York fan sets up new club in Harrogate

Long-time York City Knights supporter Stuart Morris was just trawling the Total Rugby League forum when a light bulb moment happened. One that would eventually spark the creation of a new club, the Harrogate Fire Ants.

Morris, a founding member of the Harrogate York Knights Supporters Club, found a thread on heartland cities without a Rugby League club when he saw the mention of his resident town.

He then put the wheels in motion to found the Fire Ants, to bring the 13-man code back to a town which has since thrived in the other code.

“There was a club in the 1980s and 90s but we haven’t had one since, I just started the ball rolling,” he told Total Rugby League.

“I was actually on the Total Rugby League Forum and there was a post on there about cities or towns near the heartlands who don’t have a Rugby League club.

“Somebody mentioned Harrogate and it just escalated from there. It’s unusual, Rugby League seems to have missed the section between York and Leeds and I’d include Goole and Selby into that, as well.”

Morris makes an interesting observation, in that Rugby League has become a wasteland for any real organised clubs, despite previous attempts in all the aforementioned towns.

While the demography, on the one hand, could be seen as a driving force against the club, Morris has also identified that the sport does have an already established interest in Harrogate.

Only one professional player has hailed from the town, in recent times, with another now residing there offering his active support to the club.

“There’s around 70,000 people in Harrogate and the one player we have in Rugby League is Greg Minikin,” Morris added.

“There’s quite a lot of Rugby League fans here, though. There’s obviously York and Leeds fans, Castleford fans and both Hull clubs are fairly healthily represented as well. That diversity gives us a good demographic to build a core of volunteers and supporters.

“We’ve got Gary Atkins, the former Hull KR and Castleford player, as our advisor for the rugby side of things and he lives in Harrogate as well.

“Harrogate isn’t massively successful in football or rugby union, obviously those are the prominent sports but the town isn’t a major sporting one.”

It may well not be a major sporting hotbed but with all sport currently on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak, surely Morris can see the boldness in the move?

“It was brave or stupid, one of the two,” he admitted. “But it’s actually given me the chance to connect with local businesses a lot more and a lot of them have latched on already.

“The main shirt sponsor, the Empress Pub, said they would need all the publicity they can get after the virus has ended. They saw us as a great opportunity.

“In terms of expenditure, in this time period, we don’t have any because we aren’t a formal operation yet and we can get the connections in place and sort the off-field structure.

“That could work in our favour because playing can be a distraction when you’re a new club. I’ve been concentrating on the coaching staff, website, physios and players every week.

“It’s been very structured how it’s all falling into place and I think playing games would be too much for us to start properly.”

The Fire Ants don’t have plans to play in a competitive league for a good three years, Morris revealed, with plans already afoot for an LDRL team and age groups via links with a specialist college and local schools.

The York City Knights Foundation have been already active in their assistance, with York’s matchday manager and Bath Rugby League founder Chris Chatten already planning to face the club for their first game.

A launch night is already being planned for the Fire Ants and, while Morris is vying for a place in the Yorkshire Men’s League in the future, the process will be more gradual even after play resumes.

“We’re looking at a staggered process and we want to go do down to the London 9s,” Morris added. “We don’t have firm numbers now we’ve only got interest. I don’t want to cement our place in a league and then have to fold because we did it too soon.

“There’s a lot of fixtures when you play in a division, you’ve got to think about travel and commitments. There’s a lot to think about before we starting playing in a competitive league.”