STAYING part-time in a division where the annual budgets of rivals run into seven figures and more than a half of last season’s member clubs boasted average crowds in excess of 2,000 is going to be tough.
No-one at Halifax Town is in any doubt of that point ahead of tomorrow’s opening fixture at Cambridge United.
But what will not be heard at The Shay is anyone complaining. Good husbandry is the order of the day at a club born out of the remnants of the old Halifax Town, which folded in 2008 after more than a century largely spent battling financial problems.
Neil Aspin, who has led the Shaymen into the Conference courtesy of three promotions inside the last four years, is in total agreement with the board’s stance of remaining part-time this season.
“Of course, we would all love to be full-time,” the Halifax manager told the Yorkshire Post ahead of the opener at Cambridge United. “But, realistically, how do you sustain it?
“That is why we have to tread carefully this season. No-one knows what crowds we are going to get and you can’t expect someone to keep putting their hands in their pockets.
“No-one has a divine right to expect that. FC Halifax Town has to be run as a business. What it isn’t, though, is a business where the directors are looking to take money out. They love their football and want the club to be sustainable.
“They don’t want it to go the way of the previous club. If the gates become bigger, we will get a bit more money for the team. It is as simple as that.
“That is the unknown quantity at the moment. Of course, the balance is that supporters like to come when things are going well. What I will say is we rely on those supporters as we don’t need anyone getting on the players backs.”
The Halifax board made it clear in the wake of last May’s Conference North play-off final victory over Brackley that while the club were intent on remaining part-time in 2013-14, a full review will take place as to the viability of a possible change in the future.
Attendance levels this season, therefore, will be crucial in deciding the direction Halifax take. To that end, 1,600 is the club’s break-even figure on a playing budget that has been increased by 25 per cent over the summer.
Commercial income is also increasingly vital the higher a club soars in the football pyramid, especially with chairman David Bosomworth and his fellow directors adamant that the club will not overstretch itself.
In football terms, the consequence of such a stance is that the Shaymen are likely to be up against it this season when taking on the likes of Luton Town (average crowd last term 5,914), Grimsby Town (3,813) and Wrexham (3,543). Aspin, though, will not countenance any negative thoughts among his players.
“I don’t want to use staying part-time as an excuse,” he said. “If we do that, we will go down the route of writing ourselves off before we started.
“So, we will take the challenge head on. We are used to the practical difficulties. Just getting to Halifax for an evening game when working all day and using the M62 has been a headache. We appreciate there are a lot of longer trips now we are in the Conference Premier but they tend to be Fridays for a Saturday match. I think we can overcome that.
“It is a balancing act. We have some lads who don’t have a job and, in theory, they should be the fittest. But it depends what they do with their spare time.
“Some of our players who have jobs are really fit. But others who haven’t can be a bit lazy. Players have to be honest. If you have a manual job and it has been a hard day, if you get to the ground and feel to be struggling then you have to front up.
“Players can be reluctant to say they are tired. But if they don’t, they could be found out. We cannot afford to carry a player this season, we need all 11 on the pitch to be as fresh as possible.”
Halifax have a tough start to life back in the fifth tier with Cambridge United being one of 13 former Football League members in the division.
Wrexham, beaten play-off finalists last season in an all-Wales affair with Newport County, are then the first visitors to The Shay on Tuesday, underlining the size of the task facing Aspin’s men this term.
For his part, the former Leeds defender recently signed a two-year contract – a just reward for the manner in which he has steered Halifax from the eighth tier to the newly renamed Skrill Premier.
Like his players, Aspin will this season have to juggle the demands of Conference football with holding down a full-time job.
He added: “I have a job that involves a lot of travelling. But it can be beneficial in that if I need to be down south, then I can work down south. My boss knows what job I have got and is all right with that. He knows I love my football and have always been involved with the game.”
Aspin’s first steps in professional football came as a teenager with Leeds United in 1982. More than 200 appearances later, he moved on to Port Vale and became a mainstay of the Potteries side for the next decade.
Two years followed with Darlington, where he led the club into the Third Division play-offs before moving into non-League football with Harrogate Town.
And it was at Wetherby Road where his managerial career began in 2005, a move Aspin had increasingly felt to be a natural one.
The Halifax chief said: “I always felt I’d like a chance in management.
“Of course, when it comes along, you tend to get thrown in. But going into non-league management is good experience as you see all sides and you deal with players on all levels.
“It is a good grounding, which of course is what you would expect me to say. But I don’t see why managers in non-League can’t make managers higher up.
“We are talking about the same game, you deal with players and you have a lot of challenges that don’t maybe come with professional football.
“There is always the desire to be involved in big games and to get to a higher level. I am realistic, there aren’t many managers who go from non-League football into the League. And they don’t pick up a good job.
“You just try to do as good a job as you can and then, if the opportunity comes, you have to be ready for it.
“I was when the chance came along at Halifax (in 2009) and this is a big club who I am very proud to manage.
“Everyone is really looking forward to the new season.”