I don’t often write about League One to be totally honest, but over the last few days one issue has arisen which has really made me question the people who run football in this country. Just 48 hours before the final game of the season Hartlepool United were deducted three points, plunging them back into the relegation dogfight.
The reason the Pools were handed the penalty was because Gary Liddle, who should have been suspended, lined up against Brighton. Normally, I would see this as a perfectly legitimate reason to deduct a team three points and I wouldn’t question the decision of the football league. However, the game in question was on Easter Monday (April 5), over a month before the season’s final fixture.
As soon as the news broke reports suggested the north east outfit would be handed a three point penalty – yet it took the governing body four weeks to reach the decision they were expected to reach. In the meantime, the Pools successfully secured their League One survival only to have it cruelly snatched from them ahead of the final game. They then faced the daunting prospect of a trip to Brentford, who deserve some credit for their performances this season after their promotion from League Two the year before, having had just 48 hours notice that this was actually a huge fixture for Hartlepool United and not the ‘dead rubber tie’ it should have been.
To put it simply, this just doesn’t seem fair. Can you imagine if that had happened to a Premier League side? It would have been mayhem. Indeed, a couple of years ago West Ham fielded two ineligible players for almost an entire season (2006/07 Javier Mascherano, five games, and Carlos Tevez, who scored seven goals in 26 games) but all they received was a fine, with no points penalty. Granted, the fine was a pretty hefty one but I’m sure even the most committed of Hammers fans would have to admit they were perhaps let off lightly by the Premier League.
To top it all off, it isn’t just Hartlepool who have voiced their displeasure at the decision. Brighton boss Gus Poyet feels his side should have been awarded the three points rather than just wipe them off Hartlepool (Pools won the tie 1-0), he claims that would have happened in France, Spain or Italy. If Hartlepool United had taken the drop of League Two the decision would have been even m ore disgusting, fortunately for them Gillingham were beaten by Wycombe, condemning them to the drop, but Tranmere and Exeter, both below Hartlepool before kick off on the final day, secured wins and moved above the Pools.
It wasn’t the decision itself, which I would probably agree with, but the timing that made it truly awful. A three point penalty had been suggested by the media almost as soon as the news broke that the football league would take action, which leads me to believe there is probably some protocol for coming to such decisions (you have to hope so anyway), so why did it take them so long to announce it? I’ve often advocated the use of technology on FootballFanCast and I’m going to do it again, and this time no one can say it will affect the game itself either, why couldn’t they just have a video conference, or even a conference call on a standard phone? Guy Poyet summed it up best for me, the Seagulls boss noted: “Here in England we have to wait for a decision. Then when that decision comes it is one which leaves the game in this country open to ridicule.”