My Greatest Game: Lee Ashforth revisits Harrogate Railway’s and Nathan Cartman’s downing of the Class of ’92’s Salford

Harrogate Railway legend Nathan Cartman celebrating scoring in a draw with Spennymoor Town two days earlier. Photo: Caught Light Photography

Paul Scholes was watching as Nathan Cartman’s second half penalty ensured Harrogate Railway completed the double over the Class of ’92’s Salford City and round off 2014 in style.

Salford now sit proudly in the Football League, while Railway have sunk to the bottom of the Football Pyramid. The NPL Division One North victory over the country’s richest Non League club represents one final great triumph of a fallen empire.

The win, in the only game played that day in snow-and-frost-affected Yorkshire, extended Railway’s unbeaten run to nine games and propelled them into the play-offs zone. Salford manager Phil Power was sacked days later, paving the way for iconic duo Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley to take over.

Cartman, who incredibly scored 36 times for Railway between August and mid-January 2015 and had Phil Neville as an admirer, was sold to Darlington two weeks later. The Salford victory remains a defining moment of a blockbuster season for Harrogate.

Without their talisman Railway still secured their highest ever league finish, earning Billy Miller, in his third and final season at Station View, a place in the club’s hall of fame with the likes of Paul Marshall, Dave Fell as one of their greatest ever managers. 

Miller’s assistant Lee Ashforth reminisces about the Salford game, his relationship with Cartman, his taxi-driving business and he explains why Railway’s eventual eighth-placed finish was an extraordinary achievement.

Harrogate Railway (Cartman 73 pen) 1-0 Salford City – 28th December 2014

The Teams 

Harrogate Railway: Goodwin, Mycoe (captain), Hunter, Heath, Morris, Thirkell, Youhill, Cartman, Farquharson, Baker (Manning 64). Subs unused: Coates, Bromley, Kidd, Martin-Farina.

Salford City: Lloyd-Weston, Coo (Edgehill 68), Neville, Andrews, Lynch, Williams, Rother (Chadwick 80), Jarrett, Webber, Buckley, Madeley (Thorne 65). Subs unused: Walters, Dunn.

Referee: Mick Connell (Castleford)

Attendance: 403

Campion joint manager Lee Ashforth was the Harrogate Railway assistant manager to Billy Miller from 2012 to 2015

“I think we were the only team to do the double over Salford that season. A month earlier we beat them 4-1 at their place and Carts got a hat-trick. He was like a nemesis to Salford. Salford were the team to beat that year. We’d had Chester, Halifax in the league previously, now Salford were the big side and everyone looked forward to playing them because you knew one of the Class of ’92 would be there. You always want to play the teams with money and in this country we love to hate the teams with money. We upped our game and psychologically we seemed to have one over them that season. 

“It was the last game of 2014 and the rest of the league was wiped out that day because of the snow and frost. The club had made the game free admission too and the Class of ’92 had taken over six months earlier so it was massive game for Railway. I remember talking to Billy, the chairman Nigel Corner and the secretary Dave Shepherd and saying that we needed to get the game on. We were all up there with shovels, myself and Billy included, plus your Dan Thirkell’s, the local lads. It was extremely icy as well and we had to clear the sides of the pitch and the paths. I remember being on the pitch with our wellies and coats on in the freezing cold and forking as much as we could. Harrogate Railway is a club where everyone mucks in. 

“We got it on and we got a massive crowd which Harrogate Railway was not used to. I think Darlington were playing at Ossett and had virtually got there when it got called off so all these Darlington fans turned up in coaches. Darlington were going for the title with Salford and Carts scored the winner for us and he was a hero for Darlington before he’d signed for them.

“I don’t remember too much about the actual Salford game. You just remember little bits and what I do remember is walking up to the bar with Carts afterwards and normally you would be greeted by the committee men, but the place was rammed with Darlington fans all singing Nathan Cartman’s name. It was a bit surreal.

Cartman goes down for the penalty after a poor challenge from Salford’s Martyn Andrews. Cartman converted the penalty. Picture: Caught Light Photography
Manchester United legend Paul Scholes watched Salford crash to defeat at Harrogate. Photo: Caught Light Photography
A scramble in the Salford penalty area. Photo: Caught Light Photography
Nathan Cartman (centre) with Harrogate Railway manager Billy Miller (right) and Lee Ashforth (left) after signing a contract with the club
Nathan Cartman, scoring at Colwyn Bay in the FA Cup for Harrogate Railway, signed a contract and played for Railway for “peanuts”. Picture: Caught Light Photography

“I’ve known Carts for about 15 years. I first knew him from playing for Brighouse and I was best man at his wedding a few years ago. I just built up a real friendship with him and I still see him now. He was everything you wanted from a player. He worked hard even when it wasn’t going his way, he could score, he was rarely injured and he didn’t chase money. We once played Frickley in the League Cup and they were the league above and we beat them 7-1. Malachi scored four times. We were driving home and Carts was sulking in the car and it was because he had only scored one and missed two one-on-ones. He was a perfectionist. 

“Salford actually made an offer for him and Carts spoke to Phil Neville. He came to me and asked me for my thoughts and I said no because I didn’t think it was right what they were offering and that he and the club would get a better deal. He was like ‘are you sure, I’ve had Phil Neville on the phone’? I said ‘honestly bide your time, wait for the right offer’. Three weeks later Darlington came in for him. I asked me to go with him to meet Martin Gray at Billy’s work Askham Bryan College. Nige Corner went off with the Darlington directors. Martin Gray sold the club to Carts and it was right for everyone. It was a brilliant move and worked out well for him. He had good times with Darlington and he has a lot of affinity with the supporters. I saw him score in the play-off final against Bamber Bridge. He has gone onto have a really good career in Non League football. 

“Carts never drove when he was at Railway so I drove him everywhere and even after he joined Darlington I was still driving him for a while. When both clubs were training, he was coming with me to Harrogate from Halifax. I’d drop him at the Knaresborough turn-off and either Rob Youhill or Adam Nowakowski who then played for Darlington would pick him up and take him to training in Darlington. They then dropped him off in Harrogate and I’d take him home. I was going to training in Harrogate and after we finished having to wait an hour and half for him to be driven back. I literally used to sit waiting for him at the roundabout. We did that for the best part of six months. It is funny though because every now and again I’ll ring him if I’ve had a night out and tell him to pick me up rather get a taxi now he can drive. He picks me up and I ask if his wife Vicky is alright about it and he says that he has to pick me up so many times to make up for the number of times I drove him. I did all that taxi driving for him for years. 

“I don’t think that’s the reason he stayed for so long. I think he was just a loyal lad. He loved it at Harrogate, but the deal he got at Darlington, he couldn’t turn it down. A few months earlier he went on contract and it was him who pulled us because he was getting sick of people ringing him to sign him. I won’t say what he was on, but he was on peanuts on contract at Railway. He probably looks back and laughs.

“The Salford win gave us huge belief. Everybody said we were punching above our weight and it wouldn’t last, but beating the title favourites made us think that we are good enough. We went into every game believing we could win, regardless of who we were playing.

Final piece of the jigsaw Matt Heath, the former Leeds United defender, with Billy Miller after winning the players’ player of the year award at Harrogate Railway. Photo: Caught Light Photography
Rob Youhill was an enigma, but unbelievable on his day during his Harrogate Railway years according to Lee Ashforth
Dan Thirkell being presented with the manager’s player of the year award from Billy Miller. Picture: Caught Light Photography
Harrogate boss Billy Miller receives the December 2014 club of the month award from Evo Stik representative Neville Wigglesworth. Photo: Caught Light Photography

“We had a difficult start to the season. In pre-season I don’t think we scored a goal and it was a concern, but Billy wasn’t bothered about pre-season results. I think it has changed now, manager’s like to win in pre-season to get some momentum. Billy did not panic and it clicked around early November. Matt Heath was a big signing for us at centre-back, he was the final piece of the jigsaw. He had a great career and when Billy said we had a chance of signing him, I’d not heard of him so I googled him and knew then we were getting some player. He was an inspiration with the way he talked to the lads and plus he was probably one of the nicest guys in football. He was great to have around. He was definitely what we needed. We also had Tom Goodwin in goal and he was brilliant. We even put him on contract. He won us a lot of points with some brilliant saves.  

“We were so professional that season on and off-the-pitch and it was the highest the club ever finished and I think a lot of the committee would say it was their best days in football alongside the FA Cup runs under Paul Marshall and Vince Brockie.

“We had an unbelievable season. The wage bill was very low, certainly in the bottom six at the time. The lads were getting petrol expenses, that’s about it. People tend to lie about budgets, but we didn’t have much so we punched above our weight. You look back and see that Carts had 36 goals before he went to Darlington and that was a massive part of it, but you look at the team Billy had got that togetherness with a small squad. We had a lot of local lads who had been brought up together like Simon Parkes, Dan Thirkell, your Rob Youhill’s. They just clicked. We were lucky with injuries because we were going to games with 13 or 14 players every week. The side was fairly threadbare. We were naming me on the bench as reserve goalkeeper. 

“We had a game-plan where we played 4-4-2 and Adam Baker and Rob Youhill were on fire that season. We got the ball out wide as quick as we could and said to Adam and Rob to go one-on-one with your defender. Rob Youhill was a bit of an enigma at times because there would be games where he would be absolutely unbelievable and then others where he couldn’t beat the man. Although the number of goals where Rob got to the byline and crossed and Carts tapped it in was phenomenal. They had like a sixth sense between them. I think Malachi Farquharson chipped in with 20 goals that season by the end. When Carts left, Malachi scored a load of important goals. Everybody said that losing Cartman would put us on a slippery slope, but it didn’t. We drilled it in after Carts that we needed to prove we weren’t a one-man team and we did.

Billy Miller is one of Harrogate Railway’s greatest manager after leading them to their highest ever league finish in 2015
Lee Ashforth (right) and Billy Miller’s partnership at Harrogate Railway between 2012 and 2015 was a marriage made in heaven and is seen as one of the greatest periods in the club’s history

“I always go on about Billy all the time, but his man-management skills were unbelievable. He got the best out of everyone around the club. He had everything and he’s the best manager I have worked with. The players knew when to talk to him and when to leave him alone. He put his rules in place and he worked with me as the assistant manager and I tended to speak to the players during the week on the phone as Billy was busy with his full-time job. He didn’t socialise with the players apart from one drink after a game. He didn’t believe in going on nights out with them and he used to frown when I went out on them. He was very much ‘this is how I think it should be run and this is how I’m going to run it and you either buy into it or you don’t play for this club’. We bounced off each other really well and I’d like to think he would say the same thing. We had a great working relationship and it came together that season. He never panicked. He was quiet in the dugout, he didn’t coach from the touchline. He let the lads play and at half-time he was always very tactical about how we could exploit the opposition’s weaknesses or how we could tighten up. It didn’t matter who we were playing he was always the same and that calmness probably went through the squad and it showed when we played. 

“I remember going to Darlington the season before and we literally went up on the coach with 12 players. Our only sub was Luke McCrum who was 15/16 at the time. Sam Jones, who people might know as he has recently left Harrogate Town, was supposed to be playing, but his car had broke down so he couldn’t make it. Me and Billy were sat there on coach and I just said ‘we’re in big trouble here, we’re going up to Darlington where they’ll be 1000 people’. But we drew 0-0 and it was backs to the wall from start to finish. How we drew I don’t know? By the time we got to the ground we had that belief we were going to win and that’s from Billy’s calming influence. It was the same when we played Salford.

“It was no surprise that Tadcaster wanted him at the end of that season and it was the worst kept secret that they wanted him. Why wouldn’t they after the job he had done at Railway? You see where Railway have gone since shows how well he did. He went to Tadcaster and he was successful which I expected him to be.

“I gave the manager’s job a go after Billy left. It didn’t work out, but I always regard Harrogate Railway as my club. It is a club close to my heart. I spent three years there as a player under Martin Haresign who was another brilliant manager and then three years as assistant to Billy and then a year-and-a-bit as the manager. It is a long time and I hope they can kick on from the reprieve.”

Lee Ashforth was interviewed by James Grayson. 

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