THE date of April 24, 2004 will forever be a dark one for York City supporters.
On that balmy Spring afternoon, the last rites were administered to the Minstermen’s 75-year tenure in the Football League at Doncaster Rovers’ ramshackle Belle Vue ground by way of a desolate 3-1 defeat – as current captain Chris Smith remembers all too well.
However, Smith would prefer not to be reminded of it and would much rather focus on City’s date with destiny back in the ‘big time’ today as the Minstermen make a return trip to ‘Donny’ in the Capital One Cup.
Smith, 31, is the last playing link from the side that lost to Dave Penney’s Rovers, who, fresh from clinching back-to-back promotions earlier that month, went on to secure the old Division Three title exactly a week after beating York with a 0-0 draw at Boston United, in front of 2,000 ecstatic visiting fans.
In contrast, there were only tears for everyone associated with York, with the fall-out of dropping out of the league arriving in the immediate aftermath of the defeat to Rovers.
Despite City still having two league games to play, the club wasted no time in showing a host of players the door, including Smith.
The late Mark Ovendale, Darren Edmondson, Mitch Ward, Christian Fox, Stephen Brackstone and Stephen Downes were also released – never to play in the Football League again – and of that line-up who played against Rovers, only player-manager Chris Brass and loanee Jon Newby represented a club in a Football League game in the future.
It is something that defender Smith, in his second spell at Bootham Crescent, should finally achieve again a week today when Gary Mills’s troops entertain Wycombe Wanderers in their League Two curtain-raiser as they mark a new page in their history after eight seasons playing in the Conference.
But first things first, a cup-tie at Doncaster, albeit in the considerably more salubrious settings of the Keepmoat Stadium – just across the way from the old Belle Vue – and the chance to potentially exorcise a few demons for players and supporters.
Recalling his footballing excursion to the South Yorkshire town, Smith recalled: “You try and forget the bad memories in football, but some just stick with you.
“It wasn’t a pleasant day... I just remember there being such a big crowd and it was a red-hot day and both sides desperately needed to win for different reasons.
“We had actually beaten them earlier in the season after having a great start that campaign when things were looking good. Then, financially, things started to go a bit wrong and on the field, it really affected us, unfortunately.
“We just got in a rut and from what I remember from that Doncaster game, I think we were 2-0 down after about 20 minutes.
“Doncaster were such a good side, while we had such a young team, it was unbelievable what happened that season.
“I remember that in our back three that year I was the oldest at 21! We had a couple of older lads in the side and the manager Chris Brass played, but that season we had such a number of injuries and suspensions and it was tough with such a young side.
“From Christmas onwards, it was just horrendous in terms of the points and it just kept getting worse and worse. The only good thing that came out of that season was that we didn’t go into liquidation.
“Thankfully, the club now are in such a stronger financial position thanks to the (York Supporters) Trust and the chairman, Jason McGill.”
For the record, the Minstermen side that took the field that day at Belle Vue over eight years ago was as follows: Ovendale, Smith, Brass, Wise, Edmondson (Law), Cooper, Wood, Dunning, Merris (Arthur), Newby, George (Bell).
No doubt that those supporters with a liking for statistics will be jotting down the City XI today for posterity and whatever line-up Mills decides to start against their League One counterparts, Smith insists it will be a far more competitive assortment than the one which featured on the club’s short hop down the A19.
Looking ahead to the all-Yorkshire affair against old rivals, York have traditionally done well against over the years – incredibly, they have been beaten just once by Rovers in their 14 last outings – Smith said: “I believe the side we have now has a lot better quality than the 2003-04 one and, hopefully, we can have a lot better season.
“They will be favourites, but we’ll go there and enjoy it and, hopefully, give a good account of ourselves.
“We’re under no illusions about the extent of our task, but we’re not going there just to make the numbers up as we want to get into the next round of the Cup.
“We want to get a positive result to get our season underway and if we get that result, it will give us a lot of confidence for the Wycombe game.
“It’s a massive game for the city and the football club and everyone is really looking forward to it and we can’t wait to get going. It’s what we’ve been waiting so long for.”
Central defender Rob Jones is set to feature for Rovers, while Paul Quinn could also make his competitive debut along with Dave Cotterill, Dave Syers and Robbie Blake. City are without Lanre Oyebanjo, Jamie Reed, Matty Blair, David McGurk and Scott Kerr.
Last six games: Doncaster Rovers LWDLLL, York City WWWDWW.
Last time: Doncaster Rovers 3 York City 1; Division 3 April 24, 2004.
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).
SkyBet odds: Doncaster to win 4-5; York to win 3-1; Draw 13-5.