Result: Harrogate Town 1-0 Brackley Town (Vanarama National North)
Venue: Wetherby Road (Saturday 19th December 2015, 3pm)
A trip to Wales for today’s game then and….oh, yeah. No, in fact yet another plan fell apart due to the rain and so the venue for the final weekend game before Christmas was, once again, up in the air. But our decision was helped somewhat when I discovered via the great medium that is twitter that Harrogate Town were holding a free entry for all game against Brackley on this very day. As such, along with Paul “pitchsidepints” Rowan and, the almost ever present, Dan the decision was made to head over to Wetherby Road for the Vanarama North contest.
The day arrived and after meeting Dan at Manchester Oxford Road, we had a short wait until the train through to Leeds that we were to meet Paul on, who was travelling up from his Liverpool home. Soon enough, said train arrived and as a trifecta, we headed off over to border and into Leeds. After a largely uneventful trip, we pulled into the Yorkshire city’s station and were soon on our connection over to the spa town that was to be our destination for today. An hour later, we were setting foot in Harrogate town centre and were on our way over to our first stop of the day, after deciding that the Harrogate Tap could wait until later in the day. As such, we went through the town centre passing by Betty’s famous tea rooms with a queue leading around the block and past Daniel footwear which Dan was strangely excited about and to our first pub of the day, Major Tom’s.
Major Tom’s is a strange little bar, with a shop on the ground floor and the bar over the top. On climbing the stairs, you are met with a couple of spacemen, one of whom is a seat that you have to be rather thin to be able to fit inside. As it was, I took it upon myself to undertake this challenge and coming below is the sad state I found myself in as I squeezed into the breach. With me looking a fool and with others climbing up to Major Tom’s bar, I jumped out as quick as possible and we headed into the bar area itself. Soon enough, the three of us were in possession of a half each of a drink courtesy of Moor’s brewery after a recommendation from the barman that it was “like Black Sheep, but not as shit”. Unfortunately, the translation got lost somewhere along the way, because if it’s better, than Black Sheep must be horrendous, because this was shit. Utter shit. Don’t touch it with a barge pole.
As quick as possible, we finished it like troopers and headed over to the Winter Gardens, Harrogate’s Wetherspoons for some much needed familiarity. As for the Winter Gardens, what a place! After making a, rather grand, entrance down the staircase, you arrive in the spacious bar area, where we each purchased our second drinks of the day, in my case a Birra Moretti would more than suffice. Black Sheep was available, but I wasn’t in the mood at that moment to test out the taste of that one too! After we’d finished these and were on to the second drinks (taking advantage of the 3 for £5 on Sol), we were all saddened to hear of Jimmy Hill’s death. RIP Jimmy.
After this sad interlude, it was time to head out of ‘Spoons and on the 20 minute or so walk over to Harrogate Town’s home. After passing by the station once again, we headed past the adjoining office block, which Paul had taken an instant dislike to and was desperate to see knocked down in the not too distant future. Then, it was down the road and across the open field/park known as The Stray and from there it’s only a further couple of minutes walk and you arrive at Wetherby Road, situated on the opposite side of the road to the green. Of course, with free entry being on today, we had to walk to the far side entrance where we had the unusual experience of walking through a turnstile unchallenged before entering, in earnest, Town’s 94-year-old home.
Wetherby Road is a very smart, tidy ground. From where you enter, you are immediately met with the clubhouse right in front of you and the food hut to your immediate left. Alongside the food hut, along most of the near touchline, is a large covered standing terrace which was housing the vocal home fans during the first period. Alongside the clubhouse and behind the near end goal, is a small covered standing area which also houses the club shop.
The far end is home to a further covered terrace, bearing pictures of some of the players celebrating on the inside and the club crests on both sides. The far touchline houses the only seating stand in the ground, along with a further covered stand which also houses the hospitality area, down in the corner of the pitch, near the shop stand. And that’s that for Wetherby Road and so we’re on to the history of Harrogate Town AFC…
Harrogate Town was founded in 1914 under the name of Harrogate AFC, but their debut was delayed due to the outbreak of WWI. They eventually made their bow in 1919, playing in the West Riding League at Starbeck Lane. The club also won silverware straight away, in the shape of the Whitworth Cup. For 1920-’21, Harrogate became founder members of the Yorkshire League and relocated to their current ground. They then switched leagues for the third time in their three seasons, heading into the Midland Football League but resigned after that sole year, returning to the Yorkshire League. They did, however, win another trophy, the West Riding County Cup, in 1925. Harrogate then went on to win the Yorkshire League in 1927, moving into the Northern League, and they won the West Riding County Cup for a second time during the same season, before disbanding in 1932, a team returning in 1935 as Harrogate Hotspurs.
After WWII, the club was renamed as Harrogate Town and played in the West Yorkshire League until 1957 when they moved to the Yorkshire League once again. They spent many years here during the ’60’s & 70’s before becoming founder members of the Northern Counties East League in 1982. After ground updates to ensure progression, the club became founder members of the Northern Premier League in 1987, after a sole West Riding County Cup win during their time in the NCEL. 1990 saw Town lift the NPL First Division Cup before spending the next 15 years competing in the league, coming close to relegation on a couple of occasions.
However, Town eventually achieved promotion from Division 1 in 2002 as Champions, alongside another West Riding County Cup win and competed in the Premier Division the next season, reaching the FA Cup first round for the first time and winning the WRCC for the second consecutive year. After finishing 5th I 2004, the club were allotted a place in the Conference North, finishing in the play-offs at the end of their first season in the new division, but lost out in the semi-finals to eventual winners, Stafford Rangers. At the end of 2009-’10, Harrogate finished bottom of the Conference North, but were dealt a reprieve following Northwich Victoria’s demotion and staved off the drop the next season after a last day win at Corby Town.
2013 saw Town’s best run in the FA Cup, with the club beating Torquay United, of League 2, to progress past the 1st Round for the first time in their history. Despite being dealt a decent draw (against Hastings United) in the second round, Town eventually went out on penalties down at Hastings ground after a replay. Last season, Harrogate Town achieved a 15th placed finish in the National North, but have been making a good fist of it this season, currently sitting in 6th place.
Back onto today’s game then, and we all purchased some food prior to the game, as to beat the cues. Dan was informed, via a girl in the queue acting as messenger that there were no sausage rolls left, so he had to make do with a Cornish Pasty. First World Problems! Paul and I had a pie, steak for me, which wasn’t up to much if I’m honest and Paul wasn’t all too enamoured with his delicacy either, but it was passable and that’s alright for me. With food done and dusted and the 1919 suite packed full, we headed up to the other end of the ground where it was a bit quieter, to begin our lap from. Soon enough, the players emerged from their respective dressing rooms and we were all set to rock and roll.
The game, if I’m brutally honest, was a bit of a non-event. Chances were at a premium and non were particularly threatening when they did arrive. Both defences were well on top as the game was a decent contest in midfield, but not much breached to two back lines. When they did, Harrogate’s best chance came from a close range effort from Andy McWilliams that fizzed wide and Brackley’s when Peter Crook denied Eddie Odhiambo with a good save. 0-0 at the break, and it was to the refuge of the clubhouse.
After a quick sojourn in the clubhouse, which saw Paul and myself almost fall into bad tendencies due to misleading reasons, we ventured back out for the second half which, if anything, was more tight than the first with neither side giving an inch to their opponents and it looked like a 0-0 as far as anyone in the ground, I’m sure, could see.
Harrogate did come close, when Andy McWilliams blazed over and Brendan Daniels struck a free-kick from range narrowly over the bar, but as 90 minutes came and went, it looked like stalemate. Then the yellow and black-clad Town won a corner.
The corner, from the right flank, was swung in and in the resulting melee within the six-yard area, Paul Thirlwell got his toe to the ball to force it over the line and send the majority of the 1,500-strong crowd into rapturous cheers. It was a very harsh hit on Brackley, who certainly didn’t deserve to lose the tie, but nor had they done enough to win. So, there was only time for the Saints to restart the game, before the referee blew his whistle, to send the home support home happy.
As for us, it was back from whence we came, via a stop off in the Harrogate Tap, as promised, which sits adjoining the station. In here, I “chose poorly” as the knight on Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (which is on as I write) would say, but luckily for me, I didn’t turn to a pile of dust and instead headed off to the train via a quick stop off at Morrison’s so Paul could have some further alcohol to see him home and to get him through seeing that building once again. Oh, and before I forget, here’s a picture of “Piggie Smalls.”
The train journey home was largely uneventful, bar Dan saying about a girl he once knew who’d turned and meant that a woman sat behind us exclaimed in a loud voice “These three guys in front are talking about LESBIANS!!!” So, there you have it, I bet it seemed rather strange when taken out of context. Upon arrival back in Manchester, I bid goodbye to Dan and Paul at Piccadilly and Oxford Road respectively, as I made a much earlier train connection due to delays. God bless Northern Rail!!
Game: 4- Poor game,with little excitement.
Ground: 7- As I said, tidy and very smart.
Fans: 7- A small, vocal bunch and a largely welcoming lot overall too.
Food: 5- Nothing great.
Programme: 8- A really enjoyable read, with some good content. Worth the £2.50.
Value For Money: 6- A good day out and all, but a poor game affects the overall vote.