FC Halifax Town: The great goal drought of 1990

Billy Barr scores Town's first league goal at Carlisle. Picture: Johnny Meynell
Billy Barr scores Town's first league goal at Carlisle. Picture: Johnny Meynell

If Crystal Palace fans think their club can’t sink much lower, they should take a look at Halifax Town’s start to the 1990-91 season - it may offer a crumb of comfort.

Twenty-seven years ago, The Shaymen, then in the Fourth Division (ask your granddad, children), went eight league games without scoring - a record that Palace will equal if they draw a blank against Chelsea on Saturday. At least The Eagles are in the Premier League.

FC Halifax Town 1990-91. Picture: Johnny Meynell

FC Halifax Town 1990-91. Picture: Johnny Meynell

Halifax were rock bottom of the entire Football League after the fifth game of the season, and didn’t score in the league until their ninth attempt when they won 3-0 at Carlisle on October 13.

What makes that all the more perplexing is the fact that Town not only won the Yorkshire Cup - scoring in all four games between August 11 and September 11 - and scored home and away in the second round of the League Cup against Manchester United.

Former United, Chelsea and Scotland midfielder Jim McCalliog was the Halifax manager trying to make sense of it all.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” says the 71-year-old, who now runs Langside Bed and Breakfast in Ayrshire with his wife Debbie.

Captain David Evans. Picture: Johnny Meynell

Captain David Evans. Picture: Johnny Meynell

“I was an attacking player and scored a lot of goals. I was a man for the big occasions and I’d scored on practically all my debuts.

“But for whatever reason it didn’t happen for us.

“There were a lot of pretty tight games, there were a couple of draws and some 1-0 defeats.

“It was a worrying time but the worst thing you can do is relay that to the players.

Ian Juryeff has a goal disallowed at Darlington. Picture: Johnny Meynell

Ian Juryeff has a goal disallowed at Darlington. Picture: Johnny Meynell

“I’m an upbeat type of guy but I was churning up inside wanting to break that run, but there was nothing that could be done.

“I didn’t have bad players. We scored home and away against Man United and played really well.

“United had some really good players who had cost a lot of money.

“It was great to meet Sir Alex Ferguson again - the last time our paths had crossed was a world tour with Scotland in 1967.

Steve Norris scores at Carlisle. Picture: Johnny Meynell

Steve Norris scores at Carlisle. Picture: Johnny Meynell

“We also won the Yorkshire Cup during that time so it wasn’t all bad, but that made it all the more confusing.

“We worked hard and trained hard and they were a good bunch of lads. But sometimes it happens.”

“I remember we had a great pre-season, we were winning games, we were confident,” says striker Terry McPhillips, now assistant manager at Blackpool.

“We were all excited and talking about where we could finish in the league, we’d won the Yorkshire Cup.

“They say pre-season has a huge bearing on your season, but it didn’t for us.”

What The Shaymen managed against Grimsby, Bradford, Hull and Rotherham in the Yorkshire Cup, and United in the League Cup, they couldn’t against Stockport, Lincoln, Doncaster, Darlington, Peterborough, Torquay, Northampton and Scunthorpe.

Tommy Graham scores at Carlisle. Picture: Johnny Meynell

Tommy Graham scores at Carlisle. Picture: Johnny Meynell

“I couldn’t put my finger on it,” says former defender Billy Barr, now a youth coach at Blackburn Rovers. “It’s probably the same reasons why Palace can’t score, either good defending or wayward finishing.

“Maybe the strikers taking extra touches because they’re not confident, which allows defenders to get blocks in.

“We started off really poorly that season and that ultimately cost Jim his job.

“We were stressing the importance of making sure we started well in games.

“Each game that goes by and you don’t get it, by half-time you’re thinking it’s inevitable that you won’t score but the opposition will.

“We did have points on the board before that first goal, whereas Palace haven’t.

“It’s hard to see them surviving on the back of the start they’ve made.

“You just have to hope it comes right at some point.”

“We played the best football I saw at the club,” says former captain David Evans

“Jim had introduced a back-three with me, Paul Futcher and Craig Fleming at the back.

“I thought we had a decent team and some good players, so it surprised me.

“We just couldn’t score. It puts pressure on the defence because you know that if you give a goal away you won’t win the game, so you’re always thinking ‘we can’t give a goal away’.”

“I could have gone storming around the place and given them the hairdryer treatment but I didn’t see that as the way out,” says McCalliog.

“There was something stopping us but we discussed it as a group.

“The longer it went on the more of a problem it was becoming.

“We were a good footballing side but the league at that time had a lot of big, physical players and was really strong.

“I was always hoping it would end after the first game but I’m sure the players didn’t see anything from me that things weren’t happening.”

Town subjected their fans to more than 12 hours of football without a league goal until, finally, mercifully, hometown boy Barr got them up and running.

“I remember it being from outside the box and we won 3-0,” he recalls.

“We’d played Man United earlier in the week and I think Tony Gregory scored, although I had a couple of chances then too.

“It was always going to come at some point, but it all just seemed to click on the day.

“We’d deserved to win a game prior to that.

“It was a good journey back I know that! I just wish I’d put some money on myself to get it!”

“It was a great result up there and then we had a great run after that,” says Evans.

“Once Steve started scoring he didn’t stop. There was talk of him going to a bigger club.”

The Steve in question was Steve Norris, who also netted in that Carlisle win, as did Tommy Graham.

“It just dropped for me about three yards out and I poked it in,” says Norris, who was signed by McCalliog after he’d watched the striker play for Carlisle reserves on a rainy night at Bury.

“Everyone was a bit brighter after that.

“The next game was against York and we drew 3-3, then we won 5-3 against Blackpool, but as fast as we were scoring them we were letting them in.

“We loved to go forward, that’s how Jim wanted to play, but we just couldn’t seem to defend as a team.

“There were some good lads there but as a team we just didn’t click.

“Craig Fleming went on to play for Norwich, David Evans had played for Bradford in the second division, so had Mark Ellis. Billy Barr went on to play higher.

“We had some decent lads but maybe the blend wasn’t right.

“The people were brilliant all the time I was there though. It was one of my favourite times in football and Jim was one of the best managers I worked with along with Neil Warnock.

“He always tried to keep a smile on everyone’s face, and he joined in when we played five-a-side. You could tell he’d been a top player, even then.”

Norris went on to be one of only four players to score more than half their team’s league goals in a season, along with Ted McDougall, Matt Le Tissier and James Beattie; talk about making up for lost time.

“Jim just said to me ‘go out there and score goals’ which was a god send for me.”

Asked if he would have been sacked nowadays during such a run, McCalliog says: “Probably. I feel sorry for Roy (Hodgson) and the guy that got sacked before him.

“He did a great job at Ajax and it seemed cruel on him to sack him after four games, but that’s football.”

Thanks to club historian Johnny Meynell for his help with this article.

Debbie and Jim McCalliog

Debbie and Jim McCalliog