Harrogate Town 0 Salford City 2
Saturday 20 November 2021
Anyone who drives regularly from Preston to York will be used to getting stuck in traffic outside Harrogate’s ground. Few of these people have ever watched football there, and – because the prosaically-named Sulphurites made their Covid-affected Football League debut behind closed doors – we hadn’t either.
Harrogate AFC were formed after World War One during a meeting held at the Imperial Café – now Betty’s Tea Room, perhaps this genteel town’s best-known establishment – and first played at Starbeck Lane. Starbeck itself is some way north-west of their present ground, and LNER employees at its station goods yard (which closed in 1959) would later form local rivals Harrogate Railway Athletic.
Railways underpinned Victorian Harrogate’s profitable tourist economy. Trains from Leeds stopped at Starbeck – whose buildings were far more ornate than now, with broad canopies and large booking hall – while entrepreneur George Hudson built his York & North Midland line terminus opposite the Brunswick Hotel. Both declined when a more central station opened in 1862, and Brunswick closed shortly afterwards. The blocked-up access tunnel survives beneath Langcliffe Avenue.
Wealthy invalids – attracted by the medicinal qualities of local chalybeate and sulphur springs – had already been flocking here for two hundred years. They brought prosperity, funding many fine civic buildings; among them were various smart hotels, the theatre, Bath Hospital, Royal Pump Room, Royal Baths and Valley Gardens. Taking the waters waned in popularity after World War One but Harrogate exudes faded respectability even now.
Non-League ordinariness prevailed at Wetherby Road. Celebrated Yorkshire batsman Maurice Leyland briefly turned out here during the 1930s; Town’s most famous export, however, remains Tony Ingham. The rugged left-back – never booked throughout his long career – had served in the Royal Navy, completing an electrical apprenticeship before he joined Leeds. “Nobby” later played over five hundred times for QPR and still holds their appearance record.
Straightforward one today. John came to my house and I then drove us sixty-odd miles to North Yorkshire. Our route meandered through the Ribble Valley, climbing from Skipton towards Bolton Bridge and Blubberhouses before it eventually arrowed downhill past RAF Menwith Hill’s space-age radar domes. Only occasional scattered villages alleviate this open country; heavy rain meant we would face a long, dark trip back.
In a touching farewell gesture we were unexpectedly – and rather nostalgically – mooned by one inebriated young man outside the ground. Hope he doesn’t try that at Betty’s.
Desultory Salford fans huddled in the impermanent-looking away end. Most facilities here look similarly transient, having been hastily assembled when League football started to look attainable. There are no fewer than seven separate structures around the pitch. Clockwise from where we stood they comprised (on touchline) seats, terrace: (behind goal) terrace; (along opposite side) terrace, seats, seats. A small 1990s stand to our right was the only permanent fixture.
Modern prefabrication methods have helped many small clubs progress over the last twenty years. Harrogate couldn’t – financially or practically – boost their capacity anywhere near to professional standard without them, and this disjointedly characterful ground is one unintended consequence. I found Wetherby Road’s quirks charming. Does it really matter that randomly-sited terraces tower above directors’ seating, with a floodlight mast obscuring the view of anyone stood there?
Flesh and wine
We parked on the nearest residential road, which – as befitted these tree-lined suburbs – lay ankle-deep in autumn leaves. The Woodlands pub stood nearby. Despite being the sort of place where civilised family parties go for tea, it was equally prepared to welcome several dozen thirsty (and increasingly boisterous) visitors. Home fans must drink elsewhere; given how rapidly Town have grown, there’s presumably quite a queue.
The ground offered various fast food items but I only cared about pork pies. Nowhere does them quite like Yorkshire, not least because of all the exciting stuff – mint sauce, onions, etc – that gets thrown on top. It had been a long time since breakfast; several visits to the refreshment hut felt appropriate, something soon spotted by jealous stewards gathered in that corner. “Did you enjoy your pies?” one asked wistfully as we exited at full time.
Our print-at-home tickets caused problems. It turned out we were blagging our way through the wrong turnstiles, and someone important wearing high-vis eventually let us in. Harrogate belaboured their struggling opponents from the start; Warren Burrell and Alex Pattison both came close but Salford defended valiantly. They became increasingly dominant, going ahead shortly before the break when Matty Lund toe-poked Ibou Touray’s curling cross past Mark Oxley.
Touray plagued the home team all afternoon. His block from Jack Diamond early in the second half prevented them from equalising; a neat pass then set up some edge-of-the-box tiki-taka between ex-Blackburn pair, Josh Morris and Jason Lowe. This ended with Lowe’s crisp shot making it two. Lund looked to have got their third – following Ashley Hunter’s centre – eight minutes from time, but instead found himself booked for slyly handling the ball.
Teams and goals
Harrogate: Oxley, Sheron, Burrell, Hall, Page (Fallowfield 60), Power (Thomson 53), Pattison, Falkingham, Diamond, Armstrong, Orso-Danilo (Muldoon 53). Unused subs: Cracknell, Kerry, Ilesanmi.
Salford: Ripley, Touray, Turnbull, Eastham, Shephard, Lund (Vassell 90), Lowe, Wright (Hunter 71), Morris (Oteh 80), Love, Thomas-Asante. Unused subs: N’Mai, Smith, Dackers, Jeacock.
Goals: Salford: Lund 37, Lowe 74.