Bolton Wanderers v Harrogate Town: Lloyd Kerry relishing what once seemed an unlikely showdown
Rewind seven years to when he first signed for Harrogate Town and Lloyd Kerry could never have envisaged that he would be lining up against Bolton Wanderers in a league fixture.
Back in 2014, the Sulphurites were a mid-table National League North club comprised of semi-professional footballers. By comparison, the Trotters were playing in the Championship following a decade of Premier League football which included two UEFA Cup adventures.
The Bolton side at that point in time had long-since been shorn of superstars like Nicolas Anelka and Jay Jay Okocha, though it still boasted household names such as Emile Heskey and Eidur Gudjohnsen.
Under the stewardship of Dougie Freedman, Wanderers kicked off their campaign at Watford before going on to tackle Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Brighton and Leeds United in the weeks that followed.
Meanwhile, in North Yorkshire, Kerry and his Town boss Simon Weaver were entertaining Tamworth at Wetherby Road.
Obviously, a lot can change in the space of six seasons, but for those particular two clubs - three tiers apart in 2014 - to eventually end up playing in the same division is quite something.
That Kerry was there at Town then and is still doing the business for Harrogate all these years later is also an achievement in itself, the central midfielder having remained a key player throughout the Sulphurites’ rise up the non-league pyramid despite suffering a number of serious injuries.
“I definitely couldn’t have imagined this fixture when I first joined the club,” the 32-year-old former Sheffield United trainee told the Harrogate Advertiser.
“We were part-time in Conference North, so if someone had said that to me back then that one day you’ll be going to play Bolton Wanderers as equals I would have thought they were daft.
“I think that myself and everyone else who has been involved in what has been quite a journey for this club can be extremely proud and satisfied of how far we’ve come and what we have achieved.
“When the fixtures came out at the start of this season, this game was definitely one I looked for first. Of course you want to play in it against a massive club in a big stadium.”
All that said, there is no danger of Kerry turning up at the University of Bolton Stadium this weekend starry-eyed.
“You wouldn’t expect Harrogate Town to be in the same division as Bolton Wanderers. But, we are where we are now, and we’ll be going there looking to win the game on Saturday,” added the midfielder, who has visited big stadiums in the shape of Wembley, the Hawthorns and Valley Parade within the last eight months.
“It goes without saying that we’ve enjoyed the success we’ve had and we’re enjoying being a Football League club, but we don’t want to stand still. We want more of the same and we want to keep improving and keep progressing as a club.
“Everyone will be right up for it, going to play Bolton Wanderers is a huge game – and a tough game, they have been flying recently.
“But, we expect the pitch to be good there and that will suit us, we’re a team full of players who like to play.
“If we can match their fight, match their energy, then we know we’ve got a great chance.”
Having recovered from a minor ankle knock sustained last month, Kerry made a good impression from the substitutes' bench against Walsall on Good Friday before returning to Weaver's starting XI for Easter Monday's loss to Port Vale.
And, after a couple of very positive performances, he is hopeful of nailing down his place in the side for the remaining eight matches of 2020/21 - one of which is the FA Trophy final at Wembley.
"I felt like I was playing quite well before I got injured last month having come back into the side after a spell out," he said.
"I thought I did pretty well when I came on at Walsall and then played okay against Port Vale. I always try to make sure I'm as ready as I can be when called upon and aim to add energy and try and get on the second balls and get us playing.
"So, hopefully I can keep helping the team and try and play as many games as possible between now and the end of the season."