Walking along the towpath of the River Ouse in York, with the green grass, the swans and the ducks, I passed the York Boat Club and under the Scarborough Bridge. It brought back old memories. Over 40 years ago I was a keen athlete at Leeds University, captain of boxing and also a field hockey and soccer player for the college, and in the summer term was persuaded to be a cox of a coxed fours for Leeds University boat club.
I remember encouraging the crew: IN-AWAY, IN-AWAY, IN-AWAY, as we had passed under that very same bridge. In fact I had been worried about winning, because traditionally the cox is thrown in the river, but we had to settle for second place!!
I eventually crossed over the River past the White House pub, the St. Peters School, founded back in 624 AD, down Bootham Crescent-actually quite straight, following the crowds to the old Bootham Crescent Stadium, now named- for a rights fee- KIT KAT CRESCENT. The street was lined with bed & breakfasts: Aaron House, The Gables (colour TV in all rooms), Grange Lodge (ensuite rooms), Ambleside, Abbingdon etc .,to the small stadium surrounded by row houses and narrow streets. The club crest features a Y and 5 lions passant, (thats on all fours and not standing up on two legs)that's 2 lions more than on the England shirt.
York City has had a checkered 85 year history, and is overshadowed by nearby Leeds United and lots of Sky TV Premiership and Euro soccer, so they usually play at home on Friday nights.
Back in 1956 they had tied Newcastle United 1-1 in an FA Cup Semi-Final at Sheffield's Hillsborough, only to lose the replay 2-0 at Sunderland's old Roker Park. They had beaten Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford in the League Cup a decade or so ago, and also Everton. More recently they had been called the 'Yo-Yo' club after 6 demotions and promotions, and finally 2 years ago, 75 years after entering the Football League, had been relegated to the Conference, the 5th tier of English League soccer.
It was a really pleasant evening, with a red sky-'Red Sky at Night, Shepherd's Delight' or so the old tale goes. 3,000 fans showed up, including about 250 from the visitors, Stafford Rangers. York City are still full time professionals, and hope to be back in the Football League in a couple of seasons, and maybe a new stadium in the future as well.
Three years ago they nearly went out of existence all together, saved by a Supporters Trust from having the stadium sold. They raised £2 million loan from a stadium trust and as well as the naming rights, a local consortium called J.M. Packaging bought 75% of the shares and the Supporters retain 25%.. KIT KAT is the name of the famous Rowntrees candy, along with Yorkie Bars, Smarties, Rowntrees fruit gums and pastels made in the local factory. Now owned by Swiss Giant Nestle, it is one of the biggest employers in the city, which of course thrives on tourism.
Other clubs, such as Chester, Wrexham, Northampton, Chesterfield, Brighton have been saved from unscrupulous chairman by supporters trusts and now are in much better shape than before..
York City was one of the first clubs to have black players on the team, and now sponsor a Kick Out Racism campaign-though Romans, Anglo Saxons, Vikings, Normans and others have raped and pillaged over the centuries before soccer came along.
The nickname is 'The Minstermen', after the nearby York Minster, but probably 'The Candymen' would be more appropriate these days, with billboards for the various treats along the inside of the ground. They have the main Nestle family Stand all seated' the Phoenix Software Stand opposite, the David Longhurst stand behind one goal- and most vocal supporters actually stand up there, and at the other end the open end, for the visiting fans, who are segregated from the rest of the crowd.
I had a seat in the tiny press box, but it was too cramped so I sat elsewhere, near the main body of fans, who were chanting, supporting the Minstermen and giving a lot of stick to the visiting players and the referee. It was a very enthusiastic match with poor finishing and was 0-0 at the end. At half time I tried to find a drink of any kind, and was eventually sent to the side of the stand, where I had to run the gauntlet of the smokers, then up a narrow flight of stairs to the tiny Smarties Family Refreshment room, decorated with giant Smarties. There was a long line and I perused the history and photos on the walls, and as the whistle for the second half had sounded, decided I wasn't really thirsty. I still hadn't found an official programme, which I later found out cost $5.00. They probably sold about 300 ,but just think what they could charge advertisers if they gave all 3,000 fans a free one and they actually read the advertisements and bought the products.
After the match the fans trooped out to the nearby pubs. What income the club could have made if there was somewhere on site-maybe a big cheery tent in the courtyard, for fans to have some decent food and drink.
I saw about 200 well groomed guests in their Sunday best in the Directors Box, and they probably did quite well. It still amuses me how outside the USA the press are not looked after so well. They might look on the clubs with a better light if they were given a comfortable press room and some nourishment.
York is the birthplace of, in my opinion, the first gentleman of the British soccer press, David Meek, who on the staff of the Manchester Evening News was given the Manchester United 'beat' straight after the Munich tragedy, and until his retirement a couple of years or so ago, only missed one Man Utd match-the day his daughter got married.
It cost over $30.00 for a seat in the main stand at Kit Kat Crescent- more than it costs to watch Bayern Munchen, Barcelona or A.C. Milan, though there were concessions for kids and families. A bit high for non-league soccer, but a pleasant experience. The rude words from the fans probably needed them to wash their mouths out with soap, and I doubt if the Archbishop of York would approve of the words, but Tetley's bitter and other beers would have been the norm in York's many delightful pubs, instead of soap afterwards.
It has always been one of my favourite grounds to visit, and as a student we used too come along on a warm autumn or spring evening, buy a drink and lean over the perimeter fence to support the Reds.
Times are a changing in British soccer, due to the tremendous interest, and unbelievable salaries of the players and incomes of the Premiership clubs.
Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, the Glazer family at Manchester United, the recent Randy Lerner of the Cleveland Browns takeover of Aston Villa have attracted foreign ownership, but the recent goings on at West Ham United has everybody with a strong opinion. Kia Joorabachian, a British born Middle Easterner brought 2 Argentinian World cup players to Upton Park last week from Corinthians, the popular Sao Paulo Brazil club that his group own, along with the players contracts. How can West Ham United a fan friendly club with not very deep pockets, afford to buy 22 year olds Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascheran, worth maybe $50 million each. It seems as if they are being ' parked' at West Ham until they are sent to a much richer European super club. The company MediaSport is also rumored to be interested in spending £70 million to buy the club, the money fronted by a mysterious Georgian Billionaire and Middle Eastern businessmen. UEFA has said this is ' A wake up Call' and has asked the Football Association and the British and European Parliaments to intervene. Richard Scudamore Chief Executive of the Premier League has pushed the TV rights up from £1.2 billion to £2.1 billion this year and the clubs, many public companies (PLC's )are divided as are the fans as to whether this foreign ownership is the right step for English soccer.
This week sees big headlines about 'bungs' to club coaches from agents, and the respected BBC TV programme, 'Panorama' is about to 'spill the beans' with at least 2 Premiership coaches 'named and shamed'.
It leads to more spectator interest and TV rights go up world wide. The little clubs are struggling to survive but its the little clubs that are vital for the survival of the game in England and the supporters must be given a say, even if there has to be more governmental intervention.