THREE weeks have passed since York City fell into the sixth tier of English football and chairman Jason McGill is still hurting. Badly.
The Minstermen’s second demotion in as many years means a club that has hosted famous names such as Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United in the past will next season be scrapping it out with the likes of Spennymoor Town and Leamington.
It is a dramatic fall from grace and one McGill, a lifelong fan and City’s owner since 2006, McGill feels keenly. Tomorrow will bring respite of sorts via a visit to Wembley for the FA Trophy final, albeit with the memory of what happened on the final day of the National League season still very fresh in the mind.
“These have been two extremely disappointing seasons,” said McGill when speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post. “This one in particular, as a second relegation has hit us so very hard as a club.
“We have sold 7,000 tickets for Wembley and we are proud to be there for a fifth time. Lifting the Trophy would bring us a small consolation at the end of what has been a dreadful season.
“But, whatever happens, the occasion will be tinged with sadness because of what happened in the league.”
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York’s demise came in the most dramatic of fashions on the final day, Guiseley captain Danny Lowe netting a 91st-minute equaliser at home to Solihull Moors to ensure the Leeds club leapfrogged their West Yorkshire neighbours to safety.
I have made mistakes, I am the first to admit that. The key is identifying them and learning from them. Relegation has led to a lot of soul-searching on my part.Jason McGill
“I honestly do feel for the supporters,” added McGill, who faced a protest from around 40 fans after that final day draw with Forest Green Rovers.
“I am a supporter and hurting badly. I know they will be feeling exactly the same. It is very, very hard to get over a disappointment like this latest relegation. The sense of failure is overwhelming.
“I would liken it to a grieving process. It is difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel right now, difficult to shake off the dejection of that final day.
“For me personally, my wife and our two boys, it has been all consuming. I am constantly asking myself, ‘What could we have done differently?’
“I have made mistakes, I am the first to admit that. The key is identifying them and learning from them. Relegation has led to a lot of soul-searching on my part.
“What happened is never far from my mind. You put your heart and soul into the club. And a lot of money over the years.
“What has happened is devastating. But, we have to get through this and go again. York City has to come back from what has been a devastating blow for everyone.”
Relegation was not on anyone’s mind when York kicked off their first season back in non-League for eight years last August.
City, boasting the third highest wage budget in the fifth tier and what would eventually be the fourth highest average attendance, were expected to push for an instant return to the Football League.
The reality, however, was rather different. Six goal thrashings at Gateshead and Guiseley led eventually to Jackie McNamara’s removal as manager in October. There was, though, an unexpected twist that saw the Scot, a hate figure among fans following the previous season’s relegation, appointed chief executive as Gary Mills was brought in to take charge of the team.
Mills quickly realised the squad he had inherited was not up to the task and set about making changes. But these took time and, by Christmas, City were rock bottom of the table.
Results improved in the New Year but the damage had been done and the Minstermen, after taking just two points from the final three games, were down.
“Recruitment has been awful,” said McGill, whose company JM Packaging continue to prop the club up financially ahead of the long-delayed move to a new stadium.
“There is no way of dressing it up. We have had a good budget and there have been no issues like people worrying about being paid or anything like that.
“There have been no distractions, we have even helped players to be able to live in the city. But the results just haven’t been there.
“The only thing I can deduce is that maybe this is too nice a place to work. And that I am too nice with people. Maybe we have needed more of an autocrat, running the club that way. I just don’t know.”
McGill’s exasperation is understandable. By now, York should be in their much-touted new stadium. First scheduled to be built in 2011, the £44m development has suffered delay after delay.
The hope now is that work can start in October on a Council-led project that is vital to the club’s financial future well-being, a point underlined by the last accounts for 2015-16 revealing a £300,000 operating loss. A similar deficit was posted the previous year.
Despite those losses piling up, McGill pledged York will remain full-time next season in National League North. A scheduled second parachute payment from the Football League, 50 per cent of the sum received from the same source last term, will help massively.
He added: “Like I have with every manager, I will support the management team as best I can. Gary is on with recruitment right now.
“His man management skills will be a big factor in getting the right people to this club.
“Gary also knows this level, having won promotion previously with Tamworth. We also must get the infrastructure right. We need strong leadership off the pitch and a strong spirit on it. But, above all, the recruitment has to be right. Last season underlined that.
“These last two years have been difficult but we still have the new stadium coming up, being part of a £44m development will be huge for the club.
“But, before then, we have to turn things around on the pitch. Wembley is coming up. Lifting the Trophy will be a small consolation for what has been a dreadful season but we want to do just that and give our supporters something to cheer.
“Their backing has been unbelievable, we want to win the Trophy for them.”