How Harrogate Town's ethos for success took them to the English Football League
The pitch may be temporarily bare as work goes on to replace the 3G artificial turf with a carpet of grass but the buzz at Harrogate Town has never been bigger than this week.
As the club's first-ever appearance in the spotlight of the English Football League nears, Harrogate Town have revealed a new name for its stadium on Wetherby Road as part of a game-changing new sponsorship package.
What was the CNG Stadium is now The EnviroVent stadium, reflecting the increased backing from the award-winning Harrogate firm after the football club’s heroics at Wembley in winning promotion.
The Hornbeam Park-based manufacturer of sustainable ventilation product to homes and social housing has sponsored a stand at the club for the past seven seasons.
But the new sponsorship package is a major step up for both parties as Town prepare to take on famous names like Bolton Wanderers and Bradford City in the new season.
Talking to the Harrogate Advertiser just yards from the diggers preparing the pitch for the new rules of the higher division, EnviroVent’s managing director Andy Makin said it felt like a natural fit even in a year blighted by the Covid pandemic.
Mr Makin said: “It’s been a difficult time for the country.
“2020 has proven a very challenging year for many people.
“Some may think “why are we investing in Harrogate Town now?”
“But, from our perspective, we’ve been with the club through their tremendous journey in recent years and we’ve always had a great relationship.
“It seemed a natural extension to take on the honour of the stadium’s name.”
The Weaver era, which began in the 2011–12 season when Bill Fotherby, formerly of Leeds Utd, handed control of the club to chairman Irving Weaver and his manager and son Simon Weaver, has been an incredible story of change and persistence leading to bigger and bigger success.
Progress on the pitch has been matched by giant steps off during Harrogate Town’s sensational rise from the bottom of the Conference North to League Two in less than ten years.
The new deal is for one year at the moment, though there is a feeling on both sides the situation could easily continue given a fair wind.
The club’s managing director Garry Plant agreed that Harrogate Town’s relationship with EnviroVent, which employs more than 240 people at its manufacturing plant, training centre and head office, was built on more than money.
Mr Plant said: “Having EnviroVent as our title sponsor for our stadium is not just about the financial side.
“The club has been involved with the company across a broad spectrum, from community programmes and our educational programme.
“We would like to thank EnviroVent for their continued support and look forward to working to make them proud.”
Wetherby Road has been home to Harrogate Town AFC since the formation of the club in 1919.
Over the decades the ground has evolved under the stewardship of hard working and dedicated directors, supporters and volunteers.
In 2013, Harrogate Town’s new custodian and current chairman, Irving Weaver set out ambitious plans to develop the ground to new, higher standards with the construction of two new stands at the stadium - The EnviroVent Stand and The AON Stand.
The pace of change hasn’t slackened since.
The scale of this year's Wembley triumph can be judged by the fact Harrogate Town have only been operating as a full time professional club since the 2017/18 season.
With one eye on securing promotion to the English Football League, redeveloping Wetherby Road has been as much a priority as creating a great football team.
The club needed to expand its facilities to increase spectator capacity from 2,800 to more than 5,000 to meet the ground criteria of higher football leagues.
This ambition was realised earlier this year with the introduction of new seated and standing terraces.
Only the time it will take for the re-seeded pitch to bed in to meet league regulations has stopped the ‘christening’ of the new EnviroVent Stadium for Harrogate’s first 'home' match in the English Football League against Walsall on Saturday, September 19.
In the meantime, Harrogate talented footballers will play their home fixtures temporarily at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium, though hopes are high the new grass pitch will be ready at Wetherby Road by mid-October.
EnviroVent’s managing director says he is looking forward to seeing Town in action against the ‘big boys’ of football.
Mr Makin said: “Harrogate Town put an emphasis on health and well-being which is something we do with out products.
“Winning promotion means Harrogate Town will be carrying the town’s name at a national level now.
“But, as the UK’s leading supplier in our field, we, too, are a national company. It’s a mutual partnership.
“And when Harrogate Town get into Europe, it will help our exports!”
Harrogate Town are feeling confident ahead of the new season, especially after an impressive display in a friendly last weekend at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland where they lost narrowly.
Mr Plant said the whole squad had returned from the end of lockdown in tip-top condition.
Mr Plant said: “The players came back from lockdown not an ounce over-weight.
“Their fitness and dedication beamed through in the play-offs where we won promotion.
“Can we maintain that in League Two is the question.
“We will keep our feet on the ground, as we always do.
“We have an ethos of hard work, good football and following manager Simon Weaver’s mantra - “You can’t beat a team that never gives up.”
Renowned for playing 'good football' rather than the percentages, Harrogate’s civilised and family-friendly ethos will remain the same - bringing the culture and standards of, say , a rugby union club, to football.
Mr Plant said: “We want Harrogate Town to be as suited for everyone from a seven-year-old to a 70-year-old and that means no swearing at all, not even on the sidelines.”
What matters isn’t just the result, it’s the way players, fans, indeed, everyone at the club conducts themselves. It’s an approach shared by the new sponsor of their stadium.
EnviroVent, known as the ‘fan’s favourite’ because of the large number of extract fans and indoor air quality solutions it manufactures places great importance in giving back to the local community.
Each year it holds an ‘In it together day’ when all its staff are given the chance to work on supporting a wide range of local projects across the greater Harrogate region.
These have included, Harrogate Homeless Project, Dementia Forward, Horticap, churches and schools.
The company sees its progress and Harrogate Town’s going hand in hand with the town’s as a whole.
Mr Makin said: “We see our extended sponsorship as a way of highlighting the longer-term optimism we believe and feel for our business, our club and our town.
“Simon and the players have come a very long way in recent times and have achieved so much.
“The club is an important pillar of the local community and it’s an honour to be able to extend our part in its journey at this incredible time.”
A week on Saturday, September 12 will see their first fixture in Skybet League Two away from home at Southend Utd.
After that the clock will start ticking on the grand opening of EnviroVent Stadium.
Harrogate Town's first competitive fixture of the new season takes place on Saturday, September 5 at 3pm at Tranmere Rovers in the Carabao Cup.
They will then play at Grimsby Town in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday, September 8,
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