Dear Reader: 'Purdah' hits Harrogate + Promotion for Town?

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Monday, 16th April 2018, 4:23 pm
Updated Monday, 16th April 2018, 4:26 pm
Sophie Walker, national leader of the Womens Equality Party, speaking in Harrogate.

Sophie Walker had the steely focus of someone who knew exactly what she was talking about.The national leader of the Women’s Equality Party had taken a break from the campaign trail and was talking to me over a coffee in the café of M&S’s Leeds Road branch in Harrogate.Saturday morning had brought her up by train from London and within the hour she would be in Leeds in the hunt for votes in the forthcoming local elections.It was enlightening to talk to the leader of Britain’s newest - and only - feminist party over the course of a fascinating half hour amid the hiss of coffee machines and lunchtime chatter.And I’d really like to tell you more of what Sophie said but I can’t.

The national press may feel free to wade into controversy at the drop of a cabinet paper.But at election time, like local councils, the local press are subject to the rules of ‘Purdah’ to avoid influencing voters one way or the other.In our case, it's by choice rather than a legal necessity and the reason is pretty straightforward.In theory, if one national media organisation sides strongly with one party, another national media organisation will side with a different party - so it all balances out naturally.

Promotion hopes - Harrogate Town FC manager Simon Weaver.

In theory, at least.But at a local level, the local paper is often it - the lone voice.And, unlike the more, shall we say, ‘laissez faire’ boys and girls in London newsrooms, a local paper’s job is to try to be fair to everyone.

We simply cannot be seen to be favouring one candidate or another - or one party or another - even by accident.Hence the ‘Purdah’ against publishing any politically-charged stories around election time.Besides, local journalists usually live where the readers live...

Will this turn out to be the year the Grand Old Duke of York’s men finally don’t have to march back down the hill?After nearly 20 years of false dawns in the battle to win promotion, manager Simon Weaver’s talented footballers at Harrogate Town AFC are tantalisingly close to taking a giant step into the National League and rubbing shoulders – or boots – with household names like Halifax Town and Tranmere Rovers.

After successive victories over deadly rivals York City and Southport FC, Harrogate Town are just three points off rivals Salford City at the top with three games left to play.It's nailbitingly close.

Promotion hopes - Harrogate Town FC manager Simon Weaver.

As a football fan since I was knee-high, I’ve been to some of the biggest matches in some of the biggest grounds over four decades – as well as witnessing some of the game’s uglier moments in the dark days of hooliganism in the 1980s.

But it was my time as a young sports editor at the Goole Times trailing round the less glamorous stadia of the north which taught me the lesson that good football can happen anywhere.

I first saw the turf of the CNG Stadium on Wetherby Road in 1985 when I travelled on the team bus to watch Goole Town play Harrogate Town in the West Riding Cup final.Coming from bread-and-butter Goole, Harrogate seemed like a big place and Harrogate Town seemed like a big club.In truth they weren’t then - but they might just about to become one.C'mon Town!