FC Halifax Town: George Holt - football, pies and THAT FA Cup run in 1953

Ex Halifax Town footballer George Holt.
Ex Halifax Town footballer George Holt.

The memories probably came flooding back for George Holt when he watched FC Halifax Town take on Boston at The Shay on Saturday.

The former Town inside forward was be part of a 17-strong family group visiting the stadium as part of celebrations for his 90th birthday, which was on February 28.

Ex Halifax Town footballer George Holt.

Ex Halifax Town footballer George Holt.

Holt was born in Southowram and attended Withinfields School, playing for the senior team with 13-year-olds when aged just 10.

Holt first joined Halifax in 1948 and made his debut for the club on his 21st birthday

“It was my ambition to play for Halifax Town. My first game was at Mansfield and there was one player still in that team - Horace Green - who I used to watch when I was 10-years-old at The Shay. He was the only one who came to talk to me on the bus. I never got introduced to the players. All I got was ‘just go out and enjoy yourself lad’.

“I used to catch the bus from Southowram on a matchday and walk up from the bus stop with the crowd. They used to get 6,000-7,000 in those days. If the bus was full I’d have to run from Southowram to The Shay, get to the dressing room panting, get changed and go out onto the field.

Ex Halifax Town footballer George Holt.

Ex Halifax Town footballer George Holt.

“The manager just used to say ‘go out and enjoy yourself’. No tactical instructions, that’s all you got.

“I’d played regularly for the second team and somebody offered me a trial at Burnley, and the manager offered me terms as a part-time professional. I’d signed amateur forms for Halifax so he told me to get my release from them. I told Jack Breedon, the Halifax manager, and he said ‘oh, you don’t want to go there lad, they sign everybody so you’ll be on the scrapheap at the end of the season’. He asked how much they’d offered me, and I said three pounds. So he offered me three pounds expenses, so I didn’t go. After a while he said ‘we’ve had the inspectors round and they want to know why we’re paying you this three pounds a week expenses when you only live in Southowram. We can only give you a pound’ I said ‘don’t bother’ and ended up playing for Shaw Lodge for a season - we won everything, cups, league, the lot. Then Halifax got a new manager (Billy Wootton) and he wanted me to be third team captain. So I played half-a-dozen games for them. Then Gerry Henry took over and he signed me as a part-time professional and I was a first-team regular.”

Holt then played a key role as the Third Division North club embarked on a stunning run to the FA Cup fifth round in 1953, where they hosted a Tottenham team featuring Bill Nicholson and Alf Ramsey.

It was Holt’s equalising goal against non-league Ashton United that set Halifax on their way in the competition, while he also scored in the second round victory over Southport before the club recorded superb wins over First Division Stoke and Cardiff.

“It was the highlight of my career, it was the best season we had when I was there. I don’t know why we got so far because Halifax had always been in the doldrums, we’d never got that far before.

“Before the Cardiff match the manager wanted me and two others to go with him to watch them at Sheffield Wednesday, and I thought ‘we could beat these’. And we did.

“Then we all went to watch Stoke the week before we played them, and they hammered West Brom 5-1, and I thought ‘we’ve no chance here’, but we beat them 1-0.

“I played against Grimsby Town the week before the Tottenham game and the ball got blasted in my right eye from about 10 yards away and I was blinded. It’s a wonder it didn’t knock me out. There were no subs in those days so I had to carry on at right-wing and my eye was going. I had to be in a darkened room for a week.

“I don’t know how the Tottenham match was played because there was that much snow around.

“I went to the Crown Hotel for the pre-match meeting and the manager begged me to play. But I said ‘I daredn’t, the consultant says I can’t go near a football field for three weeks because if I get hit in the eye again I could be blind for life’.

“It was sickening to miss the game because it was like a cup final for all of us.

“I went to watch it and the atmosphere was unbelievable.

“I could have played but I wouldn’t have lasted two minutes with all that snow.”

Holt earned seven pounds a week at Halifax, and got a pound a week rise the season after they lost to Tottenham.

“I’ll never forget a goal I scored at Bradford Park Avenue on Christmas Day. It was a heavy ground. I got the ball on the halfway line and just went on and on and on, past everybody that came to me and let fly from the edge of the penalty area, right into the top corner.

“I scored another good one against Oldham. The goalkeeper kicked the ball right over the halfway line, which was an achievement in those days.

“George Hardwick, who captained England, thought he had all the time in the world, but I took it off him, went round him and scored. The headline the day after was ‘Holt Scores To Claim Draw - And The Roar Nearly Brought Beacon Hill Down!’”

Cartilage and ankle injuries the season after that miraculous cup run ended Holt’s playing career, and he went on to run a successful butchery business.

“I worked for as an apprentice at Morton’s Butchers from being 14 for 10 shillings a week, 50 hours a week.

“Then I bought this shop, which was really run down, hardly any trade whatsoever. It was just at the end of rationing so people wanted a change having been stuck with the same butcher for years.

“But people would come in with their kids and they’d be asking their mothers to get my autograph, and I think that helped. Within weeks I built it up and I bought the shop at Southowram where I worked as a kid.

“We started making pies and that snowballed into building a pie factory next door. We had a staff or 32 people making the pies and we made about 65,000 a week.

“At Christmas I was working day and night but football was out of the window by then.

“I could have achieved more in football, definitely. But I was content with how I was. We had a coach called Ken Willingham who was a former Huddersfield Town player. He joined as a coach while we were having that good cup run. After training on Thursday nights we used to go have a beer at a pub on Clare Road. He said ‘if ever you want to get away from here I could soon get you a club’. He thought the world of me. But he didn’t do much for us. He used to put some coats down and we’d play five or six or seven-a-side across the middle of the pitch.”

Holt still checks on Halifax’s results every Saturday afternoon at half-time and full-time, and is looking forward to returning to The Shay on Saturday.

“I’d like to see them get back to the Football League. They might have another year to get into the Conference then another year to get out of it! I could still be here.

“Football these days is like watching chess. Passing it back to the keeper and across the defence. In our day you never passed the ball back, very seldom. It was all attacking.

“All the money in the game is obscene really. I’d like one week of Wayne Rooney’s wage though!”