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York City 2011/12 season review
An historic Wembley double made it a season to savour for York City fans everywhere. Here DAVE FLETT charts a memorable campaign that ended in FA Trophy glory and a return to the Football League.
MONDAY’S open-top bus tour provided the fitting end to a season in which manager Gary Mills refused to put a ceiling on what his players could achieve.
Mills might have missed out on his pre-season target of clinching automatic promotion by winning the Blue Square Bet Premier title, but the financial clout of eventual champions Fleetwood Town was always going to render that challenge a difficult one.
Even the Cod Army’s supporters, though, despite their historic campaign, will not have scaled the heights of emotion enjoyed by their Minstermen counterparts during 2011/12.
Completing an unprecedented non-League double at Wembley, Mills’ team, after lifting the FA Trophy, can now testify, like Alan Little’s players 19 years previously, that there is no better way to go up a division than by winning a play-off final at the world-famous home of English football.
And, for a club the size of City, there is no bigger game to prevail in than the Blue Square Bet Premier promotion decider with its estimated £750,000 rewards dramatically reversing overnight an economic outlook which has become bleaker with the passing of all eight years since the team dropped out of the Football League in 2004.
Defeat in that match and players move on, leading to hangovers of the size that Mills encountered on his arrival at the club in October 2010, just five months after defeat against Oxford in the same game precipitated another rebuilding process.
Every hangover needs a cure, though, with Mills’ positivity proving the perfect remedy at Bootham Crescent.
Chairman Jason McGill has proven himself a credible recogniser of managerial talent with Mills’ predecessors such as Billy McEwan and Martin Foyle, equally surprising appointments at the time, also deserving recognition for the parts they played in rehabilitating City following the plunge into unknown Conference waters even allowing for the unhappy endings to their spells at the helm.
Ruling with dignity and determination, though, Mills commands great credit for securing the prize that narrowly eluded McEwan and Foyle – most of all for assembling the players that made it possible.
Refusing to flinch in the face of adversity is also a managerial trait that would, by the end of the campaign, typify his team.
Before a ball was kicked in 2011/12, had any City supporters been told that the team would need to contend with long-term injuries to Jason Walker, Scott Kerr, David McGurk and Lanre Oyebanjo over the next nine months, the perennial pre-season optimism might have been dampened somewhat.
Had they also learned early in the campaign that Andre Boucaud – such a fundamental figure in the team’s swashbuckling start – would be sold to Luton in January and Michael Ingham would be replaced by 43-year-old veteran Paul Musselwhite in the three games left to clinch a play-off place, some would have again been prone to panic.
But, not Mills, who likes his Guinness pints not half empty or even half full, he enjoys them with the creamy head spilling over the top.
The transfer of Boucaud was a bold one, especially to a Luton team who, with a large dose of inevitably, would become the Minstermen’s play-off final opponents.
Along with Kerr and summer signing Paddy McLaughlin, City’s midfield triumvirate had passed a succession of teams into submission in those early summer and autumn days but, while the second half of the campaign became less aesthetically pleasing, the likes of full-backs James Meredith and Lanre Oyebanjo, as well as stalwart utility man Dan Parslow, compensated for a loss of craft with bundles of graft.
And the memorable moments just kept coming and coming, even if the team were now grinding out results rather than blitzing some of their nearest rivals like Luton and Wrexham and racking up huge victories over the likes of Kettering and Salisbury.
Jason Walker’s ten goals by October 1 was the first of a number of club records set by Mills’ team throughout the season and his overhead kick goal against Grimsby deserved to be enjoyed by the rest of the world when it became a YouTube sensation.
Later highlights included Jamal Fyfield running three-quarters the length of the field before firing in a last-minute winner to settle a pulsating five-goal thriller at Grimsby, epitomising more than any other single moment in the season a doggedness on the road that would see the team lose just three away league games – another club record.
Other statistics to file in the history books include a first-ever campaign that has not included a single defeat by more than a one-goal margin and a record of just 21 league goals conceded away from home.
A perfectionist, Mills will look to address his team’s patchy home form next season and will also reflect on the contribution of some of his mid-season signings who, aside from defenders Ben Gibson and Chris Doig, struggled to make an impact.
Few can argue against the quality of his summer recruits, however, with Matty Blair, in particular, enjoying a campaign that he will find difficult to surpass during what is destined to become a long and successful professional career.
Grabbing both decisive goals to get his side to Wembley twice, Blair then went on to open the scoring in the FA Trophy final under the famous arch before returning eight days later to claim the winning strike against Luton to secure promotion.
His heroics left City supporters in raptures and, if a good measure of any season is provided by the numbers that come through the turnstiles, then one last club record – the team’s highest average attendance (3,097) during the Conference era – speaks volumes for the efforts of Mills and his players in 2011/12.
A wider audience now beckons as the open-top bus is replaced by a Football League bandwagon that so many will be clamouring to get on board.
Roll on August 18!