View from the press box: Leesley and Woods deals are genuine statements of intent

Joe Leesley in action for Harrogate Town. Picture: Matt Kirkham
Joe Leesley in action for Harrogate Town. Picture: Matt Kirkham

Harrogate Advertiser Series sports editor Rhys Howell has his say on the latest goings-on at Harrogate Town.

Harrogate Town have made two big statements of intent within the last seven days.

Highly-rated left-winger Joe Leesley has been tied down to an extended contract that will keep him at Wetherby Road until 2022, while Michael Woods, a player good enough to command a seven-figure transfer fee as a 16-year-old, has been added to the ranks.

Leesley, last season’s National League North Player of the Year, has been attracting admiring glances from elsewhere on a regular basing during the last few years and came close to joining Salford City last term.

He is fiercely and very openly ambitious, driven by a burning desire to play in the Football League following his release by Doncaster Rovers as a teenager.

It is telling that someone with such an aim is signing on for the long-haul, clearly confident in the club’s ability to progress from English football’s fifth tier sooner rather than later.

When asked why he had decided to commit to at least another three and a half years at the CNG Stadium, his answer was because he believed that Harrogate Town were the club to help him realise his ultimate goal.

From boss Simon Weaver through to managing director Garry Plant, every single person connected to Town who I’ve spoken to since promotion last season has insisted that they are not in the National League simply to make up the numbers.

And this new deal for Leesley certainly backs up those words.

He has alredy created 13 goals this season, thus his extended contract is a recognition of his worth and a reward for him stepping up to the plate at a higher level.

Woods is no stranger to those of a yellow and black persuasion, having played 37 league games for the club between 2013 and 2014.

He boasts an impressive footballing CV and genuine pedigree.

Anyone who might dismiss him as a child prodigy who never really delivered on his undoubted early potential will struggle to argue with 11 goals from midfield while playing in the National League for a rather average Hartlepool side just last term.

He's a proven performer at this level, and the one above it, and undoubtedly has what it takes to come into an already talented squad and add something extra to it.

He has been subject to a number of offers from Football League clubs since the Pools’ demotion and could certainly have moved higher up the pyramid this week when he decided it was time for a change.

Yet, he opted for Harrogate, albeit to join a club he knows well and a manager who he’s worked with before, but mainly because, in his own words, they are a “club on the up.”

And, having tied Leesley down and brought in Woods, Town have given themselves every chance of maintaining their upward trajectory, strengthening their hand as they bid to build on their promising start.