Harrogate Town chairman Irving Weaver satisfied with club's progress during 2021

Harrogate Town chairman Irving Weaver has declared himself satisfied with 2021, the club's first full calendar year as a member of the Football League (EFL).

By Rhys Howell
Friday, 31st December 2021, 9:20 am
Updated Friday, 31st December 2021, 9:22 am
Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver and chairman Irving Weaver with the FA Trophy following the club's Wembley success over Concord Rangers in May. Pictures: Matt Kirkham
Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver and chairman Irving Weaver with the FA Trophy following the club's Wembley success over Concord Rangers in May. Pictures: Matt Kirkham

The Sulphurites did enough during the early months to ensure that they secured their League Two status with something to spare before going on to make history by winning the Covid-19-delayed 2020 FA Trophy final at Wembley, beating Concord Rangers 1-0.

Having strengthened their squad in the close season, a fast start to 2021/22 ensued, and although their form has rather tailed off during the winter months, Weaver still feels as if Town are in a healthier position across the board than they were 12 months ago.

"Given the Covid-19 situation and all the disruption which that caused, I think this year has gone fairly well," he told the Harrogate Advertiser.

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Harrogate Town recorded their biggest victory since promotion to the Football League when they thrashed Scunthorpe United 6-1 at Wetherby Road.

"There was a bit of a slump before last Christmas and a disappointing back end of 2020 but we then did well to put a bit of a run together in the New Year.

"We made sure that we were comfortable in mid-table. We were never really looking over our shoulders and for our first year in the EFL without any crowds, to end up 17th was a fair performance.

"We gained an insight into what it's like to be a League club. We learned what we learned and the players had the opportunity to settle in at a higher level.

"The first half of this year gave us confidence. In the past, when we've played the likes of Torquay United and Portsmouth in the FA Cup as a non-league side, they were big opponents, but now I believe that we feel as if we belong amongst clubs like this and now we can push on."

A depleted Harrogate Town side pulled off quite the FA Cup shock when they upset League One Portsmouth at Fratton Park to secure their progress through to the competition's third round.

Town certainly looked capable of pushing on to the next level during August, September and early October, flirting with and briefly occupying top spot in League Two following a run which saw them beaten just once in their opening 11 league matches.

The high point of that spell was a 6-1 demolition of Scunthorpe United at the EnviroVent Stadium on October 8, however the Sulphurites have failed to win in the league on home soil since.

Indeed, they have lost more than they've won in League Two in recent months and will end 2021 11th in the table, something which Weaver attributes to their defensive injury crisis.

"We recruited in the summer, added good players and obviously made a promising start to the season," he added.

"It has certainly been satisfying seeing entertaining football and a team scoring lots of goals, but we have a poor record of letting them in at the other end.

"However I think that we have missed the three defenders [Rory McArdle, Will Smith and Ryan Fallowfield] who were all injured at the same time, two of them for quite a long period.

"That hasn't helped at all and it's made it difficult for Simon [Weaver]. We've had to mix and match a bit at the back. But we know that we need to tighten up.

"Coming up against two very strong, in-form teams in Forest Green and Northampton in the space of a a few days when we had all those players missing certainly wasn't ideal.

"The home form hasn't been the best recently, though I believe that we head into the New Year looking forward to what is to come."

As with any season in football, there have of course been ups and downs both on and off the field.

"Going away to Portsmouth and playing so well and winning there like we did in the FA Cup has obviously been a big highlight, as was winning the FA Trophy," Harrogate's chairman continued.

"That second-half performance away at Tranmere last week in the EFL Trophy might have been the best we've played this season, so that was very encouraging and it's real pity that our Boxing Day fixture at Bradford City was postponed because we'd have been going into what is a big game for us looking to pick up where we left off.

"But, we know that we still have plenty to do both on and off the field. We are still trying to grow the crowd and generate more revenue, something which is made harder when you're not winning games at home.

"Obviously we had the issues with the stadium during pre-season and us not being up to speed with what the Safety Advisory Group needed us to do. However, our new CEO Sarah Barry has made a real impact since she was appointed.

"Overall, I think it's fair to say that we are better off now than we were 12 months ago."

Town's historic 2-1 win over Portsmouth at Fratton Park secured their passage to the third round of the competition for the first time in their history. A tie with Championship Luton Town awaits them on January 9.

Their EFL Trophy success over Tranmere saw them through to the last 16 where they will meet Carlisle, at home, on January 4.

Before both of those cup fixtures, Harrogate's first League Two outing of the New Year comes against fifth-placed Port Vale on New Year's Day, 3pm kick-off at Wetherby Road.