Harrogate Town boss Simon Weaver: My debt of gratitude to the late Bill Fotherby

Bill Fotherby and Simon Weaver at Harrogate Town's Wetherby Road base in 2009.
Bill Fotherby and Simon Weaver at Harrogate Town's Wetherby Road base in 2009.
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Simon Weaver was just 31 years of age when he applied for the position of manager of Harrogate Town in May 2009.

The former Lincoln City, Kidderminster and Tamworth centre-half's playing career was drawing to a close, and he was looking to make the next step.

That he was appointed to the role by then-Town chairman Bill Fotherby came as something of a surprise to many, including Weaver himself.

At the time, he had no prior managerial experience, yet Mr Fotherby, the prominent ex-managing director of Leeds United who passed away earlier this week aged 88, was prepared to take a risk.

It hasn't been all plain sailing, yet Weaver eventually guided the club into English football's fifth tier and remains as a lasting legacy of the late Mr Fotherby's tenure at Wetherby Road.

"I remember being at a wedding up in Scotland and picking up a voicemail on my phone from Bill," Weaver recalled.

"I'd applied for the position of manager at Harrogate Town because I knew my playing days were coming to an end due to injuries and the ground was 15 minutes from my house, and I just thought 'why not?'

"I didn't expect to get the job initially, but I thought that if I could earn myself an interview then at least it would be good experience for me.

"In Bill's message he told me that he liked my application and he wanted to see me at his house the next day. The way he spoke gave me a good feeling.

"I can remember thinking when I set off to meet him that I had half a chance.

"When I got to his house he was very warm, really welcoming. We spoke, and the fact that he liked me gave me such confidence.

"I was a brave choice because I barely had any coaching experience, nevermind experience as a manager, but he made me feel confident that I could do a good job, even though I had no right to think like that.

"That was one of the things about Bill, he did have the ability to make people feel special."

Weaver's tenure as Town boss did not begin particularly well.

The club finished 2009/10 bottom of the Conference North having won just eight of their 40 league games, only avoiding relegation due to Farsley Celtic's resignation and Northwich Victoria being kicked out.

Speaking at the time, Mr Fotherby said: "People were saying to me 'you had to finish him [Weaver]'."

Weaver himself is grateful that his chairman resisted the temptation. As, one would imagine, will be a great number of the club's current fan-base.

"A more experienced manager would never have made the same mistakes that I did during my first season in charge, and Bill would have been been well within his rights to have shot from the hip and got rid of me," Weaver added.

"He stuck by me though, and I'll always be grateful for the faith that he showed in me.

"I feel like I owe Bill a lot for giving me that initial opportunity and for backing me during what was a very tough first season in management.

"He was a one-off, a proper big character, lovable and a very warm man. He did so much for the club and we wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for him."

The last time that Weaver saw his former boss was in 2018, after Town had secured promotion to the National League for the first time in their history.

"I last spoke to Bill last year. I saw him in the gym and he told me that he was very proud of what we'd gone on to achieve," he continued.

"To hear him say that meant so much to me, it really did.

"We got on so well during our time working together, I was really sad to learn of his passing."