The demand for a first class ‘Association’ Town team had been growing for a number of years as the last century dawned. In fact, as far back as 1907/08 a club was registered under the name of ‘The Harrogate Town Club’, but got no further. In 1914 a club was formed as Harrogate AFC which secured admission to the Northern League for the 1914/15 campaign and were to play their home games at the County Ground behind the County Hotel (now the Mujib Restaurant). However, due to the Great War all games were postponed before fixtures could take place. Harrogate should have been playing at Bishop Auckland on Saturday 5 September, but sent a telegram two hours before kick off stating they would not be arriving as most of the team had joined the Regiments.
After the war a meeting was held at the Imperial Café (now Betty’s) on Monday 19 May 1919 to consider the formation of an Association Football Club for Harrogate. All interested were invited by Mr Robert Ackrill Breare who ran the local paper The Harrogate Herald, and later became club Secretary. Eventually Harrogate AFC was formed for the 1919/20 season to play in the West Riding League. The first competitive game was at the Starbeck Lane Ground on Saturday 30 August 1919 against Horsforth with a 3.30pm kick off. In those days it was 5d (2p) into the ground and 1/3d (7p) in the stand. The result was a 1-0 victory for Harrogate and the scorer was L Craven with a header. They played in the English Cup (now FA Cup) that season and won the Whitworth Cup (the senior local cup) 4-0 against Ripon City, the first ever trophy won by the new Harrogate AFC ‘Senior Town Team’. They also played a friendly against Leeds City in their last season of league football.
The 1920/21 season was significant for two reasons. Firstly, Harrogate joined the newly formed Yorkshire League, but also continued with a team in the West Riding League. Secondly, they had to leave their Starbeck Lane Ground as house building was the order of the day according to the Corporation. The
St Andrews Estate stands on the site today. All was not lost though as the club had been given prior notice the previous season, and the committee found a six acre plot of land at the club’s present site, then called ‘Wetherby Lane’. The local public were asked to buy shares in a new company at £1 a share, and after obtaining the 3,000 required the ground was purchased. The first Yorkshire League game at the new ground took place on Saturday 28 August 1920 with a 2-1 win against York YMCA. The Sulphur and Blacks, nicknamed ‘The Sulphurites’, also played a few friendlies against league opposition, mainly at Christmas and Easter. One such game was against Liverpool at Anfield, and another was at Sheffield United in front of 15,000.
For the 1921/22 season it was decided to join the strong Midland Counties League, which included the reserve teams of Nottingham Forest, Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday. The club also remained members of the Yorkshire League, and fielded a reserves side. The Directors felt that the Midland Counties was a better league, so expected the public of Harrogate to give their full support. However, the club resigned after only one season as the support was not as had been hoped, and they continued in the Yorkshire League.
On Saturday 9 May 1925 Harrogate met Fryston Colliery in the West Riding County Challenge Cup at Elland Road, in front of 2,725. Rain fell for most of the game, but no-one cared as Harrogate eventually came out 3-1 winners to take their first ever major trophy. When they arrived back from Leeds at Harrogate Railway Station, a large crowd had gathered. The captain Ernest Baines held the cup aloft and was carried shoulder high in a procession led by the Harrogate Temperance Band along the streets of Harrogate to the Prospect Hotel where a special dinner and concert was held.
In 1926/27 the Yorkshire League Championship was won (with Bob Morphet scoring 44 goals) and also the West Riding Cup again, 2-1 against Selby Town in a replay at Elland Road. Harrogate were 1-0 down at the interval, but Morphet bagged two in the second half. The winning goal was described admirably by the Harrogate Herald reporter that day, “As Morphet gathered a pass by J Smith, and crashed the ball home, hat sticks and umbrellas were flung in the air while respectable law abiding citizens became raving lunatics for the moment”. Classic.
In 1927/28 Morphet was the first player to score six goals in a match, a 7-3 home win against York City reserves. The 1928/29 and 1929/30 seasons saw Yorkshire Amateurs groundshare at Wetherby Lane. 1930/31 was the club’s last in the Yorkshire League. The 1931/32 season was an eventful one in the Northern League before the club disbanded. One amusing story from that season was when Esh Winning had to cancel their game at Harrogate, as they were unable to raise funds to travel from Durham. Then, prior to the re-arranged match they had a jumble sale to raise money for the journey to Harrogate. In fact, they had to raffle a chicken to get to Whitby United for another match.
There was no Town team from 1932 until basically after the Second World War. But, a team called Harrogate Hotspurs was founded in 1935 and played in the Harrogate League and West Riding County Amateur League until outbreak of war. They were so good that they became the new Town team. After the war, Hotspurs played in the West Yorkshire League and changed their name to Harrogate Town in 1948 as the title Hotspurs gave no indication to other teams that they were meeting the senior club in Harrogate.
The 1949/50 season brought the largest ever crowd to Wetherby Road when 4,280 paid to see the Whitworth Cup Final against Railway Athletic. Town joined the Yorkshire League in 1957 and put together a very strong team in the early 1960s under Jack (‘boss’) Townrow. The 1959/60 West Riding County Cup final against Farsley Celtic was a very controversial match that made the front pages of the Harrogate press, and Town were Yorkshire League runners-up for 1962/63 when they also won the County Cup.
Under Peter Gunby, Town had a successful side in the early 1970s, winning the County Cup again in 1973. Under Alan Smith, Town were the last winners of the Yorkshire League Division Two in the 1981/82 season, as the Northern Counties East League was then formed with the Yorkshire and Midland leagues joining forces.
The introduction of the football pyramid was a wonderful progression for non-league football. Harrogate had played in the Yorkshire League for many seasons, but could not achieve no higher than being Champions of Division One, playing against only fellow Yorkshire opponents. With the introduction of the NCEL they were by 1985 able to play further afield, and could visit Borrowash Victoria in Derbyshire, Dronfield from Nottinghamshire and Brigg from Lincolnshire.
Forming the pyramid towards league football was an exciting prospect for many clubs who were now making sure their grounds were adequate for the upward climb, including Harrogate Town under head groundsman George Dunnington and his band of willing volunteers. Floodlights were installed in 1982 when Leeds United sent their entire first team, and Eddie Gray switched on the lights. The first competitive match played under the lights was an FA Cup replay against Accrington Stanley which attracted a crowd of over 2,000.
With the introduction of a First Division for the Northern Premier League in 1987/88 Town could visit such places as Leek Town in Staffordshire, Stalybridge in
Cheshire and Kendal in Cumbria. November 1990 saw the official opening of the new impressive cantilevered grandstand and York City sent their first team.
Town spent many seasons in the UniBond League Division One, simply because the club could not compete with others due to lack of financial resources to pay quality players. However, Town had prepared themselves a first class ground remarked upon by all and sundry, ready for the upward climb, but not really having spare cash to pay players’ apparent high wages let alone splashing out large sums in the transfer market for a top class player or two.
Then in June 1998 Town’s luck changed with the appointment of Maurice Hammond as Chairman. He injected the first real capital into the club but he eventually left and February 2000 saw the arrival of Bill Fotherby, former Chairman of Leeds United. The 2001/02 season saw the club become Champions of UniBond League Division One by ten clear points under then manager John Reed and coach Neil Aspin (former Leeds United), after playing 15 seasons in the league since it’s inception. Town also won the West Riding County Cup for the first time since 1986, defeating Farsley Celtic 4-0.
2002/03 saw the club finish 6th in their first ever season of UniBond League Premier Division football with many good results against former Conference teams. The FA Cup First Round proper was reached for the first time in the club’s history and the West Riding County Cup was won again, against Farsley Celtic.
A 5th place finish in 2003/04 secured the club a place in the newly formed Conference North Football League. The inaugural 2004/05 Nationwide North season saw the club achieve more success, despite the shock mid-season departure of John Reed. Neil Aspin returned to Wetherby Road as the new manager having left the club at the end of the previous season, and an excellent 6th place finish was achieved.
The 2005/06 season saw more success for Harrogate Town. The FA Cup First Round proper was again reached, and Town were unfortunate to go out of the competition following a penalty shoot-out against Torquay United at Wetherby Road. A place in the Conference North promotion play-offs was secured on the final day of the season with a 1-0 win at Stafford Rangers, but just 3 days later the score was reversed against the same opposition in the semi-final.
- West Riding Challenge Cup Winners: 1924/25; 1926/27
- West Riding County Cup Winners: 1962/63; 1972/73; 1985/86; 2001/02; 2002/03
- West Riding County Cup Finalists: 1959/60; 1969/70; 1984/85
- UniBond League Division One Champions: 2001/02
- HFS Loans League Division One Cup Winners: 1989/90
- UniBond League Chairman’s Cup Finalists: 2000/01
- Yorkshire League Division One Champions: 1926/27
- Yorkshire League Division Two Champions: 1981/82
Official Harrogate Town Site