York City FC celebrate an astonishing end to years of heartbreak
PUBLISHED: 18:22 25 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:33 20 February 2013
York City fan Chris Titley reports on an astonishing end to years of heartbreak
Chelsea landed a cup double. Manchester City spent their way to their first Premiership title. And David Beckhams Major League Soccer-winning LA Galaxy team met President Obama. But none of these teams, nor any other, could match the incredible achievements of York City this season.
Over the course of an intense eight days, the Minstermen went to Wembley twice, won the FA Trophy, rocketed back to the Football League after years languishing in the bargain basement of football and gained planning permission for a new stadium.
Thousands of people crowded into York city centre to hail their heroes as they trundled the streets in an open-top bus, clutching their silverware and a well-deserved beer or two.
Its a storyline that would have been dismissed as over-the-top by the people behind Roy of the Rovers. And even now York City fans have to pinch themselves to make sure theyre not dreaming.
All the more so as for many years it seemed City were in an unending nightmare, dating back a decade to when the then chairman Douglas Craig announced the board was getting rid of the football club and its Bootham Crescent ground.
It fell into the hands of John Batchelor, who turned a crisis into a near disaster, leaving the club in dire financial straits. Only a remarkable Save City campaign, orchestrated by fans shaking buckets for spare change, kept the club from folding.
The Supporters Trust took control of what remained of a proud football club. But without any money, on-field failure followed and City were relegated in 2004 from the Football League for the first time in their 75 years history.
Two years later, Malton firm JM Packaging took over as owners and injected vital funds. Lifelong fans Jason McGill and sister Sophie were at the helm, suffering alongside the rest of the supporters when City endured difficult days, such as a home defeat to Histon whose fans wore T-shirts bearing the words: Not bad for a village team.
There were high points too. City made it to Wembley twice before this season, but the raised hopes were dashed both times, with defeat by Stevenage in the 2009 FA Trophy and by Oxford in the play-off final a year later.
Then came the turning point. Gary Mills was appointed manager in October 2010. The man who had won the European Cup with Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough took City by the scruff of the neck and came close to taking the club to the play-offs in his first season.
Building a team of remarkable resilience, camaraderie and flair, Mills brought a palpable sense of belief back to Bootham Crescent.
The team never showed a sign of giving up this season. Not when they were 2-1 down to lowly Solihull Moors with seconds to go in the first round of the FA Trophy in December.
Not when Mansfield took the lead in the play-off semi-final at Bootham Crescent. Not when Luton Town scored in the second minute of the play-off final at Wembley.
For the first time in a long time, York had a team of fighters; a team of winners. Shrugging off the huge pressure of an entire citys hopes and expectations, the Minstermen overcame Newport County 2-0 in the FA Trophy, and then beat Luton 2-1 in the play-off final. Two Wembley triumphs, two cups, two scenes of ecstatic celebration.
Gary Mills, Jason and Sophie McGill, their fellow directors and the small but very special group of players were rightly greeted as heroes as they took their lap of honour round York on a sunny spring evening.
Accompanied by TV crews, as well as Match Of The Day commentator and City fan Guy Mowbray, they saw what all their hard work meant to a city deprived for so long of footballing success.
Between the two finals, a mammoth nine-hour council meeting ended with planners voting to allow City to build a new stadium in Huntington. It was a controversial decision but, the board insisted, crucial to securing the clubs future.
Whatever happens in the years to come, York City fans will always have those astonishing eight days in May. Perhaps the best comment came from a supporter who briefly let the grin fall from his face after the play-off final victory. Why arent you smiling? challenged a Luton fan on the train. Youve just won at Wembley.
Oh that, came the Yorkies reply. We do that every week.
The print version of this article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Yorkshire Life
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