Warren Burrell still going strong at Harrogate Town a decade on from his first appearance

Plenty has changed at Harrogate Town since Simon Weaver was appointed manager in 2009.

Wednesday, 8th April 2020, 7:20 pm
Updated Thursday, 9th April 2020, 7:52 am
Harrogate Town's Warren Burrell. Picture: Matt Kirkham

The club has been transformed from part-time Conference North strugglers to a fully-professional outfit, who sit second in English football’s fifth tier and within touching distance of the Football League.

They’ve gone from boasting just seven season-ticket holders and crowds of less than 300 people, to an average attendance of more than 1,500 during the 2018/19 campaign.

Their Wetherby Road ground is unrecognisable in parts and now features a 3G playing surface, one which has played a huge part in Town’s footballing renaissance.

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Weaver, of course, remains at the helm, into his eleventh season in charge and now the longest-serving manager in professional football in this country.

He isn’t the only constant, but in terms of playing personnel, hundreds of footballers have come and gone over the last decade.

There is however one man who was with Weaver from more or less the very beginning and, following a spell away from the club, is still a first-team regular.

“I didn’t have any players at all to start with, so we held trials and the stand-out performer initially was Warren Burrell,” Weaver said.

“He’d come through at Mansfield Town, so we knew he had some pedigree, however he was very, very slight at that time.

“But, he had that raw potential about him and was an amazing athlete. I was still playing at that point, and we were doing our running in training and he just about killed me off.

“I’d never seen anything like it. Admittedly, I was over 30 years old and on the downward slope, but Warren was on a different level.

“He was the one I really remember out of the first lot of trialists and he went on and did very well for me during the early part of that first season.”

The 19-year-old Burrell had to adapt quickly when he arrived in Wetherby for that initial trial under Weaver.

“I’d just been released by Mansfield, who were a Football League club, so it was nothing like what I had been used to,” said the now 29-year-old.

“I’d made my debut at the age of 17 against Dagenham & Redbridge and played a few games for the first team and I’d been around a professional set-up.

“So, it was completely different. Harrogate was, if I’m putting it politely, just nowhere near as well-run. The facilities and the pitch weren’t great. But for me it was just about getting back playing.”

Burrell made a promising start under Weaver, but his time as a Town player came to an end in October 2009 when he was jailed having been convicted of grievous bodily harm.

He served two years of a four-year sentence and quickly got back into football upon his release.

“Getting back playing again was probably the easiest part, to be honest,” Burrell revealed.

“Obviously it was quite hard when I came out. It took me some time to figure things out, to get my life back on track, to find a purpose and a job.

“Football was almost a release from the every day pressures. I’d kept myself pretty fit inside, so it wasn’t difficult to get back into it and playing locally for Sheffield [FC] was ideal.

“I really enjoyed myself there and just enjoyed playing football again.”

Burrell progressed up the divisions, taking in spells at Leek Town, Worksop Town and then Buxton before he was eventually re-united with Weaver in January 2016.

“Warren was a kid when he was first here and obviously he’d grown up in the mean-time and came back a different person,” the Town chief said.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’d always got on really well with him, but he returned a man.

“I’d tracked him online since he’d left us and was aware that he’d gone to Buxton and nailed it there. Vil Powell [assistant manager] knew him and said he was doing really well.

“Vil also knew that he was on non-contract terms, so we put seven days in for him, got him back and he scored two on his second debut, against Solihull Moors.

“I think the decision to bring him back has proved to be a good one. Look at the player he is now and what he’s gone on to do for this club.”

For Burrell, the decision to return to Town was an easy one.

“Because it [his trial] was looming over me when I was here the first time, I was probably at my lowest point when I initially played for Harrogate, but it was a no-brainer to re-sign,” he added.

“I was doing pretty well at Buxton and enjoying it there. I had a good balance between my football and my job, but Harrogate were also part-time – so that fitted nicely – and they were also challenging up near the top of National League North.

“It was an opportunity to test myself, plus I knew the gaffer and Vil, who is a very good friend of mine.

“I don’t know if I expected things to work out the way that they have done, but to be on the brink of the Football League again is great.

“It’s been quite a good journey for me, personally, from where I was, and it would be a nice story if I ended up back in League Two 10 years later.”