I was 9 years old when my Dad first took me to watch York City. On the 2nd October 1993 I saw my beloved Minstermen beat Cardiff City 5-0. An incredible achievement if it happened now – back then it was just a slightly better win than normal!
During the summer York had won a hard fought play-off final at Wembley to gain promotion to Division Two, seeing off Crewe Alexandra on penalties – not long after Newcastle had stormed to the Division One title under Kevin Keegan. This had not gone un-noticed in my family down here in North Yorkshire, however.
My mum’s side of the family hail from Gateshead and every summer holiday was split into three trips. A few days with the cousins, aunts & uncles in Low Fell, two weeks in Harbottle near Rothbury and then a 10 night stay across in Allendale. As I got older and began to take a bigger interest in football, I was very much drawn to the glitz & glamour of the Newcastle Utd that existed in the mid-90s.
Having adopted the Magpies as my second team I went to many games over the years with friends & family, including a couple of the derbies against Sunderland and the 3-1 win against Leverkusen in the champions league. I’m not ashamed to admit I used to stand in amazement at the noise around your stadium when the team was flying.
One of my treasured possessions is the programme and ticket-stub that my grandad left me from the 1955 cup final against Man City – a true collector’s item.
However, as you know, nothing beats the passion and intensity of watching your home-town club. My place of birth is literally a stone’s throw from Bootham Crescent – the floodlights tower above the terraced houses as you look out the back of York Hospital – magnificent.
My supporting career began with our glory days of the modern era which were the mid-90s. We gained promotion to Division Two in 1993 and almost went straight up to Division One in 1994, only to lose in the play-off semi-finals.
We became the giant-killers of the Coca-Cola Cup as we knocked out Premier League sides Everton (including the great Gary Speed) and, possibly the most famous night of all, knocking Manchester Utd out over two legs including an incredible 3-0 win at Old Trafford. ‘We beat the scum 3-0’ is used rarely but still in the repertoire! Players such as Dean Kiely, Graeme Murty, Richard Cresswell and Jonathan Greening all left the club for bigger and better things as we began to sell some of our best assets.
The end of the glory years can almost be traced back to the day we beat Manchester City during their famous drop to the third tier in 1998/99. We beat them 2-1 at Bootham Crescent in December in a game that, if you believe every story, about 30,000 Man City fans were at. The line ‘I remember losing at York City’ is almost a staple reply from Blues supporters attempting to justify the fact they appeared to only start following football in the last 10 years.
By mid-January we were comfortably sitting in the top half. Sadly a dreadful run of results ended with relegation to Division Three, ironically getting thumped 4-0 at Maine Road on the last day of the season – we were in the bottom four for just 7 minutes of the campaign.
From that day began our descent to non-league. Chairman at the time, Douglas Craig, wrote to shareholders asking them to approve a plan to transfer the ground to a separate company called Bootham Crescent Holdings. However, behind the scenes, this had scandalously already been confirmed by Craig and three other directors including ex-player Barry Swallow – the ultimate betrayal.
In 2001 Craig put the club and ground up for sale announcing that unless a new owner was found the club would fold. The ground was sold to a building company (for millions that he and the other four directors profited from massively), while the club was sold for a rumoured £50 to the odious John Batchelor who brought big promises, but delivered nothing but financial crisis and the ignominy of having our name changed to York City Soccer Club. (At least Ashley hasn’t fucked your name up……yet!)
When Batchelor left we were just days away from financial ruin until a Trust was put together and thanks to them, plus financial donations from York supporters around the world (including a couple of our celebrity fans, football commentators Jon Champion & Guy Mowbray), we stayed afloat.
Such upheaval isn’t good for any club, and we lost our league status in 2004. Eight years of non-league football followed and very good players like Martyn Woolford, Clayton Donaldson & Neal Bishop came and went. We did get quite close on a couple of occasions, to returning to League Two, reaching the play-off semi-finals in 2007 (losing to eventual winners Morecambe) and then getting beaten at Wembley in the 2010 final against Oxford Utd.
Our (very!) long-suffering finally ended in 2012 in a sensational 10 months of thrilling football, under the management of Gary Mills (who would go on to take Gateshead to the play-off final in 2014). The board, under the direction of long-time supporters the McGill family, invested heavily in the playing budget and Mills built a strong squad during the summer, including a recruit from St James’ Park. Patrick McLaughlin, former Newcastle reserve team captain moved south and slotted into the midfield, his set-pieces and cultured left-foot really caught the eye at that level.
Despite a few dodgy spells, we secured ourselves two Wembley trips, beating Newport County in the FA Trophy final, and the weekend after winning a superb play-off final against Luton Town. Still the only team to win twice at the new Wembley within a week! During that week we also received the green light to go ahead with the plans for a new stadium for both the football club and York City Knights RL, being built out at the Monks Cross shopping centre on the north-east corner of the city. (2015/16 was due to be our last season in our great old ground, but due to the clowns in charge at the council they are having to delay the opening. Our moving date is currently in limbo).
Our up and down form continued though, as we struggled to survive in our first year back. Mills was sacked and Nigel Worthington took up the manager’s job, saving the club from relegation on the last day of the season. 2013/14 was an incredible campaign as the club sat second bottom of the table prior to kick-off against Morecambe on January 1st. That day we scraped a 1-0 win, but by the time the season ended in April – we were sitting in a play-off place – one of the greatest few months of form in the clubs history. We were beaten by Fleetwood, who would go on to take their place in League One.
Last season was another disappointing one, Worthington resigned in the autumn and current boss Russ Wilcox took over a squad with confidence at rock bottom. The home fans didn’t see a victory until Boxing Day, however, a strong run of form in March/April saw us retain our league status once again – helped by the return behind the scenes of ex-players Greening and Cresswell who now have permanent coaching roles – vital to the future of our youngsters.
It’s been a tough 22 years, with more lows than highs, but seeing the club return to the football league at Wembley is the greatest moment anyone could wish for. Winning promotion to the PL must be fantastic due to the money it brings, and I would happily see Newcastle win an FA Cup final as well with all your traditions in that competition – but I will challenge anyone to beat that feeling we had in May 2012. After 8 years of non-league football, after putting in our own money to keep our club afloat, spending freezing cold days standing on the terraces at Kettering, Canvey Island and Leigh RMI (no disrespect whatsoever), our spirit was close to breaking. Standing under the arch at the home of English football and watching your lads do the business……that is exactly what we do this for.
As we get closer to the clash between York and Newcastle, it’s a chance to give you the thoughts of a lower league fan looking from the outside. Sadly the views of most fans outside of the PL will be fuelled by Sky Sports. Each weekend when the Magpies are on we hear the same bullshit from the embarrassingly bad pundits such as Carragher, Redknapp, Souness and Quinn (add Collymore on Talksport to that as well). There’s so much expectation, the Newcastle fans ‘demand’ success, they are a very unforgiving crowd etc. The state of the coverage is a disgrace. If a match doesn’t involve one of the top 6 of Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool & Tottenham – they haven’t got a clue. As a football fan you want to see the team put in as much effort as you would do yourself, that is all.
Just before Newcastle saved themselves against West Ham in May, I was talking to a friend of mine who supports Oldham and we were chatting about which team would get relegated. He said that both he and his friends all wanted to see Newcastle go down because of ‘how arrogant their supporters are’ and the fact they ‘think they are a big club.’
Sadly the idiots (we all have them) among the Toon Army that appear on Sky outside SJP on transfer deadline day are the only ones the nation ever see – leading to this grossly unfair depiction that you still think that you should be challenging for the title and that Shearer and Keegan will ride in on their white chargers to revive the golden age.
Fortunately, those of us who know anything about football, manage to look at the bigger picture about the disgraceful way you are being treated by Mike Ashley. Every set of football fans gets to the summer and have aspirations ahead of a new campaign – as Nick Hornby wrote ‘the great thing is, it comes around again and again’.
For most Newcastle supporters, you can see this is not a great thing. The dispiriting, naïve and arrogant way your club has been run is a disgrace. The great man Sir Bobby would be absolutely raging. His desperation to succeed for his club compared to the apathy that now surrounds you is frightening. From what I hear and read, people are walking away from supporting the club they love. There is no excuse for that and it’s just added to the list of dreadful owners who have decimated some of the oldest clubs in this country like Leeds Utd, Portsmouth and Darlington.
Your pre-season signings have been quietly impressive, however, particularly like the look of the big Serbian lad. What I think a lot of people are missing is that you, the supporters, have forced the owners hand with this. Your boycotting of the games against Spurs etc have led to a major panic upstairs at St James’ – that much was clear with his pre-game interview against West Ham and then the fact he has suddenly gone out and started spending. This shouldn’t be under-estimated, well done for this; it shows that the supporters do still have power.
As for the match itself, this will be a terrific opportunity for our lads to show what we can do. We have had a solid pre-season, losing 1-0 to Middlesbrough but that was followed by two 1-1 draws against Leeds Utd & Sheffield Wednesday. We have a typical League Two back three, tall and strong but in particular Keith Lowe is dangerous in the air from set pieces, while our trio in midfield of skipper Russell Penn, Luke Summerfield and James Berrett will work hard and hopefully create. Upfront, if fit, Jake Hyde is a good finisher works his socks off and was our top scorer last season, while his new strike partner Vadaine Oliver who is a big athletic lad will be hoping to dominate defences at this level. If Mitrovic plays and is up against our big centre-half Dave Winfield then that will be a real battle of muscle!
We look forward to welcoming you; enjoy the only city in England that’s better looking than your own and the very best of luck for the season ahead! Having known our fair share of wanker owners, I hope yours departs sooner rather than later. Hoping to see you up at SJP in the FA Cup 3rd Round!