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National League side turn down chance to play Celtic in a friendly

One National League side have make the decision to turn down the chance to play Scottish Premier League giants Celtic in a friendly.

It comes as the National League give the go ahead for their 18 playoff club to play friendlies with each other in preparation for the much anticipated ties.

Non league football is returning for the first time since March, with the first game given a confirmed date of Friday the 17th of July, with ties from all three divisions also being played out that weekend.

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Harrogate finished second in the National League table, behind Barrow, when 2019/20 was suspended due to the coronavirus crisis and are now preparing to compete in the playoffs for the first time at this level.

It’s been revealed that Simon Weaver’s side were offered a game against the Scottish champions, who plan on winning their 10th title in a row.  The National League side chose to turn down the chance to play Celtic.

Weaver said he would not usually have thought twice about accepting, but felt there was too greater a risk of injury to members of his squad ahead of arguably the biggest match in the club’s history.

“I received a great phone call from Danny Wilson just the other day, asking if we wanted to play Celtic at Loughborough, all expenses paid,” Weaver revealed.

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“Under any other circumstances we’d love to have played them. What an opportunity, and what a blow to have to say no.

“But it’s too big a risk for us with the size of our squad and because we only have four defenders available for the play-offs.

“We’re walking on egg shells a little bit in that respect. We’ve got to be very careful at the moment.

“I’m sure Celtic will find another of the play-off sides with a bigger squad who will be able to give them a game, but hopefully that link is forged now.”

The Bhoys, who are currently holding a pre-season training camp at Loughborough University, invited Harrogate with Neil Lennon revealing that he wants his side to play friendlies in empty stadiums to help them prepare for the 2020/21 campaign, which is expected to begin behind closed doors.

Lennon said: “We are trying to ramp up the training now as we are coming into games pretty soon.

“We haven’t played a competitive game for over four months so it’s important we get some match rhythm.

“We have to be really focused. The pre-season has been good so far and now they are itching to get a game.

“Hopefully after three or four games they will find their legs. It’s been a long break but it’s exciting to be back.

“We want a competitive edge in training to take into the games next week.

“The other side is getting the players used to playing behind closed doors.

“We have to adapt to that environment as it will be totally different to what we’ve been used to.

“The more we can do that, the better they will adapt to it. It has to be part of our preparations.

“We have to be in the right mindset and the right physical condition to get used to the situations thrown at us going forward.

“Every game is going to be critical from our point of view, because of what we could achieve as a group and club.”

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Meanwhile, Harrogate are set to play their National League playoff semi-final clash against the winners of Boreham Wood or Halifax on the 25th of July.

The winner of that match, to be played at the CNG Stadium, will then meet at Wembley Stadium where victory will see them promoted to League Two for the 2020/21 season, whenever that will start, with dates still not yet confirmed.

EFL sides are set to vote before next Wednesday to decide the start date for the new season! The clubs will be voting on one of two proposals.

Proposal A – season from August 29th to May 9th
Proposal B – season from September 12 and ends on May 22

Harrogate’s Josh Falkingham has opened up on turning his childhood dream into reality: “I think that every single footballer will dream about playing at Wembley and we’re only one game away from that,” Falkingham said.

“It’s a carrot being dangled, it’s even more of an incentive for us to get the job done. The news that the play-off final would take place there was brilliant. I was buzzing when it was confirmed, not just myself, but all the players.

“But, we’re not there yet, so it means absolutely nothing. It’s irrelevant if we don’t win our semi-final, and that’s all we are concentrating on.

“Whoever we end up playing, we know we’re going to be in for a very tough game in unusual circumstances.

“Nobody has played in such a long time, there’ll be no form coming into the game, no crowd, but we’re ready for it. If you offered us the chance to play the game tomorrow, I reckon every single one of our players would say yes.

“We can’t wait.”

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Falkingham added: “You could see when we came back that all the lads had looked after themselves.

“The 12 or 13 weeks we were off is double the time we have during the close season. It was a shock to the system, but even after that lay-off the boys were hitting the levels expected of us straight away.

“I know everyone likes to claim that they are the fittest team in the league, but we’re definitely right up there and hopefully this will show during the play-offs.

“We had to get through some really tough sessions, but now we’ve got the balls back out, which is great because I barely kicked one during the whole of lockdown.”

So far there’s been zero positive tests published in the National League ahead of those much anticipated playoffs.

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