1. The Shay has been home to three other sports
The first foreign sport came to Town’s Shay stadium in 1949, when in exchange for a share of the gate receipts, Halifax Town allowed tenancy for the speedway outfit Halifax Dukes. The speedway went on to beat the football in popularity during the ’70s. The Dukes eventually left in 1986 after skirmishes with Halifax Town for the nearby Odsal Stadium, home of the Rugby League side Bradford Bulls, before going pop in 1997.
A short-lived business venture then came in The Big Freeze of 1962/63. To make up for the losses made from so many postponements, the football club eventually opened up the Shay as a public ice rink on 2nd March 1963. The enterprising heads weren’t rewarded however, as the weather quickly thawed and the Shaymen themselves finished bottom of the league, dropping down to the old Division Four.
Finally, upon selling their Thrum Hall ground on the west side of the town, Halifax RLFC moved in with the Shaymen for the long-term in 1998. They remain there to this date. You’re probably best not asking a fan of either the rugby or association which club’s the biggest in Halifax.
2. We had a real-life fox as a mascot
Well, kind of. Having a fox for a mascot was never a meant to be poor “Halifax = Hali-fox” pun. During the mid ’90s, holes started appearing in the Shay’s hallowed turf. These were eventually pin-pointed on one rogue urban fox who would take old pie crusts from the stands and bury them under the pitch! This fox was swiftly adopted by the club, before a vulpine mascot costume was purchased, local schoolchildren giving him the name “Freddy.” You can’t fault the cunning.
Freddy went on to hit the national headlines after an on-pitch incident with Desmond the Dragon, the mascot of local rivals Rochdale. According to Freddy himself, “It was all friendly to start with and […] Desmond decided to start pushing me about.” Freddy told Desmond to back off, and was pushed into the goalpost. In reality, Freddy had originally cocked his leg up over the ‘Dale goalpost to provoke the attack.
3. We’ve beaten all three Manchester clubs: Manchester United, Manchester City and FC United of Manchester
On 31st July 1971, in the short-lived Watney Cup competition, one which pitted the two highest scoring teams in each division against each other, Halifax Town were given a home advantage to Manchester United. The United team at the Shay included Dennis Law, Bobby Charlton and George Best. The Shaymen won 2–1 in what was one of our proudest moments, and one Man United were probably more ready to brush off as a warm-up match.
Moving forward to 5th January 1980, Halifax Town hosted Manchester City in the FA Cup 3rd Round. One goal separated the sides as Halifax won 1–0, that coming from Paul Hendrie’s left boot. 12,599 fans packed out a Shay which had bits of its roofs missing and a pitch composed more of mud than grass.
Halifax then pulled the double over FC United of Manchester in the Evo-Stik League Premier this year, in the seventh tier of English football. The Shaymen won 1–0 away and 4–1 at home, with 4,023 attending the home fixture. This became one of the highest attendances for football at that level.
4. We’ve always been on the vanguard of mismanagement
Halifax Town were the first club to drop out of the Football League twice, and enter administration twice. Between 1977 and 1985, the Shaymen sought re-election to the Football League five times, failing to finish the season in the top half of the table between 1984 and our eventual relegation to the Conference National in 1993.
Although we gained promotion back into the League in 1998, a second relegation followed in 2002. Countless not-so-fun facts were to follow. Emergency fan meetings were held to chip in on players’ wages, the new East Stand remained a construction site for almost a decade, and at one point manager Chris Wilder was told to scram when dog training classes were unexpectedly held on Halifax’s training pitch.
Our second administration in spring 2008 forced us to reform for the next season as FC Halifax Town. We reformed in the Unibond Division One North in the eighth tier of the football pyramid, and ever since we’ve been doing rather well, thank you!
5. There is always a big perk in joining the Shaymen
That perk is that you tend to be far more successful as soon as you leave us. The story I will focus on is that of New Zealand international Shane Smeltz.
A Germany-born Kiwi, Smeltz joined Halifax Town in 2006, a striker who scored just twice in his 32 appearances at the Shay. Zoom forward a few years and Shane Smeltz has scored an early goal to put New Zealand ahead against Italy in the 2010 World Cup. Though the game finished one goal apiece, this is one of New Zealand’s proudest results in their footballing history, having only qualified for the World Cup twice.
We invest in talent.
Many thanks to Robert for those superlative Shaymen facts. You can catch up with him on twitter.