Alive and kicking at The Shay

IT was an ultimately disappointing season where any chances of winning promotion vanished amid a late collapse in form and the staggering turnover of personnel often left fans scratching their heads some weeks as to who was playing.

But for fans of Halifax Town, the 2008-09 campaign was one that will live long in the memory as it signalled that football was still very much alive and kicking in Calderdale.

The demise of the Shaymen had been a painful and drawn-out affair with the plug finally being pulled last summer amid crippling debts that included around 800,000 owed to the taxman.

To a town whose rugby league club had also endured difficult times since slipping out of Super League, it was a huge blow to sporting pride and for a short time there were very real fears as to what the future may hold.

Thankfully, the subsequent birth of FC Halifax Town – with the three-man consortium that had been financing the old club for the past two years at the helm – quashed any concerns that football was gone for good and by August 16 the fledgling outfit were kicking off the season in the Unibond First Division North.

Promotion proved beyond the re-born Shaymen despite Jim Vince's side sitting second in the table as late as mid-March but Bobby Ham, one of Town's new three-man board along with chairman David Bosomworth and Stuart Peacock, insists their debut season was still a significant success.

He said: "The main thing is Halifax has a football club. My links with sport in the town go back a long way with the speedway and my father-in-law having played rugby league (Maori Kia Rika), so I know how important sport is to the area.

"It is great to see the rugby league club doing well and now we want to bring our own success to Calderdale.

"Of course, we were disappointed not to make the play-offs but the season was enjoyable in so many ways. The support we have had from the town since last summer has been magnificent.

"To average 1,200 fans at our home games was great. We were absolutely delighted with that. We were also taking anything between 350 and 750 fans on the road to every away game.

"Every game we played brought the home team's biggest crowd and our fans deserve a lot of credit for that.

"It also showed the potential there is for football in the town. That was a massive factor in why we decided to try and get involved here. There would have been little point going to somewhere like Hyde or Trafford where the most they can expect through the gate each week is 300.

"We want to be able to build this club up and with the support of Halifax we believe we can."

Halifax had finished the 2007-08 season just above the relegation zone in the BlueSquare Premier but a failure to come out of administration in a set timescale saw the club demoted three divisions. Such a draconian punishment means there is plenty to do if the Shaymen are to return to even the fifth tier of the English game never mind the Football League.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the pitch with the collapse in form that saw Halifax finish eighth, 24 points behind champions Durham, being epitomised by two defeats in three weeks against a Rossendale United side that were destined to finish bottom.

Such was the rapid turnover of personnel that a staggering 46 players turned out for the club during an ultimately disappointing campaign on the field that ended with just seven wins from the final 25 games.

The board acted with a month remaining to sack Vince and the appointment of Harrogate Town manager Neil Aspin has been well received by fans.

The former Leeds United defender boasted an impressive record at Wetherby Road and Ham, a former professional with Bradford City and Park Avenue plus a one-time director at Valley Parade, believes the Shaymen have the right man in charge.

He said: "Neil had a great career at the top with Leeds and a few other clubs. He also has plenty of experience of the game at non-League level from his time at Harrogate Town and is very ambitious.

"We were all pleasantly surprised by the standard of the division last season because we really didn't know what to expect. I personally thought it might have been a bit kick and chase but it wasn't."

Only time will tell whether Aspin can inspire his new charges to success in a league where grass banks are the norm behind the goal, but what is not in doubt is that things are looking up off the field.

Building work has resumed at The Shay and the unfinished stand that has symbolised the decline of Calderdale sport almost as clearly as league standing is expected to be completed by November.

The Shaymen have also had a full-time commercial manager for the past year and the man in question, Peter Stajic, has been busy getting across the message that it is a new start for the club.

A Sportsman's Dinner attracted 430 people and director Ham is delighted with the progress off the field.

He said: "The new stand will make The Shay a tremendous stadium. We are hoping it will be open by November and that will make a big difference. Because the stand has been half-built for so long, it will be like making a statement of intent about Calderdale.

"Of course, we have to do things gradually and build our way up. There is no quick-fix and there have been no grand statements about where we want to be in so many years' time.

"The one thing that is true about all levels of football is how difficult it is to win promotion. It doesn't matter if it is to get out of the Unibond First Division North or the Football League Championship, it is hard.

"But we have learned so much from our first year in charge, and particularly in terms of the club being part-time, that we think we are ready to make the step up."