A REMINDER of York City’s proud and glorious cup pedigree greets Steve Watson whenever he walks through the doors into Bootham Crescent’s Main Stand.
Iconic images from an ecstatic League Cup night at Old Trafford in 1995, when the Minstermen registered a scarcely believable 3-0 victory en route to an aggregate success over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, instantly catch the eye – and they have clearly touched the soul of Watson in the process.
A self-avowed ‘footballing traditionalist’, Watson’s love of the FA Cup in particular is incurable.
Like any north-easterner worth his salt, the world’s most famous domestic cup competition will always tug upon his heart-strings.
It did not bring him much luck in his playing days and while he stepped out on the hallowed Wembley turf with his beloved Newcastle United in the 1998 showpiece against Arsenal, he was left with tears for souvenirs after Arsene Wenger’s Gunners secured the second part of a league and cup double with a 2-0 victory.
Should his York City side achieve their own Holy Grail of booking a ticket for one of the special occasions of the football calendar – third-round weekend at the start of January – then it will represent an overdue change in fortune for the Geordie.
For sure, he will always love the cup. But it has not been particularly kind over the years.
Watson said: “I am a bit of a football traditionalist and I like the FA Cup. It is ‘the’ quintessentially English knock-out tournament and the one that you were all wanting to watch and I remember FA Cup finals. I remember Everton versus Liverpool and Manchester United versus Everton when Kevin Moran got sent off.
“I have loads of memories of the FA Cup, although I don’t have fantastic ones as a player. So I am hoping that my memories as a manager are a lot better.
“I have been involved in two cup finals and not won a trophy. So to get to the third round with York would be my biggest FA Cup achievement.”
Stories of the Minstermen’s prowess – in both the FA Cup and League Cup – are legion among York supporters, from the time Denis Smith’s feted crop earned a FA Cup replay with mighty Liverpool during their pomp in back-to-back seasons in the mid-Eighties right back to the rarified time when City reached the last four of the competition back in 1955 – losing 2-0 at Roker Park in a replay to eventual winners Newcastle United.
That same 1954-55 season saw Spurs famously beaten at Bootham Crescent, with their North London foes Arsenal gloriously downed in front of the Match of the Day cameras on a raw day in January 1985.
How all those connected with the red, blue and white of York would hanker for just one more special cup occasion before bidding farewell to Bootham Crescent.
It would represent a fitting farewell, alongside a promotion of course. And a few new choice pictorial additions to the walls of York’s new community stadium at Monk’s Cross would not go amiss either.
Watson added: “I have read about the cup history and see a lot of it on the walls with the Manchester United game. The plan is to add to that history.
“In an ideal world, it (FA Cup run) will take us into January. With the exception of a few League One clubs, that is the realistic dream. Although you do not even think about going any further. Getting a third-round tie is our dream and we are two games away from that.
“With this game being at home, it will certainly give us an edge with it being an FA Cup game with the atmosphere.”
With the TV cameras in attendance, Sunday’s game against opponents with a historic penchant for giant-killing themselves in Alty will showcase York to a wider audience after a vibrant start to the campaign which is starting to lift the dark clouds which have enveloped the club in recent times.
The devout hope of everyone connected with the club is that York have, finally, bottomed out. Many followers across Yorkshire – and not just those in the walled city – would say amen to that.
A quick glance at the National League North league table suggests that York, befitting of a city which has had a long-standing association with the railway industry, are getting back on track, with Watson’s side yet to see their colours lowered so far this season in 19 league and FA Cup matches.
Significant work has been undertaken, but there is plenty more to be done.
Watson has regularly spoken about the need for the club’s players and supporters to all be ‘on the same page’ and pulling in the same direction – and is anxious that any vestiges of negativity that have pervaded in the not-so-distant past never resurface again.
He said: “There was enough negativity when I started here and it was enough for a lifetime.
“From my point of view, I want as much positivity going forward as possible. I have days where I have been disappointed with what I have heard from behind me in the stand and I was sometimes outspoken about it at the time.
“Only because since I have came in, I have tried to be on the front foot and tried not just to lift the players, but everything.
“I have tried to lift the profile and the fans’ mentality as what has gone, has gone. I cannot do anything about that. I can only affect the future. The (cup) exposure can only help the club.
“Everyone is in a good place, although I do not allow anyone to get carried away. Nothing is won in October, November or December.
“Our focus will be the same, can we continue this unbeaten run and crack on in the way we are.
“We have to keep the same mentality. It has been a fantastic run, who knows where it can take us. Nobody wants to think about it ending.”