Harrogate needs to “wake up to football” says Town chairman Irving Weaver

Harrogate Town chairman Irving Weaver hopes the North Yorkshire spa town can quickly adjust to his club’s historic promotion.
Simon Weaver, manager of Harrogate Town, celebrates promotion. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)Simon Weaver, manager of Harrogate Town, celebrates promotion. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Simon Weaver, manager of Harrogate Town, celebrates promotion. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Town secured a place in the Football League for the first time in the club’s 106-year history on Sunday by beating Notts County at Wembley in the National League play-off final.

Top-level football has never been high on the agenda in a town more famous for its health-giving waters and Bettys tearoom, but that could be about to change.

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“It’s great for Harrogate,” Weaver said. “As a town it has had to wake up to football I think because it comes from a very humble background and I think they’re doing that.

“The sentiment’s good, it’s just they’re not used to football and going to football matches.”

Town finished bottom of the Conference North (now National League North) 10 years ago and were spared relegation to the seventh tier due to the financial irregularities of Northwich Victoria, who were demoted instead.

Sunday’s 3-1 win against Notts County means Town are now looking forward to two derby clashes against Sky Bet League Two rivals Bradford next season.

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“My big question mark is can we get it up to a reasonable crowd?” Weaver said. “We average something like 1,550, which is low for National League North even.

“We’ve had to build it. There’s no history. Notts County would have brought 30,000 to Wembley, we would have had probably 5,000.

“It’s that fanbase that we haven’t got, but we’re building it. It takes longer, I understand that and if we had a blip it would be fragile.

“It’s not got hearts and minds and years of fathers and grandfathers, all that scenario.

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“What we’re doing is creating it for the next generation really. But this transforms us into a proper sustained business.”

Town, who only went full-time in 2017, won promotion to the National League the following year via the play-offs and finished second behind Barrow when the current regular season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The club’s manager, Weaver’s son Simon, has been central to their success.

Both father and son have been acutely aware of how their partnership might be perceived since Irving took control of the club from former Leeds managing director Bill Fotherby in 2011.

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Former Lincoln defender Simon, 42, had arrived two years earlier when he took on the role of player-manager and the notion of nepotism did not sit comfortably with either.

“I would never have dreamt of getting involved in football,” said multi-millionaire Irving Weaver, who has appeared in the Sunday Times rich list after making his fortune as a property developer.

“I’ve watched football all my life and love the game to bits, but I know the pitfalls, especially when you talk of father and son, which was unheard of. It really is unique because it doesn’t sound right.

“All I said at the time was ‘this could go horribly wrong and we might both end up having to walk’.

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“But I said I’ll leave the club in a better place than I found it. I promised that. If it did go wrong because we couldn’t do the job - and we are inextricably linked - we’d walk away, but let’s give it a shot.”

Simon is now the Football League’s longest-serving manager. He is in his 12th year in charge, over three years longer than the previous longest-serving boss, Wycombe’s Gareth Ainsworth.

“Doesn’t it tell a story about stability?” Irving Weaver added. “It’s about everybody putting their shoulder into the wheel, a togetherness.

“We’re both very mindful of public opinion, but we’ve never taken advantage of our position.

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“We’ve always been honest and it has just been accepted. Nobody talks about it.

“We’ve all been on a journey. It’s got that feeling. We know the players’ wives and girlfriends, it’s that kind of club.

“It sounds really old-fashioned, but that’s the way Simon runs it, on good values, hard work and honesty.”

Harrogate will start life as a league club groundsharing with Doncaster Rovers because they have to replace their artificial pitch with a grass one which will need 10 weeks to bed in.