August 10, 2023

Adventures in Football #86: Wetherby Road (Harrogate Town) 

Adventures in Football #86: Wetherby Road (Harrogate Town) 


August 8, 2023 




The ground is currently called the EnviroVent Stadium but I’m not calling it that. Harrogate Town came into being in 1919, having just celebrated 100 years as a football concern. That’s not a permanent linear run though as the team disbanded back in 1932 and went missing for three years. They came back as Harrogate Hotspurs in 1935 before being renamed Harrogate Town. Most of their history is in the Yorkshire leagues until the Northern Counties East Football League was founded in 1982. This was still, effectively, highly regionalised until the Northern League Premier, where the elite Northern teams hung out. Harrogate made it into the Northern League Premier a couple of times but hardly had time to settle before they moved to the Conference North in the restructuring of 2004.  


Having a Conference North (and South) was a way to better establish feeder promotion leagues to the non-league elite. The Northern division, of the time, featured the likes of Kettering, Altrincham, Worcester, Stafford, Moor Green (now Solihull Moors) and Alfreton. It’s fair to say, Harrogate have outachieved their contemporaries. In the Conference North, and later the National League North, Harrogate were either bubbling under the promotion places or right down the bottom and very little in between. In 2018 they came second and went up to the National League. Bagging a century of the goals in the process. They were in the National League, the hardest league to escape for only two years before benefitting from a P2 finish in the Covid hit 2019-20 season. Since being promoted to League 2, they’ve been a bottom half team and must surely fear their time in the football league will eventually run out.  


Before their venture into league football, they didn’t have much history and only had a handful of R1 appearances in the FA Cup. Their longest FA Cup campaign was in 2021-22 when they automatically qualified for the opening round and lost 4-0 to Luton in R3. The club only went full time in 2017. They have a bizarre record of winning the FA Trophy, in a final delayed by Covid, when they were already a league team. Hardly fair on Concord Rangers.  


Wetherby Road, opened in 1920, has a capacity of 5000 (1000 seated), which makes it one of the smallest grounds in the football league. We’re heading up there on a Tuesday night. There were plenty of options on the Tuesday to pair up with the Wednesday night trip (to the harder to get into Leeds Utd). We start out in the afternoon and it a gruelling three hour drive, with a lot of traffic issues stemming from accidents and whatnot. We get into Harrogate around 6:30PM and my intended car parking space is never reached as we spot a parking opportunity on Church Square, near the Empress pub. From there it’s an 8 minute walk to the ground. Although, it takes us longer as Maria thinks she might have left the car unlocked, so I have to jog back and check it.  

This is the road you walk along to get to the ground. There’s no signs of a football team playing here at all. I know we’re at L2 level and, essentially, a non-league club come good, but there’s nothing to suggest this town has a football team.  

We get to the ground, and this is it. There are turnstiles down the side streets as well but it doesn’t matter where you go, the ground is completely open apart from the away fans. Again, it has that non-league feel to it and reminds me of Bromsgrove. A yellow and black ‘Grove. Maria wants to get a picture in front of the ground, but a helpful steward sees us and offers his photography services.  

My thanks to you, humble steward, for your photographic assist. As you can see, I’ve worn my only yellow shirt for the occasion; my Mexico ‘86 shirt featuring mascot Pique. A footballing pepper wearing a sombrero. Having proceeded through the turnstile, I find myself here, facing the joyous wide-open space that is a football ground.  

From this picture you can see how semi-developed the ground is. That whopping great big stand opposite us is clearly the best developed part of the ground. The part that feels like it belongs to a league team. We’re sat in there tonight. The rest of the ground is mainly standing, although there is a seated area right down the bottom to the right of us here. You’ll also notice a lad in a Harrogate shirt. I was impressed at how many shirts were on show and the town has a nice sense of pride in its club. There is a Harrogate Town AFC shop in Harrogate but unfortunately it was closed on Wednesday when we walked past it.  

It’s a shame because I like their branding and I like the feel of community around the ground. There were a lot of club employees laughing and joking before the game and it really felt like a nice place to come and watch football. It does have the feel of a club that can’t quite believe they’re in the football league. Fair play to them. They’re having a lovely time.  

The laughs continue as Maria decides to mess around with the club’s mascot; Harry Gator. Harry seems a little bit annoyed that someone is mucking about with his tail but the stewards behind us are in bits. Harry is one of the most animated mascots I’ve seen and is a genuine contender with Peter Burrow and Hayden the Womble as the GOAT mascots.  

Anyway, this is where we’re sitting tonight. We’re up in Row Z, or rather row 9, as there are only nine rows. I’m pleased to report that leg room is ample. I am rubbing shoulders with a fellow Harrogate supporter but that’s mainly because Maria has insisted on leaning into me this evening. Every time a foul is committed, she gives me a gentle shove and I bump into the poor fellow next to me. My apologies sir, like Gene Snitsky, it wasn’t my fault.  

A glance around the ground then. Opposite us is the EnviroVent Stand, which is has a split between home and away fans. The away seats are located in that far left hand corner. Apparently, that’s new for this season. Although I’m going on the thoughts of a Leeds fan sat the other side of Maria who may, or may not, regularly frequent Harrogate. You can see the divide between fans here under the green banner. There’s a fenced off area under there to split the fans up. There were police at this game, which I guess is a requirement of the level but I don’t see it likely to kick off between Harrogate and Carlisle.  

Off to our left is this thing. Not the fan in front reader, but rather the Venue End, which appears, to all intents and purposes, to be unused. The tunnel comes right out of the middle of it and I only saw a couple of fans standing there all game. Surely, this is next on the development plan, if only to stop errant shots flying into that massive hedge. Some poor bugger with a ladder had to keep retrieving balls from there all game. 

Over to our right is the “Henderson” stand according to the I’m pretty sure the graphic reads G H Brooks Stand though. I don’t know if this was a sponsorship change or what. This is an all-standing shed, which houses the loudest of home fans. We’d see some flags and hear some noise from this end all game. The back of it is where you have food and toilets, whilst the bar area is in a tent at the right of it. I can only assume this used to be open and that isn’t allowed anymore because of league rules.  

Final ground observation is this corking scoreboard. That’s what I was standing under when I took a picture of the ground. That’s a great scoreboard for the level, especially considering I was at Elland Road the next night and that didn’t have a scoreboard at all! 

No standing ladies! 

I’ve bought tickets right at the top of the steps, which is ideal because I have loads of leg room, but the leg room is good anyway. The stand feels like one of those temporary stands you see knocked up sometimes but it’s perfectly acceptable.  

The teams get this honour guard from a bunch of kids with flags and Harry Gator. This could have been better thought out as they head over there five minutes before the players come out and most of those kids are knackered from flag waving by the time the players are on the field.  

We get the teams lined up and Carlisle have a gigantic 6’9” keeper called Tomas Holy. He’s enormous. He towers over everyone else. The Harrogate faithful chant “your kit’s too small for you” as the Carlisle kit man clearly didn’t have any bigger boy shorts than this. The game starts and it’s really scrappy. Like, painfully scrappy. Everyone gives the ball away. It’s a mess. I note also that Harrogate have retained that awful sponsor, Strata, whose enormous red square ruins what could have been a good shirt.  

Harrogate #12, Sam Folarin, is a standout performer here. He busts out an awesome turn to leave the left back for dead in the early going and it just gets better from there. However, it’s Carlisle who have the best early chance, but it ends up in that massive hedge. Folarin gives Harrogate the lead when he’s released with a ball over the top. With the lone defender backing off and the keeper not sure whether to advance or not, Folarin picks his spot and curls a shot into the corner. 1-0 Harrogate. Great finish, great player. 22’ played and the fans chant Folarin’s name.  

Harrogate get better as the half progresses and should extend their lead. Despite this they give the ball away on the edge of their own D and almost concede. Carlisle make four subs at half time, clearly not happy with how the first 45 went. The second half kicks off and it goes back to being a scrappy mess. It’s interesting to see people walking around with Leeds merch on. Harrogate is very close to Leeds and it’s pretty clear Leeds fans come from this area. Much like Bromsgrove is awash with Villa supporters.  


The Harrogate boss, Simon Weaver, decides to sub off Folarin (easily POTM) and Odoh, the most dangerous of the rest of the team in a bizarre double change on 68’. Just as Harrogate were growing into the second half. The result is an onslaught from Carlisle and they should go level on 75’ from the penalty spot but Edmundson skews his penalty wide of the post. Harrogate, who have faded badly since the subs, just barely hang on and I felt genuinely tense as the minutes ticked by.   

A late free kick for Harrogate just goes over the bar and everyone thought it was in. They also have another late chance, which ends up in the hedge. Harrogate really know how to mess with your nerves.  




We charged out of the ground to get to a nearby Co Op before it closed and then sought refuge in the Lodge Hotel, where we stayed overnight. Harrogate, which we walked around in the morning, is a delightful little town. It has all the stuff I would want from a town (football club, cinema, lots of independent shops, pedestrian areas etc) and looks to have a high standard of living. I’ve been to a lot of places across the UK and Harrogate has to be near the top. I’ll try not to let that skew my opinions of the ground but here are the scores: 



Considering the merry band of Harrogate supporters can’t have more than 50-100 ultras they made their voices heard. For the size of the club, it was downright impressive. They stayed loud throughout and are a credit to the club. ***½  



It was only a tenner to get into this. I know the Carabao Cup doesn’t hold some bigger clubs attention, but to have a reduced price for a lower league side ensured a healthy turnout, is great. Attendance was 2177. ****½  



The game was hit and miss. When Harrogate started playing from 20-45′ it was good to watch. However, the first 15-20′ and the second half were a bit rough. The subs caused a lot of disruption. **½  



Parking was easy. We parked on the street and got out quickly. The town centre is a mile from the ground. Even if you have to take the train to get here, it’s only 20 minutes walk from the stadium. **** 



While the ground was a little limited on facilities, it got by and the friendly nature of the locals was excellent. Yorkshire can be a friendly, welcoming place and while I’ve had mixed experiences of the county in general, this was one of the better ones. Bonus point for Harry Gator. **** 


OVERALL: 18.5 

Groundhopping is all about going to places you would never normally go and seeing what that places is like. Sometimes, it’s a dump, and sometimes, you get a Harrogate. A beautiful place, filled with helpful people. It blew away my expectations of a ‘filler’ to accompany Leeds. I’m glad I had the chance to come here.  

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