Heart of Football

The Demise of York City

Featured image courtesy of York Press

What ever happened to York City? From an appearance in the old second division in the mid 1970s for a period of about 20 years, York yo-yoed between the third and fourth tiers of English football. When they were relegated in the 1998/99 season down to what is now League 2, it was the beginning of a free fall down the football pyramid. Bar a few high points where revival might have seemed possible, the demise of this historic club has been dramatic to say the least.

In 2014, I was working (in my real job) alongside a fan of the “magic” York City. I could tell he was passionate about his club. At that time, York had dropped out of the football league and since returned, making the playoffs that year for promotion. They fell at the first hurdle to Fleetwood Town but to me that is still a recipe for prospective success. What followed was about as far from that as anyone could imagine.

Today, York City sit in the sixth tier of English football – the National League North – albeit two points clear at the top of the table.

I recently caught up with my former colleague, Ian Jones, to get his thoughts on what has transpired in the six years since we worked together. 

After the initial drop out of the football league into what was the Nationwide Conference, the club achieved four trips to Wembley over the period of four years, culminating in a playoff final and FA trophy double in 2012. At that point, was there a feeling among supporters of a return to better things?

Absolutely. Our first eight-year stint in non-league football was a rollercoaster, after firstly having some success and the play-off season with Billy McEwan, playing some of the best football I have witnessed at Bootham Crescent. It was a culmination of solid conference-level players with exciting yet sometimes raw younger lads, with some going on to bigger and better things – Clayton Donaldson, Neal Bishop and Martyn Woolford to name just a few who went on to have very successful football league careers.

There were a few turbulent years which followed, which eventually came to an end towards the close of the 2008/09 season under Martin Foyle. Ironically, although being woeful in the league, a very favourable run of draws in the FA Trophy saw us reach the 2009 FA Trophy final. The result may not have gone for us that day, with odds-on favourites Stevenage making easy work of an extremely poor York side, but there were seeds of recovery once more and just a little bit of hope.

Martin Foyle then continued his good work the following season, seeing us return to Wembley again, this time for the newly named Blue Square Bet Premier play-off final. The season and the team were built on doing the basics extremely well and although the squad were never scoring wondergoals or putting in highlight reel performances, it was effective and good results saw an increase in crowds and positivity around the club in general.

This season also saw the club get to the third round of the FA Cup, where we took over 5,000 away fans to Premier League newcomers Stoke City and even took the lead for just over sixty seconds! For a new generation of York fans, too young to remember the FA Cup killing of Arsenal or the 3-0 demolition of Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United at Old Trafford, these were new experiences, moments to be proud of. Although, yet again, the Wembley trip was a painful experience, this time being beaten by Chris Wilder’s Oxford United (wonder what happened to him). Generations both young and old felt the club was growing, and with a little bit more help we could get back to the promised land of the football league.

A poor start to the following season saw a change in manager; the catalyst had arrived in Gary Mills. In his transitional season, we once again made the third round of the FA Cup and on another day (and if Neil Barrett had taken his shooting boots) York would have beaten Premier League Bolton Wanderers. Once again, The Minstermen were backed by a Yorkshire army of over 5,000.

In his first full season, we achieved the goal we all craved with promotion back to the football league, adding to the FA Trophy victory; two huge victories separated by only eight days in May of 2012, the best week of my life to this day. We were playing brilliant football, scoring from anywhere at any time. Once again, exciting, young players were mixed with older, wiser heads, much like McEwan’s side many years earlier.

At this point, the affinity between players, staff, club officials, the board and most importantly the fans was at an all time high. We felt anything was possible. A week before the famous eight days, my father and I sat next to the chairman Jason McGill with many other York fans in a packed Mansion House in York as the council gave the go ahead for our new stadium.

It was a time of immense happiness and pride – one I will never forget and cherish. I remember walking by the ground in the summer after the parades and the celebrations had faded to see someone had graffitied on one of the Grosvenor Road turnstile doors saying, “CITY ARE BACK”. Damn right we were! I wish this love story continued but it unfortunately became a story of what could have been.

In the summer of 2012, York City were riding the crest of a wave. What followed next punctured the bubble of euphoria in spectacular fashion. [image: Ian Jones]

Was the drop back out of the football league in 2015-16 expected? What has been the problem? Mismanagement, lack of funds, poor business decisions and investments?

Unfortunately, for anyone without rose tinted glasses, it was quite clear to foresee, and came over two seasons of poor recruitment on the pitch and even poorer recruitment off it. The funds were there but due to chronic mismanagement from the chairman Jason McGill and the board, the lack of vision, planning and ambition filtered through all areas of the football club with the playing squad being no different.

The atmosphere has completely changed, from both a player and fan perspective. I am lucky enough to call some ex-players friends and the stories coming out of the club in 2015-16 were so disheartening that I personally felt it was time to call it a day at York City until the chairman ceased to own the club. This usually gets the response ‘you should never turn your back on the club’; however, there has to be a point where you make a stand and I am not alone. Many others who feel the way I do are staying away from the club.

A toxic atmosphere took hold of the club inside and out, and the drop from the league wasn’t only expected but completely inevitable. People close to the changing room before a ball was kicked the following season feared the worst – a double relegation could not be ruled out. I wish they had been wrong but they were bang on. The circus continued and York City were relegated into the National League North.

There are so many stories and examples from 2015 through to 2017, it really is difficult to begin to go into detail. Some are that far fetched or purely ridiculous you would honestly believe I was making them up, so I will try and keep the following short and sweet;

The hiring of Jackie McNamara, who as a manager was completely abysmal. After being relieved of his duties coaching the first team he was made caretaker of the position he’d just left, then allowed to pick his own successor, before being made CEO of the club, despite being a man with no business background, and it showed.

Players were offered contracts only for the club to renege and offer poor terms which the players could not accept as they were so low. The actual offers wouldn’t have allowed them to pay their own bills and mortgages. The club then hung these players out to dry to try and turn the hatred on players loyal to the club for many years.

The refusal to give a player who had served the club for over 10 years a testimonial, only to change their minds after the Supporters’ Trust set up a game for him.

After being relegated from League 2, the Chairman Jason McGill demanded the fans stump up a million pounds to help fund the team. It is worth keeping in mind, York were relegated with one of the higher wage budgets in League 2 and then relegated from the National League with the highest wage budget.

New season ticket prices came out for our first year at our new stadium (keeping in mind it is still not finished) with the club trying to charge children as young as five. After a huge backlash, the club came out and claimed this was a typo. They would have gained a lot more respect if they had simply admitted they were in the wrong.

Volunteers who had worked at the club were fired by people who did not have the authority to do so, for speaking ill of how the club was being ran.

Players were regularly drinking before games. One of the best/worst examples was against Dover away, where a player had to be substituted at half time as he was that hungover.

The supporters group ‘We Are York’ who were behind pre match displays, taking banners and flags all over the country all at their own expense, were made to jump through more and more hoops and regularly threatened by the heavy handed stewarding at home games.

A lack of communication or in some cases no communication at all from the club to the fans over a wide range of issues, with the chairman and board unwilling to answer even the most mundane requests.

The signing of Derwin Martina, who the club believed to be a relative of Southampton footballer Cuco Martina. After one reserve game, he was quickly released as it became apparent he was not related to Cuco and could barely be classed as a footballer.

Rumours of the washing machines breaking, with players having to wash their own kits on a regular basis.

One player offered out a fan on social media to a fight, telling him to meet him in a local park, bringing tools and his mates.

A high-ranking club official went on a drunken, foul-mouthed assault of York fans on a train back after another embarrassing defeat – the same official who sacked volunteers without authority, I might add.

The list goes on…

Does the buck stop with the owner, or do the FA have to take some responsibility?

An easier question to answer. This mess lies completely at Jason McGill’s door as although there had been chronic mismanagement for years, no rules (as far as I am aware) have been broken. There is nothing for the FA to look at.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Is there a planned projection for achievement or promotion over the next few years?

If you have a crystal ball, I am sure York fans would be happy to hear what you have to say as the club certainly haven’t. Obviously, for a club of York’s size, players and wage budget, they should be looking to win the league or promotion through the new crackpot play-off system, but that’s a completely different topic.

At the time of writing, York do sit top of the National League North and depending on the outcome due to COVID-19 could see a return to the National League, which is the least the fans can expect and the club should be aiming for.

As well as this, as I have already alluded to, the club is getting a new ground which after countless delays should be ready for whenever the new season starts. This will help with finances initially as Bootham Crescent is costing a fortune to keep standing up.

However, once the novelty has worn off, it won’t be as attractive to away supporters once ticked off the list of new grounds and I fear the attendances won’t have a sharp increase as Mr. McGill expects and hopes. He was at one point expecting 6,000-7,000 at home games which is astonishing really when we barely get 3,000 currently. But yes, if we do get promoted and the new ground comes along, my feeling is the chairman will sell up and leave and depending on the next lunatic who buys it, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Supporters own 25% of the club. What is their role in the future of the club?

The Supporters Trust play a huge role in the future of the club in terms of safeguarding the club and maintaining its longevity and do have some powers in blocking certain motions or decisions.

Currently, due to the club’s unwillingness to host events and communicate with the supporters, the Supporters Trust have recently arranged a Legends game which had to take place at Tadcaster Albion’s ground due to not being allowed to use their own club’s facilities. They have also put on an evening dinner with speakers to celebrate leaving Bootham Crescent which was well attended by many legends of the club but neither the chairman nor any of the current board members attended. By all accounts, both these events were a great success and it is these sorts of events which bring the fans and the club closer together.

It is also worth pointing out there should be two members of the Supporters Trust on the club board, but all nominations put forward by the trust are discredited by the chairman and the board. The Supporters Trust currently cannot carry out any trust business at Bootham Crescent as they have been frozen out by the regime. Ironically, Jason McGill actually came to the Supporters Trust in 2018 to acquire the shares, yet put no reasoning forward as to why he wanted the shares. This was put to a vote and the Supporters Trust members voted in keeping the shares by a landslide majority, unsurprisingly.

As you can see, I feel it is paramount the Supporters Trust hold on to their shares, and would plead for any club at any level to do the same.

What is the consensus from supporters as to where the club is heading now? Is the worst over?

It really is hard to tell and whilst the current chairman is there; I honestly don’t know. Obviously, on the pitch there has been an improvement as mentioned earlier – the club are top of the league – but for a club of York’s size in this league, that isn’t much to shout about!

However, three points are earned not given, and the players and coaching staff do deserve credit for turning around the on-field fortunes in not the easiest of conditions. Fans have become very apathetic of the whole circus and events but the fair-weather supporters always forget the other issues as long as the team are winning.

Once the club moves to the new ground, there is hope it will breathe new life into the club, but only time will tell. I’m not holding my breath.

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