Honest folk amid the York “ruins”
And now for something completely different …
But, of course, it’s not. Because every game of football is essentially the same and so are the dreams and fears of every true supporter. Last week, I enjoyed the Premier League with Fulham and Swansea, although there was not a lot of passion in evidence from the home fans; this week, it’s the Football Conference – currently, for sponsorship reasons, named the Blue Square Bet Premier – at York City as they play Southport.
I am in town visiting an old mate as we try to tick off some more of the 365 York pubs on our list of “Things To Do”. Although five years have passed since we last gave ourselves a good kidney kicking, not a few of those years have been spent recovering from my last sojourn to this beautiful city.
I’ll spare you the history lesson this week because the umpteen thousand words will get in the way of the drinking. I will, however, thoroughly endorse a trip to this wonderful place and guarantee that you will not be disappointed, unless you come for the football!
Being older and somewhat wiser – and with a job to do – I suggest we find a footballing diversion rather than start our stagger too early and, as luck would have it, York are playing at home today. The friend is an aficionado of the oval ball and, therefore, none too impressed and a flurry of excuses are invented, the best of which is that York City have their own version of the “Ultras”.
Now, far be it from me to diss any group of fanatics, but I can’t help but visualise a flare-brandishing mob chanting: “Thee’re gonna get thee fooking ‘ead kicked in”. I tell him to man up and that no crowd could possibly be uglier than at the recent QPR v Chelsea game I attended. Besides, my friend is a big lad and if he can’t look after himself, he can at least provide a target while I make my getaway.
I take an executive decision that I regret as we near the ground with its lines of “Coronation” streets; this isn’t on any tourist maps! There are no flat caps but the surrounding crowd seem oddly familiar and I cast my mind back 30 years to remember a nasty run-in at Leeds as I automatically check to make sure I am not wearing any “colours”.
The club resides at Bootham Crescent, which was once renamed KitKat Crescent after the club offered Nestle naming rights to the ground, and counts such football luminaries as Peter Lorimer, Ted MacDougall and Phil Boyer among its old boys. Current players hail from Newcastle to New South Wales and Dunkirk to Doncaster; sadly, then, no local boys. Sad, in its own way, that the club has plans to move to a new stadium within the next three years, thus removing the heartbeat from this tight community.
We pay fifteen quid and join about three-and-a-half thousand fellow fans standing in the misty Spring sunshine in the down-at-heel collection of sheds. The chap in front of me spends his afternoon seemingly fascinated by his mobile phone while I am equally fascinated by his mate chain-smoking his way through a small fortune. When I first started attending football matches, the air was bluer with smoke than swear words. The opposite is now true.
The game is end to end and surprisingly skilful, the play is clean but the ref is dire. Southport fail to bury two good chances and, by half time, York have the upper hand and a goal disallowed. And no sign of any Ultras among the appreciative and long-suffering crowd. But someone has brought a large drum – and it gets banged once! In the second half, and against the run of play, Southport score to the delight of their 270 fans.
I haven’t bought a programme so fail to catch any names but I’m impressed enough to enquire after York’s No.10, Ashley Chambers – later to receive a man-of-the-match award – who is a busy little pain in the side of the opposition. Three-quarters through the match and the home side have upped the tempo but there be giants in the Southport backline who manage to repel every advance.
Finally, two York men collide – allowing Southport to break – and a well-taken effort effectively sinks the Minstermen. Cue phone man to up and leave, I’m surprised he even noticed! Ten minutes later, the game ends and the home side, despite a late consolation goal, can consider themselves well and truly robbed.
There is a tired resignation from the home supporters. I get talking to a couple of old chaps on the way back to the car and ask them if they will still be followers when the club moves to pastures new. They laugh: “We’ve been promised a new ground since we were kids but, in York, we are used to ruins”.
And I get the feeling that they are quite happy with the status quo. These are proper, old fashioned, value-for-money supporters and I have thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon among honest footballing cognoscenti. It’s apparent that York have a few headaches regarding their future; for today, however, they have been the architects of their own misery. A bit like I will feel in the morning.