Saturday 12 October 2019

Scarborough Athletic vs. Stafford Rangers

I’m writing this on holiday; with some time off to spend I decided to combine a week of restful recuperation, sight-seeing and boozing with some groundhopping. One of my favourite areas in England to visit is the North East coast; being on the opposite coast to me, I always find that the region offers a new perspective to how beautiful (and different) our little island is. 

From miles upon miles of exquisite coastline, historical monuments that have been fashioned by ancient peoples, bars that sell Baileys and's an ideal place for me to go and have a mooch about in. So after a bit of research, I find out that both Scarborough Athletic and Whitby Town are playing at home in the same week. I didn’t hesitate to book my trip. 

I had planned to see the Scarborough game on the Saturday and the Whitby game on the following Tuesday – although Whitby were also at home on the Saturday and Scarborough were also at home on the Tuesday! In hindsight, I made the wrong decision as last week, Whitby battled through to the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup after a 3-1 replay win away to National League North, Gloucester City. It was a fantastic result, not only if you consider Whitby play one level below, had to travel 420-miles for the game (Gloucester City play in Evesham, Worcestershire, at the moment) but also because they only had 14 fit players available for selection – three of them being goalkeepers!

As a result, Whitby’s Northern Premier League, Premier Division fixture against Mickleover Sports on Tuesday was postponed to allow them more time to prepare for next weekend’s FA Cup Fifth Qualifying Round tie at home to Stourbridge. With a place in the First Round Proper at stake, it’s fully understandable that the part-time team were allowed the time off – it just left me cursing my luck that I didn’t swap the fixtures around (as well as being unable to extend my stay past the weekend so I can see the FA Cup tie!) Oh well, maybe another time for Whitby – let’s get into Scarborough.

Scarborough Athletic Football Club

Scarborough Athletic (also playing in the Northern Premier League’s Premier Division), can be said to be a ‘continuation’ of Scarborough FC; the town’s former Football League club that were liquidated in 2007. In their strive to grow and progress up the football pyramid, Scarborough Athletic are supporter-owned – determined not to repeat mistakes made in the past, running the club for the community, rather than simply profit. After spending the first ten years of their existence playing 16 miles away in Bridlington, the club moved ‘home’ in 2017, into a stadium constructed as part of Scarborough Sports Village – the eye-catchingly-titled ‘Flamingo Land Stadium’. 

I start the day, in the pub. Not really the ideal place to be for someone who had only got out of bed at 12pm because they had ‘one too many’ the night before, but as The Lord Rosebery is the town’s designated Wetherspoons (named after the former Prime Minister who opened the building as a Liberal Club in 1895), I could at least treat myself to a spot of reasonably-priced brunch (they would have stopped serving breakfasts by the time I got there). Despite the genteel, old worldly charm this area exudes, it’s also an attraction for stag-and-hen-type parties from across Yorkshire and the North East – and to typify this, I entered the pub after a group of women; all of whom were wearing Victorian bathing suits and carrying large (inflatable) balls.

Scarborough’s development as a seaside resort began in the 17th century when, whilst out on a walk, a Mrs Thomasin Farrer discovered a spa after noticing an inland-flowing stream, bubbling out from some cliffs. With water treatment solutions being many years away, spa water was highly valued and Scarborough’s spa quickly attracted visitors from across the local area. It was the publication of Scarborough Spaw by Dr Robert Wittie in 1660 that promoted the ‘healing waters’ on a national scale – leading to people from across the country to visit the town to indulge in the newly-created spa bathhouse.

With an influx of visitors, profiteers quickly got to work, establishing other ventures in which people could partake in – horse racing on the beach and sea bathing proving particularly popular. This is what (is widely believed) to have made Scarborough England’s first true seaside resort – as travel became easier in the next two centuries, more people were able to enjoy the seaside scenery, the historic castle and the ever-growing parade of shops and amusements.

Scarborough Beach South

Anne Bronte loved the place; the youngest of the Bronte siblings made a return visit in 1849, despite ailing from tuberculosis, hoping that it would aid her recovery. She sadly died during her visit – and was buried here. Her sister, Charlotte, electing to have her interred in St, Mary’s churchyard, rather than the family home of Haworth.

For those of a certain vintage/musical taste, Scarborough’s medieval history was brought to an international audience in the 1960s, thanks to Simon and Garfunkel’s version of the ballad ‘Scarborough Fair’. The song references the (unusually long) 45-day fair in which traders from across the country (and abroad) would descend on the town to sell their wares.

The ballad is a tale of man who instructs a third party to tell his former love (who lives in Scarborough) to perform a number of impracticable tasks (such as making him a shirt without a seam and no needlework, then washing it in a dry well), adding that if she were to complete these tasks, she would be taken back into his affections.

It is often performed as a duet, with the woman giving the man equally impossible tasks (such as buying her an acre of land between the beach and the sea and ploughing it with a ram’s horn), and if he so does, her heart is his. Now to our contemporary eyes and ears, it may sound like an odd love song – but the average Facebook feed will throw up similar tales of jilted love (only more incomprehensible). How things change.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Remember me to one who lives there,
For she was once a true love of mine.

-          First verse of ‘Scarborough Fair’ (Traditional)

All Day Brunch demolished (basically a Full English Breakfast with chips), I make the mile-or-so walk to the stadium. Mentioning chips here is quite apt as Scarborough F.C’s former home, The Athletic Stadium, was known for the last era of its life as ‘The McCain Stadium’, thanks to sponsorship from the UK arm of frozen foods giant McCain (whose head office is in Scarborough). Located just across the road from where the new stadium stands, the old club attempted to sell ‘The Theatre of Chips’ to a housing developer, whose offer would, apparently, have been enough to clear their debts (which amounted to around £2.5m), as well as build a new ground on the outskirts of the town.

The problem was that the area had a covenant on it that instructed the land could only be used for sporting activities. Despite discussions with the local council to find a solution, time ultimately ran out for the club to convince the council of the viability of the deal and on 20th June 2007, Scarborough F.C were wound up after 128 years of business.

Looking in from the outside (and therefore, running the risk of being wildly inaccurate or stating the obvious), I think that the original club’s demise can be traced back to their relegation from the Football League in 1999 – a relegation sealed when a GOALKEEPER scored a last-minute goal to send them down. Playing for Carlisle in a match against Plymouth, Jimmy Glass’ volley after the ball bounced to him in the penalty area from a corner, was enough to keep The Cumbrians in the league. Heartbreakingly, Scarborough’s match had already finished well before Glass ran up for the corner – the supporters were celebrating on the McCain Stadium pitch when the news came through. Talk about ‘pissing on your chips’.

(Good documentary on Jimmy Glass. It’s 25 minutes long though, so make sure you read the rest of this first!)

Before the seriousness of Scarborough FC’s financial situation became apparent, the supporters had moved to form a trust, The Seadog Trust, to gain representation on the club’s board. With the debt proving too large to manage, the trust instead found themselves forming a new football club – Scarborough Athletic FC; the suffix taken from their old ground’s original name. The new club was accepted into Division 1 of the Northern Counties East League in June 2007, ground-sharing at Bridlington’s Queensgate Stadium, as there was no suitable ground in Scarborough.

The formation of Scarborough Athletic wasn’t popular with all supporters of the old club, however. From what evidence I can dig up, it’s alleged that the supporters had broadly agreed that an ‘AFC Scarborough’ would replace the old club but a ‘breakaway group’ created Scarborough Athletic instead and applied to join the NCEL. Those left holding the AFC Scarborough 'baby' were said to be furious and also applied to join the NCEL – but the league insisted that there could only be one and eventually, AFC dropped out.

The liquidation of the old club didn’t affect their youth set-up, however. Rescued by a local sports college, ‘Scarborough Academy’ eventually grew a senior side that was dubbed ‘Scarborough Town’ – the new club starting life in the Second Division of the Humberside League; the highest level the club could play at with the facilities they had left in the town. These facilities were the pitches ran by the McCain Foods Sports & Social Club, located in Cayton, 3 miles from the centre of Scarborough.

Rather than be a ‘rival’ to Athletic, Scarborough Town’s committee stressed that their club’s aim was to give their young players a ‘stepping stone’ through to higher levels of the game (although many of those disaffected supporters of the old Scarborough club doubtless got behind them because they weren’t Athletic). Town went on to be a huge success in their first few years – winning three league titles (and two league cups), saw them knocking on the door of the NCEL. Sadly for them, they couldn’t develop their ground to suit league requirements, and crowds dipped from around 400 to ‘a couple of dozen’ quite quickly. They quietly folded in 2013, leaving just the one club to represent Scarborough (although they were playing in Bridlington).

That was soon to change though. Despite rumours about what the local council wanted to do with the land that was once home to Scarborough FC (which they later purchased from the liquidator), they stuck to their word and invested in the construction of a ‘Sports Village’, providing a home for a higher education facility (ran by Coventry University), health and fitness facilities for the community and the centrepiece, a stadium for Scarborough Athletic.

Flamingo Land Stadium Scarborough Athletic

Sponsored by the local zoo-theme park attraction, The Flamingo Land Stadium has two small seated stands at either side of the pitch – the main stand (pictured above) housing the conference facilities, offices and crucially, the bar. There’s a food outlet in the shape of a van near to where you emerge from the turnstile, otherwise, you can move freely about the ground (aside from taking a seat in the stand – apparently, this costs extra).

Speaking of the cost, it’s £12 on the gate – whilst I’m not begrudging any club (especially one that is member-owned) the money, it does strike me as a bit steep for this level (considering I paid £8 to get in Atherton Collieries, in the same league, earlier this season). Also, it’s Non League Day today – the perfect opportunity to attract new supporters, which clubs across the country are trying to do, with special offers for entry (such as reduced entry for families, kids and season ticket holders of other clubs). I didn’t see any offers advertised for today’s game, which I think is a bit counter-intuitive, to be honest – there’s a fairly big crowd (for this level) at the game and it could have been so much more, with the extra attendees making up their reduced entry fees by buying refreshments, etc.

I take my spot opposite the main stand, on the steel terrace, just to the right of the other small bank of seating (which I don’t sit in. Honest). Looking around, there is plenty of room for expansion if the club were to progress – this terrace is only temporary and can easily be replaced. Perhaps an issue for the club, if they were to reach The Football League and do well, is the lack of space behind one of the goals, where a small standing area lies in front of (what I believe is) the Sports Village’s leisure centre. At the moment, there are a handful of Stafford supporters stood there but I can’t see it being suitable for Football League hoards. I may be jumping the gun a bit there, but that is only 3 promotions away and with over a thousand people here today, it’s not like the club lack any ambition. Just a marketing department (I’m available for hire, by the way!)

The home side have had a mixed start to the season; lying in mid-table, so they’ll be hoping to chalk up a win against today’s opponents (who are rock bottom of the NPL Premier) and get themselves back up that table. Their side start well, on the 3G pitch – I *think* this is the first game I’ve ever seen on an artificial surface and it takes a while for me to get used to it, especially with all those ‘black bits’ that jump up from the surface whenever the ball bounces.

Cards on the table, I’m not a big fan of 3/4G pitches – despite what proponents say, it IS very different from grass and you can see that from the way the ball bounces, so it must be a big advantage for the home side (what with them being used to this type of pitch). Having played on similar surfaces myself, it’s very impactful on the body too – at least a muddy pitch can break a fall or allow you to do a knee slide without it being sliced open. Then again, I understand that such pitches are vital for the financial stability of non-league clubs – not only can they not get waterlogged but they can be hired out during the week too (which Scarborough do). So what else can clubs at this level do?

Scarborough start well and despite the steep (!) ticket prices (and no special offers for Non-League Day!), there’s a young boisterous support stood with me on this terrace. It's heartening to see – there’s plenty of teenagers here who were NOT EVEN BORN when their town had a Football League club. Mad to think about, when you’ve reached an age when 22 years doesn’t seem that long ago! (I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about YOU. Boomer).

The supporters have something to shout about on 23 minutes as Michael Coulson slid home a cross at the near post. It was no less than Scarborough deserved after dominating the first twenty minutes – Lewis King (wearing a skull cap) in the Stafford goal had to rush out to smother a chance earlier on and just after the opening goal, had to make a save low-down to prevent a second.

Scarborough Athletic Stafford Rangers

With things looking good for the home side, I nip to the bar just before half-time. Now, in order to get to the bar, you have to walk up (what felt like) a billion steps at the side of the main stand and on arrival at the top, I see that there’s a rather large queue, so in the end, I didn’t bother to ‘whet my palate’. I had enough beer last night, to be honest – and there’s more to come tonight.

To be fair to the club, they run a slick operation here – staff wear ID lanyards and everything; even the ballboys have them on. Before I make my way back down the stairway from heaven, I spy a sight of the pitch and the view looks fantastic – I even see a Scarborough forward make a ridiculous dive in the area just before the whistle went. It doesn’t stop everyone in the stand from claiming for a penalty, of course!

Back in my spot, I get a great view of the best moment of the second half (for the home supporters, anyway), as King clashes with home striker, James Walshaw. I’m not sure what went on – there seemed to be a few crossed words and a ‘coming together’ – but the referee books them both. King is then subjected to ‘You’re just a shit Petr Cech’ by the boisterous Scarborough teenagers around me, on account of his skull cap.

I mentioned that incident was as good as it got for the home support, as despite dominating the half again, their side could not create any decent cleat-cut chances (plenty of wastage in the final third). When domination like that occurs without a goal, you can probably guess the consequences – the other side score. With most of their men pushed forward, Stafford smash the ball upfront, one missed defensive header in midfield and Brad Grayson finds himself running at goal. A couple of bounces later (thanks, surface) he’s clear of the last defender and volleys the ball from the edge of the area past home keeper, Thomas Taylor, and into the corner of the net.

The 'banter' with the away keeper ceases, as the home support turn their frustration towards their side. I have to remember I’m watching a game in the seventh tier here, as the atmosphere has been very-much reminiscent of The Football League at times. Sadly for them, their side are out of ideas and the game finishes 1-1.

Scarborough Sports Village

I’ve really enjoyed my visit to the Flamingo Land Stadium – the set-up is fantastic, the support is there (and vocal) and they’re already charging National League prices; they just need a team that can finish their chances (and a marketing department. Call me).

As mentioned, I’m on holiday, so forgive me for the lack of detail in the match report – thankfully, the club are organised enough to film highlights, which you can view here. I’m off to get pissed and forget everything I've just written.

Scarborough Athletic 1

Stafford Rangers 1

Attendance: 1027


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