The last time Hartlepool United beat a Premier League team to reach the fourth round of the FA Cup, things soon went pear-shaped. Ahead of today’s game with West Ham, Sports Editor Nick Loughlin spoke to then assistant manager Eddie Kyle to find out what went wrong in 1993.

WHEN Andy Saville firmly struck home the penalty which secured a spot in FA Cup history for Hartlepool United in 1993, it was supposed to signal the start of something special for the club. Instead it swiftly preceded the start of a period which almost saw the end of football in the town.

Under Alan Murray, Pools were enjoying a purple patch.

After only the second promotion in their history, Murray built a team challenging for promotion in Division Two. Victory at Bolton on October 10 put Pools joint top of the table – their highest ever ranking.

Beating Palace brought a fourth round tie at Sheffield United, as Pools reached that stage of the competition for only the third time.

But that game very nearly didn’t take place. Three days before going to Bramall Lane, Hartlepool United were the subject of a High Court winding-up order, as debts of around £260,000 were unearthed.

The order was granted at a hearing for an unpaid bill of £7,000 for a pair of dug outs – but crucially supported by the tax man. Liquidation beckoned. Instead of the Football League, it was more likely to be the Wearside League. Forget the FA Cup, the Sunderland Shipowners’ Cup was on the horizon.

With gargantuan chairman Garry Gibson at the helm, they kept the debtors at bay, raising enough funds – just – to see the winding-up order rescinded.

On hearing the news of the winding-up order, issued on Wednesday, January 20, 1993, Gibson admitted he would have given greater credence to news that martians had landed in the town.

“We succeeded because we were able to pull rabbits out of hats, where last week we didn’t know that we had any hats,’’ he said nine frantic days later.

Pools played at Sheffield United and lost 1-0 on January 23. It was only the third game after ensuring Palace took their place in the record books as the first Premier League team to be knocked out of the FA Cup.

It was their fourth game without a goal. That run was to last another nine games, a total of 1,227 minutes – a Football League record still standing today.

And, in the middle of it all, Gibson replaced his management team. Murray and Eddie Kyle exited, replaced by Viv Busby and Eric Gates.

It was a sequence of events from which it was to take years to recover.

First thanks to the stabilising influence and acumen of Harold Hornsey, before IOR took over in 1997 to really motor on.

Today, after the richest decade in their 100-year history, Pools take on West Ham United at Victoria Park in round four of the FA Cup.

They beat Stoke City of the Premier League in the last round.

It’s fair to say that preparations for this game have been a bit tamer than 16 years ago.

It all broke on the Wednesday, early evening, just days before the game,’’ recalled Eddie Kyle, then assistant manager to Alan Murray and who will today be part of the BBC Tees commentary team at Victoria Park.

“It came out of the blue.

Alan rang me – we got our heads together and I don’t think Alan got the credit for what he did that week.

“He knew there was going to be a media frenzy and it wouldn’t help the players in their preparations for a massive game. So he told me as coach to act as normal, take training and he would fend off the media.

“The big problem was that we didn’t know if we could train on our own pitch. So the chairman – who I’m sure everyone knows all about, but I actually liked him – told us to train behind closed doors on the pitch. We got away with it on Thursday and the next day the press found out.’’ Before heading for South Yorkshire, Pools were permitted on their home surface.

“We were doing some shooting practice and I heard some people behind the fence behind the goal , cameras and television men,’’ said Kyle.

“Someone shouted to me ‘Eddie, any chance of coming in?’ It wasn’t even the sports guys, it was a news reporter, Peter Holland of Tyne Tees.

“We carried on with the session, the gaffer let them in. We didn’t want to turn people against us and Alan took the press out of the way.

“We didn’t see the chairman until the morning of the match. We trained, showered and got on the bus to Sheffield and the gaffer didn’t come down with us, he stayed and handled everything. I wasn’t interested in that stuff, all I wanted was to coach and prepare.

“Next morning, the chairman appeared at breakfast to explain everything.

“It was a manic week. But my main concern wasn’t about administration. We lost Paul Olsson and Dean Emerson to injury – Olsson did his hamstring and Dean smashed his cheekbone the game before.

“Who was going to play in the middle of the park? It was a great partnership, Olly did the donkey work, Dean made us play.’’ Emerson, signed from Coventry, was the conductor in Murray and Kyle’s blue and white orchestra.

“If we had our strongest side we could have beaten Sheffield United, we watched them and identified a couple of weaknesses in there,’’ he admitted.

“But the key to it all was Emerson. We could get players into certain areas but we needed him to deliver the ball.’’ But Emerson wasn’t the only player from a higher echelon in the side. And experience was a vital tool as in any side.

“The players’ reaction to the whole situation was different, some were worried, some relaxed,’’ admitted Kyle. “The chairman guaranteed wages would be paid, but there was a bit of a laugh when he came into the breakfast meeting. He was telling us all if we won we would all get more money from progressing to the next round.

“And he told us all he had the top man on the case – Mel Stein, Gazza’s lawyer at the time. So all the lads were hoping that he would pull it off and get Gazza playing for us!

“We all thought it was superb and helped bring everyone together.’’ Pools went into the Palace tie in fourth spot, on the back of a goalless draw at Fulham.

When Nicky Southall was felled by Richard Shaw in the 82nd minute, Andy Saville stepped up to score from 12 yards.

Saville was cool, Shaw was burning with rage, along with his team-mates after Dermot Gallagher’s decision.

“Palace didn’t fancy it from the off,’’ recalled Kyle. “They arrived, Steve Coppell and Alan Smith went out for a pitch inspection with Dermot Gallagher and they all had big manager’s coats on, all wrapped up. I just put a Tshirt and shorts on, acting as if it was the norm!

“They congratulated us for the win, but then went straight for the referee over the penalty. It was touch and go. I’ve seen them given, sometimes not.’’ He added: “We beat Palace and then we couldn’t get a goal for love nor money and a few games later me and Alan were on our way. I still think, even 16 years on, that it was a silly decision.

“Knee-jerk maybe. Up to Christmas we were flying and we won at West Brom. We had some great results, Bolton away – I remember Bruce Rioch saying afterwards that he wasn’t going to allow teams like Hartlepool to celebrate in his dressing rooms!

“I’ve been at seven clubs in England, this is the one for me – the fondest memories. We had a good squad, there were good people at the club and there still are.’’ AT the helm of all things good – and bad – at the Victoria Ground those days was Gibson. He arrived with Pools in a precarious position, facing relegation to the Conference.

A promotion, a good cup run, and a visit to the High Court later, he left with Pools in an equally tetchy spot, hounded to the exits.

Comparisons have been lodged between Gibson and George Reynolds, the former Darlington chairman who equally offered a tantalising glimpse of an exciting future, before leaving town and leaving others to pick up the pieces.

Kyle, however, admitted of the man who sacked him: “I thought Garry Gibson was a good laugh, who would take a gamble and he enjoyed that reputation. He was honest in his ambitions for the club, he really did care.

“And he wanted to progress – that’s probably why he sacked Alan, he didn’t want to see things drop. But it was foolish.

“He sacked Alan and I was called in. He said something about ‘don’t blow your top because Alan’s gone, you are staying’.

“Me? Staying? I said something along the lines of ‘you can stick your job’. I was stupid – I was under contract along with Tony McAndrew (youth team coach) and then Tony came in and told Gibson ‘what Eddie’s just said goes for me as well’. So we were all out and I didn’t get paid up because I walked.

“We left Hartlepool and went to Darlington soon afterwards. After our first training session we went into the office and sat there shaking our heads. We knew we had a job on our hands, we were the two best players out there!

“But we took some experience from Hartlepool in Paul Olsson and Charlie Cross and they helped.

“Our first game in charge ended 7-3 at home to Colchester. They hadn’t scored, hadn’t won for months, but we got seven!’’