Scarborough Athletic's rebirth is founded on community as well as football

In their first season in Conference North, Scarborough Athletic are fighting for promotion. Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Peterborough Sports, featuring goals by Will Thornton and Ciaran McGuckin helped cement them in the play-off places.

The previous home game, a 3-1 defeat to full-time Chester City, was their first there for just over a year.

But the bigger story is how a fan-run club reconnected to its community. The 1,145 there on a cold World Cup-on-TV night is testament.

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Average gates are around 1,500 and the last two Saturday matches have neared 2,000.

"The town's been getting behind us all year," says manager Jonathan Greening. "To come out on a cold wet night is always good. They always either keep us in the game or spur us on to win. Like every football club, they're the heartbeat.

"My first game there was only 700 people here but as the club's been building on and off the pitch they're coming back in their numbers."

Athletic were born out of the 128-year-old club liquidated in 2007 but for its first 10 years this version was the town's club in name only, ground-sharing with Bridlington Town as it clambered up from the North Counties East League.

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Since returning to Scaborough, it has been a non-league success story.

BIG FOLLOWING: Scarborough Athletic have average league crowds in excess of 1,500 in this season's Conference NorthBIG FOLLOWING: Scarborough Athletic have average league crowds in excess of 1,500 in this season's Conference North
BIG FOLLOWING: Scarborough Athletic have average league crowds in excess of 1,500 in this season's Conference North

Winning May’s Northern Premier League Premier Division play-off in front of a sold-out Flamingo Land Stadium managed by Scarborough-born Greening and captained by Michael Coulson, a home-grown striker with the original club before spells with Barnsley and York City, took them to another level.

"We had something like 17,000 separate people trying to buy 1,000 tickets online," says Trevor Bull, a Boro fan since 1968 and Athletic chairman since 2007. "We live-streamed it for free all over the world. Several pubs in the town who showed it said they had the busiest day in their history.

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"That was the day the town fell back in love with the club."

Athletic feels different from its predecessor.

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"It's a family," says Paula Conner, who watched the original Seadogs at nearby Seamer Road and came from time to time to the new home.

Stuart Wilson got to know Athletic through their post-lockdown walking football, and Paula through their "Matchday buddies" scheme. They now sit together as season ticket-holders.

"People like the fact it's a bunch of volunteers trying to do their best," says Bull. "But now we have a massive proportion of people who don't understand we're fan-owned. The amount of time I get told I should put my hand in my pocket because we need a striker…

"The club's quite often me and Steve."

Steve is community director Steve Machen, who sees the pandemic – which could have been its death knell – as the making of the club.

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"We really planned what we'd do when we came out of it," he explains. "We could also plan for being back in schools again after being out of town all that time.

"We work with additional learning children at Gladstone Road School. We bring a qualified coach in and they tell us they can see the improvement in self-esteem, confidence and motor skills."

Seeing people of all backgrounds playing football through the club gives Bull a kick.

"We need more coaches because our academy is growing every year," he says. "We've now got boys team from under-7 to reserves, girls football, an elite girls pathway, walking football – which Steve initiated to get less mobile people active again after Covid – and a disabled team.

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"Originally it was called frame football and we raised money to buy frames so the kids could stand, walk and kick a ball. It's had to be renamed because the physiotherapy impact of playing football means several don't need frames any more."

On the field Bull made the inspired decision in the summer of 2021 to give Greening his first job in senior management.

"Twelve months ago it was me out, Jono out!" smirks Bull, recalling the ex-Middlesbrough and Manchester United midfielder's difficult start.

"He wanted to do it for himself to prove he could be a manager but he wanted to do it for the town as well.

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"We interviewed a lot of managers very quickly, some with Football League experience, National League experience, promotion experience but he impressed us straight way. He desperately wanted to put this club back on the map and everything he said at the interview he's done the way he said he would."

The question now is what next? The next level up is fiercely competitive and full of big clubs.

"We're at a stage now where our finances will dictate the level we play at," says Bull, working on increasing capacity from 3,250 to 4,000.

"I went to the pre-season chairmen's meeting and several said they'd had to cut back because they'd only got £1m to spend!"

Scarborough’s is another world but their strength comes from the community.