Simon Weaver keen to continue Harrogate Town’s memorable journey after reaching Football League

Simon Weaver admitted even he was surprised how quickly he has turned Harrogate Town from a full-time club to a Football League one.

MAGNIFICENT: Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver celebrates after his team's victory against Notts County at Wembley Stadium. Picture: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
MAGNIFICENT: Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver celebrates after his team's victory against Notts County at Wembley Stadium. Picture: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

The Sulphurites beat Notts County 3-1 in yesterday’s play-off final at Wembley to book their place in the league for the first time in their 106-year history.

The more significant timescale was the three years since a club which has really stepped up its ambitions under the chairmanship of Weaver’s father, Irving, turned full-time.

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Harrogate won promotion from Conference North in 2018, reached the Conference play-offs in 2019 and won them yesterday. Now they are have reached League Two, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Bradford City, Weaver has no intention of simply making up the numbers

Harrogate Town players and staff celebrate after the final whistle at Wembley. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

“Maybe in my wildest dreams I could have imagined it happening this quickly but it was always a case of block by block,” said Weaver, manager since 2009. “It was never going to be quick because of where the club was at the time. But we’ve gone through the gears a little bit since we had the opportunity to go full-time.

“We’ve got an identity now of aspirational footballers who want to keep pressing on.

“When we went full-time we thought let’s be competitive, stay up, consolidate and build on that.

“We thought it might take three or four years to build up enough strength and know-how to go up again but you never put a ceiling on your ambitions. We’ve found ourselves in a great position because of the attitudes of the players and their ability as well.

Harrogate Town's Jack Diamond (left) celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game with team-mates. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

“It’s unbelievable. It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of honest people behind the scenes as well as on the pitch.

“It’s been some journey but hopefully this isn’t the end of it.”

Harrogate could have won the game in the first half, taking a 2-0 lead through George Thomson and Connor Hall and missing some presentable chances, including Aaron Martin hitting the post.

But Notts County tested their nerve, Callum Roberts scoring a free-kick in the first minute of the second half, and it took the experience of Jon Stead, who came off the bench after 61 minutes, to calm them.

Harrogate Town's Josh Falkingham lifts the trophy with his team-mates after winning the National League play-off final at Wembley Stadium. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

The former Huddersfield Town, Sheffield United, Bradford and Notts striker released Jack Muldoon to lay on Harrogate’s third goal, scored by on-loan Jack Diamond, and hit the woodwork himself in stoppage time.

“We were on the front foot, just as we were in the semi-final, and we harassed and pressured them and were full of attitude,” said Weaver proudly. “It epitomised how we finished second (in the regular-season table, abandoned because of covid-19), really, by being on the front foot, being positive and then passing it when the game settled.

“If you can inflict your willpower on any opponent early on you’ve got a chance to really press home your advantage mentally.

“The athleticism and the characters really stood out, they just wanted it.

“After being dominant in the first half and not profiting from it, they always say the next goal at 2-0 is vital and they scored it, so it’s fair enough if you do question yourself, you’ve just got to dig in. We lost our fluency but we had a 10-pass move and settled a bit.

“Jon Stead made the difference just as in the semi-final. We had a gameplan to go all energy, desire and physicality, just as in the semi-final, and then introduce Jon for half an hour to maximise what he had in his legs.

“I just thought he showed a touch of class at times and he reacted really well because every players wants to start.”

Weaver’s opposite number, Neal Ardley, also pointed to Harrogate’s fast start as crucial.

“For the first 45 minutes we were well below our best,” he admitted. “Wembley’s a strange place, it can make people under-perform and we certainly did in the first half.

“Unfortunately, on the day, the better team won.”

With the new season starting in less than six weeks, Harrogate must act quickly again, removing the artificial pitch not allowed in League Two and starting 2020-21 groundsharing. The squad, though, will not be ripped up.

“You have to be ruthless sometimes in management but the lads have earned their stripes enough to have a go at the next level,” said Weaver

“With our never-say-die culture we can cause some problems but the driving force is in the changing room. If they thought we were going to get rid of them at the next level, we wouldn’t have had that performance.”

Match report, analysis and player ratings: Page 3.