Saturday 23rd July
Pre Season Friendly
FC Halifax Town 0 Mansfield Town 1
Programme: £1.50 (Not worth it)
Tea Hut purchase: Not at those prices!
Weather: Sunny and warm
Parking: Roadside, about 5 minutes away
Following a Friday night of spicy Indian food and a rash abundance of ale, perhaps I wasn't as keen for my Saturday afternoon football as normal. Todays destination was The Shay home of a resurgent FC Halifax Town, also known as The Shaymen. There's plenty of hype about at the moment that Fax are going to mop up in the Blue Square Conference North this season? Time will tell. Here's a bit of travel sludge.... I swung the Match Shed over the A58 passing dozens of African people all dressed in flowing white robes (honest), this strange site expanded as I witnessed them heading off over the rocky slopes of Blackstone Edge, what they were doing I do not know? Next up came the illegal windsurfers on the reservoir behind the famous White House pub, a great place for grub which is slap bang on the Pennine Way. Despite numerous big signs stating 'Strictly No Water Sports-This Is Your Drinking Water', the late twenties / middle thirties adventure seekers set a fine example, nice one yuppies. Dropping down into the county of Yorkshire the Match Shed fumed at being stuck behind a long line of slow moving traffic, some 1930's tractor was doing 10 mph all over the road. How satisfying that the relic wasn't carrying number plates or tax, made me wonder the number of years this farmer must have been getting away with it? I had to overtake six cars of OAP's and those silly women that struggle to drive 4 x 4's to finally get past Owd Ned (fag in slack jaw) and his smoking tractor. I gave him the fingers just before hitting the regeneration 'targeted' town of Sowerby Bridge, with its converted Mills and abundant restaurants and takeaways I'm not sure if all the effort on selling this old community as the next best thing is actually working? I was soon in Halifax, it looks a nice town if you take the Saville Park road down to The Shay, all big stone houses and well kept area's of greenery. If you take one of the other roads you soon realise Saville Park is the kind of area that is currently in a minority in this once fine borough. Sadly Halifax appears to be a bit rundown at the moment (but we could say that about a lot of places in broken Britain couldn't we). I parked the Match Shed up just across the junction from the old bus garage adjacent to the ground. Already there were middle aged blokes hurrying down the road in their replica tops, The Shaymen are a popular product in this part of the world.
The Shay Stadium rises up before you and the recently opened Main Stand is a splendid addition to this proud little ground. I remember coming here years ago when there was a speedway track and a couple of ramshackle stands, some dodgy grass banks and bugger all else. To say it had an open aspect would be an understatement. What we have now is a truly decent ground befitting Football League status. Its lost that humble rough and ready quirkyness that did have its own unique charisma but its been swopped for a big main stand with great views and two large covered terraces at each end of the pitch. The old Skircoat Lane stand is still there, all seater now rather than the part terrace it once had but its still got all the stanchions to block your view if you are still hanging on and hankering for the past. The supporters bar next to the main stand entrance reminded me a bit of the KC Stadium at Hull City. Not many ale heads today it seemed, after all, it is a friendly and all that. A very friendly chap took my 7 pounds at the turnstile and I was in. Despite a heavy presence of stewarding nobody took offence at my camera bag or me taking pictures inside the stadium. Must say the pitch looked immaculate, almost like a bowling green.
The sun was out and The Shay looked mighty fine, dont get me wrong I wouldn't like to come to a place like this every week, I like moving around a ground and taking in different views from uncrowded environments, you cannot do that here (unfortunately), today for instance witnessed all the Halifax supporters in one half of the main stand only, both of the terraces behind each end were closed (I dont think you could transfer if they were open? Not sure about that?). The away support from Mansfield were placed in the corner of the opposite stand on Skircoat Lane. A bit over the top really as there were only about 50 or 60 Mansfield supporters. It will be interesting to see whether Halifax enforce strict segregation in the Blue Square Conference North? I favour freedom to roam all parts but maybe thats not possible at a place like this? As the Shaymen support grew before kick off it was noticeable that there is a buzz and a feeling of positive anticipation about the place. They seem keenly focused on doing well this season and have a confidence they have the right manager and the right kind of squad to succeed. A factor that must be brought into this equation is the apparent loss of one of the Shaymens best players, Jamie Vardy, he wasn't in the squad today, rumour had it that this was because he's on his way to a new club?. I settled down in my seat and pretty soon felt uncomfortable in my double jumper clothing, the trouble is its always a bit chilly up on the hills where I live, down at The Shay it was bloody boiling. I like the Halifax kit, its all blue features are set off by a vertical retro style stripe on the shirts, as for Mansfield, they adopted a very snazzy all yellow and old gold number which was spoiled by a blue sleeve running down from the collar. Don't like those odd sleeve style numbers, old school uniformity wins for me every time. Once we got underway the action was a bit slow paced to be honest, it was a friendly match remember and it was very hot down at pitchside.
As the game wore on I was able to make a few tentative observations (which may prove to be a load of tosh), I thought Halifax looked weak up front and lacked any kind of clinical finishing, they also appeared hesitant in defence, I thought Mansfield missed some clear cut opportunities in the first half especially. What Halifax do appear to have is some decisive midfield spirit, Tom Baker in particular was spraying the ball about and also battling in the tackle, he looks a good player. Mansfield put a few nice passing moves together as they occasionally pressed forward, they did look solid and I got the impression (for them) this match was more about fitness and strategy coaching rather than win at all costs. Half time arrived and it was 0-0. The side effects of too much Friday night beer and some Indian meal I could no longer remember the name of had 'at long last' started to yield. I fancied a look at that Tea Hut under the stand. Oh dear!
On arrival at the brightly lit characterless counter and sale boards (just across from the bogs), my heart sank. There in bright lights was the exuberant price list, Tea was a mind-blowing £1.70, a small pie was £2.80 and the burgers started at £2.90! I felt sorry for the Shaymen supporters having to put up with this daylight robbery every other week. A club needs an honest, decent, reasonably priced Tea Hut, its part of the matchday experience, sadly the Shaymen won't be getting anything like that! I reckon the Mansfield fans would have (possibly) been given access to a notoriously dodgy burger van in the stand they occupied, I cannot confirm this and dont wish to speculate, however, BSN clubs should check out facilities before travelling this season, you may wish to hit a local chippy instead of pigging out at the ground? Needless to say, I did not give in to these silly (and insulting) rip off prices and I bought bugger all.
The second half saw the usual friendly-match multiple changes and the usual fragmentation of what we had as a match. Perhaps the best 2 players who came on for Halifax in that second period were Simon Garner and 'Deano' (James Dean I think). Mansfield got the only goal just after the break and they held on for the win despite some Halifax pressure in the last 15 minutes, in my humble opinion this match should have been a draw but credit to The Stags they closed the game down and made sure they protected that 1 goal lead. Mansfield manager Paul Cox looks to have implemented some fundamental standards of method and organisation on the pitch, both of these principles became evident in the way they never lost a grip on the proceedings, surely this will improve The Stags performance levels ongoing.
Having been to The Shay to see what all the fuss was about I honestly reckon they will be a big plus for the Conference North this season. For one thing, they'll take a lot of away support everywhere they go. As for clubs visiting The Shay, they'll play at a very good ground, perhaps the players might appreciate it a bit more than visiting fans though, especially if they are in the corner of the old stand with only the dodgy burger van for half time sustenance? Perhaps things might be ok if they open up more of the stadium. Its a place worth going to and a lot of the time I reckon it will be a fortress for Halifax, I cannot see many away sides doing the business in that environment, it will be a test and more often than not a hard fought slog. The Shaymen mean to give it a good go, it should be interesting stuff over the coming weeks.