Sheffield Wednesday return a chance for Harrogate Town boss Simon Weaver to showcase what he learned during his time at Hillsborough
The last few years of Simon Weaver's career in football have been littered with highs, but Tuesday night is set to be an extra special experience for Harrogate Town's manager.
The 43-year-old leads the League Two Sulphurites to Hillsborough for an EFL Trophy showdown with Sheffield Wednesday, the club whom he grew up supporting and spent a happy decade with as a player.
Having joined the Owls aged 10, Weaver progressed all the way through their junior ranks, earning himself a professional contract and going on to captain Wednesday’s reserves before being released by Ron Atkinson.
That disappointment did however do nothing to dampen his love for a club that is very much in his blood and he is genuinely thrilled to be returning to S6.
Now the longest-serving manager in the EFL following 12-and-a-bit seasons with Harrogate, Weaver has only been back to Hillsborough since his release in the role of supporter. This week will see him go there in a professional capacity for the first time.
“It will be special for me, it will be really special,” said the Town boss, who has masterminded two promotions and two Wembley triumphs in the last four years.
“A lot of people might think this is just a Papa John’s Trophy fixture with nothing riding on it because both teams have already qualified, but we don’t go into any game not wanting to compete, not wanting to win.
“And for me, in a selfish sense, of course there’s something extra on this game. I’m from a family of Wednesdayites and I'm going back to a place where I spent a huge part of my life. I was there nearly every day between the ages of 10 and 20. I wasn’t a first-team player, but I still felt like I was part of the furniture.
"I’m really looking forward to going back. It will be great for me and a great experience for Harrogate Town.”
But, as Weaver alluded to, Town are not simply going along for the ride, and merely grateful just to be playing a big club in one of England's most iconic stadiums.
They head to Hillsborough intent on trying to win a game of football, with Weaver determined that his players showcase the "Harrogate Town way" - his own philosophy, and one that was nurtured during his formative years at Wednesday.
"I've always wanted to have the opportunity to go back to Hillsborough in a professional capacity and now I do have this chance as a manager, I hope that we go out and play our game and pass the football," he added.
"When I was at Wednesday I worked under two legendary coaches in Clive Barker and Kevin Fogg, two men who have had a massive influence on my coaching and management style.
"I was with Clive from the age of 11 to 15 and he was a proper, proper coach. Technically, he was exceptional and he was all about passing. He used to say 'you can't be a footballer if you can't make five or 10-yard passes.'
"Kevin was my under-16s coach and he had a way of making players feel really special. It was him that decided I was a centre-half and he moulded me as a player.
"Those two sold the dream of Sheffield Wednesday to young lads, but they always said you have to pass the ball, it was always about passing and moving - and that stuck with me. A lot of what I do now, the way I work, it all goes back to those two great men."
Although Weaver didn't quite make the grade at Wednesday - a Premier League Club back in 1998 - that set-back forced him to "grit his teeth" and he went on to enjoy a long playing career.
Having initially dropped down into non-league, he eventually turning out in the Football League (EFL) for Lincoln City, Macclesfield Town and Kidderminster Harriers.
“It was really hard to bear at the time,” Weaver said of his release as a 20-year-old.
“Don’t get me wrong, I was just one of hundreds of lads who will have been let go by their clubs at the end of that season, but Sheffield Wednesday was a massive part of my life, it meant so much to me.
“It came as a shock. I didn’t see it coming because I’d have a conversation with Ron Atkinson previously where he’d indicated that he was thinking about giving me a new contract.
"But, I wasn't good enough to be a Premier League footballer, so in a way, that decision helped me. I had to get over the disappointment because I learned quickly that the game moves on, it doesn't wait for hard-luck stories.
"I'm no hero. I didn't play Premier League, Championship or even League One, but I went on have a really enjoyable career in the game. Too many lads give up when they don't make it at the top level.
"One lad who got released with me hung up his boots that same day and never played again. I think that's really sad. I wasn't good enough for Sheffield Wednesday, but I'm proud that I went on to have a career as professional."
Tuesday's clash between Town and the Owls kicks-off at 7pm.