H’ANGUS the Hartlepool United mascot kicked-off a glut of memories for former footballer Bernard “Bernie” Bell during a visit to his care home.
The cheeky monkey was at Queens Meadow Care Home, on Stockton Road, Hartlepool, to celebrate National Hug Day with the elderly residents.
For Bernie, seeing H’Angus was a reminder of his playing days, when he was at clubs including Hartlepool United, Aston Villa, Billingham Synthonia, and Shrewsbury Town.
The 87-year-old started playing as a youngster before joining the Durham County Youth Team in the early 1950s, where he played right-back as captain.
He then joined Hartlepool United Juniors, playing full-back, half-back, and centre-half according to newspaper reports from the time.
In April 1955, 18-year-old Bernie was playing for Railway Athletic when Aston Villa took an interest and offered him a trial. Following a second trial a month later, Bernie signed as an amateur player for the Birmingham-based club.
By February 1956, Bernie was on loan at Billingham Synthonia, where he was making a name for himself playing along the right wing.
A newspaper report from 18th February that year said: “Billingham Synthonia’s 19-year-old right back Bernard Bell has come to the notice of Middlesbrough scouts and tentative inquiries have been made about his future.
“Bernard, who lives in West Hartlepool, is however on the books of Aston Villa as an amateur and is not interested in a footballing career until he has finished his apprenticeship.
“He is quite happy with Billingham and would not contemplate becoming a professional footballer without a trade to fall back on.”
A report from December of the same season said: “Billingham’s tall, strong right back, Bernard Bell, who also hails from West Hartlepool, has been another factor in the “Synners” recent successes.
“An accomplished footballer, Bell tackles his man at the opportune moment, anticipates the moves of his fellow defenders and seldom wastes the ball in clearing. He has been closely watched by more than one League club.”
By 1959, Bernie had moved to Shrewsbury Town FC, where he remained for two seasons.
A letter from the club secretary to prospective football scouts said: “Bernard Bell played for our Club for two seasons whilst stationed in the RAF during seasons 1959-60 and 1960-61.
“He is an excellent type of club player, loyal and hard working. He made many appearances in our Football Combination side and we always felt that if he had been a full time player he would have been able to make football league grade.
“As a centre half or full back he was a good tackler, strong in the air and used the ball well. His fitness and stamina were 100% and he is well built and has plenty of courage and spirit. He could be an excellent acquisition for a third or fourth division league club.
“Mr Arthur Rowley, our player-manager held him in high regard and seconds this recommendation.”
The now octogenarian Bernie, who has lived at Queens Meadow Care Home since November 2022, brought out his newspaper clippings following the recent visit from H’Angus.
He said: “I have always loved football. It started at a young age where we played football in our back streets. If it wasn’t raining I’d be out there again now.”
Fellow residents at the care home also enjoyed the visit from the ‘Pools mascot, with Helen Wilson, 87, getting a keepsake snapshot to give to her son.
She said: “My son goes to the Hartlepool FC matches and now I can give him a present of a picture of the both of us together.”
Shauna Whelan, activities coordinator at Queens Meadow Care Home, said: “It was such a lovely afternoon. Residents laughed when they saw a monkey in a football shirt, especially when he nicked a cup of tea from the trolley.
“Some of the ladies are partially sighted so couldn’t see H’Angus but they loved the feel of his fur.
“For Bernie, the visit was extra special, as it brought back a lot of memories of his playing days. He got out his old newspaper clippings and we discussed how he could have turned professional.
“When the weather warms up a bit, we are going to take residents to a Hartlepool United game. The club donated a pair of tickets to our Christmas raffle and I was lucky to win them. I’m sure it will be a great afternoon’s outing.”