York City v Boston United: John Askey wants Minstermen to use big club mentality in National League North Promotion Final

Being a “big club” in your division is not always as easy as it seems – just ask Bradford City in League Two or Sheffield Wednesday in League One.

As a full-time team in part-time National League North, York City should be at a huge advantage even before you consider the support that sold the Community Stadium out for today’s promotion final against Boston United inside half an hour, or the pulling power of its history.

Manager John Askey is not looking for miracles, just for a downtrodden club to start punching its weight again.

For the last six seasons a club which spent all but eight years from 1929 to 2016 in the Football League has been marooned in the sixth tier, which Askey does not consider “proper football”.

Rising to the occasion: John Askey, left, inherited a team down on its luck in York City but now one win from promotion. (Picture: Getty Images)

The combination of disappointment and expectation is far heavier when a big club underperforms but the former Macclesfield Town, Shrewsbury Town and Port Vale manager would rather be trying to revive a comatose giant than squeeze more out of a team performing at its maximum.

“I’d prefer to be at York City than with one of the lower teams,” argues Askey. “We’re full-time and you’ve got to use that advantage and have players who can step up to it mentally because when you’ve got better players, as long as you’re right mentally and fit, we’ve got a great chance of winning every game.

“When Steve asked me to come in and help him, that (sense of unfulfilled potential) was the reason I came in.

“I knew the potential the club had got and it’s nice to be at a club where you have got the potential to go higher, I’ve not really had that before with the budgets I’ve had at other clubs. To be at a club where you can be fighting at the top half of the table without performing miracles is nice.”

Steve is Steve Watson, York’s manager at the start of the season.

When his assistant Micky Cummings was suspended pending betting charges in November, Watson asked his former Macclesfield coach to fill in. Watson, though, was under huge pressure with the team under-performing in the league and knocked out of the FA Cup by Northern Premier League side Buxton.

Disenchantment, mainly with owner Jason McGill, was rife.

One game later, Watson was sacked and Askey put in caretaker charge until the end of the season.

Nine points from his first nine league matches, stretching into late January because of the disrupted calendar, hardly inspired confidence, especially when the eighth was a 3-0 defeat at home to relegation-threatened Bradford (Park Avenue).

It was, Askey believes, the turning point. An FA Trophy run which ended with a semi-final at Bromley watched by around 1,000 away fans coincided with a surge to the play-off decider, played at York’s ground because they finished above Boston in the final table. “When I first came in I think there was a bit of embarrassment towards the team and it reflected on the shouts from supporters,” recalls Askey.

“When I came in I was hoping we could reach the play-offs but probably after a month I thought it was way off.

“But when we started to win, I think they felt they could get behind the team and they were desperate to do that.

“Hopefully we can give them a team to be proud of.”

Asked what promotion would mean to him, Askey turns it back to the club.

“The football club is desperate to get back into a league where the pitches are decent, the crowds are decent and hopefully that will be a starting point,” he replies. “It’s a really difficult league to get out of because you go to some of these grounds and it becomes a level playing field – probably less of a level playing field for ourselves because if you go there thinking you can play football, you’re sadly mistaken.

“This is probably one of the biggest games this club’s ever had, to get back into what I would call proper football.”

A proper club drawing proper crowds should be playing proper football – but only if they can earn it.