THE future of York City Football Club was in the balance today after the club's board decided to put it up for sale and step down at the end of the season.

The club announced record losses of more than £1,200,000 only four weeks ago, and its perilous financial position means York City could cease to exist by the end of February.

The board are willing to see the Minstermen - whose main sponsors are the Evening Press - through until the end of the season.

But that is only if certain guarantees are met and a suitable new owner can be found.

Club chairman Douglas Craig made the shock announcement at the annual meeting of Bootham Crescent Holdings plc - the company which owns the ground.

In a statement to shareholders, Mr Craig confirmed: "By the end of February, 2002, York City Football Club will be at the limit of its current overdraft facility at the bank.

"The current facility has been possible because of a joint security provided by Bootham Crescent Holdings plc and York City Association Football and Athletic Club plc (The Football Club).

"Unless further security is provided to allow an increase in the overdraft facility or the provision of a bridging loan it follows that the football club will not be in a financial position to continue beyond the end of February 2002.

"In order to prevent this happening the board of Bootham Crescent Holdings plc are prepared to provide the additional security for sufficient funds to enable the football club to complete the current season, but not for any period beyond that date.

"At the end of the season, the board of York City Football Club intend to resign and in the interim they invite anyone interested in acquiring the football club to write to the chairman via the club to obtain further details.

"Anyone who believes they can make a success of running the club will not be required to make any payment or assume responsibility for the overdraft and/or bridging loan, but they will have to provide certain guarantees and undertake certain obligations."

The city's leading businesses and individuals were not showing any interest in buying the club today.

Nick Brown, boss of Brown's city centre department store and a York City supporter, said he couldn't afford to buy the club.

Paul Kirkwood, spokesman for Nestl Rowntree, said: "Nestl is already a supporter of York City - as sponsors of Yorkie the Lion and the Smarties family room, perimeter board advertisers and match sponsors - and we have no plans to change this level of involvement with the club."

The Reverend Michael Sinclair, who was chairman of the club between 1978 and 1991, said today: "I would like to know more details before I say anything, but I, like so many other people, would be very anxious that the club continues."

A BBC spokesman said that Greg Dyke, the corporation's Director General and a former University of York student, would "categorically not be interested" in mounting a purchase bid.

The decision to sell has come on the back of news that supporters were willing to turn their back on the club and boycott the Boxing Day fixture against Hull City - a situation which the board feels will just do more damage.

The City chairman added: "According to the supporters, the board of the club are totally responsible so they are taking this step.

"If spectators behave in such a way that the finances of the club are made worse so be it - the club will then fold at the end of February."

Another key factor is the crippling financial situation the club is in - with the future only looking bleaker.

Mr Craig continued: "The income, whether we are doing well or badly, falls way short compared to the expenditure, the wages have gone up out of all proportion and the transfer market has effectively dried up.

"The only reason we are still in existence today is because of the money we have made from transfers - we would have been out of business a few years ago if we hadn't had that."

Mr Craig has issued a deadline of noon January 17, 2002, for interested parties to make contact - with the City chairman emphasising only serious applications are sought.

One option could be for City fans to form a trust to take over the running, something which Mr Craig is leaning towards.

He added: "The club's many supporters may wish to form a Trust and proceed on that basis."

* Bootham Crescent Holdings plc is the owner of York City Association Football and Athletic Club and the ground in which they play.

This means BCH, which is run by shareholders, can effectively sell the club or the ground or the two together.

The prime shareholders of BCH are City chairman Douglas Craig, directors Barry Swallow and John Quickfall and former director Colin Webb.