Three years ago Halifax Town went out of business. Now the reconstituted club is back with a vengeance and looking forward to an FA Cup tie against Charlton, writes Chris Waters.
BOBBY HAM will never forget the summer of 2008.
“There were just five weeks to go before the start of the season and we had no manager, no players, no nothing,” he recalls.
“Halifax Town had just gone out of business and we’d just formed the new club, FC Halifax Town, and been told we’d have to start off three divisions lower down the footballing pyramid in the Northern Premier League First Division North.
“Myself, David Bosomworth and Stuart Peacock, the club’s owners, didn’t know anything about the league or what we were going into.
“We basically had 30-odd days to build the club up from scratch.”
Ham and co advertised for a new manager and received just four applicants.
They settled on former Witton Albion boss Jim Vince, who used his contacts to assemble a squad.
After a predictably slow start, the team found their feet and worked their way to the top of the table, only for a run of two victories in the last 14 games to end their promotion challenge and trigger Vince’s departure before the end of the season.
Halifax had to content themselves with an eighth-placed finish, a steady enough start considering there had been no club just a few months earlier after Halifax Town was wound up with estimated debts of £2m.
The following season, and with former Leeds United and Port Vale defender Neil Aspin at the helm, Halifax stepped up their quest to regain Football League status.
They won the title with 100 points from 42 games, scoring 108 goals in the process.
Aspin’s men followed up by winning the Northern Premier League Premier Division at the first attempt, once more registering 108 goals.
They are now 11th in the Blue Square Bet North, three points off the play-offs as they attempt to reach the Conference proper.
It has been a remarkable rise from bust to boom – one that will take another step forward on Sunday in the form of a televised FA Cup tie against Charlton Athletic (kick-off 12.30pm).
The eyes of the nation will be on Halifax’s Shay stadium, where a crowd of 5,000-plus is expected to cheer on Aspin’s troops.
For Ham, it will be a poignant as well as prestigious occasion – a reminder of how far the club has come in a short space of time.
From the dark days of 2008 to the much happier light of 2011, it has been quite a journey for a club that may have changed name, but which still embodies the spirit of the old Halifax Town.
“It’s going to be a fantastic day,” said Ham, who scored 156 goals in 460 games during a career spent mainly with Bradford Park Avenue and Bradford City.
“Win, lose or draw, it’s going to be a great occasion for the club and the supporters.
“It’s very sad for any football club to go out of business; Halifax Town was an institution and the supporters lived and breathed the game.
“The club was nearly 100 years old when it finally went under, and there was a lot of doom and gloom about the situation.
“But myself, David and Stuart thought it would be such a shame for Halifax not to have a football team and we decided to get behind it as much as we could.
“The new club was born, and, with the help of a number of brilliant people who backed us all the way, we gradually built things up.
“The three of us were Bradford-based lads, and, at the time, I think some people probably thought ‘why do three Bradford lads want to get involved in Halifax Town?’
“They probably thought there was some sort of ulterior motive, but I think we’ve won most people over and they realise we want to see Halifax back where they belong.”
Although an FA Cup tie against the League One leaders is nice for the supporters and even nicer for the bank balance (Halifax will make £60,000-plus from being on the box), it is no more than a happy diversion.
Halifax’s main objective is to get back into the Football League after they plunged down the divisions when the old club was wound up while a member of the Conference.
“That’s the main goal and there’s still a long way to go,” added club director Ham.
“We’ve got to get out of the league we’re in now and then the Conference proper is a very hard league to get out of; there’s a lot of ex-Football League clubs down there.
“A lot of clubs are spending money trying to buy their way out of the Conference; Crawley, for example, did a Chelsea, if you like.
“In fact, I think it’s easier to get out of League Two than it is to get out of the Conference itself.
“But Halifax still has the supporter base to sustain League football, and I think that’s very important.
“With all due respect to the likes of Hyde and Stalybridge (currently first and second in Halifax’s division), they are great footballing places and have good teams, but could they sustain a Football League club?
“Halifax can sustain League football, and, if we can get back there, I’m sure enough people will come along to watch us.”
Although Halifax are determined to achieve their goal, they are equally determined to exercise due diligence.
Ham said there was no question of putting the club at risk in an attempt to recapture former glories.
“We’re not trying to think too far ahead,” he said. “I’d love to think we could get back into the League in the next five years, but you can’t walk before you can run.
“The one thing about the new Halifax is that it is run very business-like. We will not spend money we haven’t got. We will pay our bills, we will run it as a proper business and we will not let our hearts rule our heads.
“It’s easy to do that in football; a lot of people have done it and got into trouble, but we’re determined that’s not going to happen to us.”
For now, Halifax can simply enjoy the moment as they aim to put Halifax back on the footballing map. “That’s the most important thing,” added Ham, “more important than any money or prestige.
“We’ve put the club back on the map in West Yorkshire, but there’s a lot more to England than West Yorkshire.
“This will put us back on the map in terms of the whole country because people will be saying, ‘Oh, I remember Halifax Town. Are they still going?’ Whatever happened to them?’
“Well, here we are – and we’re here to stay.”