ALL EYES in the FC Halifax Town squad will be on Jim Harvey not once, but twice this weekend.
The most eagerly-anticipated moment by far will be when the Northern Irishman names his side to face Grimsby Town in tomorrow’s FA Trophy final.
Every member of the travelling party is desperate to play and there will, Harvey knows, be plenty of contrasting emotions when the team is read out.
Before that, however, the Shaymen chief intends to inject a bit of fun into the preparations by handing a couple of players an opportunity to be at today’s FA Cup final between Manchester United and Crystal Palace.
“A lot of these boys haven’t played at Wembley before,” explained the 58-year-old to The Yorkshire Post. “Or, in some cases, even visited the stadium.
“I know what that can be like, as my first visit as a player (with Tranmere Rovers in the 1990 Football League Trophy final) was a blur and I can’t remember an awful lot about it. I do have a video at home of the game that I can play back. But my recollections are sparse.
“The difficult thing for us ahead of the Trophy final is we can’t have a visit beforehand. So, what we have decided to do is hold a raffle among the players for a couple of tickets that we have for the Cup final.
“It will be a bit of fun and I am sure the lads will be desperate to win when we draw those lots. I think it will bring a little bit of humour and a bit of fun to the build-up, which is what you often need before such a big game. It is vital that everyone settles down.”
Town’s preparations began in earnest yesterday when the squad travelled south. Training then took place in Milton Keynes, while last night a visit to the cinema was planned for the entire travelling party.
Another training session is earmarked for today, this time at Barnet’s Hive ground, before a couple of the players will discover they are heading to Wembley a day early to take in the Cup final.
Lifting spirits following the heartache of Halifax’s relegation from the National League has been a priority.
Town, odds on for the drop when Harvey succeeded Darren Kelly in mid-November due to the club being 10 points adrift of safety, took the fight to the last day.
Victory over Macclesfield Town would have been enough to guarantee safety but Halifax could only draw, meaning Guiseley leapfrogged their neighbours. The Shaymen’s agony was only added to by Kevin Roberts hitting the post in stoppage time against the Silkmen.
“We gave the lads a week off straight after the last game of the season,” said Harvey. “Relegation was a big disappointment so it was important that we shut the door on it, and the lads had a bit of time on their own.
“Fatigue can catch up with you after a long season, too, so it was important they had a break. Since returning to training, the lads have done well and we had a practice game against Derby County Under-21s recently that was a great workout.
“It got us sharp again and I have seen a real bounce in training this week among the lads, suggesting to me they have left behind all that disappointment.”
Halifax are expected to be backed by around 10,000 fans tomorrow on a day that will see their clash against Grimsby Town preceded by the FA Vase final between Hereford and Morpeth Town.
A little over 45,000 tickets have been sold, though just how many will be present at each final remains to be seen. Regardless of that, Harvey believes his side can bounce back from relegation and emulate 2015 winners North Ferriby United by bringing the Trophy back to Yorkshire.
“Relegation was tough to take,” he added.
“We had a chance in the last minute when we hit a post. Those are the fine margins that there are in sport between success and failure. We came so close.
“The big thing in sport, though, is that when you get knocked down, you have to get straight back up. And what an incentive this is to get back up.
“Wembley is a wonderful place and the whole town seems to be right behind us. It will be a real tonic for everyone if we can win.
“We all know how dire things were early in the season. When I took over, the team looked dead and buried in terms of relegation. There had been just one clean sheet in 30 odd games and we were 10 points adrift.
“But the boys put in a tremendous effort and came so close. We now have the FA Trophy final and a win at Wembley will be absolutely marvellous in terms of taking us through the summer. That is our sole focus.”