After clocking up all the air miles a trip to Germany brings and the Nectar points from bombing up and down the British Isles in the good old Roker Report Robin Reliant it is nice to be on more local turf for the next stop on the SAFC pre-season tour - Hartlepool.
Whilst many on a favourite message board in these parts have already gone into full meltdown mode following the defeat in the last run out to Burnley, let me give my two cents on the matter. Results in friendlies are beyond meaningless. Yes, Bramble looks a little rusty, but where else is he going to get the game time to get up to speed!? Despite the media taking a lot more interest in the summer activities of clubs the fact still remains that friendlies are nothing more than a fitness exercise and given last years activity in the physio room lets just be grateful we have seen no serious injuries to squad.
Back to business, here's the lowdown ahead of tonight's game...
Hartlepool United were formed in 1908 from the then amateur side West Hartlepool Amateur Football Club joined the North Eastern League.
Not content with just playing the odd bit of football the club released a double a side single in 1972. The little piece of musical genius was obviously ahead of its time as "Never Say Die / Who Put Sugar In My Tea" failed to chart in an incident that is still widely regarded by people in the know as one of the biggest upsets in history as great things were expected.
The club looked likely to go out of business in the nineties until local business man Harold Hornsey rescued the team from deaths door. Hornsey tenure lasted just a few years until, having ran out of cash, the owner sold the club to Aberdeen based "Increased Oil Recovery Ltd". The new owners instantly made an an impact as Norwegian international Jan Ove Pederson was brought in on a short term loan but is widely accepted by the Pools fans as the most talented player to wear the shirt.
Recently Sunderland fans will remember the narrow win over Hartlepool in an FA Cup Third Round Tie at the Stadium of Light in January of 2004. There are a number of links between the two sides over the years, including in 2005 when Michael Graham's favourite left back, Martin Scott, was installed as manager and my favourite bald player to star for SAFC, Steve Agnew, was named as his assistant. The management dream team would only last six months however.
Victoria Park holds just under eight thousand, with seating making up just over half of that figure. The ground has seen its fair share of incident especially during time of war. In November of 1916 a German Zeppelin en route to a bombing run on Teeside was intercepted by a Royal Flying Corps pilot which forced the German craft to jettison its load, unfortunately for Hartlepool, directly on Victoria Park. The main stand was completely destroyed and a temporary stand was erected in its place. Well, they said temporary. The stand was still in use up until the 1980s!
Hartlepool is a city that is quite rightly proud of their maritime heritage. So where better to spend a few hours before kickoff than at the Hartlepool Maritime experience. The museum itself is a recreation of an eighteenth century seaport and also boasts the oldest floating warship in the UK - HMS Trincomalee.
Whilst discussing the maritime history of Hartlepool it would be criminal to overlook a piece of history which the town is most famous for - the hanging of the monkey.
Whilst the legitimacy of the legend is open to debate the people of Hartlepool have taken the tale to their hearts. As the legend goes a French ship was wrecked off the coast of Hartlepool during the Napoleonic War. Amongst the wreckage that was washed ashore was, which we now believe to be, the ship's pet monkey dressed in military uniform to amuse the crew.
However, the fishermen that came across the little fella, unfamiliar with what a Frenchmen looked like, assumed he was a spy and was sentenced to death following a "trial" on the beach and was hung from the mast of a fishing boat.
Away from the usual array of pubs that adorn city centres up and down the British Isles Hartlepool has a number of alternative drinking holes for travelling fans.
Victoria Park itself has the Corner Flag Supporters Bar that is open to away fans and offers a good atmosphere before kick off. With the bar's proximity to the ground there may be extra time available for an extra cheeky half before the game..
The Jacksons Wharf Pub can be found near to the ground and is popular with away fans due to the tried and tested combination of offering good food and good drink.
For those looking for something a little different there is the Rat Race Ale House. This tiny little place is basically a micro brewery based on the railway station platform. This place really has to be seen to be believed, no bar, no music and no sky sports. Serving just real ale, your pint is retrieved from a mysterious room upon ordering. The bar has earned quite a cult following and is worth a look as long as the Police allow it to remain open on match day.
PLAYED FOR BOTH
The most recent player to swap the red and white stripes for the blue and white of Hartlepool was midfielder Nathan Luscombe who joined the League One side following his release by the Black Cats.
Defender Peter Hartley also made the switch back in 2009 having made only one substitute appearance for the Black Cats.
Former Sunderland shot stopper Chris Turner made 195 appearances in the late seventies and early eighties and then went on to hang up his gloves for the managers hot seat. Turners managerial career saw him take over at Hartlepool in 1999 before returning as director of sport for the club in 2006.