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Home » How a crying chairman and a Champions League winner are leading Scarborough back to where they once were – The Athletic

How a crying chairman and a Champions League winner are leading Scarborough back to where they once were – The Athletic

Scarborough is the seaside resort whose football club died, only to be reformed almost 20 miles down the coast — and now dreams of a return to National League North.
“Football means so much to this town,” says Jonathan Greening, a Champions League winner with Manchester United, fresh from steering Scarborough Athletic into the Northern Premier League play-off final in his maiden season as a manager. “I think back to when I was a kid, in the ’80s, and Neil Warnock brought us into the (Football) League.
“The old ground was packed and football brought Scarborough together. We want to get back to that.”
Tuesday’s semi-final triumph over Matlock Town felt like a big step in that direction. In front of a record 2,676 crowd — smashing their previous highest gate by more than 500 — Scarborough were full value for their 2-1 victory.
Next up are Warrington Town on Bank Holiday Monday, Greening’s side again enjoying home advantage in the final due to finishing higher in the league (third) than their opponents.
Another bumper turnout seems assured as Scarborough Athletic look to return to a level where the old Scarborough FC spent the final season of their 128-year existence before folding in 2007 amid ruinous debts of £2.5 million.
As a youngster, Greening was there for many of the old club’s big moments. He was there the infamous 1987 afternoon when League football arrived with a thud, courtesy of a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan falling through the roof of a stand during a riot that led to 56 arrests and play being held up for 10 minutes.
He was also there five and a half years later when Arsenal triumphed 1-0 in the League Cup fourth round, while even after turning pro he couldn’t keep away from the McCain Stadium — being in the crowd in January 2004, when a Chelsea side featuring John Terry and Frank Lampard edged past Boro in the FA Cup.
This passion and desire to see his hometown club thrive helps explain why Greening, who passed his UEFA A licence in 2014 after starting coaching during his final year at Nottingham Forest, was so keen to take charge when previous manager Darren Kelly unexpectedly resigned last May to become Newport County’s sporting director.
“Managing your hometown club is a real honour,” adds the 43-year-old, who was on the bench as Manchester United beat Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final.
“I’d applied for the job a couple of times before — about three or four years ago. But never really got a sniff. So, when it came up again in May, I thought I’d give it one more try.”
As underlined by Scarborough’s impending appearance in not only the play-off final but also the North Riding Senior Cup final — where they will face Guisborough Town on May 4 at York’s LNER Community Stadium — the board’s faith has been fully justified.
Greening has been good for his hometown club, just as they have been good for him. “I love the job,” adds the former midfielder, who combines his Scarborough duties with his long-standing coaching role with the i-2-i International Soccer Academy in York.
“I like coaching, I like the development side. But on nights like the semi-final when the result really matters, this is what I had missed after retiring.
“I’ll admit I had a bit of a bad spell after packing up playing. Not being down, as such. But not having that spark in me. I missed the game, missed being part of a football where results are everything. Now, after getting back involved this season, it feels more like the old me.”
“It is such a proud thing to see children — and grown-ups — walking around Scarborough with our shirts on, rather than Leeds or Manchester United shirts.”
The sense of satisfaction in Trevor Bull’s voice is evident. And, The Athletic suggests, justified. It has been a long road back since the old club was wound up in the High Court.
Also lost forever on that dark day in June 2007 was the McCain Stadium. After passing into the hands of the liquidators, a ground that had seen everything from the joy of knocking top-flight Chelsea out of the League Cup to the despair of being the forgotten victim of Jimmy Glass’s goalscoring heroics for Carlisle United spent four years slowly decaying before being flattened to make way for a supermarket.
This left those supporters desperate to keep football alive in the resort with a major headache. Just where would the newly formed Athletic play as a tenth-tier club?
Bridlington Town, based 17 miles down the coast, provided the answer with an offer to use their Queensgate home. The hope was that Scarborough’s exile would be a short one.
Instead it took a decade to get back and the delays came at a price, with crowds hovering around 400 despite two promotions during those intervening years.
The return to Scarborough — the council-owned Flamingo Land Stadium sits just a hefty clearance over the railway line from the old McCain Stadium — provided a timely fillip.
Despite consecutive seasons being lost to COVID-19, Scarborough’s average attendance this campaign has been a healthy 1,145. Promotion will drive that figure up further.
“We are pleased with what we have achieved in the last five years,” says Bull, who spent 25 years working for B&Q before taking early retirement. “We won promotion in our first season back, then finished eighth before the two COVID-19 seasons came along.
“They were difficult. We had to really work hard to keep the finances in the right place.”
Fundraising is vital. A recent dinner attended by former manager Warnock raised around £6,000. This, together with their share of the gate receipts from the play-offs, will help fund what has become a wide-ranging community programme.
The club’s junior section is also thriving, with teams ranging from under-7s all the way through to the under-23s. The relaunched Junior Supporters Club — named the “Seapups” in a nod to Scarborough’s traditional Seadogs nickname — now boasts well over 100 members.
“The number of young people we get to games is great,” adds Bull. “Teenagers have latched back on to us. We had a match recently where 37 per cent of the crowd was under the age of 16.
“I do get a sense we have reconnected with the town after all those years away.”
As a club still owned 100 per cent by supporters — there are around 500 members, including the entire board, who pay either an annual or monthly fee to have a say in how things are run — Athletic follow a simple financial model.
“We work out how much money we expect to come in through gate receipts, sponsorship, fundraising etc,” explains Bull, who attended his first Scarborough game in 1967.
“Then we work out how much it will cost to run the club. Buses to away matches, renting the ground on a match day, insurance, every expense you can think of. Then we give whatever is left to Jono to give us the best possible team.”
Scarborough’s impending appearance in the play-off final underlines how well Greening has used those funds in his first management role. Not that it has all been plain sailing.
A hugely testing September brought a trio of home defeats, plus a 6-0 thumping at FC United of Manchester. A three-goal defeat to derby rivals Whitby Town the following month was another big test along with what chairman Bull regards as the season’s nadir.
“A cold Tuesday night at Buxton on December 7,” he explains. “There was myself and vice chairman, Fred Firman, there, plus seven other Scarborough supporters.
“That wasn’t good in terms of the numbers. Then, we lost 5-1. They ripped us apart. We were talking among ourselves and saying, ‘What the hell do we do now?’
“We’d made the decision very early on that we weren’t going to make any knee-jerk decisions. If you keep changing managers, it just doesn’t work. We’ve found that out the hard way. So Jono was always going to get a proper opportunity.”
Scarborough’s form since losing at South Shields on New Year’s Day has been remarkable, losing just once in 22 outings. Tuesday night’s performance oozed with belief — never more so than when left-back Ashley Jackson opened the scoring with a thunderbolt of a left-foot strike. “The lads are calling him Roberto Carlos in the dressing room after that,” quipped Greening.
⚽⚽ pic.twitter.com/jeBI6D9msA
— SAFC TV 🎥⚽️ (@SAFC_TV) April 27, 2022

Top scorer Luca Colville’s cheeky backheel for the second goal wasn’t bad, either. A repeat against Warrington would do nicely for a club run solely by volunteers, even if chairman Bull’s emotions are likely to take another battering as a result.
“I can’t stop crying when we get a big victory,” he says. “The others make fun of me all the time. We won away at Colne to clinch promotion in 2018. Everyone else with me behind the goal is celebrating, yet I was in floods of tears.
“On Tuesday night, I started getting emotional in the warm-up. Ridiculous! It means so much to the town and, as chairman, I do feel that.”
Regardless of what happens on Monday, Scarborough are determined not to rest on their laurels. Plans are afoot to further improve the Flamingo Land Stadium, boosting the capacity to beyond 4,000 over the next couple of years.
A new covered terrace at the swimming pool end is planned, potentially as early as this summer if the club wins promotion. “Even if we don’t go up,” adds Bull, “we might just put a small covered area up. We want to be able to segregate away fans a bit better — give them better facilities rather than leave them in the open air.”
Planning permission has also been granted for a 12-step uncovered terrace to the side of the main stand, which at the moment covers around half the length of the touchline.

“We are trying to future-proof ourselves,” says the chairman. “If we are fortunate enough to get promoted, the capacity will be OK for National League North. But you have to be ready if you make the next step.”
What the current board won’t do is repeat the mistakes of the past. “We only spend what we can afford,” adds Bull. “We have seen first-hand what happens when you don’t stick to that and it is not nice. I remember vividly when the old club went under. Horrible.
“We all went to Hucknall Town for the final day of the season, sort of knowing this could be it. After that, all we could do was wait. Listen to the radio, watch the TV, anything for an update.
“When the news finally came through that the club had gone, it was like the bottom of our world had been ripped out. A massive part of life — both in terms of time and emotion invested — disappeared overnight.”
All eyes are now on Monday and the final against Warrington. For Bull and his fellow volunteers, another big logistical effort awaits to get ready for the final at a stadium whose 3,200 capacity may well be tested. The potential prize on offer, though, makes all that toil worth it.
“Who would have thought 15 years ago — when we started the club with a few guys meeting in the pub saying, ‘We need a football club’ — that we could be within touching distance of York City?”

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