Bringing the Seadogs back home

Scarborough Athletic’s brand new ground is a fine example of what can be achieved when a football club and a town work together. After the sorry demise of the original Scarborough FC, the all-new, fan-owned Athletic endured a decade in exile, working up from the bottom of the Northern Counties East League while ground-sharing at Bridlington. The dream, as always, was a homecoming; this summer, the dream came true.

The Flamingo Land Stadium, centrepiece of the new Scarborough Sports Village, is just across the railway line from the old Seamer Road ground – the one-time McCain Stadium, the Empire of the Oven Chip – where Scarborough was a dominant force in non-league football before becoming the first team to win automatic promotion to the Football League in 1987. That ground was subject to a covenant that guaranteed its use as a sports facility, scuppering the old club’s plans to sell it for development and clear crippling debts in 2007. The team folded, 128 years of football came to an end, and a supporters trust stepped in to launch a rescue bid.

Action as Scarborough Athletic (red) take on Marske United in the FA Cup Preliminary Round.

Forming a new club proved to be the easy bit; bringing them home would take another decade. Scarborough Borough Council got behind the idea of transforming a car park into a sporting centre, but red tape slowed progress to a crawl. Part of the problem was that Seamer Road covenant: funding for the new site was linked to the sale of the old ground for development, a legal minefield that took time to defuse. The first houses on Stadium Road are now coming onto the market; the supermarket next door maintains the frozen food heritage of old.

scarborough ground 2
The rustic surroundings of the Flamingo Land Stadium.

But the new ground is impressive, and forms part of a larger complex of multisport facilities backed by the local authority and the university campus. One large grandstand with an impressive bar, a covered terrace behind one goal and the so-called Donkey Field rising up the hill beyond. It’s an attractive setting, and it’s attracting crowds to match. The grand opening against a Sheffield Utd XI was a 2,070 sell-out, the first league game was watched by 1,300 and this FA Cup tie with Marske brought 885 to the ground. The upcoming visit of South Shields has already been declared all-ticket. The current board, seeing its chance, is encouraging more supporters to become members of the trust and play a hands-on role in the club’s future; it’s a story, and a business model, reminiscent of Darlington’s homecoming back in December.

marske fans
The Chicken Run Collective makes itself heard.

Scarborough’s support had the numbers, but much of the noise came from Marske’s Chicken Run collective. Jibes about the quality of Flamingo Land, unfavourably compared with Yorkshire’s other theme park, riled the locals; ‘You’re just a bus stop in Redcar’ came the riposte. Scarborough took the lead with a penalty midway through the first half, but barely had the taunts of ‘You’re not singing anymore’ subsided than a spot kick at the other end saw Craig Gott fire the visitors level.

marske goal
Marske equalise from the penalty spot.

It stayed that way until the end. Gott rattled the bar with a second-half free kick, Scarborough saw a chance scrambled off the line late on. Not for the first time, a team from the Northern League looked more than capable against a club from higher up the pyramid, and a draw was a fair result. The teams go again in Marske on Tuesday, a second edition for this unfamiliar Yorkshire coast clash.

Groundhoppers Blog recently released its first E-book, ‘Ancients and Mariners’, following the stories of the teams in the 2016-17 Northern League season. Featuring all 44 clubs who started the campaign, and six interviews, it’s available from Amazon for just £2.49.

Game details

Aug. 19, 2017

Flamingo Land Stadium, Scarborough, England

FA Cup Preliminary Round

Scarborough Athletic 1 Marske United 1

Att: 885

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