The SIG Column - 22 June

22 Jun 2007

After 128 years of football heritage, Scarborough lost its football club this week following a High Court winding up order. This latest example of the negative impact of football's obsession with commercial gain had a particular resonance in the Sport Industry Group office as Drew Barrand, head of media, explains...

It’s like being kicked in the balls…only the pain doesn’t subside after a couple of minutes.

That sick feeling you get in your gut when taking a hit to the nether regions is probably the closest sentiment I can come up with to the way I felt upon learning that my beloved Scarborough Football Club had gone out of business this week.

In one fell swoop, two decades of dedicated, if admittedly unglamorous, support has been wiped out leaving a hole the size of a crater in my life.

No longer can I debate the relative merits of teenage striking sensation Michael ‘The Whippet’ Coulson against the claims of one W. Rooney. Nor compare the hardened defending of club stalwart Denny ‘Mad Dog’ Ingram as a latter day Terry Butcher.

While others will celebrate or commiserate around me, 4.45pm on a Saturday becomes another meaningless moment in the week.

It’s not like I can start supporting another club now, although such allegiance is unlikely to deter the rest of my family from trying to woo me to join the ranks of the Elland Road faithful.

As one of the oldest football clubs in England, 128 years of heritage is not something that should be relinquished lightly but in truth, the writing has been on the wall for the last few years.

Spiralling debts, amounting to £2.5m in the end according to the High Court in Leeds which issued the winding up order, don’t exactly smack of good financial management while an ongoing merry-go-round of appeals with the local borough council over the exact ownership of the McCain Stadium has left even the most die-hard fan confused and exasperated.

But no matter how desperate the situation got – and believe me consecutive relegations from the Football Conference and then Conference North is not exactly the stuff of terrace dreams – you always had faith that some local benefactor would ride in to save the day.

Like a fatal disease, the club going out business was something that happened to other people’s teams. Not mine. Not Scarborough.

That it all happened so quickly points to the precarious nature of football finance. Only 4 seasons ago, Scarborough were hosting the money men of Chelsea in the 4th round of the FA Cup – robbed of a draw by a blatant handball by William Gallas that the referee somehow contrived to miss.

Such a lofty moment in the club’s history even prompted an audacious bid to sign Zinedine Zidane – apparently his wife had let it be known in a glossy magazine interview that she wanted to move to the seaside.

So the gates at the ‘Theatre of Chips’ have closed for the last time, to no doubt be replaced by the luxurious flats of  ‘La Vista Splendida’ - the Scarborough equivalent of the Costa del Sol.

But there is a wider warning to British football here than the depressed rantings of a few overly sentimental Northerners.

It’s easy to see how the big money world of the FA Premier League dominates the national conscience and we’ve all heard the ongoing debate of the ever widening gap between the top teams and those plying their trade further down the ladder.

The economists tell us it’s crazy to think that a country the size of England can sustain 92 professional football clubs. And in theory they’re right.

But English football fans defy logic. The theories don’t take into account the very reason football is such a money spinner. It’s an emotional response that’s at the heart of the English community spirit. It is the reason fans are happy to travel 300 miles on a rainy winter’s night to cheer on their team against the mighty Weymouth in a battle for mid-table obscurity.

The FA Premier League is a fantastic product that is watched the land over but the passion that drives it is based in the communities upon which football is built. But these communities need their local teams and the football hierarchy needs to look after the likes of Scarborough a bit better to ensure this passion remains alive.

The FA and the various league governing bodies need to do more to teach clubs, who are often run on the good will of a businessman for whom the club is not their day job, how to manages their finances better. Scarborough's fate need not be shared by other clubs but it will unless a change in approach is implemented.

Scarborough aren’t the first team to go bust and they won’t be the last. The community will no doubt pull together, reform their team and start again at the very bottom of the football ladder. Like Aldershot before them, it won’t be a surprise if the Mighty Seadogs rise from the dead return to competitive football in ten years’ time.

For now though, nothing can take away the pain. And to think I felt bad when we were condemned to relegation from the Football League by Carlisle United goalkeeper Jimmy Glass.

Beckham's scriptwriters could have learned something from the way he rose salmon-like in a crowded penalty box to slam home a goal in the 4th minute of injury time on the last day of 1998/99 season.

Football, like life, just ain’t fair sometimes.

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