Making Wembley dream a reality isn’t Harrogate Town skipper Josh Falkingham’s top priority – yet
The dream of every young footballer growing up in England is to one day run out at Wembley Stadium, according to Harrogate Town captain Josh Falkingham.
For those plying their trade in non-league and the lower reaches of the Football League, chances to realise such an ambition don’t usually come around all that often.
Yet, for 29-year-old former Leeds United trainee Falkingham and his Town team-mates, two visits in the same season appeared very much on the cards before the coronavirus pandemic ended 2019/20 prematurely.
They still might be, with Harrogate due to compete in both the National League play-offs later this month and the semi-finals of the FA Trophy at some point in the future.
Thus, Falkingham is potentially just one victory away from turning his childhood dream into reality, but although the midfielder admits the prospect excites him, he insists that neither he nor any of his colleagues can afford to get ahead of themselves.
Overcoming the winner of the eliminator clash between Boreham Wood and FC Halifax Town is all that stands between Harrogate and their place in the play-off final and that game is all that the Wetherby Road outfit are currently focusing on.
“I think that every single footballer will dream about playing at Wembley and we’re only one game away from that,” Falkingham said.
“It’s a carrot being dangled, it’s even more of an incentive for us to get the job done. The news that the play-off final would take place there was brilliant. I was buzzing when it was confirmed, not just myself, but all the players.
“But, we’re not there yet, so it means absolutely nothing. It’s irrelevant if we don’t win our semi-final, and that’s all we are concentrating on.
“Whoever we end up playing, we know we’re going to be in for a very tough game in unusual circumstances.
“Nobody has played in such a long time, there’ll be no form coming into the game, no crowd, but we’re ready for it. If you offered us the chance to play the game tomorrow, I reckon every single one of our players would say yes.
“We can’t wait.”
Town’s apparent willingness to get on with things may stem from the fact that they were the first of all the National League clubs who are competing in the play-offs to resume training.
Simon Weaver’s squad reported back to the CNG Stadium on June 16, the day after it was confirmed that the play-offs would definitely be going ahead.
Thus, they already have three weeks of gruelling fitness and conditioning work under their belts and have now begun to switch their focus to the footballing side of their preparations.
“You could see when we came back that all the lads had looked after themselves,” Falkingham added.
“The 12 or 13 weeks we were off is double the time we have during the close season. It was a shock to the system, but even after that lay-off the boys were hitting the levels expected of us straight away.
“I know everyone likes to claim that they are the fittest team in the league, but we’re definitely right up there and hopefully this will show during the play-offs.
“We had to get through some really tough sessions, but now we’ve got the balls back out, which is great because I barely kicked one during the whole of lockdown.”
Town’s progress was hindered somewhat when the National League forced them to cease group training for three days pending an inspection of Covid-19 precautions and protocols at the CNG Stadium.
Having passed that inspection with flying colours and subsequently carried out their first round of coronavirus testing without recording any positive results, Weaver’s men have progressed to stage two of their phased return to action.
They were initially only allowed to work in groups of six people or less, but were given the all-clear to start mixing more freely during sessions last week.
“Progressing to stage two has been really satisfying and we’re all feeling a bit better about ourselves now,” boss Weaver said.
“The lads are more upbeat as they’re able to integrate, it’s just great to be back together properly.”