Minstermen setting double target as they eye Wembley final cash windfall

Director Sophie Hicks
Director Sophie Hicks
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THESE are exciting times for York City.

Riding high in the Blue Square Bet Premier Division, the Minstermen are eyeing a return to the Football League under the astute management of former European Cup winner Gary Mills, while off the field the board are working tirelessly towards moving into a new ground.

And, just to spread a little icing on an increasingly sweet cake, the famous old club are through to the semi-finals of the FA Trophy and within sight of a third appearance at Wembley in four seasons.

They have a pretty good chance of winning the tournament.

On Saturday, Mills’s men host fellow Conference promotion-chasers Luton Town in the first leg at Bootham Crescent before travelling to Kenilworth Road a week later for the return fixture.

Victory would book their place in the final at Wembley on May 12 against either Blue Square Bet Premier Division strugglers Newport County or Wealdstone, who ply their trade two leagues below the three other semi-finalists in the Isthmian League Premier Division.

In short, beat Luton, and York – on paper at least – will have one hand on a trophy they so nearly won in 2009, only to lose 2-0 in the final to Stevenage Borough.

The Hatters are third in the Conference, four points clear of York, having lost 2-0 to Wrexham last night.

Almost as important as footballing kudos is the small matter of an estimated £250,000 windfall that would represent York’s combined FA Trophy purse if they win a competition which Mills’s men have illuminated this season with a positive brand of attacking football symbolic of a man reared under Brian Clough.

Mills’s philosophy is greatly admired among the York hierarchy – and none more so than by Sophie Hicks, the club’s communications and community director, who, along with brother Jason McGill and father Rob McGill, helped save York from going under in 2003.

Hicks hopes York can see off the Hatters and ultimately make it third time lucky at the new Wembley after the club followed 2009 FA Trophy heartbreak by agonisingly losing the 2010 Conference play-off final 3-1 to Oxford United.

It will not be easy and, as she makes clear, the ultimate objective remains recovering a Football League status lost in 2004, but Trophy glory is well within sight.

“This competition is very important to clubs in our league and below,” she said.

“Sometimes, people can be a little bit dismissive of the FA Trophy, but, to be able to play in a final at Wembley, which can generate significant income for the club, is really important financially and football-wise.

“It’s well known we budget to lose around £300,000 every year, so winning the competition would be massively helpful.

“Tournaments like this, or getting to the third round of the FA Cup, are really important for our survival.”

It is a future which Hicks and the York hierarchy believe would be secured by a move to a new 6,000-seater community stadium.

The club want to move to a ground earmarked for the site of the existing Huntington Stadium which houses rugby league club York City Knights, who would also use the new facility.

“The fact that we budget to lose the amount of money we do each year is the main reason we’re so keen to get a new stadium,” she added.

“The decision is made on March 22 by the planning committee and we’re very much hoping it will come to fruition.

“At the moment, we’re in a 1932 stadium that famously – or notoriously – has three hospitality boxes that look at the car park rather than the pitch, and very antiquated facilities for our supporters. There’s not a lot of opportunity to generate income.”

Hicks believes a new ground would have a knock-on effect across the club.

“If we can get a new stadium, I can really see us climbing the leagues,” she insisted.

“We’ve got a great manager and, with the boost of a new stadium, the additional income that would generate would all be ploughed back into the team.

“None of the directors profit in any way – we don’t take salaries or expenses.

“Any income that’s generated is reinvested in the side.”

The forthcoming double-header against Luton is a repeat of the 2010 Conference play-off semi-final, when York’s victory in the second-leg at Kenilworth Road was marred by crowd trouble.

York’s players were showered with missiles after a pitch invasion as the home fans reacted angrily to their team’s failure to reach Wembley.

Hicks, however, believes that is water under the bridge and is keen to draw a line under the past.

“Hopefully, our difficult history with Luton is behind us now,” she said.

“It was a difficult time and relationships were strained, but we’ve had player transactions with the club since then and we will very much welcome Luton and their supporters to Bootham Crescent.

“Back in 2010, we were the underdogs, we weren’t expected to win the tie and I think that was the problem really.

“I think everyone wants to put that behind them now and concentrate on enjoying the football, while our focus is firmly on trying to reach the final.”