A common stereotype of the football league’s basement division is that physicality is the main attribute that contributes to success. Granted, League 2 does contain some of the larger and grittier players such as Mansfield’s Pilkington or Rochdale’s Dicker but as October came to a close the PFA player of the month was cast upon a much smaller frame- Hartlepool striker Luke James. Prior to the season commencing goalkeeper Scott Flinders alluded to the fact ‘Pools would have to win “not only mental battles but physical ones too” and this has proved to be true. Concerns such as this were placed upon the youthful heads such as James who began the season hoping to cement his place within the side.
With six goals this season, double what he has scored in any season in his career, Luke James has become one of the league’s most feared strikers, at the raw age of 18. Flashback to this time last season and James conveyed a dejected figure, frozen out of Neale Cooper’s first 11 and then replacement coach John Hughes’ plans. Utterances from both coaches of “growing pains” and “burnout” filled the local media, as fans demanded the involvement of the young prospect in the form dwindling team. Despite this infrequent appearance record James was still awarded apprentice of the year at the football league awards for 2012, significance placed upon the fact he finished a BTEC in sports science whilst appearing for Hartlepool.
With a squad that was plighted in previous seasons by it’s over indulgence in experience, behold Colin Cooper- former youth team coach at Middlesbrough. Hartlepool now boasts one of the football league’s youngest teams with Luke James single handedly spear heading the attack. In January 2012, in only his third appearance, James smashed home a 25-yard volley against Rochdale in a 2-0 victory. Whilst consistency fluctuated in his first two seasons, this goal served as a shape of things to come with “worldie” goals becoming a regular element of his roster. Despite his size James has also scored goals of a fashion that would not be dissimilar of a bustling Kevin Davies, squeezing between center back pairings to score.
His performances in such an ilk have warranted standing ovations from opposition supporters on 3 occasions, a rare sight in contemporary football. For ‘Pools fans it has been a while since they have had a reliable striker with James being coined as the new Joel Porter who scored 46 goals in a period that coincided with the club making the league 1 play off final in 2005. Experienced striker Steve Howard remains a regular absentee with Hartlepool now 6 points from automatic promotion despite their disappointing start. Home victories against Plymouth and the other in form side in the division Dagenham have restored confidence that a promotion push is a possibility after the disappointing end to a 6 game unbeaten run at Scunthorpe. Essential to this is the form and fitness of Luke James who will hope he does not suffer from the damned and largely publicized “burnout”. After all he is only 18 and 5”9.