Saturday 19th February 2022 ko 15:00
EFL League 2
HARROGATE TOWN P
LEYTON ORIENT P
Postponed due to snow
Saturday 7th May 2022 ko 15:00
EFL League 2
HARROGATE TOWN 0
SUTTON UNITED 2 (Eastmond 8 Olaofe 79)
Att 2,484 (440 away)
My regular reader will have long since worked out that I’m not target driven, I don’t set out each season to complete a division, or league or tier of the game, it isn’t what makes me tick. I’m more the kind of bloke that will look through a set of fixtures and something will take my fancy. Being a contrary soul though, there is an exception to that rule and that’s the 92.
Completing the 92 grounds of the Premier League and EFL is a fairly well-known aim, and for those of us who’ve taken the hobby to extremes (yes, 2400 plus grounds in 27 countries IS extreme) it tends to act as a gateway to further hopping, so I suppose the reason I’ve kept up it’s completion is a sense of grounding myself in where it all started for me. For the record I first completed the 92 in March 2006 at Doncaster Rovers’ former home Belle Vue.
There was a sad irony of visiting Harrogate Town though. In September 2006 I was in North Yorkshire on holiday and my first wife gave me the option of watching either Harrogate Railway on one day or Harrogate Town on another but not both. I picked Railway probably due to the name, and tragically Matt Gatsby playing for Hinckley United suffered a fatal heart attack on the pitch at Harrogate Town a day or two later. I did think of him as I finally visited Wetherby Road.
Robyn and I decided to push the boat out a little and booked hospitality to celebrate, in the form of a pre-match meal, drinks, and a seat in the main stand. Joanne Towler in the Commercial team was a joy to deal with, we booked ourselves in a hotel in town for 2 nights and it would have all gone swimmingly had it not started snowing as we parked up!
We enjoyed our roast lunch, and the Q & A session with manager Simon Weaver but it became clear that there was no way the game was going to take place, and the referee confirmed the postponement at around 2.30. It was the correct decision and there was nothing to rage at, it was just one of those things. It was all rather put in perspective that evening when the news came through that Oxford United legend Joey Beauchamp had taken his own life.
The whole experience had rather wrong-footed me, and I admitted as such when I emailed the club the week after. What is the procedure in these circumstances? On one hand Robyn and I had certainly received the hospitality, just not the game! For the record, I’m sure the club would have been within its rights to offer no more than two seats for the rearranged game. The fact that they did more is to their great credit.
We were offered hospitality tickets at no additional costs for the rearranged fixture, a Tuesday evening which due to Robyn’s work commitments she couldn’t make. So, for the club to offer any home game in this 2021/22 season with spare capacity in hospitality was, in my opinion, service above and beyond our expectations, and we are grateful for that. So 3 months later as we headed north once again I found myself looking the whole experience as more about Harrogate Town than completing the top 4 tiers of English football.
We caught Harrogate at the final game of their second season at EFL level, albeit with the first one having featured a notable achievement. They were promoted in 2020 during the pandemic but they’d made that season’s FA Trophy final but the game was carried over until 2021 making them the only club ever to play in the FA Trophy (and winning it!) whilst being an EFL member!
Nevertheless Harrogate Town and Wetherby Road are so obviously finding their feet at the highest level in the club’s history. The ground has been adapted as much as possible to allow for League football, and that did include the removal of their artificial pitch. As I was very quietly told for the Leyton Orient game, if that pitch had been allowed, the game would have taken place. I wonder if that in turn would have saved Orient manager Kenny Jackett? He was sacked two weeks after the postponement.
Elsewhere there was a lot to like, and as ever it was the little things that endeared. The host David Archbold in the hospitality area making the effort to remember my name, and getting former BBC commentator Harry Gration to do the pre-match Q & A session with Harrogate manager Simon Weaver. Come to think of it, how many managers are prepared to do that? He had plenty of interest to say too, including a wonderful line on Paul Pogba. He was asked in jest that since the player is now a free agent, would be consider signing him?
“He’s a wonderful talent” he said, “But I prefer to sign players that breathe oxygen into a room rather than suck it out.” Well said sir.
He was about to say goodbye to exactly that type of player, midfielder Lloyd Kerry who was to retire from playing after this game to become the club’s Head of Player Recruitment. Kerry is the type of committed midfielder that any manager loves to have, but time waits for noone and Kerry’s legs did betray him during this game, which showed Harrogate Town in microcosm.
It was thus, where do Harrogate Town see their future? Here Sutton steamrollered them to finish just outside of the playoffs while Harrogate finished 19th. They were in no danger of relegation, the collapse of Oldham and Scunthorpe made sure of that but there was a real sense of Harrogate preparing to cross the Rubicon.
There is so much to like here, and much of it is what many love about non league. It’s the quirks, the lack of uniformity and the understanding that the needs of the paying spectator must be satisfied for the club to function. You saw all of that here, and my great hope is that Harrogate don’t lose that sense of “Soul” as they progress. Yes, there wasn’t much space in hospitality and there is no way those in charge will be satisfied with 19th place, but the hope is that as the club builds that decency won’t be lost. It was lovely spending two afternoons with them.
Dedicated to the memory of Harry Gration 1950-2022 Rest In Peace