IT is an image that can't fail to tug on the heart-strings of any York City fan.

Breaking down in the sheer despair of the Minstermen's relegation, Martin Garratt trudges off the Maine Road pitch after his team were humbled 4-0 at Manchester City - a result which pitched the class of 1998/99 into the Division Two drop zone for the first time all season.

It was a miserable moment in the 18-year-old's fledgling career.

But it still reflected a time where, as former team-mate Richard Cresswell said, the midfielder had the world at his feet.

It was his breathtaking energy, desire and dedication which made his subsequent fall from grace, and now his untimely death this week at the age of just 34, so much more difficult to take.

As City's seemingly un-ending production line yielded big bucks for the club - Cresswell's £1 million move to Sheffield Wednesday that season heralded just one example - Garratt was the next big talent.

Watched with envious eyes by the likes of the Owls, Crystal Palace and Premier League Wimbledon, the youngster was himself tagged with a seven figure transfer fee only for his dreams to be cruelly dashed.

His demise was sad but also self-inflicted. Undisclosed health problems and, more tellingly, a lack of discipline would see Garratt sacked by then City boss Terry Dolan in April 2000 for an alleged serious breach of contract.

Spells at Mansfield, Lincoln and Hednesford followed, but the once bright prospect was never able to recreate the brilliance he showed for a fleeting period during a difficult season.

His death has left those who shared a pitch with him feeling a sense of loss, and lamenting the waste of a "real talent".

"He was always one of the first ones on the training ground and one of the last ones to leave," remembers team-mate Andy McMillan, now the academy head at Bootham Crescent.

"He had great fun playing two touch games and stitching people up and winding them up. He could go past people and a great aptitude for the game.

"But there was always something in his armour that was missing - on the mental side of the game. It is a real tragedy. He did light up a game when he came on and his work rate was tremendous.

"His engine was ridiculously high. He was just a really nice kid. There were all sorts of rumours about him all the time (going to bigger clubs). You couldn't believe the stories but it wasn't fabricated. With the way he was playing, something could happen."

Born in York, Garratt was brought up in Middlesbrough - being picked up by the Minstermen's youth system at the age of 15 where his enormous promise was recognised in his very first appearance for a City team.

John Stockton, City's current head of youth recruitment, was in charge of the under-15 and U16 teams at the Bootham Crescent club's centre of excellence when Garratt was recommended by their North-East scout.

Recalled Stockton: "He played for us the first time in an under-15 pre-season friendly we had against a Leeds Catholic Club team.

"Martin ripped them to pieces. So after an hour we took him off because we did not want any other scouts, maybe from Leeds, near him. We wanted to sign him. He was that good."

Added Stockton, who was shocked by the news of the former player's sudden death: "He had so much natural talent and energy and when he started with us he was one of the best trainers at the club. It's just so sad."

Former York City captain and star defender Paul Stancliffe was the head of City's youth development when Garratt made his startling breakthrough.

Now in charge of the youth development programme at League One side Doncaster Rovers, Stancliffe wondered whether the young midfielder's sudden advance to the senior ranks had come prematurely.

"Looking back you wonder whether it might have been too much too soon," said the man who led the Minstermen to promotion success in their first appearance at Wembley in 1993.

"Martin certainly had the talent and he was a fit boy who had everything you wanted to have in a midfielder. He had a fantastic engine and could get up and down the pitch all day.

"You just wonder did it happen too quickly and maybe he needed a little more time to bed in.

"It's such a massive shock (to hear about his death). It's such sad, sad news."

And for Cresswell, a youth prodigy who went on to make it at the highest levels of the game, his memories of Garratt are of a dedicated prospect who has sadly been taken at too young an age.

"He was really keen to prove to everyone what a good player he was," he said. "He had a big impact. Lots of big clubs were watching him - the likes of Crystal Palace, Sheffield Wednesday and Wimbledon, who were in the Premier League.

"He had the world at his feet. Obviously, things didn't go the way he would have liked and it changed from there.

"One thing that sticks out was that he had so much energy. He could run from box to box. In all the running drills he was the fittest. He was right up there.

"He was 34 and that is no age. He had a lot of trouble in his life and he had good support from numerous places. Unfortunately, he has passed away."