Weekend Interview: Wembley final just one step on way back up for FC Halifax Town

IT HAS been a quite remarkable journey.

FC Halifax Town chairman, David Bosomworth.

A little under eight years after starting life in the humble surrounds of Colwyn Bay and Rossendale United, FC Halifax Town will tomorrow walk out at Wembley.

Grimsby Town, newly-promoted to the Football League, await the Shaymen in the FA Trophy final and there will surely be few among the 10,000 visitors from Yorkshire prouder than chairman David Bosomworth.

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Along with fellow director Bobby Ham, the boyhood Bradford City fan rescued senior football in Calderdale after the old Halifax Town had been wound up amid ruinous debts in 2008.

Literally starting from scratch, the pair have overseen a rise that, even allowing for last month’s relegation from the National League, has restored a sense of pride to Halifax that had ebbed away during the long, slow death of the old club.

Tomorrow, an estimated crowd of 45,000 will bear witness to that revival job as Halifax, be it under their new guise or as the club who spent 76 years in the Football League, step out at Wembley for the first time.

“Getting to Wembley is a huge achievement,” the Halifax chairman told The Yorkshire Post ahead of the club’s big day out in the capital. “We are all still hurting at the moment following relegation.

“The aim was to go to Wembley as a National League club but, unfortunately, we won’t now do that. My goodness, though, FC Halifax Town will be at Wembley – that is still a big achievement.

“I am sure on the day of the final we will think of the early days of the club. I don’t know if there will be a tear in the eye at that point or not.”

FC Halifax began life in the Northern Premier League Division One North, English football’s eighth tier.

It was a world away from even the Conference, the level that the old club had inhabited in its final six years.

Where before trips to familiar places such as Oxford, Cambridge, Exeter and York had been on the agenda, now the route maps to Radcliffe, Skelmersdale and Clitheroe had to be dug out.

Understandably, considering the haste at which the club had been formed during that summer of 2008, there were teething troubles.

Halifax’s first competitive fixture, for instance, was a 3-0 home defeat to Bamber Bridge, while the opening weeks of the season also included losses to Lancaster City and Mossley.

“It was a big drop to go three leagues lower,” recalls Bosomworth, who along with Ham had battled in vain to save the old Halifax Town.

“But we had started a job and decided to stick with it. We hadn’t got a clue about the league.

“What wages you pay, who the players were or anything. That probably showed in the first season when we finished eighth.”

Bosomworth’s involvement at The Shay came following a stint helping out at Valley Parade in 2004.

Along with Ham, he joined a five-man steering committee to help the Bantams tip-toe through the minefield of a second administration.

At one stage, Bradford came within a whisker of being closed down and it was a stressful time for all concerned until Julian Rhodes was able to resume overall control just before Christmas.

Rhodes has since spoken warmly about the key role the steering committee played in saving the Bantams, and in particular the part Bosomworth played in overhauling a youth set-up that has since brought in hundreds of thousands of pounds in player sales.

“I hadn’t been involved with football before Bradford,” says the Halifax chairman. “I was thrown in at the deep end and it was a tough time.

“It was very much initially a case of sitting in a dingy office and seeing what you can do to help. But then you grow into it.

“The youth development got going and I enjoyed that. Andre Wisdom (who City sold to Liverpool in a deal that has since earned the club around £500,000) was trialling at the club just as I left and the youth set-up went on to provide an important source of money for Bradford City so that was pleasing.

“There was a chance at one stage to get involved 50-50 (with Rhodes). In hindsight – and depending on how you look at it and considering what I have put into Halifax – it maybe wasn’t as big a risk as it seemed at the time. Instead, Mark (Lawn) took over the role I might have had.

“What Bradford gave me, though, was the taste. I wanted to have a go myself after that. Bobby felt the same so we came to Halifax.

“Bobby is a good sounding board and he loves being involved with football. When we first started at Halifax, I remember saying, ‘Whatever has gone on before, we have to rebuild our reputation’.

“We wanted everyone to come to the ground and feel welcome. All the clubs, whoever they were, we looked after them.”

At The Shay, things clicked into place with the appointment of Neil Aspin in the summer of 2009. Three promotions followed in four years, while the club’s first season back in the Conference also brought an unlikely play-off push.

Despite being part-time and up against clubs with vastly superior budgets, Halifax finished fifth. Cambridge were then beaten 1-0 at The Shay in the first leg only for a 2-0 loss in the reverse to dash hopes of a League return.

“Our objective remains to get in the Football League,” added Bosomworth. “Relegation makes that harder, of course it does.

“But we have bounced back from adversity before and we will do it again. Just look at all the wonderful memories that have been created.

“We have had the promotions, we have played Bradford City in the FA Cup and Charlton Athletic. We have been to MK Dons. All great memories.

“We all want to win. As much as the fans were disappointed after Macclesfield (when a 1-1 draw on the final day was not enough to stave off relegation), I think there was an understanding of what we are trying to do.

“There were a few ‘sack the board’ comments or whatever. But I think most realise we hurt every bit as much as the fans do. Maybe even more at times.

“As chairman, it is difficult to watch games. At Forest Green (on the penultimate weekend, when Halifax won 1-0), I hated every single minute of that game. Hated it.”

Tomorrow’s meeting with Grimsby represents an opportunity to begin that recovery process. Lifting the Trophy at Wembley can be a springboard to promotion from National League North, as 2015 winners North Ferriby United proved just last weekend by beating AFC Fylde in the play-off final.

“We are proud of FC Halifax Town,” added Bosomworth. “People have asked me in the past if we want to drop the ‘FC’ but I don’t.

“Halifax Town AFC had its life and a lot of fans associate with that. It is their club. But FC Halifax is a new entity. We still represent the town, we still play in blue and white but this is a new club with ambitions to bring League football back to Halifax.”