James Belshaw hasn't left Harrogate Town just to play second fiddle at Bristol Rovers

James Belshaw says he left Harrogate Town to join Bristol Rovers with the intention of trying to establish himself as Joey Barton's first-choice goalkeeper.

Thursday, 29th July 2021, 7:49 am
James Belshaw in pre-season training with Harrogate Town earlier this summer. Picture: Matt Kirkham

The two-time promotion-winning stopper's four-year stint at Wetherby Road came to an end on Friday when he joined the Gas for an undisclosed fee.

The 30-year-old was given permission to find himself a new club after Town moved to bring in Mark Oxley and handed the ex-Southend United custodian the number one jersey.

Having impressed during an extended period on trial at the Memorial Stadium, Belshaw was offered a two-year deal by League Two Rovers last week.

Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton. Picture: Getty Images

The Bristol outfit already boast a seasoned number one in the shape of Finland international Anssi Jaakola, however Belshaw has revealed that Barton assured him he has not been brought in merely to warm the substitutes' bench.

"I'm absolutely thrilled to have joined Bristol Rovers," Belshaw told the Harrogate Advertiser.

"This is a great club. I was disappointed with how things ended at Harrogate, but that situation has led to a fantastic opportunity and one that I was really keen to pursue once it arose.

"I had quite a few chats with the gaffer [Barton] while I was on trial. We sat down after I'd been there a while and I asked him what he was thinking in terms of my role.

"He told me that if he just wanted a back-up goalkeeper then he would have signed me after my first day training with them. He said that he wants another number one to push the goalkeepers he already has and to fight for the shirt.

"I'm not arrogant, I don't expect to walk into a club and be first choice, I know that I've got to fight and prove my worth, but I back myself to be able to do that and force my way into his plans."

A firm favourite with Town's supporters, Belshaw's exit from Town was met by disappointment from a large section of the Sulphurites' fan-base.

And Belshaw himself says he leaves North Yorkshire with a heavy heart.

"I'm sad to have left. Harrogate Town was a place where I felt really at home, there was a sense of family about the club," he added.

"Going back to the back end of last of season before I was dropped [for the final six games of 2020/21] , I felt like I was playing really well, so I could never have envisaged a situation like this developing. I signed a three-and-a-half year contract last January and fully intended to honour it.

"But, the gaffer told me he was bringing in another goalkeeper and I felt that left me with no choice but to explore my options.

"When I came back from pre-season I was handed a piece of paper with my details on that I had to sign and I saw I'd been given the number 21 shirt. I felt that made it quite clear to me that I had no future at the club, but that's football. You just have to take it on the chin."

The former England 'C' international does however insist that he holds no grudges and says he cannot to return to Harrogate when Rovers visit the EnviroVent Stadium on October 30.

"Like I say, I'm sad about the ways things panned out, but 98 per cent of my time at the club was fantastic," Belshaw continued.

"There are no grudges. There's no bad blood and I am looking forward to seeing everyone when I come back with Bristol in October.

"I had an unbelievable four years with Harrogate and what we achieved was out of this world.

"Winning the National League play-off final at Wembley tops everything. That was the highlight, but I have so many good memories and have made a lot of friends for life."