Recalling Northern League title win and ensuing chaos for Whitby Town

Sixty-seven years is a long time to wait. Getting a shot at glory, you need to take it.

Friday, 26th February 2021, 7:53 am
Whitby Town show off the Northern League title silverware after a 7-0 win against South Bank at Ferryhill

Whitby had come close to Northern League success previously.

Spells as a top three side in the 70s, breaking a monopoly that included Blyth Spartans and Spennymoor United, weren’t backed up until the mid-80s, when Tony Lee took charge of the side, leading them to FA Cup success and title battles.

Invariably, they would always end up losing to Blyth Spartans.

It took until Bob Scaife Jr took charge of the club for a return to those upper echelons of the division, building a side to mount a title challenge in 1992/93.

Across the season, the Seasiders looked strong, shifting most aside with relative ease, fighting it out with Billingham Synthonia and Guisborough Town – the only team to beat them that season.

Going into that season’s run-in, it was the Priorymen who were favourites to take the title, especially having done the double over the side.

Such was the closeness of the division, it went down to the final day, with nothing but a win needed for Scaife’s side to complete a historic day.

A large following of over 300 supporters greeted the Whitby team at Ferryhill – South Bank’s home due to their own ground being gutted by an arson attack.

Any title nerves were soon calmed early in the game for Whitby.

Paul Pitman and Paul Sharkey – who replaced the injured Phil Linacre – combined for a neat one-two inside South Bank’s penalty area, leaving Pitman free to chip over Mealing, just five minutes into the game.

The Bankers retaliated, Raine going close from a free-kick, following a Steve Harland foul, with both sides struggling to get to grips with a bobbly pitch.

Whitby, in particular, threatened without looking like scoring.

In fact it was the basement side who looked more like levelling matters – Matthew Coddington tipped over the bar, before Kenny Goodrick cleared off the line from the resulting corner.

Ahead of the break, though, Whitby settled and doubled their lead.

Paul Welham’s cross found skipper Paul Burton, who met the ball and guided it into the top corner.

After the break, the Seasiders continued in the same vein.

Pitman went close two minutes after the restart, firing wide, before Dickinson fired home from the former’s cross.

A horrendous mistake from Mealing allowed Whitby to net their fourth.

A Blues corner was headed out to Goodrick, whose seemingly harmless chip was inexplicably dropped by Mealing for John Grady, who forced home the loose ball.

Paul Pitman was on hand to make it five, twenty minutes into the second half, rounding Mealing to complete a hat-trick.

Twelve minutes later the visitors were awarded a penalty for a handball, with Pitman stepping up for his fourth of the afternoon, and Whitby’s sixth.

Deputy goalkeeper Moore replaced Sharkey for the last ten minutes of the game, and while leading the attack, his diversionary run freed Pitman, who slotted home again, to complete the scoring at 7-0, meaning Whitby won their first-ever Northern League title.

But jubilation soon turned to torment and confusion across the board, ultimately leaving a sour taste in the mouth across North East football.

With taking the Northern League title, Whitby were eligible to take promotion to the Northern Premier League – and indicated their wish to take it. What followed was total chaos.

When the application was made, the NPL were more than happy to accept the Seasiders, however refused to relegate clubs to the Northern League in return due to the size of their own membership being under threat.

Naturally Northern League chairman Arthur Clarke wasn’t keen on the idea, nor was his committee, who decided to deny Whitby the chance to progress up the division, despite their Turnbull Ground being up to the required standard.

The NPL and Northern League had long been at loggerheads, and the NPL struck out at their rival division, saying the Northern League had shown that one of their leading clubs “meant nothing to them”.

“We are devastated, and when I heard of the FA’s decision, it was the saddest day in football for me since I became secretary of this league in 1979,” said NPL secretary of the time, Duncan Bayley.

“We are disappointed because of the Northern League attitude, and the lack of support shown by the FA.

“The pyramid as we know it cannot possibly continue because of the behaviour displayed by the Northern League.

“It leaves us with no other option. If their clubs wanted to move up the pyramid, then they would have to defect.

“Whitby were showered with sympathy from some officials and some member clubs from the NL and even the FA.

However, a club spokesman commented that they didn’t want sympathy, but support from both parties for our rightful place in the pyramid.

“Certainly sympathy was of no help to them for it did not bring in the extra sponsorship or increased attendances which were dependent on their membership of the NPL, the final decision leaving club officials and supporters completely shattered and totally disillusioned.”

The result? Whitby Town faced another season in the Northern League, with promotion denied, though they would go on to achieve the feat finally in 1996/97.