A season ruined by a controversial points deduction. David Wangerin writes
A club unable to balance their books is nothing new to football; start with Chelsea and work your way down. In the case of Scarborough, though, there has been no Russian tycoon to underwrite their bid for glory and overspending problems have left the club languishing in administration for the past several years. This was converted into a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) last May, just before the Conference’s AGM.
At that meeting, the Conference revealed that their patience had been exhausted. Not content with demoting Boro to Conference North, they also made them begin their first-ever season there ten points in the hole. Most cripplingly of all, they decided not to hand over the £14,500 in sponsorship money that should go to each Conference team.
The absence of this payout pushed the club hard against the wall. They had earmarked the funds to settle the balance due on several players’ contracts that ran to the end of June. Unable to do so, and with the Professional Footballers’ Association stamping their feet (though none of the players concerned was a member), Boro then were socked with an FA‑imposed embargo on the registration of any new players. This didn’t come into effect until a few days after the new season had kicked off, which at least enabled the club to cobble together a team. The PFA’s displeasure lingered, though, and when Boro’s regular goalkeeper reached the end of his loan period and the club received special dispensation to sign a greenhorn replacement, the union once again protested fiercely to the FA.
The story on the pitch is of a hastily assembled unit somehow avoiding defeat frequently enough to stand a reasonable chance of escaping relegation. Away to Workington, Boro’s substitutes consisted of two 16-year‑olds and 39-year-old manager Mark Patterson, whose last competitive match had been nearly three years ago and who hadn’t brought any boots with him. His team nevertheless claimed all three points. Away to Hinckley a month later, Patterson, brand-new footwear in tow, took to the field in a 1-1 draw.
Behind the scenes, the club have relied on an unpaid secretary, ground staff and a host of other volunteers.With no sign of the £14,500 – or even the £1,000 due at the start of the current season to Conference North clubs – fund-raising has been a necessary preoccupation. Here, too, the results have been creditable. Not only are the current playing staff getting paid, but the claims of the ex-players who were the subject of the FA embargo have, over time, been satisfied.
On February 9, Scarborough received notification from the FA that the embargo was lifted. With a wipe of the brow, they immediately sent to the Conference registration forms for two new teenage players and their 39‑year‑old physio. The Conference’s response was to announce that their own “mirror” embargo was in place and that new registrations were still forbidden. This, apparently, was because Boro had provided an insufficient level of communication on the affair and three former members of staff still had salary claims outstanding. The club insist that the unpaid employees are named in their CVA and will be reimbursed at its conclusion, scheduled for April 2007. The Conference have warned that if Boro do not successfully exit the CVA at that time, they will be expelled altogether. Some suspect this has been the Conference’s agenda all along.
One can’t imagine the Premiership being quite so heavy-handed with, say, Liverpool; and many Boro fans point to strained relations with John Moules, Conference chief operations officer. These, they believe, stem from 2001‑02, when the Conference docked Boro three points for fielding an ineligible player and, after the club appealed directly to the FA, the punishment was reduced to one point. Moules is said not to have been pleased with his authority being undermined in this way.
Boro are close to finalising a move to a new stadium, in a deal that should clear up their remaining debts. The Conference wounds, though, may take some time to heal – and the path back to the Football League remains awfully long.
From WSC 242 April 2007. What was happening this month