Stephanie Pride recalls the scenes of despair at Scarborough as Carlisle deliver a killer blow on the final day of the season
Sometimes the greatest crowds invite the greatest disasters. Take Scarborough’s baptism of fire in the Football League in 1987, when £25,000 worth of damage was done by rioting Wolves supporters – the attendance was 7,314, our highest in the league. So the omens were not good for what was billed as “the biggest game in the club’s history”.
Last season’s calamitous play-off semi-final against Torquay was another “biggest game in the club’s history”. A brass band entertained the 5,000-plus capacity crowd with Simply the Best as the sun blazed down on the McStand and a thousand ripped-up Index catalogues fluttered onto the pitch. Trounced 4-1, it was reason enough for the part-time supporters to stay away in their droves until the final day of this season when some regulars had to be diverted to a nearby playing field to accommodate the “glory” seekers. The theme tune on this occasion? “Boro till we die...”
Of course the manner of our downfall on that, our 536th appearance in the Football League, will remain for some time part of football folklore, as will the images of inconsolable fans – real fans – crumpled on the pitch on the very cusp of celebration. As the Peterborough supporters generously applauded our efforts for all of three minutes and the champagne bottles came off ice, it was, according to the soundtrack blasting out of every speaker, All Right Now. The timing and selection of that song, which drowned out a thousand portable radios tuned into the dying minutes of the game that would decide our fate, was crassly appropriate to the attitude of those who many now regard as having set the club on a course to sink.
Some fans may already be putting a brave face on life in the Conference (“At least we can combine Dover with a day-trip to France”). Others remain bitter – hence the club’s somewhat fatuous protest to the FA over the circumstances of Glass’s signing by Carlisle. But according to one correspondent to the local paper, which ran retrospectives all week: “As far as I can see, the general consensus among Scarborough folk is: ‘Thank goodness they’ve gone down – now we’ll all get some peace!’”
Which invites the question, addressed rhetorically all season by chairman John Russell, fractious, emotional and defiant by turns: does the level of support in this town actually deserve a club in the Football League? Many fans, myself included, feel we got considerably less than we deserved this season – and nobody deserves the sort of luck that saw us dumped from the League by an on-loan keeper signed after the transfer deadline when, at one stage in the season, we had three on the injured list and a PFA-imposed embargo (see WSC 143).
More significantly, though, we simply didn’t play enough good football. “The incidents at Carlisle left a bitter taste,” wrote journalist and commentator Ivan Ash in one of the more astute analyses of where the season went wrong, “but should not disguise the fact that Boro, over the season as a whole, were the worst team in the League.”
There were plenty of legitimate grievances going around (just ask the players who had to be physically restrained from assaulting former manager Mick Wadsworth in the dressing room). But the hard and somewhat banal fact remains that there simply weren’t enough supporters coming through the turnstiles. Despite some of the biggest away crowds I can remember, average home gates were down 11 per cent on last season while the players’ wages bill rose by around 70 per cent.
For those who did not witness returning chairman Russell’s corporate-style flip-charts and balance sheets presented to concerned fans and directors alike in a desperate attempt to drum up money and support, it was down to new manager Colin Addison to make the connection explicit. Pleading for a gate of 4,000 to purchase just one player, the town let us down again. Although it could be argued equally plausibly that it was Wadsworth’s lack of faith in one we already had that ultimately cost us our League place. (“I could drink for the Olympics,” boasted the criminally neglected striker Chris Tate at the Scarborough Christmas party, before proving himself indispensable to more than just the brewing industry in his last few months at the club.)
There are some who never wanted to see Scarborough in the Football League in the first place. Preferring to remember the real glory days of the Seventies when the club made four FA Trophy final appearances in five seasons, winning three times, these fans have never been back since Neil Warnock’s 66-1 outsiders became the first Conference side to win automatic promotion in 1987.
But as hundreds of stayaway fans fumed over David Elleray’s penalty decision in one of many local hostelries packed to the rafters with Manchester United shirts while Scarborough (and hat-trick hero Tate) played their best game of the season against Plymouth Argyle, who could blame the rest of us for feeling sick?
From WSC 149 July 1999. What was happening this month