Gentleman of the press Malcolm Huntington re-lives in conversation with JOE HARRISON the best and better still of decades watching City in action
YORK City veteran wordsmith Malcolm Huntington will celebrate a significant landmark as he settles into his press seat to watch the Minstermen take on Gillingham.
Today’s fixture will mark the 2,000th time he has covered a York City game, in a career that stretches all the way back to August 1949.
“I can remember my first match very clearly. It was away at Luton in May 1967, and we lost 5-1,” said Huntington.
“Strangely enough, York had won by the same scoreline two months earlier against Luton.
“In those days City used to undertake long away matches on the train, something that doesn’t happen these days.”
Huntington replaced Wilf Meek as the then Yorkshire Evening Press’ York City correspondent in 1968, and reported on 1,302 matches before retiring in 1995. He has covered the remainder of his games on a freelance basis.
As you might expect, Huntington has seen an array of great players and managers pass through Bootham Crescent in his 53-year career.
“In terms of success, the greatest manager has got to be Tom Johnston,” Huntington said.
“He was sometimes difficult to communicate with, which made my job difficult at times, but you really couldn’t argue with his tremendous achievements.
“He got together a great team, signing players like Barry Swallow, Jimmy Seal and Chris Jones.”
Johnston’s squad comprised only 13 regular players, which Huntington believes was crucial to the side’s success.
“When you’ve got a small number like that, it’s nearly always a good side.
“Only when you’re struggling do you throw on loads of different players. It’s not done like that any more, but it worked. He got City into the old Second Division (the Championship as it’s called now),” Huntington recalled. “He played a 2-3-5 formation, with two full-backs, three half-backs and five forwards – you don’t see that one much nowadays.”
Johnston’s famous side is not the only outstanding City team that Huntington has had the pleasure of watching.
“Denis Smith’s side that won the old Fourth Division in 1984 was another fantastic team. Smith used a 13-man squad like Johnston and had some fantastic players.”
Huntington added: “John Bird’s another very interesting manager. In my opinion, he was the unluckiest manager ever.”
“He signed Dean Kiely, Wayne Hall, Ray Warburton, Nigel Pepper and David Longhurst,” recalled Huntington.
“That was my saddest day in journalism, the day David tragically collapsed and died on the pitch. I’ll never forget that day.” City were plagued with injuries at the start of the 1991-1992 season, and a poor run of results led to Bird’s unfortunate sacking in October of 1991.
“He was incredibly unlucky. John Ward took over from Bird and added Paul Barnes to the side for £60,000.
“Other than Barnes it was Bird’s team who won at Wembley in 1993.”
City won promotion from the old Third Division with a 4-2 shoot-out victory over Crewe Alexandra, a day that Huntington remembers fondly.
He was absent the next time the Minstermen graced the pitch at Wembley in an effort to gain promotion, missing 2010’s heartbreaking 3-1 Conference play-off final defeat at the hands of Oxford United.
“We had no idea that City were going to make the play-off final, and my son had arranged for me to go and see Barcelona play Villarreal at the Nou Camp. It was a great game, 3-3, but sadly on that day City lost to Oxford at Wembley.
“I’m a great admirer of Barcelona, and in particular Lionel Messi of course – the greatest player I’ve ever seen.”
The disappointment was short-lived, as Huntington was present as usual for last year’s unprecedented Wembley double.
“The club’s greatest achievement? Beating Manchester United in 1995 and Everton in 1996 were fantastic, but in terms of the greatest achievement, you’re looking at Gary Mills,” said Huntington.
“It was truly wonderful following City to Wembley twice in eight days. How many managers can say that in their lives?”
Huntington witnessed the FA Trophy victory over Newport County, but cites last year’s play-off final victory as his sweetest moment covering the club.
“City getting back into the Football League was a very emotional occasion, when we beat Luton at Wembley,” said Huntington.
Midfield dynamo Scott Kerr has consistently impressed the 78-year-old, and Huntington regards him as one of the club’s greatest ever midfielders.
“Kerr’s the only one of the present team in my best ever York City XI.
“He’s a fantastic midfield general with real leadership qualities.”
Throughout his time covering the club, Huntington, whose services to Yorkshire sports journalism were recognised with an MBE, has noticed an intriguing pattern emerging.
“We had great success in 1973, 1983 and 1993 – all years that end in three,” he said.
“Will 2013 follow that pattern? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”
* This article was publish in The Press before the postponement of York City v Gillingham