FC Halifax Town: Town’s FA Trophy trials and tribulations

The FA Trophy hasn’t been too kind to Halifax managers over the years, as club historian Johnny Meynell finds out.

Town’s less than impressive record in the competition, added to usually underwhelming league form, has meant defeats in the Trophy have added an often intolerable level of pressure on those in the hot-seat.

James Dean in action for Town v Romulus in FA Trophy

James Dean in action for Town v Romulus in FA Trophy

The first boss to fall victim was Peter Wragg, who was in charge for Town’s first venture into the competition in 1993-94 following relegation to the Conference.

That was despite Halifax beating Emley and Spennymoor United in the Trophy as part of an eight-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

The day after beating Spennymoor, Wragg was summoned to the club and relieved of his duties with the side lying only twelfth in the Conference.

The FA Trophy then gave incoming manager John Bird his first match at The Shay. Drawn away at Runcorn, he admitted, “We got out of jail,” after Gary Brabin’s own goal in injury-time, which cancelled out Karl Thomas’ 50th minute strike, had earned Town a replay.

But despite getting another chance, there was to be no happy ending. Runcorn won the Shay replay 2-0.

Bird was also in charge when minnows Bamber Bridge shocked the Shaymen in 1994-95.

Despite being two rungs below the Shaymen, they knocked them out of the competition 1-0.

Boss John Carroll was living on borrowed time when Town collapsed 3-0 at Gloucester City in 1996-97.

It wasn’t so much the scoreline but the manner of Town’s performance that day that so riled the supporters.

Carroll had taken over towards the back end of the previous season, but he was coming under increasing pressure as his side struggled in the Conference.

Indeed, following the 3-0 defeat at Gloucester, time was well and truly running out for him.

Seven days later, after bottom club Bath City had somehow recorded their first away win of the season with a remarkable 5-4 scoreline at The Shay, Carroll left the club.

By the time George Mulhall was at the helm, Halifax had bigger fish to fry.

Town did progress to the second round but went on to win the Conference by a country mile.

Chris Wilder was the next manager to sample the Trophy and while his Halifax teams never seriously threatened to win it, there were some memorable encounters along the way.

In Wilder’s first season, the Shaymen came a cropper in round five, losing 2-0 at Farnborough Town.

Town also reached the fifth round stage in 2003-04, too, but not without incident.

The 2-1 victory at Chester, Conference leaders, was perhaps the performance of the third round, but they then ran into Staines Town for what proved to be an untidy affair.

The original tie was scheduled for 1 February, but despite Staines having travelled up to The Shay, heavy rain left standing water on the pitch and the match was called off with the Middlesex club claiming Town didn’t fancy playing.

Wilder felt that Staines had shown a lack of respect, and the match was eventually staged on 10 February after a further postponement.

Staines forced a 1-1 draw, but with the fixtures piling up, the replay was deemed necessary just two days later, a Thursday evening. It proved to be the most dramatic Trophy game Town were involved in.

Staines took a two-goal lead, only for the Shaymen to claw their way back, with Andy Farrell scoring an injury-time equaliser to force extra-time.

Staines’s Paul Ellis was then sent off after an altercation with the referee, and Craig Midgley’s 102nd minute penalty eventually saw Town through. But the drama didn’t end there.

As the players celebrated, Wilder was knocked unconscious, the blow allegedly struck by Staines striker Kezie Ibe, though a

resulting court case found him not guilty of assault.

Town had only two days’ respite before hosting Maidenhead United at The Shay in the fifth round, but it proved a step too far. Tired legs soon gave way and the visitors won 2-0.

The Shaymen reached the last eight for the first time in 2006-07 before bowing out at Kidderminster Harriers.

Town’s run will best be remembered for two pulsating games played with Oxford United in the second round, after the side had overcome Hyde United.

Oxford were overcome after a replay and then Redditch were knocked out in the third round to leave the supporters with visions of reaching Wembley.

But they floundered at Kidderminster despite taking a late first-half lead through on-loan Neil Trotman, and the home side went on to triumph 3-1.

In what turned out to be Halifax Town’s last season before the club was liquidated, manager Chris Wilder termed his players ‘the nearly men’ after his side lost 2-0 at home to Rushden & Diamonds in the third round.

Jim Vince’s sole FA Trophy campaign fared about as well as his league season, with reformed The Shaymen out in the first qualifying round 2-1 at Harrogate Railway.

Neil Aspin’s free-scoring side of 2009-10 bowed out against Guiseley in the third qualifying round and progressed no further than the second qualifying round in 2010-11 when they lost 2-1 at Curzon Ashton.

The Shaymen reached the quarter-finals in 2012-13 but lost to Dartford after a replay after Gareth Seddon had notched a record breaking first round hat-trick in just two minutes and 37 seconds as Altrincham were beaten 5-2 at The Shay.

Aspin’s side reached the quarter-finals once more in 2014-15.

Town gained revenge over Dartford in the third round, despite letting slip a two-goal lead at Princes Park.

The replay was switched to Droylsden’s Butcher’s Arms ground, where, with what Aspin described as the side’s best performance of the season, Town won 3-1 to earn the right to host Wrexham just three days later.

But Aspin made changes to the side which proved ineffective, and it was Wrexham left-back Neil Ashton who scored the only goal of the game to break Town’s hearts.

That defeat arguably sparked the drastic downturn in form that eventually saw Aspin sacked.