Bristol Rovers boss Joey Barton reveals admiration for Harrogate Town and praises Simon Weaver's 'wonderful job'
The former Manchester City, Newcastle United and Marseilles midfielder brings his struggling Gas outfit to Wetherby Road this weekend aiming to narrow the eight-point gap which currently separates two clubs with very different histories.
Rovers have spent almost the entirety of the last century playing in the Football League (EFL), with a big chunk of that time seeing them competing in England's second and third tiers.
By contrast, Harrogate are enjoying just their second season as an EFL club. They only turned professional in 2017, at which point they were a mid-table sixth-division outfit. Prior to that, they had played most of their football in the Yorkshire League and Northern Premier League.
Yet, it is Town who are currently making a better fist of life in League Two. Second in the table prior to last weekend's loss at Hartlepool United, the Sulphurites currently sit fifth with 23 points to their name.
Rovers, who were relegated from League One last term and began the season with high hopes of an immediate bounce back, will arrive in North Yorkshire in 18th place.
In comparing his own club with Saturday's opponents, Barton pointed to the off-field stability at Harrogate as being a significant difference, suggesting that the Pirates would do well to follow such an example.
"We play a side on Saturday in Harrogate Town who have had a lot of sustainability, a lot of balance in their club," he told Bristol Live.
"The last time I went to Harrogate Town, I went with my father. Knowsley United played there before the turn of the millennium, so it shows just how far that football club has come, how much progress they’ve had through having a solid foundation to build off.
"I think our football club could certainly benefit from the route map. Teams that tend to do well tend to have balanced structure on and off the pitch. It’s no coincidence, it just allows people to do their job.
"They are sitting fighting against some very big football clubs in resources and history, but they sit there with an equal footing and I think the football pyramid in this country is a testament to big football clubs with big fanbases not doing things correctly over a prolonged period and suffering the consequences of that.
"It can happen occasionally and sporadically where off the field and on the field can live separate to each other, but if you’re in a truly high-performing culture and you want high performance at your football club, that takes a lot of people working hard over a long period to see the benefit of that and I think Harrogate are a huge testament to that."
In Simon Weaver, Harrogate boast the longest-serving manager in the EFL, and Barton believes that both the Town boss and his father - chairman Irving Weaver - deserve credit for the jobs they have done at the EnvrioVent Stadium.
He added: "They are a really well-run football club punching way above their weight. It looks like they are going to have a good season again this season and there are reasons for that.
"They’ve had a manager in situ since 2009 who has done a wonderful job. It has probably helped that his dad is the chairman. It mightn’t help him in some regards, but it helps that his dad is the chairman.
"They’ve got solid continuity running right through the football club and it’s no surprise to see them rise up the levels and do as well as they have.
"They are a really good side in with a right chance of promotion this year based on the viewing of the last week.
"They’re a really good side and Simon’s done a great job there. Massive credit to them and the job both the Weavers have done at the football club."
Saturday's clash kicks-off at Wetherby Road at 3pm on Saturday afternoon.
Tickets are available to purchase in Town's club shop on Commercial Street Store right up until kick-off on matchday and from the ticket office window at the EnviroVent Stadium between 9am and 11am.
There will be no sales or collections on the gate on the day of the game.