YORK CITY APPOINTED Steve Watson as their new manager earlier this month after Sam Collins was relieved of his duties following a poor run of form. Watson becomes the Minstermen’s third manager this season, after Martin Gray was sacked in the middle of August.
To say matters at the club are stable at present would be laughable. City continue to struggle in the National League North, the sixth tier of English football, with little chance of winning promotion this season. It is a tragic story, when you consider that five seasons ago they were within touching distance of League One. Collins was dismissed on January 5th after City’s away defeat to Curzon Ashton. This result, to one of the division’s poorest sides, came on top of a December which saw York win just two of their seven fixtures. His overall win percentage whilst at the helm was 38.5%, marginally better than his predecessor Martin Gray. (37.8%)
For fans of the club, it has been a humiliating fall from grace, and one that has occurred very quickly. Five years ago, in January 2014, York were in the early stages of what would be an incredible unbeaten run of 17 games. It lifted them away from the fears of relegation, catapulting them into the play-offs. Over the two-legged semi-final, they would lose 1-0 to Fleetwood Town, who would go on to win promotion and establish themselves as a sound third tier outfit. For York, the story couldn’t be more different. They just about avoided relegation in 2015, but the following year were relegated to the Conference and out of the football league pyramid, finishing bottom of the division. Traditionally yoyoing between League Two and the Conference, there was optimism that the club could bounce straight back up at the first attempt.
York had one of the biggest budgets in the division and a talented, young side. But no one could have predicted how bad things would get over the 2016-17 campaign. Jackie McNamara was in charge when York came down, and remained in charge as they began their Conference campaign. However, he would eventually leave his role as manager, handing in his resignation in October after several defeats. That was not the end of McNamara though. In a bizarre move, he was made Chief Executive of the club, a decision which many of the York faithful see as a significant factor as to why they are in such dire straits. McNamara finally left this role at the end of the 2017/18 season, and it really is incredible that he has managed to get another job in football. Dunfermline Athletic, a club he used to play for, appointed him as a football consultant earlier this month.
Gary Mills was his replacement, a move that brought some hope to Bootham Crescent. The former Leicester City defender had previously managed the Minstermen between 2010 and 2013. In his time in Yorkshire, he won promotion to League Two via the play-offs and also helped York win the FA Trophy, non-league’s premier cup competition. Despite bringing immense optimism back on to the terraces of Bootham Crescent, Gary Mills was not able to do enough to turn things around. In April 2017, a scenario which no one would have predicted occurred: York City were relegated to the National League North. A club with a local, loyal following, consistently averaging over 2,000 for home games, would be playing in the sixth tier of English football. Mills was sacked early on in the 2017-18 season and replaced by Martin Gray, who guided York to a mid-table finish in the National League North, their lowest position in English football since before the Second World War. Sam Collins took over following Gray’s sacking but was equally uninspiring.
As Steve Watson gets underway at York, it’s difficult to be optimistic that he will be the man to turn things around. Putting aside Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to high-flying Stockport County, the club are about to move to a brand new all-seater stadium on the edge of the city at Monks Cross Retail Park. It is a ground worthy of League One, not England’s sixth-tier. City fans are passionate and loyal, but surely there’s a limit to how many more seasons of disappointment they can endure.