Town and fans battled on to keep Blues going through lockdowns

When Whitby Town beat Matlock Town at Causeway Lane last February, that was the moment those two words - “Play-Offs” - could be entered back into my day-to-day lexicon.

Friday, 14th May 2021, 9:00 am
Adam Gell scores for Whitby in the behind closed doors friendly against York City Photo by Brian Murfield

We were Chris Hardy’s Whitby Town Mk II. The Town that had learned from the last time they flirted with the play-offs. This time, they were doing the job and nothing was going to stop them.

Lancaster weren’t going to stop them. They were brushed aside. David Norris, who? He was having an early bath while Whitby were breezing past his side.

The weeks that followed saw a stutter, but even then, there were chances to come. Points to pick up. Players to come back. There was still that element of positivity there.

Whitby Town joint-managers Nathan Haslam and Lee Bullock Photo by Brian Murfield

I remember listening to the Radcliffe match, days before lockdown was imposed on the UK.

At that point, I’d just got given the work from home order by work, but with no internet in my flat, it was a trip over the border to Gibraltar and to the office.

I needed internet, both to work and listen to the next step on Whitby’s charge to a generation defining promotion. It was probably naive to think that we’d see that season out, but what can you be if not an optimist?

The world was crumbling around us, but at least we still had the football.

The signs that we wouldn’t for much longer were there. Whitby decided that a team bus would not be taken to matches from that point. Players would travel by car.

Games were falling across the leagues too.

Leagues were paused. But the NPL kept going, despite only a handful of games going ahead that weekend.

Radcliffe vs Whitby Town was one. My God did I wish it wasn’t at one point. Forty minutes in, Radcliffe 1 Whitby Town 0. Here we go again.

Forty-two minutes in, Radcliffe 2 Whitby Town 0. If I repeat what I actually said, in print, I don’t think there would be another chance to write absolutely anything in this newspaper.

Whitby were flapping. Injuries had built up, results hadn’t been great going into it. Another defeat felt like another nail in the coffin. But, here, we’ll go again next season, right? We’ll take the null and void.

But the second half brought promise, in the form of the Sweet Prince - Jassem Sukar.

He pulled one back on 48 minutes. Then up stepped Paul Blackett. 2-2. Get up, you tiny dancer. Fist pump in the air that nearly saw my cuppa surrendered. It survived, thankfully. Death by Paul Blackett for a cup of Yorkshire’s finest on The Rock would have been some way to go, mind.

Final score: Radcliffe 2 Whitby Town 2. Spoils shared. Later that night, I was heading for lockdown in Spain.

A week later, back in the UK, the same treatment was afforded. How’s your luck.

It soon came to pass that the Northern Premier League would be null and voided, three words that would plague every discussion board, social media platform and and conversation for months.

The pub was gone. Football was gone, and everyone discovered the joy of House Party, Zoom, or whatever app they used to communicate.

With a national lockdown, no income and a null and void season and bills still to be paid, every club found itself getting that little bit more worried. How would they get through? How do you survive the unknown?

But Whitby Town as a club was built to face adversity - it’s done so more times than people would care to recall in the past. We’ve been here, as a club and a town, and by God we’ve always found a way through. This was where we found ourselves again. Sleepless nights, but ready to hit the ground running to make sure we had a club to come back to, whenever that may be.

Everyone has managed to step up, with football cards, fundraising ideas have been varied - players have auctioned off match worn shirts from across their career, other supporters have auctioned off rarities such as the orange away kit that was seen in the 2000s - a Whitby Town collectors’ item if ever you’ve seen one. Myself and Daniel Kendall decided to release Blucerchiati magazine, a publication still going strong today.

I also hosted a 24-hour Codcast/Football Manager marathon. Just to clarify, I didn’t fall asleep (ED: I did - for 20 minutes... My bad!) and definitely didn’t cheat to win a promotion to the National League North before forgetting to renew the players’ contracts and having to bring in an entire new squad (We did. Because when it’s 5am, these things happen).

A JustGiving page set up shortly after the lockdown kicked in by Eddie McNamee managed to reach its target of £10,000 with a huge push from everyone.

When the latest campaign was ended prematurely, some supporters have opted to give the club their money for next season too. Outstanding, considering the times we find ourselves in, and the struggles that so many face.

Likewise, when the York City friendly was shifted to a behind closed doors fixture, numbers of both Blues and Minstermen fans allowed the club to keep the ticket money.

If Covid has taught us something outside of the fact none of us have a clue how to read a graph and that the words “next slide please” get right on our nerves, it’s that community matters.

In among the fundraising to keep Whitby Town going, the football cards done by Eddie McNamee also ensured that local charities were seen to and helped out, with a portion of the money raised going to them.

In the era of Covid-19, particularly the latest two lockdowns, the monotony of life is more than enough to grind you down - hell I know it has me plenty - but there’s been a light shining through at the end of the tunnel - Whitby Town Football Club, and what Nathan Haslam and Lee Bullock can provide come August 14.

The exciting talent of last season - if you can call it a season - mixed in with potential fresh faces gives hope. The chance to sit outside Turnbull’s Bar again for a pint gives us hope now.

While we may have been locked in an endless cycle of work, home schooling for some, television and sleep, the signs are coming that life may be coming back.

We’ll be talking about next season. We’ll be talking about the fact the players have trained again. We’ll be talking about late June being the next match. We’ll be talking about football again, and the monotony will be ground down, rather than us.

Months until we’re all in the Turnbull celebrating a Brad Fewster goal or encouraging some Jacob Hazel dark arts will soon turn to weeks. Weeks will turn to days and days to hours.

The cycle is breaking, and Whitby Town is ready to welcome everyone back.

What is important, though, that we remember this time when the brighter days are here, because there have been so many people that have contributed to help the club pull their way through it - too many to name here.

There are also those that we’ve lost along the way - legends of the club, as well as long time loyal supporters, whether it be to Covid or otherwise - they need to be honoured in some form come August 14th and the opening day of the 2021/22 season - whether it be an applause, a silence, or some other method.

It’s been a difficult year, and one that will be remembered for years to come.

Let’s do them proud by making them the first that we remember, when it’s safe to do so.