FC Halifax Town vs Chorley, National League North Play Off Final, The Shay
With Chorley’s battling performance against Kidderminster seeing them gain a place in the Play Off Final, my season was to be extended by a further game, as with Chorley on the cusp of gaining promotion to the National League Premier, there was nowhere else I would rather spend my Saturday than at The Shay, home of FC Halifax Town.
However there was the small matter of going to work first, luckily my shift ended at 1pm, and after a quick walk up to a cashpoint on Preston Fishergate, I headed back to my car, and set off for Halifax. I’d been up since 6am, and after a poor night’s sleep there was part of me that was desperate to go home and climb back into bed, but the excitement of seeing Chorley play kept me going. The journey to Halifax was pretty straight forward, and it was smooth sailing until I reached Halifax itself, where I encountered some heavy traffic, which was seemingly caused by other drivers being incapable of merging from two lanes into one. With fifteen minutes before kickoff, I found some street parking, up a steep hill, and quickly made my way down to The Shay, as I entered the car-park near to the South Stand, I was relieved to hear that kick off had been delayed by fifteen minutes, and it was clear to see why, as the queues for the home ends stretched for a good distance. After following directions from a friendly steward for the away end, I paid £15 for entrance, and took my place on the North Stand.
The Shay is an impressive ground, with both stands behind the goals being large terraced stands, it does lead to a good atmosphere when the attendance is large. To the right of the North Stand is the Skircoat Stand where the Chorley fans were to be sat of they didn’t fancy standing on the North Stand, only half of the Skircoat Stand was to be used, as the majority of the away support had made the choice to stand on the North Stand. To the left of the North Stand is the Main Stand, which provided the seating for the home fans, this is an impressive looking stand, despite the scaffolding down at the far end, this stand was originally constructed in the 2001-2002 season but due to financial issues it was left unfinished for a number of years before being opened in 2010, the scaffolding at the far end was intended to be a hospitality area, but this was not completed along with the Main Stand.
FC Halifax Town were founded in 2008 following the financial meltdown of Halifax Town AFC, as the original club were placed into administration in the 2007-2008 season, with huge tax debts burying this original club after almost 100 years of history. Following the taxman winding up the original club, FC Halifax Town were formed, and began life in the Northern Premier League Division One North, a poor start to the 2008-2009 season culminated in the sacking of manager Jim Vince, following an upturn in fortunes, Halifax won just two of their final 14 league games, with Nigel Jemson stepping into the manager’s position for the remainder of the season, with their first season finishing in a final position of 8th. Neil Aspin took over the helm for the 2009-2010 season, and the club got off to a better start, and despite failing to record a game for over a month during heavy weather during the winter, and Lancaster City dominating the promotion race, Halifax were able to claw their way back to the top of the league with a 2-2 draw with Clitheroe sealing the title and promotion for the Shaymen. Life in the Northern Premier League started with a number of signings, notably Mark Bowyer from Darlington and Jamie Vardy (I wonder what happened to him?) from Stocksbridge Park Steels. With the Shaymen in goal scoring form, they won the title after winning 2-0 at Retford United, which saw them promoted to the Conference North for the 2011-2012 season. Jamie Vardy was to depart for Fleetwood Town at the start of the season, and with only two wins from their opening nine games, Town responded well by winning four of their next six games. Halifax were to do well in the FA Cup this season, reaching the first round for the first time since their reformation, and were drawn at home to League One Charlton Athletic, the eventual defeat, and score line of 4-0 to Charlton, does not reflect the good account that the Shaymen gave of themselves in that game. A play off place was secured, however following a 2-2 draw in the first leg with Gainsborough Trinity, Halifax were to lose the second leg 1-0, forcing them to settle for another season in the Conference North. The 2012-2013 season started with a cull of the previous squad with only nine members of the previous squad being retained, a number of high profile signings were made, with Jason Jarret, Dale Johnson and Gareth Seddon all signing for the club. A number of postponements during the winter saw a tough backlog of fixtures, with the club battling to a 5th placed finish, after beating Guiseley in the semi-finals, Halifax found themselves against Brackley in the final, with a 1-0 win seeing Halifax promoted into the Conference Premier. The 2013-2014 season saw the Shaymen go on an incredible run, as they went from mid-table to 5th place, and therefore a spot in the play-offs, a first leg win over Cambridge, saw them go into the second leg 1-0 up on aggregate, and only 90 minutes away from Wembley, however it wasn’t to be, with Cambridge winning 2-0 in the second leg. Following the unbelievable end to the previous season, expectations for the 2014-2015 season were high, with many believing that Halifax could make their way back to the Football League and despite a good start to the season, a stuttering end to the season the club finished outside of the play-off places, with a loud minority of fans not pleased by this, as they believed that Halifax should have made the play-offs at the very least. Neil Aspin was to be sacked ten games into the season, as they only collected five points from those games. Aspin was replaced by Darren Kelly, however Kelly was to last less than two months with six defeats out of seven games, with Jim Harvey taking over as caretaker. A memorable run in the FA Trophy took its toll on Halifax’s league form with the club only winning twice in ten games, dropping back into the relegation zone with it coming down to needing a win over Macclesfield, however they only managed a 1-1 draw and dropped back into the National League North. Despite relegation the Shaymen still wanted to end the season on a high, and in the FA Trophy they beat Grimsby 1-0, earning them the FA Trophy. Jim Harvey’s contract wasn’t renewed, and he was replaced by North Ferriby United manager Billy Heath. A third placed finish in the National League North saw Halifax take on Salford City in the play-off semi-finals, both legs finished in 1-1 draws, and it took penalties for Halifax to reach the final, which leads us nicely into today’s match.
I’ve covered Chorley’s history before, so I won’t repeat that here, just have a look through my blog to find the history of Chorley FC. However going into this season it would be fair to say that expectations weren’t high and many fans were expecting a comfortable mid-table finish. Chorley were helped by Darlington failing to meet ground grading criteria meaning that Chorley’s 6th placed finish saw them qualify for a play-off place. Following a 1-0 defeat a Victory Park at the hands of Kidderminster Harriers, in the first leg, Chorley travelled to Aggborough with it all to do, and a 19th minute strike from Jordan Carver bought the score level on aggregate before super-sub Adam Roscoe sent Chorley into the final with his goal in the 93rd minute.
With both sides knowing that promotion was at stake, the first half was nervy with neither side taking too much of an attacking initiative, however that isn’t to mean that there weren’t chances for either side in the first half, and both keepers had to be alert to the threat that their opposition attackers posed.
Both sides were forced into first half changes, with Halifax having to replace their left back Josh Wilde in the 24th minute with Tom Denton taking to the field in his place. Chorley had to make a change in the 38th minute with Stephen Jordan replaced by Kieran Charnock, as Jordan suffered a suspected groin injury.
Half Time: FC Halifax Town 0-0 Chorley
With the queue for food being absolutely massive, I decided to take a seat on the terrace and read the programme which had cost me £3. The content inside was good, but I get the feeling that it wasn’t put together by the home side, with equal content given to each side, unless that is how Halifax do their programmes, and if that is the case then fair play to them as the programme was interesting.
It took a minute for the deadlock to be broken, as a scrappy bit of play saw Halifax play their way up the field, with the ball being slipped through to Kevin Roberts, who got the better of Adam Blakeman before firing his shot under Richie Branagan to put Halifax into the lead.
Chorley made a second change in the 58th minute with Jason Walker replacing Josh O’Keefe. Two minutes after this change, Chorley won a free-kick on the edge of the area, and the man stood next to me uttered the words “This is going in.” Sure enough Adam Blakeman fired the ball past the wall and into the bottom corner, to send the Chorley fans into raptures. Now I’m not sure why some Chorley fans decided to encroach onto the pitch, but I’m just going to put that down to over-excitement.
Halifax then made their second change in the 62nd minute, with Cliff Moyo replacing Dion Charles. It didn’t take long for Moyo to introduce himself as he picked up a booking for an off the ball incident with Jordan Carver.
Tom Denton was then also lucky to escape an early bath, as he elbowed Scott Leather, interestingly enough Halifax’s own match report describes the elbow as blatant, but the referee had made his decision and Halifax continued with eleven men.
The final change for Halifax came in the 78th minute as David Lynch left the field to be replaced by Danny Clarke. With the prospect of extra time looming, this was an interesting substitution and it became clear that Halifax wanted to end this game in normal time. However Chorley were to finish the second half the stronger of the two, and extra time became an inevitability.
Second Half: FC Halifax 1-1 Chorley (Roberts 46 – Blakeman 60)
After making a quick call to the wife to let her know that I would be home later than expected, I took my place back on the terrace, and began to search my fingers for nails to bite. I’ve never enjoyed extra time, and I despise penalty shootouts.
However with the first half of extra time underway, it was to be Halifax that put themselves into the lead, as Scott Garner popped up with a looping header in the 103rd minute.
Chorley then began to throw everything at Halifax, with Adam Roscoe replacing Dale Witham in the 105th minute. Branagan had seemingly abandoned his goal and was now performing more of a midfield position, and the match started to resemble a kick around during lunch at high school, one side had taken the lead and everyone knew that the bell was about to ring to signal the start of lessons, so the losing side elected to play rush keeper. This worked well for Chorley with Branagan’s long kicking ability coming into use, and as one man near me remarked, “I’d rather lose 3-1 but give everything.”
Everything was what Chorley did give, and there was to be an excellent chance late on in the game. With a corner awarded to Chorley, Branagan made his way into the box, and the ball fell for him perfectly, he threw himself acrobatically at the ball but his volley narrowly cleared the bar. However there was to be one last chance, as another corner was whipped in with the ball again landing for Branagan, however his shot went wide of goal.
Full Time: FC Halifax 2-1 Chorley (Roberts 46, Garner 103 – Blakeman 60)
As the final whistle blew, the Halifax fans stormed the pitch and who can blame them? They’d just watched their team win promotion back to the National League Premier in a hard-fought encounter. Congratulations to FC Halifax, I hope that the next time we meet is in the National League Premier.
I stayed behind with the rest of the Chorley fans to applaud the boys for putting everything they had into this game, part of me began to wonder what would have happened if Branagan’s volley had been inches lower, causing the game to go to penalties, would I be sat here writing about how Chorley were going to be playing in the National League Premier? However that wasn’t to be, and FC Halifax deserved the win, they took their chances and defended well until the end despite heavy pressure from the Magpies.
I’m not heartbroken by the result, I’m more disappointed that we had gotten so close to promotion and had fallen at the last hurdle, however as I said at the start of the blog many Chorley fans were expecting mid-table, so to have gotten this far was brilliant. We’ll pick ourselves up and continue into the next season, hopefully we’ll keep the majority of the squad as we do have a good squad here, a few additions would be good, but we’ll have to see how the summer goes.
This isn’t to be the last blog of this season, as I’ll be attending a charity match on Sunday 28th May, as the Twincess Select XI take on Jamie Vermiglio’s Chorley All Stars in a 1pm kick off. This match will be played in aid of Down Syndrome Association, and tickets are expected to be limited, if you are able to get to the game, I would recommend buying a ticket sooner rather than later, as this looks to be a good event, seeing as how it coincides with the Chorley Beer Festival.
Also before ending this blog I’d like to say congratulations to Longridge who beat Blackpool Wren Rovers 1-0 to seal the West Lancashire Football League Premier Division title. On sadder news, as a Shrewsbury Town fan I am upset by the news that Chris Smith has passed, and would like to extend my best wishes to his family.
Thanks for reading, and remember that football is not only a television show, go and support your local non-league team!
Attendance: 7920 (1,941 away)
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YouTube: FC Halifax Town vs Chorley (Reminder the gaming videos on this channel contain NSFW language and those that are offended by swearing or violence should avoid these. The groundhopping videos are clean however, mostly clean anyway.)