Football: Whitby the victims: Non-League Notebook

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The Independent Online
WHITBY TOWN should have spent the summer celebrating the Northern League title they won for the first time last season, and looking forward to a fresh challenge in the Northern Premier League. Instead, in a bizarre and apparently unprecedented wrangle, the North Yorkshire club are the victims of an acrimonious dispute between the two leagues and have had to surrender their promotion place.

Long before Whitby won the title, the Northern League (NL) was arguing with the Northern Premier League (NPL) over promotion and relegation agreements. At the centre of the dispute lies the fact that the NL does not automatically receive a relegated club (or a club moved sideways from another feeder league) to replace a promoted club leaving the NL.

'We're being dubbed the bad boys, but that's not right,' Arthur Clark, the NL chairman, said. 'We had to take a stand on principle, we can't have our league denuded. We allowed Gretna (the 1992 champions) to go up as a gesture of goodwill, but we couldn't let it happen again.'

So, despite spending a lot of money to upgrade their stadium to NPL standards, Whitby had to stay put. Appeals to the Football Association brought a sympathetic response but no decision in their favour. The club appeared in the fixture lists of both the NPL and the NL - indeed, their fate was not settled until a few days before the start of the NL programme on 14 August. 'Our players and fans are very upset,' Robert Scaife, the Whitby chairman, said. 'I just hope we're not in the NL next year.'

'The outcome was a tragedy,' Duncan Bayley, the NPL secretary, said, 'in particular for the blameless Whitby Town, whose reward for winning their league and spending thousands of pounds on ground development has been a summer of torment.'