Match Details: FC Halifax Town 3 – Frickley Athletic 1 (NPL Prem)
Destination: The Shay, Shay Syke, Halifax, West Yorks, HX1 2YT
Competition: Evo Stik (aka Northern Premier League) Premier Division
Kick-off: 7.45 pm
Programme: £3 (48 pages / 19 of ads)
Directions: The Shay is around 10 minutes walk from Halifax town centre. If arriving by train then it’s also very easy to find – just turn left when exiting the station onto Church Street, and continue down this road for a few hundred yards. You will then get to a junction with Hunger Hill as the uphill/right turn, and Shay Syke straight on. Either of these will lead you to the ground, which is located just behind The Shay pub.
Off The Pitch: Visiting The Shay as a regular follower of non-league at step 3 and below, it’s something of a surreal experience to be amongst a crowd of 1,000+, in a stadium which can hold ten times that amount. To all intents and purposes, Halifax are a club with a league-sized set up, who for various reasons relating to financial merde, have found themselves having to start again from step 4 of non-league but are currently going great guns in working their way back up the pyramid.
Reflecting the local geography by being set in a scooped out bowl on a hillside, The Shay is these days council-owned, and currently leased by both FC Halifax Town football club and Halifax RLFC rugby league club.Two of the four large stands are seated, with the two side stands being all-seater, and large banks of covered terracing behind each goal. Tonight the club has opened two of the four stands, though when demand warrants it, they will also open one or both of the other stands too.
On The Pitch: Although the Evo Stik league table suggests that these two teams are around 18 places apart from each other, in reality Halifax are already at a level much higher. I fully expect them to be there or thereabouts at the top of the Conference North next season, so a more accurate assessment would be that there is effectively two leagues between these two sides, rather than one. As such, I did have a little hope that Frickley could get something out of tonight’s game, but no real expectation of anything other than a comfortable Halifax victory, as the team who were already champions marched on towards their new goal of reaching 100 points for the season.
Halifax started brightly, but it was Frickley who actually took the lead – a mix up between Halifax’s two centre-halves let in Mark Whitehouse, who calmly hit the bouncing ball beyond the home keeper to send the visitors into a shock 12th minute lead. You could’ve heard a pin drop among the 1,000+ crowd at this point, and it promptly served as a wake up call to Halifax, who very much like a slumbering bear being woken up too early, then proceeded to pepper the Frickley goal for the next 20 minutes, and took a 2-1 lead thanks to some good off-the-ball movement and some clinical finishing from Lee Gregory and Danny Holland.
With the match then threatening to snowball further, Frickley manager Peter Rinkcavage took desperate action to halt the impending avalanche by taking off young central defender Paul Lister, and replacing him with veteran Dean Jones, who as well as experience had a slight height advantage in his favour. It seemed to do the job, as Frickley were able to take the wind out of the sails of the good ship Halifax, and held on till half-time with just that single goal still separating the sides. Half-time also saw the immediate introduction of long-serving Frickley favourite Danny Walsh, a tenacious midfielder who had got them out of many a tight situation in the past.
Although Halifax took their foot off the gas somewhat in the second half, the inevitable third goal followed on 66 minutes. Frickley keeper Ben Simpson had already managed to pull off a couple of fine saves to keep them in the game, however on this occasion a shot from Tom Baker slipped through his fingers and trickled over the line to effectively kill the game off. Frickley’s effort couldn’t be faulted, and they even came close to scoring again themselves on a couple of occasions near the end. First, Ashley Longstaff came off the bench and almost made a direct impact with a fine shot on the turn which ‘Fax keeper Jonathan Hedge managed to tip just round the post; and then at the death, Mark Whitehouse fired in a low cross from the left wing which narrowly evaded the onrushing players in the box. The final score remained at 3-1 though, which was on balance a pretty fair result. So while Frickley now return to face more beatable opponents in their end of season fight against relegation, Halifax look well prepared to make it three promotions in a row next year, when they step up to the second tier of the Conference. Led by former Leeds defender Neil Aspin, a player who I have fond memories of watching as a lad, it will be no less than their long-suffering fans deserve.