Fans fill Josh Falkingham with hope that new life will be breathed into Harrogate Town's season
“It’s only been nine months but it feels like a hell of a long time,” said Josh Falkingham after playing in front of supporters again.
“It probably feels even longer for the fans.”
You could really feel the difference supporters made to Harrogate Town and their League Two game against Forest Green Rovers in Yorkshire’s first league game with fans since March. Ultimately, though, there was only so far the 410 could push them.
They sang, stamped, shouted and applauded. They heckled, cheered ironically, oohed and groaned but they never celebrated a goal. These are difficult times for the Sulphurites, memories of their Football League honeymoon fading as temperatures drop.
This was a test event with one side of the ground open to fans and the club only expect to be allowed around 850 into their 5,000 capacity home, but even such small numbers muffled behind masks made a difference.
“It felt like playing in front of a full house,” added Falkingham.
Staggered arrival times meant many were not in position but you could hear the effect as the players emerged to warm up.
“We spoke about it when we went back into the changing room because it was a real buzz,” said the Harrogate captain.
“Just seeing the faces – they were behind masks but it gave us a real lift.”
The appeal to sing along to Sweet Caroline fell flat but “Let’s have plenty of cheering and really enjoy this match,” did not.
The chants had started in the terrace alongside the new seated main stand by the time the players returned to the dressing room. An open-top bus parade apart, it was the first chance to laud those who took Town into the Football League for the first time.
Their maiden EFL voyage began positively, though recent weeks have been tough. Fourth on October 20, Harrogate have won just two of 12 matches since.
“We got off to a flier and maybe we got caught up in that,” admitted Falkingham.
“We only had two games to win [to complete 2019/20] and we flew into another season not really thinking about who we were playing. If you split it into two periods of eight games it’s been chalk and cheese.”
It has been tougher without support.
“It’s definitely been an eye-opener to really appreciate them,” added Falkingham.
“We want to get back to what we were used to in March.
“The parade showed to us players the support in the town. It’s a unique atmosphere, really tight to the pitch, and the fans make a big difference.”
The players certainly appreciated the help on Saturday, applauding the fans at full-time, who reciprocated before waiting to be told it was time for their row to leave. It was not the dream return, but encouraging.
“We didn’t get the result but it was a real positive,” Falkingham continued.
“Fingers crossed we’ll turn this around and start getting the results we did at the start of the season.
“The more fans we can get in it will give us even more of a buzz. Hopefully it can spark us into life.
“There has been a step-up in quality. We believe we can learn and match it so we can build into a well-established Football League side, like Forest Green.”