Back to the 92
Despite being based in the northeast of England, my main obsession, for now, is to complete the forty-two league grounds in Scotland, but I also want to attempt the ninety-two in England. This means dropping back south of the border from time to time and today was one of those occasions.
We were heading back to Yorkshire for the second time in a month.
Harrogate Town – A Little Recent History
Harrogate Town were still plying their trade in the National League North as recently as 2017/18. This is the same season that Harrogate decided to go full-time professional as a club and the pay-off was instant. That very same season, they were promoted to the National League for the first time in their history, via the playoffs.
In their first season in the fifth tier of English football, Harrogate went unbeaten in their first eleven matches before finally attaining a sixth-place finish by the end of the season.
During the ill-fated Covid period of lockdowns and problems for both football and society in general, Harrogate was one of the impacted clubs. Sitting in second place, four points behind AFC Barrow, the season was brought to a premature end in early March. AFC Barrow was awarded the title and promotion, while the teams from second place to seventh, were entered into the playoffs.
With all the games taking place behind closed doors, Harrogate Town saw off Boreham Wood in the semi-final and booked a date with Notts County at Wembley Stadium.
Unfortunately for the two clubs, the fans were once again denied the chance to see their club’s big day out in London. Goals from George Thomson, Connor Hall and Jack Diamond were enough to get Town a 3-1 victory and promotion to the Football League!
Since the promotion, they have finished in 17th and 19th position in League Two. Town also won the delayed 2019/20 FA Trophy, which had been delayed due to the pandemic, at Wembley Stadium, beating Concord Rangers in May of 2021.
All of this success was overseen by the current Harrogate Town manager, Simon Weaver and this is where our visit to The EnviroVent Stadium (sponsored name of Wetherby Road) came in.
For a more detailed club history, you can read this article from the Harrogate Town website.
Harrogate Town – The Journey (and Getting Access!)
We set off early on a bus for Durham to catch our train, the 08:41 to York. Once in York, we caught to 09:42 connection into Harrogate, arriving at 10:30 am.
With two hours to kill, we called into a Costa Coffee not far from the train station and sat supping on a cup of coffee the size of a witch’s cauldron. With the intention of getting there early enough to sort out some ticket confusion, we sat and enjoyed our coffee.
The confusion arose from Harrogate’s ticketing system which is hard to comprehend. First, if you are buying tickets for more people than just yourself, you have to get each person to register on the ticketing database. Having got Mrs Hopper registered and the tickets bought, the confirmation email said that we would receive the tickets via email 24 hours before kick-off.
Why on earth do they leave it so late to send them out?
Having looked at my email account on Friday evening there was no email. I got the Harrogate website opened up and tried to log into my account, only to find that it was blocked. Mrs Hopper tried and her account was also blocked.
Hmmm… this meant we would be going to West Yorkshire clutching no tickets other than a confirmation receipt from when I bought them. Not ideal preparation.
Having supped up, we made the approximately one-mile walk to Wetherby Road and arrived at the turnstile cum ticket office section on the roadside. Having explained the problem to the lady in the ticket office, she told us that our accounts had been blocked because of our address. They assumed we were Hartlepool United supporters!
I showed her confirmation of my website and Twitter account and told her we were neutral groundhoppers. She accepted this and told us to log back into our accounts and repurchase the tickets.
I asked her if we couldn’t just buy them from the ticket office and she said we couldn’t. It seems the proximity of the road means that police won’t allow them to sell from there because of the queues that would be created. Also, could I please move to one side while I’m buying the tickets…
This isn’t going well!
We tried to log in to our accounts only to find we were still blocked. I went back to the window to let her know and the microphone wasn’t working. After moving to the second window, she unblocked our accounts on the system and told us to try again.
Meanwhile, there was a queue of people building up at the ticket office asking why their tickets and accounts were blocked…
We repurchased our tickets, with the time now after noon and kick-off less than thirty minutes away. Now we couldn’t get the tickets to come through on our emails. Having explained and shown the confirmation emails, the lady printed them off for us and we could finally go to the turnstiles and enter the stadium.
Please, please, please… if you are a groundhopper and plan on heading to Harrogate, give them a call and explain the situation to them before you make the purchase. This way, your account shouldn’t get blocked and you shouldn’t have the same problems we had.
Harrogate Town – The Stadium
Once inside, I didn’t have the same amount of time that I usually have to get some decent photos of the ground before it starts to fill with spectators, so I decided to wait until after the game had finished to do that. For this reason, you will notice that some are taken with a blue sky and blazing sun, while others are grey skies.
For now, I contented myself with getting a programme and pin badge from the small kiosk that serves as a club shop at the back of the Aon Stand and took a few quick snaps and a video.
Speaking of quick ‘snaps’, this was also where we came across the club mascot just around the corner.
Harry Gator… what a fantastic name!
The Aon Stand we walked behind to get to our designated seating is a low terrace for home fans. It runs most of the width of the pitch and is covered by a roof.
Once past the Aon Stand, there is a new-looking section for standing, built with metal to form a terrace. I would be interested to hear from people who stand on there how it feels on the feet after ninety minutes of football.
This standing section runs almost to just beyond the 18-yard box and beyond it is the stand we were located in.
Our section of the stadium was a small seated stand that begins where the metal terracing ends and runs for about one-third of the pitch’s length. It also houses the press area towards the rear of the stand. Be aware that if you sit in the rear of this stand, there are posts that will obstruct some of your view of the game.
This side of the ground is completed by an even smaller stand that has a combination of plastic and wooden seating and is partially covered by a roof. I assume this stand hasn’t changed much since the club’s days in the National League North.
Around the corner was the section containing some of the Hartlepool United supporters. Low-roofed terracing which runs the width of the pitch behind the goal to the left of the main stand. This part of the ground also contains the players’ tunnel. In the picture below, you can see it is halfway between the corner flag and the edge of the 18-yard box.
The opposite side of the pitch was a combination of a small seating area for away fans and a long section of terracing that was divided between home and away fans (not the Australian soap opera!) The divide was just on the away end side of the halfway line, which gives you some indication that there was a very decent turnout of Hartlepool fans at the game.
This side of the pitch was also the location of the team dugouts and a small TV gantry perched atop the larger of the two stands, directly on the halfway line.
Overall, the impression was of a nice tidy little ground that was between stages of its development cycle. Clearly, there were still sections that still looked like they belong in non-league but it was also evident that the club is taking steps to move forward. As ever, money will be the main issue for a club such as Harrogate with relatively low attendances.
A few more years in the Football League will undoubtedly help the cause!
Harrogate Town – Stadium Gallery
Harrogate Town – Pre-Game Video of Wetherby Road
Before the players came onto the field, there was an amusing incident near the players’ tunnel. Harry Gator and two rows of flag-bearing children in Town kits, were awaiting the players as an honour guard. What they weren’t anticipating, was the sprinkler system giving them an unannounced shower.
It should be noted that while the kids stood firm, Harry Gator was soon on his toes and off out of range.
Harrogate Town – The Game
Luckily, by the time the players came out, the sprinkler had been turned off and further drama was avoided.
Coming into this game, the home side was winless in their last ten games, drawing just once and losing nine in all competitions. One of those losses came to today’s visitors, Hartlepool, at Victoria Park where Town lost 2-0 in the Football League Trophy.
League-wise, they started the day in 22nd position, while the visitors, Hartlepool weren’t faring much better. Starting in 21st position, this was an old-fashioned six-pointer game even at this early stage of the season.
The visitors kicked off the game and had the first chance within two minutes. Mark Shelton’s shot from outside the box was saved at the second attempt in the bottom right corner of the goal, following an initial fumble by the keeper.
The Sulphurites – as Harrogate Town are nicknamed – started to take control of the match from early in the game without being great. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that neither team played particularly well in this game. Given the circumstances of their respective league positions and the importance of the points, this was, perhaps, understandable. Both teams must have been nervous about losing.
Nevertheless, there were chances created and it was mainly Town making them.
Jaheim Headley sent his seventh-minute shot wide of the left post before Alex Pattison had his shot blocked in the six-yard box a minute later. A Joe Mattock header on ten minutes was easily saved to the left of the goal.
In the 13th minute, Town had their best chance so far. The ball was worked from the right flank into the area and a scramble of passes found Danny Grant with space on the left of the six-yard box. ‘Pool keeper Ben Killip did well to get out early and block the shot, from where it was eventually cleared out of play.
Harrogate continued to be the better of two struggling teams and made it pay in the 25th minute. A combination of some poor defending and the predatory instincts of a striker who can smell a mistake coming were the factors allowing Alex Pattison to score his fourth of the season.
The bouncing ball was headed towards the right angle of the area where a Hartlepool defender managed to head it towards his own goal rather than away from danger. Pattison was the first to react to the mistake and placed his angled shot past Killip at his near post.
1-0 Harrogate Town!
Straight from the restart, Hartlepool were presented with their first major chance of the game. The ball was hoofed upfield, partially cleared before a deft overhead pass put Josh Umerah through on goal. Racing in from the left angle of the box, Umerah put his shot past the keeper but also wide of the far post when he should have done better.
Hartlepool came back into the game for a spell but it was a series of scrappy fouls and free-kicks that dominated the game between goals. One of those free-kicks saw David Ferguson put his shot too high for the visitors with a rare sight of goal.
The second goal came via the head of Town’s Jack Muldoon in the 43rd minute. A move down the left flank saw the ball played back to Alex Pattison, who put a precision cross into the box for Muldoon to head in from close range.
2-0 Harrogate Town!
This was the last action of the first half that saw Town deservedly leading a scrappy contest.
Half-time – Harrogate Town 2 Hartlepool United 0
Hartlepool manager, Keith Curle was obviously not happy with what he had seen in that first forty-five minutes of action and he reacted by substituting Mohammed Sylla (not that one!) and Brody Paterson at half-time.
Whether it was the substitutions, the managers’ team talk, or just a change in attitude, I don’t know but ‘Pool looked like a better team in the second half.
The Second Half
Unlucky! Good save!
In the 52nd minute Euan Murray saw his shot saved in the top left corner of the goal before Mark Shelton let loose a powerful shot from outside the penalty area. Town keeper, Mark Oxley was at full stretch to his right to push the shot away for a corner.
Hartlepool was the better team in the second half but chances were at a premium, mostly coming from set pieces.
Indeed, we had to wait until the 85th minute for the next goal. Good passing and movement from Hartlepool down the middle of the pitch saw Umerah put clear of the defence on the left-hand side of the area. As Oxley raced out of Town’s goal, Umerah calmly chipped the ball over the keeper and into the net. Good finish!
2-1 Harrogate Town!
The stage was now set for an unlikely comeback, with five minutes remaining plus an additional five minutes of injury time added by the referee. It wasn’t to be though. After much huffing and puffing, Hartlepool drew a blank in their efforts to equalise and the Sulphurites had done enough to win the match and ultimately move ahead of their opponents in the league.
Following the loss, coupled with wins for Crawley Town and Rochdale, Hartlepool United now find themselves rock-bottom of the Football League. Worrying times for ‘Pool fans!
Harrogate Town, however, climbed three positions and now find themselves in 20th place with this win.
You can read a Match Report from the Harrogate Informer here.
Before the kick-off of this match, I noticed a banner being held up in the Aon Stand terracing, calling for manager Simon Weaver to be sacked. After thirteen and a half years in charge of the club and unprecedented success for the club, this feels a little harsh to me. Having said that, nobody knows a club better than its own fan base, so who am I to question these calls?
Maybe it was an isolated case. Let me know!
Harrogate Town – Match Highlights
Full-time – Harrogate Town 2 Hartlepool United 1
Attendance – 2,075
Entrance Fee – £23.00
Programme – £3.00
Harrogate Town – After the Game
For those who were so inclined, there was a ladies’ match taking place in the same stadium with a 15:15 kick-off time. Anyone who had paid to see the Hartlepool game was welcome to stay behind and watch this game for free. Unfortunately, we had a train to catch.
Following the game, we walked back to Harrogate train station to catch our train home. After about half an hour of waiting, the 15:35 train to York pulled in and off we went.
Once in York, we caught the 16:35 train to Durham, arriving just before 18:30. Then a downhill walk to Milburngate and another wait for the bus home. We eventually arrived home at around 19:30 and went to pick up the pizzas that Mrs Hopper had ordered once we got on the bus.
Pizza anticipation always makes the journey home a bearable experience!
Our next game is one I’ve been looking forward to since it was postponed back on September 10th after the unfortunate passing of Queen Elizabeth. Arbroath v Raith Rovers and the stadium that is closest to the sea in all of Europe…
Onto the next!