Potter, Hopcutt and a Desk in East London charts the improbable rise of Östersunds FK (OFK) from the Swedish fourth division to the Europa League.

Looking for a distraction from their mundane office lives, two childhood York City fans are drawn in by the ascent of two men with loose connections to their hometown club, OFK manager Graham Potter and midfielder Jamie Hopcutt.

As a passing interest becomes a full-blown obsession, the pair follow Östersunds across Europe, from a war-torn Ukraine, to a Howard Kendall-themed bar in Bilbao, to a defining night at the Emirates.

Fascinated by the people they meet along the way, the pair discover a team of misfits rejected at almost every level, a fan base confused by their Scandinavian fascination and a club not afraid to do things differently while knocking out some of Europe’s most storied clubs.

This book is an ode to the underdog and an invigorating reminder of the power of football fandom to provide the perfect escape.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. April 2023. Hardcover: 224 pages)


Buy the book here: Potter Hopcutt and a Desk in East London

Book Review: His Name is McNamara by Jackie McNamara (with Gerard McDade)

Book front cover.

“I should have played you more son.”

So said Martin O’Neill after Celtic icon, Jackie McNamara’s testimonial at Celtic Park, and it is a wish that we all had, when he retired from playing. According to his autobiography, it is a sentiment that he wishes the national manager, Craig Brown shared. But of that, more later.

There is perhaps a prejudice about footballers that they are perhaps a little less than bright. Bucking the trend has always been the likes of Pat Nevin, the reluctant footballer, but here we have a man who has faced death and returned to tell the tale whilst combining a career that went from being a cultured player on the park to a much-lauded manager that ended with a curious position as a Chief Executive. Aside from the managerial role, the parallels with Nevin are secure.

His Name is McNamara is a stellar run through the career within football with the backdrop of a collapse at home on the 8th of February 2020 which shaped his future and weaves throughout the biography. McNamara suffered a brain haemorrhage that day, which saw him hospitalised for a prolonged period of time.

His tale begins with McNamara telling us one thing that, on reflection, we should have known – he is a fighter. Given that he ended up in surgery more than once, it should have been more obvious, but then again, as he explains, he is a middle child. His story takes us from that settled and loving family environment through an apprenticeship, to an icon in a hooped shirt, a Midlands sojourn, a North East swansong, a fledgling managership in Glasgow, a mixed experience beside the Tay and then to be the next English import in lower league football ending with a curious period of time as a Chief Executive. Running throughout is the story of his illness and recovery from the darkest place; it makes for a powerful read.

Throughout he pays special attention to those to whom he owes a debt. For example, there is a touching reference to Sandy Brown, the “someone” who saw his potential and started his progress in the professional ranks. His first club, Dunfermline Athletic then managed by the legendary Big Jim Leishman, now the mayor of Dunfermline was critical.  ‘Big Leish’ was one of the biggest characters in Scottish football, though for McNamara, his influence was short lived as he was off, soon after his signing in the way that many managers are mutually relieved of their duties. McNamara became introduced to the fleeting passage of a football manager.

His senior debut, thanks to another Scottish legend, Jocky Scott came in the B & Q Cup – it would take too long to explain what that was – but from such minor cups came the man who would bag 4 Scottish Premier League titles, 3 Scottish Cups, and 2 Scottish League Cups, as well as appearing as player and manager in 6 other cup finals! It’s a remarkable journey and McNamara keeps the foot on the gas as he tells it.

By the time that McNamara was at Celtic, when there were trophies being won, it was also during his time when Rangers were going for 10-in-a-row. Achieving a 10th Scottish Premiership title would have handed their bitter rivals the ultimate boast – that Celtic’s greatest domestic achievement of winning 9 titles in a row was now second best to Rangers’ domestic achievement of 10.

McNamara tells of how manager Wim Jansen, in his one and only year as manager of Celtic, stopped the 10-in-a-row party in Ibrox. It is already the stuff of legend, but McNamara provides insights into all the backdrop, the background and the respect Jansen held during his time in charge. Such insight includes how the “Smell the Glove” t-shirt came about – which is mundane and fascinating – and the bizarre nature of the management in the club at the time – which is not. This includes the match in Portugal they had to play just after winning the title came about because it was part of the contractual agreement that brought Jorge Cadete to Celtic. From the outside, this was one of the increasingly bizarre episodes of the time and it ended with Jansen despite being the hero of the season not being given another contract.

And then there were the Scotland games.

Programme from McNamara’s final cap for Scotland

McNamara appeared at a World Cup and the infamous game played in Tallinn. The home side, Estonia refused to show up and Scotland kicked off against nobody. It was where McNamara made his international debut, lasted 3 seconds and never touched the ball. Mind you, neither did 9 of his teammates!

McNamara though not shy to criticise, does so with decorum. Of course, there are those with whom he did not quite get on – Ian McCall being one, Craig Brown another – and those with whom he had a flourishing relationship – Simon Donnelly (Sid), John Hartson, Martin O’Neill and Henrik Larsson (who wrote the foreword). For each there are words of truth written without rancour and without hyperbole. It is true that he lets his feelings out, but he recognizes where his bitterness should end and his understanding, given the circumstances he has found himself facing, colour his views of the past.

From Celtic he found himself signed for Wolverhampton Wanderers, helping them get to the play-offs, then to the twilight of his career in the Premiership with Aberdeen, before signing for Falkirk. His time at Falkirk included a loan spell at Partick Thistle which was prematurely ended by a horrendous leg break at Somerset Park. I know, I saw it. He recovered, signed permanently for Thistle and then took his first steps into the dugout by becoming their manager, following Ian McCall’s departure, for the 2011/12 season.

I interviewed McNamara when he was the boss at Partick Thistle and aside from the well-worn cliché used to describe him – that he appeared to be quite shy of the media, wanting to give praise more than accept it – he always struck me as an assured reader of the game. There was a quiet confidence that was far from the swagger of many of his contemporaries. You got the feeling that whilst other bosses would kick the cat and harangue the family after a loss, McNamara would welcome reflection and a quiet period to piece together what went wrong and then plan more effectively for the next game. Whilst this is an observation from one who does not know him, it is fully backed by the autobiography which shows a man who faced death and rather than succumb to self-pity has reflected, counted his blessings and realised how fortunate he is.

He made such an impression at Thistle, that he was ironically transported to Dundee United. Ironic, because it was to the same club that Ian McCall had gone to and failed to ignite. What was to happen to McNamara was an exit under a cloud. That cloud was a suggestion that McNamara had financially benefitted from two transfers of United players which soured his reputation. McNamara, though not denying that there may have been some form of contractual advantage to him through transfer fees, makes it very clear that he did not benefit, if at all, to the value that had been claimed. That he then goes on to suggest that his well-publicised fall out with the youth team coach, Stevie Campbell, was due to the fact that Campbell who had previously benefitted from financial inducements when his youth team players graduated to the first team. Such an arrangement was threatened because McNamara was bringing players into the club rather than promoting them from within. It strongly suggests there was a culture in the club of financial benefit for successful staff. It is therefore not a leap to believe that McNamara may have also had such a clause in his contract. Having said all that, McNamara, given what he has been through has little reason to lie. There is no reason for him to apply to be back in the manager’s chair. So why try and repair his own reputation? Here he believes that Campbell had leaked the story out of spite. It is his one bitter note.

Team sheet from McNamara’s first game as manager of York City

The manager’s chair at York City was his next destination and whilst up in Scotland, we knew of the City and its football club, we struggled to fathom why a young Scottish manager of such great ability would end up at a League Two club. After a few training sessions and games, it would appear that McNamara was unsure too.

Taking his friend, Simon Donnelly with him to be part of the coaching set up, he discovered that Donnelly was probably the best player in the club! His work was cut out. His reason for going was wrapped up in his relationship with Chairman, Jason McGill. It endured a relegation down into the National League and led to McNamara taking the role as CEO of the club. It was here that things began to unravel as a new manager arrived without a new philosophy. It was an old school way of doing things which were more than a clash of personalities. By the time that McNamara left the club, Jason had sold it and the McNamara family had settled in Yorkshire.

In a strange left field kind of way, his next move was to write a comedy, The Therapy Room. Though it never got past the pilot stage, it used his experiences in creative fashion and it could be argued that his name carried the opportunity to it being made at all. He also tried his hand at a variety of post retirement ventures which have sustained him to an extent and are covered in summary more than detail.

Throughout the book chapters are introduced with the slow revelation of the events of his illness, from the day it began through the setbacks and the recovery to the final pages. By the end he is out the hospital and with family. The former owner of York City and his wife, having proven to be true friends, McNamara can look forward to the future being just where  he has settled. There is a contentment which travels across the page. He talks of how managers in football can be stuck in a bubble. For him, that bubble, truly has burst. Whether the experiences of the allegations at Dundee United or relegation at York City prepared him fully for life beyond the dugout, his collapse, coma and concerned family, have provided him with the future based upon a reality which is far more secure – his faith and his health.

McNamara credits his collaborator, Gerry McDade with a great deal of the fluidity and success of the book. Whether it be a footballer with a decent education or a writer with exceptional source material, this has the types of lessons and insight that make it a very easy read. It has proven that McNamara beyond the white line was just as compelling with a ball at his feet as with a pen in his hand – even one guided by McDade.

Donald C Stewart


(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. September 2021. Hardcover: 320 pages)


Buy your copy here:Jackie McNamara

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Programme Review: 2021/22 York City

Teams: York City v Morpeth Town

Venue: LNER Community Stadium

Result: York City 1 (1) – (0) 1 Morpeth Town

Programme cost: £1.50

Pages: 16

The debate about digital v physical programmes has featured in our opening two reviews (Selby Town and Chadderton) and continues here with York City producing both a digital and physical version for their FA Cup tie v Morpeth Town. Looking at the Club’s on-line store, it seems that ‘The Minstermen’ have done this all season, for both their National North and FA Cup games to date, for which they should be applauded since it gives fans the option of which to purchase. One thing to notice though, is that for league fixtures the programme is £2.50, so is presumably a more substantial production than the 16 page version costing £1.50 for the FA Cup.

So what of this offering in the FA Cup, which celebrates 150 years in the 2021/22 season? Well, seven pages are given over to adverts (44%), with club/ground sponsors jmp, LNER, York Gin, DWA, and go store accounting for five of these. The remaining two are for The FA Player app and Kick it Out, although this is advert from the 2020/21 campaign. Since the Club will undoubtedly be contractually obliged to these companies and organisations to carry these in the programme, it will mean York have no option, but given that, couldn’t the programme be at least 20 pages?

The programme cover leaves you in no doubt that this is a FA Cup tie with an image of the famous trophy dominating and is a template used in the previous home ties. It is titled. “The Citizen” a nod to the founding of the city by the Romans. Colour-wise it is in the red club colours with the club badges of York and Morpeth and the standard match information – venue, date, competition and price. Additionally, the logo of shirt sponsor jmp features as does the Emirates 150 Years FA Cup logo. A nice little feature is at the bottom right hand corner, where a print effect looks to reveal that this is No: 9 of the programmes this season.

In terms of content this is where it feels a little strange. Page 3 is the first non-advert material of this edition and rather than being a welcome or game scene-set from the Chairman or manager, there is an article from youth team player Kyle Lancaster who was an unused substitute in the previous round v Whitby Town. Whilst an interesting article about the youngsters recent game against Notts County and thrill at being involved with the senior squad, it just doesn’t feel that this is a introduction to the game ahead. Incidentally, came on for the last ten minutes to mark his senior debut.

The programme is generous in the pages given over to visitors, NPL Premier Division, Morpeth Town with pen-pics and head-shots of the squad featuring on pages 4 and 7, and a club history on page 12, all very useful to fans on the day. However, the history for ‘The Highwaymen’ is curious in that it cuts off at the end of the 2014/15 season, with no details after that date. Pages 8 and 9 are the centre-fold of this edition and detail the ‘classic’ fixtures, results and line-ups common to all programmes. Additionally there is the National North League table as well as the current seasons appearances and goalscorers. The space on page 9 (games yet to be played), is used to provide a profile of a York volunteer, details of the other FA Cup fixtures involving National North teams and a picture of Olly Dyson the ‘Man of the Match’ from the last home game v Southport. That fixture provides the content for page 10, titles “Action Replay” with six images from the game as well as a brief match summary including the York line-up. All that leaves is the back page, which contains the common squad lists, with respective clubs badges and details of the match officials and the forthcoming games at the LNER Community Stadium.

Overall, whilst this is a tidily produced programme, however, the overriding feeling is that with the addition of four more pages it would have been improved in having a better flow and more bang for your buck. These could easily have been provided through the addition of some of the following – a welcome from the Chairman, a preview of the game from the York manager, a full list of the other ties taking place rather than just those involving National North teams, a look at both sides game played in getting to the Fourth Qualifying Round or indeed a summary of the record of ‘The Minstermen’ over the 150 Years of the FA Cup.

Website: Home | York City Football Club

Interview with Mike Bayly author of British Football’s Greatest Grounds: One Hundred Must-See Football Venues

Mike Bayly describes himself on his Twitter profile (@Mike_Bayly) as, “History enthusiast. Contributor to  @wsc_magazine Amateur photographer and writer. Quirky ground lover.” And all these attributes have been brought together in his latest project, British Football’s Greatest Grounds: One Hundred Must-See Football Venues. Following the publication of the book which has received much critical acclaim, FBR caught up with the author.

1986 FA Cup Final programme cover

Football Book Reviews (FBR): Can you tell us what were your first football memories?

Mike Bayly (MB): Like most children, I played football at school and in parks as soon as I was old enough to kick a ball. The first televised game I clearly remember watching was the 1986 FA Cup Final between Liverpool and Everton, followed by my first major tournament, Mexico ‘86, shortly afterwards. In 1987, I attended my first live game, seeing Hereford United beat Hartlepool United 4-0 at Edgar Street in the old Division Four. Football quickly became an obsession after that, and I was never happier than when pouring after the results and tables in the ‘Sports Argus’, the local results newspaper for the West Midlands.

FBR: Do you have a team you specifically support?

MB: Growing up in the West Midlands, I occasionally watched Hereford United and Shrewsbury Town, but Kidderminster Harriers were my first love. Harriers were then a very successful non-League side, winning the 1986-87 FA Trophy. I spent many happy years at Aggborough and still have a framed photo from when I was mascot against Maidstone United in 1988.

When I moved to Sheffield for university in 1994, it was much harder to attend games and I lost touch with the club. While it may be anathema to most fans, I tend to gravitate towards clubs where I live, and as a resident of the Steel City, would probably describe myself as a fan of local football than of a specific team.  While I consider myself a casual follower of Sheffield Wednesday, the club I probably watch more than any other is Hallam FC of the Northern Counties East League, albeit only a few times a season. Most Saturdays I tend to be out photographing random grounds and have long passed the point where I can claim a specific allegiance.

FBR: Changing Ends: A Season in Non-League Football was your first football book. What was the driving force for writing it?

MB: During the first decade of the 2000s, I grew increasingly disillusioned with football and hadn’t watched a non-League game in years. For reasons I don’t entirely recall, I attended what was effectively the Conference South title decider between Hampton & Richmond Borough and AFC Wimbledon in April 2009. It was a fantastic experience and made me question whether the charge that football had ‘lost its soul’ could be so readily applied to non-League football. I decided to spend the 2009-10 season watching different non-League clubs, interviewing fans and committee members for their take on the modern game. This included trips to London APSA, a leading Asian club, and the fan-owned AFC Liverpool. It was through this journey I rediscovered my love of football and became aware of the invaluable and unsung work volunteers do, who, in my opinion, are the real heroes of our national game.

FBR: Do you think this book has even more relevance today?

MB: In some respects, yes. Professional football has become even more commercialised and expensive to watch in the last decade and will presumably continue on a similar trajectory. There have long been examples of fans finding refuge in the non-League game as it offers an affordable and more traditional matchday experience. Interestingly, a by-product of the pandemic is that fans desperate for live football have turned out in record numbers at non-League grounds. Here in Sheffield, interest in Hallam FC spiked prior to the latest lockdown. For a league game against Brigg Town, the Covid-restricted ticket allocation of 150 sold out in two minutes.

A number of those attending would ordinarily be watching Sheffield Wednesday or Sheffield United, and it would be naïve to assume ticket demand will remain the same once things return to normal. However, it is interesting to note that many fans watching non-League football for the first time loved the experience and vowed to continue doing so even when restrictions lift. At places like Hallam, you can watch the game and have a couple of pints for £10. The quality of football might not be the same as in the Football League or Premier League, but as an overall experience I suspect it will remain highly appealing in a financially uncertain post-Covid world.

FBR: What is the inspiration for your latest book, British Football’s Greatest Grounds: One Hundred Must-See Football Venues?

There were two main reasons I decided to write the book after the idea came to me in 2013.

Firstly, I’ve always enjoyed visiting new grounds, but, as I’m sure is the case with a lot of people, social and work commitments can restrict opportunities to do so. There were numerous ground guides available in print and on the internet, but, to the best of my knowledge, nothing that provided a shortlist of our must-see venues. Providing some guidance or suggestions in the form of a ‘bucket list’ might be useful for those fans with limited free time who wanted to be more selective with their football trips.

And secondly, I thought it would be a fun and rewarding project to carry out. Which it certainly proved to be.

FBR: Do you have a favourite ground and why?

MB: Like music albums, I think my choice of favourite ground changes with my mood or interest at a given time. However, there are three grounds that will always occupy a place near the top:

Cappielow [Credit: Greenock Morton FC]
  1. Cappielow (Greenock Morton) – A timeless football ground with old stands, large open terracing, evocative floodlights and an industrial titan crane for backdrop.
  2. Bellslea Park (Fraserburgh) – The 1920s main stand. The imposing Victorian church behind the ground. The harbour views. Quite wonderful.
  3. Cadbury Recreation Ground (Cadbury Athletic) – Part of the Bournville Model Village laid out by the Cadbury brothers in the late 19th/early 20th century. Complete with Edwardian Pavilion, the Cadbury Recreation Ground is in Birmingham but not of it. A utopian place to watch football.

FBR: Do you think the unique grounds will survive or is there an inevitability about standardisation where clubs are in the football pyramid?

MB: The football ground landscape in Britain has changed behind recognition in the past 30 years. I suspect there are five man drivers for this.

  1. The recommendations laid out in the Taylor Report that compelled many professional clubs to upgrade their ageing grounds to all-seater and improve safety.
  2. The increased cost of competing at the highest level, resulting in numerous out-of-town ground relocations. Some ground moves are made from necessity (Shrewsbury Town relocated from the beautiful Gay Meadow partly because of constant flooding) but other new builds appear to be driven solely by the desire to capitalise on land value and/or increase revenue.
  3. The desire to replace old structures with newer, more comfortable facilities that enable other revenue streams such as bars, hotels or conference suites.
  4. More stringent ground grading standards in the non-league pyramid (I reference this specifically in the last part of the Richmond Town section of my latest book)
  5. Greater fluidity in the non-League pyramid (not least automatic promotion to the Football League and play-off places in the tiers below) resulting in a greater number of aspirational clubs replacing older structures or moving to new facilities.
Bootham Crescent, York City FC

Taking this as a whole, I fear it is a case of when, not if, our oldest or most unique grounds will cease to exist. The Boleyn Ground, Griffin Park and Bootham Crescent have been lost in the last few years and based on current planning discussions, it’s only a matter of time before places like Goodison Park (Everton) or the Pilot Field (Hastings United) go the same way. Many other sacred venues have been the subject of relocation talk in the last decade. The fate of football grounds rests as much on the attitude and ambition of incumbent owners as anything else. I do worry that in the twilight of my life, ‘British Football’s Greatest Grounds’ will be more a document of what was, than what is.

FBR: How do you think COVID will  shape football going forward?

MB: I think it’s very difficult to tell at present. Reduced capacity at stadiums could be in place until late 2021 or even 2022. In this eventuality, some fans might have gone 18-24 months without watching their clubs live. I imagine the vast majority of supporters will be desperate to watch their club play again, regardless of the wait. However, it’s more than feasible that some will drift away or find themselves in the habit of watching non-League football, assuming restrictions are lifted earlier that those in the Premier League or Football League. As for Covid’s impact on the actual ground layout or design, I don’t know. Making predictions on anything right now can be a fallacious exercise.

FBR: Many thanks for your time Mike. Good luck with the book!

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 17 – Saturday 02 November 2019: York City v Kidderminster Harriers

Matchday programme cover

So having seen on this journey so far, Chelsea, Stenhousemuir, Fulham and Lincoln City (partially at Blackpool) all priority teams ticked off my list, it was time for York City, in the season they are due to leave their Bootham Crescent ground which has been their home since 1932 – coincidently the year my Dad was born.

I had lived in York, well Bishopthorpe just on the outskirts of the city, and had my first marriage in Bishopthorpe too shortly after leaving London. From Bishopthorpe I moved to Huddersfield and met one of my best friends, another Steve. Funnily enough, he is also a Chelsea fan and we have attempted to get to games together whenever possible. We went to the Aston Villa and Arsenal cup finals together, but our best trip was to Amsterdam to watch a few games during the 2014 World Cup. The original plan was to attend the Holland vs Spain opener, however, this was the weekend of my daughters 16th birthday so went for the Holland vs Australia and England vs Uruguay games instead. The Dutch love their football and I have been a big fan since the early 70s sides of Cruyff, Haan, van de Kerkhov brothers, Krol, Neeskens, Rep and Resenbrink – how did they never win the World Cup with that talent?

This wasn’t our first visit to the city, and we knew exactly where we were going to watch the game. We’d bought replica 1974 Dutch shirts and made our way with the locals towards Dam Square and our favourite little brown bar Café Mooy which we’d discovered many years before. We arrived in plenty of time for the kick-off, which was fortunate as the doors were bolted about half an hour before kick-off and everybody lit up. A group of lads started speaking to us in Dutch, fortunately their English was far better than our Dutch. We had a great conversation about Dutch football. I’ve followed Vitesse Arnhem for a number of years since Chelsea started a partnership with them regarding their youngsters, so we were not only able to talk about international football we also had a really great conversation about Dutch league football too. The other bonus was that we didn’t have to buy a drink from that point on. The Oranje went on to beat Australia 3 – 2 and England more or less went out of the Cup losing to Uruguay.

On the day of the York game, it was absolutely pouring down with rain as I drove over the pick Steve up. “It’s cold and wet outside mate you’ll need a coat” I said, and he only then produces exactly the same coat as I was wearing. This is going to be fun I thought, someone will think it’s the geeky brothers day out in the community! We drove to York in the rain which never gave up all day. It was a nightmare to find a parking space, but we eventually found somewhere and walked to the ground. We made it into the away end and a female steward was giving us a few strange looks. “Is it because we’re both wearing the same coat?” I enquired, “Yes!” she said losing her battle to contain her laughter. “It’s alright we don’t get out much!” Steve replied. We managed to hold out in the rain on the open Grosvenor Road terrace until half time before giving in and paid our extra quid to get into the covered Poplar Stand.

View from Polar Stand

On days like this, invariably the weather is the winner and so it proved to be. The opening twenty minutes were pretty forgettable as both sides tried to adjust to the wet and windy conditions. Kidderminster though had the best of that early period with half-chances created for Hemmings and Williams. York finally tested Cameron Gregory the Harriers ‘keeper just after the half-way point of the first-half when he saved from Griffiths. Despite Kidderminster coming into this game in 17th spot, they continued to create the best chances, with Davidson, Williams and Hemmings all firing off-target though. As so often happens, teams then score against the run of play and that happened on thirty-eight minutes. From an Adriano Moke cross, he picked out Griffiths who was able to turn and fire past Gregory and into the bottom right corner to put The Minstermen 1-0 up, an advantage they held at the break, but perhaps didn’t deserve.

Into the second-half and Kidderminster continued to dominate the possession without creating any guilt edged chances with York seemingly content to hold onto their one-goal lead. York brought on Green to give them greater numbers in midfield just before the hour mark and he nearly scored for York later in the half, but Gregory saved his strike. Harriers though continued to battle to the end and got their reward eight minutes from time. From a cross Hemmings and York ‘keeper Jameson went after the loose ball with the Kidderminster striker winning the race and slotting home for the equaliser. Almost immediately after the restart, Kidderminster then nearly took the lead, but substitute Ollie Shenton dragged his shot wide when well placed. It was the last real chance of the game which at the whistle ended 1-1 which was probably the right result. Not a classic, but at least I had a chance to say goodbye to Bootham Crescent.


Saturday 02 November 2019

Vanarama National League North

York City 1 (Griffiths 38’) Kidderminster Harriers 1 (Hemmings 82’)

Venue: Bootham Crescent

Attendance: 2,586

York City: Jameson, Griffiths, Ferguson, Newton, McNulty, Tait, Moke, Bond, Burrow, Maguire (Green 58’), Kempster (McFarlane 85’).

Unused Substitutes: Durrell, King, Whitley.

Kidderminster Harriers: Gregory, Austin, Davidson, Butterfield, Moyo, Johnson, Weeks, Williams (Diau 87’), Chambers (Shenton 77’), Hemmings (Prosser 88’), Peniket.

Unused Substitutes: Palmer, Higginson.


Steve Blighton

2013/14: Sky Bet League Two: York City v Accrington Stanley

Football is all about routine for fans and this Saturday that seemed to resonant even more than usual as games up and down the country were involved in marking the 25th Anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy.

With my son back from University we took the opportunity to get to a game together. So it was great to take the train from Leeds and pass the time catching up on his ‘new’ life as a student and some football talk. The conversation continued as we blended into the background with the tourists in York city centre en-route to Bootham Crescent.

With programmes purchased, we dropped into the ‘Pitchside Bar’ at the ground and enjoyed a couple of pints as QPR v Nottingham Forest played out on the big-screens in the background.  There was a great ‘buzz’ in the bar as home fans mingled with those from visitors Accrington Stanley – York fans hoping for a home win that would keep their play-off hopes alive, whilst Stanley fans were looking for a result which would go towards ensuring their Football League survival.

With kick-off creeping nearer it was time to go into the ground. We opted to stand in the away end and within minutes of entering the terrace were getting something to eat. I’ve watched football for forty two years, but today I enjoyed the best pie at a game – so a special mention to Wrights pies of Crewe – Chicken Balti, absolutely fantastic.

As a mark of respect for the 96 who died at Hillsborough, kick-off here and across the country was delayed to 3.07. The reasoning behind this was that at 3.06 in 1989 the Liverpool v Nottingham Forest FA Cup Semi-Final was stopped and with a minutes silence observed today, this would take kick-off to 3.07. At Bootham Crescent, the mark of respect was met with an impeccable silence; the only sound to be heard was the chorus of birds in the trees behind the Popular Stand.

Then a blast from the official’s whistle and the normal match-day sounds resumed.

League Two has been a keenly contested division this season and has meant that there hasn’t been much to differentiate between sides chancing a play-off spot and those trying to avoid the relegation spots. So it proved today, York were unbeaten in twelve games (their last loss being in the final week of January), whilst Accrington had won four in their last twelve, but had lost to relegation threatened Northampton last weekend.

Stanley were not overawed by their hosts and in the first-half had chances through Luke Joyce, Piero Mingoia and Kayode Odejayi, in a battling display during the opening forty five minutes. The Minstermen though created their own fair share of opportunities with Ryan Brobbel, John McCombe and Calvin Andrew going close for York. However, it remained 0-0 at the break.

York came out stronger in the second-half and were rewarded just after the hour, when Odejayi was perhaps a little unlucky to be penalised for handball in the area. Michael Coulson converted from the spot and City had the lead. Accrington though didn’t buckle and continued to put York under pressure with good chances falling to Naismith and Odejayi. York though should have killed off the game when Calvin Andrew could not apply a touch to Will Hayhurst’s cross.

With the fourth official signalling four minutes of time added on, fans of both clubs started to drift away. Those that did missed the Stanley equaliser. From Lee Molyneux’s corner, City keeper Pope misjudged the flight of the ball and Shay McCartan had an easy header into the goal. The home fans were silenced and it nearly got worse, when in the last minute Pope saved from Naismith to ensure that the game ended 1-1.  Accrington though deserved their point. It could prove to be a costly result for York, as they dropped out of the play-off spots, with four games remaining.

With the game over it was time to make our way back to the railway station. There was however time for a pint and idle chat about the game and results across the country.

As football fans we perhaps take for granted our own match-day routines – the people we go with, the places we meet, the banter, the beers, the high and lows. And like life itself, we shouldn’t – instead we should stop and consider how lucky we are.

25 years ago, fans set out on a sunny day in April to attend a game at Hillsborough, 96 didn’t return, never again to enjoy another match-day.

2013/14: Capital One Cup First Round – York City v Burnley

One of the features of the early weeks of the new season is the start of the League Cup. 2013/14 is no exception as August will see Rounds One and Two completed of what is the Capital One Cup. It’s a chance for some early ‘giant-killing’ and as Bradford City proved last season it can be the start of an unexpected and lucrative adventure.

My choice of game in Round One is that between York City (from League Two) and Burnley (of the Championship) at Bootham Crescent. This destination is influenced by the fact that as well as taking in the game, it is an opportunity to meet and chat with Dan Tait the author of Keep the Faith, a book about his years supporting and watching York City.

Burnley warm-up

The Minstermen opened their 2013/14 campaign with a 1-0 win over Northampton Town, as debutant Ryan Harris grabbed a last minute winner. For the visit of The Clarets manager Nigel Worthington made just two changes to the side from the opening day, with Jamal Fyfield replacing Ben Davies and Ryan Bowman coming in for veteran striker Richard Cresswell. Burnley also started the new season with a home fixture, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Lancashire rivals Bolton Wanderers. Danny Ings scored on twenty two minutes to put Burnley ahead, but this was cancelled out after thirty six minutes by a strike from Darren Pratley. For their visit to York, manager Sean Dyche kept the same side, showing his commitment to securing a win and progress in the competition.

York City warm-up

Burnley dominated from the off with Junior Stanislas prominent and the side from Turf Moor were nearly ahead on two minutes as a Sam Vokes header hit the woodwork. Vokes had another chance just two minutes later, but this time Ingham saved well. York were not in the game as Burnley were slick going forward and winning a number of early corners. The visitor’s pressure paid off when on twelve minutes David Jones was first to a Wallace corner which was steered home. However, despite the hammering City had endured in the opening fifteen minutes they slowly got back into the game and on twenty one minutes Sander Puri had an attempt on the Burnley goal. It was however his last contribution as he pulled up injured and was replaced by Michael Coulson. With the City crowd now finding their voice, Ashley Chambers was threatening more for York and looking dangerous out wide. The game was now a more even contest as Coulson and Clay had efforts on the Burnley goal, with The Clarets continuing to be a threat on the counterattack. At the half-time whistle, Burnley went in 1-0 up, with York grateful that it wasn’t more after the battering of the opening fifteen minutes of the game.

At the start of the second-half, Burnley were back in the ascendency with Stanislas once more proving to the chief tormentor of the York defence. But just as they had in the opening half, The Minstermen worked their way back into the match with Chambers leading the charge. However, the game was effectively over on sixty one minutes, when York gave away possession in their own half and from a Danny Ings cross, Junior Stanislas stroked home to double the Burnley advantage. Both sides made a number of changes as York searched a goal to get back in the game and Burnley looked to protect their lead. With the second-half approaching the last ten minutes, The Clarets struck on the counter with Danny Ings breaking down the right. His cross into the box rebounded back to him and Ings was able to slot home for a third Burnley score on seventy eight minutes. Ings turned provider just four minutes later as Burnley again broke quickly on the counter allowing substitute Scott Arfield to comfortably place his shot home for a fourth goal. The visitors had shown their class in their clinical finishing and all-round approach play, but the final score line of 4-0 didn’t reflect the contribution York had made at various times in the game.

York City: Ingham, Oyebanjo, Fyfield, Platt (Montrose 67), Smith, McGurk, Puri (Coulson 22), Clay, Jarvis (Fletcher 70), Bowman, Chambers

Subs not used: Kettings, Parslow, Allan, Coates

Burnley: Heaton, Trippier, Lafferty, Marney, Long, Shackell, Stanislas, Jones (Edgar 70), Ings, Vokes (Stock 80), Wallace (Arfield 62)

Subs not used:  Cisak, O’Neill, Treacy, Noble

Attendance: 3,922

After the game, there was the opportunity to meet up with Dan Tait who along with his colleague Paul Walton, provide commentary of games at Bootham Crescent for York General Hospital Radio. Discussion quickly turned to the game we had just watched and how York would fare in the coming season. Like many City fans, they reflected that an untroubled mid-table finish would be more than welcome after the last day trauma that was endured last season. The events of the return to the Football League and that dramatic game at Dagenham & Redbridge are well documented in Keep the Faith and Tait expanded how the departure of Gary Mills whilst sad given what he had achieved, was necessary in March 2013. With a much changed squad under Nigel Worthington, the club will hope to maintain their League status as they work towards a new era once the new stadium at Monks Cross is completed. For this season though, The Minstermen’s dreams of League Cup progress were over after one game, but for those surviving it was one step nearer to playing in the Final under the arch at Wembley come March next year. Just another six games to win then…

Book Review: Keep the Faith by Daniel Tait

“Keep the Faith” is the personal reflections of Dan Tait in supporting his team over the last twenty years. His story starts back in 1992, when the nine year old York-born Tait ignored the lure of the shiny new Premier League and the ‘big’ clubs, to support his local team York City. It was to prove a fantastic first season following The Minstermen, as the team gained promotion from the ‘old’ Fourth Division via a Play-off win at Wembley against Crewe. Just as the book begins on a positive note, so does it end in this manner, with York retaining their League status on the last day of the 2012/13 season.

So you might think that the events all seems positive and pretty unremarkable, and therefore where’s the story? Well if Horrible Histories published a book on the last twenty years of York City Football Club, then it would look a lot like “Keep the Faith”. Yes, Tait’s first season on the terraces at Bootham Crescent started well and indeed 1993/94 nearly saw a second successive Play-off Final, but what followed up to 2012/13 is a series of seasons which had some gruesome lows before the highs that emerged in York’s last two league campaigns. Tait details the activities on and off the pitch in a pragmatic manner, but with the gallows humour that supporting your team brings. On the surface Tait offers his opinions on the players, managers and board which saw the club continue to haunt the bottom two rungs of the Football League and the disastrous period which saw Chairman Douglas Craig hand the reigns to John Batchelor and nearly put the club out of existence. Worse was to follow in 2003/04 when after 75 years of League football, City were relegated to the Conference. The Minstermen then endured an eight year exile, until the Conference Final Play-off win over Luton Town in 2011/12, secured League status once more.

It is in the part of the book which relates to the years in the Conference that the sub-text to the book emerges. Relegation from the Football League to the Conference has proved to be a significant factor in the declining fortunes of a number of clubs such as Scarborough, Chester, Halifax Town and Darlington in recent years, which necessitated ‘new’ versions of these teams having to start their journey back to the Football League lower down the football pyramid. As mentioned earlier, Tait expresses his opinions and reflections in a reasoned manner through the book, but his frustrations at life in the Conference are evident in his descriptions as he follows York around the Conference circuit. Most telling of all is his expression of relief at winning the Play-off Final when Tait exclaims, “…eight long, painful years in the most tin pot of tin pot leagues…” On the surface this may seem to be disrespectful, but should be taken in context in that it is a statement of sheer joy, very much of the moment at Wembley on the day, allied with the belief and perception that his team is a Football League team with a long history.

“Keep the Faith” is a record of what it is like to follow a team in the lower echelons of the Football League, reflecting the reality of survival and the battle to avoid relegation to the Conference. It is a fans perspective on the ups and downs of football on a different planet from those who inhabit the world of “Super Sunday” and “Monday Night Football” Ultimately, Tait has captured an incredible twenty year period at Bootham Crescent in a very readable and accessible way, and which would be a good addition to the shelf of any football supporter, York fans or not. So as the 2013/14 season begins football fan will dream of what is to come and once more continue to “Keep the Faith”.


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Book Review: Bicycle Kicks by Simon Hood

Some say football is a metaphor for life, others state that life is a journey; so what does it say if you set yourself the task over a ten month period to complete a 10,000 mile journey on a bicycle watching every single game played by your team (home and away) in the Conference National and FA Cup in the 2009/10 season?

The obvious response for many would simply be – why? However, there was method in the madness for life-long York City supporter Simon Hood which he explains in the Prologue to his book Bicycle Kicks. In his self-deprecating manner Hood tells the reader that on the one-hand he undertook the challenge because at the age of thirty two he felt life was passing him by in a “…passive, rudderless existence…” and that the challenge “…seemed a bit of a lark…” On the other-hand he acknowledges that it was a chance to reconnect with his home-town club, carry out some fundraising for the Alzheimer’s Society, write about his experience and so avoid becoming “…that guy staring into the bottom of his pint glass, thinking about this great idea he’d once had, and had never seen through…” As a consequence, Hood hands in his notice at work, gives up the lease on his flat in London and prepares for life on the road, with his bicycle and panniers containing some basics including a tent.

Over the course of the 155 pages, the book sets out month by month from August 2009 to May 2010 the story of Hood’s efforts to get to complete the task he set himself. In a bizarre twist of footballing fate, the same opposition begin the journey and end it – Oxford United. In between the writer has forty six league games to attend as well as the FA Cup Rounds that The Minstermen find themselves involved in, all achieved by the solitary mode of transport that was his bicycle.

What emerges over the course of the book is a read and style that is engaging, which stems from Hood’s dry wit and sharp observational humour. He manages to balance details about the games he attends, with the cycling routes, his family and friends as well as anecdotes from his travels around the country. Hood allows the reader enough detail to follow the events whether it is on the terraces at Bootham Crescent or cycling through the Fens with a cruel wind biting into the cyclists face and hands. However, there is the feeling at times that the reader is being slightly kept at arm’s length and that some things are not dwelt on. Perhaps it merely reflects Hood’s journey round the country, where the scenery is constantly changing, so that nothing has a great deal of permanence and is merely a passing memory.

By the end of the book the reader has shared with the author some of the emotional highs and lows of an incredible challenge. The story of a man reconnecting with his club, his family and friends and getting his ‘kicks’ enjoying the freedom of the open road. It will leave you with a feel-good factor; it may help restore your faith in human nature. It may also inspire you to get out and do something in turning a dream into a reality.


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2010/11: Pre-season – The Non-League Option

When I lived in London, I would regularly watch around 50 games a season. As well as watching my beloved Fulham, I spend many a Saturday at Plough Lane watching Wimbledon in the Southern League and Tooting & Mitcham in the Isthmian League. It was a chance to watch football without stress, it was cheaper and invariably had a sense of a greater belonging – a friendliness. That is not to say that the football was any less committed, that supporters were less fanatical or rivalries were less intense. I didn’t feel that I was being taken advantage of or being bombarded by advertising and merchandising. Many club officials and those working in the bars and refreshments areas were volunteers and so provided an honesty and integrity when attending the games. Two stand-out memories from those days occurred at Plough Lane and showed a career on the rise and one on the way down. In a London Senior Cup tie in 1978/79 season a 17 year old Dave Beasant played for Edgware Town against Wimbledon. He had a stormer of a game and was later signed up by the Dons on the way to a long and event filled career. A couple of years earlier, Geoff Hurst, cut a rather sad figure leading the forward line as player-manager of Telford United. Not a great memory of England’s 1966 hat-trick hero.

Since coming North I still get around the Non-League circuit and I’ll add a new ground to those visited tonight when Wakefield host a Leeds United XI. Yorkshire is blessed with a full range of clubs up and down the Non-League ladder. In the Conference Premier, York City are the flag bearers for the White Rose County, whilst a division below Guiseley and Harrogate Town look to continue their progress through the Leagues. FC Halifax Town, Bradford Park Avenue, Ossett Albion, Ossett Town, Harrogate Railway, Garforth Town, Yorkshire Amatuer – are all clubs in Yorkshire who would welcome extra spectators to their clubs. A special mention for Farsley AFC (previously Farsley Celtic) who have emerged from their troubles and start life again this season. Sky would have us believe that football doesn’t exist outside of the Premier League. Many fans know this isn’t true. The fact is football exists outside of the 92 clubs as well. If you are looking for a different experience and  when your team are away and you can’t get tickets, why not get along to a Non-League game?