Access All Areas: Harrogate Railway

New Harrogate Railway manager Des Macorison opened the doors of Station View to Non League Yorkshire for the visit of Dronfield Town to give a great insight into Non League Football.

Harrogate Railway vice-captain Toby Harris urges his team on at half-time

Successful films are often remade, sometimes several times.

Roles are recast. Football clubs follow the same cycle. The only difference is that the volunteers tend to stay the same.

Harrogate Railway are still waiting for a box-office success with their version of a remake – as the lead actor’s role has passed from person to person in the past four years.

Dave Fell, Paul Marshall, Martin Haresign, Vince Brockie, maybe even Denis Metcalf roll off the tongue during a discussion about Railway’s greatest boss.

The other name is Billy Miller. For those still running the club, Miller remains a huge favourite and the simple fact is, Railway have been on a slide ever since he left.

“I’ve never met him, but people have said he was meticulous, a good trainer and very good guy to have around,” current Railway manager Des Macorison tells Non League Yorkshire.

“I have seen a clip on Youtube of him training the team and I thought he had a good presence. 

“He’s left a massive mark on the club, but four years of struggle is too long.”

The similarities between Billy Miller’s reign and current manager Des Macorison’s Railway are incredible

Macorison is the latest man to take on the task of reviving Railway’s fortunes. A club that got to the second round of the FA Cup twice in the early 2000s somehow find themselves languishing in the Toolstation NCEL Division One, the bottom rung of Non League football.

To think as well that at the end of his three-year regime Miller took Railway to their highest ever league position – an eighth placed finish in the NPL Division One North in 2015. 

No-one would have imagined such a fall from grace would fall upon Railway after Miller’s success caught the eye of ambitious Tadcaster Albion who lured him away.

Railway have tried at least twice to persuade him to return the role that made him a star, but Miller, now retired from football management, has flatly turned them down each time.

So Railway have looked elsewhere for their leading man. Lee Ashforth, Paul Beesley, Liam Gray, Marlon Adams, Brian Davey and Craig Ogilvie have all passed the audition, but all have struggled in the role. 

In the meantime, Railway have also suffered three relegations (they were reprieved from one of them).

Macorison and Danny Scott have known each other since school

Macorison, a former Railway player during the memorable Haresign era in the mid-2000s, was successful with West Riding County Amateur League side Littletown last season. 

He was appointed in May to revive the club’s fortunes and the similarities between his and Miller’s Railway are extraordinary.

On first glance Macorison, a sales manager at a builder’s merchants, has good man management skills, a solid tactical brain, organisational skills and extreme dedication. His purchase of a £1700 Veo camera with his own money so he can analyse each match proves that. The camera is unmanned and is programmed to follow the ball.

All the traits Miller showed during his reign.

He also has an ensemble of talent in his management team, just like Miller.

In the middle of his reign, Miller had (assistant manager) Lee Ashforth, Richard Lawrence, Danny Openshaw, (reserve boss) Bob Moffatt and two physios in Rachael Davis and Jenny Wray.

Former Littletown manager Danny Scott led the warm-up
Lee Ryan is a Harrogate Railway legend

Macorison has assistant manager Danny Scott, an old school friend who also used to manage Littletown, coach Lee Ryan, the Railway legend who is plastered all over the walls in the Station View clubhouse and youth development head honcho Wil Golby. There’s also ex-Railway player Liam Chapman who is the physio.

“I’ve got people on board who I trust and know the strengths and weaknesses of,” Macorison says.

“I’ve known Danny and Lee for years and I think we complement each other well. Chappers in my view is the best physio at this standard of football. Then we have Will who is a brilliant head of youth.

“It is important to delegate because you can’t oversee everything. It is not about one person. At some clubs it is all about the manager.”

Even the players have remarkable parallels. Miller’s men were at the club for the right reasons, a phrase he would say very often to the media. So are Macorison’s.

Miller had a core of young players learning the ropes. Even Josh Windass, the Wigan Athletic star, played for Railway during his tenure.

But where Peter Crook, Alex Metcalfe and others have sat, Joe Wilton, Kieran Greenway and others occupy the seats now.

Miller, who had a budget of £350-a-week in his first season, also had players who could play elsewhere for more money. Rob Youhill, Jon Maloney, Simon Parkes and Dan Thirkell spring to mind. The same is said of a few of Macorison’s men.

“There’s a lot of players not playing for the money,” he said.

“There’s not a single player in my dressing room who is motivated by money and if there was I’d bin them off.

“A lot of them when they signed didn’t even ask how much they would get paid.”

Because of a back injury, club captain Joe Jagger was forced to be a cheerleader during the defeat to Dronfield

Top of the list of Miller’s men for being unmotivated by money is current Farsley Celtic striker Nathan Cartman. He was so prolific for Railway, the phone never stopped ringing. 

But he was comfortable at Station View and not interested in money. It came to a point where Cartman was so fed up with the seven-day approaches and the odd illegal tapping-attempt, he asked to go on contract on the same tiny wage.

Wearing the number Cartman once wore, is ironically it is a mate of his in old Liversedge team-mate Joe Jagger, the 28-year-old striker who is Railway’s captain and has a similar view on Non League Football to him.

He could have anywhere this summer after scoring forty-two goals for Littletown, but he would rather play for Macorison.

“I’m not motivated by money, I just want to be playing football at a decent standard and with people I enjoy playing football with and under,” Jagger says.

“That is similar to Carts when he was here. He was on peanuts, but he was good mates with Billy and Lee. He had a very similar relationship to the one I have with Des. I always feel with Des we are quite good mates if we go for a drink together and I always got the impression it was similar with Carts, Billy and Ash.

“They were always close. Obviously we know that when it is football-time, it is football-time. He is my manager and I’m his player. It was the same with Carts and Billy. They knew where the boundaries were.”

Vice-captain Toby Harris passed his fitness test at 1pm
On being able to send his players clips from matches with coaching points, Macorison says: “I would have loved it (as a player) because I could have gone back and seen what I could have done better. I’m critical of myself.
Macorison gives his main team-talk, about tactics and the club’s volunteers

Jagger has been a massive part of Railway’s positive start to the season. His five goals helped them win two and draw one of their opening five league matches prior to the visit of Dronfield Town to Station View.

The bad news is that he’s hurt his back and is unfit. Macorison received the text at 10am. It is now 12.30pm and the manager is stood at the ground end of the clubhouse watching his other star striker Toby Harris doing his fitness test with physio Chapman.

“It is touch and go,” says Macorison. “We don’t want to make it worse. He played against Campion in the opening day and probably shouldn’t have because it put him back three weeks.”

Macorison is putting his final touches to his plans for his team-talk. His focus is on nailing down the “foundation” – the way he wants his team to play.

He is not quite satisfied his team is totally carrying out his instructions – with one particular point about the way they attack at the centre of his thoughts.

One o’clock and there’s good news, Harris is fit to play. But the brute of a striker “will only play for a bit”.

Jagger arrives, telling every man and his dog about his back problems, along with the rest of the team and Macorison begins his rallying cry.

Tactics are a large part of the talk, but so is the work of the club’s volunteers.

The names of volunteers are read out – (chairman) Mick Edwards, (secretary) Dave Shepherd, Dennis Wise, others, the list goes on.

“Wanting to reward the volunteers really does weight on my mind, massively,” Macorison says after the team-talk.

“An hour after the game Dennis will be in there putting the washer on to wash the kit. Shep is here sometimes at 10am, plus he’s doing all the admin stuff, the programme.

“The work behind it no-one sees. If we train on a Thursday Dennis will come and open the bar up.

“They are all doing this for the love of the club. The last four years must have been demoralising for them and I want to repay them.

“A lot of players either don’t realise and don’t care about what the volunteers do.

“I’ve seen it a local football where players just expect things and treat volunteers poorly. It is not happening on my watch, nah.”

Macorison gives his final team-talk before kick-off

Assistant Scott then leads the warm-up and at 2.45pm, it is into the changing rooms where music (banned by Miller during his era), is blaring out.

The boombox is soon turned off to allow Macorison to give his final speech and remind the players of their responsibilities.

Railway go onto play well. They hit the post, force numerous saves, but are undone by one set-piece close to half-time. Macorison is stunned. 

But in his own words, “my players are big characters, leaders, they also have big hearts”.

Toby Harris is a brute of a striker who was a menace to Dronfield

Half-time is constructive. Vice-captain Harris, who has been a menace to Dronfield’s defence. encourages his team-mates first.

Macorison says he cannot knock them. “How have we not scored,” he rhetorically says.

“Keep going, it will come. We will have lots more chances. Get at them for the first ten minutes.”

Macorison and Lee Ryan jump for a joy after the equaliser
Macorison celebrates
Danny Scott, Macorison and Wil Golby embrace

Sure enough, the equaliser quickly arrives through Josh Shields’ wonder goal. 

The pressure continues to build, but Harris eventually has to go off and Dronfield somehow nick an unlikely goal from a counter-attack. 

It knocks the stuffing out of Railway and they succumb to a 2-1 defeat.

The mood is again positive at the final whistle. “That was smash and grab,” Macorison tells his players.

“Everything was there. Let’s look on the positives and not beat ourselves up. We just need to stick together, it will come together.”

Harris coming off was a big blow
Railway search for a second equaliser
Over 20 Harrogate Railway junior players came to the game. Here Wil Golby signs autographs
Macorison is attempting to end Harrogate Railway’s four year-long slide

Macorison is not putting on a brave face either. He is genuinely pleased that his players performed well. Even earlier when he came off-the-field, one of the club’s junior teams mob him and the parents praise the team. The kids had enjoyed their day.

Macorison had earlier raced them 100 yards as they were the game’s mascots and the Rail’ boss says seeing the junior players at first team matches is part of his philosophy for the club.

“Unfortunately there are some managers who think they are the most important thing at the club,” he says. 

“They are not. It is a collective and people think managers just focus on the first team. I don’t. The kids loved coming down and it is important to make an effort to make them feel part of the club and also to encourage them to come back.

“A one-club ethos is what I want to see. We should be a family. Mick the groundsman, Dennis, Shep, Chris, Mick the chairman, the under 18s, the ladies team, the juniors, everybody. 

“We’re all striding for the same goal.”

The mood in the clubhouse is good too. Everyone is happy. Macorison will analyse the video on Sunday and “send clips” out to the players with coaching points. 

He will also look at himself.

“I reflect because I always say to myself that I want to make myself the best manager I can be,” he says.

“I question myself. Could have done this better or that better? A lot of managers blame other people, referees for instance. I always look at myself first.

“Take today, I don’t think we could do much more, taking into account the injuries and the performance. The good thing is that the team-talk message did get through because that was our best home display yet. I’m glad it did. The players did well.”

He is right too. The defeat was also not a true reflection on Macorison’s Railway. Jagger, Ryan Caulfield were out. Harris only half-fit.

We are still waiting for his squad to be fully-fit. When they are, expect Railway to keep rising. Railway look like they have finally found in Macorison, the man to fill the hole Miller left.

Non League Yorkshire has previously written Access All Areas articles on Billy Miller’s Harrogate Railway and Christian Fox’s Selby Town.

3 thoughts on “Access All Areas: Harrogate Railway

  1. What an excellent article, I was at the game & it was the best I’ve seen us play for a long time. It is Steve who is groundsman by the way!!

  2. The Rail were unlucky on Saturday.
    Dronsfield had the height advantage in the set piece for their opener and their keeper denied a great strike from Rail later on.
    Fantastic goal from Shields too!
    Keep up the great work Des!

  3. Fantastic article and totally reflects des and all the lads at railway.
    Once the team are fully fit they will be up there in the promotion race no doubt.
    Furthermore “jagger hurt his back” isn’t quite enough of an explanation if that was only the issue he would of hidden the pain and played for the lads as he has done all his career ,Joe has a disc problem and hopefully will be back to fitness soon..well done des and the lads.

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