Football’s unlikeliest fixture began as many of the very best ideas do, as a drunken bet. Yet the magnificently monikered clash known as El Gothico has lasted long after the hangover. This biannual meeting of goths and Whitby locals has fostered emotional ties that span beyond football, beyond music. As the game feels the financial pinch of lockdown, the friendships formed since Real Gothic began playing Athletico Gazette resonate with a feelgood factor that is making a real difference at Whitby Town FC and banishing the gloomy goth stereotypes.
First and last and always in the tale of El Gothico is Jon Stokoe, a cheery, far from eldritch character who became a junior reporter at the Whitby Gazette in 1995. He arrived at the paper one year after the first Whitby Goth Weekend, which has become a twice-yearly celebration of the music scene that has, appropriately, refused to die.
Stokoe, a Sunderland fan, became friends with many visiting goths and in 2004 over a drink (history does not record whether it was snakebite and black) with Mike Uwins, an Arsenal fan and lead singer of the band Manuskript, they considered who might win if the goths took on the locals. El Gothico was born. “It was a couple of lads who liked their ale and liked their football, that’s where it all started,” explains Stokoe.
Uwins put together Real Gothic while Stokoe formed Athletico Gazette, named because of his role at the paper. It was to be a bit of fun and raise money for charity, and they would play at Whitby Town. Now a regular event, it has raised more than £10,000 for the three charities it represents – the Willow Foundation, SOS Children’s Villages and a different local cause at each game – and also put approximately £5,000 back into the club (a total considerably higher when bar takings from thirsty goths at the match are calculated).
The match has even proved a draw for the occasional ringer. Brian Kilcline, who captained Coventry to their 1987 FA Cup win over Spurs, once turned out for the visitors.
“He played for the goths because his partner had a stall at one of the goth bazaars,” says Stokoe. “He was massive, far better than anybody else and nearly broke me in half but was a top bloke. The former Whitby Town manager and Sunderland star Darren Williams played one year too – a half for both sides.”
Now a feature of Whitby Goth Weekend as much as ringing guitars and sweeping synths, El Gothico attracts around 400 fans and even Hole’s Courtney Love has been photographed wearing a Real Gothic scarf. It is fully ratified by the FA, with a referee and a far from a doom-laden affair. “We have a couple of the goths doing a commentary as we are playing,” says Stokoe. “We have goth dancers and goths on kazoos. There is a stereotype of goths but over the years we have had great fun. We meet people we haven’t seen for six months, we have beers and cocktails, we chat about work, our families.”
The game has helped forged strong relations between the goths, Whitby and the club. With their finances hit by the lack of games, the chairman, Eddie McNamee, has set up a JustGiving page to keep the club going and the goths have stepped up.
“A lot of them are friends now,” says McNamee. “With football not happening with the virus a lot of the goths have donated into our appeal. We were asking for help to keep the club afloat and they have donated and wished us all the best.”
Over the years a schism (not, it must be observed, unusual in a music scene riven by internecine strife) in how the weekend was run led to El Gothico’s protagonists taking on new names with Stokoemotiv Whitby now playing FC Gothenheim. Adam Williams is the latter’s captain and has been playing for the goths since 2005. He shares McNamee’s positive appreciation.
“It has changed the way some people view our scene from the outside,” he says. “We are not just deadly serious people who mope in the corners listening to grimey music. It’s about people who are having fun – we take it seriously but we are clever enough to realise it is a game for charity. It’s about giving something back to the town we are invading every six months and helping a little bit.”
Stokoe also emphasises that while El Gothico is fun, when the whistle blows no one playing is there for a jolly. “When we get on that pitch it is serious stuff. Proper no holds barred. I don’t like losing and nobody else does; we go at it hammer and tongs and the standard of football is not too bad at all.”
Williams concurs, insisting his goths must be at the top of their game. “We had the Culture Show from the BBC filming us,” he says. “Their guy joined us and was puking at the side of the pitch after five minutes. He didn’t realise how intense it would be.”
The coronavirus put paid to sport for months and the first Whitby Goth Weekend of the year but El Gothico remains scheduled for the next festival in October. A chance for friendships to be renewed and the great rivalry to be played out again, driven by the very real sense of community engendered by Whitby Town and the goths. An unlikely pairing indeed then but one where football hits just the right note.
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