EXCLUSIVE by Tony Kelly, Chief Sports Writer

Grounds for sharing York City's Bootham Crescent are to be stepped up by York Rugby League Club.

Offer: Jim Race

The once-again thriving rugby club are adamant they would prosper even more with a link with City at their Bootham Crescent base.

A 'tie-up' between the two, maintained York Wasps' chief executive Jim Race, would also generate stable and regular income for the Minstermen.

To that end the Wasps are poised to offer City £25,000 in rent for the privilege of playing at Bootham Crescent next season.

At a recent City fans' forum, in which the ground-share option had been mooted, it was revealed that talks between City and the previous powers at the rugby club had foundered over the Wasps' then strained cash resources.

City chairman Douglas Craig told the forum: "When we had discussions in the past we were asking a rental. They could not afford it.

"We had discussions with the previous chairman and before that. All we were asking for was rent and so much for each game that was played. It had to be money up front. We were taking about £25,000 rent."

Race countered that such a fee was now well within the Wasps' range and that they would be prepared to give that to City 'six months in advance' of next season.

Asked Race: "If Mr Craig is asking £25,000 payment then who would he like the cheque making out to for next year's rent? If that is the figure then we would love to move to Bootham Crescent."

Currently York pay 'around that amount' as tenants of the Huntington Stadium, where their ten-year tenure has not always been welcomed by Wasps' supporters.

Race was convinced a ground-share would be of mutual benefit to both clubs, citing the examples of Rochdale, Bury and Huddersfield Town where such a dual-club scheme operates. "It works well at those grounds and it will be in operation also at Wigan next season at their new stadium. They include Super-League sides," he said.

The advantage to City would be the rental, plus the income generated from bar takings at Bootham Crescent at every rugby match.

Race hinted that could amount to a minimum of £3,000 a game.

York Wasps' would then be boosted by being back in the town centre, ironically barely several penalty kicks from their former Clarence Street stamping-ground.

Being housed at Bootham Crescent would significantly increase attendances, he said.

"There is still a stigma about the rugby club being out of town. Our fans would love us to be back in the town centre," ventured the Wasps' Chief Executive.

"Rugby League is a social sport. Fans like to have a few pints before a game and then a few pints after. A match can finish at 4.30pm and fans are still at the ground at 8.30pm. That's where the extra revenue would come in for York City."

Bootham Crescent would also satisfy the grounds' criteria for Super-League status, which is the aim of the Wasps after making a sound start to the current Northern Ford Premiership campaign.

Even if the price had now increased from that £25,000 figure revealed by the City chairman then the Wasps would still be interested. "We have gone into this in great detail and we would consider any realistic chance of looking to ground-share with York City," said Race.

City chairman Douglas Craig said today: "If the rugby club want to make an approach the rugby club should make an approach to us and it will then be put before the board."

He added that the figures quoted at the forum were for some years ago. He said: "If Mr Race has got a proposal then he should make it to the football club."

City 'keeper earns plaudits

Young York City goalkeeper Russell Howarth played a starring role in England Under-16s' 1-0 friendly victory against Turkey last night.

Clean sheet: Russell Howarth

He made two excellent saves to deny Turkish dangerman Furkan Bastan to help England snatch an injury-time winner through Middlesbrough defender Stuart Parnaby.

Howarth from Riccall, near Selby, had been a spectator for the early stages of the game at Leyton Orient's Brisbane Road but brought the 3,316 crowd to its feet when he dived to his left to tip away a fierce 26th minute drive from Bastan.

The Bootham Crescent youngster, who celebrated his 17th birthday on Sunday, capped that save on the hour when he beat away man-of-the-match Bastan's thumping free-kick which had pierced the England wall.

Howarth won high praise from Brian Marwood, who was covering the game for Sky Sports. "He has been outstanding for England tonight," said the former Arsenal and England winger.

Howarth showed good handling and distribution throughout, particularly in a second half dominated by the skilful Turks, who were unlucky to lose when Parnaby drilled a left foot volley through a ruck of players after a corner had only been partially cleared.

It was Howarth's second cap, the first coming two months ago, also against Turkey, when England won 2-0 in Izmir.

England have already qualified for the Under-16 European Championships and will play Hungary, Sweden and Slovakia, and should they win the tournament will go through to the Under-16 World Championships in New Zealand in November.

Minstermen holds Leeds

York City kept Leeds United's hot-shots at bay in a training clash at the Premiership club's Thorp Arch base.

At the request of Leeds, City travelled through for the behind closed doors game of 35 minutes each way.

City shared a goal-less draw holding out against a Leeds line-up, which included Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink, Harry Kewell, Alan Smith, Lucas Radebe, Lee Bowyer and Nigel Martyn.

Said City caretaker-manager Neil Thompson: "Leeds asked us about the chance of playing last week and having given the lads the day off on Monday I thought it would be a good training exercise.

"The lads were bubbling and it was a close game. Leeds had a couple of chances, but so did we, so it was a good workout."

City remained injury-free from the outing with defender Andy McMillan the only current casualty at the club.

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