From the Terraces: Words don't do Harrogate Town's recent successes justice
Harrogate Town supporter Dave Worton's latest weekly fan column.
Cast your mind back, if you will dear reader, to a bitter winter’s day in December 2019 with horizontal sheets of rain lashing the pitch and battering us in the stands.
Harrogate Town are 2-0 down to Hartlepool United with 13 minutes to go. It’s been the most abject of FA Trophy first round performances and my daughter Molly contemplates leaving early, along with probably half of the 803 in attendance.
It’s at this point that one of our regulars gives up and disappears into the bar to drown his sorrows. What happens next is the stuff of legend.
Hartlepool gift us a way back into the game by comically slicing the ball into their own net, but it still looks as if they will hold out against a late Town onslaught when, four minutes from time, the visiting keeper spills a routine catch and Connor Hall gratefully prods in.
Unbelievably, the same things happen again in injury time as a high, backwards slice from a Pools defender is again spilled by a keeper who, I swear, goes up to catch the greasy ball with his eyes closed under a token Jack Emmett challenge, and Brendan Kiernan is on hand to slide in the winner.
Those of us who were there, and not in town Christmas shopping, will never forget the momentous collision of high farce and dramatic comeback, and I believe we fans can indeed take some credit for so unnerving the hapless custodian as the injury time sliced high ball spiralled downwards towards him.
And so began the longest cup run in Town’s history, albeit not for the reasons we anticipated back then, pre-pandemic. Maybe, just maybe, it was always meant to be.
It’s true that Town never looked back from that stuttering start, with clinical victories over Darlington and Eastleigh and a marvellous triumph at AFC Fylde before the virus closed everything down.
The Notts County semi-final, originally scheduled as two legs with tickets already sold, became one match at Meadow Lane early this season and, again, Town came through.
It wasn’t an easy run, with four of the five opponents fellow National League teams, and Town fully deserved to finally get their chance to play at Wembley a long year-and-a-half after embarking on the campaign.
Perversely, the final against the lowest placed team we’ve played in the competition, Darlington notwithstanding, proves to be arguably the toughest.
I think we’ve already established that the decision to play the 2020 Non-League Finals behind closed doors is a disgraceful one taken by the FA, but we have to make the best of the circumstances presented to us, so it’s another date in front of the television screen.
A team that’s never been to Wembley in its 102-year-old history, plays there twice in a matter of months and we have to watch from over 200 miles away.
Don’t even get me started on that, as I’ve said enough already, but I’m sure there’s a bus analogy in there somewhere for our enigmatic Radio York commentator, Barry Parker.
Unusually for Town, we start as red-hot favourites against Concord Rangers, a team two levels below us and not having played a competitive game since March.
It’s a situation we’re certainly not used to, usually taking the role of plucky underdogs, and the pressure seems to take its toll in the first half.
Despite enjoying the majority of possession and chances, Town look a little off the pace going forward and, when they do plant a shot on target, the Concord keeper Chris Haigh is in inspired form, memorably stretching out a foot to spoon Jon Stead’s deflected, goal-bound shot over his cross-bar just before half-time.
The Beach Boys set up with five across the back and succeed in frustrating the Harrogate players, supporters and manager. Simon Weaver looks furious throughout much of the first period and I’d hate to be party to his team-talk at half-time.
The second 45 is an improvement, but it still looks as if it may be turning into ‘one of those days’. An injection of pace, with substitutes Ryan Fallowfield and Kiernan, helps in stretching the hitherto solid defensive line and, as the Concord players understandably tire, Jack Muldoon spots a chink of light 76 minutes in.
Driving at the Rangers defence, he finally beats Haigh, only to see his shot cannon off the inside of the post, but into the path of captain Josh Falkingham, who doesn’t miss.
What the hell he was doing up there is a mystery, but what a time to score your first goal of the season.
It’s undoubtedly job done for Town, but I have nothing but respect, and not a little sympathy, for brave Concord Rangers this morning and I wish them well next season.
So the Sulphurites become the third club in history to win a National League Promotion Final and FA Trophy double, matching the achievement of near-neighbours York City in 2012, albeit under the most bizarre of circumstances.
The Minstermen also managed to win the Trophy in 2017, while suffering relegation from the National League, but let’s not go there anytime soon.
What a great couple of weeks it’s been, with Town confirming their Football League status for next season and now bringing back the FA Trophy to Harrogate. Words just don’t do it justice.
But, if we think it’s strange for us as supporters watching these events on a television screen, just think what it’s like for the players. Your natural instinct on receiving a trophy at Wembley must be to head off to the fans to celebrate. Oh, wait a minute.
So it’s incumbent on Town to organise an event along the lines of the event last year. When I wound up last season’s columns, by reporting on the bus tour of the town with the words, ‘it would be nice to do this again next year’, I didn’t quite have these specific circumstances in mind, but no matter.
With the FA Trophy due to be heading into the safekeeping of either Hereford or Hornchurch in just under three weeks, there must be a way for the team to safely celebrate winning it with the fans before it disappears.
The fact that we’ve only been able to attend two full games, plus ten short minutes, this season makes it something well worth doing.
So much has been happening in fact, that I’ve barely had time to mention the crazy, seesaw 5-4 victory over promotion chasers Cambridge United at Wetherby Road last Friday night.
It was, quite frankly, one of the most amazing matches I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
I’m reliably informed that a fair number of Cambridge fans turned up outside the ground, trying to peer in from any vantage point, ready to celebrate the clinching of promotion against a Town team displaying eight changes ahead of the Trophy Final. That went well.
Football, don’t ever try to predict it.