and Armstrong up top. Come and beat us was the war cry from Pools.

The Northern Echo: Hartlepool United players the win over Bromley. PICTURE: MARK FLETCHER.Hartlepool United players the win over Bromley. PICTURE: MARK FLETCHER.

It was all systems go in May as we approached the business end of the campaign. But three defeats out of four to Bromley, Maidenhead United and Sutton United would condemn them to the play-offs.

A Bromley battering was followed up by a Stockport steal and Pools found themselves on the cusp of history. We all know what happened after that.

The players and coaching staff lifted the trophy and celebrated in the town just six weeks away from the start of their League Two campaign due to the backlog caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. By the time July rolled around after everyone had shaken off the hangover, Pools had eight players on contracts. There was A LOT of work to be done.

Challinor and his staff glued the phones to their ears to get deals done and the players just about shook off the cuts and bruises of Bristol to get straight back out there for the League Two campaign. It was a remarkable effort to get everything done.

As the fixture list was released, it all became a little bit too real.

Crawley Town were the visitors of a packed Vic and it promised to be a wonderful day even though there was some unfamiliar faces in a Pools shirt. Holohan popped up in the late stages and did his thing. Fortress Vic still had it’s foundations intact and fellow League Two sides continued to fall victim to it’s strength.

The Northern Echo: Gavan Holohan in action against Crawley. PICTURE: MARK FLETCHER.Gavan Holohan in action against Crawley. PICTURE: MARK FLETCHER.

Behind the scenes, the board and the manager were locked in back-and-forth negotiations to extend his stay and cement his legacy at the club. The main man in the dugout eventually put pen-to-paper and you could feel the weight of pressure lift off the club. It seemed like it was actually going to be alright at Pools? Wrong.

Whether it was tensions between Challinor and board, whether it was false promises or whether it was too good an offer to refuse, time will eventually tell the tale but the man who’d taken them back to the Football League swapped Pools for Stockport County a matter of weeks after signing a three-year contract. What is undisputable is achievements at the club can't be forgotten. 

The Northern Echo: Dave Challinor is set to quit Hartlepool United to take over at National League club Stockport County Picture: PA WIRE

The implications of Challinor’s shock move could have had serious implications for and derailed the progress that the club had worked so hard to achieve. Antony Sweeney stepped in to steady a seriously rocked ship but the bad results were starting to play on the anxiety of the fans.

No one will remember the month-long search so long as the successor comes in and hits the ground running. That turned out to be the case as an old face in Graeme Lee held the scarf aloft and took the reigns with terrific wins in the cup against Lincoln City and in the league against Rochdale. 

The Northern Echo:

It's a completely fresh face to management and there have already been a number of fresh challenges for the new man. But the January transfer window is what is going to make this a season where Pools are looking up the table or over their shoulder. 

A number of key issues are there to be addressed. All the components are there for Pools to be a solid League Two side that can push for the play-offs. But as we saw against Oldham yesterday, it's all about finding the back of the net and a Luke Armstrong or Rhys Oates of last season can create a wholesale change to their season.

At the start of the year, Pools have gone from promotion hopefuls in non-league to mid-table in League Two. That is quite a climb for any football team. And it all comes down to the width of a crossbar and a Never Say Die attitude.

We'll leave you with this...