Luke James: Hartlepool’s next big thing
When caretaker manager Micky Barron introduced 17-year-old Amble born Luke James to Hartlepool United’s first team on the 17th December 2011 against Colchester United, not many people knew who he was. He made his debut coming off the bench in that game to replace James Brown (remember him?) in the 46th minute in a 1-0 defeat for Pools but impressed the Victoria Park faithful. Luke James made his first starting appearance on Boxing Day of 2011 in a 1-0 win over Oldham Athletic, winning the Man of the Match award.
Following the appointment of Neale Cooper as first-team coach in January 2012, James continued to impress and winning Man of the Match performances in a Pools team that was struggling after a great start to 2011/12. Pools needed a new lease of life, a new star they could look forward to watching every Saturday, and the fans were impressed by this youngster who was certainly the talk of the terraces. If his performances didn’t impress fans, what came up in January certainly would have. James scored his first Hartlepool goal in a 2-0 win over Rochdale in January 2011 – a 25-yard-old volley that killed off the game and raised the roof off Victoria Park.
At 17 years and 64 days, Luke became the youngest ever player to score for Hartlepool United. He was already a fans favourite within two months of making his first-team debut and eventually attracted interest from Celtic, Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers . James ended up winning Pools’ Goal of the Season and finished the season making 19 appearances and scoring three goals. The next season was a disappointing one for Hartlepool United and Luke in particular. Hartlepool started the season by beating Scunthorpe United at home in a 2-0 win in which James scored the second goal after new singing Jonathan Franks scored the first. That was Hartlepool’s last win until December 29th when Pools were in a relegation fight. Manager Neale Cooper resigned in October and John Hughes became the new manager after leaving Livingston in Scotland, faced with the challenge of keeping Hartlepool up – one he failed to accomplish.
John Hughes didn’t play James a lot and was restricted to playing games after coming on from the bench and when he did come on, it was too late to make an impact. Pools went on a good spell in February and staying up looked likely. Pools came from behind to beat Leyton Orient with two late goals, one from Peter Hartley in the 88th minute and one from Luke James in the 94th. There was a genuine belief and feelgood factor around Hartlepool United again and John Hughes had pressure on him from the fans to start playing Luke James a lot more. Hughes’ response was that he wanted to protect James from injury, as he had a recent history of picking up niggles. The Hartlepool fans and Luke James himself were frustrated not to see the 18-year-old play more as it was evident he was becoming Pools’ main man, a player who could light games up with his hard working efforts and his knowledge of football. Despite Hartlepool’s best efforts, in April they were relegated to League Two with two games left to play. One of the games prior to relegating was away to Tranmere Rovers, a game where Luke James did start and boy, did he impress!