Pitchside

The sole club in the English league that has an all-English squad

Pitchside

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Town Wall in Hartlepool (Mick Garratt)

There are 92 clubs in the English football league. But only one of them has a squad entirely composed of English players.

That side is Hartlepool United, who kick off their League Two campaign at the weekend under the guidance of Colin Cooper, a former international player for - naturally enough - England.

Among the mixture of young hopefuls, grizzled veterans and world-weary journeymen lining up for the side is Marlon Harewood, a former Nottingham Forest, West Ham and Newcastle striker.

Harewood very nearly ruined Hartlepool's record when he was called up by Barbados, land of his parents' birth, in 2008 - but he turned down the call for the World Cup qualifier and therefore retained his English allegiance.

Left-back Darren Holden and winger Jack Compton come close to blurring the lines: they were born in South Africa and Wales respectively, but to English parents who happened to be living outside the country at the time.

The club's rather incredible distinction makes it the subject of a rather extraordinary puff piece in the Daily Mail on Friday:

"The setting is quintessential England; green hills roll to the distance, a river thunders by, and an old, terraced mining village rests on the horizon.

"How fitting that on the football pitch amid this luscious landscape trains the only squad in the top four divisions made up entirely of Englishmen.

"The hills belong to County Durham, the river is the Wear, the village Sherburn and the football team Hartlepool United. Sir Bobby Robson was born five miles away, how proud he would have been."

We're not entirely sure why Bobby Robson would have been proud - it's a bizarre claim of a sophisticated and cosmopolitan man who spent many of the most successful years of his career overseas - but there you go. Just close your eyes, and picture Sir Bobby draped in a St George's Cross flag while singing "Land of Hope and Glory", and you'll forget about any such anomalies.

Rather spoiling the Mail's story is that Cooper admits his all-English squad is pure coincidence: "I must be honest, it’s no effort on my part that I only sign English players," he told the paper.

"I have played with world-class foreign players and you can only learn from them."

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Hartlepool United FC

Cooper does admit that his reliance on local talent is important to the side, however.

"Our boys here are English, yes, but the most important thing for us is that they’re young lads from the North-East," he added.

"They might not have been able to make it at one of the big three clubs in the region and they find themselves here having to work very hard to forge a football career.

"But we have some tremendous talent and we are giving them a chance to show that."

The paper also spoke to one of the defenders, centre-back Matthew Bates, who admitted that it hadn't even occurred to any of the players to think about their collective Englishness.

"None of us realised we’re all English to be honest. But I think it’s great," he said.

"Let’s hope we can represent the country well because it might filter through the leagues and others might realise it is the way to go.

"The domestic market has gone crazy – look at Ross McCormack for £12 million – and you don’t blame clubs for looking abroad for value. But lower down there are a lot of good English lads out there."

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