SIX years ago, Josh Falkingham and his Dunfermline team-mates had just kicked off a second successive League One campaign following a double dose of play-off heartache.

Less than three months earlier, the popular midfielder had been at the heart of a side that saw their hopes of promotion back to the Championship crushed by local rivals Cowdenbeath.

That second leg loss, which the 29-year-old looks back on as one of his toughest career moments, came 12 months after a campaign that had begun with high hopes of challenging for a place in the top flight, then included the trauma of administration and a 15-point deduction hit that dragged them into a relegation battle, which ended in vain after a play-off final defeat to Alloa Athletic.

Those disappointments, however, were laid to rest when Falkingham helped lead the Pars to the League One title in his final season with the club – and helped him on his way to the experience of a lifetime at Wembley.

The proud Yorkshireman created history earlier this month when he became the first captain in Harrogate Town’s 106-year history to lead them out at the home of English football for the National League play-off final.

There they faced Notts County, the world’s oldest professional club, but they couldn’t stop Falkingham and his pals from writing the dream script as a 3-1 win sent them into the Football League (EFL) for the first time.

That sealed a second play-off promotion in just three seasons for Harrogate, who climbed out of the National League North in 2018, that will see them go up against former Premier League clubs Bolton Wanderers and Bradford City next season.

Falkingham, who admitted the celebrations, which even included an open top bus parade, went on for a few days after he lifted the trophy, has been inundated with congratulatory messages from Pars fans, the likes of chairman Ross McArthur and former manager Jim Jefferies, as well as a number of old team-mates.

As he reflected on Harrogate’s achievement with Press Sport, he believes that going through tough periods in black and white were crucial in helping him prepare to make history.

“I think I lost a play-off at Arbroath, then I lost two with you guys. I felt, ‘Oh my gosh, please don’t jinx that again!” Falkingham explained.

“When you look back, I really did learn a lot from that. I’m a little bit older now and not as young as I was when playing in those games.

“The three defeats have maybe helped me and given me that know-how of how how to deal with the pressures that they bring, what you have to do, and how to handle the nerves.

“I was able to handle it a lot better and I was really happy with how I played in the game myself but, more importantly, it was all about the team performance and getting the wins. Wembley, play-off final games; they’re no places for losers.

“I can say that; one of my lowest times was when we got beat to Cowdenbeath, with the stadium full and how that game went. You don’t want to experience those kind of times, they’re only good if you get the win, and luckily we’ve been able to do that over the last three seasons.

“I’ve had two now, which have been great, and that one there, being at Wembley, it was just amazing.

“I’ve had some amazing messages off a lot of people from up in Dunfermline. You see it now on social media and the club put something out, and I think Arbroath did the same, and it’s just a really nice touch for myself personally.

“I’ve made it well known, and I’ve spoken to you before and you know my feelings towards the club, that I absolutely loved my time there; the way I was looked after, and the people I met, was close to and still speak to now. I loved my time at Dunfermline and it’s a special club.

“There have been some really nice touches and I really appreciate them, the messages that I’ve received, so I might as well say thank you in this article and to everybody that’s sent me some. Obviously you can’t get back to everybody because I’d be here for a couple of days!

“I received an amazing message off the chairman, Ross, prior to the game which was really nice to read, and I received a lovely message off Jim Jefferies, my old manager, who was watching, as well as loads of messages from ex team-mates and what have you. Those two especially sit out and it’s fantastic to receive and read, and I’m just delighted that we did it. I really appreciate all the messages from all the Pars fans and how highly they think of me as well.

“It is really touching and nice to see and read.”

Harrogate were second in the table when the season was called to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, after a period of uncertainty as to how the season would be concluded, a vote of clubs decided that the play-offs should take place to determine who would join champions Barrow in going up.

They saw off Boreham Wood, who the Pars met in the Irn-Bru Cup two years ago, in the semi-final before heading to Wembley, which Falkingham said had the “wow factor”.

“It doesn’t get much better than that does it?,” he continued.

“I’ve been lucky; I’ve had three other promotions and this is now my fourth. I’ve had some really good feelings and that feeling of achieving and completing what your job is, a promotion or a championship title, words can’t describe it until you experience it for yourself.

“It’s just got that wow factor. I think football and moments like that, there’s always a story behind it, but ours is very unique. For the club, when I joined it three years ago, it’s just been an amazing journey that we’ve been on in a short space of time, especially in the leagues we’ve been competitive.

“You guys up in Scotland probably don’t know too much about the leagues, and that’s totally understandable, but they are tough, tough leagues. It’s probably the hardest league to get out of; it’s well known down here how competitive it is.

“Only one goes up automatic, and you’ve got one spot left that has to be fought out, which is even harder now with quarter-finals and semi-finals with how they’ve changed the play-offs.

“For us to say that we’ve achieved that now is amazing. When you work so hard throughout the season to be crowned champions, it is an amazing achievement, but if you ask people, ask family, winning at Wembley – I don’t think there’s anything better.

“If you’re going to get promotion, you’d take that because of having that day out and being able to walk out at Wembley; it’s dreamland stuff. It was just an amazing feeling that nobody can take away.

“It’s right everybody says it’s a small club. It’s got a lot of history to it, in terms of it’s been going for 106 years, but it’s never, ever been a Football League side. We’ve been able to not just do something amazing but we’ve been able to write some history which we won’t probably take in right now but, looking back after our careers are finished, as a group of lads we’ll be able to say we were the first guys to do that for Harrogate Town.

“It’s fantastic for everybody involved. Hopefully we can kick-on, which I’m sure we will do, and we won’t look back – we’ll look forward.”

Looking forward, Falkingham and his team-mates will soon be back in training for the new campaign, which for the EFL begins over the weekend of September 12.

He believes they can take heart from clubs such as Luton Town, Lincoln City and Tranmere Rovers who, in recent years, have gone on to climb further up the pyramid after winning promotion from the National League.

Whilst cautious not to look too far ahead, Falkingham is sure he and Harrogate will be competitive – and is looking forward to on-field reunions with another couple of former Athletic players.

“There’s big Ben (Richards-Everton, at Bradford City) and I’ve just seen Lewis Spence has signed for Scunthorpe as well, so I’ll be battling against him in midfield,” he continued.

“I’ll be going up against two really close friends of mine that I built relationships with at Dunfermline. I still speak to the guys so I’ll be looking forward to that.

“Now we’ve done it, you can look now at League Two and see where we’re going, but there are some big, big clubs. None more bigger probably than Bolton Wanderers who, not so long ago, were a Premier League club, a fantastic side that had some massive names and play in a fantastic stadium.

“Also, Bradford City are a massive club and, with the connection in terms of Yorkshire and being so close together, they’re going to be fantastic games as well.

“It’s going to be some great days to look forward to but we won’t get caught out and become starry-eyed; we’ll be trying to compete, and not just compete – we’ve seen what happens when you get on a roll.

“Momentum is an amazing thing in football. I’m not saying we’re going to put loads of pressure on ourselves and say we’re looking for promotion again – we want to be successful, don’t get me wrong, and see where it takes us – but there’s a lot of clubs that we can look at, really take a lot from and say, why not? Why can’t it be us as well?

“I’ve got four promotions under my belt now and I’m looking for five. I’m in a really good place, personally and how I’m playing and in terms of how successful I’ve been over the last couple of years, but hopefully I’ve got a lot more to come.”

Could there be a double celebration for his current and former clubs in 2021?

“I’ve seen the Pars have made some really good signings,” Falkingham added.

“Obviously I keep a close eye on them and hopefully Stevie and everybody up there can have a successful season when it starts back. Hopefully you guys go well and Dunfermline can get back in the league I believe they deserve to be in, which is the top division in Scotland, and I’m sure they will.

“Hopefully it’ll be next season and you’ll be celebrating, and hopefully maybe alongside us. That’d be great!”