It was only after a scrappy, nervous affair, played in the dismal rain and bitter wind, in front of a crowd packed into the tiny St. James Park that FC Halifax Town
’s return to the Conference Premier was confirmed, as Danny Lowe
held aloft the Blue Square North play-off winners’ trophy.
It was the moment that the huge travelling support Town had taken down the M1 – which seemed to make up the bulk of the 2,604 in attendance – worth it, as it was now that it hit home: the Shaymen have achieved three promotions in four years, and will be participating in the division whose path heads into the Football League.
Before meeting them in the Blue Square North, how many Town fans were even aware of Brackley’s existence? Probably not many, though from now on in, the small town in Northamptonshire has been stamped into FC Halifax Town
folklore as the venue for the return to whence the Shaymen came.
It was the Town board who, upon reformation as FC Halifax, declared that it was their aim to take the club back to the division from which it was cast away and build from there. Conference football now returns to The Shay, to a club that had to start again.
They have stuck by the club throughout this period of rebuilding, but not once did the Shaymen faithful stop singing, not once did they lose belief that trust put in Neil Aspin was poorly accredited.
He has brought to Halifax entertaining and successful football, and will now be leading a side into non-league’s elite division.
It is on occasions such as this that the achievement of the team takes attention away from the actual proceedings of the match, and just as well.
Judging by past experience, the precluding two goalless draws that Town and Brackley played out in the league campaign would have suggested this not a tie fit for an entertaining play-off final. It was a poor game, though a game nonetheless that the Shaymen deserved to win.
became the new FC Halifax all-time leading scorer with the game’s single goal, a poached effort from close range, which ended 253 minutes of deadlock between the sides this season.
It was barely a chance in a match of half-chances, one of which fell to the home side in the final minutes as Steve Diggin put Town hearts in mouths for a split second before Matty Glennon reacted superbly to palm away his strike from just outside the area.
Brackley’s St. James Park sits just down the road from Britain’s famous Silverstone circuit, though neither side looked to be at the races as each cancelled the other out for large parts of the first half.
The only way the pattern of play looked likely to change was through individual brilliance, and Dan Gardner
nearly obliged twice in the first half. Both efforts came from range, the first a left-footed hit inside ten minutes which flew past Billy Turley’s right post, the second, more spectacular, came after chipping over his marker before hitting on the volley just past the opposite upright.
The Shaymen were much more the team in the ascendancy after the break, however, as Town’s travelling support willed the players towards them.
Time and again, though, the stubborn Saints’ defence thwarted Town’s advances as extra time started to look likely.
That is, until, with 15 minutes of the match remaining, Gregory broke the 253-minute deadlock between the sides to send all associated with the Shaymen into delirium.
Gardner was the main orchestrator, winding his way down the inside-left channel. He paused, flicked past his man and managed to get a shot away towards the bottom right-hand corner. Turley did well to scramble across his goal and push away one-handed, but Gregory the first to react, shimmying around the spilt ball to hit powerfully high into the net.
It was hardly the smooth-flowing, aesthetically pleasing team goal that represents an Aspin Town side at its zenith, but it did represent the grit and determination that ultimately hauled this club up a rung on the English footballing ladder.
: Turley; Odhiambo, Sharpe, Austin, McDonald; Reid, Solkhon, Walker, Winters; Mulligan, Louis
Subs: Diggin (for Mulligan 78), Robinson (for Louis 78), Story (for Odhiambo 84)
Not used: Nisevic, Walker
FC Halifax Town
: Glennon; Toulson, Hogan, Lowe, MacManus; Gardener, Needham, Williams, Pearson, Gregory; Johnson
Subs: Bolton (for Toulson 46), Moke (for Johnson 73)
Not used: Senior, Worthington, Seddon