‘Either love football or go to work in Asda’
ARGUMENTS with the wife. Hurtful accusations on twitter. A career in ruins. No wonder Ronnie Moore describes the last 12 months as the most difficult of his life.
And no wonder a manager renowned as one of the most genuine and genial in the game was in danger of becoming – in his own words – an “angry, bitter man”.
It was Valentine’s Day 2014 when reports surfaced that the 61-yearold Tranmere boss was being investigated by the FA for betting on football.
Though later revealed to be nothing more sinister than a syndicate with his family, Rovers chairman Peter Johnson, pictured below, charged Moore with gross misconduct and sacked him without pay, condemning him to a life of lazing and laundry.
“It was the hardest eight months of my life,” says Moore, now 62. “I was seeing my name dragged through the mud. Some supporters on twitter were saying things like ‘Ronnie had a grand on us to get beat’, and bollocks like that. It was totally untrue. The biggest bet I’d had was £30. I actually lost money overall. It was ridiculous.
“My wife said ‘You should have known’, and we ended up arguing. I couldn’t get a job. I was a housewife, cleaning dishes and hanging washing out. It wasn’t a good place.
“I was fighting for my career. I was 62 but I wasn’t on a zimmer frame. I wasn’t ready to retire. I genuinely feared I might never get a job again.”
Hartlepool – bottom of League Two and ten points adrift – came to the rescue in December; a lifeline which Moore gratefully grasped.
“I was an out-of-work 62-yearold with a tarnished reputation,” he adds. “Who was going to take a gamble on that? I was very, very fortunate that Russ Green, the chief exec here, saw beyond the headlines.”
But that doesn’t mean he has forgiven former Rovers owner Johnson.
“In my eyes – and I don’t care what anyone says – I was wrongly sacked at Tranmere,” says Moore, who played over 350 games for Tranmere as a player and spent five years in charge.
“Yes, I was daft. As the figurehead of the club, I should have known the rules. I hold my hands up and admit I made a mistake. But you show me the man who hasn’t made a mistake. You show me a manager who has never had a bet on football.
“It was part of a syndicate, which was me, my wife, my sister-in-law, my father-in-law – we put £5 in each when I was out of work in 2012.
“I got charged for a £1 bet on Tranmere to win £3.60 back. The account was in my name, but I didn’t place it. Even the FA realised there was nothing in it.
“But the chairman at Tranmere didn’t even ask me to explain my side. That’s what hurts most, and because it was gross misconduct, he didn’t have to pay me a penny. It cost me £130,000 in wages.
“I think the whole thing fell really nicely for the chairman. He was in the process of selling the club and – this is my opinion – I think the incoming owners were saying ‘You clear the staff and we’ll do a deal’.
“That’s part of football and I could have lived with being laid off. But not the way it was done. I was in danger of becoming a very bitter man.”
Does Moore think he would have faced the same fate had Tranmere sat top of League One instead of five places off the bottom?
“No way,” he says. “There’s not a cat in hell’s chance they would have done the same thing. It was very sinister how it happened.”
Tranmere’s loss has been Hartlepool’s gain. Seemingly dead and buried, Pools have won their last four straight to climb out of the relegation zone and – spurred on by cheerleading from celebrity fan and Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling – their revival has become national news.
“It’s been unbelievable,” says Moore. “It feels like the whole country is waiting for our results. I was walking my dog at home in Rotherham and five or six people came up and said ‘We saw Jeff Stelling talking about you, what a great job you’re doing’.”
Moore admits he was shocked by what he inherited. “You look at the table and you know they can’t be brilliant. But it’s only when you walk
through the door that you realise how bad things really are. They were rock bottom, flat on the floor. There was no life, no energy, no togetherness. They’d been used to getting beat every week.”
The remedy was a glut of loanees – Preston striker Jordan Hugill and Scunthorpe defender David Mirfin have both impressed – and a brutal dose of home truths, with errant players dug out in public and warned they could be stacking shelves for a living. “I’ve never been one to mince my words,” says Moore. “I didn’t care what they thought of me. I’ve not come to the club to be loved by players. I’ve come to save them from relegation.
“I told them that if they run about, show energy and commitment, I’ll stand by them. But I also said that I wouldn’t stand in front of cameras and say we’d been unlucky if I knew damn well we hadn’t worked hard enough.
“If that means putting an individual out, so be it. But I’ve always been fair. I’ve never said anything in public that I hadn’t said to them first.
“And at the end of the day, those lads are working in football. Anyone who complains about that wants locking up. I know what life is like without it and don’t want to go there again. That’s why every day I come to work, I’ve a smile on my face.
“That’s what I’ve tried to instil in the players. You’ve got to love being in this game. If you can’t enjoy that then you may as well go to work in Asda, because everyone there would swap places with you in a second. And they’ve responded. Those boys have dragged this club out of the gutter.”
Hartlepool’s win over Cambridge last week meant they leapfrogged Tranmere, who were relegated from League One last term and now find themselves on the brink of the Conference.The irony is not lost on Moore, but the Scouser and Rovers fan says he’d take no pleasure in condemning his old club to the drop.
“Perhaps what goes around comes around,” says Moore. “But I love Tranmere.It’s had some of the best years of my life. I’ll be so sorry if they do down, for everybody associated with that club. Well, everybody bar one.”
s MOORE-ISH: Ronnie Moore has lifted Hartlepool out of the League Two drop zone with a great recent run of form