YORK CITY may currently be entrenched in a grim battle of attrition to preserve their cherished Football League status, but a rewind to exactly 30 years ago today provides a welcome reminder of more halcyon days.
The mid-eighties era is a period that all seasoned Minstermen followers will remember with the utmost fondness under the stewardship of Denis Smith, who put the Bootham Crescent outfit firmly on the footballing map.
Promotion as Division Four champions in a historic 1983-84 campaign – when York amassed an incredible 101 points to become the first Football League team to achieve a three-figure points total in a season – got the club’s bandwagon rolling with the following year seeing cup kudos arrive.
A last-gasp Keith Houchen penalty saw them memorably topple Arsenal in front of the Match of the Day cameras at a freezing Bootham Crescent in 1984-85 before the club bowed out 7-0 to mighty Liverpool in an FA Cup fifth-round replay at Anfield following a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Yorkshire.
An encore against the red side of Merseyside was afforded York during the following season of 1985-86 at the same stage of the competition, to boot.
The reaction of City players when listening to the fifth-round draw – in the days of huddling around the transistor radio on Monday lunchtime to await the cup draw from Lancaster Gate after a morning’s training – was something to behold.
Games against the best team in the land for lower-league sides are manna from heaven for all sorts of reasons. And for York to land Liverpool twice in 12 months made them the envy of many of their compatriots – even if avoiding another beating was likely to have been at the forefront of Smith’s mind.
City – who booked their place in the fifth round after beating Morecambe, Whitby Town, Wycombe Wanderers and Altrincham – secured their fifth successive home draw and landed the biggest fish out there in the process.
In the previous round at the same stage in 1984-85, a cracker of a tie at Bootham Crescent on February 16, 1985, saw brave York force an equaliser thanks to Ricky Sbragia’s strike after Ian Rush gave a Reds side containing the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Bruce Grobbelaar the advantage in front of a crowd of 13,485.
The Anfield replay, watched by 43,010 spectators – including 10,000 from York – was rather more one-sided with Joe Fagan’s side posting a resounding 7-0 victory, thanks to a hat-trick from John Wark and further goals from Ronnie Whelan (2), Phil Neal and Phil Walsh with the hosts scoring five times on the restart to inflict York’s worst ever FA Cup loss.
York had a chance of redemption on February 15, 1986, almost exactly 12 months to the day since Liverpool were the illustrious visitors to Bootham Crescent – and like the corresponding game a year earlier, it proved another occasion that will live long in the memory.
Five players who lined up against the Reds in York in 1984-85 again took the field from the start for the hosts in the shape of John McPhail, Steve Senior, Sean Haselgrave, Derek Hood and the incomparable Keith Walwyn.
After beating four non-league sides on home turf, in terms of visiting opponents, Liverpool represented something from a different stratosphere, but York proved no respector of reputations once again in just their fourth ever foray in the fifth round of the world’s most enduring domestic cup competition.
The visitors, under the command of player-boss Dalglish in his first season at the helm, were third in the top-flight at the time, but destined to win the league.
But on a heavily-sanded surface in certain areas, Liverpool were rocked on their heels early on with lively City making a bold start.
Dale Banton raced onto Gary Ford’s pass before firing wide just four minutes in to signal the hosts’ intent before Liverpool gradually managed to get a toehold in proceedings.
Livewire Rush tested the reactions of home keeper Andy Leaning, with City going close to taking the lead on 37 minutes when good work from Walwyn and David McAughtrie set up Scottish defender McPhail, whose goalbound shot was tipped over by Grobbelaar.
The half-time interval enabled Liverpool the opportunity to regroup following a half in which York were the better side and they put the hosts on the back foot in the early stages of the second half.
City hung in and then started to impose themselves again upon proceedings before the vast majority of the 12,752 crowd were on the feet in the 61st minute.
Tony Canham’s left-wing cross was flicked on by Banton before Walwyn supplied club stalwart Ford, who netted with a low shot from 10 yards to put York in dreamland.
The lead proved shortlived with the Merseysiders rallying and restoring parity within four minutes.
It arrived from the spot with Jan Molby converting after Senior was adjudged to have handled in the box under pressure from Craig Johnston.
Liverpool went closest to a winner when Rush lobbed over, but for the second year running, York had a second bite of the cherry at Anfield, with the replay proving a wholly different one to the previous campaign. Again, another sizeable contingent from Yorkshire headed across the M62 with 29,362 watching the replay.
York put their stamp on proceedings in far more purposeful fashion after being overawed on their big night during the previous season and went close to securing a major upset – as Liverpool acknowledged.
Wark gave the Reds a 19th-minute lead, but the hosts failed to kick on as York produced a fine comeback with Canham levelling and Walwyn seeing a second-half goal ruled out for an infringement in a massively controversial moment.
Extra time was required to separate the sides with Molby and Dalglish sending the hosts through, but not before York were afforded a standing ovation by home supporters at the final whistle.
Defeat for York, maybe, but massive pride nevertheless with the Minstermen, in four matches against the Merseysiders in the space of a year, ending level on three occasions after 90 minutes.
Their prowess was duly noted by Johnston in the FA Cup final programme of 1986 – when the Reds beat Everton – when the Aussie, perhaps alluding to Walwyn’s goal that never was, acknowledged: “We were very fortunate and York gave us two hard battles.”