Long road home finally at an end for Scarborough Athletic
Head out of the town centre on the road that runs between the train station and the Stephen Joseph Theatre before veering left eventually to join Seamer Road.
Then, as the main artery out of Scarborough starts to open up along with the pleasant vista of Oliver’s Mount, more and more familiar landmarks home into view. Until a little under six years ago, one of these was the town’s football ground, but now that site is occupied by a Lidl Supermarket.
With the demolition of what, in its latter days, was known as the McCain Stadium seemed to go any hope of the seaside town again hosting a decent level of football with Athletic, formed from the ashes of the old bankrupt club in 2007, forced to play ‘home’ games 17 miles down the coast in Bridlington.
Today, however, that exile comes to an end and, for the first time in a decade, football fans will once again be able to stroll that mile or so from the town centre to support their team as a Sheffield United XI officially help open Scarborough’s new 2,070-capacity home.
For chairman Trevor Bull, who first made that oh-so-familiar pilgrimage along Seamer Road to cheer on the Seadogs more than five decades ago, the homecoming represents an exciting new chapter for football in the town.
“It will be an emotional day on so many levels,” said Bull to The Yorkshire Post earlier this week when taking a break from preparations for the club’s big day. “We are coming home after a decade away to a wonderful stadium. So much effort has gone into this by so many people and it is all people have wanted to talk about to me when walking round the town in recent weeks.
“The emotions will also be high because not everyone was able to complete the full journey. Ten years is a long time and we have lost some wonderful people, including (former chairmen) Dave Holland and Richard Adamson.
“Brian France (the reformed club’s first manager) is also sadly no longer with us, as are a lot of supporters. We will have all of them in our thoughts on what will be a very special day for the club.”
The demise of Scarborough’s football club in 2007 was felt keenly in a town that, just three years earlier, had hosted Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea in the FA Cup. The Supporters’ Trust moved quickly to set up a new team, but, with the McCain Stadium having passed into the hands of liquidators Begbies Traynor, a temporary ‘home’ had to be found.
Bridlington Town stepped in to offer the use of Queensgate and the hope was that Athletic’s exile would be a short one, proposals for a new stadium on land next to the George Pindar Community Sports College being first mooted as early as October, 2007.
“When the club was reformed,” added Bull, “I thought we would be back in Scarborough after two or three years. But it went on and on. The club suffered as a result.
“There were plenty of doubters saying we would never come back, but, here we are, ready for our first game back in Scarborough.”
Located just a hefty clearance along Seamer Road from the old Athletic Ground, the club’s new home is an impressive affair.
A main stand seating 254 fans can be found along one side of the 3G pitch, while behind one goal is a covered terrace with a capacity of 313.
The rest of the ground, which is part of a Leisure Village development that also boasts an Olympic-sized swimming pool, will see fans watch from ground level.
Plans are already afoot for another covered terraced to be built at the ‘swimming pool end’, Flamingo Land’s recent sponsorship of the stadium bringing a welcome boost due to the money being paid into a ring-fenced account with the Council that will be used on ground improvements.
“We don’t want to get caught out like clubs such as Darlington have in recent years,” explained Bull, the reformed North East club having been denied entry into last May’s National League North play-offs due to their new ground not being up to standard.
“The stadium is a fantastic facility, but we have to ensure any progress on the field is matched off it.
“And we want to win the league this year.”
Boro play in the Northern Premier League Division One North, the eighth tier of English football. Last season brought a play-off place, but no promotion, Ossett Town claiming a semi-final triumph in what proved to be Athletic’s final game in Bridlington.
Defeat for Steve Kittrick’s men came as a big blow, but the attendance of 1,004 did offer plenty of encouragement for the future.
“To attract a crowd of that size to a home game nearly 20 miles down the coast shows the potential this club possesses,” said Bull, who was appointed chairman in March following the sudden death of Dave Holland.
“Crowds did fall off slightly over the 10 years at Bridlington, which was understandable. Our average last year was around 400.
“But I am hoping that can rise to 800-900 in the coming season. We have to make this town love its football club again. We have a generation who have never seen any live football, instead believing the game is only played on that square thing in the corner of the living room.”
As part of that drive to re-engage with the town, children under 11 will be allowed into matches for free if accompanied by an adult. The club’s junior teams – from Under-10s to Under-17s – will also train on the new stadium’s 3G surface during the week and play all home games there on a Sunday.
The signs are encouraging.
All 2,070 tickets for today’s grand opening have sold out, while more than 1,000 have been snapped up for the visit of Leeds United’s Under-23s in a fortnight. All those attending will be welcomed by a familiar sight, the old McCain Stadium gates – put into storage as the bulldozers moved in – proudly standing at the entrance to the new stadium.
“I clocked up 50 years as a supporter last January,” added Bull. “Like so many, I made that walk from town to watch the team many times over the years.
“Seeing the old ground decay and fall into such a derelict state was hard, especially as the club had no home to call its own at the time. Bridlington were brilliant with us and we owe them a lot – in fact, we are playing each other at the new stadium on Tuesday as a ‘thank you’ in what will become an annual match.
“But being back in Scarborough will make such a big difference. Obviously, we are a completely different club to the old one that went under, but, emotionally, we do see ourselves as the same club. It is why we have invited members of the 1970s FA Trophy sides to the Sheffield United game.
“Supporters make a club. Managers come and go, but supporters stick around. Our supporters certainly have stuck around over the past decade, keeping the club going with the dream of, one day, getting back to Scarborough.
“That dream is about to be realised and, for me, it will be fantastic to see legions of fans, decked in red and white, making that same walk from the town centre that so many made over the years – but this time to the new stadium.”