Minstermen hope that Wembley Way can lead club back to promised land

Jason McGill.  Picture: Nigel Holland.
Jason McGill. Picture: Nigel Holland.
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York City head to Wembley tomorrow for the first of two big games in eight days that will shape the club’s future. Chris Bond reports.

IF there was a league table for the number of appearances at the new Wembley stadium, then little York City would soon be in the top five – higher than megabucks Manchester City, mighty Tottenham and Arsenal.

The club is heading to Wembley twice in the space of eight days, starting tomorrow with the FA Trophy final against Newport County, and again in the Blue Square Bet Premier play-off final against Luton Town a week on Sunday. “For a club the size of York City to overtake a team like Tottenham for the number of appearances at the new Wembley is a bit surreal,” says the club’s chairman, Jason McGill.

These are exciting times for York City, and sandwiched in between their Wembley double header, the club’s plans for a new 6,000-seater community stadium at Monks Cross – to be shared with rugby league side York City Knights – go before the city council’s planning committee next week.

The forthcoming matches at the new Wembley will bring the club’s total to four trips in just three years, although they will hope to fare better than they did on their previous two visits – losing the FA Trophy final to Stevenage Borough in May 2009 and the play-off final against Oxford United the following year.

The club estimates that it will net around £325,000 from its two Wembley visits whatever the results, and hopes that around 25,000 supporters will make their way to London for the two games. Victory in the play-off final would not only end an eight-year exile from the Football League, but would also boost the club’s coffers.

“It’s tremendously important for us to get promoted because being in the Football League would bring around £750,000 a year in additional income,” says York City’s communications and community director, Sophie Hicks.

It’s no wonder then that the club and its supporters are viewing this next week as a potential landmark moment in York City’s 90-year history. “The next eight days are the most important in the club’s recent history. If we win the FA Trophy it means we’d have some silverware to bring back to the city,” says McGill. A return to league football would also be a huge boost for the whole area.

“It would be great for North Yorkshire and it would put the city and the football club on the sporting map again.”

As well as the two Wembley finals, there’s the small matter of the council’s planning committee meeting on Thursday, when councillors are due to make a decision on whether the new community stadium gets the go-ahead. “They have an extremely important decision to make and I think it will be very close but I’m optimistic it will go through,” says McGill.

He believes the stadium is crucial to safeguarding the club’s future. “It would give the club financial security, it will allow us to expand our community work and allow us to run soccer camps.

“Bootham Crescent was built in 1932 and it’s basically falling down. We don’t have any hospitality boxes facing the pitch and it doesn’t provide us with the facilities we need, which the new stadium would.”

For McGill, getting a new stadium and winning promotion have always been his two main objectives since he took over the club in 2006. “When myself and my family got involved in the club we set our stall out for two things, to get a community stadium to safeguard the club’s future and to get back in the Football League and in just over a week they could both become a reality.”

But while two trips to Wembley in the space of just over a week is cause for celebration for fans, the cost of going to support the team probably isn’t. Tickets for tomorrow’s final are £30 for adults and £15 for under-16s and pensioners, and can be bought at Wembley.

Play-off final tickets, on sale through See Tickets, cost £36 for adults and £18 for under-16s, in Level 1 and £41, with no concessions, in Level 2.

The club is running coaches from York down to London (£35 for adults and £20 for under-16s) for both matches, with a £5 discount for those adults travelling both weekends. So a family of four, consisting of two adults and two children, going to both games and travelling by coach from York are looking at paying more than £400.

The chairman agrees that it isn’t cheap for fans making the trek to Wembley, but says the club has 20 coaches taking fans down for the FA Trophy game and hopes as many as possible will make the journey. “It is expensive for people but it’s also a fantastic opportunity for people to see York City at Wembley,” he says. “Hopefully we will bring some silverware back, get promoted back to the Football League and, if the decision over the community stadium goes our way, it will be the most wonderful May in the history of York City Football Club.”

But what about those fans who’ve supported the club from the terraces through thick and thin? Frank Ormston, chairman of the York Minstermen, an independent supporters club, is going to both games, but says some people can’t afford to do that. “After we won against Mansfield (in the play-off semi-final), I checked train fares and you couldn’t get a day return for under £84. I can’t manage that and I think there are a lot of people trying to find the cheapest way to get down to London. Many won’t be able to afford to go and see both games but hopefully most of them will get to at least one of them.”

Ormston has been a York City supporter for 42 years, during which time he’s seen a few highs and plenty of lows. “We’ve had some great moments like beating Arsenal in the 80s and winning 3-0 at Old Trafford against Manchester United in the mid-90s.”

But he also watched as they dropped out of the Football League. “In the first season afterwards we struggled badly and we almost went down again, so I’ve seen some really dark days when we played what were little more than village teams. But now we have this opportunity to bounce back and start to head back to where this club used to be.”

“Any trip to Wembley is big but the play-off final, in particular, is really huge because the whole future of the club is at stake. If we win that game and get the go-ahead for the new stadium, then the future of the club will be a lot brighter, but if we fail in both then it starts to look grim.”

There has been a buzz in the city since last weekend’s play-off victory as fans dare to dream that their club is on the brink of returning to where it belongs. Mike Brown is director of York City Supporters’ Trust and one of many fans making the 416-mile round trip from York to London to watch both finals.

“I’m going with my fiancée, son and dad and it’s going to cost us about £100 a head this weekend and about the same next weekend. It’s not cheap going to Wembley, but when you’re standing there looking out into the stadium it’s just an indescribable feeling. It sends a shiver down your spine.”

Brown has followed the club since 1980 and he expects there will be a larger contingent of York fans going to the second match, which most supporters would rather they won, given the choice.

“I think a lot of people were hanging on to see if we made it to the play-off final and have opted for that game. It would be nice to win tomorrow, but promotion back to the Football League is absolutely huge for the club,” he says.

“The expense is difficult for a lot of supporters in these hard times, but I think the most die-hard fans would rather not eat for a week and be at Wembley than not go – that’s football for you.”

City fixtures at new stadium

FA Trophy final, 2009. Stevenage 2-0 York City. A crowd of more than 27,000 watched York beaten on a brand new £80,000 pitch by a team that finished 12 places above them in the league.

Blue Square Premier League play-off final, 2010. Oxford United 3 - 1 York City. It was Oxford that triumphed, bringing an end to a four-year exile from the Football League.

FA Trophy final, May 12, 2012. The club will be hoping it is third time lucky at Wembley when they take on Welsh side Newport County tomorrow.

Blue Square Premier League play-off final, May 20, 2012. York face Luton Town, with both clubs bidding to return to the Football League.