Result: Harrogate Railway Athletic 1-10 (Ten) Whickham (FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round)
Venue: Station View (Saturday 10th August 2019, 3pm)
My competitive campaign was to get underway back on the FA Cup trail once more, having missed out the World’s oldest cup competition’s opening round last season on the quest to “tick” a few of the south coast league clubs ahead of uncertainty over railcard availability – something that is highly similar to that surrounding the Brexit farce. Anyway, with little overall attractiveness in a tie, I left my fate in the hands of the twitterati via the voting method that has become something of a regular occurrence recently, with my fine followers (it’s ManchopperBlog if you’re interested, btw) coming up with Harrogate Railway vs Whickham, a Northern Counties East vs Northern League clash, and so a return to Station View was pencilled in – my first under a neutral banner, having visited many a-time with Trafford in a past life! I got out of that in the nick of time, but that’s a story for another time and place….
Having moved onto these greener pastures, Harrogate had previously adorned these pages with my visit to Railway’s ever improving neighbours Town (which you can read here if you fancy) for their 1-0 last-gasp win over Brackley Town, a day which ensured Paul Thirlwell’s place in the “Manchopper Hall of Fame” – for which you get…well, nothing but pride and I’m sure that suffices!! Anyhow, back onto Railway and I was on said tracks during the early-ish morning, and having transited through Manchester and Leeds in good time, was able to catch a slightly earlier service up to Harrogate. I arrived before midday and so was allowed a nice walk around the town in a strong, but not overly so, North Yorkshire wind prior to diving into the town’s fine Wetherspoon’s offering, the Winter Gardens, where the staff were, almost literally, falling over themselves to serve those punters waiting. Good stuff, guys and gals.
The name of Harrogate derives from its titles around the 1300’s, when the area was known as Hawregate, Harrowgate and (my personal favourite as it kind of sounds like Hadouken, I’d imagine) Harougat. The origin of the name itself isn’t certain, however, though may come from the Old Norse horgr (‘a heap of stones’) cairn + ‘gata’ (street), in which case the name meant ‘road to the cairn’. Another theory is that it means, more simply, ‘the way to Harlow’ – the form Harlowgate dates from the early-16th century and, apparently, the court rolls of King Edward II. Medieval times saw Harrogate situated on the borders the township of Bilston with Harrogate in the ancient parish of Knaresborough and the parish of Pannal – known in places as Beckwith with Rossett.
The area in Bilston would become known as High Harrogate and Pannal, Low Harrogate and both were in the (since 1372 and Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt) Duchy of Lancaster-ruled Royal Forest of Knaresborough. From then, the town’s development is largely down to the chalybeate and sulphur-rich spring water as found in 1571 by William Slingsby, who found the area’s water was akin to that of the Belgian town of Spa (also famed for the great racetrack Spa-Francorchamps, the most famous corner at which is spa-derived and named Eau Rouge – literally red water), which gives its name to Spa Towns. Further springs of both kinds were found throughout both High (chalybeate only) and Low communities during the 16 and 1700’s and many inns were thus opened for the increased tourism boom.
The Royal Forest was enclosed under the Enclosure Act in 1770 and areas became more clearly owned and some communal, such as the open expanse of The Stray, and developments continued to arise around this area of the town, with the mile-wide area between High and Low Harrogate was also developed through the 19th century. The current town centre was created to link the two – whilst water gas technology and the effects of adrenaline on circulation was first used here during this time. Harrogate began to decline in popularity with the elite by the end of the First World War and the Second World War saw many hotels etc. being repurposed as homes for the many government offices evacuated out of London and thus Harrogate became an important commercial, conference and exhibition centre. The town hosts four rail stations (Harrogate, Hornbeam Park, Pannal and Starbeck) and has links to London, York and Leeds, and had former lines to Wetherby and Ripon that no longer exist – though the Ripon line apparently stands a good chance of coming back in the future.
I settled in for a while over a Punk IPA (£3.49) whilst trying to come up with some kind of linear route around a few hostelries that would allow me to return to the station in good time for the short hop over to the ground-neighbouring Starbeck station – which Railway’s home used to look out onto before the creation of some flats in between. Alas, such is the way and, for now, let’s get back onto Harrogate’s watering holes for now and I returned off down the steep-ish decline of Montpellier Hill towards the pairing of the Fat Boar and the Old Bell. Upon arrival at the former, I spotted a few wedding guests outside and, having crashed one wedding celebration in the White Rose county previously (see Ossett for that!), I didn’t fancy risking it on this occasion and so gave best to my experience. In the latter, I opted for a pint of Stars & Stripes Pale Ale, which was decent enough at £3.50), before undertaking the short walk to the slightly hidden entrance of the Corner Hause located, as it is, below a hotel and in a corner down some steps.
It was worth seeking out as, despite it being pretty empty at this time in the day, it had a fine selection of Belgian (and the like) beers – I opted for a Flensburger (£4) and ales on and also provided a timely cover from the steady rain that had begun to fall from the leaden skies above. The dullness wouldn’t really relent for the remainder of the day, and so I then tried to miss the heavier bursts that fell whilst making my way from door-to-door and was successful at the first time of asking in getting to ‘Harrogate’s Oldest Pub’, Hales’ Bar. It didn’t seem that it had anything to do with the England opener Alex, who seems to enjoy a tipple about as much as I do, however, and instead was decked out with many a stuffed animal and maritime paraphernalia which I didn’t immediately understand being, you know, quite some way from the sea. Amstel (£4.60) in and swiftly dispatched, I continued on my trip, heading back uphill whilst trying to seek out the whereabouts of the Little Ale House. It’s name was a fairly accurate description in this regard, though I eventually got there for a half of Weihenstephan (£2.75). I can be sensible on occasion!
Wheeling back around on myself a little, I continued on uphill station-wards along the road but only a short way before popping into the Harrogate Arms and watching a bit of one of the early kick-offs over another Amstel (at the more recognisable price of £4) and finished up my pre-match lap of Harrogate with a visit to the Alexandra Hotel, which I’d earmarked to be my final stop during my pre-drinks walk earlier. I don’t do regular, actual pre-drinks, you see, because what’s the fun in that….when you’re alone *whimpers*! With the match on in here as well, this gave a welcome distraction as I sipped at a bottle of Corona whilst the Leeds fans near me got a little worked up with their side’s display. Eventually though, the time had come to get over to Starbeck and Station View itself; and this time I wouldn’t quite avoid the rain.
The short journey takes just a handful of minutes and I was soon making the five-minute walk from station to ground, arriving with around fifteen minutes to kick-off. Paying my £6 entry (plus £1 for a programme) I paid a swift visit to the smart clubhouse, which unsurprisingly hadn’t changed too much since my previous visits, since it replaced the former one which stood about a half-mile away across the fairly large expanse of open grass pitches. You can see the pitch from up high in the bar too, if you so fancy but, for me, it was down to pitchside as the side’s were making their way out onto the hallowed Station View surface. The ground is a pleasant one, with a covered seating/terrace behind the far end goal, and another smaller seating stand on the far side, around the halfway line. This is flanked by a fair amount of uncovered standing steps which run around the corner from the turnstiles to said stand, whilst the near side is flat, open, hard standing. That’s Station View in a nutshell and this is the story of ‘The Rail’.
Harrogate Railway Athletic Association Football Club was founded in 1935 by workers of the Starbeck depot arm of the London and North Eastern Railway and the club initially rented out Station View from the LNER for £1,500 before paying this off and buying the ground outright thanks to workers ‘donating’ One old penny a week. On the pitch, HRA went on to join the local Harrogate & District League and, as a rail works outfit, took part in the British Railways National Cup – which the Rail won in 1945-’46. Soon after, Harrogate Railway took the step up to the West Yorkshire League and ended up as 1952 runners-up before winning the league title two years later. A year later saw a third-placed finish attained, with Railway again looking to progress up the levels and so joined the Yorkshire League, taking a spot in Division Two and achieving promotion to Division One in 1958 after finishing up 3rd by the end of that campaign.
Incidentally, 1953 had seen Railway reach the FA Amateur Cup Second Round, where a “special train” was run for supporters down to Harwich & Parkstone for a 3-2 loss and another train was run, this time northwards, in 1961 for a First Round Amateur Cup tie at Whitley Bay, but this too, unfortunately from a Rail perspective, ended up in defeat.
However, their first foray into the Yorkshire League’s top division would be brief, with Railway relegated after just the one season and they mirrored this upon their return in 1964 after another 3rd placed Division 2 finish gave up just another sole season in Division One. The year had seen cup disappointment, though, with Railway losing out in the 1964 Yorkshire League Cup final to Farsley Celtic. Things didn’t improve for the Rail in all facets and after they were relegated to the newly created Division Three in 1970, the Rail found themselves taking the step back down into the Harrogate & District League once more in 1973. They would return to the Yorkshire League’s bottom division after seven years away and spent two years there before the league merged with the Midland League in 1982 to form the Northern Counties East League. Harrogate Railway were duly placed in the Division Two North, which they won in 1984 and so were promoted to the Northern section’s Division One.
Re-organisation of the NCEL in 1985 meant the club were placed in the non-regionalised Division One and a fourth-placed finish in 1987 saw promotion to the Premier Division attained and the NCEL League Cup was added to this success too via a dominant 5-0 win over Woolley Miners Welfare in the final. They would remain in the Premier Division through to their relegation in 1993, their absence totalling five seasons, with the Rail returning to the Prem in 1999 after taking the Division One title and this time the club would go on to greater strengths, including fine FA Cup runs which peaked in 2002-’03, which saw them finally make the “proper rounds” – reaching the Second Round after a triumph over Slough Town in Round One. Their Second Round tie took place at Station View (which I remember watching and found it interesting a club had ‘Railway’ in the name – ah, the ignorance of youth and lack of non-league knowledge!) where the club battled, but eventually fell to, Bristol City in a 3-1 reverse in front of a club-record crowd of 3,500.
They did see cup success in a more regular fashion that year though in winning the NCEL President’s Cup, defeating Bridlington Town 7-2 on aggregate over two-legs, and a third-placed finish in the 2005-’06 Premier Division campaign saw the club secure a promotion spot to the Northern Premier League Division One for the first time. They would be placed in the Division One North in 2007 upon restructuring of the pyramid and 2008 again saw Railway go on a fine Cup run, defeating Droylsden 2-0 in Round One and, as a result, reached the Second Round once more. Again, and this time on live TV, welcoming Football League opposition to Station View in the shape of Mansfield Town, Railway would go out to a narrow 3-2 defeat. The club remained as a NPL Division One North side through to 2015-’16, when their declining on-field form over most of the preceding years ended with the drop back to the NCEL Premier Division being suffered and they again were victims of the drop last season, as Railway returned to the NCEL Division One after two decades away.
After visiting the food bar for a fine portion of chips, peas and gravy, the game got underway in quick fashion and Whickham quickly asserted themselves as the dominant force, with Carl Finnigan forcing a good early stop out of the Railway ‘keeper Joe Wilton. However, he would be beaten shortly afterwards as the Northern League side went ahead via left-back Sam Hedley’s cross drifting over his head and into the far corner. The lead was then doubled as Finnigan squared for his strike-partner, former Newcastle United, Norwich City and South African international striker Matty Pattison, to fire home and give the visitors the dream start to this season’s opening Cup foray.
Winger Kelvin Thear then fired wide as Whickham continued on all guns blazing, but they would be pegged back by a game Railway side when a ball through split the defence and James Healey coolly lifted an effort over the ‘keeper to half the deficit. Healey then headed over as Harrogate looked to level things up in their first, and only true, spell on top as Whickham again seized the initiative around the half-hour, but couldn’t quite manage to get the goal to re-instate their two-goal advantage. They did see a shot fly wide and Conor Newton made the home stopper work once again to tip his shot wide, before Harrogate caught Whickham on the break, only for the attack to just about be cleared before they could get an attempt on goal away.
That seemed to awaken Whickham well and truly and, soon afterwards, they had an effort cleared away off the line by a Rail defender, but they would re-instate the two-goal lead when Pattison tapped home from close range after an initial headed try by Dale Burrell had come back off the bar. This seemed to take the sting out of Railway and they suffered the fatal blow just before the break when, having just seen Wilton pull off a brilliant double save to deny both Pattison and Burrell to keep his side in the tie, Pattison was played in on the left and fed Finnigan to slot home – returning the favour from earlier in the half. Half-time; 1-4.
An uneventful break came and went before I was back out of the clubhouse for the beginning of the second half, as the rain began to fall. Whickham again came out on the attack and after Pattison had twice gone close, the Lang Jacks netted their fifth through Finnigan’s header, before another attack down the flank just moments later saw success and the ball in was finished off by Finnigan for his third of the afternoon. Harrogate tried to respond with a rare foray forward, but the shot went awry, whilst Whickham continued to make regular chances, but Finnigan, for once, had his targets set wrong in firing wide. The rain began to throw down ever heavier, quite akin to the weather during Railway’s famed 2008 Cup foray match at home to the Stags of Mansfield Town.
This wouldn’t be as close of a contest though and Thear would add a seventh minutes later, sliding across the GK after another slick build-up move by the North-East outfit, before Finnigan then grabbed his fourth by unleashing a crashing drive into the top-corner for goal number eight. Sub Max Cowburn tried unsuccessfully to add to Railway’s woes, firing over twice in quick succession before the rout was completed, firstly, through Dale Burrell who tapped home after being played through and Pattison, who netted the rebound after Cowburn’s initial shot was denied by the rather unlucky Harrogate GK Wilton who, it has to be said, had a decent game in conceding double-figures. Only in football, eh?! The full-time whistle arrived through the deluge; the weather reflecting the feelings of the hosts come the end.
Post-match, I headed back through the rain and under the small underpass under the railway and to Starbeck’s one and only pub, the Prince of Wales, for a pint of Strongbow (£2.50) where I took the decision to walk on back to Harrogate via a couple of stops en route – namely Bertie’s, which was far better than expected by its name (half of Estrella £2ish) and The Empress, the latter being on the large, open area the town plays host to – The Stray. Unfortunately, after finishing a Dark Fruits (£4.30) in the planned event of squeezing the nearby Swan in too, the wetness had took its toll and I didn’t feel overly like it, with me instead opting to head back to the station. I eventually made it, despite a couple of faux pas; with these including passing the same restaurant twice. Nope, no idea how either, but I bet you aren’t too surprised knowing my history in this area!
Anyway, that would be the last drama of the day as the rest of the journey back passed without issue and in good time, and I was back indoors for around 9pm. It had been a decent day and, having waited to see a team net ten in a game for years, I had now seen it twice in a month. Nuts. The game, therefore, meant a bit more than usual thrashes, which tend to bore me silly and it still was watchable, to Railway’s credit. Aside from that, the ground is always a good one to pay a visit to and the people there are all nice, friendly peeps too. Food and programme good and it’s always decent to visit Harrogate, despite the weather! Onto another week we go and a local game somewhere before continuing on the cup trail once more….
Value For Money: 8