Harrogate Town need EFL to finish to keep alive promotion dream

Uncertainty still reigns, though the chances of two sides being promoted from the National League for the 2020-21 campaign appear to have diminished in recent days.

Harrogate Town chief Simon Weaver: Waiting. Picture: Tony Johnson

News that clubs in League One and League Two have been told to prepare themselves for the possibility that they will not play again this term has significant implications as far as the likes of Harrogate Town and FC Halifax Town are concerned.

Essentially, for two clubs to be allowed up from English football’s fifth tier and into League Two next season, two things need to happen.

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‘If the National League completes its play-offs following the existing approved format and League Two completes its season, it is reasonable to assume that the play-off winner can be promoted,’ a statement released last week by the National League revealed.

FC Halifax Town manager Pete Wild.

Member clubs have subsequently been asked to provide the National League board with their views on whether they want to cancel the play-offs or postpone them until a date when it is safe for them to take place.

A decision, based on that feedback, is expected in the coming days, but if the EFL season does not reach its natural conclusion, then whether the National League play-offs go ahead or not will likely become irrelevant.

These latest developments will come as a huge blow to all of the teams who were in contention for a National League play-off berth, though Harrogate will doubtless feel most aggrieved should the second promotion spot be scrapped.

Simon Weaver’s team were second in the table when the season was suspended in mid-March.

The Wetherby Road outfit sat just four points behind leaders Barrow with nine games left to play. Their form in the weeks before competition halted was far superior to the Cumbrians’ and Harrogate still had to play their titles rivals on home turf, looking to follow up on a 3-0 success the last time the sides met.

Whether Weaver and his men will have a better chance to go on and escape what is an ultra-competitive division remains to be seen.

Nothing has been decided yet, and it should be pointed out that there remains a possibility that play-offs could still be contested or two sides will be promoted from the National League based on the positions as they stand or points-per game-record.

Regardless of what transpires, Harrogate will be ready.

Contingency plans are already in place to ensure that there would be nothing standing in the club’s way, should they secure or be presented with the opportunity to take their place in English football’s fourth tier next term – or at any point in the future. 

Work has recently begun on redeveloping the Family Stand at Harrogate’s CNG Stadium, an upgrade which will see a new 880-seat structure replace the current 350-seater stand.

This will take the ground’s capacity past the 5,000-mark and mean that there will be more than 1,000 seats available to spectators, improvements that ensure Harrogate meet the criteria for entry into the Football League.

Harrogate currently play on an artificial pitch, and would have to re-lay a grass surface if they wanted to be allowed to compete in League Two.

Weaver insists that plans are in place to take care of this as and when it becomes necessary to do so.

“We are deeply ambitious. We have a plan and of course we want promotion,” he said.

“Work has started already on the new stand which will ensure that we meet the criteria for capacity and the seating, and there is a contingency in place for the pitch – there has been since January, 2019.

“It won’t be a problem if we have to replace the 3G with grass. We’ve been in touch with the contractors and we know we could complete that job pretty quickly. I think we’re only talking a matter of weeks.

“So it’s no issue. Nor are the floodlights, or anything else. Plans are in place.

“We’ve actually heard from Rick Parry at the EFL already and they’re satisfied that all the criteria would be met in time if it came to it.”

Regarding the possibility that League One and Two’s seasons may not be completed, Weaver added: “If the EFL seasons don’t finish, then can I see them choosing to relegate whoever is bottom of League Two? I can’t see them doing that to one of their own members.

“We need the EFL to finish in order to get two teams up.”

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