WINTER has come to Bootham Crescent. On the day that York switches on its Christmas lights, the city's football club has been plunged into the darkest, coldest days of its history.

The bitter winds of economic reality are biting. Players face a miserable Christmas with mortgages to pay, presents to buy for their families, and no wage. Staff have had their pay packets slashed in half, and could be jobless in the New Year.

York City must enter a Creditors Voluntary Agreement to survive. Suppliers will not be paid, but might ultimately receive a fraction of what they are owed, putting more jobs at risk.

To think a year ago, City fans' only worries concerned performances on the pitch. Since then the club has lurched from low to high and back.

Yesterday York City hit rock bottom. Blame is being heaped on John Batchelor. The chairman is rightly roasted for not having the guts to tell players and staff the bad news in person.

And there is little doubt that the club finances have deteriorated during his brief reign. Mr Batchelor has always talked a good game, but most of his promises have turned to dust.

However we must lay much of the culpability for today's crisis at the door of the former regime, headed by Douglas Craig.

They were the ones who separated the ground from the club in a deal they said was good for York City, but which turned out to be good for their bank accounts and disastrous for City.

They were the ones who threatened to close the club if a buyer were not found quickly. They were the ones who refused to deal with Gordon Gibb, the North Yorkshire millionaire who has since rescued Bradford City from much worse debts.

It was the old regime, previously so proud of their prudence, which agreed long player contracts costing 160 per cent of club income.

Now they want to cash in by selling Bootham Crescent - and York City down the river.

The council must step in to stop them. It should refuse planning permission for houses on the ground. Until another stadium is in place, this crucial patch of land stays a vital leisure facility.

As long as the club has a ground all is not lost. Manager Terry Dolan said that the York City family is sticking together. Players have pledged to give their all in every game they play in City colours.

We should respond to such selfless determination in kind. A show of solidarity is essential. Everyone who cares about this historic club must turn out to support them in the match against Carlisle on Saturday.

An unprecedented display of warmth towards our football club could see York City through to another spring.

Updated: 11:35 Thursday, November 28, 2002