The summer wouldn’t be the summer without a flurry of crises in non-league football, and this year trouble is brewing in Scarborough, a town with more than its fair share of history when it comes to clubs falling into difficulties. Scarborough FC, a Football League club as recently as 1999, were wound up during the summer of 2007 after having been relegated into the Conference North with debts in the region of £2m. From this mess emerged two clubs – Scarborough Athletic, who took a place in the Northern Counties East League, were formed by the club’s supporters trust that summer and play their home matches at nearby Bridlington Town FC, while Scarborough Town, formed by former members of the Scarborough FC Supporters Club, followed them a year later, playing their home matches at the Pindar Leisure Centre in Scarborough.
Athletic have been promoted into the Premier Division of the NCEL, whilst Town, who started out as a youth team playing the George Pindar Community Sports College, started a mens team at the start of the 2008/09 season in the Teesside League, swiftly gaining promotion to the Wearside League. Having won back to back promotions, Town sought further promotion and wished to enter the Northern League at Step 6 of the non-league pyramid, but the FA Leagues Committee placed them into Division One of the NCEL instead. One of the conditions of entry were that some basic improvements had to be made to the Pindar Leisure Centre, but from here things got rather sticky for Town.
Having resigned their place in the Wearside League, they had to pass the grounds inspection, but Scarborough Borough Council were, because the Pindar Leisure Centre is part of a school, dependant upon the viewpoint of Sport England over whether they could grant planning permission for floodlights to be installed there. Sport England took a dim view of this (the Pindar Leisure Centre is, effectively, a school sports field, and the protection of sports fields is at the top of their agenda), and Scarborough Borough Council have rejected the planning application to upgrade the ground. The NCEL’s offer of a place to Scarborough Town was provisional, “subject to the club receiving planning permission from Scarborough Town Council for floodlights, hard-standing and covered accommodation at its current ground”, and is set to be revoked on the 21st of July. With no permission obtained, it seems impossible that Town will be able to continue to play at the Pindar Leisure Centre, and with the leagues placings settled across the board, there is no place for them back in the Wearside League. The possibility of a last-minute groundshare remains on the horizon, but unless something can be tied up by later today, they will be without a league to play in and will surely effectively cease to exist.
The complexities of the situation regarding the improvements required to bring the Pindar Leisure Centre are one matter, and not one that we are going to enter into a discussion over the rights and wrongs of here. Scarborough Town supporters are holding Sport England, Scarborough Borough Council and the FA responsible for their current plight, although it may be worth pointing out that the issue of them getting planning permission for ground developments is a long-standing one. Whether the decision to resign a place in the Wearside League for a place in the NCEL (with clearly defined strings attached) was entirely wise is also a question for another day. This unfortunate situation does, however, raise the question of why there are two clubs in Scarborough in the first place.
Considering the situation in which Scarborough FC found itself in 2007, it seems insane that there should now be two clubs dividing the modest football support in the town. Of course, a sizeable amount of the reasoning behind the existence of two clubs comes down to personality clashes between individuals. The town of Scarborough, however, has its chances of achieving senior non-league football considerably diminished for having two clubs. After all, supporters of Town and Athletic were all supporters of the same club until just three years ago. Several voices have called pointedly for a merger between the two clubs but there still seems to be a considerable amount of resistance towards the idea, with most of it seeming to come from Scarborough Town. A check of the forums of both clubs this evening found plenty of people from the Athletic side of the divide who believe that one club is the only way forward, but very few from Town of the same conviction (Hugh Bellamy, the Scarborough Town chairman and the headmaster of the George Pindar Community Sports College, is understood to have been in favour of a merger, but he seems to have been in a minority of more or less one and is resigning his position this summer anyway). Yet this intransigence directly affects the future of football in the town.
There are a million shades of grey when it comes to the opinions of football people in the town over the extent to which the local council have the desire to build a decent football facility in the town at all. However, the division between the two clubs makes getting such a facility seem that much more remote than it could otherwise be. In addition to this, both clubs are weakened by the fact that they lose to supporters to the other, and it’s not difficult to reach the conclusion that less committed football watchers in the town could well look at the failure of these two clubs to come together and form the opinion that it’s simply not worth the bother of getting involved in the first place. It’s not a matter of fault, gaining the upper hand or power struggles, and even what happens over the future of Scarborough Town over the next twenty-four hours or so seems beside the point. What really matters is what is for the good of the wider community of Scarborough and, if we presume that most people want a club for Scarborough that plays at the highest level possible, now is surely the time for hatchets to be buried and for these two clubs to come together.
Scarborough Athletic play Merthyr Town in the Supporters Direct Shield at New Bucks Head, Telford on Saturday. Scarborough Town are currently scheduled to play a friendly match at Marske United at the same time.