Halifax Town and Malcolm Allison’s Curse

Everyone loves it when a minnow beats a big club. Halifax Town AFC did just that, eliminating Manchester City in the FA Cup third round in January 1980. This was not the first time that Halifax Town had taken out a bigger club in the FA Cup. Twenty-seven years earlier a Derek Priestley goal, in front of 35,600 fans, sent Stoke packing.

In 1980 Pink Floyd had a number one hit with Another Brick in the Wall. On the pitch English sides dominated Europe at the outset of the decade, only to have it taken away following the 1985 Heysel Disaster.

Although in 1980 Manchester City weren’t the wealthy and strong side they have since become, three divisions still separated the two sides. In the late ’60s and early ’70s the club was managed by Joe Mercer, who had hired former Plymouth Argyle manager Malcolm Allison as his assistant. Allison succeeded Mercer to become manager in 1972 before leaving a year later, only to return in 1979.

Halifax were managed by former Everton player George Kirby, in his second spell with the club. During his first stint, he’d almost steered his charges to promotion to Division Two. He later joined Watford, only to be sacked in 1973, three years before Elton John became chairman. After a spell coaching in Iceland Kirby returned to The Shay.

Prior to the match Kirby bizarrely decided to contact a well-known hypnotist named Romark, who predicted a famous win for Halifax. Kirby paid Romark for his services, in contrast to Malcolm Allison, who failed to do so after utilising his services during his spell with Crystal Palace. The hypnotist claimed to have put a curse on the Selhurst Park club, with many believing it still stands to this day. It was also thought to have stuck with Malcolm Allison.

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Referee Michael Lowe arrived at The Shay and, upon inspecting the pitch, found the ball roll well despite the recent rain and muddy surface. The surface was deemed playable and Allison wished the hosts well whilst simultaneously bemoaning the state of the pitch. In the home side’s favour, most of their players were career third and fourth division men used to playing on such surfaces.

Paul Hendrie fired wide with an early strike but it was the visitors, as you’d expect given the gulf in class on paper, that imposed themselves on the early stages of the game. Halifax goalkeeper John Kilner turned away several shots to keep the score goalless at half-time, with both managers going into the break reasonably happy.

Hendrie continued to impress for the Shaymen and etched his name into cup folklore with his left foot in the 75th minute. Steve Daley almost levelled the scores but to no avail.

After the win Manchester City’s downward spiral continued, to the point that Allison was sacked. With John Bond in the dugout, City reached the FA Cup final the following year, only to lose to Spurs.

Halifax were eventually eliminated from the FA Cup after losing 2-0 to Sunderland, and their league form would drastically tail off. They won only four of the last 20 matches but managed to avoid relegation. Kirby was sacked the following year, returning to Iceland. He died, aged 66, at the turn of the century. Paul Hendrie’s son, Lee, would eclipse his father’s achievements on the football field by earning a cap for England.

The Shaymen’s demise led to administration and dissolution in 2008, with Phoenix club FC Halifax Town rising from the ashes to replace them.

By Stephen Brandt

Part of our Magic of the Cup series

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