AS the referee's whistle blew at Bootham Crescent for the last time in the Football League - for one season, at least - hundreds of fans ran on to the pitch chanting "I'm York City 'till I die".

The good-natured sea of red and blue swamped the pitch in a show of unity and support for a weary but upbeat team, which has endured an extraordinary year.

Glum faces watched the away side come from behind to win 2-1, leaving York City without a victory from their last 19 games - and facing next season in the Nationwide Conference.

An emotional player-manager, Chris Brass, told the crowd that every City fan "deserves better", and the future lies in some of the young players who had taken to the field that day.

He said: "You've seen lads who are proud to put the shirt on. We've all made honest mistakes. I will live and learn by them, but I promise that the next time you are on the pitch you will be celebrating."

Many fans said the battle to save the club and then the ground had strengthened their resolve, and they would never turn their backs on City.

Andrew Leathley, who has published the popular fanzine Ginner's Left Foot for the past two years, said he had "never known" a season like this one, with so many ups and downs.

"I've made so many friends through our troubles, and I'm sure that I speak for many fans when I say I'll stay behind the club," he said. "We're all in this together."

"Perhaps the gate will drop by a degree, but we have a nice fan base. We've battled through a lot together. To stay as a club, to keep the ground - we've always pulled together."

But lifetime fan Jonathan Dibb, 30, was more pessimistic. He expects to see the number of fans drop if York can't haul themselves back in to the league quickly.

"Perhaps the club is a victim of circumstance, but perhaps the players could have pulled their fingers out a bit more after Christmas."

Updated: 10:54 Monday, May 03, 2004