His goal knocked Kevin Keegan’s Manchester City out of the FA Cup, he scored at Celtic Park, and he even briefly tasted life (albeit erroneously) as an Argentina international – not bad for a lad who grew up in Macclesfield. Seventeen years on from marking his professional debut with a double, Scott Vernon is very much still in the old groove at Cleethorpes Town.
Far and wide in non-league, there are countless players with designs on going a step beyond turning out for their team for enjoyment, release and camaraderie alone. For plenty, an ascent up the footballing ladder is a very real ambition, and with good reason.
Scott Vernon is one of those who has already lived it, with the former Championship forward linking up with Cleethorpes Town last summer off the back of 16 years as a pro in England and Scotland. Humility has never been lost, but the one-time Oldham Athletic FA Cup hero has had the odd experience that would leave plenty with their head in the clouds – like, for example, briefly becoming an international star…of sorts.
His second season in Oldham’s first team had coincided with Chelsea’s signing of Argentina midfielder Juan Sebastián Verón from Manchester United. By way of a typo, Scott’s surname received an exotic makeover at the time, with North West highlight show Football League Extra even filming a segment on it.
Unexpectedly reminded of it, Scott recalls his alternative slice of the limelight.
“Oh God. They’d just done a misprint in the paper, I think that’s what it was, something like that.
“They obviously got hold of it and brought a little TV crew down to the training ground at Oldham, and they asked me to spell out my name and say ‘it’s Vernon, not Verón’. I mean it came across awful; it was so embarrassing at the time!
“I didn’t half get some stick for it. Silly really, but it was quite funny at the time.”
An equally memorable but much prouder recollection of his first club comes courtesy of the FA Cup. Just 21 at the time, it was Scott who had the telling touch in Oldham’s 1-0 win over top-flight Man City at a packed Boundary Park in the third round.
Aided also by a noteworthy display from Aussie keeper Les Pogliacomi, the League One Latics put out Kevin Keegan’s side on a day that rightly lives long in the memory of their homegrown goalscorer.
“It was a crazy 24/48 hours really. I was a young lad, just scored this goal, pitch invasion after the game, and it was crazy.
“With my girlfriend at the time, we’d actually had something booked to go into Manchester and stay over and have a night away. We did, but obviously it made it that little bit sweeter.
“The manager (Brian Talbot) gave us a couple of days off, but I had to come back into Oldham to do radio interviews, TV interviews and this and that. That opened my eyes to what it could be like if you were a top player, and as a young lad, it was like ‘this is crazy.’
“Obviously at the time it was sort of all over the Manchester news, so it was a big deal.”
— OAFC Memories (@oafcmemories) August 4, 2015
Another famous old club he notched the winner against during those days was Sheffield Wednesday, and it is the Owls he plays for now. Cleethorpes Town are admittedly the less-renowned holders of that nickname, but they have been flying on swiftly over recent years.
The 2017 FA Vase runners-up are riding high in the BetVictor Northern Premier South East Division so far this season, sitting 2nd after 12 games. Top scorer for Dave Smith’s side, Scott explains the circumstances that led to his arrival last July, with two-time promotion-winning boss Marcus Newell still in charge at the time.
“It was just a case of the right sort of place at the right time really. I wasn’t wanting to move after my contract expired at Grimsby, I was wanting to stay local because the kids were settled in school, and I wasn’t gonna keep traipsing the kids around on one-year deals here and there.
“So it was a case of looking at what was best sort of close-ish really, that was commutable. There were a couple of things that nearly materialised and then I spoke to Cleethorpes.
“They’ve got a clear vision of the club, they’re an ambitious club – it helps that it’s five minutes from my house, around the corner to training! It just sort of fits my life; I’m plumbing as well as a dayjob, so the less travelling time means more time I can work.”
After a goal-laden debut campaign (21 in the league), he has kept it rolling this time around. Scott’s nine league goals so far have him sitting second in the division’s scoring charts, and he is feeling in fairly fine fettle overall.
“To be fair, I still feel quite good. I’m coming up to 36 next month and I’ve been lucky enough in my career, touch wood, to have no major bad injuries that have set me back at all.
“Physically, I feel alright; obviously getting older you can’t do things you used to be able to do, but that’s part and parcel of it and you sort of adapt with that. I still feel fit, obviously I’m playing part-time now, which helps, because it’s not as demanding on your body every day.
“It’s a couple of times a week training and then the games. I’m enjoying it as well.”
One other notable former Football League name in the ranks is midfielder/full-back Ben Davies; like Scott a former Shrewsbury Town man, and a teammate not so long ago at Grimsby. Another detail Scott has in common with the ex-Derby County and Sheffield United player is having played as high as the Championship.
It was, however, Scott’s four years away from English football that most unmistakably exposed him to life at a big club. Although Aberdeen’s 1983 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup triumph against Real Madrid, the UEFA Super Cup win the same year, and the four Scottish league titles all came some time before he joined, the fervour for the club was immediately and consistently apparent throughout his time as a Dandy.
“I’m gonna be honest, when I’d agreed my contract and I was going up to sign for them, I didn’t really realise what it was gonna be like. Obviously, I wasn’t to know, I’d never been up there.
“The club’s a big club, they run it properly, they do everything right, two people for every job, and it’s a really well-run club. With the fanbase as well, there’s not many clubs within an hour radius of it.
“First home game of the season you’re getting 17,000 there, and you’re averaging 14/15,000 every home game, it’s a lot of people. Definitely the intensity of it was more than I’d experienced before; out and about in the town, you’d always get recognised.
“It was one of those clubs where if you lost on a Saturday, you just stayed in, you didn’t bother, because it wasn’t worth the grief. But then if you won, everyone would wanna buy you a drink and it was good times.
“It was an experience, and it was a good experience, to play for a club with that stature.”
— Here We Go! – The Aberdeen FC Podcast (@AFCHereWeGo) September 24, 2018
In amongst his 43 goals for the Dons were efforts against the Old Firm, including one at Celtic Park in a memorable, if ultimately gutting, 4-3 loss to title-bound Celtic in March 2013. A Northern Irishman on target twice for Aberdeen that day also steals in here to take the honour of being the standout character from Scott’s career to date.
“I’ve come across a few, as you can imagine. You normally get one nutter in every team, but the one that sticks out for me has got to be Josh Magennis, who I played with at Aberdeen and is now at Hull.
“He’s a livewire. He’s a great lad, but he’s crazy, to say the least.
“Always in your face, anything that’s happening he’s always at the centre of it, but he’s good with it.”
A little bit more jovial perhaps than what he started out around. Although humour was undoubtedly an ingredient, the environment at Oldham when Scott was making the step up certainly didn’t stray too far from the archetypal ‘tough school’ that first-team changing rooms used to be built on.
There was a well-meaning undertone, even if that didn’t always immediately seem the case.
“I’d probably say that was the harshest, because I was coming in when there were players like John Sheridan, just finishing his career, Darren Sheridan, Lee Duxbury, Shaun Garnett. All experienced pros that had played at good levels and were probably on the way down really, and they were from that era of harsh pros.
“They were all good guys, don’t get me wrong, but they were brutally honest to you, and if you’d had a stinker, they’d let you know. Every day around the dressing room, as a young lad, the banter’s flying about and it can get quite tasty at times.
“Compared to the rest of my clubs, that was the most experienced dressing room I had. That sort of stood me in good stead for the rest of my career, because I thought ‘if I can get through that I can get through anything’!
“To be fair, they were all brilliant with me, they wanted to see me do well, but like I say, there’s the little bits that go on as well that are all part and parcel of it.”
It is hard to top a player of John Sheridan’s quality, even in the very twilight of the midfield maestro’s days on the pitch. The 1991 League Cup final hero and current Chesterfield boss played in two World Cups for Republic of Ireland, so he stands alone somewhat in that regard when it comes to Scott’s former teammates.
What about, though, a player from his career who may not have necessarily scaled the heights, but possessed astounding ability all the same? A player who became most synonymous with FC United is the one who comes to mind first for Scott.
“There probably are a few actually. Going back to the Oldham days, when I was a youngster there was a lad called Carlos Roca.
“He was tiny, that probably went against him, but he was a tricky winger/forward and he could do special things. He’s one that sort of sticks out.
“There’s probably quite a few, because it happens quite a lot; the lads have been unfortunate and they’ve not been able to get that break and get a manager who takes to them, and it sort of comes crumbling down for them. I was talking about one the other day actually, Dominic Vose, who I was playing with at Grimsby.
“He was an unbelievable talent and you’d look at him in training and think ‘he can do things that nobody in our team can do.’”
Given his breakthrough by Iain Dowie, Scott struck twice on his very first Oldham appearance, as the Latics were beaten 4-3 at home to Carlisle United in the LDV Vans Trophy in October 2002. He followed it up with one on his league debut soon after, as North West neighbours Stockport County were seen off 2-0 at Boundary Park.
The 15-goal haul he later enjoyed in his first season at Aberdeen was the highest tally he racked up professionally, though as mentioned, he has far exceeded that during this Cleethorpes chapter. What the stats can never say, though, is how a player felt at this juncture or that during their voyage in the game.
From team chemistry to personal circumstances away from football, there are various factors at work from one season to the next in a player’s career. Scott takes a moment to consider where and when he has felt happiest.
“I’d probably say…that’s tough actually. When we got promoted at Blackpool, that was a really good time.
“Outside football, I’d just bought myself a nice flat in Preston on the Docklands; my wife now, I’d just got with her at the time, she’d moved in with me. On the pitch, it was great, managed to get promoted to the Championship, the squad was quite young as well, so we were all really sociable together.
“There wasn’t many with kids, it was before everyone started having kids really, so we were all doing stuff on Saturday night together, going for a big meal or whatever. There was a lot of socialising, and probably that helps on the pitch actually.
“There were players like Shaun Barker, Ian Evatt, David Fox, Ben Burgess, Marc Joseph. Andy Morrell had kids but he was always around, Claus Jørgensen, Wes Hoolahan.
“All really good lads and good company. I’ll have missed a few out there, but we had a good time.
“The other one was Aberdeen. I had four years up there (playing initially for Mark McGhee and mostly for Craig Brown thereafter).
“I picked up an early injury when I signed for them, so I missed a couple of weeks when the league started, but once I got back fit and into the team and was scoring goals, it was a great time. Both my kids were born up there, so my first one was born and that was a real sort of good time, because I was doing really well for the team, two seasons finished top goalscorer, and was in a good place really.
“I signed a new contract and eventually Derek McInnes takes over and things sort of go a little bit differently; plays a different system, one up front, signs Adam Rooney, so all of a sudden I’m not playing as much. That was when it started to change, but my first two or three years was another spell where I was most content really.”
Someone enjoyed his goal yesterday @sverno9
Been terrific so far this season 🦉🦉
— Cleethorpes Town FC (@CleeTownFC) September 29, 2019
One element that has definitely been a feature at Cleethorpes since he signed is enjoyment. The Owls’ 3-1 win over Stocksbridge Park Steels last weekend was their eighth home league success in a row, and they have a final against Boston United to look forward to as they look to retain the Lincolnshire Senior Cup.
The goals are helping to keep Scott young – more effective than any anti-ageing product – but nurturing the next generation has been at the forefront of his priorities for a while now, and that’s just at home. Asked about other interests that have captured his attention through his career, he tells how the picture has certainly changed in more recent times.
“We had a poker school at most clubs I’ve been at and I liked to play a lot of online poker. Golf in the summer, but I go in and out of that; I might play not at all for two summers, then hammer it the next.
“I try and play tennis every summer, because I used to play a lot when I was a kid. But yeah, now everything’s kids, so there’s not really time for much else – two girls, so quite a handful!”
Interview/article by @chris_brookes