Harrogate Town chairman Irving Weaver addresses EnviroVent Stadium safety issues and concedes that club could have communicated better

Irving Weaver has provided an insight into the off-field problems that threatened to prohibit Harrogate Town from kicking-off 2021/22 in front of fans, and conceded that the club could have communicated better.

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 1:17 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th August 2021, 1:25 pm
Harrogate Town chairman Irving Weaver. Pictures: Matt Kirkham

The League Two Sulphurites were only given the green light by North Yorkshire County Council's Safety Advisory Group (SAG) to allow spectators inside the EnviroVent Stadium for Saturday's season-opener against Rochdale on Wednesday afternoon

Under guidance from the SAG, Town were forced to play July 24's pre-season friendly against Sunderland behind closed doors.

Concerns over a number of safety issues regarding stewarding, CCTV and the control room at their Wetherby Road home were subsequently addressed, and home supporters were allowed to attend Sunday's clash with Doncaster Rovers.

Harrogate Town supporters inside the EnviroVent Stadium.

Away fans were not permitted entry to that game, prompting fears that Harrogate may have to commence their second season as a League Two outfit in front of an empty stadium.

But, the club announced at 3.30pm on Wednesday that tickets for the opening-day fixture were on sale online, 600 of which had already been delivered to Rochdale's Spotland home.

And although disaster has eventually been averted, releasing match tickets less than 72 hours before the start of the new campaign has, unsurprisingly, seen Town come under fire.

The episode has undoubtedly damaged the club's reputation, sparking an angry reaction among its own fanbase, plus supporters of Rochdale, Doncaster and Sunderland.

Addressing the issues he and his staff have been working to rectify, Sulphurites chairman Weaver told the Harrogate Advertiser: "We ran into problems that we thought were solvable, but fairly quickly these issues gathered momentum.

"From the initial issues we were working on, we then had to address things that we never dreamt could be a problem.

"The consequence was that this dragged the process out. We believed initially that we were only a few days away from putting everything right, but as things snowballed we were left with more and more work to carry out.

"A fundamental problem was our control room, which was completed later than planned. All the stadium's lines of communication run through here and it was quite a technical issue.

"During the Covid period [of fans not being permitted inside grounds] we should have been more aware of what needed doing and the work could have been carried out then."

Having reflected on the club’s handling of the situation, Weaver went on to say that he felt that Town could have been more forthcoming with information regarding their progress in dealing with the issues raised by the SAG.

He did however explain that the fluidity of the situation resulted in the club proceeding cautiously as to avoid divulging any information prematurely.

"I realise that the fans have been left on the outside of this situation and, in hindsight, I feel we could have communicated better during this process," he added.

"We kept finding ourselves in a position where we felt we were only a few days from having everything sorted and being able to make an announcement, but then more issues were discovered and it dragged the process out, so we kept having to wait.

"We wanted to provide updates as we went along, but the problem we had was that we couldn't always define exactly where we actually were in the process because more issues kept arising.

"We had to be careful about setting an end date publicly or about saying too much before we were certain that everything we were working on was taken care of as it all had to be signed off by the SAG."

Describing the last fortnight as a "tense" period, Weaver went on to insist that there was never any doubt in his mind that the required remedial work would be completed in time, though he admits that he would have liked it wrapping up sooner.

"I didn't lose belief that we were going to get everything sorted in time, but things did get quite tense because of the time-frame," he said.

"You never want to find yourself in a position like this, it certainly would have been nice to have had everything taken care of a week earlier so that everyone knew where they stood ahead of the Rochdale fixture.

"To be fair to Rochdale, they have stood by us and were understanding of the situation we were in.

"All of the staff, in fact everyone involved, has worked so hard to get the job done and the important thing is that we have got there in the end.

"We really did attack the situation and the one good thing is that there is now very little that we could improve upon in terms of safety inside the stadium. The fundamentals should be set for good now and the SAG have said that they cannot anticipate any further issues."