When faced with the prospect of weeks of ground hopping, I sat down with the fixture lists and drew up a schedule. Although quite happy to do Non-League games, I’ve still got the ambition to complete the fabled ’92’. After buying advanced train tickets for Harrogate, it was only when I put them up for safe keeping, that it dawned on me who their opponents were. Harrogate’s ground capacity is on the small side and Bradford’s support is relatively large. Although Harrogate is in the north of the county and Bradford in the west, the two towns are still in the same county, and so still a derby game of sorts. Tickets for the away end would be at a premium and so no doubt, there would be requests for tickets for the home end that would just happen to have a West Yorkshire address and thus turned down. With that in mind, I was pretty sure previous booking history would come in to play for this particular game. It was imperative that I phoned up and try booking a ticket. Sometimes having a different accent comes in useful and it’s always beneficial to be honest. This is where it got kind of interesting. Although the accent and honesty worked just fine, I was to find out that they don’t post paper tickets out. After explaining to the lady on the phone that I hadn’t got printing facilities, she then said she would have to send an e-ticket to my email address. Well this was a first. Sure enough, an email with the attachment was sent to my phone. I was being dragged kicking and screaming into the 3rd millennium. I have to admit right now that between the time of receiving it and the day of the match, I’d sporadically checked to see if it was still on my phone, half expecting it to have been mysteriously wiped off my email account. I even showed Spoons it in the Flowerpot the previous Sunday. I was still nervous as to whether it would work as I journeyed up to North Yorkshire though. So after completing the second double match weekend of the year the previous weekend, I was to complete the first double double weekend of the year. It equated to 4 games at 4 different grounds in eight days. I caught the train up to Leeds easy enough, but because of coupling problems, by the time the train docked into Leeds, it was 30 minutes late. I vainly hoped that the train to Harrogate would also be late and I would still make the connection. That’s the problem with ‘hope’. Things either happen or they don’t. Hope is a state of mind that is a ridiculous thing to cling on to. You’re better off just getting on with things. I waited for the next train to Harrogate and by the time it reached the town, that too was late. I was though, immediately impressed with the look of the place, but instead of wandering around like a tourist, I was there as an ale trailing ground hopper. I had an itinerary and a game to go to. With it being a derby game and probably the biggest home game of the season, the kickoff had been brought forward to a 1 o’clock kickoff. My itinerary needed to be altered. I was still able to start at the first on it though, so coming out of the station entrance, I went in the adjacent Harrogate Tap. What a fantastic place this is. it was doing a roaring trade with Bradford fans and over hearing a conversation, it emerged that several Bradford fans had managed to get tickets for the home end. When I stated that Harrogate Town’s capacity is small, they were only able to offer Bradford 600 tickets and they’d been snapped up within a minute of going on sale.
The range of ales in the Tap is excellent and I had a beautiful chocolate vanilla stout. That alone almost made up for the train being late. I say almost, had I been there earlier, I’d have been able to have what was a lovely tasting pint earlier. I’d pencilled in a pub on the way to the ground and so I headed to The Empress. I’d checked the weather for Harrogate before leaving the flat, and the forecasted wind and rain, showed itself. It was a relief to get in the pub and out of it. If the pint at the Tap had been gorgeous, then it was by total contrast to the vinegar I was served in the Empress. Thankfully, there was no histrionics from the barman, and I was served a fresh choice as I watched him immediately turn the clip of the offending beer round. The pub was a good mix of both home and away support as they had an eye on the Kidderminster versus West Ham Cup game on the telly. Also with an eye on the game, I had an eye on the home fans leaving to get to the ground too. Choosing my moment, I drained the rest of the replacement pint I’d been given in a squishy plastic beaker, and joined the rest heading for the game. As I waited to go through the turnstile, I made sure I’d got the e-ticket ready on my phone. Shockingly, it worked. Not only that, but I was able to get a programme, not only that, but the buffet had pork pie on offer. Made by a local butcher no less. (No no, not Adrian Butcher. He just bores people to the point of wanting to stick something sharp down your ears.) What is it with Yorkshire folk? Whose idea was it to warm pork pies up? Don’t get me wrong, it was still a nice pork pie, but it would’ve been so much better had it been cold like pork pies are supposed to be. Least it wasn’t the bland, greasy processed meat ones that supermarkets peddle. Here we go then, here’s some photos of the ground.
So to the first Football League game I’d attended since watching, then Lee Bowyer’s Charlton Athletic, play Rochdale in May 2019. Well the first thing that sprang out, was the game was being being officiated by a female referee. With two teenage girls in front of him, an old bloke next to me couldn’t fail to ‘pull their legs’ by grabbing the first opportunity he could to utter a cliche within earshot. Sussing out exactly what he was doing, it was funny watching their heads spin round with disgusted expressions, only to see those expressions vanish when they realised he was just teasing. Given that she will have probably have needed to have been consistently better than her male counterparts to be given the game, she was a good referee. Personally, if it means it makes male referees better and keeps them on their toes, then it’s got to be a good thing. I’m not sure Steve will agree with me as I haven’t seen him since to be able to ask, but he’s not a supporter of women in football. The strong, swirling wind was causing havoc with the play, and you could tell that the players were struggling to read the direction of the ball and bounce. If I’m being honest, I was quite impressed with Harrogate Town. After springing a surprise by winning the playoffs, the club have not only had to race to meet capacity rules, rip up the 3G pitch and replace it with grass, but also had to strengthen the squad for the rigours of League football. Undoubtedly a small club, they have a big spirit of togetherness that will sweep them along. This was a game that showed how far they’d actually come. Here they were, easily matching a club that had spent two seasons in the Premier league only 20 years ago, and reached the League Cup final in 2013. A mere 9 years ago. Of course, football is lucid and things happen extremely quickly. An intriguing first half finished goalless though, and I wondered if I was going to see any goals in the second. The second half brought an on loan from Hearts, Jamie Walker into closer view to me. In his first spell as a Jambo, I’d been impressed with him. He was always a player that looked to change a game in the final third, looked to do something different and always looked to attack. As a Hearts fan, I was glad to see him back at Tynecastle. However, he just hasn’t been able to replicate his first spell, hence the loan move to Bradford. If I’d been put on the spot, I’d probably have had to say that Bradford had just shaded the first half, and they were definitely much more forceful going forward in the early stages of the second. In fact, it was almost inevitable that Bradford would go on and allow Harrogate to take the lead from a breakaway deflected goal. Football’s like that. Just when you think something’s going to happen for one team, the exact opposite seems to transpire. It wasn’t overly harsh on Bradford, but nor was it fortuitous for Harrogate. A goal down, it was now whether Bradford could muster a response. They didn’t. Harrogate had not only now got something to cling on to, but had something to build on. If the first had been a tad lucky, then there was nothing lucky about the second goal. The first goal had been attributed to Jack Diamond. The second from the same player was a pure gem. No apologies for the cheesy link. Firstly, there was no deflection, but it was a brilliant run through the Bradford defence and shot. It deserved a goal. After that, Bradford toiled to even get a consolation goal, which they didn’t, while Harrogate always looked like they could add to their two, they didn’t either. The referee blew for time, and I headed out of the ground, making sure that I went the right way.
Not only had the swirling wind not dropped during the game, but just after passing the last bus stop near the ground back into town, the rain became distinctly heavier. Harrogate is a pretty place but the awful weather was making it very difficult to appreciate it. There was still a queue of hardy souls waiting outside the world famous Betty’s Tea rooms to get in though, so that place must be really special. I went round the corner to a fantastic place in its own right.
Taking my coat off and hanging it up, I started to dry out as I allowed the music to wash over me. If I hadn’t had an itinerary and also needed to get the train home to the reality of work, I’d still be in there now. Following the itinerary I would though, and I somewhat reluctantly braced myself to head out into the horrendous weather. The Fat Badger made it on to the list (It was just rude not to.) It was only for a half, but I just couldn’t let the opportunity slide. I’m not sure it would be to the great man’s taste, but I reckon he wouldn’t be too disappointed. I then headed round the corner to The Old Bell. Although you knew it was old, it certainly wasn’t old on the inside. Plush is one word for it, but it had a good range of ales and a really quirky, friendly set of staff that would make you want to go back. After making sure I sat at a table near a radiator, I continued to try and dry my hat out. I was politely joined by a bloke in a Chelsea FC hoodie. I’d noticed it as he’d been served and coupled with his foreign accent, I preceded to have a bit of fun. After the initial assumption he must just be another armchair dweller, I was astounded to discover that not only did the accent hail from Finland, but he was far from being the usual bandwagon jumper. I learned that his name was Vesa and he was very much a proper fan. If I could have spent my life in the Blues Cafe Bar, then I’d definitely want this bloke dropping in from time to time so we could compare notes on what grounds we’d been to and what games we’d watched. Firstly, he blew me away by revealing he’d done 187 different British grounds that including the fabled 92, even the new ones. Not only is that more than me, but he lives in Finland, I don’t. Crestfallen I may have been, but I was still impressed. We just chatted about Finish players that are or have played in Britain. As well as all the players who have played for both Blues and Chelsea. Yes yes, I know Chelsea are known as the Blues, but their true nickname is The Pensioners. Birmingham City are just Blues. Nobody refers to us as City. Drinking up, I implored him to visit the Blues Cafe Bar due his love of the music and also real ale. He too had an itinerary worked out. He headed off there, while I headed to Major Tom’s Social.
“Ok I lied. I found this as striking as the spectacle itself”
Both relevant and unique. I’ve only ever seen footage of starlings doing what they do on TV, but it’s breath taking, captivating and enthralling. The mural on the wall just gave the place that little bit of the character it needed to be just that tad more cooler than just bland if I’m being honest. I had probably spent too long in the Blues Cafe Bar listening to the DJ set, and could probably have missed out the Fat Badger too, but due to time, I had to miss out the Little Ale House which was the last on the itinerary. Getting back to the station, I’d just enough time for a quick half of that gorgeous chocolate vanilla stout in the Tap round the corner. Nope, no idea of the brewery, it was one I’d not heard of before. All in all, but for the horrendous weather, I’d enjoyed Harrogate, and would certainly recommend a visit. Would I go again? I’d definitely try and grab one of the few tickets if Blues were to play them in one of the Cup competitions there. I got the train back to Leeds where once again, I negotiated what is possibly the most confusing station layout in the whole of the country. Safely back on the train home to Brum, I jammed the earphones in and drifted off to sleep. Getting off back in New Street, I was rather pleased with myself. I may not live in Finland, but I’d still done 4 games in 8 days. If only I could win the lottery and give up work………..