Harrogate Town goalkeeper James Belshaw’s play-off final date with his boyhood club was ‘written in the stars'

As soon as Notts County’s relegation from League Two was confirmed last May, James Belshaw jokingly predicted that his boyhood club were destined to meet his current employers in the 2019/20 National League play-off final.

Thursday, 30th July 2020, 1:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 30th July 2020, 1:42 pm
Harrogate Town goalkeeper James Belshaw. Picture: Matt Kirkham

The Harrogate Town goalkeeper is a lifelong Magpies fan and spent eight years with the County academy, honing his skills between the sticks at Meadow Lane up until the age of 15.

He used to follow Notts home and away. His dad, Paul, remains a season-ticket holder and barely misses a game.

Thus, as far as Belshaw is concerned, the Wembley showpiece clash with his hometown team that Harrogate set-up by beating Boreham Wood on Saturday was “written in the stars.”

James Belshaw in action during Harrogate Town's play-off semi-final victory over Boreham Wood. Picture: Matt Kirkham

He said: “I joked at home with the family about Harrogate versus Notts in the play-off final and here we are.

“It’s a big game anyway, but even bigger for me because of the fact that my family are all big County fans.

“I spent most of my childhood playing in the academy there and I used to go to all the games until I started playing myself.

“I’ve always supported them, I’m not as avid now, but they’re still my team.

“My dad is a season-ticket holder. Notts are massive for him. How they’re doing dictates his mood, but he’s said that family comes first, so I know he’ll be happy for me if we get the result this weekend.”

Sunday’s match pits the teams that finished second and third at the end of the regular season against one another, and Belshaw is anticipating a close-fought encounter.

“It’s the right final, in my opinion. This is second versus third, the two best teams after Barrow,” he added.

“It’s going to be very tough. Notts are a good side, very well organised.

“I watched their semi-final against Barnet and obviously we’ve done our homework. On Saturday they set up in a 4-4-2 like we do, so it should make for an interesting match-up.

“The main thing for us is just to concentrate on our game because if we’re at our best then we know we have a great chance.”

Playing on a pitch as big as Wembley’s should suit Town’s expansive passing style, though Belshaw has warned that nothing can be taken for granted.

“We’re certainly fit enough to cover the ground, while the energy, intensity and tempo that we play with should help,” he continued.

“If we keep the ball and move it well enough then the pitch at Wembley could well suit us, however you’ve got to remember that both teams are heading into the unknown here.

“You also have to factor in the lack of a crowd inside that massive stadium, so I think that it will be the team who adapts best to the surroundings that will have the advantage.

“As players, I imagine it will be an emotional moment walking out at Wembley. This is a dream you have as a kid that you never really expect to come true.

“The first five or 10 minutes I would expect that there will be some nerves on both sides and whoever handles those better will have more of a chance of going on and getting the result.”