AN emotional Chris Brass paid tribute to York City's "fabulous" fans after Saturday's 2-1 home defeat against Leyton Orient marked the end of 75 years of league football in the city.

Hundreds of Minstermen supporters spilled on to the pitch at the final whistle and shouted their continued support for Brass and the club when the manager and his players left the dressing room to receive a rousing reception from the Main Stand.

They were scenes more reminiscent of a promotion party rather than the relegation wake the national media's cameras had hoped to capture and even Brass admitted that at other clubs he would have expected to be showered by abuse rather than platitudes.

The City boss said: "We should have had tomatoes thrown at us and been spat at but that's not testimony to myself, it's testimony to the fans at this football club. The good thing about them is that they are intelligent.

"Events in the past are not being used as excuses but they certainly have not helped the cause. It was a fabulous reception and I think they realised the players out there were blameless.

"They love this football club and I have got to echo that. It's deep in my heart now and that's why it hurts so much but that's what ultimately makes you stick by them and try to put things right.

"I wanted to bawl my eyes out when we got that reception. I can't hide my emotion and wear my heart on my sleeve in life and in football. That won't change.

"A great deal of my income next season will come from fans sticking by us and, judging by the reaction we got, they will. I hope the players have also realised what the club means to the fans because they will get an even better reception when they actually win something.

"I will shoulder my responsibility for the errors I have made along the way but I have to learn from that and make sure I give each and everyone of those people something to cheer about."

Brass added that the main lesson he has learned in ten months as a manager is that certain players' personal standards might fall below those he sets himself as a footballer.

He said: "I have learned a great deal and am now more experienced with ten months behind me. I will now lose the inexperienced tag and have got to use the last year to my advantage.

"The biggest lesson I have learned is about standards. Mine are high but you sometimes have to accept that other people's aren't."

Having released eight senior professionals last week, Brass gave three full debuts to teenagers Bryan Stewart, Graeme Law and Adam Arthur on Saturday and midfielder Kane Ashcroft also made his first senior appearance as an 81st-minute substitute.

The team that started the match had an average age of 21.6 and that figure had dropped to 20.7 by the final whistle.

Left-winger Stewart was the most impressive of Brass' Babes but the City boss admitted that he was encouraged by all their performances as he plans for next season.

He said: "They expressed themselves well and wanted to get the ball down and play football in the manner that we started the season in and want to do in the future. They made mistakes but they were honest ones and we were good value for our 1-0 lead.

"I think we have seen what I have at my disposal for next season. They won't all be thrown in and it would have been wrong to have thrown them in during the middle of a relegation battle but I have certainly learned that they can handle first-team football.

"I think there were six or seven out there that will be making my squad of about 20 next season and, despite the sadness of today, I strangely feel proud and quietly optimistic.

"Bryan Stewart's ability was there for all to see. He's got a lot to learn but he excited me.

"He put balls into the box and took players on. Wingers are a dying breed but if we can nurture Bryan in the right manner we have got a hell of a talent.

"Kane Ashcroft also came on and nearly scored with his first touch. He showed a lot of promise and played with no fear despite only being 17. He's another welcome addition to the squad."

Brass will now be looking to bolster his squad over the summer with the acquisition of more experienced players.

He is making the signing of a centre forward and centre back priorities as he aims to strengthen the spine of his side and he admitted that he would also prefer to play a 4-4-2 formation, saying: "I have got a good summer of working extremely hard to get things right.

"I think you will see a totally different side, especially in key areas up front and at the back. There will be a new spine to the team."

Updated: 11:00 Monday, May 03, 2004