The annual IFA (Internet Football Association) WorldNet competition is a highly anticipated date in the diary for all supporter’s teams. Possibly the only event of it’s type in the world, it sees teams of football fans join together for a weekend long contest in Nottingham that combines a competitive element with the of strengthening bonds between clubs and the occasional light beverage.
AFC Halifax have some impressive history in the competition winning the open age contest in both 2013 and 2014, while the veterans team reached the final of the ‘Big Tam’ veterans competition for four straight years from 2010 to 2013, winning in both 2010 and 2012. Since then 7 years of hurt have followed with no further silverware to pick up.
A huge thank you must go to the IFA committee who managed to organise this weekend while still subject to Coronavirus restrictions, the 2020 contest had to be cancelled due to the pandemic and so this year was a chance to return to something like normality for all teams. Even so the current restrictions meant usual entrants from outside the UK, such as Lens and Arsenal Nigeria, were unfortunately unable to be there. Hopefully 2022 will see their return.
At this year’s contest AFC Halifax were represented by both an open age team and a veterans team once again, an achievement in itself for a team with a limited fanbase to find players from. Numbers weren’t helped by a few late withdrawals, a couple for last minute work commitments and the open age losing vice-captain Lee Casalino to a positive covid test a week beforehand. The weather forecast suggested it was going to be a little on the warm side and it wasn’t wrong, even the early Saturday kick offs took place with the temperature at 27 degrees, the later games were in the low 30’s. It promised to be a gruelling weekend!
First up was the vet’s team to face Oxford Vets, a team they seem to be drawn in a group with every year. As always it was a tough, close contest that this time saw Oxford edge the match 1-0 and Halifax pick up two injuries, including one for Adam Robinson, who’s return from his latest retirement lasted around 10 minutes. Hopefully the boots will be dusted off for a little longer next year.
The open age team got what looked a tricky group underway with a disappointing 3-0 defeat to Manchester United. Whilst 3-0 seemed to flatter the opposition a little it showed the difference between a side who took their chances and one who didn’t.
Neither team had long to wait for the next game to come around. The vets were up against Gillingham this time and while manager is asking for consistency from players, this may not have been exactly what manager Andrew Hemblys was after, as once again, they ended up on the wrong side of a 1-0 defeat.
After being despatched 3-0 by the red half of Manchester 40 minutes earlier, the open age team were up against the blue half this time. 1-0 down at the break after a 20 yard strike that managed to sneak through the keeper’s legs, an improved performance saw Robbie Thompson dip a free kick over the keeper and under the bar to level at 1-1 soon after the restart, unfortunately this was swiftly followed by a City cross that dipped over Wigglesworth in the Halifax goal and dropped into the corner of the net. A late third gave Man City a 3-1 and meant Halifax would be at best 3rd or 4th in their group, going into the plate rather than the cup on day two.
Both sides had a longer break before their final group matches, time spent either desperately trying to find any patch of shade available or queuing for the slowest burger van in the world. When kick off finally arrived both teams were a little stiffer and a lot pinker than they were after game two!
The vets had Internet Tricky Trees (Nottingham Forest) who’d already picked up 4 points from their first two games. Halifax dug deep and recorded their first clean sheet of the weekend, but also their third consecutive blank in attack. But they at least could take heart that they’d picked up a point against good opposition. More importantly attention could be turned towards the night out and a table booking at a high end Nottingham restaurant (Hooters) for a spot of team bonding.
The open age concluded their group with a match against Hatters FFC (Luton), a side who had also lost to both Manchester teams but sat above Halifax in the table with a goal difference that was one better. If nothing else, pride was at stake. Luton proved a tough side to break down despite almost constant Halifax pressure, the decisive moment coming midway through the second half when Cass Bryant slotted past the keeper from just inside the box. 1-0 was enough and Halifax ended the day on a high.
Sunday is knockout day, any defeat now and the contest is over.
Once again the vets were up first and for what felt like the 10th year in a row they’d been drawn against Brentford. A tough game in any circumstances, but more so today as Halifax were counting the cost of a tough day yesterday. Injuries had deprived them of a number of players, while Martin Probets hadn’t turned up (he was last been seen being asked to leave a Nottingham bar at 1am due to not sitting down at his table). The vets were down to nine fit players and two open age players had to fill in. A third came on as sub later as another vet was unable to continue. The game finished with a 2-0 victory for Brentford and the vets were left to contemplate a long drive home before they could finally rest.
The open age side began their quest to win the plate against Wimbledon B, also hit by injuries as Chris Dawson was unable to shake off a hamstring strain from the Luton game, while Jamie Beales had seemingly stayed in bed with roommate Martin Probets. Despite this, Halifax put in their best performance so far, with midfielder Robbie Thompson the stand out player. It finished 3-0 to Halifax and Thompson scored all three, including two stunning strikes from distance for a well-deserved hat trick.
Next up for Halifax was a semi-final against Yorkshire rivals Barnsley, a side they have played many times over the years at WorldNet and in the regular season. Games have historically been tight and this was no different, Halifax having most of the ball and all the chances but some inspired goalkeeping and heroic goal line blocks had kept them out. Extra time was beckoning before a corner was cleared as far as Martin Bishop who volleyed into the far corner from 20 yards out.
For the first time ever Halifax had reached the final of the plate, there they’d face old foes and hot favourites Rochdale, or competition debutants Birmingham. This match was delayed by nearly an hour following a nasty clash of heads between two West Brom players in a different match. Eventually it was Birmingham who made it through to face Halifax.
The final was played only 15 minutes after Birmingham’s previous game had finished, but this seemed to give them an advantage as Halifax found it very difficult to get started and Birmingham hit the ground running. A goal in each half gave Birmingham a deserved 2-0 victory, Halifax though had done themselves proud and were going home with a medal for their efforts. Both the open age and veterans teams will be back next year, hopefully with no restrictions in place and maybe able to go that little bit better.
Next weekend sees another cup final, The Northwest Cup against Preston. Two finals in the space of a week is definitely a first for Halifax!
If you’re a Halifax fan and fancy playing for the supporter’s team then we welcome all abilities, the only requirement is to be a supporter of Halifax. Usually games take place on a Saturday morning before the Halifax game and then we all head the football together, usually via the pub for food and refreshments. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for any more details.
Read more posts by AFC Halifax