On the day that Jamie Vardy and Tyson Fury were both having their respective parties, I was having one of my own. My ‘thrilling and pulsating’ (Gibbons, 2015) assignment on differentiation and behaviour management within the classroom had been submitted and copious amounts of alcohol had subsequently been downed. Ironically, the only person who wasn’t partying was my Dad and it was his birthday. Apparently my sister had put birthday banners up for him in the living room, but he failed to spot these despite one being placed directly underneath the television screen.
The night before this match saw me ditch my usual real ale antics as I aimed to become more cultured and socially outgoing. Cocktails in Slug & Lettuce in York (the nice one, not the one with all the hen parties next to the river) got a bit out of hand. Before we knew it, Ollie, Becky, Lois and I had consumed numerous mojitos before I decided to have a drink called The Zombie in the neighbouring Bobo Lobo bar. It was bloody brilliant. Yes, it was on fire, and yes, I did nearly lose my eyebrows, but it was more than worth it.
Jagerbombs and a drunken walk home with a roadworks sign later and I was passed out in bed hoping to get up for football the following day. It was a momentous day in store, as I looked to return to the blogging scene after a couple of months out through injury and University work. My injury occurred when I went to York City v Oxford United with Crawley fan Craig, and we had one too many to drink and I had an incident with my bedroom door. Two broken knuckles and a broken door later and I am back.
What has happened in the time that I have been missing though? Dressed up in a duck shower curtain I headed off to the secluded village of Emley; not that I remember that one either. A long weekend in Grimsby and Cleethorpes followed where Matt bought an inflatable haddock. Finally, last weekend I headed down to that London to watch Leyton Orient v York City. All of the aforementioned will be retrospectively blogged at some stage… don’t you worry!
I had a whole list of potential matches to go to this weekend; I didn’t know where to go! Atherton Collieries were away at Bacup Borough and with their pitch under water for the majority the week I saw no logical reason to book train tickets home for it. The easiest match, other than York City v Accrington Stanley – which was only a five minute walk away – was to go to Harrogate and link up with my adopted Conference North side Curzon Ashton.
I failed to entice Curzon fans Joe and Aaron to York to make a weekend of it, meaning I was heading across to Harrogate on my own. Catching the train just before midday, I shared a carriage with a tourette’s sufferer, whose dulcet tones accompanied the scenic journey which took me over the Knaresborough viaduct and into the famous spa town of Harrogate.
According to polls Harrogate is the “happiest place to live in Britain” but I’ve figured this isn’t the first town to claim this on my travels. Along with this, Harrogate is apparently the “third most romantic destination in the world”, beating off cities such as Paris, Rome and Preston.
I think it would be fair to say that Harrogate isn’t really a football town. Yes, they do boast two sides with Harrogate Town and Harrogate Railway Athletic, along with neighbouring Knaresborough Town, but the local residents have more extravagant events to attend. The Great Yorkshire Show is top of the bill and it seems to becoming more of an event each summer. However, two years ago there was controversy when two dairy cows were investigated after ultrasound scans detected that their udders had been tampered with.
When the locals aren’t tampering with cows udders in the quaint surroundings of the Showground, they can be spoilt with singing and cycling… occassionally. In 1982, the Eurovision Song Contest rolled into town – after Bucks Fizz won the previous year with Making Your Mind Up – and it was held at the International Centre. Then of course, just last year the opening stage of the Tour de France finished in the town.
The wind and rain was in full force when I arrived in Harrogate. As I glanced over the fence of the platform, I noticed a bar called The Nash, the nickname of Curzon Ashton. It was for this reason alone that I felt confident the Tameside club would win this afternoon.
Music for the afternoon was provided by Utah Saints, an electronic dance group from the town. They are probably best known for their 1992 hit Something Good, which was re-released in 2008 under the imaginative banner of Something Good 08. The original reached number four in the charts, while the attempt which used to make my early morning paper rounds more bearable in 2008 only made it to number eight.
Betty’s tearooms is arguably of the most famous attractions in the town. Ironically, the building it occupies is where Harrogate Town Football Club was formed in 1919. The tearooms had a large queue outside as the less common folk queued for afternoon tea. I didn’t see much need in participating as there are two Betty’s in York, even though the one in Harrogate is where it all started. For those of you who are unaware of what Betty’s is, they claim that “For nearly 100 years, people have been flocking to Yorkshire for a taste of Bettys”. Possibly an over exaggeration, but if you ever get the chance to go I would do, perhaps you could invite my mum along? She bloody loves the place, and if I return home from York without one of their infamous Fat Rascal’s there is often trouble.
The real reason I didn’t queue up for afternoon tea was the fact there was a Wetherspoons on the same road; and I’m not made of money. I’ve made this outlandish statement quite a lot recently, but this Wetherspoons was an absolute cracker. The Winter Gardens formed part of Harrogate’s original Royal Baths and was built so that visitors could stroll around in any weather. As you can imagine, this place is vast, probably nearly as big as the Moon Under Water in Manchester, but a lot nicer.
There were so many people taking refuge from the weather, there were no tables when I first arrived. Fortunately I soon found a spot and ordered my food with a pint of Winter Garden Ale which is brewed by Moorhouses back over in Burnley. I love anything that Moorhouses brew as they own one of my locals back home in Atherton. It was a 50 minute wait for food, but the time flew by as I ended up sharing my table with an old bloke from Oldham who spotted my Curzon Ashton scarf. He knew all about Atherton Collieries and he genuinely seemed to enjoy spending time with me, which is a rarity.
It was 14:00 by the time I had finished my food and topped it off with a bottle of Punk IPA. The weather had deteriorated further meaning my plans of walking to the ground were scuppered. Despite the fact that in 2012, Harrogate had the highest concentration of drink drivers in the UK I felt a taxi was the best option. I was feeling slightly sceptical when I eventually arrived at the taxi rank. This feeling was compounded further when the driver stated “there’s not a football club around here”.
My friendly – and more importantly sober – taxi driver managed to take me to the ground and dropped me off outside the turnstiles. I had been to Wetherby Road twice before and had thoroughly enjoyed both visits. The first was a pre-season friendly against Sheffield Wednesday in 2013, while the last time was in March 2014 when I was on Non-League Paper duty for their match against Solihull Moors. On both occasions I was with Joe, so it was only right that he’d be here again today.
Harrogate remained in my good books when they gave me student admission and a programme for under £10. I told the welcoming bloke at the turnstile how I loved visiting the place, and he seemed like he heard those comments all of the time, and rightly so. The ground has changed a lot in the two years since I last visited, with the Wetherby Road terrace being fully replaced, while the small car park that was behind the far goal is now taken up by an impressive, modern standing terrace. I was told that new changing rooms and a gym will be built over the coming summer, allowing the team to train on site for free.
The Curzon fans were already in the 1919 Bar and I was in need of a drink. An advantage of having friends who are in well paid jobs is that you don’t feel guilty when they offer to buy you a drink. So, with this in mind, I was more than happy to accept a pint and a jagerbomb pre-match. Curzon manager John was obviously cold and fed up with squelching around on the pitch, so he came into the bar for a few minutes to warm up. “What are you doing here?” he asked me before having a gulp of beer to help settle pre-match nerves.
As a group we always have jagerbombs when on a Curzon Ashton away day, and the tradition stems from a very messy night down the road at Harrogate Railway Athletic just a couple of years ago. We travelled up to the town on a Monday night with Curzon needing a win to seal the league title. Niall Cummins scored the only goal of the game in stoppage time on a night when we had already got through a bottle of jagermeister before the match had started. Ever since then, we always have a pre-match and half time jagerbomb.
Kick off was fast approaching, and there was growing concern that the match may be postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. There is a fantastic drainage system in place at the ground, but the sheer amount of water that had fallen in the week leading up to the game meant there were puddles all over it. Fortunately the referee wasn’t soft and both sides agreed they wanted to play, meaning it wasn’t a wasted day out.
Going into this FA Trophy clash, Harrogate sat five places above Curzon in the Conference North table but it was the lower ranked side who progressed into the First Round Proper. The opening to the match was scrappy as the two sides took a while to adapt to the pitch. The goalmouth that Hakan Burton occupied had transformed into a huge puddle, with a nearby spectator on guard with a lifebuoy if the goalkeeper suddenly disappeared.
The Curzon Ashton flags and drum had all been set up in the far left hand corner of the Wetherby Road terrace. For some strange reason, the Harrogate Town fans also set up camp there and it looked for a moment like there would be a stand off. My initial reaction was wrong, very wrong as in the end both sets of fans stood together, singing songs together and enjoying each others company. It was probably the nicest atmosphere I have ever been involved in at a football match, so much so that a Harrogate fan took some time to write to Curzon Ashton after the match echoing the same thoughts:
“I feel compelled to write to you following yesterday’s FA Trophy match at Harrogate Town. I’m sure that I also speak for a good number of Harrogate fans when I say that the first half was one of the most enjoyable 45 minutes that I’ve ever spent at a football match. The two sets of fans stood side by side on the Wetherby Road terracing, singing the whole time. We exchanged banter through chants and songs during that time, increasing in humour and friendliness as time went on.”
“We always enjoy a drink at Harrogate with visiting fans before the game, but rarely can I remember meeting up again at half time and then again after the match with our visitors. I certainly cannot recall meeting a friendlier bunch of fans.”
As the Harrogate fans sang “We’re just a town full of tea shops!”, Curzon responded by singing “We’re just a town full of pound shops!” and soon people were forgetting what was happening on the pitch.
Jordan Wright opened the scoring for the visitors on ten minutes. Top goalscorer Matthew Warburton was denied by goalkeeper Peter Crook as he found a gaping hole in Town’s back four. But teammate Wright was quickest to react to the follow-up and bent a shot in from 25 yards, evading Matt Bloomer on the line.
Cutting in from the right, Joe Guest almost doubled Curzon’s lead but his rasping left-footed effort flashed wide of the far post on 25 minutes. The winger fired another shot wide before a Brendon Daniels free-kick trickled wide of the Curzon goal at the other end.
Hakan Burton was then quick off his line to deny an onrushing Jordan Thewlis as Town started to improve in attack on the increasingly wet surface.
Half time arrived and the rain was still driving in, meaning if we were to head back to the bar we would have got soaked. I had very unsuitable footwear on, so opted to stay in the stand while the Harrogate fans all moved to the other end of the ground in time for the second half.
Curzon started the half where they left the first as Wright hit the side-netting after bursting into the area. Dom Knowles then blazed wide for Harrogate after latching onto Crook’s long punt forward, while the Town stopper then had to be on point to tip Niall Cummings audacious effort over from 35 yards.
Jack Emmett made a bright introduction after replacing the ineffectual Joe Colbeck, and found Knowles inside the six yard box on 70 minutes but the striker was crowded out and hit his shot into Burton’s legs. Warburton responded with a shot saved low down by Crook and the visitors were able to stifle Town in. Emmett almost forced a replay in added on time as he poked the ball past Burton, but the water-filled goalmouth held the ball up on the line and Jonathan Hunt raced back to clear.
Curzon advanced after a deserved win and have been rewarded with a home tie against Nuneaton Town. Not the glamour tie they were dreaming of, but one which presents them with a real opportunity of progressing in the competition.
I had half an hour to spare after the match, which meant I could join the Curzon fans in the bar for one more pint before heading back to the train station. The rain stopped momentarily which gave me the ideal opportunity to escape with the turnstile operator giving me precise and helpful directions back to the town centre. It involved walking over a vast field called The Stray. I thought nothing of this until I reached it and had to endure a ten minute walk over a vast, vacuous, desolate land. Only the moonlight allowed me to see the narrow, waterlogged path that took me towards the town centre while driving winds tried their best to knock me over. I honestly felt like the loneliest person in the world.
In the end, the walk back to the train station was quicker than I expected, which gave me ten minutes to have a pint in the Harrogate Tap. It was very nice inside and the large Christmas tree at the far end of the bar even had beer cans as baubles. Downing a pint of Light Armadillo, I wiped my mouth and boarded the train back to York.
The weather was still bloody awful when I arrived back in the city centre and I was more than looking forward to a nice long bath before heading to bed. That was until I entered my house and realised Katie and Samantha were heading out to Pound a Pint at the Students Union, and the Tyson Fury fight was going to be shown live. In the end, I staggered back into my bed at around 02:00 in the morning after I bumped into coursemate Josh in the karaoke room.
Despite being alone for large periods of the day, I really did enjoy myself in Harrogate. The football club is arguably the friendliest and most welcoming in non-league football… along with Atherton Collieries of course! Curzon Ashton are slowly but surely gaining a good reputation for themselves, largely down to the young and enthusiastic club members who appreciate how the club has often been perceived by outsiders. If you have had enough of modern football, go and watch either of these two sides and you will be won over.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 21 miles (from York)
- ADMISSION: £7 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2.50
Harrogate Town 2-1 Solihull Moors – 08/03/2014
Harrogate Town 3-3 Sheffield Wednesday – 23/07/2013