2016-17: Mental strength key for new-look York City to seal instant return to Football League

MENTAL STRENGTH: York City manager, Jackie McNamara. Picture: Tony Johnson
MENTAL STRENGTH: York City manager, Jackie McNamara. Picture: Tony Johnson
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EXPECTATION was something Jackie McNamara learned to live with during a decade at Celtic.

Anything but a resounding win would, in most weeks, be enough to prompt an inquest into just what was going so badly wrong at Parkhead.

York City's Scott Fenwick (front) and Middlesbrough's Jordan McGhee battle for the ball during a pre-Season friendly at Bootham Crescent. Picture: Nigel French/PA.

York City's Scott Fenwick (front) and Middlesbrough's Jordan McGhee battle for the ball during a pre-Season friendly at Bootham Crescent. Picture: Nigel French/PA.

Three league titles and a host of Cup triumphs were McNamara’s reward for learning to cope with not only those demands but also the goldfish-bowl style existence that comes with playing for the Glasgow giants.

Comparing that to what York City can expect this season is, admittedly, something of a leap.

But, following relegation from the Football League, the pressure will be on at Bootham Crescent with supporters demanding a good fist be made of earning an instant return and opposition teams viewing the ex-League club as a notable scalp.

“The National League is a tough division,” said the 42-year-old Scot.

“There are so many different challenges, from the contrasting size of clubs to the different grounds, with tighter pitches and so on, that we will have to visit.

“How we handle that will determine our season.

“There are a lot of teams who have spent a lot of money.

“The likes of Forest Green, Tranmere and so on. What we will require is a strong mentality because, as a newly-relegated club – we will be there to be shot at.

“But it doesn’t faze me being favourites, I am used to it from Celtic.

“We had to win every week when I was growing up.

“The way you cope with expectation separates footballers.

“It is not all about ability in this game. The mental side is the most important, how you handle the fight.

“There are some guys who were far better footballers than myself at Celtic but they couldn’t handle the demands that went with playing for the club.

“That is what I mean when I say it is not always the ability that counts.

“The Euros showed us that it is the same in international football.

“The mental side of things is huge, with the team spirit and determination to never give up going a long, long way. That is the message I have been putting across to the lads because last season was a problem in terms of mentality.

“The amount of goals we conceded and games that we lost from winning positions were what cost us our League status. It was very, very frustrating.”

McNamara’s summer has been a busy one. No less than 20 new faces have arrived at Bootham Crescent, just Scott Flinders, Reece Thompson and Matty Dixon still being at the club from last season’s relegated squad.

The blueprint City have followed was set a year ago by Cheltenham Town. After dropping out of the League at the end of 2014-15, the Robins ripped apart the squad and made 18 new signings. Eleven of those made their debuts on the opening day and, come May, Gary Johnson’s side had won the National League by 12 points.

“We must have had the busiest club secretary in football this summer,” laughed the York chief when asked about a summer that brought not only a wealth of new signings but also a host of departures. “The paperwork has been huge.

“It has been busy for us all. A lot of time was consumed by meeting the players and interviewing them. But that has been so beneficial and, to me, why they have adapted so quickly.

“Fans also like to see new faces. I am hoping they have been excited by what they have seen so far. It is how we progress together that matters.

“I have a good squad here and everyone will be needed. It is a tough division.”

Other changes engineered by McNamara this summer include widening the Bootham Crescent pitch, while he has paid tribute to the board for maintaining the practice of staying overnight ahead of long trips.

“The lads are champing at the bit and desperate to do well,” said McNamara, who like all at Bootham Crescent is hoping for progress in the near future on the club’s much-delayed new stadium.

“We want to be back in the Football League when the stadium is opened. Everyone feels that. It will be tough but if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, we will have a chance.”