How Harrogate Town's success on the pitch can bring an economic bonus for town
When victorious Harrogate Town captain Josh Falkingham lifted up the FA Trophy at Wembley Stadium earlier this week he was also helping to raise the town’s profile in a way that may end up boosting its post-Covid economy.
It’s not easy to put a price on the good PR for the town generated by the club’s victory on Monday, though a conservative guess would suggest somewhere in the region of the millions rather than thousands.
As well as being streamed live on the likes of BT Sport, Sky and Virgin Media, Town’s historic cup victory also featured in the national news after the match finished on TV, in print and online.
Leading figures in Harrogate now believe the heroic footballers’ incredible rise through the ranks in recent years will translate into increased business for the town’s visitor economy.
And it’s not only on match day when opposition fans travel to Harrogate when this welcome side affect of football success is coming into play.
The remarkable changes wrought at EnviroVent Stadium by chairman Irving Weaver and his son Simon, the team’s manager, in the last decade is also transforming Harrogate’s reputation as a whole - creating a new string to its bow beyond the traditional selling point of offering a uniquely beautiful town with great tea rooms and cafes.
At a time when hopes are rising that the nation may be about to emerge from lockdown for good, the end result of football success may feed into the visitor economy.
The chair of Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) believes Harrogate Town’s victory in the FA Trophy and growing fan base will eventually also be a win for traders in the town centre.
BID chair Sara Ferguson said: “We are very proud of Harrogate Town and what they have achieved on the pitch over the last 12 months - the team is well and truly putting Harrogate on the national map.
“When fans can once again attend sporting fixtures, we look forward to welcoming travelling supporters who we hope will patronise our fabulous town centre bars and restaurants for pre or post-match refreshments.”
It has been quite a year for Harrogate Town - that Wembley triumph over Concord Rangers alone earned them £60,000 as winners, never mind the financial bonus from the streaming of the match.
But the club’s continuing success during lockdown and the challenging days of the nation’s struggle to combat the Covid pandemic continues to strike a positive note away from the pitch.
Harrogate Borough Council says it is delighted that Town’s heroes including defender Warren Burrell, top scorer Jack Muldoon and captain Josh Falkingham, who netted Monday’s winning goal, are putting Harrogate on the national map.
Although no Harrogate Town supporters were allowed to attend the game at Wembley Stadium in a repetition of a similar situation because of Covid restrictions last season when the club won its historic promotion to the English Football League at the same ground, people were still watching Bank Holiday Monday’s big match.
Despite the chilly and wet weather, some even paid to watch the match live under canvas in a tipi marquee at Cedar Court Hotel.
Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones was among those following the FA Trophy final on TV, describing it as as “proper nailbiter”.
Mr Jones said: “It was a proper nailbiter as we approached the final whistle and great that BT Sport broadcast it free particularly since our fans couldn’t be there in person.
“But I am sure my voice is only one among thousands of fans congratulating the team on their stunning victory.
“The club just seems unstoppable at the minute.”
Coun Pat Marsh, the leader of the Lib Dem opposition on Harrogate Borough Council, said the team had done the entire town proud.
She said: “What an amazing achievement. Athough fans must have been disappointed at not being there nevertheless the boost this has given to Harrogate in general is just what the Doctor ordered.
“I want to thank the club and and its players for putting Harrogate firmly on the map. Well done to you all.”
If anyone understands the importance of building a reputation beyond the town’s boundaries, it’s the boss of Harrogate International Festivals.
Sharon Canavar has been chief executive since 2009 of the arts organisation which held its first event in 1966.
She said Harrogate International Festivals and Harrogate Town shared a similar a desire to engage with the community and fly the flag for Harrogate.
Sharon Canavar said: “We’d like to say a huge congratulations to Harrogate Town for their FA Trophy triumph.
"It is great to see Town flying the flag for Harrogate and raising the town’s profile on the national stage.
“Football brings communities together, and enhances lives through shared experiences - just as the arts do, and we, and the whole town celebrate with them.”
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