Transformed by two successful play-offs in three seasons, Harrogate Town reached the Football League for the first time in 2020 after a memorable and much-deserved victory over Notts County. Their 3-1 win justified a decision made three years earlier by chairman Irving Weaver, father of club manager Simon, to make Town a full-time operation. Beating the oldest professional club in the world proved fitting.
Although Town have their own long history – it’s exactly 101 years between their first competitive fixture, in the West Riding League, and Wembley – the Yorkshire club spent 99 of those years at regional level. Harrogate equally benefitted from the wherewithal and business savvy of Weaver senior, whose own career has been tied to running the family building firm.
His experience came in handy when it came to installing a 3G pitch at century-old Wetherby Road – only to have to take it up again and lay down grass instead for Town’s debut campaign in League Two in 2020-21. After playing a handful of home games at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium, Harrogate came home to Wetherby Road, renamed the EnviroVent Stadium, whose 5,000 capacity may prove handy should the home side scrape into another play-off place come May 2020.
The club bar there is named after the year of Harrogate’s first match played in earnest, 1919. Founding members of the Yorkshire League which they won in 1927, the Sulphurites underwent a series of dips and name changes before another 25 post-war years playing the likes of Rawmarsh Welfare and Pickering Town.
A restructure threw Yorkshire and Midlands clubs together into the semi-pro Northern Counties East Leagues in 1982, where Town crossed paths on several occasions with local rivals Harrogate Railway. Promotion five years later led to nearly two decades in the Northern Premier Leagues, then the newly founded Conference North in 2004.
Stalwart centre-half Simon Weaver arrived as player-manager five years later, after a long career across the north. Immediate relegation was averted thanks to a technicality, two other clubs being forcibly demoted from the Conference North that season. A more promising campaign in 2010-11 encouraged Weaver senior to take over the club and a brighter future soon beckoned with a club record run in the FA Cup. Only a 4-5 penalty shoot-out defeat to Hastings stood between Town and a possible glamour tie in Round Three – but the celebrations after the victory at Torquay in Round One still live long in the memory.
A highest-ever finish in 2013, one place from the play-offs, was bettered in 2016 when Town at last reached the knock-out stage. Defeat to Fylde was followed by a poor campaign in 2016-17 and the decision to turn pro.
In their first season as full-time players, the Sulphurites ended a 14-year spell in the National League North as returning striker Dominic Knowles bagged braces in each of two play-off games against Chorley and Brackley Town.
A commendable first season in the fifth tier led to another play-off in 2018-19 and another defeat to Fylde. Looking good for automatic promotion in 2019-20, Town were forced to go through the play-off wringer once more after the regular season was curtailed. Rising to the occasion, Simon Weaver’s side outplayed Notts County in every department, former England U-21 international Jon Stead coming on for a cameo appearance against his former club.
Now fitted with a grass pitch and expanded to 5,000 capacity, Wetherby Road, aka the EnviroVent Stadium, was rapidly brought up to Football-League standard immediately after Harrogate won the Wembley play-off with Notts County to end a century of non-league football. Apart from the playing surface, the other key feature installed pdq as Town moved home games at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium was a completely new, all-seated main stand, occupying a third of the east sideline either side of the halfway line. Flanking it are a standing terrace and, towards the south end, a corporate lounge and seating – club chairman Irving Weaver is nothing if not ambitious.
Both goals, the Aon Terrace (still referred to as the Hospital End) and the Myrings Terrace, where you find the club shop and 1919 stadium bar, are allocated for Town supporters to stand. Away fans are allocated the EnviroVent Terrace and Stand alongside Wetherby Road, entering via the south turnstiles between the 1919 Venue and the 150 seats that complement the 700 standing places for visiting supporters. Home fans enter via the north turnstiles nearest the No.7 bus stop.
The club encourages visitors to use bus No.7 from stand 9 of Harrogate bus station, those showing the driver their match ticket paying £2 (£1 for kids) – but services are every 30mins, every hour on Sundays. It’s six stops/5min from the station to the one marked Football Ground. Three stops further on is Woodlands Corner, by the Woodlands Hotel pre-match pub and, if you’re coming from Leeds, the No.7 sets off from/terminates at the bus station there, journey time 1hr 20-30mins. Buses run until around 11pm, seven days a week.
It’s also a pleasant walk, taking Station Avenue which curves into Queen Parade, cutting through The Stray park via a narrow footpath that brings you to Wetherby Road. Allow 15-20mins and use the pedestrian crossings. There is little to no parking around the ground (HG2 7SA), hence the reduced bus fares. Kingswood Surgery opposite (14 Wetherby Road, same postcode) and the Cedar Court Hotel, the other side of The Stray on Park Parade, both offer a few spaces at £5 per car. In town, download the free app to see which spaces are available at municipal car parks. The street-level one on Station Parade (HG1 1TT) is open 24hrs and charges £4.80/3hrs.
Tickets are available a week in advance from the club office in person (contactless preferred, cash accepted, 50p surcharge for a paper version), over the phone (01423 210 600) or online.
After midnight before match day, or at the turnstiles as kick-off approaches, you’ll pay £19 for a seat, £18 to stand, contactless again preferred. Over-65s, students and disabled visitors pay £15/£14. These prices are £2 cheaper for advance purchases. Under-18s pay £6/£5 before or on match day. Under-5s enter free.
By the 1919 Venue bar at the Myrings Terrace end, the club shop stocks yellow-and-black ‘Proud To Be Town’ scarves, T-shirts and cans of Pilsner lager. Current first kit is a somewhat lederhosen-y yellow with two black stripes for that Bavarian look. The red strata sponsor’s logo advertises Irving Weaver’s own building firm. Second kit is a slightly Intery blue and black.
Two pre-match options stand either side of the stadium, a 5min walk towards or away from town. Both welcome visiting supporters.
Nearer Harrogate, by the roundabout on The Stray, The Empress (‘cask ales, good food, live sports’) is as stately as its name suggests, the kind of place whose Sunday carvery has long been a popular attraction. Pool table, too, while current beers include local Daleside Blonde, Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best and Pravha pilsner by Staropramen.
Past the stadium towards Starbeck on Wetherby Road, the family-friendly Woodlands Hotel by Woodlands Corner is best known for its superior pub grub and warming fire in winter. There’s a terrace, too.
Behind the Myrings Terrace end, the 1919 Venue bar offers home fans four big-screen TVs and a lively pre-match atmosphere, usually from two hours before kick-off. Around the ground, kiosks serve Appleton’s pies, steak, pork, chicken and veggie varieties, produced by a Ripon-based butcher’s in business since 1867. All with mushy peas, of course.