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Nul points in Harrogate



Harrogate away was good. No, seriously, it was, despite the football. This renaissance in railway station pubs is wonderful and the one on Harrogate station didn’t disappoint. In fact if they’d kept the fire well stoked we may well have been tempted to give the match a swerve and while away the rest of the afternoon with a few pints of gorgeous hazelnut mild. Instead we missed the kick-off and arrived just in time to see promotion chasing Harrogate Town score the first of their five goals of the afternoon.

Back in the nineteenth century upper class folk from all over the country flocked to Harrogate’s spas to “take the waters” with Betty Lupton; the town’s location on a geological fault produced dozens of mineral springs that, no matter how foul smelling, were thought to bring health and well-being in the days before Big Pharma offered us a pill for everything. I’m not sure what waters Harrogate Town were taking in walloping FC United of Manchester by five goals to nil despite only having ten men on the pitch for most of the match but I suspect they probably weren’t that drinkable. It was our red shirted heroes heaviest ever defeat.

I’ll leave the on-pitch analysis to more qualified persons than me. Like any football club FC United’s support includes plenty of tactical whizz kids and would-be football managers who know exactly how to put things right as we collectively prepare for a couple of months of relegation dogfighting. Sadly, once again, there are some calling for the head of Karl Marginson, a manager who has brought us four promotions in our short history and instinctively “gets” what the club is all about. Ah well, there’s no pleasing everyone I suppose.

Off the pitch there was some half-time scrapping of a different sort as, is often the case with our trips to Yorkshire, a motley ensemble of Leeds United fans decided to bless us with their presence. Some were merely young hoolies trying it on but, in amongst it all, were a few old timers who may well have last gone toe to toe at the 1977 FA Cup semi-final. Eventually a little peace was restored and a nearby tea bar was able to re-open.

Meanwhile the toilets in the ground were a revelation; clean, fresh smelling and boasting a choice of soaps, a level of salubrity not often seen in the National League North. Certainly not around Stalybridge anyway. So even as FC once again failed woefully to keep a clean sheet, at least us fans were able to applaud the team off at the end of the match with spotlessly clean hands. As befits a trip to a town long associated with baths and spas.

It only occurred to me later that Harrogate may well be the nearest we’ll get to a Euro away this season. Well, nearer than a trip to Detroit that most of us can’t afford anyway. As the nation prepares for months of European Union hokey cokey masquerading as Tory party in-fighting (let’s hope those delightful Eton rivals tear themselves apart) wandering around Harrogate it was difficult not to appreciate the wonderful continental flavour of the place. From the Swiss origins of the queue-tastic Betty’s Tea Rooms and a quirky Scandinavian-Yorkshire cafe to the fashionable Montpellier quarter and the magnificent Kursaal (or Royal Hall as it is now known) which had to be renamed at the outbreak of the first world war for fear that a German name would cause offence. In addition, the yellow bikes and other Tour de France memorabilia offer a reminder of the Tour’s Grand Depart in 2014 which ended in the town with Mark Cavendish crashing out in the sprint finish.

Somewhat incongruously, the town is also home to the Harrogate International Centre, a vast arena that was the venue, soon after completion, for perhaps the Eurovision Song Contest’s finest hour in 1982. Well, it certainly made a big impression on this spotty thirteen year old anyway as a teenage girl called Nicole, strumming a guitar and singing about peace to the accompaniment of a harp, became Germany’s first ever Eurovision winner. Memorably, at the end of the contest she sang A Little Peace again in several different languages. She was only a few years older than me, yet here was this multi-talented, multi-lingual German girl singing like an angel and playing guitar in front of a TV audience of millions whilst, at that point, my biggest achievement in life had been to complete my 1981 Panini football sticker album (albeit by sending off for the last few stickers).

A Little Peace wasn’t your typical Eurovision hit, gentle and thoughtful rather than brash and poppy, and it attracted no little controversy amongst little Englanders who saw it as a protest against events going on in the Falklands at the time. And that’s the way I prefer to remember it, as the Eurovision’s only anti-war protest song winner. I reckon if Nicole Hohloch had joined us in that windswept away end at Stockport earlier this season she would have approved of that ace “Drop Points Not Bombs” banner (whilst perhaps quibbling about the admission price). And she may well have reflected on events in Yorkshire a generation ago and remarked “Harrogate. Es war sehr gut”. I’ll raise a glass of hazelnut mild to that. Now put that fire back on.


From → Sport

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