Harrogate Town scored a beauty with their recent two‑day Festival of Football.
Festivities started on the Saturday for Harrogate’s final home game before Christmas, against Brackley, which was played in a carnival atmosphere.
A crowd of 1,500 – several times up on the usual attendance of around 350 – saw Harrogate prevail 1-0 thanks to a last-minute winner from Paul Thirlwell.
The game was tied in with local charity Saint Michael’s Hospice which brought along some husky dogs. Admission was free, which helped to significantly boost the crowd, but a collection for the hospice was taken on the gate.
The late winner sent the fans home happy on a day when the predicted bad weather failed to really materialise.
Town director Ged Maloney said: “The game before Christmas is usually quiet and we used it as a marketing exercise.
Supporters forget a disappointing performance when that last-minute winner goes inGed Maloney
“You know that supporters quickly forget a disappointing performance when that last minute winner goes in.”
On the Sunday, Town hosted an exhibition day at the CNG Stadium which included a question and answer session with Liverpool and England footballer Gemma Bonner.
A West Riding U18s representative team beat a side of triallists for the Sports Recruiting USA team 5-4 in a great advert for ladies’ football.
A crowd of more than 200 saw the contest.
Mr Maloney said Gemma Bonner and Helen Winterburn, a former USA Soccer student and York City Ladies player, were both “a credit to the game”.
A post-match meal took place with representatives from WRCFA and the FA and the decision was made to run next season with an open age ladies’ team, with training provided from under 15s up.
Five ladies players who already play were so impressed by the event, they were keen to be a part of the Town project, while three sponsors have already been snapped up for the next festival.
Mr Maloney added: “I spent an hour on the pitch prior to the ladies’ game replacing divots and can confirm that Harrogate has had plenty of rain. The underfoot conditions were demanding to say the least.
“We also had a surprise appearance from the Women’s Soccer League mascot, Berry the Bear.
“Like Stig on Top Gear, I am not allowed to divulge the identity of Berry, but the chairman of Wetherby Athletic went missing for long periods of both games and there is a rumour that he will receive a nomination at next year’s Oscars for best supporting actor in a memorable outfit.”