CHRIS WILDER, during the season his Halifax Town side came within 10 minutes of earning a Football League return, had a neat phrase to sum up life at a club where money was tight and the challenges plentiful.
“It is like trying to win Formula 1 in a Ford Escort,” was the former full-back’s half-joking assessment – when chatting privately to his coaching staff at The Shay – of the uphill task facing the Yorkshire side.
Wilder had a point. Not only was Halifax’s wage bill in that 2005-06 season dwarfed by many of their rivals but, as recently as the previous year, he had been forced to beg and borrow training facilities as far afield as Sheffield and Manchester due to being unable to find anywhere suitable closer to home.
To go from that to appearing in a Conference play-off final was a remarkable achievement and one that, a decade on and as the reformed FC Halifax prepare to head to Wembley for the FA Trophy final, deserves huge credit.
“Chris did a fantastic job to come so close to taking Halifax Town back into the League,” recalls Lee Butler, now goalkeeping coach at Bradford City, but back then part of Wilder’s coaching staff at The Shay.
“There was so much going on and, at times, we had to train here, there and everywhere. But Chris kept it all together and almost won promotion.
“He’d had to throw a side together on hardly any money after being brought in a few weeks after the club had been relegated from the Football League.
“From having something, like, three or four players under contract, he cobbled together a team and things went from there.
“Maybe at the time, people didn’t appreciate the job Chris did in very difficult circumstances.
“To get so close and not go up was tough.”
It is exactly 10 years ago today Halifax lost that play-off final against Hereford at Leicester’s Walkers Stadium.
The Shaymen had finished fourth in the regular season and then seen off Grays Athletic over two legs in the semi-finals.
Hereford, who like Halifax were declared bankrupt only to reform in 2014, lay in wait.
Wilder’s men struck first through Lewis Killeen only for Andy Williams to equalise within seven minutes.
John Grant restored Halifax’s advantage but, again, the Bulls equalised 10 minutes from time through Guy Ipoua.
Around 5,000 Halifax fans tried to rally their team, but it was Graham Turner’s side who prevailed thanks to a 107th-minute strike by former Sheffield Wednesday full-back Ryan Green.
For the Shaymen, the dream of a League return was over. Two years later, so, it seemed, was professional football in Calderdale. Happily, FC Halifax were formed out of the ruins and Sunday’s Trophy final against Grimsby will bring the biggest date for football in the town since that 2006 play-off final.
“It is good to see the new club getting a big day out,” said Butler. “It was sad what happened just a couple of years after we had come so close to winning promotion.
“Mind, I am not sure if getting back in the League would have saved the club. Teams still have financial problems even then, look at what happened to Hereford.
“So, I don’t think us winning that day would have made much of a difference. But it was a real shame to lose as Chris and the team deserved promotion.”