Seamer Road was never the same again once old Scarborough FC fell off a cliff

In the last few weeks as lockdown has eased, I have had cause to drive down Scarborough’s Seamer Road a few times. Whenever I do, I cannot help but take a glance.

Scarborough's old ground on Seamer Road (Cartoon: Graeme Bandeira)

There is nothing to see but a bog-standard Lidl, but in my mind’s eye are the black gates now outside the nearby Flamingo Land Stadium.

It takes me back to where I watched my first proper 
football.

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The gates now guard phoenix club, Scarborough Athletic. Its predecessor, plain old Scarborough, ceased to be 13 years ago today, drowned by £2.5m of debt.

The McCain stadium, home ground of Scarborough FC turned into the Theatre of Chips on in January 2004 when the minnows took on the giants of the Premiership, Chelsea in the FA Cup. Reporters had to take their press box al fresco owing to over subscription. (Picture: Mike Cowling)

Despite only playing league football for a dozen seasons, it was one of England’s oldest clubs, formed in 1879. They were playing FA Cup football in 1887, the year Barnsley were formed, but before Bradford City, Huddersfield Town, Hull City, Leeds United or Sheffield United were conceived.

An offshoot of the cricket team, they moved to Seamer Road in 1898. Their inability to leave finished them off.

The Athletic Ground saw success in the inter-war years, the club turning professional in 1927 and winning the Midland League in 1930. In 1937-38, 11,162 watched an FA Cup replay Luton Town won 5-1.

The 1970s were Boro’s golden era until a middling mutton-chopped winger of the time named Neil Warnock combined chiropody with management there in the mid-1980s.

Colin Cryanof Scarborough powers in a diving header Scarborough's best chance in the game against Chelsea. (Picture: Mike Cowling)

Three 1970s cup runs ended with Colin Appleton’s team lifting the FA Trophy at Wembley. Nicky Barmby’s dad Jeff played in all three, plus the 1975 final defeat they sandwiched. The ground featured on Match of the Day in 1976, when Crystal Palace won 2-1 there in the FA Cup third round. Udinese and Carlo Ancelotti’s Parma lost in the 1976 and 1977 Anglo Italian Cups.

Not that I was aware of any of this when I started watching in 1986. I was unaware too Scarborough had kicked the season off as joint relegation favourites, or of the reputations – good and bad – Warnock was about to build. His debut season ended, 1986-87, with Boro the first team automatically promoted to the Football League.

Over the years I watched from every part of the ground.

I began in the Main Stand, then the only seated one, totally out of proportion to the rest, though that was the only similarity with modern-day Elland Road. It only took up about half the touchline between the old clubhouse we changed in as local junior teams playing on the pitch before league games, and the grass bank to the right I remember running around during what was presumably one of the less gripping matches.

Being front and centre of The Shed was no great advantage for the 1993 League Cup tie against eventual winners Arsenal when the fog was so thick you had to watch the television highlights to see what happened in either goalmouth. It says something for how far out Nigel Winterburn was that I saw the only goal.

In later years the ends acquired smart seated stands, and you could move between the Seamer Road End and The Shed opposite the Main Stand. I even saw a pre-season friendly from the away end with Bradford City-supporting mates.

I remember The Shed as where a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan fell through the tin roof as he jumped on it before the first league game. As a nine-year-old, I had not been allowed to go – the news bulletins in the build-up accurately predicted the trouble the away fans brought.

It was home to those fans only really happy when they have something to moan about, which made the outbursts of optimism all the stronger. I can still remember the tongue-in-cheek chant of “Chris Tate for England!” after a perfect hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Carlisle United over Easter, 1999. I returned to university confident relegation could be headed off but a month later, as I crossed the road with radio earphones jammed in, I was cursing Jimmy Glass. Seventy-five miles away Scarborough’s pitch was full of fans, some celebrating staying up, others more circumspect, when Carlisle’s goalkeeper delivered his improbable and extremely late killer blow. The slow death had started.

The place saw some big games, memorable cup victims, Chelsea and Coventry City among them.

Money was always an issue – covering up their shirt sponsors’ advertising boards for the Chelsea win was one of the ground’s most spectacular own goals – and attendances reflected a town whose population halves during the season, and with nothing to its east but sea.

Stunts like selling the name of the ground to McCain and the infamous Black Death vodka shirts raised some profile and cash. For a while, the kiosks stocked (Ian) Ironside-brew and (Jason) Rockett fuel. It attracted eccentrics, egotists and even criminals to the boardroom.

Whilst the odd player went onto greater things, such as Craig Short, Neil Thompson, Geoff Horsfield, Tommy Mooney and Kevin Blackwell, the big names were usually winding down – Gary Bennett, Glyn Hodges, Jamie Hoyland, Brendon Ormsby and Ian Snodin.

Ageing goalkeepers and player-managers were specialities, Gordon Banks, John Burridge, Jim McDonagh and Tony Parks all having cameos, while Colin Morris, Ray McHale, Mitch Cook, Derek Mountfield, Thompson, Andy Ritchie, Nick Henry and Neil Redfearn cut their teeth.

In the end, the ground became the problem, valuable land in a belt of DIY shops, but one the council insisted be preserved for sport unless the club built a replacement first. Unable to pay for the latter until selling the former, they were in a catch 22, and the fight against the tide was stopped on June 20, 2007.

For years the site stood as a sad monument to when Scarborough dared to dream about punching above its footballing weight whilst Athletic played in Bridlington.

Football might be back in the town, but those glory days seem very far away.

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