Irving and Simon Weaver reflect on Harrogate Town's historic promotion
When Irving Weaver took over at Harrogate Town in June 2011, the club was attracting crowds of around 250 people.
The Wetherby Road outfit’s future did not appear the brightest, and it seemed more likely that they would be dropping out of the then-Blue Square Conference North rather than achieving promotion from it.
Fast forward seven years and Town are going up, with a place in the National League secured for the 2018/19 season courtesy of a 3-0 play-off final victory over Brackley Town earlier this month that saw a capacity turnout of 3,000 packed inside the CNG Stadium.
The club have realised a long-held ambition to reach the fifth tier of English football and the achievement is one that their chairman – a successful businessman with a multi-million pound fortune to his name – rates as one of his finest. Ever.
Yet, for Irving Weaver, the most satisfying aspect of helping guide the Sulphurites to promotion isn’t to be found in the glory of what has been done on the pitch during an historic campaign that saw Town score 100 goals in the league alone.
“The best thing about this promotion for me is the town coming together and getting behind the club. It’s been fantastic to see,” he said.
“The people of Harrogate turning up for us has been really important and so encouraging. You can’t do it without the supporters. It really is their club.
“Football is a game of passion and all that came out last Sunday, incredibly so, from every person on the terraces. There was euphoria because after all the work and all the planning we came through.
“It’s great to think that some of the youngsters will come here all their lives now after the experience of the Brackley game because you get attached. It was a brilliant day.”
There have been ups and downs out on the pitch during Irving Weaver’s tenure, the club having flirted with promotion on a number of occasions without managing to deliver until now.
Yet, all the while, plans were afoot behind the scenes to ensure that Town were on a solid financial footing, with the aim of ensuring self-sufficiency.
Money has been invested in developing the stadium and two years ago an artificial 3G pitch was laid, allowing the club to generate additional income by hiring out their facilities.
The decision to switch to full-time status was taken in the summer of 2017, meaning that long-serving manager Simon Weaver – Irving’s son – was able to work with his players, now dedicated professionals rather than part-time footballers with other jobs, every day rather than just a couple of times a week.
The proof is in the pudding, and it is no coincidence that Town’s most successful campaign to date arrived immediately after the switch to full-time football.
“I’ve always been a football supporter, so it’s always been about the first team, but as a chairman you have to look at the overall picture,”Irving Weaver added.
“For me, it’s about the whole collective thing. It’s about where the club stands financially, in the public eye, and on the pitch.
“You have to consider the infrastructure, the staff, the junior sides, the ladies teams, raising money and creating a business that is allied to football but not directly reliant on attendances and prize money from cup runs.
“The 3G pitch has been important, as has going full-time and the challenge is to bring in more and more income as we go up into a higher league, but I think that we are well-positioned to do that.
“On all fronts we’re a lot, lot better off than we were seven years ago.
“It’s taken that time because we’ve had to learn it and we’ve had to grow it gradually.”
Although rightly proud of what has been achieved to date, the club’s attentions have already turned to the future and ensuring that their upward trajectory continues.
Less than 24 hours after their play-off final triumph, planning was already underway for life in the National League.
“We’re facing up to the stark reality of the challenge [of promotion] and looking at how we progress,” Irving Weaver continued.
“We’ve been observing the league above for the last two or three years and watched how the sides promoted from National League have fared and some of them have found it tough, so it’s a bit daunting.
“Some of the clubs who’ve gone up have been really good at what they do and found it difficult, but I think we will be okay.
“One thing we’re obviously not wanting to do is slip back to where we have been. It’s all about steady progression.”
Simon Weaver was still in bed recovering from a long night celebrating the victory over Brackley when his phone started ringing as football agents from around the country began touting the services of their clients ahead of what the Town boss describes as the “biggest step up in non-league football”.
He added: “The first call I received was four and half hours after I’d come in due to the celebrations the night of the play-off final, but recruitment is absolutely essential and the process has already started.
“I think the core of the squad will remain the same, but we’ve got to bring in three or four quality players with the right mindset and avoid the traps that are set because you can easily get it wrong.
“I’ve been in changing rooms before where you’re on the crest of a wave and the manager brings in four or five players and the atmosphere changes. If that happens when you’ve made a step up in standard it can be brutal, so we need to avoid this.”
Although Town will have to add to their playing staff in the close season if they are serious about establishing themselves in the National League, there is no danger of them throwing huge amounts of cash around in a bid to buy success, because, in the words of Irving Weaver “it just doesn’t work.”
The model will remain the same, and given what has been achieved so far, one would imagine that there’s plenty more to come and the ever-blossoming bond between Town and the town is only going to continue to grow.