Sheffield Wednesday v Harrogate Town: Familar face welcomes Simon Weaver ‘home’ to Hillsborough

SIMON WEAVER and Darren Moore teamed up in the heart of Doncaster Rovers’ defence deep into the winter of the club’s penultimate season in the Football League before their ignominious slide into the Conference and near-oblivion in 1998.

Sheffield Wednesday boss Darren Moore Picture: Steve Ellis

Weaver, a young defender at boyhood idols Sheffield Wednesday, made his Rovers debut on loan back in February, 1997 against Barnet at the club’s former Belle Vue home, lining up alongside Moore.

His hometown club Doncaster had lost their previous match 6-0 and won just once in their previous ten games.

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It was a sign of things to come. Rovers staved off relegation that season, but it was a temporary reprieve. In 1997-98, the club achieved notoriety in a horrific final season of the reviled Ken Richardson era, which was akin to death by a thousand cuts.

Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver celebrates after the final whistle at the National League play-off final at Wembley. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

The rot had set in during the previous campaign. During difficult times off the pitch and on it, lasting friendships were forged. Those periods also stick with you.

The pair have come a long way since and on Weaver’s emotional return to Hillsborough as Harrogate Town manager – having never been given the precious first-team opportunity he so craved in the famous blue and white in the Nineties – it is somewhat fitting that someone he knows well in Moore will be lining up in the opposing dug-out.

It has been some journey for both and them.

Moore reflected: “Me and Simon Ireland, our first-team coach here, were at Doncaster together so we know Weavs really well.

Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“I was trying to stay in one position and get him to do my running and he was thinking the same thing as me, he wanted me to do his running.

“So in the end, we had two centre-backs rigid in the middle of the pitch doing no work!

“Weavs was really good. I remember him coming to Doncaster and making his debut with us. He’s a really good man and it was really great to have him on board.

“Going into management, I have seen he’s doing some great things at Harrogate. He has brought some wonderful stability to the football club and they have done really well to get into the league. I predict nothing but good things for Harrogate.”

Sheffield Wednesday's George Byers is back in the frame for tonight's Papa John's Trophy derby against Harrogate Town Picture: Steve Ellis

The ‘great things’ that Moore talks about has seen Weaver sample Wembley highs and many more unforgettable occcasions

Tonight will be another, even if Hillsborough will be eerily quiet and the competitive edge lessened by the fact that both these sides have already qualfied for the next stage of the competition.

Yet the pride will be palpable for the Weaver family as they take their seats. Their boy may not have made it out onto the pitch for a senior fixture in front of supporters – he was released in 1997 by Ron Atkinson – but stepping out in the dug-out there in a professional capacity will surely represent the next best thing.

It will be the latest addition to a Weaver scrapbook which is already bulging with precious memories.

Weaver, who used to visit his then girlfriend and now wife at her parents house close to Hillsborough as a young player, said: “It will be a special day.

“I remember all those years ago looking out of that window and thinking to myself ‘it’s still there’. I used it as a driver for myself to get back to where I wanted to be.

“It will be incredible to go there with what is now my club to play against Sheffield Wednesday after all we have achieved. I cannot wait.

“We grew up in a family of five as huge Sheffield Wednesday fans. We got seats in the South Stand and I was too small at first; my dad built me a box for me to sit on so that I could see the pitch. From that first game in 1982 aged four, I have loved the club.

“It was a huge thing for me and the family; we did home games and away games as well, the cup finals in 1991 and 1993.

“My mum still has pictures of Roland Nilsson on the inside of her kitchen cupboards at home. Sheffield Wednesday has played a huge part in my life.”

It will be a special occasion not just for Weaver at S6 this evening.

Town’s squad contains several Sheffielders including Mark Oxley, Warren Burrell, Rory McArdle and Aaron Martin.

McArdle, who played one first-team game for the Owls after coming through the ranks, misses out through injury.

Moore will make a number of changes this evening with Massimo Luongo and George Byers, both unused substitutes in Sunday’s FA Cup home draw with Plymouth Argyle, set to feature.

Luongo’s last first-team appearance was in the South Yorkshire derby at Rotherham United on August 21, with the midfielder having recovered from a troublesome hamstring injury.

Byers is now fit and available following a groin issue, which had kept him out since September 11.

Ciaran Brennan, who has been recalled from a loan spell at National League side Notts County, could also be involved tonight.