A look back at Whitby Town's memorable FA Cup clashes against Plymouth Argyle and Scarborough FC
The magic of the FA Cup, in recent years, has often eluded Whitby Town.
In terms of the 2010s, Whitby often found themselves dumped out and on the wrong end of FA Cup upsets. The likes of Penistone, Whitley Bay and Warrington Rylands are clubs that Whitby should have been beating, but found themselves succumbing to.
You have to go back to the days of Harry Dunn first time around to hear the last tales of the FA Cup proper. Before that, it was a sustained spell in the 1980s that saw the Blues reach the proper rounds regularly.
Dunn reached the first round proper on three occasions while in the Turnbull Ground dug-out in 1996, 2001 and 2003. He was the last Blues manager to do so. Only Chris Hardy has come close to repeating the feat since.
1996 came with a backdrop of success. Whitby were heading towards their greatest ever season, and an FA Cup epic with Hull City was just another great story for that squad to tell.
A 0-0 draw in monsoon-like conditions at Scarborough’s McCain Stadium led to a replay at Boothferry Park, in which Hull City ran out 8-4 victors - despite Whitby leading 4-3 up to the 90th minute.
But the next occasion came when the Seasiders had been somewhat unremarkable in the league - the 2001/02 season.
However, they were lighting up the FA Cup once again - a run that started against Ramsbottom United pitted Whitby, in the end, against their old rivals - Scarborough FC, then just a division above, pre-Conference North and South.
And that day, Whitby were confident. Just two years previously, the Seadogs were in the Football League, however Jimmy Glass’ famous goal at Carlisle saw them return to the non-league system, with financial struggles off the field beginning to take hold.
“[Scarborough] were there for the taking in some respects,” former Blues defender Kev Graham told the club’s Blucerchiati Talks podcast.
“That was at a time when Scarborough were wobbling in terms of finances and stuff like that.
For years, Scarborough had been a Football League side but it felt like we were coming up towards them and we knew we had a really good chance of beating them.
“When we looked across at the players we had, we didn’t feel that they were any better than us, so when you’re in that mentality, that game becomes almost like another league game in some respects.
“Of course it’s a massive game and a big day for the town, and the rivalry between the two towns is massive, but for us we just felt that we were on the same level as them and capable of beating them.”
That day would be one to go down in Blues’ folklore, running out 3-1 winners over their rivals down the A171 and advancing to the first round proper, repeating the scoreline and feat of 1969, when they again beat the Seadogs in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup.
In ‘69, it was York City at Bootham Crescent that awaited the Seasiders. This time it was Plymouth Argyle that came out of the hat.
The Pilgrims at the time were flying high in Division Four; they’d go on to win the title at the end of the season, but over two matches, they were given more frights than they’d have liked by Harry Dunn’s Unibond Premier Division side.
The frights in the original tie were such that Match of the Day picked the game as their opener. A sign saying “Whitby Town welcomes BBC’s Match of the Day” stood proudly above the club’s canteen, to the side of the main stand - a structure that looked a lot different in 2001 to the structure that stands proud on Upgang Lane now. That sign would remain at the ground longer than the stand itself.
That night, Gary Lineker introduced the clash with a maritime theme, referencing Captain Cook’s voyages from Whitby and Francis Drake’s from Plymouth, finishing up with “on look out duty for us this afternoon...Tony Gubba”.
And viewers weren’t to be disappointed by the fixture, much like those in attendance at the Turnbull earlier that day.
A party atmosphere on the afternoon encapsulated what the FA Cup proper rounds mean to clubs of the level. The Whitby fans taunted their rivals, who they’d dumped out in the previous round, with chants of “are you watching Scarborough?”. Tony Gubba got a bit of stick too, with chants of “there’s only one John Foster,” referencing the BBC Tees reporter of the time.
Whitby, for large spells of the game, were the better side, putting pressure on their south coast visitors, and took a deserved lead minutes before half-time, Alex Gildea meeting Jamie Burt’s pin-point cross to head past Romain Larrieu.
A heroic display from Phil Naisbett, donning a real old school goalkeeping jersey that resembled a poorly photoshopped drawing of a stained-glass window in the Whitby goal saw the Seasiders with every chance of holding on to their slim advantage.
However, the visitors’ dominance in the second period would finally break Whitby’s resolve, 18 minutes from time, as Martin Phillips converted from a Naisbett save into his path.
As is customary with the FA Cup - a draw meant one thing. Another bite at the cherry and a trip to Plymouth. However, there was a problem.
Clubs at Whitby’s level wish for an FA Cup run every season. This one had pumped £77,000 into the coffers, but with a stand borderline condemned and vital repairs needed around the ground, much of that money was tied up, begging the question of just how would Whitby get to Plymouth that night? A journey of just over 383 miles one way.
It wasn’t doable, but hope wasn’t going to be lost. Chairman Graham Manser appeared on Sky Sports with David Craig, appealing for sponsors to assist with the club’s predicament.
And then, the phone rang. Peter Ridsdale. The man living his life as the supporter done good at Elland Road.
“To be honest, I thought it was a wind-up when Peter came on the phone,” Graham Manser said.
“When I realised it was who he said it was I couldn’t thank him enough.
“When he insisted on paying for the hotel as well I was gobsmacked. It’s a wonderful gesture but all Peter said was that ‘if we can’t help our county cousins, it’s a bad show.’”
And there and then, Whitby Town’s problem was solved. They travelled to Plymouth. A game that helped to put £100,000 towards the new main stand at the ground, and without a doubt saved Whitby Town’s status in the division in which they were playing.
On the night, things didn’t start as Whitby hoped. Plymouth led on 16 minutes and doubled their lead on 40 minutes, despite Mike Evans seeing red, 37 minutes into the game.
The Pilgrims added a third, just before the break, leaving Whitby stunned after a display of real dominance from their Fourth Division hosts.
However, the second half proved to be a different story. After withstanding some early pressure, Dunn’s Blues got back in the faces of their opposition. After the hour mark, two goals in three minutes made the game a contest again.
In the 69th minute, soon-to-be Football League striker Burt volleyed home from close range, and three minutes later Graham Robinson caught the Plymouth defence napping again and smashed the ball home from close range.
While the hosts survived the scare to progress in the tie with a 3-2 win, Whitby did themselves proud on the cold Tuesday night on the South Coast.
“I didn’t hear what Harry [Dunn] said at half-time, but whatever it was worked,” Graham - a sub that night at Home Park - added.
“Jamie Burt was absolutely outstanding, he was every inch a Football League player in terms of the quality that he had; I remember Graeme Robinson running the channels and putting in a real superhuman effort in terms of his output physically and the team got round Plymouth. We caused them all sorts of problems.
“Jamie scored, Robbo scored and towards the end they went towards the corners, and it wasn’t just the last minute or two. They went in the corners early doors because they were done. Well and truly done.
“[Paul Sturrock] was very complimentary about us. Would he have been as complimentary, if we had got that equaliser? I don’t know. Sometimes gaffers say nice things after games because it’s ended up going their way, but he was an impressive guy.”