James Belshaw and Harrogate Town needed just 90 minutes to realise they wanted each other back for good
The 33-year-old goalkeeper returned to Wetherby Road, where he won two promotions between 2017-2021, on an emergency loan deal in December.
With manager Simon Weaver open about the fact that he was determined to give Harrogate fans “what they wanted” and bring Belshaw back home, it came as no huge surprise when it was announced this week that he was sticking around, rejoining Town from Bristol Rovers for an undisclosed fee.
But both parties knew that they wanted that temporary arrangement to become a long-term one after the very first match of his second spell with the club.
"As soon as I heard of the interest in bringing me back on a permanent basis, I jumped at the chance,” Belshaw explained.
"After the first game against Notts County, I sat down with the gaffer and he said ‘would you be open to coming back here on a full-time basis?.
"I said ‘absolutely’. Obviously I’ve got some unbelievable memories from my time at the football club and it was something that I wanted to pursue.
"The move was something that I was keen to do. After that, there were a lot of conversations taking place but my side of it was straight forward. Once the fee had been agreed, it was just up to me to say ‘yes’ and I am absolutely buzzing to be back.
"It’s been so nice to be back in front of the fans and hear them singing my name again. The club has made huge strides in the time I’ve been away and now I get to be part of that on a permanent basis.”
In addition to those two promotions from National League North and the National League, Belshaw has chalked up 190 promotions for Harrogate and returned to North Yorkshire “a better player”, according to his manager.
Boss Weaver said: “I am delighted to get this deal for Belly over the line. The fans have made their feelings clear for a number of weeks now so I’m sure they will be equally pleased.
“He has returned a better player than he was in his first spell and I think that comes from the experience he has gained at this level and the level above. He is like an outfield player in terms of his ability with the ball at his feet.
“I know the lads in the changing room really like him so this signing adds even more of a buzz around the club.”
In addition to landing Belshaw on an 18-month deal, Town have also extended fellow stopper Jonathan Mitchell’s stay at the EnviroVent Stadium until the end of the season.
The former Doncaster Rovers goalkeeper initially joined as a free agent in November to provide cover for the injured Mark Oxley on a contract which expired on January 1.
He then damaged a knee in training last month, forcing Weaver to move for Belshaw, but having impressed during his run of six matches between the sticks, Mitchell has now been handed a new deal which runs until the conclusion of 2023/24.
“I am delighted to now have a deal until the end of the season,” he said. “Obviously, I came in to provide injury cover and ended up getting injured, but now I am looking forwards.
“I’ve been welcomed with open arms since joining. I am really enjoying representing the club and, while I have been injured, the club has been great with me.”
Weaver added: “We have been really impressed by the attitude and application which Mitch has shown while he has been with us.
"He was under a lot of pressure on a short-term contract but he showed his mettle, and I think that is something which deserves rewarding.
“We now have an abundance of talent in that goalkeeper department. It is up to those lads to provide that competition for places and that should help to maintain the high level of quality we have seen in recent weeks.”
Mitchell continued his road to recovery this week by taking part in first-team training sessions ahead of Saturday’s League Two trip to Forest Green Rovers.