When Simon Weaver came to Harrogate Town in May 2009, he was a rookie coach, and he was looking forward to cutting his teeth as he set out to transition from player to manager.
Thirteen years later, he remains at the helm of the North Yorkshire-based club.
This puts him at the top of the coaching list, in terms of length, among the managers in the top four divisions of English football – although most of his coaching time was spent outside the league.
In second place is Wycombe’s Gareth Ainsworth, who is celebrating a decade in charge of the Chirboys this coming Saturday. Only 19 directors have been in their current positions for two years or more.
Weaver oversaw two promotions at Harrogate, moving the club from National League North to Sky Bet League Two, and they are now in the first months of their third consecutive season in the Fourth Division.
It’s a feat that Town fans would never have imagined, and perhaps the same can be said of Weaver, who has opposed him from the moment he was hired, as a newly qualified UEFA B licensed coach.
“The club was really short of money at the time – [owner] Bill Fotherby would have done it himself after a good run, but then he cut the budget and there was very little money to spend, so he probably had to go for a junior manager,” he explains to Sky Sports.
“That was me and I was lucky enough to put my foot in the door, having finished my playing career at Elkstone Town after breaking the fourth leg of my career.
The top five coaches with the longest serving in the Premier League and EFL
|Simon Weaver||Harrogate||May 21, 2009 – so far|
|Gareth Ainsworth||Wycombe||September 24, 2012 – until now|
|John Coleman||Accrington||September 18, 2014 – until now|
|Jürgen Klopp||Liverpool||October 8, 2015 – so far|
|Pep Guardiola||Manchester||July 1, 2016 – until now|
“We had no place to train and when we did training, I had a problem with the club because we were destroying the pitch. In the end we got an hour a week in the gym and half an hour at AstroTurf, which caused injuries. Because it was so hard.
“We didn’t really have a selling point at all until we became a full-timer and got the third generation the year before to enable it to happen. Those two reasons were the catalyst to improve as a club and launch ourselves the club as we became more attractive to ambitious players and young boys who are hungry for success.
“It’s been a huge learning curve; I think it’s like taking your own driving test. It’s a way of opening doors, but then the real learning happens when you learn away from the instructors in the perfect scenarios.”
“It’s match days, it’s managing people – it’s a very different game than just training on the pitch.”
The rise of Harrogate over the past three decades
|1992/93 to 2001/2002||Northern Premier League First Division|
|03/2002 to 04/2003||Premier League North Division|
|2004/05 to 2017/18||Northern National League|
|2018/19 to 2019/20||National League|
|2020/21 to the present||Sky Bet League Two|
Weaver’s first season proved problematic, and had it not been for the fact that Farsley Celtic and Northwich Victoria had trouble off the field all season, Harrogate would have been relegated to the Northern Premier League after just eight wins.
Survival helped facilitate the strengthening of the team and a twelfth place in 2010/11 was a huge improvement, but Fotherby then ramped up his efforts to sell the club, meaning trouble was about to be futile.
But then an unexpected knight in shining armor came to help the club: Weaver’s own father, Irving.
“Bill said we’d go down two levels because he couldn’t support Conference North Football financially, so that was it or we found a new owner. He approached my father, but I was a little hesitant because I thought it was some kind of conflict of interest.
“However, it would have been a better scenario for my father as president to move forward and stay on the same level than to go down two leagues down and have to work from a lower base.
“He got into it after almost 50 years in the construction business and it was a lot of pride to get involved in football for the first time as president, even though he loved the game and was a really big football fan since he was young. He has a great passion for the game and my participation was the reason for his participation.
“Our relationship at work is excellent and I think this is due to him being a captain for most of his adult life. I have to count on this leadership experience as much as I can because he leads without arrogance and I think he is an outstanding president of football.
“He’s a good decision-maker and always has clarity; in murky waters, he seems to have clarity more than ever, which is quite inspiring.”
The inevitable accusations of nepotism serve only to motivate Weaver Jr..
“This happened more before we got two promotions, and maybe less now because the club has moved to a higher level than ever before. We are proud of that as a partnership.
“We are a small club and we know that – we are not Real Madrid and we are not the elite team – but we are proud of the progress we have made as a whole group of people.
“It’s not just about Weaver’s show; these are people who are turning into a small club, trying to build a fan base, trying to build club infrastructure, women’s football, men’s football, junior football as well as walking in football for older generations.
“Everything has played its part in the development of the club. I understand the cries of favoritism and try to prove this mistake every day in my working life.”
There are challenges, certainly in terms of infrastructure – Harrogate is an English football club in name, but with the heart and work ethic of a non-league club.
“We have two revolving doors just to cram everyone in and we have a new ticket system that the older generation is not used to,” he says. “In the Premier League it’s difficult to follow the regulations, because everything is more professional, so we were a bit shocked when we were able to get the fans to the door. [post Covid].
“I am proud to work alongside like-minded people who want to do well for the region. Even with our own, we need to be more on the map. It’s about solving problems; we were at a crowd meeting a few weeks ago with a five-man committee and it was There are questions from fans about and inside the stadium.
“We’re trying to get another bar inside the grounds because the other one shut down due to EFL regulations. They ask me for things that probably most managers don’t have to deal with! We have a small workforce that everyone has to do I do more than one simple job, and I love these Participation and we continue to overcome obstacles.
“On the field, we have to remember how we got here — fighting, busting, snarling our way through the leagues to get here.
Busy summer to enter Harrogate
|Josh Osterfield||20||Huddersfield, loan|
|Josh Cooley||24||Exeter, loan|
|Matty Daly||21||Huddersfield, loan|
|Danny Grant||22||Huddersfield, loan|
|Jahim Headley||20||Huddersfield, loan|
|Jameson House||29||York City|
|Louis Richards||20||wolves, loan|
|Miles Welch Hayes||25||Colchester|
“Team dynamics are very important for a small club; we have to have camaraderie and we have to have people who understand that, as a management team we will always tell them the truth so that we can face the truth because we want the best for the club.
“There is no singing from a different hymn sheet between me, my assistants and the technical staff because it is a family group and we all want the same things.”
In their first season in League Two, Town finished 17th. In 2021/202 they finished 19th after collecting four fewer points; This season they have eight points from nine games. Statistically speaking, this is the weakest start at this level, but the manager is by no means a pessimist.
“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it to be any other way because we brought in so many new signings—most of the ones I’ve made have been new since my first year in charge all those years ago,” Weaver says, frankly.
“After 15-20 games we will be more aware of the potential of the team, but there will be a long time as people just settle in; young boys play in front of an audience for the first time; experienced players step aside and play in a different, calmer atmosphere.
“When you have players getting injured collectively, it’s just a way of life to test you. We did a couple of tests, told them the truth and went out to fight. He’s been great in training and we’ve got matches to come that we’re really looking forward to because I think we’ll be back again and be strong.”
And what about the future? There is no talk of a roof here.
“I am very proud to be part of a good group that won more than we lost and got ahead. But it is an ongoing challenge; since we were in the football league it has been tough and we have had to keep our heads above water for a while.
“We aspire to be higher now, but we have to do more work and graft harder than ever to make it happen. Hopefully in the coming years, in terms of budget, we will be more competitive and that will give us more opportunity to dream of playing at higher levels.
“The club is a huge part of the community and as long as we have the community with us and they can see what we’re trying to do, we have a chance.”