York City fans return to Wembley this Sunday for their fourth visit in three years so they will be on familiar territory.
Not only will the Minstermen know where is best for a pre-match pint or bite to eat but they will also, in common with those three previous visits, be outnumbered in the stands by the opposition.
A week ago, Newport County had the lion’s share of the crowd at the FA Trophy final while the same could be said about York’s defeat to Stevenage in the 2009 showpiece cup competition for non-League football.
In the 2010 play-off final, meanwhile, the disparity was even greater with Oxford United being cheered on by 33,000 fans compared to the 7,500 that made the trip south from York.
This weekend, Luton Town are likely to enjoy a similar numerical advantage with the Hatters expecting to sell their entire allocation of 29,388 tickets, more or less five times the amount shifted at Bootham Crescent.
The worry for those who want the White Rose team to prevail and book a return to the Football League is that Luton’s huge travelling army of fans could give Paul Buckle’s side the edge.
Chris Wilder, the manager of Oxford when they beat York two years ago at the national stadium, admits York will have to be wary after he used Oxford’s superior numbers as a psychological tool.
“Having a huge percentage of the crowd really helped us,” Wilder told the Yorkshire Post about the 2010 promotion decider that ended with the U’s winning 3-1. “I also made sure we tried to use a couple of tricks to turn it to our advantage.
“First, we made sure the players went out second. We wanted them to emerge from the tunnel to a massive roar that would make the York players notice we were there.
“We did it both ahead of the warm-up and then again before kick-off in the second half. Obviously, we couldn’t before the game as the teams walked out together.
“We had so many fans at the game that we knew the noise would be deafening and that’s exactly what happened. I’m sure it made the York players think, ‘Hell, we’re really up against it here due to being so outnumbered’.
“Before the game, we’d also tried to use having so many fans to our advantage by getting the bus driver to choose a route to the ground that meant we went past all the pubs that were packed with our punters.
“We made sure we set off in plenty of time so we didn’t turn up late if the traffic was a bit heavier. It made for a great sight for all our players, who drew inspiration from seeing all those fans in our colours. They didn’t want to let the fans down.
“The other trick we did was to totally abuse a couple of the York players in the tunnel. They’d played for Oxford in the past so we gave them it full blast. Nothing nasty, honest. But let’s just say we left them in no doubt as to how we felt about them.”
In 2010, York ended the regular season in fifth place and overcame Luton over two legs to reach Wembley. Oxford, meanwhile, saw off Rushden & Diamonds to keep alive their hopes of winning a return to the League after a four-year absence.
Wilder added: “The thing that we also did different was get the lads down overnight. Oxford isn’t exactly far from Wembley and for a normal game we would have travelled on the day.
“But we decided to do something different. I also got Dave Bassett in to give the lads a pep talk. ‘Harry’ is, as anyone who has met him knows, a very funny bloke and we thought getting him in would relax the lads and take their mind off the match.
“He did just that, though not quite how I’d imagined as while he was telling his stories he let slip that he’d been to four or five finals at Wembley and never won one of them.
“I said, ‘Bloody hell, Harry, you’re supposed to be inspiring us not telling us about what it’s like to lose’. A couple of the lads then shouted ‘Taxi for Bassett’ and everyone had a great laugh.”
As for tomorrow’s final, the Oxford manager said: “Having their fans so outnumbered will be something the York City lads will be aware of but I think they can do it.
“We have quite a few connections with York as a club and our chairman was at Wembley for the FA Trophy final as he knows the McGills really well.
“This won’t make me popular in Luton but I hope York can win and get back in the Football League.”