GAVIN AITCHISON and MARK STEAD spent the day with the supporters, as the curtain came down on York City’s FA Trophy dreams.
REALITY has a cruel way of shaking you to your senses. After a long, frustrating and hugely disappointing season, York City supporters allowed themselves to dare to believe the last laugh would be theirs.
In the end though, hope was vanquished.
The Minstermen battled well in the first half, giving as good as they got for long spells. But in the second half, just as at KitKat Crescent a few weeks earlier, they were overpowered by a fitter, stronger and generally better Stevenage Borough side.
There are few things more painful in sport than seeing a coveted prize slip away, but that was the fate that befell Martin Foyle’s men.
It was appropriate that by mid-afternoon on Saturday, rain was lashing down in York. 200 miles south, the sun was blazing. But not on City.
Fans had headed to the capital in their thousands. They came by bus, minibus, car and train. Some ex-pats even flew in especially for the game.
And as the red, blue, white and purple army converged in central London and around Wembley, hope grew into confidence.
One by one, the football specials from the north pulled into King’s Cross. Each one was abuzz with anticipation and excitement, as fans young and old looked forward to the day ahead.
Each one brought a fresh battalion of fans bedecked in City shirts, scarves, hats and even traditional rosettes. Flags waved. Hooters sounded.
Most predicted a tight game, but many tipped York to come out on top.
Nick Taylor, 32, had travelled from Huntington.
“It’s going to be a tight game with maybe one goal in it – maybe 2-1 to York,” he said.
The Elliott family from Badger Hill were also upbeat. They too predicted a 2-1 win. At Wembley, in the shadow of Bobby Moore’s statue, 23-year-old Dave Hall of Skelton was taking in the stadium. His prediction? That same score again… 2-1 to York.
Inside the ground, tension and excitement were mounting. The hope that had grown into confidence was starting to grow into belief.
City’s cup final rap, “City at Wembley”, blasted over the PA system; Yorkie The Lion was mobbed by pawing youngsters; and the souvenir stands and programme vendors were doing a roaring trade. The teams emerged to a rousing ovation, the national anthem was sung, and we were off.
For many, this was simply a fun day out.
Many had come as much to see Wembley as to see York City.
Many had not watched the Minstermen for years, perhaps not since the last time they were here, back in 1993.
But for the die-hards, this was no jolly. They were here to win.
After all, nobody remembers the losers except the losers themselves.
The City hardcore gathered behind the goal at the east end, just as they do week after week at KitKat Crescent. They stood rather than sat. They led the singing rather than being led.
They did all they could to create an atmosphere conducive to victory; waving flags, backing their heroes and – rightly or wrongly – setting off a series of flares.
For a while, it looked like the party could have real cause to celebrate. For a while, it looked like it might, might just, be City’s day after all. And then Stevenage scored. And then, just before the end, they scored again. And the hope, and the confidence and the belief were gone. And all we had left was the harsh reality that, as has been the case so often this season, City simply were not good enough. That’s reality for you.