GARY MILLS did not receive so much as an acknowledgment to his application to become York City manager in 2005, so he could have been forgiven for thinking twice when the club finally came calling five years later.
Not only were the Minstermen – compared to his own Tamworth side – struggling in the Blue Square Premier as the hangover from missing out on a return to the Football League a few months earlier continued to linger over Bootham Crescent.
But Mills also had an emotional attachment to the Midlands club, courtesy of two separate spells in charge spread across a decade and the fresh incentive of having just led the Lambs back into the fifth tier of English football.
So, when Tamworth chairman Bob Andrews telephoned his manager in October 2010 to say there had been an approach from York, he did so in the hope that Mills would stay.
Thankfully for York, however, Mills immediately indicated his desire to speak to the Yorkshire club.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” Mills told the Yorkshire Post ahead of the latest bid to take the Minsterman into the Football League. “Things were going well at Tamworth at the time but York were a club that I felt could achieve things. I knew York were a fantastic club, it was why I had applied (before Billy McEwan was appointed) a few years earlier.
“At Tamworth, we were second in the table after 10 games and could have gone top if we’d won our next game. But I lost a couple of key players to injury and we didn’t win.
“The difference to a club like York was that there was simply no money to bring in replacements on loan and that was always going to be the case at Tamworth.
“So, for myself as a manager, coming to a club like this was always going to be a big thing. And credit to the chairman, he has done all he can every time I have gone to him for support.”
Mills’s managerial career had begun 14 years before York came calling with Grantham Town, who he led to the Southern Football League (Midland) title in 1998.
Subsequent swingeing cuts to the playing budget saw the former European Cup winner leave just a few weeks after winning promotion, and return to playing with, firstly, Gresley Rovers and then Boston United.
Tamworth, as player-manager, was Mills’s next port of call, but after missing out on the Conference North title by two points to Kettering he moved into the Football League, first as a coach with Coventry City and then as manager of Notts County.
He then returned, via a stint as Alfreton Town’s first full-time managerial appointment, to Tamworth, where his impressive work over the next three years was enough to bring York calling.
At the time, York were sitting 16th in the Conference table and within a couple of weeks they would fall into the relegation zone. Soon, though, a revival was under way and that momentum has been maintained in impressive fashion.
Mills said: “If I am honest, I would have hoped when I came in that we’d be in this position by now and chasing promotion. We turned things round quickly and with four weeks to go of last season still had a chance of the play-offs.
“We have since built on that progress and everything has been building towards Sunday.”
When Mills was appointed as Martin Foyle’s successor, it meant a return to a ground where he had mixed memories.
He explained: “Funnily enough, my last ever game in the Football League was at York. I was with Notts County and I suffered a ruptured hamstring.
“I’d done it before but now it had come completely away from the bone and was beyond repair. There was no way I could carry on so Bootham Crescent proved to be my final game.
“I do have happy memories as well, with a 5-2 win in the FA Cup, when at Notts County, standing out.”
After a little over a year-and-a-half at the helm, Mills can call on a host of pleasant York-related thoughts to go with that Cup win – including last Saturday’s FA Trophy success at Wembley when his team beat Newport County 2-0.
On that victory over the Welsh club, the Minstermen chief said: “It has been easy to get the lads back focused.
“They all realise what a massive game the play-off final is for York City and also their own careers.
“In this profession, there is nothing quite like being able to say you are a Football League club, player or manager and that is what we all want to be able to say come Sunday night.
“Winning the first trophy in York’s history was great last weekend and everyone had a great day.
“But promotion is what we started the season aiming to win and now we have a real chance of achieving that target.
“In that aim, playing at Wembley so recently can only help us. It is a place where you learn a lot about people, whether it be walking out on to the pitch for the first time or just the drive through the streets outside.
“Looking at the players’ faces was interesting last week.
“With a couple, I was a little bit concerned as sometimes once the game gets underway a player not used to Wembley might not see the pass.
“I have known it take 30 to 45 minutes for some to adapt. But I thought we adapted really well last week and I think that experience will help us against Luton.”
As for the unanswered job application in 2005, Mills is philosophical about missing out on a job he now loves.
“Nothing came back but I didn’t dwell on it,” he said. “I didn’t feel any malice or anything like that. Anyway, maybe things happen for a reason and me hearing nothing from York (in 2005) meant the job wasn’t at the right time.
“From my perspective, I learned a lot in the five years between first applying and then finally coming to York and maybe what we have done over the past 20 months could not have been achieved back then.
“We will never know, of course. But if we can win promotion to the Football League then it won’t matter anyway.”