Among the expectant throng for the visit of Maidenhead United on Saturday will be several spectators who, just over 40 years ago, contrived to pull off one of the biggest shocks in the history of the FA Cup, writes Halifax Town historian Johnny Meynell.
Invited by the club, members of that Halifax Town team which defeated First Division Manchester City 1-0 on 5 January 1980 in the third round, will be back at The Shay, to a ground which has changed dramatically since that day.
Having studied the history of Halifax Town since its formation in 1911, it became clear to me that the defeat of Man City stood out as one of the most historic and certainly most memorable victories the club pulled off,
I felt it was fitting that the players who were involved should be recognised in some way. So it would have been around a year ago that I brought this to the attention of the Supporters Club, and in turn, the club agreed and were happy to invite those players and squad members back to The Shay, where they could relive that day along with the fans.
And what a day it was, one that should never be understated. You only have to look at the club’s standing at the time to realise just what a feat it was. The club had been in the doldrums for the best part of five years, having finished next to bottom of the old Fourth Division the previous season, existing on meagre gates.
Though having a better time of things at the time of the City match, it’s fair to say that there weren’t many who actually believed that the Shaymen would triumph, though the pitch, which quickly churned into a field of mud, proved to be a great leveller.
Halifax Town and its players rightly earned the plaudits and the coverage the cup win brought them but over time, whilst the match has often been mentioned in local circles, some of the players tended to have drifted into semi-obscurity.
Most weren’t really household names outside of Calderdale, and their whereabouts became something of a mystery.But I did endeavour to track each down, and by hook or by crook I managed it.
Centre-half Dave Harris, now living in Devon, I stumbled upon when I found an old newspaper article online in which featured his son, and who I then found via social media. A year ago, I went to visit John Smith, who supplied the pass for Paul Hendrie’s winner, when I discovered he was involved with a local Saturday team at Much Hoole in Preston. I spent two hours with him, trekking over there in the hope that he was still in touch with goalkeeper John Kilner; after all, they’d been team mates at Preston North End before joining Halifax Town.
His first words to me were, ‘Do you know what happened to John Kilner?!’ Fortunately, John Kilner’s son’s name had appeared against the Youtube footage of the Manchester City match, so I managed to get hold of the man who was man-of-the-match in many people’s eyes via a BT internet site, and at a cost of £14 for his phone number it was money well spent!
All were more than happy to return to The Shay – Geoff Hutt said it would be an honour – and so, on Saturday, eight of the side, including goalscorer Hendrie and skipper Dave Evans, who represented Halifax Town in that famous cup win will be reunited, along with other squad members.
There will be, of course, certain absentees; Chris Dunleavy and Peter Burke are out in Australia, whilst on a sadder note, several are no longer with us.
Manager George Kirby died in 2000, but his son Simon will be here, and three of the side, too, have passed away; Bob Mountford in 2008, Franny Firth in May 2018, and less than a year ago, then teenage starlet Mick Kennedy, all far too young.
Franny’s wife and daughter will be in attendance and there’s the hope that Mick Kennedy will be represented by members of his family. And Norman Southernwood, who toiled away for hours trying to prepare a sodden pitch in readiness for the game back then, will be meeting up with old colleagues, in a non-working capacity, of course!
Football has changed much over the last 40 years. The FA Cup doesn’t appear to have the magic attached to it that it used to have.
But certainly when Halifax Town defeated Manchester City it hit the headlines, and it’s great that our present club are allowing us to show our appreciation to the players who gave the fans a day never to be forgotten.