Fan's Eye View: No 207 Scarborough

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The Independent Online
Is there life after Scarborough? Hardly, to judge by state of the old-timers who walk their Zimmer frames on the Esplanade every afternoon. For Scarborough, as Pete Davies pointed out in a piece in FourFourTwo a year or so ago, is a place where people come to die, but then forget why they came.

A year ago, pretty much the same could have been said of the football side - after a lifetime of non-League toil. At the end of last season, only Torquay - and the fact that Stevenage did not have a decent ground - lay between them and a return to the Conference.

It was not just the lowly position that mattered, it was the manner of it. As befits a seaside club, we were shipping goals by the crateload. The caretaker-manager, Mitch Cook, was a worthy trier, but everything he touched turned to dross. The high point of his reign came when, one Friday evening, he took his squad out for a drink in Plymouth. His stated aim of relaxing his too-tense players was achieved the following afternoon: Argyle won 5-1.

I took in the last game of last season with my son - he had a free ticket from the Football in the Community scheme. I prepared him for a certain amount of late-season carnival; but full-scale clowning I had not forecast. The Seasiders conceded four to the claret-and-blue clodhoppers of Scunthorpe, and my son (not a bad wit, for an eight-year-old) asked the gateman for his money back.

Dire straits, then - and all this just a decade since Neil Warnock brought the club into the League on a tide of euphoria. Scarborough were a potent semi-pro side, a Woking of their time, and older fans still live off the glory of the non-League days. There were three Wembley trips in the 70s for FA Trophy wins over Wigan, Stafford and Dagenham. Those old enough to remember tend to regret the transformation from big fish in a small box to tiddler in danger of being thrown off the quayside.

Of course, seaside towns in decline make good copy. The papers loved it when Bulgaria, billeted in town during Euro 96, walked out; cue for much metropolitan sniggering and a visit from Nick Hancock, who sat on the sand in a deckchair with a hanky on his head.

Despite all this, the football club seems to have acquired a bit of buoyancy under the new manager, the former Carlisle United director of coaching, Mick Wadsworth. He immediately impressed by seeming to know a fiasco when he saw one - he released half the squad and made a few wise buys, including the old Sunderland stopper, Gary Bennett.

Scarborough are now trying to play a beautiful game, and they deserve some plaudits; it takes courage to play it on the deck (no pun intended) in the teeth of a North Sea gale. Crowds are up and, with a mid-season dip apparently behind us, the possibility of a play-off place is looming large in our consciousness. Even as profound a sceptic as my son has agreed to return, and he's seen high-flying Wigan and eight-man Darlington well beaten on our home patch. And before you ask - yes, it really is called the McCain Stadium, but for once we seem to have something more solid than oven chips to build our future on.

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