A HUGE weekend lies in store for Yorkshire clubs near the top of the non-League pyramid.
For FC Halifax Town, an incredible Conference season could culminate in a play-off place being clinched on Saturday providing Neil Aspin’s men take a point from their final-day meeting with Kidderminster Harriers at The Shay.
In the division below, meanwhile, the stakes will be just as high as North Ferriby United look to clinch the title and Guiseley complete a remarkable recovery job under manager Mark Bower by booking a place in the Conference North play-offs.
Of the trio, North Ferriby look to have the hardest task. A point behind leaders Telford going into the final day but boasting a superior goal difference, the Villagers, who host Brackley Town, need to better Telford’s result at home to Gainsborough to clinch automatic promotion to the top division of the non-League game.
“To be in this position is fantastic,” said Les Hare, North Ferriby chairman for the best part of two decades, to The Yorkshire Post. “Guaranteed a play-off place and in with a chance of winning the league going into the final day is way beyond what we could have expected.
“This is our first season at this level and the aim was to simply establish ourselves. That changed in quite a short space of time, as we realised in the early games against a few of the fancied teams that we had what it takes to compete. It gave us a gauge as to what the league was going to be like.”
North Ferriby’s rise has been swift. As recently as 1999, they were still playing in the Northern Counties East League.
By Saturday night, however, the East Riding club could be looking forward to the prospect of taking on Torquay United and Northampton Town in league combat next season.
“Stranger things have happened in football,” said Hare, whose club last month passed an inspection on £50,000 worth of building work on their Church Lane home that had to be done to avoid being relegated back to the Northern Premier League in the summer.
“People may see it as a straight-forward routine victory for Telford but they have had their jitters. We know from last season – when we had to win our last game to go up as champions in the Northern Premier – what that pressure can be like.
“If Telford win, good luck to them. But if they slip-up, then I can assure Telford that we will be breathing down their necks.”
With a population of 4,500, North Ferriby is an unlikely candidate to host a club bidding to join the Conference.
But results suggest otherwise, with this season’s league success going hand-in-hand with a run to the FA Cup fourth qualifying round and the last eight of the FA Trophy.
Along the way in the Trophy, United claimed a couple of notable scalps in Conference duo Woking and Lincoln City, both beaten 4-0 by Billy Heath’s men.
“I will certainly never forget looking across at the electronic scoreboard at Sincil Bank,” recalls Hare. “It read ‘Lincoln City 0 North Ferriby United 4’.
“That was one of those moments we will all remember for a long time. Within East Yorkshire, an image of the scoreboard (captured on a mobile phone) went viral.”
Should Telford be pipped to the title on Saturday afternoon, North Ferriby are again likely to be the talk of the East Riding.
If Telford prevail, however, then thoughts will turn to the play-offs and a possible two legged play-off tie with Guiseley.
The Lions, who sit fifth in the table, need a point to guarantee extending their own season and for manager Bower that would represent a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.
After replacing Steve Kittrick in September, former Bradford City defender Bower lost his first five games as Guiseley slumped to third-bottom.
“It wasn’t the best of starts, no,” says 34-year-old Bower, who can now smile at the memory. “The last of those five defeats was 4-1 at Altrincham, when we’d been 1-0 up at half-time but then we collapsed. That was the low point and things had to change.
“Looking back, I won’t say it was the best thing that happened, as it was horrible at the time. But it was a steep learning curve and taught me that nothing was going to be easy.
“I know the fans weren’t happy and some were even talking about relegation. But, fortunately, the people in charge retained their faith in me and I hope what has happened since has repaid that faith.
“It has been a tough run-in and we have played 17 games in 55 days to get to this point. But we have won every midweek game in that run and that is testament to the hard work of the lads.
“Since Altrincham, we have collected more points than anyone to get into this position. Now, we have to make sure we don’t blow it.”
North Ferriby could have been going into Saturday’s final day leading the table but Easter Monday brought a rare stumble as Heath’s side were beaten 2-0 at Boston United, while Telford fought back from two goals down to draw 2-2 at Solihull Moors and nudge ahead in the title race.
Hare said: “Monday was disappointing but if someone had offered me last summer the chance to go into the final game knowing we could win the league, I’d not just have ripped their arm off but all four limbs.”