Harrogate Railway Athletic v Warrington Town
Station View / Evo-Stik North Premier League Division One North
For the second time in two weeks, I decided to leave my destination for this Saturday afternoon in the hands of the footballing gods…well, my flat cap and some post it notes. From 25 post-its placed in the hat, the last remaining post it had the words ‘HARROGATE RAILWAY ATHLETIC’ written across it in big black ink meaning that I was heading to Yorkshire the next day.
I was very happy with the outcome of the draw, as I’ve been thinking of visiting Harrogate RA for a while having heard others praise the club. Plus, I had also received only glowing reports about the town of Harrogate itself. Following my announcement on Twitter that I’d be heading to the town, the general gist from my Twitter audience was that Harrogate is ‘the posh part of Yorkshire’ or as my fellow Swansea fan Kalvin put it, “take your cheque book, quality doesn’t come cheap!” I would have to see for myself.
I arrived in Leeds around 11am having been entertained by reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night on the train from Manchester – what a book by the way. In Leeds I was meeting up with my pal Tom, who now resides in nearby Castleford, before we jumped on the train to Harrogate itself.
By 11:30 we were stepping out into Harrogate itself and within minutes of walking through the town centre we were both commenting on how lovely a town it is. Despite all the positive comments I had received about the town beforehand, it still took me by surprise how wonderfully charming the place actually was. Eventually, we came across the semi-iconic Betty’s Tea Rooms, one of the town’s most famous attractions, but we opted against morning tea and a slice of cake and instead decided to head to the pub instead. But, wait a sec…where the hell were all the pubs?!? This was a question we asked ourselves for a good while as we had not seen one since we arrived (bar the one housed within the train station). I’m usually good for sniffing out a pub, but even after circumnavigating the town centre, still nothing turned up, apart from a hill with several restaurants claiming to be ‘award winning’.
Finally, after we had walked past the very impressive looking Royal Baths (complete with attached Chinese restaurant strangely enough), we found the Hale Bar. And what a great bar. The place was very dark inside but very ‘old school’ with two ornamental candles alight on the bar. This was when we were to learn about the ‘bring a cheque book’ to Harrogate statement, as a simple round of two Carlings crept over the £7.50 barrier. Oh well. The pub was great anyway, but now we had found one we decided to go hunting for more.
Just around the corner we found the Old Bell Tavern, which was boasting of its love of Belgian and German lagers from the outside. That’ll do nicely. The place was fairly basic inside, but the beer was a bit more colourful and exotic so I wanted to pick something good. The barman let me sample the one Belgian lager I liked the look of, but the stuff almost knocked me out after one sip. “It is over 8%,” retorted the barman which made a lot of sense having now tasted it. We opted for two pints of Warsteiner, which was far more drinkable and lovely.
“Look that place is called Fat Badger!” I said far too excitedly, as we walked past another bar following our consumption of German beers. The name was enough for us, so in we went. It was also here that we finally sussed out the ‘Golden Bicycle’ mystery. It seemed everywhere we went in Harrogate we found monuments of bikes painted gold much to our bemusement, but it finally clicked with me that the bikes were celebrations of the town hosting the first stage of the Tour de France back in July.
Within the Fat Badger (great name), we once again encountered a whole host of continental lagers at the very plush bar and once again we went all fancy and ordered two pints of something called Angelo Poretti. To be honest, neither of us really fell in love with the stuff. I was more impressed by the two different types of hand sanitiser available in the toilets – very posh indeed.
Originally, we had planned to make the fairly long walk to the ground from the town centre, but we were enjoying ourselves in the town too much, so we opted to find one last pub and then hitch a taxi to Railway’s home. So soon we wound ourselves at the bar in the once again fairly fancy insides of The Montpellier (posh sounding French name too). Even though we had switched back to less exotic lagers, we still found the beer very expensive. I usually find small towns housing non-league are usually cheaper than most, but no such financial prudence was available in Harrogate; in fact, I probably spent as much money on beer as I would have if I had headed to one of the country’s big cities (barring London of course).
Thank god we got a taxi! As the taxi headed East out of the town centre, it soon dawned on us that walking to the ground may have been a long shot with the distance we seemed to be covering in our taxi. It also seemed that our taxi driver didn’t really know where he was going, so it was indeed lucky that at the last second I spotted a small sign pointing left to ‘Harrogate Railway Athletic FC’ leading to our driver almost attempting a sharp left turn before realising he probably would have flipped the car if he had gone for it and probably obliterating your writer in the process too.
Moments later, we found ourselves in front of the green, white and red sign with the words ‘HARROGATE RAILWAY ATHLETIC’ emblazoned across it. Before heading into the ground, it was first to the bar, housed within a modern looking two-floored building just to the side of the entrance to the ground. As we were just about to enter the bar, we bumped into Warrington manager Shaun Reid exiting the building. I’ve always found Shaun, brother of former England international and now pundit Peter Reid, very friendly and hugely passioniate about football having met him a couple of times before; however, as I was trying to explain to Tom, that passion truly comes to the fore when he’s on the touchline. More on that later.
We headed upstairs to the bar and I have to say that I doubt you’ll find many nicer bars with better facilities at this level than at Harrogate’s Station View. The VIP room even looked out onto the ground – not that Lost Boyos had such privileges. I should also add here that the officials at the club were very friendly and welcoming with one gentleman coming over to welcome us to the club having seen my tweets the night before stating that I’d be visiting the club. It was all very plush indeed.
The clue to the club’s origins is obviously in the name with the club being formed in 1935 by the workers at the Starbeck LNER locomotive shed. The club began life in the Harrogate and District League and reached and won the British Railways National Cup Final in 1946 with a team consisting entirely of rail workers.
After mooted moves elsewhere, the club made Station View (I’m guessing named as Starbeck station is visible from the ground) their permanent home with LNER offering to buy the site as long as 300 rail workers would agree to pay back one penny of their pay to repay the loan. They all agreed.
In the subsequent 50 years, the Rail have risen through the Yorkshire Leagues and then through the North Counties East Leagues, until they eventually landed in the Northern Premier League First Division in 2005-06 and then participated in the inaugural season of the Northern Premier League Division One North in the following season – the league in which the club would be playing in today.
We were in the ground shortly before 3pm and I’ll start by saying well done to Harrogate RA for charging £6 entry – a whole £1 cheaper than most clubs in the league. I may well have used the words like ‘modern’ and ‘plush’ to describe the bar, but it is fair to say that the ground falls more into the ‘basic’ bracket. As we entered, we were met by two open standing areas – one down the near side of the pitch and the other behind the nearest goals. On the opposite side of the ground you could find a very small stand on alongside the halfway line with a limited number of seating, whilst behind the other goal is a sheltered standing/seating area. Plus, as soon as we entered the sloping of the width of the pitch was fairly evident.
However, there was added razzmatazz to the ground as we began to walk around; it came in the form of ‘The Voice of the Rail’. Many had told me beforehand that the highlight of any visit to Station View is getting to hear their lively public address system man (remember: tannoy is a brand name) and he was not to disappoint. Every player on the Harrogate RA team sheet was given an elaborate, boxer-esque nickname to go with their actual name and the line-up was delivered with all the gusto of a classically-trained Shakespearean actor. Top stuff.
Before kick-off, a minute’s silence was impeccably observed by all in attendance to commemorate the passing of David Kirk, a man who helped the club remarkably over the years, and then we were underway.
As the teams kicked off, Harrogate RA in their red, green and white (Wales! Wales! Wales!) and Warrington in their usual yellow kits, we went to explore the ground a bit until we ended up behind the dugouts on the far side of the ground. This was Tom’s first encounter with Shaun Reid the Manager and his passionate demeanour on the touchline; luckily, there were no children in earshot of some of his four-lettered tirades. One player who endeared an early earful from Reid was Scott Metcalfe. Metcalfe was one of my favourite players for my current local club Salford City when he was with them, so I was rooting for him to do well. The ‘encouragement’ from the Wire’s manager clearly worked, as Metcalfe was soon going through on goal to make it 1-0 to the away team.
Harrogate RA battled back and created several half chances without really working the away goalie. I was particularly impressed with The Rail’s number 7, Rob Youhill; everything good seemed to be going through him and he always looked lively and rarely gave the ball away.
The half slowly died out with little happening on the pitch and me and Tom made our way back round to the entrance ready to make a break for the bar at half-time.
Half-time: Harrogate Railway Athletic 0 – 1 Warrington Town.
I was disappointed to find Swansea drawing 1-1 with lowly Newcastle United on entering the bar, so alcohol was needed to cheer me up. In fact, we were so comfortable on the sofa watching Jeff Stelling and the gang that we were still there as the second half kicked off. There was no rush though and just as we were about to leave, a Swansea goal flashed up on the screen leading me to cheer loudly – an action that was greeted with many confused eyes in the room.
I hadn’t travelled to Yorkshire to watch the Saturday scores though, so we were back pitchside with the second half just 5 minutes old, but similar to the end of the first half, there was really not too much going on on the pitch. Instead, we decided to distract ourselves with the food hut hiding in the corner of the ground next to the club shop. I wasn’t really in a pie mood, so instead me and Tom both opted for chip butties, which were decent, but nothing competed to some of the food offerings I’ve had at some grounds over the past few weeks.
As the half unfolded, we found ourselves near the respectable crowd of yellow-shirted fans from Warrington behind the goal. It was into this goal that the next goal would be scored as the away team took a 2-0 lead. A great ball from the left-hand side curled across the defensive ‘corridor of uncertainty’ leaving Steven Foster to tap home. It looked like game over for the home team, but the Rail had other ideas with Malachi Farquharson finishing from close range to make the score 2-1 in the 65th
The Rail had their tails up for a while, but failed to create much. In fact, the most exciting moment of the final exchanges came 5 minutes from time via Warrington, as James McCarten went close to lobbing the Rail goalie from 45 yards only for the ball to head just over the bar. The keeper looked mightily relieved to see the ball just about miss the target.
The away team held out for a deserved 2-1 win.
Full-time: Harrogate Railway Athletic 1 – 2 Warrington Town.
Back in the bar, we found ourselves with more beer and a disgruntled Shaun Reid, who despite his team winning was unhappy with his team’s performance. “Shit” was his concise analysis of the game. As we caught up on the full-time scores from around the country (Swansea drew 2-2 much to my disappointmnet, both teams sat around us enjoying their post match grub. We were also joined by fellow groundhopper Paul Brockett; Paul, who I’d met at Hednesford last season, hadn’t been to a game because of work, but as he lives fairly local to Harrogate he decided to come join us for a post match drink.
After we were pushed out of the main bar area, as the staff prepared the place for a party later that night, we decided to call it a day and head back to Harrogate town. Kindly, Paul gave us a lift back to the train station, something which was greatly appreciated. We had wanted to have a drink in the very nice looking bar housed within the train station. However, with the bar being so busy and with a train to Leeds arriving in ten minutes, we decided just to roll out of Harrogate instead.
So to sum the day up: Harrogate – nice place. Harrogate Railway Athletic – nice club. Station View – not the most interesting ground I’ve ever been to.
Highlights: nice town, friendly club, great club bar, just £6 entry.
Low Points: expensive town, not a great game, fairly basic ground.
See all my photos from my day at Harrogate RA here.