Excitement is building ahead of Golcar United’s play-off final in Cumbria on Saturday and former Huddersfield Town star Joe Skarz said: “It’ll mean just as much as winning at Wembley!”
The Weavers finished third behind Bury AFC and Holker Old Boys in the North West Counties Division One North and beat AFC Blackpool on penalties last weekend to reach the play-off final.
They go to Barrow-in-Furness to face Holker Old Boys (3.00). In the first half of the season Golcar were challenging for top spot but since February their form has dipped and they finished the regular season with just one win in the last 10 matches.
They were 2-0 up at half-time in the play-off semi-final but Blackpool pulled it back to 2-2 and penalties were needed to separate the sides after Golcar had Leon Henry sent off in extra-time.
Golcar make the long trip to Cumbria as underdogs but defender Skarz, 33, said: “We’ll go there with no fear, we know what to expect.
“We’ll prepare right, we know they are a very good, organised team. They are good defensively and have players up front that can hurt us. However, it is a final and a one-off game and we have to go there and enjoy it.
“If we can win, it will mean as much as winning at Wembley for me and that’s why I’m still playing.”
Skarz, also a coach at Sheffield United, said the collapse in Golcar’s form could be attributed to when the players realised their pursuit of Bury for the title was over, and they were all but certain of a play-off place.
“The last 10 matches haven’t been good but I think we could see Bury getting away from us and so mentally we go into a comfort zone as we knew we were already going to make the play-offs,” he said. “The first half against Blackpool was the true Golcar United.”
Skarz praised the players for how they battled with 10 men to see out extra-time and their superior fitness told in the end.
“They had a 21-year-old going down with cramp so God knows how I kept going at 33! The pitch is tough to play on. It’s hard and bobbly and it takes it out of your legs.
“The fitness work is big for me. If you can’t grind yourself through extra-time and be really fit you aren’t for me. I prided myself when I was a professional to be the fittest on the pitch and I’m still like that now.”
Golcar keeper Harry Stead pulled off two saves in the penalty shoot-out while Golcar scored all theirs. That meant Skarz wasn’t needed to take a pressure kick.
“I was at number 10 to take a penalty because I hate them,” said Skarz. “Before the penalties I just said to the lads to go for it and be confident. If we win, we win, if we lose it’s a lottery and we take it on the chin.
“We’ve had a great season, and just go in with that mentality and what will be, will be. Luckily, we won but Blackpool deserve a lot of credit too. After Bury I think Blackpool have been the best team we have faced all season.”
Golcar had a club record crowd of 1,200 for the last home match of the season against Bury, the second time they have set an attendance record this season.
They will take a coachload of fans to Cumbria and it’s the supporters that could make all the difference.
“The beauty of this club is how much support we get,” said Skarz. “I say to the lads all the time if you look at step 3, 4 or 5 at this level no-one gets the support like we do. That’s credit to everyone who helps run the place whether you are a volunteer or the chairman.
“If I was playing in front of 20 people it wouldn’t motivate me to play, that’s not me being arrogant that’s just the truth.
“I’m doing well as a coach at Sheffield United but the only reason I’m still playing at this level is because of this club and the crowds it gets.
“The fans played a huge part in the game against Blackpool. When we went down to 10 men they kept pushing us on.
“Going up to Holker is a tough ask but it’s one last hurdle. We’ll go up there in numbers, we have a good bunch of lads and we’ll do everything we can to win the game.”