The Inevitable York City Follow-Up

by | Oct 18, 2016

The idea that non-league football largely consists of men with beer bellies kicking a football around between puffs on their Benson & Hedges is a hopelessly outdated one, but that isn’t to say that it doesn’t exist. Countless clubs, both in the Football League and at the top end of non-league football, have fallen into this trap before, but nothing seems to stop it from repeating itself. This isn’t, however, always the reason why clubs fail to beat lower ranked opposition. Sometimes, the players that compete against these butchers, bakers and candlestick makers just aren’t good enough. This seemed to be the state of affairs at Tameside Stadium last night, where one of the crisis clubs de nos jours, York City, were dumped from the FA Cup at the Fourth Qualifying Round stage by Curzon Ashton, who currently ply their trade a division below the Minstermen in the National League North.

There is a tendency to assume the FA Cup to be an imposition on all clubs, these days, but at a non-league level the prize money is still worthwhile for the vast majority of them. In addition to this, there was a further reason why York City may well come to rue their loss last night. This was, of course, a replay after the two sides drew one-all at Bootham Crescent on Saturday, and this means that the draw for the First Round Proper had already been made at the time that the two teams kicked off.

The players of both teams went into the match knowing that the winners would not only get prize money from a place in the next round, but also that they would be facing Westfields FC of the Midlands League, the lowest placed club left in the competition. Winning that eminently winnable match would mean further prize money and the club being ninety minutes from a place in the Third Round. Small wonder that York’s supporters are angry this morning.

It isn’t as though these put upon supporters don’t have enough to be angry about already. It was just a couple of weeks ago that the club featured on these pages following the decision of the club to give then-manager Jackie McNamara one match to keep his job with the club. It was a story that, on an international break weekend, earned considerable attention and, of course, it backfired. The match was a relegation six-pointer at Braintree Town, and it looked as though McNamara’s team was heading in the right direction when Simon Heslop gave them the lead after just five minutes of play.

An outstanding performance from goalkeeper Kyle Letheren, though, which featured a penalty save as well as a string of others, seemed to have done enough to secure McNamara some respite, but then with two minutes to play a Lee Barnard penalty brought Braintree level and open up something of a philosophical crisis gat Bootham Crescent. Did a point at Braintree constitute “a positive result” (the exact terminology used by the club’s statement the previous week)? How much difference should a single penalty kick two minutes from the end of a match in terms of saving a manager’s career? The theoretical possibilities can feel endless.

It turned out that a single point from this match wasn’t enough to keep Jackie McNamara in the manager’s seat at York City, but there was plenty more oddness set to emanate from Bootham Crescent yet. First of all, McNamara  was appointed as the club’s caretaker-manager “in order to assist the managerial transition period”, a decision that would be considered highly irregular at just about any club other than York at the moment. This, however, didn’t last for very long. Following last Saturday’s home draw against Curzon Ashton in the FA Cup, McNamara resigned his position to be replaced by a former manager of the club, Gary Mills, whose return to Bootham Crescent will bring memories of happier times to many supporters of the club.

The previous manager wasn’t, however, to be swept out of the club just yet. Upon Mills’ appointment, McNamara was appointed as York City’s Chief Executive instead, a decision which, according to the club, “would allow the chairman, Jason McGill, to concentrate on other business interests by focusing “more of his time to JM Packaging Ltd, which has seen substantial growth over the last six months, with the successful gaining of significant new customers”. But there was more, too:

When required by the first-team manager, assistance will also be provided by the chairman and chief executive, especially in relation to certain financial aspects of the playing budget. It is imperative that we support the first-team manager by taking away the non-playing issues so he can focus on results.

So, in other words, the Chief Executive, the club’s previous manager, would still hold considerable influence over the running of the club’s affairs. This didn’t seem to be much a problem for Mills, who told the local press that, “Jackie’s a great bloke and, whilst it did not work out for him on the management side, he will do a great job on the other side of things and that helps me”. The new manager is, as mentioned above, likely to be a popular choice with the club’s supporters. He was in charge of the club when it achieved the double of winning the FA Trophy and a return to the Football League through the National League play-offs at Wembley in the space of nine days in 2012.

This didn’t prevent him from getting the sack the following January, but Mills further enhanced his reputation by taking Gateshead to third place in National League the following season – either the club’s highest ever league position or the highest position that it’s achieved since being voted out of the Football League in 1960, depending on which interpretation of the club’s history we choose to side with – and a narrow defeat at Wembley in the play-off final against Cambridge United. He moved on to Wrexham at the end of the following season, but this period was less successful, culminating in dismissal just three days before taking the York job.

Mills’ return to the club will obviously focus a deal of attention on memories of happier times for the club, but there are still some who have been left wondering why York City Football Club seems to want to simultaneously offload itself of Jackie McNamara whilst keeping him on the staff. Is it that they wouldn’t be able to afford to pay the severance money for doing so? It wouldn’t necessarily be too surprising if that were the case, though to suggest this as a possible theory may be doing the club a disservice. Some supporters had convinced themselves that McNamara may have put money into the club, there by rendering himself unsackable, but this rumour was scotched by the club’s chairman Jason McGill last night, when he told the Yorkshire Post that:

Jackie definitely doesn’t have any financial involvement with York City, none whatsoever. It is an insult to Jackie and to me to suggest otherwise. Not only does Jackie not have any financial involvement in the club, nor would I want him to have.

To do so would put us both, and the club, in an invidious position. I would never allow a financial aspect to influence any decision making, either now or in the future. I appreciate there is always a rumour mill surrounding any club. But, in this instance, it is well wide of the mark.

When asked about the circumstances surrounding the decision to keep MacNamara in the Chief Executive’s position, Mills was similarly bullish:

When Jackie was appointed last year, it was with a view to overhauling the club. Not just the first team but the Academy, the communication strategy and the administration side. This club has changed dramatically since Gary was last here and we needed a chief executive. This is a vitally important period as we count down towards the new stadium in 2018.

Meanwhile, a post from the club’s financial management consultant Peter Rookes on a supporters forum stated that:

I can confirm that Jackie has no investment in York City FC, has no shares in the club, loans with the club or any other form of financial input. For anyone interested, the last annual return of the club (at March 16) can be downloaded for free from Companies House, which confirms the club shareholdings as 75% JMP (JM Packaging) and 25% YCST (the club’s Supporters Trust) and they haven’t changed since that date.

I can also confirm that Jackie has no shares, loans or investments or financial input in JM Packaging either. Jackie’s only involvement with YCFC is as an employee of YCFC and he has no connection at all with JMP. For anyone wanting additional assurance, I have also confirmed with the external auditors, who audit both YCFC and JMP, that the details above are accurate.

When Jackie stepped down as First Team Manager, he received no pay-off and has actually taken a significantly reduced salary as Chief Executive – his role now is to assist Jason (rather than Gary Mills) with the off-field side of the club.

All of this is very well, but it doesn’t explain why the club needs a Chief Executive at this precise moment in time, why the best qualified person to be that Chief Executive is Jackie McNamara – without any attention having apprarently been paid to any other candidates whatsoever – and how the relationship is supposed to work between the new manager who is also an ex-manager and the Chief Executive, who was briefly the caretaker-manager and is also an ex-manager. Perhaps York City will turn out to be the exception that proves the rule, but successful, professional businesses don’t tend to organise themselves like this.

One thing is for certain. Gary Mills will need his wits about him, if he is to steady the ship at Bootham Crescent this season. It’s now been eleven matches in all competitions since York City last won a match, way back on the first Saturday of September. The financial bonuses of a run in the FA Cup have been extinguished, and the team remains two points and two places above the relegation positions at the bottom of the table. Yet Mills will have to navigate a tricky position in the the table with the club’s previous manager now acting as its Chief Executive. If this unorthodox way of doing things doesn’t work, both Jackie McNamara and ultimately Jason McGill could well be headed for difficult times with the long-suffering supporters of York City Football Club.

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