One game down at Flixton on Thursday night and closely following on the tail of that game was game number two of my season on the following Saturday afternoon; my first 3 o’clock kick off of the new season. I was all set to spend to my Saturday afternoon in the heart of Lancashire at Nelson FC’s Victoria Park, however the Saturday morning brought a sudden change of plan. The night before I had been at Old Trafford for the prom of the school where I work and lets just say that the beverages consumed throughout the evening did not exactly make me feel like my usual self the next morning. The idea of sitting on a bus to Nelson for over an hour and a half in the scorching hot weather and slightly hungover did not really appeal to me and though it still looked like I was going to go to Nelson, I had a nose around for an alternative. Noticing that a few people on Twitter were heading to Halifax and having been quite easily persuaded by groundhopper and Bradford fan Ben Hall on Facebook, it was decided that my destination for today’s trip would Halifax, the home of FC Halifax Town. The 45 minute train journey certainly sounded better than getting the X43 bus to Nelson (one day I’ll be there though Nelson).
My housemate Angus was also heading into Manchester as I made my way to Victoria station to catch the train to Halifax and on quizzing me on my plan for the day he asked: “Where exactly is Halifax?” I went to reply only to realise I didn’t really know where the hell it was myself. The haste of my decision to go to Halifax meant I had only looked up train times and not exactly where it was. “Somewhere in Yorkshire,” I hesitantly replied before I even began to question whether that was correct. As I sat on the train, I thought it perhaps best that I Google the town on my phone to find out where the hell I was going and if indeed I was going to Yorkshire. Google Maps verified that I was heading to Yorkshire, more specifically West Yorkshire.
I arrived into Halifax train station at just after 12pm and it was absolute roasting. After finding out where Halifax’s ground, the Shay, was located I decided to go have a wander of the town itself. What a pleasant little town it is too. The town was very busy today as the locals had obviously come out in force to bask in the glorious weather. I wandered through Piece Hall, where there was some sort of festival going on, through the cobbled streets and the indoor market until I arrived at ‘Pearson’s Fish & Chips’. On spotting and smelling the place I realised I was starving and for a bargain £2.40 I purchased a small fish and chips (which wasn’t really that small) to keep me ticking over. The chips were proper potato cut ones as well and were brilliant.
Next door to the chip shop was the Westgate pub and I decided that this was as good a place to have my first pint of the day (and a bit of ‘hair of the dog’). The pub was a cosy two-roomed building with pleasantries such as a small book shelf with a range of novels by the likes of Michael Crichton. Whilst I watched the last 20 minutes of the British Lions game, I was joined on my table by a friendly elderly couple with the old man regaling with his whole family story “Tell me to shut up if you want. Once I get started I don’t shut up.” I informed him that I was enjoying his tales and that I’m told that I also apparently suffer from the inability to be quiet once I’ve got going with my talking. When I explained to him what a Welshman was doing in Halifax and the whole groundhopping thing he declared that it was a brilliant idea and sounded good fun. I think if he had been 20 years younger he’d probably have tagged along with me for the season! I said my goodbyes and decided to make my way towards the Shay.
There was still over 45 minutes until kick off and en route to the ground I got distracted by another pub, this time the Three Pigeons, so I thought I’d sample another alehouse of Halifax before heading to the ground. Once again the locals of Halifax were very chatty, especially after a couple had heard me talking on the phone in my distinctive Welsh accent and curiosity got the better of them as they asked what I was doing in West Yorkshire. I finished my German lager, which I can’t recall the name of but was a it bit tangy for my liking anyway, and headed around the corner to the Shay in tow of a Halifax couple who were also heading to the ground.
If it wasn’t for the floodlights towering above, The Shay would be practically invisible with the stadium submerged in the trees and foliage surrounding it. As we walked down the tree covered lane, the main stand and car park came into site with the stand looking particularly plush and modern. I was later to learn that the main stand had taken almost a decade to redevelop as original construction on the stand was stopped halfway through thanks to the club’s financial issues; it was eventually opened in 2010, 9 years after work began on the stand.
The area that the ground was built on in 1921 was actually associated with grandeur with the old Shay Estate, which dated right back to at least Tudor times, supposedly being one of the finest in the area, before it’s demolition at the start of the 20th century.
My next questions was, ‘why ‘The Shay’? A bit of research on the train home (well, reading the stadium’s Wikipedia page) pointed to the very reason behind this. The word ‘shay’ actually derives from the Old English word for ‘shaw’ meaning a small wood – looking around the immediate area surrounding the ground it was fairly obvious to see that this name was quite apt.
The Shay was not the originally home of the football for Halifax with the club beginning their life in 1911 at Sandhall Lane and then at Exley, before moving to the Shay in 1921 just after the club were elected to the Football League. The ground went through a lot of redevelopment in the 1990s and it also became the home of the town’s rugby league club, as well as hosting speedway team Halifax Dukes for periods between the 1940s and 1980s.
Sadly, the original incarnation of Halifax Town slid down the leagues during the 2000s and worsening finances saw the club eventually expelled from the Conference and eventually disappear for good. However, from the ashes of Halifax Town AFC arose FC Halifax Town in 2008/09, the current club which has gained three promotions in its five-year existence and now sits in the Conference and one more promotion away from the Football League.
As per usual, the first port of call on arriving at the ground was to visit the club bar. Considering the size of the stand, I was quite surprised to find that the club’s bar consisted of just one small room – it must get rammed in there on a ‘real’ matchday. It was great however to see that Scarborough fans had travelled over in numbers and the bar seemed to be dominated by the red and yellow kits of Scarborough Athletic. Scarborough AThletic, a club who had similarly to FC Halifax risen again after the collapse of the original club, Scarborough FC, in 2007, had had a great season the year before by winning the North East Counties Premier Division. One gentleman had even opted to celebrate the club’s title-winning season the year before by getting the word ‘champions’ along with the club badge and the manager’s name, Rudy Funk (superb name) tattooed on the back of his head! Obviously I could not miss out on this and without thinking I was asking “Excuse me mate. I write a football blog – can I take a photo of the back of your head please?” A question I’ve never asked a strange man before, but judging by the way he nonchalantly agreed, I doubt I was the first person to ever have asked him this question.
I had agreed to meet Ben and his Bradford supporting mates, James, Chapalar and Chapalar’s missus in the ground and soon I had a text telling me they were in the away end. The away end? For a bloody friendly. Surely FC Halifax were not taking things this serious. I’d soon enough find out that they took everything very serious here at the Shay; well the stewards do at least. I paid my £7 entry and was into the fray of the Shay (nice bit of rhyming there).
At the end of the tunnel leading out of the almost empty concourse to pitchside, I could see Ben and his pals with a few of Scarborough fans. I went over to say hello and I soon realised that Ben was joined by Halifax-supporting Bradley Dobson, the guy behind the NPL Facebook Page, and both of them were handing out fliers advertising the group. For those of you on Facebook and who love non-league football, especially the Evo-Stik Northern Leagues, get yourself a part of the NPL Facebook Page, a great forum for all football supporters which can be found here (there is your plug lads!) Also with Brad today was his mate Shaun, another Bradford City fan, meaning that any mention of Swansea’s glorious League Cup final triumph was banned from today’s conversation. Just as we were about to head to our seats, I spotted my new friend from my Thursday night trip to Flixton: Mark from No Clash of Colours was pitchside taking photos. As he came over to say hello, I mentioned to the others with me who he was and they all declared their love for his website; it seems No Clash of Colours is becoming a bit of a legendary site on the non-league circuit.
Soon the players were out on the field, FC Halifax in the blue and Scarborough in their away colours of yellow, and we were underway. We sat in the first two rows of the East Stand to take advantage of the sunny weather instead of hiding the shade at the back of the stand. Today, only the main East Stand was open with a small fence dividing the home and away fans. The main stand has the usual collection of executive boxes as well as the bar and changing rooms. Behind either goal are two quite big and brilliant looking standing terraces and directly opposite the main stand is the Skircoat Stand, the oldest stand in the ground. One of the features I particularly like about the Shay is the way the ground is built into the hill, adding that extra hidden away feel to it. Even right next to the Skircoat Stand there is a small grassy banking which appears slightly out-of-place in a Conference football club’s ground.
Despite the scorching temperatures Halifax wasted no time in going 1-0 up, after Alex Johnson scored from a Scott McManus cross. Lee Gregory then hit the bar for the home side before Johnson added a 2nd with a miscued shot from the edge of the box which somehow deceived the keeper and trickled over the line. Certainly the slowest shot I’ll see scored this season.
We were soon joined by Buxton fan and groundhopper Alex McKenna who had originally sat in the home end until he realised we were all in the away end. On trying to cross the dividing fence, the stewards had to walkie-talkie each other to decide whether to give a completely neutral Alex permission to cross the divide. After a small wait Alex was eventually allowed to join us. The stewards were ridiculous jobsworths, something which entertained us all day. Firstly, the sheer volume of them surprised me as there was only a small crowd at the Shay today; the walkie-talkies seemed to be a bit OTT for the level we were at and the slightest action, such as putting feet on an empty chair or standing up, was greeted with overwhelming disdain from the stewards.
Despite the unusually strict stewarding, Halifax were doing a great job on the pitch as Gregory made it 3-0 with a finish from an acute angle before Marc Roberts made it 4-0 with a header from a corner, much to the delight of Alex as Roberts is formerly of Buxton.
Half-time: FC Halifax 4-0 Scarborough. It had been ridiculously one-sided.
For half-time I decided to go get a bit of shelter from the sun and to grab a pie. To my delight the Shay were selling chicken tikka pies, my personal favourite type of pie, and I was more than content munching away on that until the second half.I arrived back out pitchside moments before kick-off and was chatting to Mark and some Scarborough fans near the tunnel; however, I wasn’t to remain there long as of course two stewards came bumbling over to make sure I returned to my seat for kick-off.
There was to be no respite for Scarborough in the second half as Halifax carried on cutting through the away team at will, although noticeably there was a slowing of the pace in the second half. By the hour mark it was 5-0 to Halifax with new signing Kevin Holsgrove scoring and 3 minutes later he added his second of the game with a powerful drive from outside the box. It was now embarrassingly easy and Scarborough’s mad 5 minutes came to an end in the 64th minute as Roberts also added his second goal of he game to make it 7-0 with 25 minutes left. One Halifax fan even began to think it was actually a serious game and started chanting and heckling the away support about the score, much to the laughter of the Scarborough fans around us who found his efforts to goad rather pathetic. Even Halifax fan Brad was embarrassed by one of his own supporters. Predictably, the stewards were soon having a word with the Halifax fan which I also found a little bit much; he may have been irritating but he wasn’t doing anything you wouldn’t see at any other game.
Just as the game was entering its final stages, Chapalar’s girlfriend delivered the quote of the day. After praising her football knowledge, one of the lads made the stereotypical reference to women not understanding the offside rule. “Yeah I know what offside is. It’s when you’re not allowed to run over that line” she proudly declared whilst pointing to a random part of the pitch. Once we had all recovered from our hysterics, in her defence she did then deliver a more accurate description of the offside law.
With the football now being played at an agonisingly slow pace in the heat, I think we all just wanted the game to end and after the final ten minutes seeming like an eternity, the ref finally blew his whistle.
Full time: FC Halifax 7 – 0 Scarborough Athletic. A 7 goal game makes it sound like an absolute thriller, but in reality it wasn’t really that great a game at all, as Halifax effortlessly just strolled through a shell-shocked Scarborough. Admittedly, Scarborough had a lot of new faces on show and are four divisions below Halifax, but it has to be said that they were awful.
With the weather still so nice, I was in no rush to go straight back home, so me, Brad and Shaun headed into town for one post match drink after saying our goodbyes to the Bradford lot. I’ve given plenty of praise to the pleasant town of Halifax, but if there’s one single thing I could praise it for it is for its Wetherspoons. Yes, that’s right the JD Wetherspoons pub in Halifax, the Percy Shaw (I learnt from Brad that the Halifax-born Percy Shaw is the man who invented the ‘cat’s eye’), is one of the coolest I’ve ever been to. Unlike the usual antiquated and dark look of most ‘Spoons’, this one was bright and vibrant and had a raised seating area outside looking out over the town of Halifax. The only downfall of the visit was the ‘try-balancing-a-20p-on-a-lemon’ game sat on the bar, which if successful would win the game’s conqueror a free pint – sadly, I lost 40p to the game.
Highlights: Halifax is a lovely town, good fish and chips from Pearsons, friendly locals, meeting up with the NPL page people, 7 goals, one of the best Wetherspoons around.
Low Points: the jobsworth stewards.