IF there is anyone well-placed to talk about the importance of building a family environment at a football club it is Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver.
When the Blue Square Bet North club were staring into the abyss in the summer of 2011 after long-time chairman Bill Fotherby had to stop funding the club, dropping two leagues was mooted.
But there was a saviour on Town’s very doorstep – Weaver’s multi-millionaire father Irving.
No matter that the 34-year-old had already been in charge for two years before his dad – who built his fortune through Yorkshire-based Strata Homes – got involved; the ex-Lincoln City, Nuneaton and King’s Lynn defender’s position was under the microscope.
“I was down south when news first broke and I did think, ‘I’m glad I’m not at home at the minute’,” says Weaver, whose side take on Ryman Premier Hastings in Saturday’s FA Cup second round.
“Suddenly for it to be perceived as, ‘Oh right, your dad’s in there now, you’re safe,’ actually means I put more pressure on myself. If I’m not at a game on a cold, wintry Monday or Tuesday night I’d feel guilty.
“I live by my own set of standards, I want to succeed. Tuesday against Stalybridge was the fifth time we’ve lost in 32-odd games so I think I’ve more than justified my position and I think it has put to rest any claims of nepotism.”
Contrary to what some might believe, it wasn’t son asking father over Sunday dinner if he had a few quid spare to help out the local football club.
Weaver says: “We would go for a pint and talk about the state of the club but it wasn’t me who actually said, ‘Can you come and do this?’ Not at all. It would be quite convenient for people to think that.
“He’d been asked about donating money before but he’s not going to just donate money in the midst of a recession, he’s a businessman – I realised that when I wanted a drum set as a kid.
“He was invited over to Bill Fotherby’s house to ask if he wanted to come on board. I was pulled in as well and I felt hot under the collar, I was really uneasy with it. But he’s not a brash character and he loves his football. He wants hard work and graft. He’s not big-time and that’s the important thing.
“If he was like that and it was going to be embarrassing and any credibility I’ve built in the game over the last 15 years was threatened I’d rather just say, ‘No, I don’t want you involved’. But I thought we’d work with it. It’s my neck on the block with the pressure it brings but, without being arrogant, I’m confident and I’ve got self-belief that I’ll do well.”
And he’s needed to. With a tiny budget his first season in charge saw relegation only for the Conference to boot Northwich Victoria out of their North division and reprieve Harrogate.
His second season saw a 12th place finish, but now, with a more “competitive budget”, he has been able to put together the sort of squad he wants. And getting the right togetherness has been an important part of the process.
A pre-season trip to Belfast set the tone for a season that has so far seen the scalp of League Two Torquay in the FA Cup first round, giving the club their best run ever.
“The atmosphere in Belfast was fantastic,” Weaver says. “The chairman was there – I know he’s family but in a work environment he’s the chairman – and we were all there in a hotel room having beers and playing drinking games. The lads turned around and said, ‘This is different, this is real togetherness’.
“We did carry a few players last year that didn’t want to buy into the team mentality – they wanted to get in their cars as soon as possible after training.
“Now we get a ticking off from the caretaker at the school we train at because it’s gone nine-o-clock and the lads are still messing around in the changing rooms.
“In the summer myself and my assistant John McDermott made sure we spoke to the lads we wanted to keep straight away. Sometimes there are casualties because you want to get stronger but we made sure the main voices in the changing room stayed.
“We had to make sure our young lads are following good lads. Take Adam Bolder. He scored two goals for Sheffield Wednesday against Sheffield United a few years ago. Last week he said this is the first time he’s enjoyed his football for a long time. He’s come in on a rock hard astro turf and there’s not been one word of complaint.
“If he’s not moaning why should an 18-year-old moan? Last year there was a bit of moaning. When you get the likes of Alan White and Adam Bolder saying, ‘Hey, come on, make sure you do it right,’ they don’t want to be embarrassed do they, the young lads?
“It’s not always a perfect environment because of the logistics of being a Non-League club, but we have a professional approach. We are serious about what we do, with a fun edge. They are all different characters from the experience of Whitey, Paul Bolland, Matt Bloomer and Adam Bolder to young lads like our goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray – he had his first pint after the Torquay game!”
Weaver’s men certainly made people sit up and take notice when they turned the Gulls over in their own backyard. And as so often happens with these FA Cup journeys, it was the unplanned that helped their cause.
After finally playing, and winning, their fourth qualifying round with Blue Square Bet Premier Hyde following two waterlogged postponements, they were on route to the English Riviera just 48 hours later.
But heavy Friday traffic meant they arrived too late for a kickabout in a local park, so two indoor wooden tennis courts were hastily booked for a leg stretch before the hotel’s table tennis and snooker tables were commandeered for the evening.
“We’re at home this time, but we were debating whether to do something similar,” Weaver says. “Can we get a deal where someone might help us out? And in which case, where can we get table tennis and snooker tables?
“It was great down in Torquay. We had two beers in the clubhouse after the game and made our way home.
“There was nowhere else open alcoholic wise but the lads weren’t bothered. We ended up in a Burger King at 11 o’clock. The buzz was just fantastic, and that’s what we want.”