As the business end of the season approaches, one promotion has already been sorted. Scarborough Athletic’s 2-1 win at Teversal in the Northern Counties East League First Division saw them secure promotion to the Premier Division and need just four more points to clinch the title.
For Seadog supporters, it’s a day they thought they may never see after the original Scarborough FC was liquidated with debts of around £2.5m in 2007. Since then, the fans have reformed and own a reborn club. Scarborough Athletic may play at one of of the lowest levels of the football pyramid but for the fans, they have a club to support.
The death of an old friend
When Scarborough went out of business in 2007, it brought down the curtain on one of Britain’s oldest clubs. The Seadogs had been formed in 1879. During that time, the club made history with Wembley appearances, cup giant killing, and promotion to the Football League and the last-minute heartache this brought with it.
Although Scarborough had a long and proud history, punctuated by a serious of financial crises in the 1950s, they started to make an impression on the football league thanks to their FA Cup exploits in the 60s and beyond.
In the 1964 / 65 season Boro had their best ever FA Cup run when they knocked out Bradford City before losing to Doncaster Rovers in the second round. Rovers were again the conquerors in 1972 when the Seadogs again reached the second round, beating Oldham before going out to Doncaster.
Three years later they were playing in front of the cameras when they met Crystal Palace in the third round, having dispatched of Preston North End en route. Two years later, it was Brighton who put out the non-leaguers in the third round. More recently, Scarborough lost out to Chelsea in the third round in 2004.
Wembley was also became a regular trip for Boro fans in the 1970 as the club made their mark on the FA Trophy In 1973 they took their first of three ultimate victories in the competition when they defeated Wigan Athletic. Needless to say, the two fortunes of the two clubs have changed somewhat since that meeting.
But it was Scarborough who were kings of the cup in that decade. After a brief gap the year after their victory they made it to Wembley again in 1975, losing out to Matlock Town, before taking two successive trophies the year after when they beat Dagenham and the Stafford Rangers a year later.
Welcome to the League
If the 70s for Scarborough FC was all about Wembley, the 80s saw the Seadogs finally achieve the goal of league football. After years of becoming a more professional league, the Conference finally convinced the FA to introduce automatic promotion and relegation from the league to non-league and Scarborough were the first beneficiaries of this in 1987.
Managed by a young Neil Warnock, the side powered to the title and became the first club to automatically win promotion to the league, as opposed to having to go through the closed shop of election to the league. Lincoln were the side relegated at Scarborough’s expense (although the Imps would bounce back into the league in the next season). In August 1987, Boro kicked off for the first time as a football league club in a 2-2 draw with Wolves.
Again, it was the cup that provided Scarborough with the most to cheer about during their stay in the league, but this time it was the League Cup rather than the FA Cup that provided the glory. In 1989 they put out Chelsea 3-2 over two legs while 1993 saw their best ever run when they knocked out Bradford, Coventry and Plymouth before eventually losing one-nil to Arsenal in the fourth round.
That was about as good as it got for Boro. Despite reaching the playoffs twice, Scarborough never made it out of the bottom division and suffered a series of financial difficulties in what was to become a recurring feature in their particular corner of Yorkshire.
In 1988 the club were struggling to the point that then chairman Geoffrey Richardson (later to take Bradford up and then down from the Premier League), in what was a groundbreaking deal at the time, sold the name of their stadium to frozen food company McCain, which inspired the name of Boro fanzine Abandon Chip!
But, twelve years after they made a small bit of history with their promotion to the league, Scarborough were back in the Conference in heart-breaking circumstances for the fans. In what has now become part of football folklore. The final day of the 98-99 season came down to a fight between survival between Boro and Carlisle United.
With both clubs drawing, against Peterborough and Plymouth respectively, Scarborough fans invaded the pitch at the final whistle convinced they’d done enough to stay up. But, with almost the last kick of the game, Carlisle’s on-loan goalkeeper Jimmy Glass went up for a corner and netted the winner that saw the Cumbrians retain their league status.
Scarborough, then, were down in the non-league again. A few years later, Scarborough’s then chairman John Russell, who came complete with a fraud conviction, resurfaced at Exeter City and became the first chairman to preside over two different clubs being relegated from the league.
The end and the beginning
What followed in this decade was a series of familiar struggles on and off the pitch. With the top end of the Conference becoming an increasingly unfamiliar sight for Seadogs fans, the debts were mounting.
In 2006, Scarborough ended up at the bottom of the league and what followed was one of those off-the-field finance issues that non-league football specialises in. Scarborough initially won a reprieve after Canvey Island resigned from the league while Altrincham replaced then at the bottom after having 18 points deducted for fielding an ineligible player.
But it was then the Robins turn to earn a reprieve. Scarborough, along with Northwich, were in a financial mess with the debts growing. The Conference, who’d been taking a tough line on sides with poor finances, forced both sides to be demoted, meaning Boro started in 2006-07 season in the Conference North. That was the Seadogs last stop.
The grand plan had been to sell the aging McCain Stadium for residential development and, with the cash, clear the debts and build a new stadium to be ready for 2010. It wasn’t to be. The ground the McCain sat on was subject to a covenant that meant it could only be used for sporting activities. Despite frantic lobbying from the club, the council refused to lift this and, with no new source of income Scarborough FC were wound up.
But the Supporters Trust had been active behind the scenes. Expecting the worst, the fans immediately reformed six leagues below in the Northern Counties East League First Division. Scarborough were dead, but Scarborough Athletic were born.
Former North Ferriby manage Brain France was brought in and, after frantic last-minute efforts, the Athletic kicked off, funnily enough, against Teversal. Nearly two years later, in the same fixture, two goals from midfielder Rob Ellis bagged a brace to bring promotion to Scarborough for the first time since the old club won promotion to the league in 1987.
There are still issues to be sorted for Scarborough. The McCain lays dormant and vandalised, mothballed as a result of the council’s stubbornness. Scarborough Athletic, for now, are without a home and groundshare with nearby Bridlington. If the Seadogs plan to progress much further, a return to Scarborough – be that the McCain or elsewhere in the town – is one of their priorities.
But for now, Athletic’s focus will be on getting the four points they need to secure the title and, with the team winning 25 games and losing just twice all season, it’s likely there will be more champagne sprayed in the town before the season’s finished. Few would begrudge Scarborough supporters this moment of glory.