Date: 12th November 2018 at 9:27am
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No Shay-me for Halifax.

My, how things have changed. I’m so ancient that I can remember standing on the old cinder bank (where the Car Wash Terrace finally appeared) at Christie Park in the 1960s with my classmate Paul Robinson and his dad, who was a Halifax Town supporter. At that time, Morecambe were a slightly better than average Northern Premier League club. But Halifax…

Well, they lived in that parallel universe which was literally inaccessible to `little’ teams like Wigan Athletic, Wimbledon and ourselves: the hermetically-sealed closed shop which was the Football League at the time. No matter how hopeless, decrepit, un-ambitious, bankrupt or even corrupt you were, the Old Boys’ Network meant that you got re-elected year after dreary year even if you were bottom of the old Fourth Division time and time again.

(Unless you were Barrow or Workington or somewhere else off the beaten track which other clubs often took the first chance they got to kick you out in preference for teams easier to travel to – even if you weren’t actually at the bottom of the League pile at the time. Barrer were chucked-out in favour of Ronnie Radford’s Super-Goal Hereford United in 1972 even though there were two poorer teams below them – Stockport County on two wins and a draw worse off than them – and Crewe: a staggering three wins and a draw inferior at the very bottom of the Football League. Meritocracy? Just Deserts? I think not…)

But Way Back Then, a Football League place was generally for life, not just for Christmas, Yom Kippur, Ramadan, Black Friday or whatever. And back in the 1960s, Halifax Town were on the up: they were promoted to the old Third Division in 1969 and remained there until 1976 before struggling in the lowest tier again. So way back in the day – I gazed at my mate Paul’s dad with a certain amount of juvenile awe.

What must it be like to support a Football League club?

Well – pretty grim in all probability if Halifax were any guide. In their seventy-two year League history, Town came bottom of the pile of ninety-four Football League clubs an astonishing twelve times – and survived. My Maths is far from brilliant but I think that equates to being in the worst position of all every six years on average.

How ridiculous was that when far better – and more progressive – teams right across England and Wales – Bangor City springs immediately to mind as far as the Principality is concerned – had no chance of replacing them?

But in 1992, the club which has always lived in the shadow of the Rugby League team whose stadium it shared found fate belatedly catching-up with them. It all ended in tears at that point. Halifax had just won their way back to Division Three but then the wheels well and truly fell off. They were absolutely humiliated in the FA Cup by the part-time and non-League team to whom Morecambe owe an eternal debt: Marine. Halifax lost on Merseyside by all of four goals to one.

Indescribably worse, though, in the first year of the Premiership, Halifax Town transformed themselves into… Halifax Down.

Yes they did. They finished the season bottom of the division.

Instead of being simply relegated back to Division Four, however, the club was actually booted out of the Football League altogether. This was due to what my lawyers have advised me to describe as `creative financial spreadsheets’.

(Please don’t quote me on that…)

I could well be mistaken – I frequently am – but I suspect that only even more dodgy Boston United have suffered a similar fate.

Whatever – Halifax Town FC morphed into AFC Halifax during 2006. Or was it ten years ago?

Yes – they re-emerged as the club they are now ten years ago.

I think.

But I’m not sure: reliable information about this club is harder to come by than a genuine World War Two Halifax bomber in flying condition. (In other words: impossible…)

Historically, the Shrimps and the Shaymen have met three times before. If you believe the internet.

A usually much more reliable source – today’s programme – suggests that in the old Conference, they played sixteen times with Morecambe winning seven games and losing four. But that was Halifax Town, wasn’t it? So maybe the internet’s right, strictly speaking. In which case, Morecambe have never lost to AFC Halifax in any meaningful competition.

Putting that to one side, however, the Shaymen went into today’s tie `looking for their first win in thirteen games.’ That’s according to today’s programme as well. But they beat Warrington in the last round. So that can’t be right, can it?

What is indisputable, however, is that last year the Yorkshire team hammered their Lancashire rivals 6-2 in a pre-season friendly. It could be argued that this was a portent for the struggle to come for Morecambe but friendly games don’t really mean anything.

The one today at the Globe Arena did though: £36,000 awaited the winners plus the potentially incalculable prize of moving towards the Big Time ties of Round Three where the Premiership clubs are involved in the competition for the first time. But – all monetary reward set aside – a win for Halifax would mean a victory for a non-League team over one much higher in the English Football Pyramid. As I said at the outset – my, how things have changed…

It was dry but overcast as the match kicked-off following an excellent rendition of the Last Post and a two minute silence to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War tomorrow. Other than that, it was dull overhead and pretty dull on the field most of the first half too. The most interesting thing to note in the first quarter of an hour was that visiting goalkeeper Sam Johnson seemed to be wearing the same colour kit as his team-mates except for the green sleeves and a very slightly green hue to everything else. A-Jay Leitch-Smith tried his luck after thirteen minutes and Greensleeves pushed it over the bar. From the resulting corner, Johnson was All At Sea, coming for the ball and then rapidly retreating whilst it was still in the air. He was tested again after twenty-two minutes and struggled to shovel the shot away from danger when Jordan Cranston let fly from about thirty yards. A minute later, Aaron Wildig only just missed at the far post with a header. And the goalkeeper was struggling again after that when he only just managed to save a Vadaine Oliver header in his top left hand corner.

Halifax, meanwhile, offered nothing. No flair and the only ‘flare’ we saw from the Yorkshire team was the blue one which some idiot in their noisy following threw onto the pitch as the game was in progress. What a moron. Halifax looked too pedestrian and too slow to put any meaningful pressure on their opponents and in centre-forward Dayle Southwell we had a man too weak and far too predictable to ever trouble Morecambe’s central defenders. Their only other apparent forward threat – at least in theory – was Sanmi Odelusi. But he, too, looked like he had too many mistakes in him and it was no surprise when his over-enthusiasm earnt him a yellow card during the second period.

The second half saw the non-League side at least try to put their supposedly more illustrious opponents under some sort of pressure. Mark Halstead had to actually punch the ball away after 53 minutes as the visitors enjoyed a good spell of possession and managed to keep the play in the Shrimps’ half more often than not for a little while. The home goalkeeper actually had to make a save after a clever bit of play from Cameron King, turning one hundred and eighty degrees, running towards the Morecambe penalty area and setting-up Niall Maher to force Halstead into action after 65 minutes. A shot was then blocked by the Shrimps’ defence after 59 minutes with Halifax seemingly in the ascendancy. Jim Bentley – clearly not happy with what he was witnessing – made a double substitution with 54 minutes on the clock. He took off an ineffective Rhys Oates, one of whose two only notable contributions so far had been a long-range low shot towards the end of the first period which tamely missed the target altogether. He also substituted Liam Mandeville who – in my humble opinion – was contributing quite a lot more than his fellow forward.

However, Morecambe still had had the best chances so far. In the opening minute of the period, Oliver progressed down the Morecambe left and picked-out Oates, whose shot beat Greensleeves but was brilliantly cleared off the line by rapidly back-pedalling Captain Matty Brown at full stretch. Four minutes later, Vadaine tried his luck from distance with a shot which Johnson again struggled to push away for a corner kick. Substitute Kevin Ellison then set-up his Number Nine with a cushioned header but Oliver just couldn’t get the angle to connect with the ball properly and Halifax escaped again. The hosts came even closer after 70 minutes when an under-pressure Jordan Staunton headed a cross against his own bar with Johnson beaten. When Halifax defender Nathan Clarke (with the number 51 on his back and a huge bandage around his head after an injury which saw him leave the field for quite some time earlier) managed to get the injured part to the ball to clear it, Vadaine again tried the spectacular with an overhead kick – and only just missed. This was just a minute after Morecambe had hit the woodwork. And almost immediately after that, a Shayman’s body blocked another excellent chance for the home team. Then it was Greensleeve’s turn to put Halifax hearts in their mouths. He was so eager to clear the ball after yet another Morecambe attack that he kicked the ball from his hands against a Shrimps player and was very lucky to see the rebound only just miss his right-hand post. On 76 minutes, Vadaine beautifully chested the ball to A-Jay but his shot was saved by Johnson as well. But as the minutes ticked slowly away, the visitors had the last word. Breaking effectively in the second minute of added-on time, substitute Jonathan Edwards found himself unmarked in the home penalty area and headed a pin-point cross past Halstead into the net to put the Yorkshire supporters behind the goal into ecstasy.

Sadly for them, however, Edwards was offside.

So Halifax lived to fight another day. If they had won it at the end, it would have been a travesty. They rode their luck and got away with it today. But having said that, they got what they would have been very happy with before the game – a draw. The replay will be at the Shay a week on Tuesday; 20th December, kick-off at 7.45pm.
Morecambe: 21 Mark Halstead; 2 Zak Mills; 16 Sam Lavelle; 3 Luke Conlan; 5 Steven Old; 14 Josef Yarney; 27 Jordan Cranston (12 Jason Oswell 79 mins); 18 Rhys Oates ( 11 Kevin Ellison 54 mins); 15 Aaron Wildig (C); 9 Vadaine Oliver; 14 Liam Mandeville (6 Andrew Tutte 54 mins); 28 A-Jay Leitch-Smith.

Subs not used: 13 Dawid Szczepaniak; 4 Alex Kenyon.

Halifax Town: 1 Sam Johnson; 3 Ryan Sellars; 4 Nathan Clarke; 5 Matty Brown (C); 6 Josh Staunton; 8 Cameron King; 9 Dayle Southwell (10 Jonathan Edwards 81 mins); 11 Sanmi Odelusi (Y) (19 Jordan Preston 67 mins); 31 Niall Maher (Y); 39 Joe Skarz (Y); 40 Jacob Hanson.

Subs not used: 21 Shaun Rowley; 22 Mekhi McLeod;

Ref: Darren Drysdale

1736 (531 from Halifax)

 

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