In this article, originally from 2013, former Halifax Town players reflect on their Conference winning campaign of 1997-98 and share their memories of manager George Mulhall, who has died aged 81.
Town had survived relegation by a single point the previous year after former boss George Mulhall’s return.
The Scot then embarked on the masterplan that would see a club ranked at 66/1 for promotion go from relegation fodder to champions in 12 magical months.
“Expectations were quite low in pre-season,” says Andy Thackeray. “But we signed six or seven players within the space of a week.
“Then we beat Huddersfield and expectation levels rose dramatically.”
That’s a view shared by Mark Bradshaw, who had just won the title with Macclesfield.
“As soon as I started training I thought the lads were as good, if not better, than Macclesfield,” he says.
“I could tell straight away it wouldn’t be a season we’d be struggling.”
On the pitch, Town started in fine style, but it was rather different off the pitch, as Kieran O’Regan recalls.
“The first game of the season was at Hayes,” he says, “and the coach didn’t have a toilet - so we had to travel all the way down to London stopping off to go to the loo!
“But later in the season we played at Yeovil and stopped overnight as we were doing well by then!”
Darren Lyons remembers those coach trips vividly.
“George’s favourite film was Braveheart,” he says, “and he played it on pretty much every away trip.
“I know that film word for word! Every time I watch it I think of George.”
Town recorded nine wins from their first 11 league games, and the signs of a successful season were already forming.
“We beat Telford at home 6-1, then 3-0 away,” says Jon Brown, “and that was the best game I’ve been involved in in terms of a complete performance.”
The departure of veteran defender Peter Jackson to manage Huddersfield then threatened to derail such a sensational start.
“I got released at Chester, came to Halifax and it was like playing with my mates. I loved it,” says Jackson.
“I only played 10 games but I didn’t get beaten once! It’s 10 games I’ll never forget.”
Jackson was replaced by former FA Cup winning captain Brian Kilcline, and the wins just kept on coming - five out of six following a 4-0 defeat at Cheltenham.
“At the time I was retired,” recalls Kilcline.
“I was sitting waiting for a skip to be delivered and Kieran O’Regan pulled up in his car.
“He said ‘how do you fancy playing football with us?’ but I said I wasn’t interested.
“But Kieran kept asking and eventually I said yes just to get him out of the way and get the skip in!
“Looking back now, I can’t thank Kieran enough.”
Paul Stoneman remembers playing alongside Kilcline.
“Jacko was a good player but Brian was a different kettle of fish,” he says.
“If you heard him shout ‘Killer!’ you got out of his way!
By the halfway mark, Town had won 14 and lost just two of their 21 league matches.
“As the season progressed the support became incredible,” recalls O’Regan. “It was like a tidal wave and the crowds got bigger and noisier. The atmosphere would be electric for night games at the Shay.”
The atmosphere on the training ground was a little different though, as Geoff Horsfield recollects.
“We used to train in Elland and it was the worst training ground in the world!” he says.
“We had to clean all the dog muck and broken glass off it before we could train.”
When that overnight stay in Yeovil came around, Town had won four out of five games since the turn of the year, and would go another 11 league outings unbeaten, by which time the title was theirs.
It was sealed with a 2-0 win at Kidderminster, but without goalkeeper Lee Martin.
He explains: “I broke my neck at Hednesford,
“I remember playing the rest of that game and the one after but I couldn’t move my arms above my head.
“Talk about Bert Trautman - I played one and a half games with mine!”
Town got to within touching distance of that promotion with a dramatic 4-3 win at home to Southport.
Dave Hanson, who had returned to the club from Leyton Orient, recalls: “We were unbeaten at home but we were down to ten men and losing 3-2 with 10 minutes to go.
“I went on and got two goals and there was a pitch invasion. When that kind of thing happens you think it’s just meant to be.”
Five days later, the win at Kidderminster clinched the title before the squad were given an open top bus parade and civic reception.
“I remember the crowds at the Town Hall,” says Jon Brown. “We knew what it meant to the town to have a Football League club.”
There can be no doubt what it meant to the players either.
Mark Bradshaw says: “I’ve got a scrapbook of that season. I still look at it now and it brings back a lot of memories. It just couldn’t have gone any better.”
“We were more like a family in the dressing room,” says Lyons. “We would have run through brick walls for each other.”
“It was the best team I’ve been involved in and it’s something that will stay with me forever,” says Stoneman.
There can also be no doubt who they put the achievement down to.
“George didn’t say much but what he did say tended to have an impact,” says Thackeray.
Jon Brown agrees: “There was instant respect for George.
“He changed the formation to two wing-backs and everybody just fitted in with the pattern of play.”
“I can’t speak highly enough of George,” says Lyons.
“We felt like we’d won the game before we went out on the pitch.”
“We all knew where the tipping point was with him and we didn’t cross it!” says O’Regan.
“He was an enormously shrewd man in football terms.
“As a group, everybody brought something but George has to take all the credit.”