Such is the churn and dog-eats-dog nature of football management, these opening statistics must come with a warning: by Saturday, they will probably be wrong. Of the 92 Football League clubs, 54 of the managers have been in place for less than a year.
Since the start of February alone, 13 teams have changed bosses. Brutal game, management. If we were to list the trigger-happy clubs to fire coaches this season, it would spill off the page.
But those stats are what takes us to the Victorian spa town of Harrogate, famous for its tea rooms, a regular Britain in Bloom winner and voted as the ‘happiest place to live’ in the UK.
The quaint Yorkshire location has certainly been a happy settling place for Simon Weaver, manager of Harrogate since 2009.
At 14 years in the job, he’s the country’s longest-serving boss by some stretch, half a decade clear of next-best John Coleman, Accrington.
Harrogate’s Simon Weaver is the longest serving manager in the football league
He has led the Yorkshire side for 14 years, half a decade longer than anyone else
So we start with a simple question. In a world dominated by short-term success, how have you mastered the art of longevity, Simon?
‘We are one of the smallest clubs around and I’ve always been honest with myself,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘I never shirk responsibility. What’s helped is a consistency and belief in the board.
‘I am very proud. More than the longevity I’m proud of the progress made at Harrogate. People will always say, “Oh well his dad is the chairman!” but we’ve always stuck together.’ That’s the first mention of an elephant in the room that dominates the discourse – perhaps wrongly – around Weaver’s 14-year tenure at Wetherby Road.
Simon’s father, Irving, has been chairman at the club for the majority – but not beginning – of his tenure, while mother Dorothy is also involved.
‘It’s a strange dynamic, I can see that,’ adds the manager. ‘There is an added pressure. When I go through a difficult spell on the pitch I feel it and people will say, “Will he sack him?”. But we are father and son, we go through difficult spells.
‘At other clubs, players or agents can go above the manager and moan but they’re not going to do that here. I’m in every board meeting here and together we make the decisions for the future of this club. If something goes wrong, we’ve both done it wrong.
‘If we are going through a poor spell, we will suffer together and worry together. If we get promoted, we celebrate together.’
The father-son duo have been through two promotions and have taken a club from the precipice of extinction – with no money or players – to its first-ever stint in the Football League.
‘I’d just moved up to Wetherby with my then girlfriend, now wife Sally, and saw an advert for the Harrogate manager’s job in the Non League Paper! I’d just finished playing at Ilkeston Town.
The 45-year-old led Harrogate into the football league for the first time via the play-offs in 2020
They borrowed some hop-on-hop-off busses from York for a trophy parade
‘I thought, “You know what, I’ll have a go – if I get an interview it’ll be a good experience”. I tried to flower up my application a bit and had good contacts and attitude.
‘Bill Fotherby (then chairman) said, “I’m going to tell you now – the budget is £1,600”. I thought, “Oh, that’s why no one else is in for the role!” That was for my wage, an assistant, physio and playing squad.
‘There was no spirit at the club, they were dropping all the wages. I was a player-manager at 31 and had no players!’ Shortly later, Weaver Snr got involved and replaced former Leeds chairman Fotherby, who had considered taking the club down two divisions to cut costs.
Inspired by the underdog story at Borussia Dortmund, Harrogate rebranded to bright yellow-and-black shirts and focused on building infrastructure with new stands and investing in bars at the stadium.
They turned professional in 2017 and won two promotions in the following three seasons, ending in a play-off final win at Wembley in front of no fans due to Covid restrictions. They did, though, borrow some hop-on-hop-off buses from York to do a trophy parade.
Weaver also used his contacts to get England boss Gareth Southgate, a Harrogate resident, to lecture his team.
‘He came in before the play-offs… I knew Gareth from our playing days so I met up with him for a coffee,’ says Weaver. ‘So I surprised my players to meet him. They were all asking for advice – on penalties and all sorts! He’s such a top guy.
‘I bumped into him again in a shop a little while after they lost the Euros final so I got chatting to him and this couple were staring and followed me to the car park.
‘They said, “Excuse me”. I thought they recognised me… a real ego check moment! And they said, “Was that Gareth Southgate in there?”.’ So, after 14 years, two promotions and a complete rescaling of a club from a small-town team to a Football League staple, any advice for young bosses?
Weaver even had Gareth Southgate, who he knows from his playing days, come into to speak to the players.
‘When I look at all the sackings, like Mickie Mellon (Tranmere) and Patrick Vieira (Crystal Palace) I feel sad.
‘I imagine going home to my kids and telling them I’ve been sacked despite doing a good job. Every time I realise how lucky I am and what I’ve got.
‘Everyone needs to understand that we are underdogs at this level,’ says Weaver. ‘We have to thrive off that. My advice for young managers is to just be yourself.’ ‘Of course I have ambitions.
‘Putting everything to one side – money, longevity or medals – I want to make my family proud… and that includes my mum and dad. I never say never about leaving but I want to take Harrogate to the point where I can say, “I can’t take it any further”.’
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