Scarborough Athletic seal return to National League after long exile

National League football has returned to Scarborough after 15 years on Monday as fan-run phoenix club Scarborough Athletic won promotion to Conference North.

By Stuart Rayner
Monday, 2nd May 2022, 9:03 pm
Updated Monday, 2nd May 2022, 10:09 pm

The Seadogs won their Northern Premier League Premier Division play-off final 2-1 against Warrington Town in front of their biggest home crowd.

Managed by Scarborian Jonathan Greening, and with yesterday’s opening goal scored by captain Michael Coulson, also born in the town and a veteran of the original club, theirs is a story of resurrection built on home-grown talent.

That a crowd of 2,805 was present shows how the town has rallied around a club which for its first 10 years had to play 17 miles down the coast in Bridlington.

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GOING UP: Scarborough players celebrate their promotion to National League North after a play-off victory over Warrington Town. Picture: Richard Ponter

Boro’s goals came courtesy of Coulson and former Harrogate Town player Bailey Gooda, either side of a Josh Amis equaliser.

The game turned on a 53rd-minute red card for Warrington’s Mitch Duggan. Although Lewis Maloney hit the crossbar and Hull City loanee Will Jarvis had a 90th-minute effort cleared off the line a capacity crowd were still made to sweat, with Amis also hitting the bar, in stoppage time.

The club formed in 2007 after its 143-year-old predecessor, which played in the Football League from 1987 to 1999, was unable to sell their ground to clear debts of £2.5m.

They were in Conference North at the time, relegated there a year earlier for failing to fulfil the Conference’s financial guidelines. Liquidation completed a decline started when Carlisle United goalkeeper Jimmy Glass’s last-minute winner relegated them from the Football League 12 months after reaching the fourth-tier play-offs for only the second time.

GOING UP: Scarborough players celebrate their promotion to National League North after a play-off victory over Warrington Town. Picture: Richard Ponter

A phoenix club run by volunteers immediately replaced them, taking on Scarborough’s colours, “No battle, no victory” motto and badge and joining Northern Counties East League Division One. With no home available in the town, they groundshared with Bridlington Town for 10 years before finally moving to a council-owned stadium close to the old Athletic Stadium. The gates to the former ground now stand outside the new one, a reminder of a link to a past which featured four Wembley FA Trophy finals (three won) in the 1970s, and the first automatic promotion to the Football League under Neil Warnock in the 1980s.

The new club won North East Counties Division One in 2009, the Premier Division in 2013, and were promoted again as Northern Premier League First Division runners-up in 2018.

Last week’s semi-final win over Matlock Town drew a record 2,676 crowd for the ground, expanded in 2019. Boro’s third-place finish in the regular season earned the home advantage in the play-offs and the 2,805 attendance was the Northern Premier League’s biggest this season.

The club said they could have sold 7,000 tickets, and more than that tuned in to watch the game on You Tube.

GOING UP: Scarborough fans celebrate their side's promotion to National League North after a play-off victory over Warrington Town. Picture: Richard Ponter

Centre-forward Coulson, now 34, was the youngest goalscorer in the original club’s history when he scored against Tamworth shortly before his 17th birthday.

He left for Barnsley in 2006, but made the bulk of his professional appearances for Grimsby Town and York City before returning home in 2017.

Having rejected applications from him in the past, last May the Seadogs gambled by giving Greening his first management job.

Although Greening is from the town, the short-sighted decision of then-chairman Geoffrey Richmond to close down Scarborough’s youth system in the 1990s meant he came up through the ranks at York, from where he was sold to Manchester United. Greening was on the bench for the 1999 European Cup final.

After leaving Old Trafford he developed as a cutured midfielder with Middlesbrough, West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Nottingham Forest, Barnsley and Tadcaster Albion.

Greening had a difficult start to management, September’s 6-0 defeat at FC United of Manchester his fifth in six matches. Another at South Shields on New Year’s Day was the 10th of the league campaign but there has only been one since as they finished third in the division.

On Wednesday they play their final game of the season against Guisborough in the North Riding Senior Cup final at York.

The Minstermen were very much on the minds of Boro fans as they sang “York City, were coming for you!” at full-time. Whether they play their North Yorkshire rivals in the league next season remains to be seen, however, as John Askey’s men secured their place in the Conference North play-offs at the same time.

A second Yorkshire phoenix club, Halifax Town, are also hoping for a shot at redemption after qualifying for the Conference play-offs. The original Halifax were relegated from the Football League for the second time in 2002 and also liquidated in 2007.