Yorkshire is well renowned for it’s quality of footballing sides.
Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United are just some of the most recognised Yorkshire sides, but a new force has arisen from the ashes of non-league football.
Following a Simon Weaver masterclass, Harrogate Town thwarted Notts County in the National League play-off final to join title lifters Barrow in the Football League, for their first time in the club’s 106 year history.
Goals from George Thomson, Connor Hall and Jack Diamond was enough to confirm the Sulphurites promotion to the EFL, as the club took to social media to praise their troopers heroic efforts in the biggest game in their history.
Whilst fans were of course not allowed within Wembley Stadium due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the streets of Harrogate were certainly bleeding yellow and black on Sunday night.
But what is the key to the club’s success? Where have this new Yorkshire powerhouse come from?
Flashback to 2010 and Harrogate had finished the National League North season at the foot of the table, however their relegation was reprieved due to Northwich Victoria’s financial abnormalities, causing them to be demoted from England’s sixth tier in the place of Town.
Fans were not optimistic, the ground was in tatters with no stand and needed serious repairs, the players appeared lacklustre and careless to what happened on the pitch, and Harrogate were struggling to survive due to financial problems which luckily weren’t on the same scale of Northwich Victoria.
Chairman Bill Fotherby, who sadly passed away in 2019, felt the task was too big and that ultimately, the club were doomed.
They didn’t have the funds to fix the ground or to bring in the worthy calibre of player that could really compete for a high finish in the National League North, but the one saving grace was Harrogate’s first team manager, the legendary Simon Weaver.
Fotherby approached Weaver, who has been in charge of the club for 11 years now, and explained the turmoil the club was facing on and off of the pitch, he even admitted that he wasn’t the man for the job (Fotherby, not Weaver). And so Fotherby gave his gaffer a choice- either have Harrogate be demoted two tiers lower than the National League North, or to find a new owner entirely. Fotherby has since been praised, it was clear he and Weaver share the ambition of seeing Harrogate one day reach the Football League, and he was brave enough to step away from the project when he knew that if he stayed it would only hinder the progress the club had made thus far.
And as Fotherby pulled Weaver to one side and explained the problematic situation, he asked the question- would Irving Weaver be interested? The answer, yes.
Weaver’s father Irving took over Fotherby’s role as Harrogate’s acting chairman and with the funds at his disposal, he was really able to back his son Simon to help build a stronger squad and fix the problems off of the pitch. It meant that Town could also remain in the National League North, and with the constant communication and instant knowledge of one another’s outlook on the game, the Weaver family flourished alongside Harrogate.
The biggest move that Irving did however happened in 2016, when the chairman, who had now been in charge for approximately five years, helped the club to move from a part-time status to a full-time status, offering the players contracts and the morale boost they needed to improve performances on the pitch.
It allowed Harrogate to become less of a mediocre club and more of a professional one, as it meant an even higher stature of player would be attracted to the spa town and Town could prosper as a result, as being a full-time side meant they would do more training and gel more as a squad. In May 2018, Harrogate confirmed their promotion to the National League following a play-off victory over Brackley Town.
Now a fifth tier team, Harrogate had a large task on their hands as the Weaver’s had never managed at this high of a level before, but they rose to the occasion and challenged the ‘underdogs’ stereotype which they had been labelled with.
Weaver’s warriors thrived, with BT Sports pundits even saying that they played the best football in the entire league. This may have been helped by the CNG Stadium having a 3G surface, so Town could play and train on their pitch and get used to it’s conditions before a match day. In their first season in the National League they did the unthinkable and reached the play-offs, but were unfortunately bested by eventual finalists AFC Fylde.
With the big name additions of Jon Stead, George Smith and young starlet Kian Harratt, Weaver got Harrogate playing electrifying football at times and his side ended the 2019/20 season in 2nd place once it was decided on a points-per-game ratio. Fighting off the attacking threats that were Boreham Wood and Notts County in the play-offs, Harrogate Town officially joined the EFL and League Two for the first time in their history.
Many look at the town of Harrogate and just see spas. It’s well known for it. But with the tactical heart of Simon Weaver and the trust and backing of his father Irving, both have helped the recently passed Bill Fotherby to realise his dream of reaching the football league. It’s a father and son mission, one which has put Harrogate Town onto the map and into eyes of many. A true footballing fairy tale, and a proper club entering League Two to battle against the likes of Bradford City and Bolton Wanderers.