FOOTBALL really is nothing without the fans.
This point was underlined when John Williams, FC Halifax Town’s new commercial director, met a supporter who has vivid memories of a giant-killing feat for the ages.
More than 40 years ago, Halifax Town stunned the football world when they dumped First Division Manchester City out of the FA Cup, on a pitch which, a few hours before kick off, looked like it could have hosted a regatta.
The playing surface at The Shay resembled a lake on the morning of the game, and the match only went ahead because of the heroic efforts of fans with forks and towels.
Inspired by the fans’ tenacity, Town’s players rose to the challenge and pulled off a 1-0 win which still ranks among the biggest upsets in cup history. They showed that a fourth tier side can match any club in the land when it comes to passion and pride.
The pandemic has forced clubs to play in front of empty stands, but Mr Williams is relishing the prospect of seeing a full stadium as Halifax bid to regain a place in the football league. Early meetings with the fans have made him acutely aware of the club’s proud heritage.
“We held a session for fans who might not be so digitally savvy to help them buy their season tickets,’’ said Mr Williams.
“These little touches mean a lot to supporters and brings a community, family feel to the club. One supporter who came down had been supporting the club for 70 years.
“I spent some time talking to him and he helped fill me in on the club’s history, including the day we beat Manchester City in 1980. It was fantastic to listen to him talk so passionately about his club.”
Over recent decades, the club’s diehard fans have learned to take setbacks in their stride. A football league side from 1921 to 1993 and 1998 to 2002, their team was reborn as FC Halifax Town in 2008, after the original club faced insurmountable debts.
In his previous role, Mr Williams was part of a commercial team at Huddersfield Town which guided the club from the Championship to the Premier League.
He hopes fans and commercial supporters at his new club will soon get used to that promotion feeling. They compete in the National League, the fifth tier of English football, but have dreams of going much higher.
Mr Williams, who took on his new role over the summer, said: “I really wanted the challenge of working for a club that wants to get back into the football league. I wanted to be part of that journey.”
Town have a host of corporate supporters who dug deep to ensure the club continued to function during the darkest days of the pandemic.
Mr Williams said: “We want to bring stability and confidence to the club after a period when no fans have been in the ground.
“During this period partners continued to back us, even when the stadium was empty. That’s testament to Core Facility Services, Nuie Bathrooms, Halifax Bathrooms, Boss Training, Hird & Partners, who all continue to back us for the new season.
“These are fantastic businesses and I want them to become part of the fabric of the club alongside the new partners we attract. It’s almost a club within a club.
“When a business contacts me and asks about getting involved with the club, I need to understand what their objectives and budgets are. Many of them want to connect with other local businesses as well as the exposure, but we have to be creative and think how we can help them achieve their objectives.”
He aims to attract and retain business partners and also enhance the matchday experience.
“I want Halifax Town to become a business hub for the community,” he said.
“Just last night a supporter gave me a call because they said they had a contact for me that might lead to a commercial opportunity. It was somebody who wanted to become part of the football club which is great.
“It’s been fantastic to see fans jumping up and down and supporting their teams at every level once again. This town is itching for the return of league football.
“You just have to see what it has done for Harrogate Town and Salford City. Promotion can make a difference to a whole community; pubs and restaurants attract new customers.
“The club had no supporters coming through the turnstiles or hospitality suites for over 40 games.
“The chairman (David Bosomworth) had to be incredibly prudent and clever. It’s been a tough ride but we are feeling very positive and looking forward to Saturday.”
Fans will immediately notice changes for the better when they return to The Shay. The ground has new dugouts and the commercial team will have new suits provided by a commercial partner.
“It shows we mean business,’’ said Mr Williams. “The first image that people see when they walk through the door is so important.
“We are introducing more partners and the pipeline is very healthy. We are looking to improve every game, on the field and off. We want to make sure we get everything right.”
The giant-killing exploits from long ago still stir passions at The Shay, at a club which believes its greatest days lie ahead.
John Williams is the new commercial director at FC Halifax Town.
He was previously commercial manager with responsibility for partnerships at Huddersfield Town from 2013 to 2021.
In his new role, Mr Williams aims to engage with the business community in Calderdale and encourage them to support their local team.
Mr Williams said: “On the field, we want to get promoted to the football league and off it I want to build a commercial department that achieves our objective of becoming a business hub for the community.”
He aims to improve the matchday experience to ensure the club gains a new generation of fans.