Football / Fan's Eye View: Where fools fear to tread: No 61 - Scarborough

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WE ARE familiar with the scene from countless Crackerjack comedy sketches. The Sergeant-Major asks a line of recruits for one volunteer for a highly dangerous mission. The squaddies take a step back, leaving one slow-witted dupe isolated.

'Good man, Perkins]' beams the Sergeant. 'I knew we could depend on you.'

Paranoia may be the only reason I am reminded of this whenever I think of Scarborough's position as the first non-League club to be automatically promoted to the Football League. Previously, brash Fourth Division wannabes like Enfield and Altrincham went coy, like schoolgirls protecting their virtue. Suddenly, Scarborough and Barnet, sublime under-achievers throughout the early Eighties, were thrust into the spotlight. In retrospect, both ourselves and our north London rivals are perhaps wondering whether we were angels rushing in where the biggest of fools would have feared to tread.

With a solid defence built around a centre-back trio of Bennyworth, Kendall and Richards, the Boro side of '86-'87 bore testimony to Brian Clough's adage of building from the back. Up front, the fireman Stewart Mell was the only Boro player to register in the top 20 goalscorers of the Vauxhall Conference in our championship season. The godlike Neil Warnock frequently compared his style to the Trent Messiah, so it was little surprise to hear that Warnock absconded to Notts County to compete in the egocentric one's shadow.

In the meantime, we Seadogs fans had made up for lost time with a crash-course in Fourth Division life. Almost overnight, we had an overdraft in six figures and rising.

With Warnock gone, the veteran winger Colin Morris took over. Two goals conceded to Leyton Orient on an obscenely hot day in London proved impossible to claw back in the promotion play-offs for '88-'89. The following season Chelsea were dumped out of the Milk Cup. However, our status as just another small-town club can be traced from this point. We were no longer special.

A devastating run of defeats saw the exit of Morris. His dislike of former non-League players seemed astonishing for a team of Scarborough's pedigree. The promoted replacement Ray McHale had the unenviable task of guiding the club through the long hangover from the all-night party of gaining League status.

Soon, the crowds of 3,000-plus that was Boro's average in their first league season would seem like another planet. Several dull performances - enlivened only by the midfield skills of Martin Russell - did little to help.

Last season, it looked as if the marginal existence we Seadogs fans had endured looked to be ending. Darren Foreman scored our first ever hat-trick at home to Northampton. Even the ref didn't begrudge him running to the home fans to celebrate. He topped even this with another against York. With Chris Curran looking our best defender since Alan Kamara, we could be forgiven for eyeing the dawn of a new era.

Scant months after he headed in a late winner in the Cup against Coventry, Lee Hirst was capping an abysmal performance with a spectacular own goal at home to Darlington. Player unrest had meant the exit of the unfortunate McHale. A mass clear-out by Phil Chambers was the prelude to a series of gutless home displays at the start of this season.

Then, having ousted the remainder of the board of directors in favour of his wife - and demoting Chambers to assist the new boss Steve Wicks - the chairman Geoffrey Richmond hit upon a novel idea. Why not spend money on decent players? Until then, paying transfer fees was something other clubs did. This season may see mid-table mediocrity as the prize but many on the terraces will settle for that.

Christopher Marten, Computer analyst