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Can Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver be this season’s surprise package?

Simon Weaver is the longest-serving manager in the EFL and Premier League
Simon Weaver is the longest-serving manager in the EFL and Premier League

No manager or club has ever won promotion, or a league title, five games into a new season. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t dream at this early stage.

Surprise League Two pacesetters Harrogate Town and their long-serving manager, Simon Weaver son of club owner Irving, can take immense pride in how they’ve exploded out of the blocks this term.

Football League new boys last season, now they’re bidding to build on the foundations of a debut campaign which saw them finish in a very respectable 17th; 12 points above the relegation zone and 16 points off the play-off places; they also won the FA Trophy for the first time in their history.

‘Promotion to League One’ is a sentence that won’t have been muttered by Weaver - at least publicly - whose focus will be establishing his club in League Two, however the 43-year-old can not only take buckets of confidence from the club’s impressive start but draw inspiration from a collection of outstanding managerial feats which have taken place in the fourth-tier in recent years. 

Morecambe finished the 2019/20 season 22nd, then miraculously won promotion via the play-offs last term under Derek Adams. Mark Bonner took Cambridge from 16th in 2019/20 to 2nd last season, which was his first full season in management.

In 2018/19 Crewe and Swindon finished 12th and 13th respectively. The following campaign David Artell and Richie Wellens both sealed automatic promotions to League One.

Prior to that John Coleman’s Accrington made the leap up into League One in 2018, and are now 2nd after a superb start, whereas Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe shot from League Two to the Championship.

League Two Promotion Odds

League Two brings together young, hungry and often untested managers against seasoned veterans of their craft. The fourth tier is famed for its competitiveness and unpredictable nature. It’s full of surprises, twists-and-turns, inspiring stories, and jubilant celebrations; aka Michael Duff.

A concoction of momentum, self-belief, teamwork, and luck can combine to create the ideal environment for a successful season. There’s an incredibly long way to go, but whisper is quietly: with Weaver the heartbeat of Harrogate, another historic season could be on the cards for a 'little club' with big dreams.

A Flying Start

“We are in a position of strength to build on,” Weaver said in May after he completed his first season in the League Two dugout.

Harrogate were then handed ante-post odds of 15/2 to be promoted and 33/1 to win the title in 2021/22. Odds which have since cut to 3/1 and 14/1 respectively.

The Sulphurites’ start to the current campaign may have been disrupted by three postponements in the league and cup due to covid cases, but they’ve negotiated this difficult obstacle in style and now sit top of the table and unbeaten with 13 points from 15 available, with a game in hand. They have a 100% away record, and also beat Mansfield in the cup.

“We play with an edge, an energy and a real attitude to win,” Weaver said about his exciting side who have scored three goals on three occasions.

“We attack everything with the same attitude whether it’s our analysis of the opposition, the training or matches.”

Weaver, who has kept the core of his team together and recruited smartly (e.g. Luke Armstrong), has been nominated for League Two Manager of the Month award for August; an award he can win for the first time.

Longest Serving Manager

May 2009. That’s the date Simon Weaver answered a job advert in the Non-League Paper which saw him appointed Harrogate Town manager. 

To give you a sense of how long ago this was: Pep Guardiola had just completed a stunning treble-winning first season in charge of Barcelona, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was learning the coaching ropes in Man Utd’s academy, and Mikel Arteta was playing for Everton.

Back then, Harrogate wasn’t even known for its football team. When Weaver turned up on his first day he was greeted by an overgrown pitch while attendances were less than 200. 

Fast-forward 12 years and he’s currently the longest-serving manager employed in England’s top-four leagues; four years ahead of the next boss in the running: Wycombe’s Gareth Ainsworth.

It’s remarkable to think that Weaver has been a manager since the hazy days of 2009, yet he’s still only 43-years-old!

Humble Beginnings

Harrogate proudly sit at the summit of League Two following their tremendous start to the season. Hard work, resilience, and belief have propelled both club and manager to this point. It’s not been an easy journey, but it has been a memorable one.

Back in 2009/10 Harrogate finished bottom of the Blue Square North table, however, they fortunately kept their place in the division because other clubs declared bankruptcy.

Eight seasons later the family run club battled their way to promotion up to the National League, where they spent just two seasons, before earning a famous Football League promotion for the first time in their history (2020): Town only turned professional ahead of the 2017/18 season. 

Last term Weaver’s troops were forced to play the majority of their football behind closed doors, preventing fans from supporting their side live during their first ever season in the Football League.

They are now making up for lost time.

Strength In Unity

The BT Sport cameras went behind the scenes at Harrogate Town at the start of the pandemic to document the club’s journey from non-league to the Football League. 

Weaver was the protagonist as viewers got an insight into his family life, how he operated a football club during lockdown and propelled his beloved side into the Football League.

A central theme of the documentary was the club’s strength in unity, their togetherness, and being positive in a wildly uncertain period. 

It looked at how the players, coaching staff and everyone associated with the club dealt with the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic and the threat of a null and void season, to then lift themselves and battle through the play-offs and seal a historic promotion.

If you have a BT account you can watch the documentary HERE.

What next?

"We're very proud of the start we've had and we can have a nice weekend now and go again,” Weaver said after Harrogate’s most recent triumph.

"If you don't start well as a manager you say you don't look at the table, I've looked at it already!

"We'll see where the next five games go and just be determined every game because we don't lack passion. If we go flat or anyone gets big-time, they won't be in the team. They know how I work.

"At this level you can win three, lose three, we did that enough times last year so you don't go overboard but I'm entitled as manager to be proud of the boys today."

Harrogate host Newport on Friday as they bid to extend their undefeated start to six matches.

This is followed by back-to-back trips to Port Vale and Crawley, before Stevenage come to town at the end of the month.

League Two Title Odds

Salford City
WIN PROB: 14%
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6/1
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5/1
Northampton
WIN PROB: 13%
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9/2
Mansfield Town
WIN PROB: 10%
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Stockport County
WIN PROB: 9%
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Bradford City
WIN PROB: 9%
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Leyton Orient
WIN PROB: 8%
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9/1
Doncaster Rovers
WIN PROB: 5%
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Stevenage
WIN PROB: 5%
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Walsall
WIN PROB: 4%
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Swindon Town
WIN PROB: 3%
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Tranmere Rovers
WIN PROB: 3%
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Gillingham
WIN PROB: 2%
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AFC Wimbledon
WIN PROB: 3%
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Grimsby
WIN PROB: 2%
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Crewe Alexandra
WIN PROB: 2%
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Carlisle
WIN PROB: 2%
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Barrow
WIN PROB: 2%
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Newport County
WIN PROB: 2%
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Sutton United
WIN PROB: 1%
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Crawley Town
WIN PROB: 2%
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Harrogate Town
WIN PROB: 1%
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Colchester
WIN PROB: 1%
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Hartlepool
WIN PROB: 1%
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Rochdale
WIN PROB: 1%
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Odds correct as of 2022-08-18 11:47 Odds subject to change.
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