AS a record crowd for the Conference – and Scarborough’s biggest for a league game in 17 years – hailed the heroes who had brought League football to the seaside town, Kevin Blackwell was able to reflect on an amazing few months.
Not only had the Boro goalkeeper battled back from a major accident that required 50 stitches in a nasty wound but he had also just been named the club’s Player of the Year after making the sort of impact a new signing dreams about.
Brought north by Neil Warnock the previous November, Blackwell had been on the losing side just once in 25 appearances and been in such fine form that he had kept 14 clean sheets.
Not only that but, as captain Ces Podd collected the Conference trophy in front of an elated 5,640 crowd, Blackwell also had the added satisfaction of knowing Boro had pipped Barnet, the club where he had started the 1986-87 season, to the title.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s 25th anniversary, the former Leeds and Sheffield United manager said: “I’d had a major accident and needed 50 stitches in the top of my thigh. So, for the first two months of the season at Barnet, I wasn’t able to play.
“I remember travelling up to Scarborough with the Barnet squad in the November in an attempt just to show people I was fit and still around. It was the first time I met Neil Warnock and we talked about a few things but I thought no more about it until I got a call from the people at Barnet saying Scarborough wanted to sign me.
“With any move there is always doubts, especially when you live and work in London. I was director of my own building firm, employing 70 people, so there was a lot to think about.
“But Scarborough had always been a big non-League team so I decided to go and I’m glad I did as things could not have worked out better.”
The rule change that meant the Conference champions would be promoted had brought an end to the re-election process, whereby the fate of the bottom four in Division Four was decided by their fellow member clubs. Invariably, this meant the cream of non-League were left frustrated in their efforts to be admitted.
Barnet were immediately installed as favourites with Boro priced at 50-1, a price that seemed generous by the end of October with Warnock’s side sitting 10th and already out of the FA Cup courtesy of a first qualifying round defeat to Goole Town.
Blackwell’s signing, however, helped turn the season round and by Spring promotion was on. The decisive week came in late April as Boro won 2-0 at Sutton United to leave Barnet needing to win both their remaining two games while hoping Warnock’s side lost at home to Weymouth on May 2.
Barry Fry’s side then fell at the first hurdle courtesy of a shock 2-1 defeat at home to Stafford Rangers on April 29.
Blackwell, who had continued to live down south and make the 500-mile round trip for home games by car, was the only Boro representative present at Underhill as Warnock listened to the game on radio at home with assistant Paul Evans, and the club’s directors followed events from the boardroom at Seamer Road.
He said: “I was summarising with Jon Champion on BBC Radio York the night we won promotion. Barnet were on top but Stafford went in front late on.
“Then, it was a case of counting down the minutes and when the final whistle blew it was a great feeling. Sadly, someone at Barnet didn’t take it too well and Radio York paid the price.
“We were talking away on the radio about what a great achievement it was for Scarborough and how the town would be celebrating such a historic achievement when, suddenly, the line went down. It had been cut deliberately.
“The feed was dead and we just looked at each other. There was nothing we could do.”
Scarborough went on to spend 12 years in the League and Blackwell insists the club adapting well helped pave the way for clubs such as York City being able to chase two promotion slots as opposed to the original one.
He said: “If we’d been mullered every week then people would have said the Conference title winners didn’t deserve a place in the Football League. That could have led to the experiment being abandoned. So, to me, non-League football owes a debt to Scarborough.”
Boro went under in 2007 amid crippling debts and a reformed club, Scarborough Athletic, currently plays in the Northern Counties East League with home games being played at Bridlington Town.
Blackwell added: “It is really sad to see what has happened since. The last time I went past the ground, it was still there but looking really run down. It was heart-breaking.
“It is a tragedy for Scarborough as a town that it no longer has a senior football club.”