This was a trip made entirely in hope rather than expectation. After the debacle of midweek at Nuneaton, I really was in two minds about making the journey to North Yorkshire and so didn’t start making travel arrangements until Friday night. With a crushing sense of inevitability, however, I found my self sat in the Lawson motor, which was pointed in the direction of Harrogate. There will come a time when I don’t get to matches, but that can wait.
I think Harrogate’s Wetherby Road ground is one of the most beautiful i’ve ever visited, as befits the town as a whole. The undulating terrain of the pitch, with the horrendous slope down into one corner which caused them all kinds of problems in our 6-3 romp this time last year, and the car park end which is literally a car park, adds a certain charm. Add to that some usually generous defending from the home side and there was hope we’d have a decent afternoon.
There was dismay amongst those who had been at Liberty Way on Tuesday night upon the news that Mickey Stones was again in the starting XI, but comfort at the return of Danny Sleath from his Oriental Adventure and, in yet another addition to the old boy’s club, veteran defender Alan White. White was a commanding presence in Boston’s defence during the Football League era and particularly menacing from corners going forward. Or so I seem to remember. You do sort of wonder who’ll be enticed back next... Ludovic Quistin? Simon Rusk? Miguel De Souza? Gazza with his fishing rod and bucket of chicken?
I told young Ryan that Stones was starting and he immediately stormed from the clubhouse to tell his Dad in the usual indignant, sweary terms. Unfortunately, his Dad happened to be talking to the chairman at the time. Whoops.
But we needn’t have feared. Stones played very well and bossed his marker, who looked like a cross between David Luiz and Carles Puyol. Unkempt, sodden, matted pikey hair beating neat perm on this occasion. There had been early excitement when an ice cream van parked behind us, but real joy when Marc Newsham opened the scoring after only ten minutes. It was a slow start by our standards on this ground - we were 4-0 up within 23 minutes last season - but you had to marvel at Newsham’s neck muscles as he looped a header off the post with pinpoint accuracy. The fifty or so Pilgrims fans gathered behind the goal danced around the, erm, car park in delight.
Last year’s Harrogate keeper had been some kind of banter genius - what can you say when you concede six first-half goals - and this year’s wasn’t too bad either. Chucked in the goal next to his bottle of Harrogate Spa was an official UEFA Champions League baseball cap. Maybe he’s actually played in the Champions League? Maybe he’s just on loan here and is really famous? We asked him. “Erm, no, I was a mascot at a Champions League game once,” came the sheepish, if honest, reply.
United were attacking uphill but Champions League still had plenty to worry about. There was great disappointment when Matt Bloomer, aka Daz Captain Clean because of his unwillingness to get stuck in and soil his shirt, was named on the bench, but his replacements struggled to contain Ryan Semple, Kevin Holsgrove and Danny Sleath, who was obviously not too jet-lagged. I did notice there were a number of photos of Bloomer in the matchday programme and I can confirm that his shirt was spotlessly clean.
In the second-half, we were treated to an actual stand. Just as well because the Yorkshire weather closed in and, as Yorkshire weather is wont to do, drenched everyone. Harrogate weren’t offering too much going forward but you always felt a second goal was necessary to seal the points. That’s probably why Gaffer Lee brought himself on for Stones with 20 minutes to play.
And the Gaffer served up a moment which immediately ranked among my favourites watching Boston. Chris Hall sent in a free-kick to the back post in the dying moments and Lee, lurking with elbows poised at the back post, leapt with the vigour of someone half his age, connected immaculately with the ball and headed it past Champions League for 2-0.
“Gaffer, Gaffer!” we chanted in unison. Lee beat his chest and roared: “Yeah, who’s the Gaffer. WHO’S THE GAFFER!!!”
Next Match: Home match with FC Halifax Town on Bank Holiday Monday