From the Terraces: A small step towards normality for Harrogate Town supporters

Harrogate Town supporter Dave Worton's latest weekly fan column.
Harrogate Town supporters were finally allowed back into the EnviroVent Stadium after nine long months away. Pictures: Matt KirkhamHarrogate Town supporters were finally allowed back into the EnviroVent Stadium after nine long months away. Pictures: Matt Kirkham
Harrogate Town supporters were finally allowed back into the EnviroVent Stadium after nine long months away. Pictures: Matt Kirkham

If you overlook an underwhelming, goal-less, sodden, pre-season friendly at Brighouse, today’s the day we get to see Town in the flesh for the first time for nine long, long months.

We’ve missed the club’s first ever appearance at Wembley, a third of our first-ever season in the Football League and a semi-final victory in the FA Trophy (the final is still to be played at some stage). Most of all, we’ve missed each other.

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As Harrogate Town are the only Yorkshire-based Football League side to be allowed fans back into their stadium, we’re the story of the weekend with the football media, and today’s match against Forest Green Rovers is a test event for around 500 season ticket deposit holders.

Dave Worton, right, with his daughter, Molly, left.Dave Worton, right, with his daughter, Molly, left.
Dave Worton, right, with his daughter, Molly, left.

Of course it’s not quite that simple, as Town fans with season ticket deposits, who happen to live in Tier 3 Leeds, aren’t allowed to attend.

The club’s gone the extra mile to comply with Covid-19 restrictions. We’ve got e-tickets, staggered arrival times, pink-vested Covid marshalls and hand sanitiser. Most importantly, an excited Molly and I pass the compulsory temperature test. Phew. We’re in.

Once safely inside, there are no programmes on sale and the food kiosk is shuttered. We are told to head straight to our place in the stand and stay there, a safe distance apart from the person or bubble next to us. Masks are to be worn at all times but singing, and shouting at the officials, is definitely allowed.

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We’re stood in the new ‘Car Park Stand’ adjacent to the even newer all-seater Main Stand, hosting non-cardboard fans for the first time ever.

It’s brilliant to see all the familiar faces, masks notwithstanding, that we’ve not seen in so long, even if we do have to keep our distance, and we try to lift the team the best we can through the fabric.

It’s not the ideal conditions for cheering your team on, especially when our loudest singer’s glasses keep steaming up, and it’s impossible to achieve the normal atmosphere, but it’s good to hear some noise in the ground once more.

There’s even a tentative chant of ‘Can you hear the Forest Green sing?’ Away fans aren’t allowed to travel, of course.

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Half-time arrives goal-less. The bar’s closed and we have to stay in position. ‘Fifteen pints and just one scotch egg!’ shouts one of our number to the staff member who’d normally be pulling pints.

The other three sides of the ground sit mainly empty, aside from media personnel and the rows of substitutes. Just two cameramen scar the empty Kop terracing as Town attack towards it in the second half.

Back in March the Kop was busy and rocking, as Town took the lead against a visiting Bromley team in the last match before lockdown. The atmosphere was euphoric when Town scored, as grown men hugged and home fans punched the night air.

There’s none of that today, as Town hit another disappointing blank. Not that we’re allowed to hug and jump around with people outside our bubble anyway.

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On the final whistle, with the score at 0-1, the disappointed Harrogate players and staff come over to applaud us and we applaud them back. We’ve missed them, and they’ve missed us.

It’s been a fairly even match against a competent, if not great, team in fourth place in the League Two standins, and a massive improvement on the 2-5 drubbing by Scunthorpe in midweek.

The only difference between the teams today is that our vegan-friendly visitors, with a returning and much, I hesitate to say, beefed-up Liam Kitching in central defence, always look the most likely to score.

And they manage to do so, just the once. Town look better on the ball than recently, and give it a real go towards the end, without ever looking like equalising. Our lack of a decisive edge against the better defences of the EFL is a concern.

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We have to hope, though, that this is the start of Town rediscovering their early season swagger and form, if a difficult first season in the EFL is to be avoided.

All that’s left is for us fans to wait, like school children standing in line in the playground, for the stewards to give each row the go ahead to leave sensibly via the one way system. Needs must, of course, as we all want to be back here next match, safe and sound.

It’s not the full football-supporting experience we know and love, but it’s a small step towards normality, and for that, my daughter and I are grateful.

It beats a buffering streaming service, any day of the week.