Russ Penn remembers the Yeltz as the kings of cup shocks in his latest column for The Non-League Paper as they head to Halifax today in search of more glory in the FA Trophy, Non-League’s showpiece cup competition.
With Halesowen Town knocking out higher league opposition in this season’s cup competitions, seemingly at will, it reminds me of the good old days back at The Grove.
The Yeltz have so far seen off Step 3 Stratford Town in the FA Cup, while NPL Premier Grantham Town, National League North duo Gateshead and Bradford Park Avenue, and most recently National League Maidenhead United, have all succumbed to Paul Smith’s men in the FA Trophy.
A fantastic tie awaits for the BetVictor Southern League Division One Central side this Saturday when they face National League high-fliers FC Halifax Town.
— Halesowen Town FC (@halesowentownfc) February 7, 2020
The Shaymen sat nicely in the play-off places before yesterday with sights firmly set on a return to the Football League following their exit in 1993 as Halifax Town.
It’s often said that a lengthy cup run can have a negative effect on a team’s league form but Yeltz boss Smith couldn’t disagree more.
“I’ve lost count of the amount of people that have said to me, the cup run could put paid to your league title ambitions,” he said.
“Absolute nonsense. A good cup run and tilt at the title can work hand in hand. The key being having a good, solid strong squad that I can utilise. The boys have brought into my rotation policy, and so far it is paying dividends.”
Today’s trip to The Shay will clearly be Halesowen’s toughest cup test to date so how will they prepare?
“My staff and I are very professional in all our preparation,” Smith explained. “I demand it. We prepare exactly the same for every side we play.
“This will be no different. My scout will have watched Halifax a number of times. We will have had all video footage collated of their recent games.
“Strengths and weaknesses will be identified and we will structure a game plan for the boys to follow, worked on in training sessions prior to the game. Then we hope the boys can execute the game plan and see where that can take us.”
Although this recent Trophy run will be unprecedented for many of Smith’s current crop, producing cup shocks is nothing new to some of the older Halesowen faithful – indeed it was a common theme in the 1980s.
Along with three FA Vase trips to Wembley in 1983, 85 and 86, the Yeltz also reached the FA Cup first round proper seven times between 1985 and 1992, playing the likes of Brentford, Cardiff City, Southend United and Tranmere Rovers.
Halesowen were one of the most feared Non-League teams in the mid-80s with a strike force of the Joinson brothers, Paul and Lee, who, between them, scored 612 goals in 1,100 appearances over a 10-year span.
Paul Joinson was averaging over 35 goals per season, something current top goalscorer Montel Gibson is close to achieving. The former Notts County front man is on 28 and has been a big part of their success so far this term.
The Halesowen team of the 80s was a culture the whole town could relate to. Players were there for the long term, it was never about the money.
In the main, they were local boys, born and bred around the Black Country. The furthest anyone had to travel was manager Paddy Page, who was from Tipton, just five miles away.
Players such as the Joinson twins, Mark Penn, Malcolm Hazelwood, Les Randle, Geoff Moss all racked up well over 400 appearances while the likes of Ian Sherwood, Phil Coldicott, Mark Lacey, John Woodhouse, Don Smith and Robert Shilvock all passed the 200 club.
Players would socialise with the fans – 2,000 of which who crammed into The Grove at times for a West Midlands Regional (Step 4) fixture.
Furthermore, when Kidderminster Harriers came to town in November 1987 for an FA Cup first round derby, 3,000 squeezed their way in to watch a 2-2 draw before the Yeltz finally lost out in the replay at Aggborough 4-0 in front of 4,000.
Former captain John Woodhouse remembers his time fondly. “That era was the high point of my career,” Woodhouse said. “Leading the team out at Wembley twice and playing in successful seasons is what you play for. I made friends for life and I will share those memories forever.”
Mark Penn added: “We played under a unique manager in a golden era of Non-League football. The club has and always will have so much potential, and with the right people and management in place who knows where it can go.”
Now, after 15 years of ups and downs, financial problems, ownership calamities and a tired looking stadium, the feelgood factor is back at Halesowen with new joint owners Keith McKenna and Karen Brookes the driving force for the club.
“We have seen some wonderful highs both in the league and in the prestigious FA competitions,” McKenna added. “This means everything to the long standing staff and supporters who have endured a tough time. It’s a welcome turnaround this season which has bred so much life into so many people.”
Promotion, however, remains the aim as the Yeltz look to build something special.
“It’s clear to see the potential of this wonderful club but the main aim this season is promotion to Step 3 and everyone is focussed and concentrating on this goal,” McKenna said. “Karen and I have a vision of reaching the National League but fully realise how difficult this is.
“We are under no illusion what is required but this is the plan and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was achievable. Further plans are in place to improve the stadium and all the surrounding facilities to ensure that if we move through the tiers, we will have everything in place to help us get there.”
As I know only too well, Halesowen will experience nerves and excitement as they step out at The Shay on Saturday to create new memories. One thing’s for sure is they know the town will be behind them.
Make sure you get your copy of The Non-League Paper on Sunday for the latest news from across Non-League over the last seven days, including today’s action in the Buildbase-sponsored FA Trophy and FA Vase.
As well as exclusive match reports and pictures from all of Saturday’s fixtures in the Vanarama National League, the BetVictor-Sponsored Isthmian League, Southern League and Northern Premier League, the paper’s live coverage extends all the way to Steps 5 and 6.
Images courtesy of Halesowen Town