Topic: Harrogate Town away....
FT: 1-2 Att: 2310 (424 away)
Apart from a brief flirtation with the Liberal Democrats in the late 90s and early 00s, Harrogate has always been a Tory town. The dawn of New Labour's electoral success in 1997 and the travails of the John Major’s Conservatives heralded a shift from the safest of safe seats to what must have felt like a Socialist Republic to many in the town at the time.
In reality, the move was relatively short-lived.
The current incumbent, Andrew Jones, enjoys the comfort of a majority in excess of 18,000. The blue-rinsed flock have clearly returned to the fold.
To be honest, for those of us who grew up in Leeds and, indeed, most of West Yorkshire, they never left. Harrogate was always Tory. It was always posh. It's a 'Spa Town' for God's sake. Home to Betty's and to Range Rovers before every Tom, Dick and Hairdresser could get one on lease.
As we walked to the away turnstile, the home fans didn't disappoint us. A lot of Rab.
A lot of Merrell. Barbours and flat caps.
Think Q7s and kids whose haircuts screamed fee-paying schools.
The contrast with the great unwashed (literally in some cases) spilling off the away coaches (literally in some cases) was marked. You could see the haves and the have nots. I know that sounds exaggerated. Trust me, it's really wasn't. This is Harrogate. Even the home fans' chants seemed polite.
Our people watching at games has given us a couple of new favourites recently. One Hannah’s named the 'Lion King' was there today. I reckon his Barnet’s more 'Sixth Grumbleweed' than Disney classic but she’s a bit young for that joke.
Whatever the nickname, the leather jacket and cowboy boots were pure Status Quo. Continuing the sartorial theme, I don’t know what Santa brought you this year but I suspect it wasn’t an ‘Ulster flag/Union Jack’ half and half ski hat. Halifax ‘Loyal’ or what? I think his Gazelles were new too.
The ground was new for us.
And it saw another football first for Hannah. Standing at the match. On a terrace. The club were given a decent allocation for what was apparently a rare 'segregated' match but only 25 of those were seats. They'd asked that people left them for those who are elderly etc. So it was she tasted what football used to be about for so many of us and isn’t for so many of us now.
The ground is very much in keeping with the National League mould. Town had one covered terrace that runs pretty much the length of the pitch. It was fairly full by kick-off.
The PA announcer was quintessentially Harrogate. He conjured up images of a ruddy-faced publican compering the cricket club Summer Fete or a cravat-wearing landowner enthusiastically commentating on the Young Famer's Tug of War. His genteel patter and wonderfully non-partisan tone made the choice of pre-match music seem all the more bizarre. Think Ministry of Sound ‘Rave’ compilation circa 1996.
We found a good spot just to the side of the home dugout and then Hannah was soon off in search of food. The burger promised a great deal. The addition of what appeared to be mustard seeds meant it failed to deliver. These things can leave a lasting impression. The fact Hannah still complains about the ‘plastic’ hot dogs at Morecambe away makes me think she won’t forget this latest culinary faux pas in a hurry.
And so to the actual game. As is becoming the norm, expectations were pretty low.
Harrogate have been a bit of a surprise package this season but after their initial promise and high-flying, they’ve now dropped to sixth after today’s loss. Most have been waiting for their wheels to fall off. They can play a bit and pass the ball well but on what we saw today, I don’t see them climbing back up the table. Town, meanwhile, were their usual frustrating selves.
That was particularly so when Southwell blasted an early chance wide when getting on his knees and heading it in would have been easier.
He wasn’t alone. We’ve always known that Kosylo was an angry man. And a small man. The two things are often linked. Being so near the pitch today gave us an opportunity to see and hear just how angry he can be.
Sellers, Town’s fullback on his wing, was caught out of position a couple of times in the first quarter of an hour but, whatever his failings, they didn’t merit Kosylo’s verbal onslaughts. Particularly as he wasn’t without sin himself. Hannah’s obviously learning to read the game as she spotted his switch of wings with Odelusi pretty quickly.
Odelusi. Samni Odelusi. Dear old Samni Odelusi. He’d had a better game on Saturday, but, dear oh dear, he certainly reverted to type today.
It looked at times like he’d been plucked from the stands as Town had had too good a Christmas and arrived one short. Whether the change of wings was as a result of the bad-tempered exchanges or just purely tactical, it didn’t make a huge difference and Town still laboured for the rest of the half. Never truly bad but far, far from good.
Harrogate went ahead after 36 minutes. It felt like it could be another of those days. A long one of those days.
Before today, Town had one win in seventeen. One in seventeen.
At times, I’ve looked down at my partner in crime and truly wondered what she was getting out of the whole experience. There aren’t the massed ranks of flag-waving supporters raising the roof. Such a spectacle might make up for a lack of quality in the eyes of a 9-year old. There’s a distinct lack of pre-match entertainment (a blessing for those of us longer in the tooth). Of any description. But, again, that can help keep the interest of younger fans. Yes, there are chips. But can they be enough? Can an afternoon spent with Dad keep covering the weariness that comes from loss after loss?
Add in the fact today that she was having to stand through it all and it was beginning to feel like punishment.
But then we’re laughing at the near-constant swearing of their centre-half Callum Howe. And at her play on that swearing and his name ‘How Dad? How does he stay on the pitch?’ Then she’s dashing off for a Mars Bar and pretending to push the steward over the fence he was leaning on from behind on her way back.
So enough of the doom and gloom. The second half was underway and Tomlinson was on for the luckless (and, to some, talentless) Odelusi. We hoped things would change as a result. They did.
Town began to press. They won corners. They were harrying and hurrying Harrogate and disrupting the passing and movement that had seen them have the better of the first half.
Southwell had a decent effort that forced an equally decent save from their keeper (short-sleeved shirt and beard, yep, a lower-league ‘character’ keeper, sadly, there are a few) Another minutes later was pushed out for a corner and more pressure.
That pressure paid off. Clarke, the veteran centre-half, came up for the corner and headed home to level things up. Never mind dodgy headgear, someone obviously got a flare for Christmas and just couldn’t wait to lob it onto the pitch during the celebrations. All a bit unseemly for a crowd that felt more Premiership Rugby than non-league football.
When the smoke cleared, Town were playing well. It wasn’t all one way though. They still defend too deeply when under pressure. A couple of desperate blocks kept them in it.
Kosylo was continuing where he left off. You can forgive impetuous outbursts if the end product is good. His wasn’t today. For all that he finds space and takes people on, the finish was invariably wide of the mark. Literally. It was interesting to hear people calling him out in the stands for the niggly tackles and pushes at set pieces, the rants at the ref and the kicking the ball away. He needs to tone down the antics and start finding the net again. He’ll soon be back as the number one fan favourite when he does. Town need him to be.
Harrogate were getting frustrated and making changes. They knew the game was slipping away from them. If we’re being honest, with the recent run of results and bad luck, Town would be happy with a point. Harrogate wouldn’t.
And then Town went ahead. It was probably the trickiest chance that fell to Southwell all game. But he found the net. The stand went a bit mental. A low roof and Boxing Day alcohol meant the noise was quite impressive. Best of all, Hannah’s jumping about with a beaming smile told me just why she still wants to watch football. Maybe, just maybe, all those losses actually made it better.
Town were winning. Away from home. Fact is, they should have had another. Southwell turned neatly in the box and put it wide when, once again, hitting the target would have been more straightforward. Any other time and there’d have been moaning and criticism. But not today. The clock was running down and Harrogate were running out of ideas.
The final whistle sounded.
Three points won.
The great unwashed had triumphed over the landed gentry. I know, I know. All a bit clichéd. But football’s all about them, isn’t it? And I’ve started with that theme and I’m running with it.
You could see the players needed the win. Captain Matty Brown’s clenched fists and four-letter words told us what it meant. He wasn’t alone.
We’ll miss Gateshead away on Saturday but then it’s round two of the Festive double-header as Harrogate visit The Shay on New Year’s Day. The Mrs and the boy are joining us so it’ll be a proper family affair.
If they play like they did in the second half today, Town can climb a little higher up the table. Right now, that’ll do nicely……
Happy New Year from the Lightcliffe Shaymen.....