It may look like a non-league ground, but Bootham Crescent has a homely, lived-in feeling that echoes a bygone age. It’s something of a rarity in football today, but it looks as though the Minster Men (a nickname that evokes large, brightly coloured cartoon characters) are on the move at some point in the future. The York Community Stadium project has been in motion for around a decade, a bright, modern development out at Heslington West. York City aim to move there by the 2015-16 season.
Hopefully, York will still be a Football League club. This season, they’re hovering dangerously close to the bottom area of League Two, but there are a number of clubs in a worse position. York know what it’s like to drop out of the League, having spent eight seasons in the Conference between 2004 and 2012. This is their second season back, and it has been something of a struggle, finishing 17th in 2012-13 and it’s pretty much the same in 2013-14.
As a non-league club, York are a reasonably-sized fish, but as a League club, the figure 20 crops up all too often when you talk about league placings. They have enjoyed better times, like when they won promotion to the old Second Division in 1973-74 and spent two seasons at that level, playing host to the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea during that spell with a team of players that sounded like the result of a limited game of Scrabble – Seal, Cave, Stone and Swallow. That was when the club was managed by former Busby Babe Wilf McGuinness. York have never scaled such heights again. Back in 1975, they averaged almost 9,000 at every home game, but it has been a decade since they went above 4,000 on a regular basis. Despite struggling to win support, York went to Wembley twice as a non-league outfit, winning the FA Trophy in 2012 just a few years after losing to Stevenage in the final.
York’s opponents when Game of the People visited Bootham Crescent were Plymouth, a club that hasn’t quite had its non-league moment, although the past two campaigns have seen them flirt with the drop. The club has had a few off-field problems which, should they suffer relegation, might send Plymouth over the edge. That didn’t stop over 500 of their fans making the very long journey from Devon to Yorkshire for this game.
With no Premier or Championship games on due to England’s World Cup preparations, it was a day when clubs like York might just prosper, and the crowd of 3,803 was one of their best of the season. We were tightly-packed in the main stand, which makes up for a lack of comfort by offering a glimpse into what watching football was like in the 1950s and 1960s. Tip-up wooden seats! – the type that sound like a death rattle as they are tipped-up in disgust by exiting fans. I remember a report of disgruntled Portsmouth fans in the mid-1970s showing their displeasure by tipping their seats up as they left Fratton Park in protest at another poor performance.
York went into this game having drawn their two previous fixtures, one against Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup (replay next Tuesday). Their last home game was a 4-1 local derby win against local rivals Scunthorpe (note to York programme team – be careful with your badge graphics of opponents, Scunthorpe is best spelled out in full). Plymouth, however, were unbeaten in five league and cup games – they also drew in the FA Cup – and had won their previous in the league, both 1-0 against Northampton and Mansfield.
York looked the better team in the first half, but the standard of passing and finishing was poor. Both teams looked like they were near the bottom of the lowest tier of the Football League. There were some half chances, York going close through Wes Fletcher, Ryan Bowman and Elliott Whitehouse and Plymouth’s best opportunities falling to Lewis Alessandra. There was no sign of the striking prowess of York’s leading scorer Ryan Jarvis, who seemed to be York’s only hope of goals earlier in the season. It was difficult to agree with York manager Nigel Worthington’s view that his side was “excellent” in the opening 45 minutes.
But York took the lead in the 54th minute when Luke O’Neill’s cross to the far post was headed down by Bowman and it bounced up and into the net. A decent goal to rouse the passions of the York crowd.
It wasn’t long, though, until Plymouth equalized, the York defence casually allowing Topi Obadeyi to head into the net at the far post, aided by the leg of a defender.
From thereon, Plymouth found fresh impetus and might have stolen the game, Obadeyi having a late stab at trying to secure the win. A draw was fair, but probably did little for either team’s battle to pull away from danger.
Glancing at the York programme again, there was an advertisement for a book called Keep the Faith, the Minster Men’s own version of Fever Pitch. Bloody Nick Hornby’s got a lot to answer for….