Penny's in heaven with Boro

Steven Penny has waited almost 30 years for this day – Scarborough FC's home cup tie against mighty Chelsea. He looks back on the days of supporting the team through thin and not so thin.

I HAVE a confession to make. I'm one of those glory hunters that have jumped on the Scarborough bandwagon.

I saw the FA Cup run on television and decided I wanted to see the team in the flesh.

But no, I'm not talking about the Seasiders of 2004 vintage and today's money-spinning tie with Chelsea. My Boro baptism came in 1975 and it was Wimbledon who had been grabbing the media's attention, thanks to goalkeeper Dickie Guy and his efforts against then-mighty Leeds United.

The Southern League Wombles had been drawn at Scarborough in the FA Trophy and I, along with more than 8,000 others, made my way along Seamer Road to the Athletic Ground – long before it became the McCain Stadium.

Even now, when I smell a certain brand of pipe tobacco it sends me back to standing on the Edgehill Road terracing behind the goal; furry-hooded Parkas, a bike rack full of Raleigh Choppers, and the aroma of the players' liniment.

Almost a quarter of the club's history later, I'm still there, although, admittedly, not as often as in previous years when I was the proud owner of a season ticket.

Through 29 years I have suffered alongside the dedicated fans, celebrating all-too-few successes and suffering just a few failures.

During my working life away from my football Mecca, when people have asked my allegiance, I have proudly replied "Scarborough".

That has brought regular blank looks, comments of "who?" or, more annoyingly, "yes, but which proper club do you follow?"

All of a sudden, thanks to manager Russell Slade and his team's efforts this season in the FA Cup, "my" club is again in the spotlight.

Not since Neil Warnock led us to the Football League, in 1987, have Boro been so popular.

Flying winger Tony Aveyard grabbed the headlines in 1975 with the only goal of the game to send Scarborough towards Wembley and, tragically, again two years later when he died at the age of 21, after suffering a head injury against Boston United.

Bill Shankly's oft-repeated quote that football was not a matter of life and death, it was more important than that, was surely only meant tongue in cheek.

Football, non-league in general, Scarborough in particular has, nevertheless, played a major part in my life. It was where I did some of my courting and it is what got me into journalism at the relatively late age of 25.

My writer's teeth were cut editing the Scarborough match programme in the 1980s during Harry Dunn's tenure of the manager's chair. Dunn had served the club spectacularly as a player for more than 900 games and was so good he earned two mentions on the team sheet. When Scarborough signed another Harry Dunn, no relation, from Bishop Auckland, they had to invent a fictitious 'A' as a middle initial to differentiate the pair.

I have travelled as far afield as Blyth, Gillingham, Weymouth, Bangor and Carlisle following the Boro. Trips to Barrow and Weymouth were made in a clapped-out 900cc Mini that seemed to take days to make the journey.

A wet and wintry drive back from Worcester is best remembered for the windscreen wipers breaking down on the M5, and my wife fastening the cord from her coat through the open windows to the broken blades so we could pull them back and forth. She hasn't been to many games since then, funnily enough.

On another particularly murky night, the supporters' club minibus broke down on the way to Frickley and we ended up pushing it for what seemed miles. We eventually arrived at the ground just in time for the referee to say the game was off because of heavy fog.

There have been tremendous highs. My first season brought a trip to Wembley in the FA Trophy final – a 4-0 defeat by Matlock is best forgotten.

But we were back there twice more to beat Stafford Rangers and Dagenham in thrilling encounters.

I've seen Scarborough play on a world stage – albeit a 7-0 friendly victory against Gibraltar.

I've even seen them play in Europe with a World Cup winner in goal. Gordon Banks made one appearance for the club during the Anglo-Italian tournament, in 1976, against Monza. Scarborough also beat Udinese 4-0, long before they were signing the likes of Oliver Bierhoff in Serie A.

I drove the "official" supporters' transport to Northwich in 1987 when the cheaply-assembled team put together by Neil Warnock was tipped for relegation. A hardy band of five of us packed into my car, little realising that a few months later we would be in a travelling contingent of several hundred in Surrey celebrating a victory over Sutton United that would cement promotion to the Football League.

The end-of-season home game against Weymouth proved to be party time.

Memories of the first match in the big-time are mixed. I was selling programmes in the away end and the nickname of Wolves for the visitors was well-deserved with a terrifying first encounter with the professional game. The ground was wrecked and one visiting fan infamously fell through the stand roof.

A move to Norfolk coincided with much of Scarborough's League career but I still managed to chalk up a respectable number of away days at Peterborough, Gillingham, Northampton, Cambridge and Colchester.

FA Cup highlights before this season include a last-gasp victory over Preston and a Match of the Day appearance against Crystal Palace, but it has more usually been a tale of woe with defeats at Tow Law, Goole Town, Whitby; and at home to the likes of Leek Town, Tamworth and Whitley Bay.

The deepest low came in 1999 when Scarborough needed to win their final game of the season to preserve their Football League place. A draw with Peterborough looked to have been enough when news came through that closest rivals Carlisle United were losing.

Fans were on the field celebrating safety when an update came through that Carlisle had not only equalised, but on-loan goalkeeper Jimmy Glass had scored a winner for the Cumbrians.

We were stunned. Tears were shed and the realisation that Scarborough were back where they had started hit hard.

A succession of off-field problems have left the club fighting a constant battle for their very existence.

Under new chairman Malcolm Reynolds things have started to look more promising and now, with a big-money pay-day to come against Chelsea, we can all start looking forward to a brighter future.

One of my childhood heroes was Jeff Barmby, father of Leeds United's Nick. Barmby senior was known as Bionic for his ability to come off the bench and turn games, despite being a veteran. He was compared with television's Six Million Dollar Man.

What would Scarborough give today for another super sub to notch a winner against Chelsea's multi-million-pound men?

A proper team? How many Premiership fans can boast the adventures I've had in my hunt for glory?

And, unlike fans of Leeds United, Aston Villa and Southampton, my team are still in the Cup.

steven.penny@ypn.co.uk

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