The White Stuff: Reflecting on Harrogate Town’s dreary campaign
It’s fair to say, it has been a quite a rollercoaster of emotions and fortunes at Station View and the CNG Stadium over the last eight months.
The mood at Harrogate Town reached the most miserable I have seen over the Christmas period, after Town dropped perilously close to the relegation zone.
And while the youthful outlook since the turn of the year has cheered up the surroundings, the 15th placed finish still leaves a lot to be desired from a season that Town started as prime title contenders.
The hope for a settled squad, again, filtered away and tempting dealings in the transfer market have seemingly become the norm. Put simply, Town used too many players this season.
The constant chopping and changing unsettled the group, and at times it felt like a new face was arriving each game.
Key injuries at the wrong times again played their part in the consistent dips in results, but it’s an excuse that won’t pass with everyone.
There is a young bunch that Weaver has entrusted for next season, and with that, there’s a chance to create an established team that supporters, and the players themselves, can connect with.
But this season was the manager’s fifth in charge. And while off the field there has been a multitude of improvements – and another new stand planned for the summer – the on-field mistakes are being repeated.
This time last season, I labelled finishing in ninth place a failure for the club. With the raised expectation from this season’s summer signings, 15th spot can only represent worse.
But what happens now?
With no play-off spot in five years, Weaver’s position has come into question by certain sections of supporters. But there is no signs of change imminent, and with the demise of FA Trophy winners North Ferriby United announced earlier this month as a reference point, it could be a worrying time if both Simon and dad Irving sought pastures new.
The club’s directors must surely be looking at ways that a repeat of this season does not happen again. I called for a third eye in the backroom staff in January, an experienced head to offer additional guidance to a young management team, and I still stand by that now.
There is no questioning Simon’s enthusiasm for football, but there is much that a fresh outlook can bring.
But if Simon is looking for the answers to this season’s conundrum, he would be foolish not to look deeply at what has happened down the road at Harrogate Railway.
Billy Miller has built a tight-knit squad, regularly fielding the same 15-16 players. Without the riches of a big squad, players know they have the faith of the manager. Should they make a mistake, they’re backed and not dropped.
The blend of youth and experience has worked a treat this campaign and every time you watch Railway take to the field, the players give their all for the red and green shirt, with money an inconsequential entity.
At times this season, the same could not be said down Wetherby Road.
Miller has fully removed the shackles from his enthusiastic attackers with all given the belief to repeat what they know even if it fails. The tightening of the defence has made them a unit feared across the Evo-Stik league.
There were signs Town had established this with the younger players coming into the team during the fine run of form between January and February. But, again, that run of results hit a snag with Andy Gascoigne’s horrific injury.
There is no doubt this season has been the club’s most challenging under Irving Weaver’s ownership of the club. And it should not just be swept under the carpet, but instead learnt from greatly.