Weekend Interview: ‘I question whether I’m the right character to be chairman of a football club’ says York City’s Jason McGill

New home: Chairman Jason McGill pictured in York City's new stadium at Monks Cross, York. The venue they will share with York City Knights could offer a better future for the ailing Minstermen. (Picture: Simon Hulme)
New home: Chairman Jason McGill pictured in York City's new stadium at Monks Cross, York. The venue they will share with York City Knights could offer a better future for the ailing Minstermen. (Picture: Simon Hulme)
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LONG-distance running is often viewed as the loneliest pursuit but life as a football club chairman must run it close.

The hours are long, the challenges many and when things go wrong the buck invariably stops with you as everyone else dives for cover.

Chairmam Jason McGill pictured in the new York City Stadium at Monks Cross, York. (Picture: Simon Hulme)

Chairmam Jason McGill pictured in the new York City Stadium at Monks Cross, York. (Picture: Simon Hulme)

Jason McGill, the lifelong York City fan who has been in charge since 2006, knows all about that. His reign at Bootham Crescent has included four trips to Wembley and a never-to-be-forgotten return to the Football League.

But, right now, the Minstermen are struggling. Back-to-back relegations dumped York in the sixth tier 18 months ago and so far there has been little sign of a recovery despite being full-time in a league where most players combine playing duties with a day job.

McGill, as chairman and majority shareholder, has become a lightning conductor for the flack that flies when a club falls as far and fast as City.

“It does get wearying,” said the 52-year-old Malton-based businessman to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s FA Cup first-round tie at Swindon Town. “I am York born and bred. I am a York City fan, first and foremost, and hurting just as much as anyone over how the last few years have gone.

I haven’t given this type of interview for a lot of years, if I am honest. It is almost cathartic.

Jason McGill

“That gets forgotten when the fans start saying this and that. I am one of their own. I am not someone from overseas who came in with no affinity. My first game at Bootham Crescent was in 1974, when I was nine years old. I am as desperate as anyone to see York City be successful.”

York’s return to the first round after a three-year absence will bring the dubious pleasure of having to negotiate the ‘magic roundabout’ that sits outside the County Ground.

With all manner of exits and traffic flow going both clockwise and anti-clockwise across the five mini-roundabouts, this bewildering junction is not for the faint-hearted. A bit like the role of football club chairman, as McGill readily attests.

His 15 years – he was on the board for three years before becoming chairman – have been eye-opening in terms of how the industry works.

Jason McGill chairman of York City (right) and Neil Gulliver, general manager of York City Knights, overlooking The York Stadium Leisure complex that will open in Summer 2019.

Jason McGill chairman of York City (right) and Neil Gulliver, general manager of York City Knights, overlooking The York Stadium Leisure complex that will open in Summer 2019.

“The perception of a chairman is someone who is autocratic,” said McGill, who owns JM Packaging. “Sometimes he has to be. But, if I am honest, that is not me.

“In many ways, you need to be a bit of a b*****d. Or you have to have someone who acts as a b*****d for you. This industry is a very strange one. In the real world, if you are generally a caring person whose door is open and try to help people, that is seen as a positive.

“But in football, it is different. People see it as a short term career so it is a very different mechanism as to how you are treated by people in the industry. It is dog eat dog. Ruthless, all about getting one over another club or player.

“If I am being brutally honest, I am not particularly the right character to be the chairman of a football club. It isn’t in my nature. I always wear my heart on my sleeve. That is me as a person. The one thing I can’t do is act. What you get is what you see.

“It is why I am no good at politics, I never have been. My nature is to try and negotiate a way forward. I am not autocratic and I am not a ruthless person. Some people will probably try and shout me down on that. But I am not. And maybe I need to be.”

McGill’s voice trails off, almost as if lost in the moment. Then, after a few seconds, he adds quietly: “I haven’t given this type of interview for a lot of years, if I am honest. It is almost cathartic.

“You have known me a long time and, as a seasoned journalist who has reported on this area for a long time, I think if I was a s*** then you would call me out on that.

“If someone is a s*** or a b*****d, they deserve everything that comes their way. And they probably wouldn’t care less.

“But if you are genuinely doing your best, making decisions for the right reasons and putting money in that you know you will never get back, then the unfair criticism does become hard to take.”

This has been another difficult year for York and McGill. A promotion challenge proved beyond the club last spring, the Minstermen eventually finishing a hugely disappointing 11th.

Off the field, McGill’s attempts to persuade the Supporters Trust to hand back their 25 per cent shareholding also failed as 262 of the 910 members eligible to vote said ‘no’ with only 123 in favour.

His response was to put the club up for sale but no serious bidders came forward. A further commitment to cover the club’s losses for 2018-19 was made at the start of the summer after having previously warned ahead of the Trust vote that York could be forced to go part-time without the financial backing of JM Packaging.

“The argument I am told is we have to run the club on a break-even basis,” adds McGill, who has put in around £4.5m net to cover losses since 2011. “But you can’t do that and be successful.

“Some fans say, ‘Well, FC United of Manchester do it’. But York City isn’t that sort of club. We have a Football League infrastructure. It would show a total lack of ambition if we didn’t have a budget to try and get the best players we can.

“Yes, it might not work sometimes. But, on the other hand, it worked in 2012 (when City were promoted to the Football League). And again under Nigel (Worthington) a couple of years later, when we got to the League Two play-offs.”

That promotion to the League under Gary Mills remains the high point of McGill’s reign. Not least because it came at the end of a week that had also seen City lift the FA Trophy at Wembley and City of York Council grant planning permission for a new stadium that will finally open next summer.

“Probably that was my time to go,” he says with a rueful smile. “But no-one wanted to take it on. Plus, I had set myself three goals when I first became involved. Number one was getting Bootham Crescent back, the second was getting back in the League and the third move into a new stadium.”

York’s current travails are in stark contrast to that magical week in May, 2012. A disappointing start to this season saw Martin Gray replaced as manager by Sam Collins but still the team is struggling.

Last weekend’s 4-1 home defeat to Bradford (Park Avenue) left the Minstermen languishing in 15th place, a point closer to the relegation zone than the play-offs.

McGill, as chairman, has come in for plenty of flak from the terraces as a result but he is hoping better days lay ahead with next summer bringing that move to Monks Cross and a state-of-the-art new home.

“Football is cyclical,” he said. “Yes, it has not been very good for two to three years. But things do change.

“My message to supporters is, ‘Bear with us, as we have a board who are all doing our best’. We all want promotion.

“But we also can’t forget the mess the club was left in after what happened between 1999 and 2002. We were half an hour from liquidation.

“We still have a football club for people to support. And next year, we will have a brand new stadium with income generating facilities.”