Eighteen years ago, Geoff Horsfield left Halifax Town to join Fulham.
After scoring 30 league goals as Halifax romped to promotion to the Football League, the striker went all the way to the Premier League.
He tells Tom Scargill about his time at The Shay, the record-breaking move to Fulham and getting a rollocking off Kevin Keegan.
Jamie Vardy isn’t the only Halifax player to reach the Premier League after leaving The Shaymen.
“I wish they would make a film about me,” jokes Geoff Horsfield. “My story’s more interesting!”
If Vardy’s rise to the pinnacle of English football merits a big-screen remake, then movie producers looking for the next smash hit could do worse than knock on Horsfield’s door for a synopsis.
Horsfield combined bricklaying with playing non-league football after, like Vardy, he was rejected by his home-town club; in Horsfield’s case Barnsley.
The striker also overcame a career-threatening knee injury at Witton Albion before joining Halifax for a second time.
“I came on trial and ended up playing a few games but then they released me,” recalls Horsfield, who now owns a business renting out properties for people with mental health issues in the Midlands.
“But I was a different player the second time. I’d gone round non-league and played at Witton.
“But Halifax was an established club and I didn’t have any second thoughts.”
Like Vardy during the 2010-11 season, Horsfield was the star player in Halifax’s promotion campaign.
But while Town’s Vardy-inspired championship under Neil Aspin was forseeable, their success under George Mulhall and Kieran O’Regan was entirely unexpected, coming 12 months after escaping relegation on the last day of the 1996-97 season with a 4-2 win over Stevenage.
Did Horsfield envisage the remarkable promotion that followed?
“Never in a month of Sundays!” he says. “It was something like what Leicester did last season.”
Movie producers take note.
“Rushden and Diamonds were big spenders in that league and their budget was much bigger than ours.
“But we worked hard for each other, enjoyed going out for a drink together and had a great camaraderie.
“We had some great characters like Kevin Hulme, Brian Kilcline, Jon Brown and Peter Jackson.
“The season was just phenomenal. I didn’t do a pre-season because I got a job as a bricklayer in Birmingham building two nursing homes; I only did one session a week.
“The two lads I was in digs with would drop me off after work about five miles from where we were staying and I would run back the rest of the way.
“So that was my pre-season work. Plus I was hod-carrying so that helped build my strength up.”
Horsfield scored 46 goals in 74 games in his second Halifax spell, but prefers to share the limelight with others from his time at The Shay.
“The club was absolutely fantastic. George and Kieran’s influence was massive, I owe them a lot.
“I wasn’t there every session but they were fantastic with me. They just said ‘try to get in when you can’ and they made a really good partnership.
“And I formed a great partnership with Jamie Paterson.
“I scored 30 goals in the league and got the golden boot. It was just one of those seasons where everything came off for me.
“Don’t get me wrong, I worked hard. But Jamie was a huge influence up front with me.”
As with Vardy, Halifax were unable to hold onto their most prized asset, and after seven goals at the start of the following term, Horsfield joined Kevin Keegan’s Fulham in October 1998 for £350,000.
“It was a shock that Fulham came in. But Kevin was absolutely fantastic - one of the best managers I played under.
“I had no fear of going to Fulham. I scored four or five in my first six games and I tried a back-heel flick in my next game.
“I’d scored two and I thought Kevin would praise me to the hilt at half-time but he gave me the biggest roasting I ever had.
“He said ‘keep doing that and you’ll be back on the building site in Barnsley. If I see you doing it again I’m taking you off’.
“Anyway I flicked it again and he subbed me straight away.
“He told me ‘you can go all the way to the Premier League, but stop messing about with the ball’.
“I still had that non-league mentality. I’d turn up for games at Halifax in my site gear, rigger boots and a burger and chips. But I’d still score three goals!
“Peter Jackson couldn’t understand how I could do it. But Kevin said that had to change - no more fast food or booze.
“It was nice to have someone who believed in me - he said I could go all the way to the top.”
And he did, with Horsfield playing in the Premier League for Birmingham and West Brom.
But his most important victory came off the pitch when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in October 2008 before being given the all-clear just two months later.
He fought off another life-threatening illness in 2013 when he sustained blood clots on his lungs.
“I feel so privileged when I look back at all the framed shirts in my snooker room.
“I worked hard, but I was just a brickie from Barnsley - that’s what the players at Fulham used to call me.
“I had some fantastic times and I always seemed to score important goals.
“I was promoted five times with five different clubs.”
Horsfield and Vardy might be very different players, but both left their mark at Halifax on their way to the top.
“Jamie’s done fantastically well and what a great story that is - playing for England, winning the Premier League.
“But he’s worked hard for it and good luck to the lad.
“We were different types of players - he’s more quick and nimble whereas I was stronger and worked on my stamina.
“I always tried to harass opponents and stop them playing - they always knew they were in a game against me.”