FC Halifax Town: Why English football’s fifth division needs to ease ‘bottleneck’

THE profile of the National League has never been higher.

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Harry Toffolo prepared to go the distance at Huddersfield Town

Six clubs boast average home attendances of around 5,000 or more and the mean figure for a divisional fixture so far in 2021-22 is almost 2,700.

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FC Halifax Town are one of 11 clubs whose current average league gate is 2,000 or above and for Shaymen manager Pete Wild, the number which truly does not stack up surrounds the fact that just two sides will be promoted to the Football League at the end of the season and not three.

FC Halifax Town manager Pete Wild. Picture Bruce Rollinson

He and many others believe it to be an anomaly.

Wild, whose Halifax side currently reside in third place after an excellent start to the campaign, told The Yorkshire Post: “In my opinion, the National League is better than League Two this year in terms of finances and players in it.

“It’s basically a fifth division now and 95 per cent of the teams are full-time. It is a professional division and should be treated in that way. It is getting the publicity it deserves and attracting the players who are making the league better as well.

“It is all going in the right direction, but the problem then becomes that there is a bottleneck to try and get out of it.

“Only two can get out of this league and that is where the bottleneck starts.

“I do think there should be three [teams] who go up. With the league, you are not dropping out of the leagues per se as it is like a fifth league. It is not as dramatic for the teams coming out of it.”

For FC Halifax, the competitive strength of the division is a double-edged sword in their own pursuit of success as they seek promotion back to the Football League.

Big-spending clubs such as Wrexham – financed by two Hollywood stars in Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney – Notts County and Chesterfield loom large in this year’s division alongside other ‘giants’ such as Grimsby and Stockport.

That’s before you even mention several ambitious sides predominantly from the south east who are striving to follow the likes of Sutton, Crawley and Stevenage into the league.

For their part, Halifax lack the cash clout of the big-hitters and do things differently by giving a second chance to players who are driven to return to the league after a bad experience or two and developing young players.

Most would opine they are going about things in a responsible and sustainable manner in these fiscally-challenging times after Covid.

Neutrals should be rooting for them and Wild also finds encouragement from elsewhere.

Wild, appointed in July 2019 and given time to build by chairman David Bosomworth and his board, added: “You look at the division and I call it the ‘big 10’. By definition, five of those [clubs] are going to get it wrong and when they do that, we have to be ready to capitalise on it.

“Teams are still throwing money at the problem. There is a mentality in our league of ‘let’s keep throwing money at the problem and we will deal with it when we get into League Two’.

“You look at the last two winners of the league. Barrow did spend quite big, but Sutton proved that you can do it with coaching and good players and a plan last year [season].

“I also think you saw that in the division above with Cheltenham and Cambridge going up last year and Morecambe. You cannot just throw money at the problem and must have a bit more about you.

“We are probably bottom six in terms of our budget, so we have to work a bit differently.

“Because me and my assistant have got an academy background, we want to create footballers as financial assets for the club.

“It is something we speak to the chairman all the time about and we recruit the right players and give them a pathway.

“In the first year, it was crisis management and get in what we had. Last year was about building what we wanted to be and this year is a great opportunity of trying to be what we want to be.”