The somewhat bemused faces pretty much said it all… where had all these people come from?
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As the queue of men, women and children snaked along Wetherby Road, late-comers could be heard muttering under their breath as they half-jogged to the end of the line. While the exact wording of their chuntering was difficult to make out, you can bet it was something along the lines of… “where were you lot two seasons ago?”
The grumpy among us were in the minority however as we waited patiently in line to enter the CNG Stadium, excited at the prospect of watching Harrogate Town take on promotion rivals and former Football League side Wrexham.
Something special was in the air. People were taking pictures of the masses of fans waiting to get in, sending them on to their pals and sharing them on Social Media. You could imagine the associated comment being something along the lines of ‘Harrogate have arrived in the big time…’
They are not far wrong.
This was my first experience of a Harrogate Town game since my days as the Leeds United reporter working for the Yorkshire Evening Post back in the days when the Elland Road club were marching on together in the Premier League and Europe.
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Having moved to Harrogate during the summer break, I was more than aware of how much things had changed for the football club. Promotion had been secured and the excitement of seeing their team reach the National League had resulted in a spike of interest within the town.
A pre-match drink in The Empress had already offered us a sign that things were going to be rather different to my previous visit 15 years ago. Packed with football supporters, bedecked in both the red of Wrexham and yellow of the host team, there was a really enjoyable football atmosphere brewing.
As I sat there supping my pint and enjoying a steak and kidney pie, I remembered how someone had once told me that Harrogate simply ‘wasn’t a footballing town’ and that it would ‘never catch on’.
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The efforts of chairman and manager, father and son, Irving and Simon Weaver, have changed all that. Standing in that queue proved beyond all doubt that Harrogate could indeed claim to be a ‘footballing town’ and that the success of this team was continuing to break new ground. And from my pre-match experience in The Empress, it is clear the benefits are being felt right across the town.
Our feature on pages 6 and 7 of this week’s paper is also evidence of just how important a successful football team is to its town. Its community ethos continuing to underpin their success on the field.
Harrogate Town is a progressive club moving onwards and upwards... just don’t expect to turn up five minutes before kick-off and walk straight into the ground.