Monday 22 May 2017

Follow The Blue - FC Halifax Town Vs Chorley FC, National League North Play-Off Final 2017, The Shay (13/05/17)

Spending most of my time with a man who thinks Cheetos are a viable breakfast food, and a fidget spinner is a suitable aid to help pass the time on a 200 mile car journey, make me seriously question my choice of companion. Before hitting the M1 for the next three and a half hours, we stop for petrol. Tom as he puts it has “learnt” his “lesson” and will not be getting a coffee from this particular garage, it might say Costa on the outside of the cup, but by all accounts it’s certainly not Costa on the inside.

“Everyone loves Cheetos” proclaims Tom, filling the air in my small car, with the intoxicating aroma of a cheese I can't quite put my finger on the name of, tucking into handfuls of what are basically American Wotsits, at 08:10 in the morning.

Passing coach loads of Southampton fans, making the trip to Middlesbrough, really puts into perspective our jaunt to West Yorkshire. Not finding the required amount of entertainment in the ball bearing based toy, Tom has instead decided to point out every shredded and discarded tire on the side of the road, which has made me a little jittery considering my lack of breakdown cover. He also insists on announcing any destination of interest we pass, when it’s large brown sign appears, “Space Centre”, “Sherwood Forest”, “Chatsworth House”.

Always normally able to find something to talk about after a couple of hours in we seem to have exhausted most topics, and it's time to crack out the single largest CD binder in Western Europe, the thing is like a briefcase. “Got some good stuff” says Tom, turning over compact disc filled page, after compact disc filled page of awesomeness.

After watching a horse trailer almost cause a major accident, it seems a good a time as any to pull off the motorway, in search of a drink and a chance to stretch my legs, although this is easier said than done. I have exacting generic conglomerate coffee chain requirements. Costa just won't cut it, and on every roadside rundown of what's available, all too many are mentioning the aforementioned brand, among the Greggs, M&S and Burger Kings.

At nondescript service station number 122234, which Tom thinks is “depressing” and “not pleasant”, it’s busy, West Ham, Swansea, Stoke and Sunderland fans, as well as coach loads of elderly people, are taking the chance on their small layover, to tuck into a hot cross bun in Starbucks.

As a child I have faint memories of stops on long car drives being about getting a chance to have a go on tatty arcades, while my Dad guzzled black coffee. Sadly this age old tradition has been lost, like so many other dying out and being erased from this great nations fabric, like shin kicking competitions, cheese rolling and blacking up in a totally un racist way, the 50p a turn goes on Time Crisis One, and Dakota racing are a thing of the past and they have been replaced by the blinking gaudy lights of the fruit machines.

Although I might not be able to play Punisher, I can however, after being informed by Tom on his return from the the toilet, have a “shower”, which he passed on his way back. With a very, very large coffee, the thing is like a 7/11 Double Gulp, and Tom with his much more modestly sized one, but without cream, because he doesn't want to, “chunder in my car” we hit the road again. On our way out, we see we needn't have got out of the car at all, as round the corner there is a drive through Starbucks, the likes of which I've never seen before.

Tom a keen meteorologist, he’s forgone his multiple weather apps, and is instead using Mother Nature to tell him what to expect today, “cows are sitting down”. Him and his bovine forecast is not half bad, we experience intermittent rain, but not enough to diminish the ever increasingly wonderful scenery, in particular the rolling sun coloured fields of rapeseed.

Our destination is finally on the Sat Nav, and the clouds have parted ever so slightly, “follow the blue” says Tom, like a really rubbish storm chaser, but his instruction is paying off for now, every mile closer, more and more grey is being replaced by more and more clear sky.

A short almost oval tunnel, opens up, and below at the bottom of a green valley, we get our first glimpse of Halifax. Winding down the tree lined road, we both agree on first appearances, it looks very nice indeed.

Occasionally you will see a story of a driver who ended up in a river or a truck that hits a bridge, because of the instructions of the Sat Nav. I feel that we may be featuring on the ‘also in the news’ segment of a local regional news program near you soon, when we are directed down a cobbled road, that shakes the car so violently, I fear the return of Tom’s mocha and Cheetos breakfast. Up and down, twisting left and right, past every northern cliche in under a mile, factory, chimneys, canals, I’m certain we are going the wrong way, however we emerge, sans vomit, right opposite today’s ground, The Shay.

Winding down my window to make an enquiry about the parking situation, I’m informed by the steward to go round the corner to the “multistory car park”, which he says with a thick Yorkshire twang. £4 lighter, not bad for a day's parking, we find our spot, but before stepping out, we both look at each other, Tom the quicker to comment, taking the words right out of my mouth, “that smells good” he says. He’s not wrong, the smell of cooked onions fills the car park, a smell which is welcome to accompany any situation in his book.

“What's the forecast?” asks a Chorley FC (CFC) fan to the parking attendant, “is it going to rain?” she adds, I can see Tom wanting to dish out his farm based updates but he refrains, and we leave her to her coat or not coat dilemma, deciding to head off for a walk among the sandstone buildings of the city centre, where Tom thinks he is the first person to point out that “there is a Halifax (building society) in Halifax”.

After a quick pit stop in a bowling alley, where there are plenty of arcades, but neither of us feel like dancing, we turn the corner, and find a pub whose railings are covered in flags and balloons, one giant St George's Cross almost covers one half of the front, and still with about two hours to kick off, the party is already in full swing.

Stupidly thinking that the music might stop as we push open the double doors, much like in American Werewolf in London, the good people of Halifax could not give a toss about two dopey Londoners, and carry on their preparations for the day ahead. Some are wearing souvenir FA Trophy shirts from last years final, where we saw FC Halifax Town (HT) win at Wembley on Non League Finals day. Among the drink and air horn covered tables, in one corner flags on long poles are propped up, waiting to be unfurled. 

Once Tom has got over the price of a beer outside of London, “your Coke was the same price as my pint”, we get talking to a local. ‘Confident?’ I ask him, his reply is not one from a person who is supremely hopeful, but of someone whose team has put them through the ringer so much, it’s perhaps difficult to ever be ‘confident’, “this is Halifax Town, I’ve been watching this shower for 30 years”. If not sure about his own team's prospects, he is totally clear on their oppositions approach to the match, “Chorley come to kick lumps out of Halifax, it will be that kind of game”.

Talk turns to how many from CFC will be here today, another fan in his blue strip tells us “ten coaches” worth are rumored to be making the hop over the Pennines. It's about this time that most people's attention is drawn to the two chaps on the table in front of us, who from their own shot glasses are doing shot after shot from a bottle of Jack Daniels. Transfixed on them, it’s not until another fan points out “here they are”. ‘They’ being the mounted officers of West Yorkshire police, who are holding up the traffic, making their way down the street, adding to their already considerable ranks, none of whom seem very popular among the locals.

Under advice we head off to the ground early, it’s not only CFC bringing big numbers, the home team are expecting a bumper turnout too. The chance to bounce straight back up to the National League, after last years relegation, too good to miss. As we leave what one fan told us is the “best football pub in the north” a small child is handed an air horn, and for the first time we hear a song, which by this evening, might be forever seared into my brain “we’re on our way…..”. It only seems to get louder, the further away we get, and Tom wishes we had time to stop in at another recommended pub, which has “pie and peas” on the lunch menu.

The ear drum bursting announcements as we arrive at The Shay, were not the welcome we expected.
Once the ear ringing has subsided, we are informed that the “turnstiles will open at 13:45”. Although not inconsiderable queues have already formed in front of the closed gates, we still have ten minutes to kill, so we drop in on the club shop. It has the feel of a Primark about it, as Tom picks up his customary pin, other people are not squabbling over a leopard print halter top, from a pile on floor, but are deciding which match worn shirt to buy, and only for £5 it’s a wicked little memento, just watch out for the flying elbows.

Ready with flags, scarves, blue and white wigs, face paint, some fans in old shirts some in new ones, one boy in a blue and white jester hat bells and all, the advice to get here early seems well founded, as not long after joining the queue for the South Stand which from the outside at least looks like a building site, it's now out of the car park and snaking up a hill.

Cheers go up as the thin blue doors are opened and pinned back. The line moves quickly, once on the other side people are handing out white clackers from a brown cardboard box, “I fucking hate them things” mumbles Oscar the Grouch. Those in the know, are bypassing us and are racing for the stand, past the smart or “fancy”, as Tom puts it, looking burger truck, and the small bar at its base, using either of the two small entrances, they are streaming in. As much as we want to get a good spot, I join another queue, the shortest of the day so far, the one for a programme and the half time draw.

Compact and basic is probably the best way to describe The Shay, however it's much bigger than I envisaged. The only thing of any real age by the looks of it, is the slanted roof stand to our left, half of its seats already covered in flags, “Shaymen keeping the faith” reads one. Opposite and much more modern in appearance, another single tier stand, behind each goal, tall covered terraces. Standing at the foot of ours we don’t take too long to decide where to stand, with talk of “record attendances” and hearing HT fans are a noisy bunch, with the stand quickly filling up, I mull over the possibilities of a very interesting day.

There is plenty of blue to be seen, not only in the shirts people are wearing, each one with "Shaymen Till I Die" on the back, but also in the railings and seats, however just not in the sky, which is still very grey.

First things first, we need to put down roots of our own, so we ascend, stopping just shy of the top, to the right of the goal. Tom quickly expresses some of his own concerns, “maybe I should eat before the match, it’s going to be busy”, and not long after settling, he disappears, “chips and gravy” are his last words to me.

Tom’s back with not a chip in sight, “fryers packed in” he was told, “got to see Dave if you want them”, not knowing who Dave is, he opts for a burger instead, which at one point causes him to let out a very high pitched “oooooooohh” because the onions start spilling out all over the place.

CFC are first out to warm up, and are roundly booed by pretty much everyone, “who are ya, who are ya” ask the fans. When their team arrive, it's all cheers and clackers, which have been so continuous since arriving, I’ve already tuned them out and it is no great surprise when I see they have already been weaponised, one boy repeatedly hitting his sister over the head with his.

The team get a song too, the first of so many, which is accompanied by banging on the stands back wall to add to the noise of the folded white paper fans, “Shaymen, Shaymen”.

Carrying a blue flag with the white rose of York emblazoned on it, like the standard bearer of some great army, and apt considering today's opponents being from Lancashire, some real old time beef in play today, the bearer joins in with the songs, which are now even more constant than the clackers, and far, far, far less annoying “Town are going up, Town are going up”.

We also hear for the second time in as many weeks a chant we had never heard before, that with a few tweeks is now being sung, just as it was by the Thurrock FC fans at the Ryman League North Play-Off Final, “come on you boys in blue, Yorkshires blue army”. It’s accompanied by a drum, which joins the air horns and clackers. It’s rattling quality evokes thoughts of the opening sequence of ‘Gangs of New York’ and The Battle Of Five Points or an Orange Order parade.

To be clear it’s still only the warm up, one of the players joins in clapping along to the latest song, “oh when the Town go marching in”. A large flag is passed over the heads of the crowd, an inflatable banana, everyone's favourite clown fish, Nemo and a monkey, join the beach ball and balloons, bobbing up over the heads of the people, whose numbers are swelling by the second. Culminating in an atmosphere, I have to reiterate the game has not even started yet, that is verging on overwhelming, it’s wonderful, “ally, ally, oo, ally, ally oo, FCHT, we are the blue army”.

Still with thirty minutes to kickoff, a balloon pops triggering a mild case of PTSD. There is also the faint whiff of a smoke bomb with people now standing on the back wall of the stand, it’s not only the home end filling up, but the away end too. More and more flags are going up, one the red rose of Lancashire, reinforcing those age old rivals, that gets a rise out of the home end, “Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire”.

HT are clapped off, sending the clackers into overdrive. Their departure is followed by the sprinklers that for the moment are only covering one half of the pitch. With a momentary lull, relatively speaking, they never really stop, behind us one fan shares the news that a member of the first eleven was injured in the warm up, “Seriously?” asks someone, it’s confirmed again, “fucking hell”.

Standing on the pitch in a grey suit, microphone in hand the announcer welcomes us all before, reading out the teams. More boos for the CFC players, in contrast every HT player gets a “yaa”, the other half of the pitches sprinklers eventually come on, one blasting a poorly positioned photographer.

Unfortunately the arrival of the announcer, does not signify the arrival of the players, and with the atmosphere so finely poised, everyone is going to have to hold their horses, after we’re informed there will be a “fifteen minute” delay to kick off. “Fuck off” shouts a fan behind us, one a little less sweary wonders, “why cant folk get in on time?”.

Forced to fill time, the man with the mic starts reeling off a long list of people to thank, local “plumbers” and “bathroom suppliers”, the fans entertain themselves, “we love you Shaymen we do”. The players are back out, rewarming up after the less than ideal delay, I hear the CFC fans for the first time, but they are about to be thoroughly out sung and out pyroed by the expectant HT supporters.

Blue and white smoke slowly starts to fill the stand, before it completely engulfs large sections of the crowd, the culprits responsible start to sing “no pyro, no party”. Their display soon goes up a notch, when for the first time ever we see an eye scorchingly bright red flare, being held up above the head of one fan. The smell, the lung bursting acrid smell fills my nose and mouth, you can almost taste it. It’s like the worst Yankee candle, ‘Guy Fawkes’ scent. “Your support is fucking shit” sing the smoke shrouded rabble. The arrival of the pyro, also see's the arrival of a large contingent of high viz jacket wearers, “the stewards are gathering” points out Tom.

Both sets of players head back in for a second time, “Shaymen, Shaymen”, the mascot's head back
out for the second time. This time a chant to the tune of a bit of Joy Division “tear you apart again”, fills the stand, and at the other end it's CFC’s turn to send a large flag over the heads of the crowd. Just as before when the teams are read out, it's boos for CFC, and cheers for HT. Another pyrotechnic goes off, it's not a smoke bomb or something off a life raft, you could maybe say it's a little more subtle, a blinking white light, strobing almost, like lots of camera flashes going off at once.

The blue PVC tunnel is extended, and the music from ‘Requiem for a Dream’ or “X Factor” as Tom recalls, starts to play. Chanting over the top of it the fans demand to see their team, “bring out the Shaymen, bring out the Shaymen”, it’s like the fucking Coliseum.

Handfuls of homemade confetti are chucked once more into the smoke filled air, fluttering down above the crowd. The sound system sounds like it's on its last legs, a large almost portly fox mascot has appeared, and he is not the only member of the animal kingdom in attendance, an inflatable crocodile joins the other extras from the Jungle Book being bounced around the stand.

The idea that music has to be constantly played at games, as if it’s required to prevent any awkward silences, has to be addressed. The choice of hardcore Dutch techno is really not nice or in fact required, the fans are making more than enough noise, there is no need to artificially pump in an atmosphere, when you have this lot, “I-O SHAYMEN, SHAYMEN I-O”.

With both ends bulging, the ever so slightly fat fox now standing down in front, people around us take a moment to exchange a hug, to exchange a moment of comradeship just before kick off, in a ‘whatever happens, we have each other’ kind of way.

CFC start us off, the crowd around us shout the loudest so far, “come on Shaymen”.

I thought our commitment to capture as much of the game as possible, was verging on excessive, however the man in front of us Facebook live streaming the game, has taken it to a whole new level, and is making me feel woefully inadequate.

He would have caught however the crunching CFC tackle that does not result in a booking, despite the feelings of the crowd “fuck off referee that’s at least a card”. More smoke and more shouts of “Yorkshire, Yorkshire” fill the stand once more, when CFC make a noise the South stand informs them, “we forgot that you were here”.

“That's our song” says Tom every time we hear someone other than Arsenal sing the “who to be a….” song, on this occasion it's a “Shaymen” of course.

Amazingly Mr Zuckerberg is still streaming the game, surely he must have a tired arm by now? Tom thinks the drummer needs a “better drum” it’s like a “snare drum without the snare”, he suggests. Despite the delayed kickoff people continue to arrive, they are forced to stand in the aisles, as there is now nowhere else to go. One such late arrival when quizzed about his smart attire, explains his reason for wearing a suit, “I’m not dressed like a cunt to come watch Halifax” he tells his cross examiner, he's off to the “boxing” after the game he explains.

As the HF fans keep saying, “it's the Shaymen boys making all the noise”, even if CFC were making any themselves, I wouldn't be able to tell you, it’s just far too noisy. One fan who is though it seems able to hear them breaking into a song on occasion, replies the same way, every time, singing the theme tune to Peter Kay's ‘Max and Paddy's Road to Nowhere’. Why I hear you ask, because they listen to Chorley FM of course.

Sadly what’s happening on field, is not matching the efforts of the fans off the field, who start to grow increasingly frustrated at how their team is playing. For many of the opening minutes the hoard of balloons, creeping along the sidelines, as if they are being led by a chief balloon at the front, is about the most interesting thing happening on the pitch at least.

HT get a free kick in a good position, the man behind me probably describes its outcome the best, “rubbish” adding “oh that was shit”. CFC get their own chance and another supporter feels the “pressure” is on, and it's getting a bit “squeaky bum time”.

“Get the beers in” demands one person to a friend, but gets a short shrift reply “no chance”. You would never get back, the stand is a sea of people, miraculously, the live streamer is still filming, perhaps he has a bionic arm.

With twenty five minutes gone its CFC who fashion the best chance of what has been a scrappy game, lacking in any real quality or “finesse” as one fan puts it. A good overlap and the resulting dangerous cross that follows, is headed away. I can hear the CFC fans this time, “la, la, la, Chorley”, and so can the Peter Kay fanatic behind me, “don't know where you're going, got no way of knowing”. HT have yet to really register anything of any great meaning, one fan calls for “calm” suggesting they should just keep it simple, “pass and move”, another has a little more panic in his voice “get a grip Town”.

“West Yorkshire, la, la, la” sing the fans, narrowing down their county based appreciation. HT are almost getting there, but then fall short just when it matters. On one such occasion a fan thinks it’s the fault of an early replacement for an injured player, “sub him back off, he's wank”.

It’s taken just over half an hour for HT to have their first real attempt. “Hit it, hit it, hit it,” demand the fans, he does, but it’s straight down the throat of the keeper, for a straightforward save. HT are playing the typical BIG man up front, number 14 encompasses all that comes to mind when you think of a ‘traditional’ centre forward. It almost seems cruel when the ball is pumped into space for him to chase down, “he’s like a gazelle, look at the pace on him” cues a fan, Tom just thinks he looks, “shattered”.

HT go close once more, a cross is put “in the mixer” causing a bit of panic in the CFC defense, much to the delight of the home fans, who don't need much excuse to sing “Shaymen, Shaymen, Shaymen”.

The home side then go and have a little bit of a wobble of their own, nearly scoring an own goal, “sort it out” bellows someone towards the bench.

When a pitchside photographer is clattered into by two sliding players, there is an en masse “wheeyy” when he gives the crowd a thumbs up, after picking himself up. This for a moment distracts the nearby protagonists, from their argument about the beer run, but not for long. The person doing the asking, explains that HT “don't look like scoring” so it's the perfect time to go, the one being asked to go explains that this is every reason not to go, “look how they score now”.

He may well have missed a goal, but it would have been scored by CFC, it’s only thanks to a well timed last ditch tackle, that CFC are prevented from completing their storming black and white counterattack. Seesawing now from end to end HT shoot just over, “I-O Sheyman, Sheyman I-O”. Much like the fans, some players are looking “frustrated”, especially one who leaves a little extra on a CFC player in the tackle. “That’s just silly”, adds a fan, shaking his head.

“Fucking rubbish” is ringing in my ears, the HT fans are becoming increasingly dismayed at their team's performance, with so much at stake, one fan describes it as being “ugly”, he is pretty spot on, one fan doesn't think the players are giving it their all, “come on town, play like you want to win”.

Driving nearly over 200 hundred miles today, will all be worth it if the “half time draw” pays off, with “£562” up for grabs. That would more than cover today's expenses, plus a few steiners of latte to boot. “Can't win up North either” says my smirking ‘friend’, he's right though, North, South, East or West, I’m just devoid of luck. Making sure I’m aware of how much money I just missed out on, Tom takes the time to paint a little picture for me, just to rub it in “these are the ones you want to win, that's a trip to Italy”

The ticket seller who failed to give me the winning tickets is “wished a happy birthday”, and although the man behind me is describing the match, “that was papsville Arizona” that's exactly how I feel about the draw.

Just to hammer home the disappointment, the announcer comes back on, “prize is big today” he emphasizes, before reading the numbers out, again and again. “Did you win Dad?”, asks a man to his returning father, “yeah I just spent it all”, he replies, “what, on beer?”.

The final last kick to finish me off, down but not quite out, is when the winning numbers are paraded around the pitch, written on a white board. Mercifully the tunnel is extended again, and the players re emerge, just as a big brother loses his patience with his little brother who has been tormenting him for the whole of the break, with a large yellow inflatable banana.

All the half time talk of first half disappointment quite literally goes up in smoke within one minute of the restart. A nutmeg finish sees the home side take the lead, which triggers an eruption of seismic proportions. More confetti, a player fan bundle at the front of the stand, a few leap onto the pitch to join in, “we're on our way, we’re on our way” rings out once more, but now sung with belief, not hope, grown men in the throes of ecstasy embrace each other. Once the smoke has cleared and the confetti settled, one man apologises to another for the impromptu intimacy, but he who was hugged was not bothered one jot, “you grab hold of me whenever you like”.

“You're not singing anymore”, another blue smoke bomb spirals over the heads of the stand onto the
pitch, the CFC keeper less than impressed picks it up and tosses it off, “Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire”. The announcement from the stadium announcer that the stadium is “non smoking” is perhaps delivered with very poor timing, the fans I’m sure not listening to a word of it, instead they just strike up another song “and now you better believe us, the Town are going up”.

Since HT took the lead, the CFC pressure has been building, one such probe at the HT goal, results in the dubious awarding of a foul, in the minds of the fans around us at least, and a free kick just to the right of centre, on the edge of the 18 yard box. “Fucking sky it you cunt” is the encouraging sentiment of one HT fan, the taker though does quite the opposite.

Racing off not towards the bulk of their fans behind the goal, which he has just side footed a low curling free kick in to, out of the reach of the tall all green HT keeper, he instead heads towards the small group off to the side, the over-spill if you like. Another blue smoke bomb makes an appearance, this time at the opposite end, landing on the pitch, one HT fan reminds the CFC fan who chucked it that his team “play in black and white”.

It’s CFC’s chance to turn the tables on the home fans, “you're not singing anymore” but their chance to gloat, doesn't last long “I O SHAYMEN, SHAYMEN I O” respond the South stand, which soon drowns out the CFC song.

“Good hands” says Tom after a ball cleared by the CFC keeper into the crowd, is plucked from the air, by a fan.

Despite a half chance, thanks to winning the ball back just outside the CFC box, the ball into the box is just about scrambled away, HT at the other end are looking shaky again, their keeper has a rare moment of madness. A ball out from the back goes straight to a CFC player, putting the pressure right back on them, “rubbish Town” screams a fan.

There is a lengthy stop in play with quarter of an hour to go, a CFC player is having his head “wrapped” after a collision, Tom again is on weatherman duty informing me the “sun” is now fully out, not just peeking out from behind clouds, like before.

“That was close” says a relieved HT fan, after CFC go near with another free kick. The mood is slowly changing for the worse, there has been a smattering of moaning that you would expect at any ground, but some fans are now full on, some talk of the team “imploding” some ask themselves, “what are we doing?”, one just pleads with the eleven players on the pitch, “come on town”.

You can’t really blame them, being fans of a team who have had their fair share of ups and down in recent years, you can understand why they might be quick to gripe. It’s not a case of them not being behind their team, you couldn't say that for a moment, more just of a case of their team having shredded their nerves so much in the past, that there is little left to be tested, as one fan puts it “1 - 0, in control, 1 - 1 collapse”.

Every time CFC approach the goal there is near panic, “start playing some football” requests a supporter. You have to love the marauding tank 14, who has not stopped, however  there is little he can do with the  balls being indiscriminately lumped up towards him. When he does hold it up or flick it on, his teammates are nowhere to be seen.

Five minutes to go, it's all CFC, “they seem to have more men on the pitch than us” says one fan. The high standards that the crowd have set themselves, has slipped just a fraction, they are uncharacteristically quiet. HT send hearts racing with a few late forays of their own, a well hit shot is pushed wide by the neon pink keeper, a good cross is headed wide also. “Cracking ball Jordan” applauds one fan, following a low fizzing ball right along the ‘corridor of uncertainty’, but no one is there to meet it.

With the game finely balanced, on a knife edge if you like, Tom has one of his rare, non food related poetic moments, “someone's heart is going to be broken”

“At least seven minutes injury time you would think”, that might be slightly wishful thinking, but not far off. The fans against the railings are eagerly waiting for a last minute winner and for the tension to be relieved. Another chance goes begging, the man you want on the end of a free header 10 yards out, number 14, puts it over, “wake up Town”.

The announcement that today's attendance is a new “record” for the league, gets one of the biggest cheers of the day. When the board goes up with a six on it, one fan matches Tom’s fine moment of prose and raises him, “come on Town, send this place into raptures”.

One CFC player tees up another for a shot, “can't end like this” says an uneasy fan, anticipating the shot turning into a goal, it doesn't, it's straight at the keeper, there is a collective ‘phew’.

“Halifax look knackered” says Tom, lucky for them they will have at least a few moments rest, before extra time. The final whistle goes, the announcer inform us we are in for another “thirty minutes” and another bright white flare is launched onto the pitch, the CFC keeper looks disdainfully at it, before he turns his back on the column of white smoke billowing up. CFC out of smoke bombs, or perhaps they are saving them, send up the biggest of their banners over the crowds heads once more.

Both sets of players huddle, with some serious dance music playing, Tom points out the “stewards conference” all those in hi viz are getting their instructions for what might be a busy next half hour. One in particular towers above the rest, “Lurch” as Tom calls him.

Tom whispers to me, although it’s hard to hear over the latest chant, “Shaymen, Shaymen, Shaymen” that he thinks CFC “will nick it”.

“South stand, East stand, we need you for another thirty minutes” roars the announcer, the CFC fans respond to his request for more support, but for their team of course “Chorley, Chorley”, never allowing the visitors to be heard for too long, the HT fans are quick to pipe up, “come on you boys in blue”.

When one HT forward lunges and catches the CFC keeper, a little after the event, CFC fans behind the goal demand a red card “off, off, off”, he is lucky not to get anything. “Stupid, stupid man” is how one fan brands him, when the referee decides to only give him a yellow, there is a huge sigh of relief.

HT continue to make things hard for themselves, their manager on the sideline asks for calm from his players. Despite trying to sabotage themselves on occasion, they still create chances, and go close with a well hit free kick of their own, which is palmed wide.

I guess you know you’re having a good time, when confectionery is flying? In the moments following HT taking the lead for a second time , a flashed near post header at the far end of the pitch, which sends coaches running onto the pitch and the players dashing for the bench, a crack in the levy finally appears, sending fans streaming onto the pitch, and I’m almost decapitated by a Mars Bar.

Some fans, who remained where they were are less than impressed by those who have decided to rush the pitch, and have a few choice words for them, as well as some pantomime boos. Although I’m pretty ambivalent about them encroaching onto it, I don't see it does any harm, I don't quite understand however the thought process of the man who decides to kung fu kick the corner flag out of place.

“Just fucking hold on now” is the appeal from one fan, others around him are more optimistic, “we’re
on our way” they sing. The two consecutive CFC corners rattle nerves a little, some feel that time should have been called long ago, and let the referee know “you’re allowed to blow, you fucking cabbage”.

The team's huddle again, I’m exhausted. A combination of the early start, long drive and roller coaster of a match, has taken it out of me, the same can't be said for the HT faithful, who are still in fine voice, “we love you Shaymen we do”.

HT are off to a quick start, creating a chance in the early moments of the final fifteen, only for a glaring miss, “at least get it on target” says Tom, it was a bit of a row Z job, from not far out at all. Some though are dealing with the strain of extra time differently, exercising their own vices, to help them through it. For example the man next to me has turned to food, and is dismantling a pie within an inch of my face, someone else has turned to drugs, there is the definite smell of a joint in the air.

Despite the blistering agility of number 14 who is still making the effort, Tom joining in with the locals poking fun at him, “use your pace” he shouts, HT are sat well back, only occasionally breaking out, leaving poor old number 14 with it all to do, almost completely on his own.

The police start to line the barricade in front of the CFC support, at the front of our terrace, numbers have continued to increase, people now straddle the fence. One fan anticipates the “mother of all pitch invasions”, I’m desperately trying to do my best Kenneth Wolstenholme, but just can't find the appropriate moment, because some people are on the pitch already, the stewards on occasion having to tell them to get back.

Promotion is very nearly delayed, in the most dramatic of ways, when the CFC keeper joins the rest of the team for a corner, and sends his midair scissor kick volley, just a fraction over. The home fans are forced to wait just a little longer, when the board goes up showing two minutes of extra time, at the end of extra time, some can’t believe it’s that much, “WHAT!?!”.

Signaling to his assistant on the far side, the referee gives him a head start, he is already on the pitch and running for the sanctuary of the tunnel, before the final whistle is blown. Seconds later when it is, the high viz dam holding back the fans, well and truly bursts, sending a wave of supporters spilling onto the field, many with arms outstretched to their side, flying onto the pitch.

We follow the surge, making our way down the bustling steps of the stand, and through the small gate in the fence, and onto the hallowed turf of The Shay.

Players, coaches and the clubs manager are mobbed, everyone wants to hug, shake hands with or have their picture taken with one of those who have just won promotion. There is no immediate rush to clear the field, the fans are allowed to release a year's worth of disappointment, that concluded with a fingernail gnawing last two hours or so, but now they able to revel in what they have just witnessed. A few kids take the opportunity to perfect their knee slide goal celebration. One small girl wanders among the scores of people with a flag over her shoulders, like an over sized cape “we’re going up!” it reads.

When it is cleared, with little or no resistance. The plinth for the trophy and the winners medals are put in place, and the players look on from the mouth of the tunnel, waiting to be reintroduced to the fans, now as National League players. Two at a time they are called forward, from the shade of the tunnel, and into the sun and the adoring glare of their fans. A few already have a bottle in hand, one has an opened one down the front of this shorts. After taking his curtain call, he pulls it from his waistband, and takes a mighty swig. The protracted introductions, means one man in a National League tie, fears they are close to “losing the moment”.

The manager and captain are last out, by this time the players who have already got their medals, and are waiting to lift the cup, which Tom thinks is the “spitting image” of the FA Cup, they are singing their own song, “we're fucking shit, we're fucking shit”.

Bubbles unleashed, the man who handed over the cup has never moved so fast, doing his best to avoid a soaking, the players disappear behind a veil of froth, one player instead of directing the champers in the air or at his teammates, mainlines it directly into this mouth.

The fans return to the pitch to dish out more appreciation to the players. Taking the chance for more photos, now with the added bonus of having today's silverware in your new Facebook profile picture. One lucky fan, has managed somehow to get his hands on the keeper's gloves, pacing around the pitch, wearing the oversized hand wear, looking like Mickey Mouse's Yorkshire cousin.

With a four hour drive ahead of us, sitting in the car of a now onion free car park, most of the other cars having left, tired and hungry, there is much to consider and cogitate from our day well far north of the Watford Gap.

Flares, smoke, Nemo, Jack Daniel shots, someone calling someone else a cabbage, the decent “drummer” as Tom called him, despite his shonky drum, the welcome, the marvelous welcome, more smoke, pitch invasions, non stop singing, what might be the best support we have seen in this country, Tom being called Jurgen Klopp, it’s the beard and the baseball cap.

The words of one fan we pass on the way to the car park, encapsulates the whole day perfectly, “why do we always leave it so late?”. Be it the first minute or deep in to injury, as long as ‘it’ has been achieved, that is all that matters. ‘It’ is getting back to the National League, one step closer to the Football League, ‘it’ is the least that the HT fans deserve, they were simply brilliant.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

For our video from the match, click HERE

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