It started with a hearse decked out in Scarborough colours. It finished with the reborn Scarborough Athletic lifting the North Riding Senior Cup. Thursdays in Middlesbrough aren’t usually like this.
The hearse was parked up in the car park at the Riverside Stadium. Apparently a regular feature at Scarborough games, it’s keeping alive the memory of the town’s old Seamer Road stadium (better known to many as the McCain Stadium, the Empire of the Oven Chip). That ground was lost in 2007, forcing the re-formed Scarborough Athletic into a long ground share down the coast in Bridlington. Today, back home, the Seadogs are buoyant in the Evo-Stik Premier but Yorkshire folk have long memories. The hearse is unlikely to be retired any time soon.
The cup final brought about a repeat of the fixture I saw on my visit to Scarborough’s new home – genuinely home – ground. That day, Scarborough drew with Marske United in the FA Cup. The replay also went to extra time with Scarborough winning through. So it wasn’t, perhaps, a huge surprise that this game also went the distance. A 2-2 draw after 90 minutes – Marske equalizing late on through a fine goal from Craig Gott – meant penalties. Scarborough came out on top, Marske keeper Robert Dean managed one save but also took a spot kick of his own and failed; opposite number Tommy Taylor won that goalie duel. The trophy headed back to Scarborough for the first time since 2004. Depending on how you look at it, that’s 21 victories in the county cup or a new name on the trophy for the phoenix Scarborough club.
So what of the County Cup experience? A crowd of 1,500 at the Riverside suggested that this was a bigger deal for the players than the fans: rattling round in a venue that size, with all but the lower tier of one stand deserted, it felt like a glorified training session. The teams overcame the odd atmosphere to put on a good game, with both of them holding the lead along the way, but it was hard to escape the feeling that a similar crowd in a smaller venue would have made for a greater sense of occasion. But that’s a fan’s perspective. For these players, the chance of performing at a modern, professional stadium, means so much more than turning up at North Riding FA HQ in Stokesley .
However, County Cup competitions remain problematic. A day after the North Riding edition, Durham plays its final at the Stadium of Light. After years at Eppleton CW’s old ground, this should be a landmark moment, returning the competition to greater prominence. Unfortunately, it’s the day before South Shields plays its Evo-Stik play-off final against Warrington; the Mariners have little choice but to send out the kids against Shildon and the showcase risks being devalued. With many of the clubs further up the pyramid treating County Cups with the same disdain as a Premier League team confronted with a League Cup tie at lower division opposition, the long-term future looks uncertain.
In Scarborough, though, nobody is too worried about that. Silverware is silverware, holding your nerve to win a shoot-out is always something to celebrate and the Seadogs are working to extend their new home with a new stand. That’s the thing about a cup competition. No matter how minor it might seem, somebody is always thrilled to win it.
Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough, England
May 2, 2019. North Riding Senior Cup Final
Marske Utd 2 (Owens, Gott) Scarborough Athletic 2 (Walshaw, Coulson) Scarborough won 3-2 on penalties