FC Halifax Town find FA Trophy glory at Wembley again as London proves to be happy hunting ground for Shaymen
It has been under the famous Wembley arch in the capital where Shaymen have carved their names into the history books.
Nine of Halifax’s last ten seasons have been spent in England’s fifth tier. Only twice since their promotion to the National League in 2017 have the club threatened to breach the top seven.
League endeavours in Yorkshire may have been relatively unremarkable but the club’s exploits at Wembley have been anything but. They lifted the FA Trophy in 2016 after seeing off Grimsby Town.
In 2023, it was Gateshead the Shaymen overcame to get their hands on the silverware once again.
Like Halifax, the Heed had finished in the National League’s no man’s land - comfortably clear of the relegation zone but frustratingly distant from the promotion picture.
Unlike Halifax, Gateshead appeared hesitant and ponderous when it came to attacking.
The Shaymen were good value for the victory but it was a gift from their opponents that proved decisive. Gateshead defender Louis Storey sent a tame pass in the direction of his goalkeeper James Montgomery in the first half, allowing Jamie Cooke to pounce and break the deadlock.
Gateshead enjoyed plenty of possession early on but there was little progression in their play, inviting Halifax to ramp up the pressure. Whereas the Heed were slow to creep forward, there was no shortage of attacking intent from the Shaymen and Rob Harker and Cooke in particular demonstrated a willingness to drive at defenders.
A sharp turn from Cooke allowed him to surge into the Gateshead box at pace, but his appeals for a penalty were ignored by referee Darren England. Angelo Cappello emulated Cooke with a similarly incisive dart into the box, but the referee showed a similar disinterest as the Halifax man went down under pressure from Robbie Tinkler.
As the first half progressed, Halifax tightened their grip on what had started off as a rather tense and nervy final. Tylor Golden proved to be a thorn in Gateshead’s side down the right flank, unsettling defenders with his direct running. He was unlucky to see his through ball to Harker overrun after he had cut inside from the right and bypassed defenders.
Halifax opportunities increased in frequency as the interval approached and Harvey Gilmour saw a powerful drive defected wide after being teed up by Millenic Alli.
A reward for their pressure eventually came in the form a gift from Gateshead. A sloppy backpass from Storey was rolling towards Montgomery in the Gateshead goal, allowing Cooke to pounce and get in the way of the goalkeeper’s clearance. His block sent the ball into the back of the net, sending Halifax’s travelling supporters into a frenzy and ensuring the Shaymen went into the half-time break with a lead.
Gateshead appeared to have more purpose after the break, posing a considerably greater threat to Halifax than they did before the break. The ball fell kindly for Greg Olley in the box, but his thunderous volley found the wrong side of the crossbar.
Gateshead’s willingness to play higher up the pitch did leave them vulnerable to counter-attacks and Alli almost capitalised following a mazy solo run he embarked on after picking the ball up in his own half. He made his way into Gateshead’s box but his shot was held by Montgomery.
Jack Hunter came close to doubling Halifax’s lead when he hooked his leg round his marker to meet a cross, but Montgomery reacted swiftly to keep it out. Gateshead rallied late on and Greg Olley came the closest to levelling proceedings, but Halifax held out to survive the onslaught and secure the victory.
The final whistle was followed by scenes capable of temporarily erasing memories of the most arduous of campaigns.
A mid-table finish was not a disaster for Halifax but as a club with EFL ambitions, it was not quite what the doctor ordered.
A healthy following had travelled down from West Yorkshire and immediately after the final whistle was blown, Halifax players revelled in celebrations with the sea of blue and white in a corner of the famous venue.
During the club’s run to the final of the competition, they did not play at their home ground, The Shay, once. From Guiseley in December to Altrincham in April, Chris Millington’s men certainly did their fair share of travelling on their route to Wembley.
Fortunately for the army of travelling supporters, Halifax looked at home under the famous Wembley arch – just as they did in 2016.
FC Halifax Town: Johnson; Golden, Debrah (Summerfield 63), Stott, Senior (c); Hunter, Gilmour, Cooke (Wright 90); Alli, Cappello (Warburton 72), Harker. Unused substitutes: Clarke, O’Rourke, Lavelle, Sinfield.
Gateshead: Montgomery, Tinkler, Richardson (Harris 82), Storey, Magnay; Conteh, Ward, Bailey, Campbell; Olley, Martin (Thompson 84). Unused substitutes: Marschall, Knight, Archer, Franklin, Asikaogu.
Referee: D England (Yorkshire).