Saturday, 9 October 2010

FC Halifax Town 4 Harrogate Town 0

FA Cup, Third Qualifying Round
Attendance: 1,835

When Simon Weaver was appointed manager of Harrogate (my local club) in the summer of ’09 the first question he asked was: “How many players do we have?” Three,” the chairman replied. “The rest have gone to Halifax.” They’d followed the previous manager, ex-Leeds hard man defender Neil Aspin, who had quit after a successful spell due to the club’s lack of ambition and funds. So: a needle match today, then? Well, not really. Harrogate doesn’t do rivalry as I’ve noted before in this blog and certainly didn’t put up much of a fight today.

As for Halifax, the previous club folded in 2008 and the phoenix club is now busy paddling its way back up the leagues – very successfully, in fact, as they currently top the Northern Premier League and look odds on to swap places with Harrogate come the spring. “A Conference team for a conference town” may not be the snappy Harrogate slogan for much longer. They’ve only won two out of nine league games this season.

The Shay has changed radically since my previous visit 17 years ago and is unrecognisable from the ground that hosted the Cup giantkilling of Man City in 1980. (The YouTube footage is brilliant, by the way). Three of the four stands have been replaced and a further stand currently under construction noses into one corner. Few reformed clubs can boast such fine facilities (although they’re shared with the rugby league club).The bigger the ground, though, the bigger the crowd you need to give it some atmosphere and, even though Halifax recorded their biggest gate of the season today, there were echoes of Gateshead – literally. The vocal Shaymen in the south stand did their best but there’s only so much you can do to offset the effect on the atmosphere of two unused stands and a less than 20% capacity. There was also no opportunity to walk around the pitch, much to the dismay of my occasional FA Cup companion and nephew, Toby, and I.

The problem with this match, then, was that it didn’t feel like an FA Cup tie let alone a quirky qualifier like I’d encountered just one round previously. If you’d teleported me to the game I’d have guessed I was at a pre-season friendly for a Third Division side. I may not have known where exactly since the only reference to the town outside or inside the ground is an an advertising hoarding for MacDonalds in Halifax.

The respective plights of the two teams were reflected by the action. Halifax were superior right from the off and only several fine saves by the Harrogate ’keeper kept the away side in the match. Halifax took the lead from the spot on 31 mins either side of which Pell and Naylor of Harrogate were sent off. The word ‘floodgates’ sprung immediately to mind. Remarkably, Harrogate kept the scored at just 1-0 until just after half-time and didn’t have a single shot on target themselves throughout. Further Halifax goals duly followed, the last by Harrogate old boy Danny Holland as captured on film by yours truly (see below). There are 12 passes from one end to the other – just count ’em – preceded by a very rare Harrogate attack. (No goal, incidentally, for another ex-Harrogatian, the fabulously named ‘James Dean, goal machine’ as a banner read). You felt by the end Halifax could score as many as they fancied.

This was a pitiful and spineless performance by Harrogate that brought to mind England in the World Cup. The pink colour of their shirts (in support of a breast cancer charity) was wholly appropriate. The small huddle of away fans – whom we joined in the second half out of sympathy and local allegiance – hardly did the club proud either. They looked like a bunch of bored kids on a school outing. The only emotion they expressed was daubed on the t-shirt of one lad in marker pen: “Taxi for Weaver”. I’d just point him to the bus stop.

Chant of the match: “You’re just a small town in Knaresborough!” Commendable geography from the Shaymen. Great nickname, by the way. Harrogate desperately need one. A 1994 non-league directory describes them as The Sulphurites, a reference to the town’s spa heritage. Mmm. Think the editor made that up. How about The Waterboys?

Three cheers for Uncle Bill: Indefatigable and ever the optimist, chairman Bill Fotherby is the life and soul of Harrogate Town. He’s an old fashioned, tinted specs, wavy-haired sort of gent as summed up by this great retro-postcard-type pic from the club website.

And a boo for the Premiership: I read two stories about Manchester football clubs this weekend. One was about the debt of Man United and other was an account in the NLP of FCUM’s win at Norton & Stockton Ancients. What a great pic too (below). Now that’s what it’s all about!


Midfielder said...

Great photos, Paul. How many does the ground hold? The RL team plays there too don't they?

Paul Kirkwood said...

Thanks. 10,000 - and yes the RL team play there too.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the compliment about my pic. There's some more here

Mark Fletcher

Paul Kirkwood said...


Just checked the rest of your pics. So different to when I was there. Well done with the front cover. [I'm amazed you picked up my repro of your pic on my blog!]


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Hostpph said...

It is quite awful to start a game with only 3 players. but at least they sorted it out.

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