By James Grayson (Twitter: @jamesAgrayson)
Manager Billy Miller has challenged his players to write their own piece of Harrogate Railway history by creating a new club Evo Stik Division One North points record.
Miller wants his men to reach the half-century mark and 52 points would break the record and complete a memorable first season at the helm for Miller and his assistant Lee Ashforth.
Former Liversedge boss Miller, who earlier this week called for a winter break to be introduced, was named as the permanent successor to Nigel Danby last summer.
Danby had been sacked with six games to go with Railway staring at relegation back to the Northern Counties East League. Denis Metcalf junior and his management team were unable to save Railway from finishing second-bottom and Harrogate only survived because of a reprieve.
Miller kept a number of last season’s squad and brought a handful of new faces to Station View and has steered them into a mid-table position with 41 points with seven games remaining – much to his delight.
He said: “I live in Harrogate myself so I have followed the club for ten years and knew what it was capable of. It has a new clubhouse, great facilities and has a good playing surface. I know we have a slope on it, but the pitch is in generally good condition. We knew that if we could attract the right players (we could reach our targets), and I think we’re done that.
“We have got a bit of budget, but it is not a big budget by any stretch of the imagination. People would be quite shocked at just how low the budget is. But we came into it knowing what we had and thought we could do a job.
“The priority was to make sure we weren’t fighting relegation at the end of the season and we’ve done that. We are nowhere near the relegation zone at all.
“The target is interesting now because we have given the lads a target of 50 points for the season and for the first season here would be a phenomenal return.”
Railway, who are in partnership with Askern Bryan College, did get off to a slow start and had won only five league games by the turn of the year.
But, Railway got moving and wins over Trafford, leaders Skelmersdale United and Farsley AFC helped them up the table and Miller claims to have used a limited amount of players this season.
“If you go back to our early games, I think we played Trafford, Skelmersdale, all the top teams in the first ten games so we always knew it was going to be difficult,” he said.
“But, we knew once we had found our rhythm, we would have half a chance of picking points up. All we have done is take each game as it came and ticked them off.
“We have probably used 21 players all season which is phenomenal. The physio Rachel (Davis) has been absolutely superb. She has kept an eye on players, monitoring them. We make them come in once a week to train because of the budget.
“I think sometimes when you can get a group of lads together who have a little bit of raw ability, but an abundance of enthusiasm, which is what we have got, then you have got a great opportunity to mould them into a team.
“That is what we have done. We don’t scream and shout at the players, we don’t isolate anyone, we never blame anyone. We’re in it together from management, all the way to young Daniel Openshaw, who has come in from the college to help us out. If he has a point then we all listen. We try and respect each other’s views.”
But what does next season hold for Harrogate? At this moment in time, Miller is unsure of targets, but said: “A lot depends on the budget and we do have a lot of people working really hard behind the season.
“It will probably be very similar to this year, but what we hope is that because of the environment we are building, players want to come for us because we play the right way rather what they will receive for playing.
“If we can add one or two to the squad then we will go again. It will be harder next year because teams will go down, teams will come into the league. Teams will get more money so we have to re-access it in August.”
Railway have a rich FA Cup history having reached the second round on two occasions in 2002 and 2007 and asked on whether he wanted to write his own chapter Railway history, Miller said: “I always say when you look at this club who have been to the second round of the FA Cup twice in ten years, it is unbelievable.
“As a club you want to get there once, but to get there twice in ten years is phenomenal. Paul Marshall, who is still local with Tadcaster and Vinnie Brockie who is with Thackley are brilliant lads and they deserved it at the time.
“If we can get through the first couple of rounds, I’d be happy with that.”