York City v Tranmere Rovers
Bootham Crescent / League Two / 14th February 2015
Tuesday night saw me watch New York City FC play, so it seemed only right that on the Saturday I go and watch plain, simple York City FC play. Actually, the visit to York had been planned for a few weeks with it being the first weekend of my half-term holiday. It also seemed like the perfect time to go visit my pal Gibbo, who is now a resident tax-dodger in the city (or a student). Incidentally, it was also Valentine’s Day – Gibbo wooed me to the city with promises of ‘League Two football’ and a gargantuan pub crawl. He clearly knows how to win my heart.
I arrived into York’s famous train station just before 10am and with Gibbo still in bed (I forgot to phone him on the train to ensure he was awake) I had to wait around the station for him to walk down from his Uni halls. I occupied myself with a Starbucks until Gibbo arrived, who then outlined his plan of action for the day. Gibbo clearly wanted this blog to be interesting as his plan for the day was explained with phrases such as ‘that’ll be good for your blog’ and that would be very ‘bloggable’ (a word which I’ve just Googled and learned is actually in the Oxford Dictionary these days).
First on Gibbo’s ‘bloggable’ tour was a walk across the castle wall opposite York train station to get some photos of the city from a slightly elevated position. The York City Walls are one of the city’s most famous features with there being more Roman walls kept intact in this city than any other city in the UK; there are literally miles upon miles of the walls.
Photos now taken, we headed down into the town and through the old, narrow streets of the city centre. I had visited the city when I was a youngster, but I had sort of forgotten how quite magnificent and beautiful a city York is. With the sheer amount of history resonating from the city, it is easy to see why the place is so abundant with tourists. Plus, everyone is really friendly and polite there too. as within 15 minutes of being there I had walked into 2 people and almost stepped out in front of a cyclist, yet despite me being the clumsy, unaware one, everyone apologised to me. How lovely.
For those who have followed the blog for a while, you may recall me and Gibbo becoming particularly fond of Jupiler beer on our European football weekend in Belgium (a fondness that began in Bruges). In the heart of York is the brilliantly named ‘House of Trembling Madness’ pub, which also has a large shop area selling a huge array of world beers/lagers. For nostalgic reasons, we opted to stock up on some Jupiler for our evening festivities.
We headed to Gibbo’s flat, dumped my stuff at his, put our beer in the fridge and then headed back out into York for a pub crawl towards the ground. Now we were also joined by York City fan Ben Robinson, who met up with us covered in mud from his bike ride over to Gibbo’s. I had a small, irritating stain on my jeans, so seeing Ben’s coat destroyed by mud made me feel better about the jeans stain which had bugged me all morning.
Legend has it that York has 365 pubs and bars – a tavern of some sort for every day of the year. Even if this isn’t exactly accurate, there are still pubs aplenty within the historic city and obviously this makes it my kind of city. First up on our crawl through York was one of the city’s Wetherspoons, the Postern Gate, in the southern area of York’s city centre. Gibbo dubbed this his favourite Wetherspoons, but I still give my ‘Best Wetherspoons’ crown to the fantastic one in Darwen of all places.
After a quick pint of Tuborg (and ‘an orange cordial’ for Ben – which I learnt is a posh way of asking for ‘orange squash’) we headed towards the heart of the city. We went past the city’s famous Clifford Tower – where the first Apollo mission launched from…according to Gibbo’s dad anyway; incredibly, Gibbo had even naively Googled this fact to check its veracity, before realising how stupid he was being. In fact, it is the remaining keep of a Norman castle used to fortify the city.
We made our way down the bank of the River Ouse until veering into the riverfront King’s Arms pub. A very pleasant, small, traditional pub with the always cheap Taddy Lager on tap. Less pleasant was the middle-aged barmaid who was having some sort of meltdown purely because someone had taken glasses outside. “I told them. I told them,” she repeated with pure hatred crackling in her voice. We stayed right by the bar, not daring to take our glasses anywhere near the exit. Near the exit you could find a chart marking the height of the various floods which had struck the pub over the years. If we had been drinking in here in November 2000, we’d have needed snorkel gear to enjoy our beers.
We continued past another one of York’s iconic landmarks, York Minster, before turning towards the Three-Legged Mare pub, after it had been recommended to me by quite a few people on Twitter. Good call. Like most places in York it seemed. this pub was a haven for real ale drinkers and world lager connoisseurs. I declared to the barmaid that I’d like to try the Finnish lager ‘Finishing Touch’ only for her colleague to correct me and state that it was actually “Finnish-style lager.” Well, sorry – it tasted great anyway, although it was a bit strong for early afternoon. Another pub ticked off.
According to Ben and Gibbo, we were now not too far away from York City’s home at Bootham Crescent and so we opted to go take in one more establishment before heading to the ground. Ben headed off to the ground to meet some of his mates as me and Gibbo tried to carefully select one last pub. Many of the pubs on our walk were packed, so we elected to veer away from the main road through Bootham and head for the Minster Inn opposite the grounds of St. Mary’s Abbey. Despite being slightly off the main road, this place was also rather busy with quite a few Tranmere fans fitting in one more prematch drink. Me and Gibbo sat next to the pub’s small library consisting of various novelty car books and, more interesting to myself, three books dedicated to ‘Crap Towns’. I was determined that my hometown of Merthyr Tydfil would be high on the list of ‘Crap Towns’, so I was surprised to see it placed all the way down in no.29. More amazingly, York was soaring at no.5 in the list of ‘Crap Towns’; I love my hometown, but no way is York 24 places crapper than Merthyr!
As the time went past 14:30, we found ourselves strolling down the road towards the floodlights of Bootham Crescent. I have to say that it is brilliant that York City’s home is located so close to such a brilliant city centre. In fact, in regards of location, I may boldly claim that only St. James Park betters it out of the whole 92 (or at least the 60+ I’ve visited).
We were greeted into the car park of Bootham Crescent by an overhanging sign pleading Bon Jovi-style to ‘Keep the faith’. York were 23rd in League Two, so the message seemed particularly apt. We met back up with Ben outside the club shop and he was joined by the legendary John McClure – a York-based groundhopper and season ticket holder for the Minstermen. Of course, like anyone that features on this blog, I made him have a double thumbs up photo.
After a spot of photographing the exterior of Bootham Crescent, we headed towards the turnstiles that led onto the home support’s standing terrace. £18 it cost me for the pleasure of entering Bootham Crescent and it certainly was to prove to be a pleasure.
You can trace some form of the club back to 1897, with an amateur side also emerging in 1908. After turning professional in 1912, the club plodded on until 1915 before folding in 1917 at the outbreak of the First World War. The current York City FC came to fruition in 1922 and they would call home Fulfordgate – a ground located in the more rural area in the south-east of the city. However, York’s attendances were poor and many blamed this on the fact that the ground was difficult to access from the city with it being a long way from the train station and with there being just one tram line heading there. The directors decided that it was time to move.
Whilst around 3,000 people inhabited the Fulfordgate area, 30,000 populated the Bootham Crescent area and so it was decided that the club should move there. The Bootham Crescent ground had been home to York City Cricket Club, but when they moved to Wigginton Road, the city’s football club moved into ground. York City would officially ‘open’ the ground in 1932 in a game against Stockport County in the Third Division North. The ground sustained damaged during the Second World War after a bomb hit a nearby street, so substantial improvements were made to place through the late 40s, as well as the club purchasing Bootham Crescent outright in 1948 having previously leased the ground.
Over the 60 odd years since, as you’d imagine, Bootham Crescent has undergone slow but steady improvements, which leaves it today looking like a traditional, but nonetheless tidy 7,872 capacity Football League ground. And I think this is why I liked Bootham Crescent so much – it definitely has character. Down either side of the pitch are two simple seating stands, the Popular Stand and the Main Stand. The latter only covers two thirds of the length of the pitch leaving open areas in either corner. The away fans are placed on the uncovered Grosvenor Road End standing terrace behind the far goals, whilst the most vocal support for York stood in the standing terrace opposite, although this terrace, the David Longhurst Stand, is far larger than the opposite terrace and has the luxury of a roof (although this does bring with it some view-obstructing supporting pillars).
My first port of call was to the food hatch, which I walked away from with a chicken balti pie and coffee for £4.70; York had even gone posh by providing Douwe Egberts coffee too. As I headed back with my pie and coffee, we spotted the club mascot, Yorkie the Lion (I originally thought he was a bear somehow), and of course we cornered him for a photo – we even snuck onto the pitch slightly. Rebels.
We took our place in the centre of the terrace and with kick-off approaching we were given red/blue/white flags ready to greet the team onto the pitch. Me and Gibbo struggled with flag waving through the streets of Bruges in the summer, but this was far easier and it was great to see the fans put some effort into spicing things up a bit as the teams walked out onto the pitch.
York began the day in the relegation zone and one place off the bottom of League Two. Today’s opponents Tranmere were also languishing towards the bottom too, although they have had a sort of mini-revival since Micky Adams became manager. So, with two struggling teams taking to the pitch, the first half was predictably poor and rather nervy in general.
Despite the poor first half showing on the pitch, I felt the York fans on the terrace with us were in great voice, accompanied by the beat of their drum. I may praise them for their volume, but the highest praise I can give the fans is that they definitely now have claim to my chant of the season. Just as I thought Morecambe could claim that crown at Northampton last week for their ode to Assistant Manager Ken McKenna, York come out with this belter serenading their number 10 Russell Penn. So, to the tune of You Are My Sunshine:
He’s not a ball point / He’s not a felt pen / He’s not a biro / He’s not a bic (he’s not a bic!) / We’ve got a better pen / He wears our number 10 / So let’s sing for Russell Penn…. / He’s not a ball point…
And so on. Utterly brilliant.
As I enjoyed the musicality of the York City fans, they finally had something to properly shout about. There had been virtually no chances so far with neither team seeming to know how to keep the ball, but, from nowhere, the home team played a low cross to the back pass and York’s Wes Fletcher was there to tap home. Cue the terrace going wild and the younger lads behind us forming some sort of celebratory mosh pit.
There was some interest for me in the Tranmere team as Swansea loanee Rory Donnelly was starting for the Rovers, but despite claiming the league’s Player of the Month award for January he was disappointingly having virtually no impact on the game. Plus, there was also Welsh goalie Owain Fon WIlliams in net for the away team, although his only action of the half was getting the ball out of the net and really that was to prove the only really action of a poor first half.
Half-time: York City 1 – 0 Tranmere Rovers.
We headed over to the open corner between the Popular Stand and the terrace to take some photos and it was here me and Gibbo decided to stay for the second half with a good view of the whole ground.
Despite being 1 – 0 down, Tranmere just did not turn up in the second half and York came out all guns blazing. York were creating plenty of chances and in the 58th minute they got their just rewards with a second goal. The ball came to Fletcher on the edge of the box, who cut inside the Tranmere defence before launching a left footed drive into the bottom corner. 2 – 0 to York and it looked like there was more to come.
In the second half, 2 – 0 really didn’t do York justice as they created chance after chance only for a combination of wasteful finishing and some brilliant goalkeeping from Fon Williams thwarting the home team.
There was another moment of excitement for me as Tranmere brought on former Welsh international Jason Koumas in the 68th minute. During the late 2000s, when Wales were particularly poor under John Toshack, Koumas acted as a shining light for Welsh football at times. It was great to see him back on the pitch today, even though he is now in the twilight of his career back at the club where he made a name for himself in the first place.
Koumas would go closest for the away team with a great freekick which just skipped past the far post, but the 777 travelling fans were to be left bitterly disappointed with their team’s performance today. Finally, there was still time for Fon Williams to deny Emile SInclair at the end and to keep things semi-respectable for Tranmere; the goalie could definitely hold his head high unlike his team mates leaving the field.
Full-time: York City 2 – 0 Tranmere Rovers.
There had been forecasts of doom and gloom amongst the York support before the game, but I reassured them that struggling Football League clubs tend to put on their A-game when I come and visit. Once again, I seemed to bring luck to the floundering home team, who with the 3 points today climbed out of the relegation zone and into 20th place.
After trying to photograph a gentleman with ‘Shed 7’ on the back of his shirt – the Britpop band are York natives – we headed out of the ground and into the Pitchside Bar connected to the Main Stand. In the warmth of the bar, the home fans were cheering the fact that the league table on Sky Sports News now showed the club placed above Tranmere and more importantly out of the relegation places. More interesting to me and Gibbo though was the York tracksuit-clad gentleman walking through the room, who Ben identified as Russell Penn. Since his chant was so epic, we decided we had to have a photo with the song’s muse. Gibbo cornered him and the York number 10 happily obliged to pose for a photo. In fact, he seemed more than happy to and he seemed genuinely interested in why we were there and where we had come from. I’m more than happy to ‘sing for Russell Penn’ in the future.
The club bar was emptying by around 6pm so we decided to head out to and back to Gibbo’s flat. We headed via another pub of course and so our 6th pub of the day was to be the very tidy Black Swan, located just around the corner from Gibbo’s flat.
Our evening meal was purchased from Vikings Pizza where I opted for the Valentine’s Day favourite of a Donner Kebab with all salad and chilli sauce. We were even joined by some Polish lads in the kebab shop who I serenaded with a rendition of Swansea’s Lukasz Fabianksi “Big pole in our goal,” chant much to their joy (and less to the joy of the staff and customers in the kebab shop who had to endure a semi-drunk Welshman chanting about a Polish goalkeeper).
Grub done and Ben headed home, but me and Gibbo opted for a night on the town. We visited a lot of pubs. My highlight of our night time crawl was the Golden Fleece with its brilliant organic lager, skeleton at the bar and a folksy duo with guitar and violin playing the hits of White Sripes, The Beatles, The Kinks amongst many others. Was there anything else to note on our night out? Not really, apart from Gibbo thinking it was a good idea to run up the hill of Clifford Tower and me not even questioning him and following shortly after him; apparently, this is a rather rebellious thing to do in York.
In the early hours of the morning on the walk home from our night out, we were still chanting the Russell Penn song until I arrived back at Gibbo’s where I discovered that my bed consisted of pillows on the floor and his massive Bolton Wanderers jacket; in fairness, it was ridiculously warm.
Overall, a really superb day/night out. I’ve been to quite a few Football League grounds this season and many of these have been generic, new-build ‘bowls’, so it was nice to visit a league ground more bountiful in character. Plus, I’m always going to like a ground that is so central to a city or town centre. And this is where York City FC really triumphs for me: its location. A truly brilliant city with plenty going on and some brilliant pubs without it being an expansive metropolis. By the end of the day, we had only visited 11 of the supposed 365 pubs/bars in the city – I suppose I better go back again some time soon then.
Highlights: a very pleasant, brilliant city, lots and lots and lots of really good pubs, decent ground, good fans, the Russell Penn chant (and then even meeting the man himself), continuing the pub crawl into the night).
Low Points: not the greatest game, city is a tad expensive too.
Check out all my photos from my trip to York and Bootham Crescent here.