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Post-holiday blues

Back from his hols, Phil faces a mountain of crap – but football-mad patients cheer him up

Back from his hols, Phil faces a mountain of crap – but football-mad patients cheer him up

I've had a terrible day. This has been my first day back after a holiday, with all the predictable horrible soul-destroying accumulated detritus it engenders. I needed crampons to get over the mountain of toss that awaited my return.

But it gets worse. Two days ago, Hartlepool United secured promotion to Division One of the Football League. As I am a proud son of the town, a lifelong supporter, and one of Hartlepool United's club doctors, you might think this would be a cause for celebration rather than anything else. But it's no surprise to me. I'm in on the ground floor and I know that we are great. We've just gone 25 games without losing; a club record. To me, promotion has been inevitable since about January.

Historically, Hartlepool are famously crap. We have literally never won anything in 99 years. We hold the record for the highest number of applications for re-election to the Football League (14), we hold the British record for the longest period of continuous competitive football without scoring a goal (1,100-odd minutes) and we once bought a striker for £10 and a box of kippers – surely the only time that smoked fish products have ever been involved in a professional transfer deal.

I don't know how my patients have found out I am involved with Pools. Maybe it's the club tie I usually wear or the posters and fixture lists pinned up in my consulting room, or possibly the way I bang on about Pools every time we win a game. I'll never know. However, the good folk of Sunderland are obsessed with football, and although Sunderland AFC are the only serious team worth talking about, they regard Hartlepool as a comical little local relation worthy of friendly patronage and the occasional trip down the A19 if Sunderland are playing away from home.

As is usual after a holiday, I've had all my regulars booked in to see me all day, with all the special ailments they've saved up for me. After struggling through the multiple pathologies, I've had an extra Hartlepool-related conversation with nearly every one of them. 'What about Pools, eh doc? Won again! Might be playing Leeds United next year!' Touchingly, they seem to think that Hartlepool's success is something to do with the quality of medical care the team receives, and obviously I'm reluctant to disabuse them.

However, it becomes ridiculous. It's my final patient of a long, long day. It's 6.30 and everyone else went home half an hour ago. An old chap staggers down the corridor and into my room. As he comes in, wheezing, he coughs up a bloody wad of mucus and collapses into the chair. 'How can I help you today Mr Tegner?' I ask, after apologising for the hour he has had to wait. He gasps helplessly for a while before he can get his breath.

Eventually, he manages to speak. 'What about that goal by Ritchie Humphries, eh doc? Class or what?' This is surreal. I pinch myself to see if I will wake up. But I don't. We sit staring at each other, each of us breathless in our own way, and then he coughs up some more blood.

Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland and PPA and MJA Columnist of the Year

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