York City: The Lights Go Out On The Minster Family

by | Oct 5, 2016

It hasn’t been a particularly happy couple of years for the supporters of York City. Promotion back to the Football League through the play-offs ended an eight year spell in the Football Conference which seemed to prove the now widely held belief that the divisions into which football clubs are relegated tend to be more difficult to get out of in an upwardly direction than they are to tumble into in the first place. The club’s return to the Football League, however proved that to be somewhat short-lived, and at the end of last season York were relegated back into the non-league game after just four years away, after having finished at the bottom of League Two with just seven wins and a total of thirty-four points from their forty-six matches.

It was a dismal showing, sure enough, but surely things couldn’t be as bad again amongst the flotsam and jetsam of what is now called the National League, could they? Well, initially it looked as though this would be a mixed bag of a season for the club, but since the start of September results and performances have fallen through the floor. York haven’t won in the league since beating Solihull Moors on the first Saturday of September and, over the course of that five weeks or so, have slipped to twentieth place in the National League, hovering just above the psychological dotted line that represents relegation into the regionalised National League North.

This week was, therefore, perhaps a good time to be making the relatively short trip to Guiseley for a league match. Guiseley are one of the few clubs in the division to have had an even more troubled start to the season than York, having gone their first thirteen matches of the league season without a win and with just three points from three draws and a managerial sacking to show for their season so far. This, surely, would give York the opportunity to breathe a little life back into an increasingly moribund season, a chance to inject a little confidence back into a team that has surely been drained of it over the last few weeks or so.

Very briefly, it may have felt as though as though this optimistic prognosis might actually come to pass, especially when York took an eleventh minute lead. This confidence didn’t come to last very long. Seven minutes, to be precise. Guiseley’s equaliser came after eighteen minutes, and there then followed a twelve minute blitz, by the end of which Guiseley led by four goals to one. With five minutes to play came another hope of respite, when the floodlights went out. They stayed out for an hour, but to the likely dismay of most of the club’s sizeable travelling support were eventually switched back on, whereupon Guiseley added a further two goals to complete a six-one rout.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many eyes came to rest on manager Jackie McNamara following this result. McNamara, a former Scotland international who spent ten years with Celtic, arrived at Bootham Crescent in November of last year after having spent the previous four years managing Partick Thistle and Dundee United respectively. Considering the club’s performance under his tutelage last season, it might be argued that McNamara did well to last through the summer as the club’s manager, but patience with him has clearly become increasingly stretched of late and it was expected in some circles that this morning would see the end of his troubled time in charge of the club. After all, McNamara has now completed forty-six matches in charge of York City, a full league season, and his record of just eight wins – a win rate of  just 17.4% – goes some way beyond merely being disappointing, and sure enough, early this afternoon a statement regarding McNamara’s ongoing tenure at the club was made public through its website.  It just wasn’t… quite what supporters might have been expecting.

Following a meeting with the Chairman this morning, and in light of the disappointing performance and result last night, York City manager Jackie McNamara has considered his position going forward.

It has been decided that, if the team fails to gain a positive result at Braintree Town on Saturday, the York City manager will tender his resignation.

The manager will be looking for a passionate and committed reaction from the players after the capitulation at Nethermoor Park on Tuesday evening.

Well, it’s an interesting reaction, to say the least, and here are two routes that we can go down in trying to understand. One perspective is that this approach may be quite sensible. McNamara is on an effective final warning now, and it’s hardly as though his team’s next match isn’t winnable. It’s a trip to another of the few teams in the National League that are below them at the moment, Braintree Town, on Saturday afternoon. Mission impossible, this is not. It also gives the directors of the club a chance to give proper consideration to who they might hire to replace him without necessarily having to make quite so much of a snap decision as they might otherwise have done. And in addition to this, it seems highly likely that the performance and behaviour of the York players will come in for extra scrutiny on Saturday afternoon. If Jackie McNamara has “lost the dressing room”, as the popular vernacular would have it, most supporters and those who run the club will have a pretty good idea of this by five o’clock on Saturday afternoon.

There is, however, another way of looking at this, which is less kind to all concerned. What, critics might well argue, is likely to change between now and the end of Saturday, and can York City afford the risk of losing to a team that may, on current form, be relegation rivals come the end of this season? What happens if York put in an outstanding performance but somehow fail to win the match? Conversely, what happens if they win? How long does he keep his job for, should that happen? Does he get sacked if York win at Braintree and then lose their next three matches? Is the club merely seeking to put off having to offload McNamara, and if so, why? Is this a hint at deeper problems, whether financial or otherwise? It’s easy to feel like a conspiracy theorist when looking for explanations for this sort of unusual policy decision, but the lack of explanation or rationale in the club’s statement on the subject leaves a vacuum that people’s imaginations are likely to fill.

With the club’s move from Bootham Crescent to the new York Community Stadium now seemingly delayed until 2018 – and, considering the number of delays that this project has already witnessed, it’s difficult not to precede “2018” with “at least” – the question of which division York will start their new life in their new home in seems even more out of reach than ever. The good news for all concerned is that the prognosis for former Football League clubs struggling near the foot of the National League is quite good. There are currently three clubs, Kidderminster Harriers, Boston United and Stockport County, with Football League experience playing in the National League North as well two reformed clubs, FC Halifax Town and Darlington, whilst none of the clubs in the National League South have ever played in the Football League.

Of the clubs listed above, it is the experience of Stockport County that will most likely send a chill down the spine of supporters. Relegated from the Conference Premier just three years after playing League One football, Stockport are now in their fourth straight season in the relative purgatory of the National League North. Crowds have held up reasonably well – they’re averaging around 2,500 at the moment – but Stockport have been unable to break out of mid-table even in their new, somewhat more modest surroundings. As we said at the start of this piece, the divisions into which football clubs are relegated tend to be more difficult to get out of in an upwardly direction than they are to tumble into in the first place.

Perhaps York City’s decision to rest so much on one team performance will turn out to be a brilliant, inspired piece of management which will galvanise the supporters, breathe new life into the team and prove a turbo-boost to the club’s presumed aim of getting back into the Football League. Perhaps, however, it won’t. Perhaps there is no plan beyond three o’clock on Saturday afternoon. If nothing else, York City supporters are fully entitled to feel concerned at the fact that it’s so difficult to distinguish which of these versions of events may be closer to the truth.

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