York City were playing at home in the Quarter Finals of the FA Trophy and I was gigging in nearby Selby so it seemed a shame not to pop to Bootham Crescent and watch the game. It also seemed like a crazy way to spend my afternoon, given the team’s recent form. I would be surprised if there is a club at any level in this country that has done worse than York over the last 14 months, falling to the bottom of League Two and then the bottom of the National League and scarcely winning a game. There’s been a brief run of “form” in the last few weeks in which we have drawn a few games and maybe won one or two, but we are still bottom of the non-league and seem certain to be relegated again. On Twitter some people suggest Palace or Sunderland, but these teams haven’t even been relegated once. An end of 2016 league table did put Palace at the bottom of the pile for that calendar year, but only because it only included league performances. Had York’s non-league half season been added in then we would surely have come out worst.
But incredibly the team were just two wins away from Wembley and playing a team in a lower division (so obscure that I couldn’t even retain their name throughout the game, though they played in yellow). I went with my friends Toby and Andre and we were not expecting much. But we got less than we expected.
The last time I had been to see the team they had been a pretty good non-league outfit and were in the season where they would get promoted to the league and win the FA Trophy. But today they were much more a unconnected ragbag of players of all ages and levels of fitness who weren’t gelling as a unit. We sat amongst the season ticket holders, who come and see this terrible team week in and week out and I both admired them and pitied them at the same time. What levels of devotion they have and what patience. Though after a particularly woeful second half performance the crowd were letting their displeasure known. The 100 or so fans of the yellows who had travelled up from Oxfordshire outsang the York supporters (in fact I am not sure the York fans did any singing at all - stunned into silence by how far their team had fallen).
In fact the most excitement from the York fans came pre match when the team were warming up and shooting at a temporary goal, but would occasionally sky one and send the ball heading towards the windows of the flats that overlooked the ground. We all hoped the windows would break, but the ball bounced off the walls and disappeared down the road, for some York lad to find and keep. In the second half the ball flew even further and landed in a tall tree behind the stand opposite us, but sadly it didn’t lodge in the leafless branches. We got our entertainment where we could. The players bunched together like we used to when we were kids and the wind generally whipped any high ball out of play.
For a brief period in the first half York played slightly better. We got a penalty that was neatly saved and there was another miracle stop from the Yellow keeper, so it looked like it wouldn’t be our day. But then we found a way through and went into the break with a deserved one goal lead.
And the decision seemed to be made to defend that impressive lead in the second half, in which the Yellows played a lot better (with the wind behind them) and York seemed to have run out of puff. For once luck was on York’s side as shots bounced off the crossbar twice and I am pretty sure at one point a Yellow player on our goal line managed to block out one of his team mate’s shots. York were so bad that I was almost willing them to lose. But they hung on for an unsatisfactory win and are now just one game from bringing their useless football to Wembley. Which might be a bit embarrassing. Luckily there are some good teams in the semis (including Lincoln who in the position to win an extraordinary double of the FA Cup and FA Trophy in the same season- imagine if it was York and not Arsenal who prevented that). Almost 2000 people had turned up to see this shower, whereas I am lucky if I get 250 in this city and I think I am far more entertaining over 90 minutes (though possibly not as funny), though to be fair the ticket price was only £8, so that might be the mistake I am making.
The sun went in and the terraces became cold and there was nothing to warm us. There was no celebration from the terraces at the final whistle. We knew we had been lucky and I am sure were all considering the inevitability of consecutive demotions. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as bad after seeing my football team win. But maybe we’re so used to losing now that we don’t remember what you do when you win.