“Mark from Morley has texted in” said Adam Pope, and he proceeded to read the whole text message I’d sent to BBC Radio Leeds (all 500+ characters of it) word for word, live on air. I burst into tears, full-blown streaming tears, soaking my chin and my shirt and blurring the M621 in front of me.
Fuck, it really happened. It really fucking happened.
I’d known since early that Friday afternoon it was happening. On my lunch I’d walked up to Leeds City Square expecting a handful of local reporters and desperate supporters outside the grey, charmless building of the administrators that were deciding the fate of Halifax Town AFC. But there was nothing but disinterested office workers and recruitment consultants in ill-fitting suits wandering around aimlessly. Back at my desk I didn’t do much work that afternoon, between refreshing BBC Football and repeatedly pressing F5 on the Halifax Evening Courier sports pages.
That long motorway drive, listening to my own words read back to me by Pope’s familiar tones, was two years ago, and my tears did little to stop Halifax Town disappearing from the face of English football. I welled up at the sound of my desperation and slammed my hands against the steering wheel in a mix of anger and despair.
Tonight, however, my beloved Shaymen fought back.
FC Halifax Town, the phoenix from the flames of the team that had played at the famous Shay stadium since 1921, recorded a historic point that secured the Unibond Northern Premier League Division One North title. 99 points and 107 goals were enough to fend off the challenge of Lancaster City’s Dolly Blues and confirm Town’s status as champions.
The long road back to Conference and League football is a step closer.
Tonight there are no pathetic tears, no pointless despair. Tonight’s celebratory beer is pure, unrivalled, pride.
This beer helps drown all the joys and sorrows of missed play off finals and the unparalleled relief of staying up on the last day of too many seasons. This beer is for the years, the heroes, the woodwork and the bulging net.
This beer is for Steve Norris, Jamie Paterson and Geoff Horsfield; for Lewis Kileen and Chris Wilder. This beer is for Neil Apsin, all the people who resurrected the club, and the fans who trudge to the ground each week.
This beer is for Tom Baker, because his 87th minute goal – which made me erupt with emotion in the presence of 1,932 strangers – is why I’m not in bed yet and instead, still up late, on a school night, drinking beer.