Halifax Town Soccer Siftings: Results no-one at The Shay saw coming

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In the second part of our Soccer Siftings mini-series, Halifax Town historian Johnny Meynell looks back on some of the shock results in the Shaymen’s history.

Every now and again, football has the habit of producing the unexpected, a result, perhaps, which few saw coming, writes Johnny Meynell.

Over the last two seasons, FC Halifax Town sprang a surprise by firstly turning the tables on championship contenders Wrexham in 2022-23, then last season, defeating runaway leaders Chesterfield, who arrived at The Shay needing a point to secure the title.

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But was there ever a result which astounded the footballing world than when bottom of the table Halifax Town shocked Third Division (North) leaders Doncaster Rovers back in January 1947?

Ken Jowett has the beating of a Doncaster full-back.Ken Jowett has the beating of a Doncaster full-back.
Ken Jowett has the beating of a Doncaster full-back.

It might be fair to say that the first season of peacetime football following the Second World War was not kind to Halifax Town.

The promising side which manager Jimmy Thomson had assembled just prior to the outbreak of war had been dismantled – a scenario not exclusive to the Shay club, of course – but recruitment of new players had left the side shorn of quality players.

Tom Barkas, following heroics undertaking whilst serving in the forces, had rejected new terms and signed for Rochdale, and players of his standing were hard to replace.

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The season started badly and continued to get worse. A run of a record eight consecutive league defeats through December and January, not to mention the loss in an FA Cup replay at Stockport, had seen the Shaymen slip to bottom of the table.

New signing Stan Fisher gets in a header.New signing Stan Fisher gets in a header.
New signing Stan Fisher gets in a header.

They had been without a win of any sort since 2 November and the recent a 6-1 thrashing at Rotherham United was hardly the sort of confidence-booster the side needed with Doncaster next due in town.

When Rovers arrived at The Shay on 18 January 1947, they were not only clear leaders of the Division Three (North) table, holding a five-point lead over second-placed Chester – these were in the days of two points for a win – and were unbeaten away from home in eleven league matches, as well as victories on the road at Accrington Stanley and Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup.

It could be said that they were a formidable outfit, containing in their ranks striker Clarrie Jordan, who to date had found the net 23 times, just two goals fewer than Halifax Town had managed all season.

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Rovers’ only defeat in the league had been at home at the hands of Stockport back in September, though seven days prior to this Shay meeting they had lost 3-2 at home to Portsmouth in the Cup, but it might be worth noting that their victors were a First Division side – Jimmy Dickinson, Jimmy Scouler, Jack Froggatt and co – but they’d been pushed all the way.

Goalscorer against Hereford, George JonesGoalscorer against Hereford, George Jones
Goalscorer against Hereford, George Jones

So the match with Rovers pointed to a tough afternoon for Town, whose side included newcomer Stan Fisher, a forward signed from Barnsley the previous day, as every effort was made by the Town board to strengthen the squad.

Fisher wouldn’t find the net, but he played a part in an astonishing home display. With the game less than two minutes old, it was his shot, only half-saved by Rovers keeper Archie Ferguson, which was followed up by Bernard Massey, his effort deflected over the line by Ernie Swallow.

But the visitors didn’t panic and they proceeded to dominate, and it wasn’t if they felt they were going to rue a missed penalty by Jack Thompson, awarded when Horace Green brought down Jordan, which was superbly beaten out by Ted Rayner.

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After 25 minutes, they were level with Ralph Maddison’s surprise rising shot. And five minutes into the second half, normality looked to have been restored when Rovers took the lead, Maddison sending over the cross for Paul Todd to score with an instant shot.

John Overton.John Overton.
John Overton.

But an error by Ferguson let the Shaymen back into the game just seven minutes later.

Fred England’s high pot-shot should have made for a routine catch for the Rovers keeper but he was deceived by the flight of the ball and allowed it to drop behind him and into the net.

Spurred on by this somewhat fortuitous strike, Town stunned the visitors with another goal a minute later courtesy of Sammy Waters’ spectacular snap shot from a narrow angle, and from then on in, the supporters were kept on edge as Town defended resolutely to keep Doncaster out.

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Horace Green cleared off the line and Rayner did well to keep out a ground shot from Jordan before denying the same player with a fine one-handed save.

Town survived the onslaught then gave themselves daylight with ten minutes remaining with the goal of the game scored by Waters, who worked into the middle of the field and beat Ferguson with a low drive into the far corner of the net for his second.

Town were in dreamland, and though Maddison’s header against the bar momentarily had them worried they weren’t to be denied and they held out for what was undoubtedly one of the shock results of the season.

If only it could have been the springboard to better things, but the fact was that Town would lose their next five matches and wouldn’t win again until the beginning of April.

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Rovers, on the other hand, quickly put this defeat behind them, trouncing Carlisle United 9-2 the following week in what was the first of nine successive victories.

They would suffer only one further defeat before the season’s close and in racking up 123 goals, would go on to win the title by a country mile.

Halifax Town would finish bottom of the division for the first time in their history.

Not as sensational, perhaps, but a surprise nevertheless, was Halifax Town’s 2-1 victory at Hereford United on 17 March 1976.

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This was a Third Division clash and a result which no one, not even the most optimistic of Town followers, could have imagined.

Hereford had come to the fore of the nation’s consciousness in February 1972 when, as a non-league club, they had seen off top flight Newcastle United in an FA Cup third round replay at Edgar Street, helped in no small way by Ronnie Radford’s thunderbolt which had cancelled out an opener by the Magpies’ Malcolm Macdonald and which is shown regularly whenever the FA Cup competition comes around.

Despite having finished runners-up to Chelmsford City in the Southern League Premier Division that term, their FA Cup exploits – Hereford went out in round four at First Division West Ham but only after another replay – had helped them gain election to the Fourth Division at the expense of Barrow, and under manager Colin Addison, had gained promotion to the third tier at the first attempt.

John Sillett replaced Addison in August 1974 and in his second term in charge moulded his Hereford side into title contenders.

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They hit top spot with victory over Cardiff City at the beginning of February, and by maintaining their form, had opened up a five-point lead over second-placed Brighton by the time they hosted the Shaymen, despite having just lost at Wrexham the previous Saturday, only their second defeat in their last 14 matches.

For their part, the Shaymen’s own form was in stark contrast, for despite having made a promising start to the campaign under Johnny Quinn, they had slipped down the table and were lying 18th when Quinn was unceremoniously sacked in February 1976, replaced by a returning Alan Ball Snr, the manager who seven years earlier had delivered the club’s only promotion, whose remit now was to help the club avoid relegation.

But Ball made too many changes too soon, the biggest surprise being that of the sale of centre-forward Dave Gwyther to Rotherham United.

Arriving at The Shay in quick succession were forwards George Jones and Mickey Bullock, and hard-tackling midfielder Jimmy McGill.

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But having gained just one win from his first eight games since his return, the Shaymen found themselves bottom of the pile following weekend home defeat by Swindon and Colchester’s 2-0 Monday night victory over Aldershot.

It all painted a very bleak picture, though it was hoped the further additions of full-back Bobby Flavell and Aston Villa loanee John Overton might help.

That Town should turn the tables was nothing more than remarkable, yet those who witnessed the game might have wondered just who was top and who was bottom, with the biggest surprise being that Town’s margin of victory wasn’t greater, so well did they play that evening.

On a soggy pitch, they soaked up all the pressure the Bulls threw at them – Tony Rhodes and Albert Phelan kept a watchful eye on 27-goal marksman Dixie McNeil – in the first half, as well as carving out three great chances for themselves.

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And the fact that they should take the lead in the 63rd minute surprised no one, a lovely executed goal begun with Flavell’s overlapping run and cross superbly volleyed home by George Jones, who two minutes later was unlucky to see a header crash back off the bar.

It seemed, however, that Town would pay for missed opportunities when the home side forced an equaliser after 82 minutes, John Galley scooping the ball home when Jimmy Lindsay’s shot, slightly mis-hit, skewed in the air and fell invitingly into his path.

Encouraged by this, Hereford pressed once more, and only a reflex save by keeper Alex Smith denied another effort from Galley.

But the Shaymen would not be denied, being more grateful than Hereford for the seven minutes of injury-time which referee John Hough elected to add on.

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Alan Jones broke down the right, played the ball into namesake George, whose angled shot, possibly drifting wide, was turned in by Overton, who had ghosted in.

It was hoped that victory at Edgar Street might instil confidence that would help guide the Shaymen to safety but the following Saturday they slipped to home defeat by Wrexham and won just two more games before the season’s close, with relegation confirmed when they lost their penultimate match at home to Aldershot.

Hereford, on the other hand never, would lose just once more and secure the title by six points over runners-up Cardiff City, and just four years after admission, they found themselves in the league’s second tier.

Meanwhile, Halifax Town landed back in the fourth having finished bottom, their last-ever third tier match watched by an apathetic 856, and the last Town goal scored at this level put into his own net by Colchester’s Lindsay Smith in a 1-1 draw.

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