Peterborough United legend Mick Halsall on his best Posh day, why he still wakes up in a cold sweat when remembering the famous Liverpool win, fighting with Mick Jones and why Chris Turner took the captaincy off him
Won a promotion at Wembley? Check. Led a team into the second tier of the Football League for the first time in the club’s history? Check. Played in a side which achieved the highest Football League finish in the club’s history? Check. Captained a Third Division team to a famous cup win over Liverpool? Another check, of course.
He even finished as the club’s top scorer in the 1989-90 campaign with a dozen goals which killed the lie that the midfielder was a worker and a tackler rather than a gifted all-round footballer.
But ask the great man what his proudest Posh moment was and his reply is instant.
“Drawing 2-2 at Chesterfield to win promotion from Division Four,” Halsall replied.
“I was a footballer who started off at Liverpool, spent six seasons there, but had fallen down the divisions to such an extent I was just trying to stay in the Football League.
“To start achieving things (he was almost 30 when Posh played that decisive match at Saltergate in 1991) was just fantastic.
“That promotion was the first of my career so it was a massive moment for me and as I always say if we hadn’t won that first promotion we wouldn’t have won the second one at Wembley!
“It was the best moment of my career during the best time of my career.
“I’d moved from Liverpool to Birmingham and then on to Carlisle and Grimsby. I was relegated from the second tier with both Carlisle and Grimsby so to finally win something was special and to achieve it with a special group of players and people made it even better.”
It wasn’t always sunshine and light at London Road for Halsall though...
EARLY POSH DAYS
“I was looking to leave Grimsby (it was June, 1987) and I’d spoken to Bolton and Preston when a mate of my father-in-law said he knew (Posh manager) Noel Cantwell and he’d get him to speak to me.
“Mick Jones (Cantwell’s assistant) made the first contact and I met Noel in Birmingham and he persuaded me to sign for Posh.
“The money for the transfer fee (£25k) was in place after fans had got behind a fund-raising plan (‘Cantwell’s Crusade’) and myself and Mick Gooding both signed. I was made captain.
“It took a while to get going at the club though. Noel left the following summer and Mick Jones took over as the club knocked around in Division Four.
“Back then we used to train in fields near the rowing lake and one morning Mick told me he wanted me to play as a left-back in a game.
“I was surpised, but for 45 minutes I bombed up and down the wing and Mick was so impressed he said if I carried on as a left-back I’d be sold one day for a lot of money. He didn’t know I’d spent three-and-a-half seasons playing left-back for Liverpool reserves so I knew the role!
“Mick had signed Milton Graham and David Harle to play in midfield, but I told him midfield was my position and those two players weren’t going to keep me out of the side so the first chance I got I ran all over them in a game and as I walked off the pitch I just said ‘I told you so’ and Mick was furious. We had a blazing row in the car back to the ground, but fair play to him he picked me in midfield for the first game.”
START OF SOMETHING SPECIAL
“I didn’t really start to feel valued by officials at Posh until Mark Lawrenson came in as manager. He knew me a little from Liverpool and looked after me. He gave me the confidence I needed.
“Lawrenson laid the groundwork for when Chris Turner came in, but we couldn’t have dreamed what was about to happen.
“In Chris’s first training session he let us play a five-a-side game and after we’d finished he asked if we’d enjoyed it. We had and then he said ‘good because that’s the last time you’ll be doing it.’
“That afternoon we ran and we never stopped running or working hard. Chris drilled the defence relentlessly and Lil looked after the shape of the rest of the team.
“We became very fit and very organised and we worked hard on set-pieces which became invaluable to us (both goals at Chesterfield arrived from set-pieces).
“Everyone knows we were 2-0 down, got back to 2-2, but after drawing level we just started booting the ball anywhere which worried our fans who were clearly getting very agitated.
“But what they didn’t know was a Chesterfield sub - a lad I used to play with at Carlisle - had told me a point was enough for us to go up as other results were going our way so we decided to take no chances!”
BIT OF LUCK v LIVERPOOL
“Obviously beating my boyhood team (1-0 in a 1991 Rumbelows Cup tie at London Road) was a great night, but I still wake up in a cold sweat because of a challenge I made on Steve Nicol in our penalty area.
“I went to ground too early and it would definitely be a penalty these days, but luckily the referee didn’t give it.
“That was a fantastic night for the club and epitomised what we were all about.
“We were a nightmare to play against as we just didn’t stop running, but we could also play.”
“For two seasons we always seemed to have something to celebrate and we became very good at it!
“We went on a terrific run in Division Three to reach the play-offs when we beat a very good Huddersfield team in the semi-final thanks to Stevie Cooper’s goal (Mick didn’t mention he scored the equaliser in the first leg with his weaker right foot) and then of course we beat Stockport at Wembley.
“It was a proud moment collecting that trophy at Wembley and the celebrations the following day were fantastic with the open-top bus tour and all the fans around the city.
“I always had a great relationship with the fans. They paid for me to come to the club and I was happy I was able to help repay them.
“I like to think I showed my passion for the club during the bad as well as the good times. I’ve never lost that affinty for the club.
“Posh is still the first result I look for and it sounds like they were robbed this season. I hope to get to a game next season.”
PAY DISPUTE ENDS AN INSPIRATIONAL SPELL AS CAPTAIN
“After skippering the side to back-to-back promotions I felt I deserved a bit more money,” Halsall said. “I just wanted the same money that Bobby Barnes and Tony Adcock were on. They had joined us halfway through the previous season.
“I asked Chris Turner and he just said ‘no’. He explained that Bobby and Tony offered more to the team.
“I told Chris to give the captaincy to someone else and I’d just play so he did! He made Steve Welsh captain.
“I had to miss the first three matches of the Division One season as I was suspended after getting sent off against Stoke the previous season in an Auto Windscreen Shield tie (Mick stormed into the ET office the day after that game after taking offence at a front page headline)!
“That was frustrating as I’d worked so hard to get there, but I managed to get a decent run of appearances in that season which turned out to be another great one (Posh finished 10th which remains their highest-ever Football League finish), but Chris moved from manager to chairman and the team started to break up at the end of that season.
“We lost players like Worrell Sterling and Ian Bennett and the second season in Division One was a real struggle (Posh finished bottom).
“It shouldn’t take away from what we achieved though.”
Mick Halsall played 316 times for Posh between 1987 and 1994, scoring 38 goals.
He made his debut in a 1-0 win over former club Carlisle at London Road on the opening day of the 1987-88 Division Four season and his final appearance was on December 28, 1994 as a substitute in a 2-1 defeat at Watford in Division One. Manager Lil Fuccillo resigned after that game.
“I did my achilles in a game against Wolves the previous season,” Halsall recalled.
“I came back after 10 months to play in a League Cup tie at Portsmouth and then came on as a late substitute at Watford.
“But by then I couldn’t sustain any pressure on my achilles so it was time to call it a day.
“I’d had a great run though. I’d signed for Liverpool for one season as a teenager and ended up staying for six. They were a phenomenal side as they are now and although I didn’t play it was a great education.”
Mick was 32 when he retired. He was inducted into the Posh Hall of Fame on November 26, 2011.
Mick played non-league football after quitting the professional game, including spells at Cambridge City and Halesowen.