Players at a 110-year-old football club are taking to the pitch this weekend worried that they might not be paid.
After a troubled few years Hartlepool United is on the brink of administration with debts of £1.8m and immediate bills of £200,000.
Fans of the North East club have organised a sell-out for today’s home game against Wrexham alongside an online fundraising campaign in the hope they can pay the wages until a new owner is found.
Club chair and chief executive Pam Duxbury, who has been holding the fort since the beginning of last year, is hopeful someone will buy the club and pump in the £1m a year it takes to keep it afloat.
“I’m reviewing it on a daily basis,” she said. Her message to potential buyers is simple: “If you’ve got £1m, I want you to come.”
If the club slips into administration it will automatically lose 10 points and could drop out of the National League and down to the sixth tier; a world away from the big money of top-flight football.
It’s not a future they want to think about at Parker’s Bakery on one of Hartlepool’s industrial estates where 1,000 pies are being baked for the 7,500 supporters who will pack out the Wrexham game.
Owner Dave Hope, a lifelong Hartlepool fan who admits he doesn’t attend matches these days, says the firm will survive if the club folds, but that’s not the point.
In a town whose fortunes have waned along with the heavy industry and the chemical works that once made it a powerhouse, the difficulties the club is facing are keenly felt.
“We’ve had things like shops go bust on us,” he said, “but it’s the football part of it I wouldn’t like to lose.”
His worried parting shot echoed legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who famously said football was more important than life and death: “It’s not just that we’re supplying pies to them, it’s part of life isn’t it.”