Result: FC Halifax Town 1-1 Salford City (2-2 Agg.) (AET, Halifax won 3-0 on pens) (National League North Play-Off Semi-Final 2nd Leg)
Venue: The Shay Stadium (Sunday 7th May 2017, 3pm)
“Oh, Halifax is on a SUNDAY?!!”. They were my words when I realised on Friday night that a double-header was on the cards and the big game at the Shay was in my sights. With excitement at a peak point, I got into planning a day in sunny Halifax.
After visiting Cheshire League side Orford on the Saturday, Sunday morning arrived and with train times not too friendly, I set off for Manchester at just after 9am, with around a half-hour wait both there and in Huddersfield, before catching the train up to Halifax, where I arrived bright and early. In fact, I was so early, the first pub I headed for was still shut.
Luckily, this didn’t last and I was soon inside the Ring O’Bells pub down the side of the town’s “Minster”. After explaining I haven’t quite reached the realms of regular early morning drinking to the barmaid (as I actively reached for the beer that was still settling) and just what brought me to the place this fine day, she replied in a maligned tone that there is many a time when she has to humour the fans – both before and after matches – despite holding no interest in football. No interest in football. I couldn’t imagine it!
Anyway, I settled in for a while with a pint of Acorn Brewery’s Blonde Ale, which was a nice, easy drinking pint before heading off and more towards the town centre. En route, I found myself outside a free house by the name of the “Old Post Office”. It was fairly quiet inside, with me having, once again, come upon it shortly after it had opened its doors. My drink here cost me £3.50, which, I think, was one of only two drinks all day that would set me back over the £3 mark. It’s pretty cheap is Halifax and I loved it for it. There was a guy in a bunny suit walking down the street though…
It was soon time to head onwards into the centre and my next stop-off was the Union Cross, just off the bustling high street. The barmaid in here was quite bubbly it has to be said and there was much “bantz” going on with the regular punters. I was also given permission to charge my phone, with me being assured that it wouldn’t be nicked! With that assurance, I headed off, Strongbow in hand, to the nearest socket.
After a further couple of pretty uneventful stops in the Cat & Fiddle & the strangely named Bow Legged with Brass (where I figured I’d got a pint of Dark Fruits for under £2, though my math probably let me down once more), I finished off with a visit to the ‘Spoons-like Duke of Wellington. This was originally planned to be my final pit-stop, before I decided on the way to the ground that I could squeeze in a quick Punk IPA in one of the town’s two actual ‘Spoons, the Barum Top. Then, with pre-match drinks finished up, I made the ten minute walk onwards to the Shay.
Arriving at the turnstile, I purchased a programme for £3 and the astronomical £16 entrance fee, before heading into the away end, as I fancied a bit of a change for no apparent reason. I just figured it could be a bit more fun. But to be honest, I think most were too tense to enjoy the day and the game definitely reflected their feelings. But, that’s for a little later.
The Shay itself is a mixture of old and new with the Skircoat stand, where the away fans were located today, being one of the older stands along with the (occasional away end) covered terrace which was used for flags alone for this game. The opposite end houses a further terrace for the standing home support, while the more modern East Stand stands opposite the Skircoat. The areas surrounding the Skircoat are fairly uneven too, as the stand is built on the side of a slope and they are definitely a throwback to another era, the toilets especially so! Anyway, without wishing to delve into further details about them, here’s the story behind FC Halifax Town…
FC Halifax Town were formed in 2008, following the demise of the town’s previous club, and forerunner to this one, Halifax Town. The prior club had been in existence for all of ninety-seven years where they competed in the Yorkshire Combination & the Midland League before becoming founder members of the Football League’s Third Division North in 1921, finishing a best of second in 1935.
They remained there right through until restructuring in 1958 saw Town in the, now fully national, Third Division. They just missed out on a promotion spot in 1971, but that was as good as it got for Town in their first League stay, as they were relegated to the Conference in 1993, where they would remain for the next five years, going from avoiding relegation to title-winners within a year, featuring players such as Geoff Horsfield.
Back in the league, the Shaymen saw Horsfield leave for Fulham in 1998, but lead the table for most of their first season back, before falling away into mid-table. 2002 saw Town back in the Conference where they stayed through to their eventual collapse, missing out on promotion in the 2006 play-offs, losing 3-2 to, another now defunct side, Hereford United in the final. Despite avoiding relegation the next season, Town would go on to fold and FC Halifax Town came into being.
The new entity took a place in the Northern Premier League for 2008-’09, with me seeing their second game (and first away) at that level, as Town travelled to Trafford. A poor end to the season saw the club miss out on the play-offs at the end of their first season, but they did manage to take the title the following season after a strong end to the campaign.
The club’s NPL Premier Division tenure began with players such as Jamie Vardy being brought to the Shay and this proved fruitful as the club went on to lift their second successive title – and promotion – to take a spot in the Conference North for 2011-’12, a season which saw them ultimately bow out in the play-off semi-finals. The following year saw Town again take a spot in the play-offs, defeating Brackley Town in the final to achieve promotion back to the Conference Premier, where the former side had bowed out from five years earlier.
After reaching the play-offs as the highest-ranked part-time side in the country at the close of their first season back at Step 1, Halifax bowed out in the semi-finals. The following year was something of a success as, despite losing star man Lee Gregory, the club lead the way for a time before fading into play-off contention and ultimately missing out on those too.
However, a polar opposite campaign to the prior seasons would follow. The season saw the departure of Neil Aspin, who’d seen the club through the rise from Step 4 to Step 1, with him being replaced by Darren Kelly. This proved to be no help to the cause of Town and, despite a late resurgence under Jim Harvey which saw Halifax reach the Final of the FA Trophy where they defeated National League champions Grimsby Town 1-0, they were relegated back to the National North for this season, where…well, you can see where they are if you’re reading these words! Under new boss Billy Heath, Town finished up in 3rd place prior to these very play-offs.
After a fifteen minute delay due to ground congestion, the game got underway but, again, a decent first-half followed. In fact, it wasn’t until the 38th minute that the first true chance of the game came around, with Sam Johnson in the home goal keeping out Dave Norris’ effort.
Halifax did respond right at the end of the half, with Dion Charles the unlucky man who saw his poke comfortably cleared as it rolled toward the line by Michael Nottingham to ensure the teams headed in at the break all-square and with it all to play for in the second period, the place in the final no closer for either side.
Having already purchased a cheeseburger (£3.20) before kick-off from the in-ground food trailer thing, I therefore had little to do during the break other than head into the concourse and just generally hang around. It’s always interesting to hear people’s differing views on the game at the half-way mark and there was certainly a split between optimism and the hopeful pessimist. However, we’d soon find out who was right as the teams entered the field once more.
The second half was a more open affair than the first, with Salford’s Mike Phenix being denied by a fine tackle when he looked odds-on to score, Halifax responding, forcing Salford ‘keeper Jay Lynch managed to ‘keep out a close-range header before it was Salford’s turn to again go close, James Poole denied by a fine stop by Johnson who stayed big for as long as possible to thwart the Salford front-man.
As I alluded to earlier, the final minutes saw the hosts go close to winning the game and sealing a place in the play-off final and it was the danger man Charles once more, who saw his drive fly narrowly wide of the target. Frustration in the home ends was met with relief in the away section as the “final” whistle blew to signal extra-time would be needed to separate these two well-matched outfits.
The thirty-minutes proved to be where the drama occurred. Just a handful of minutes into the extra period, Richard Peniket found the net with a fine header, diving in to meet a ball into the box from the right and power the ball beyond Lynch. 1-0 to the hosts and the mini pitch invasion was on!
However Salford were not done and it took them just two minutes of the second half of extra-time to level the game up once more, Michael Nottingham sneaking in at the back post to somehow beat the defender to the ball and nod in. A really soft goal for Halifax to concede, but you felt Salford deserved to stay level through to the end of the contest. They duly managed it, despite a fine stop late on by Lynch to deny another Peniket header, before he then had to stay alert right up to the final whistle to keep out another from the tall Tom Denton, before the whistle went to signal the dreaded shootout.
The penalties came and went in quick fashion, largely due to the poor quality of Salford’s kicks. One tame kick saved and two more flying over sealed their fate, with Town netting three of their four; Matty Brown sealing their place in the final with an emphatic finish into the top-corner. Cue the full pitch invasion as the home fans celebrated the fact the Shaymen had secured a shot at a quick return to the top-level of non-league. Another year at Step 2 beckons for City, though.
As for me it was back to Halifax where I had a 45 minute wait for the train back to Huddersfield. I reckoned I’d had enough before the game and didn’t really fancy another drink, so instead took the opportunity for a much-needed phone charge, until we were all kicked out of the waiting room as it was being shut. Luckily, there was only ten minutes left before I departed from the scenic sights of the Nestle factory and back from whence I came.
So another good day out in Halifax (helped by the cheapness of its beer) was had and it was good to revisit the Shay after almost eight years. On balance of the game, I think it was hard to truly pick a winner, with both sides having their fair share of chances, but Halifax had the spot-kick prowess to see them over the line. They go on the play Chorley for a place in the Conference. As for me, just two games await…
Value For Money: 6