AFTER years of hard graft and having to scrape at opportunities, cementing a place in a League Two side is likely to put a smile on most people’s faces. But being nicknamed by your club’s fans after one of the greatest Barcelona players of all time must have been a different level. The Chester Iniesta said: “I’m very flattered by it. It’s a good one to have.”

It’s been some year for Tom Crawford. Having spent the majority of his first year at the club barely getting a look in, he burst into the team at Hartlepool United this year with a string of performances that have caught the eye. His passing ability, neat ball control and energy in midfield has earned him his nickname amongst the fan base and now he can look forward to playing in front of them for the next two years.

“Having a bond with the fans is one of the reasons I signed a new contract with the club. The relationship we have built up is good” continued Crawford who spoke exclusively to The Northern Echo. “I think they can see that when I go on the pitch, I just give my absolute everything for the club. That is all they ask for. As long as I can keep doing that, the relationship will grow even more.”

What’s the next aim for Crawford? For the fans to come up with a chant for him. “I’m waiting for someone to make one but they are slacking in the chant department” he joked. “We need to get a really together and get a chant going.” Over to you North West Corner.

Fandem aside, that wasn’t the only reason he committed his future to the club. “There was a multitude of factors. Obviously the manager played a part in your decision which was Graeme (Lee) at the time but there is a new manager in the building. I’ve got a chance to impress him now and show him what I can do.

“There were different factors. Obviously the club itself that I’ve fallen in love with for the past two years. It was a pretty easy decision for me in the end.”

The 23-year-old technician gave a valuable contribution to the side, particularly in the second half of the season. 38 appearances and one goal for the campaign was the biggest return of his career for a campaign. With his whole career ahead of him, his performances may well have attracted interest from elsewhere – so was there any interest?

“Nothing concrete” he said “Obviously you hear whispers but what are whispers in football? They could be coming from anywhere. There was nothing concrete in terms of interest but in the grand scheme of things, I made the correct decision staying here because it’s a club that is close to my heart. I want to help build on last season and help the club go in the right direction which is League One.”

During last season, Crawford’s appearance count might have increased but he admits there is more to come from him, in the way of productivity. Being from Chester, he has been a boyhood Liverpool fan and idolised Steven Gerrard as a midfield general. ‘A quadrant’ of his career and Crawford would retire a happy man. While he doesn’t quite model his game around his Liverpool hero, there are things he takes from Stevie G. 

The Northern Echo: Tom Crawford in action for Hartlepool United against Northampton.Tom Crawford in action for Hartlepool United against Northampton.

Under new management, he’s already looking forward to discussions about how his game can be developed with new manager Paul Hartley, who was also a midfield general with Hearts and Celtic during his playing days. There is already a numbers target in mind for next season.

The Chester Iniesta continued: “If I can add some goals and assists for a start, that is my aim for next season. To get in the box and score goals. There is always stuff you are working on.

“With the new manager, we can sit down and look at stuff that needs improving but off the top of my head, goals and assists is what the fans would want me to improve on and it’s what I want to improve on. I know I can do it. It’s just getting into the right areas and making the right movements. Hopefully we can get into double figures with both of them.”

The Northern Echo: New Hartlepool United manager Paul Hartley.New Hartlepool United manager Paul Hartley.

Hartley, Crawford and co are now being tasked with spearheading a charge up the League Two table next season with Chairman Raj Singh ready to back the side over the summer. After their season of consolidation back in the Football League, there are giving themselves no time to rest on their laurels.

The short six week turnaround between National League promotion and the League Two season last summer meant the players got the chance to have some much needed respite away from football. But now, a return to pre-season is just around the corner with the players returning for testing on June 22nd. Whichever playing staff will be there, Crawford will be.

He continued: “It’s nice to have a break. Obviously last season having a short window between seasons, I think it took it’s toll on a few lads at the end of this season. With results, it was tough but this break has been just to chill out and put our feet up. I’m pretty much raring to go again now.

“You are still doing the stuff to tick you over but you are not running yourself into the ground. You need to have that rest period where you just stop. It comes from the last game of the season. It’s just about giving yourself that recovery time and giving your body the chance to recover and then get back into your normal stuff.”

As for the summer, Crawford will get the chance to go on his first pre-season training camp abroad but it won’t be a holiday in Portugal when the club fly out today. “We might be able to get to sit down for five minutes. It will be nice and it will be a good change for the lads. I’ve not been on a pre-season tour to a hot country so it will be really good.”

“It will be good to get to know the new lads that come in and use it as a team builder/running tour if you like! It will be a good start to the long season that we are going to have.”