FAN'S EYE VIEW; Play-off addicts dream on

No 110: York City
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The Independent Online
First-year students at the new campus university of York in the cold, damp winter of 1969 could afford only two out of the three necessities: keeping warm, eating or finding the entrance money to see City at Bootham Crescent.

Introductions were unpromising: we were languishing in the Fourth Division's lower depths. But having been used to the fleshpots of Stamford Bridge, I blithely joined the terrace optimists, who in those days could swap ends at half-time to carry on willing a City goal at close quarters.

Back then, the high spot of 50 League years had been the team of 1955 - the "Happy Wanderers" - who'd captured the headlines by taking Newcastle to a semi-final replay in the Cup.

However, by 1970, things were grim. We'd even missed out on football's only intellectual, when a pre-literary Eamon Dunphy left our midfield for Millwall (of all places).

Expectations had been low, so we were somewhat surprised to find that out of nowhere, we suddenly had a side, complete with a heart-throb striker (Paul Aimson) and an unfeasibly shaped keeper (Graham Crawford), who proceeded to set a League record of 11 consecutive clean sheets.

With twin towers Swallow and Topping up front, we edged forward to promotion. Intoxicatingly, within a season, we found ourselves up again, to the Second Division (the proper one), with the likes of Man Utd, Aston Villa and Forest.

The rollercoaster was off. Over 20 years, we shot up four times and crashed down three. Worst of all, we were forced to seek re-election twice.

Managers came and went. Wilf McGuiness's hair turned white during his stay. Off the field the marketing people went potty. Nice maroon shirts were replaced by white, complete with an enormous red "Y" on the front.

The inevitable jeers followed us around the country. Misguided attempts to popularise a Doddy-like nickname - Minstermen - provided further humiliation. It all took its toll.

By the end of 1980-81, we were 92nd in the League. But from these ashes rose the great City side of '84 - Byrne, Walwyn, McPhail, Jones, runaway Fourth Division champions with 98 goals and 101 points.

This was the real team of the 80s, playing such good football - terrorising Arsenal and frightening Liverpool in the Cup - before the side broke up.

In the 1990s promotion play-offs have given the York switchback even more of a white-knuckle dimension. In May 1993, it bore us to Wembley for a titanic clash with Crewe Alexandra and the fight for a place in the new Second Division.

The sun shone, our lads sported double-breasted suits (Crewe's were shell) and 25,000 turned up to watch. There were last-minute goals, extra time and then, oh God, penalties. City played as well as any side could with the word Portakabin on its chest. And, oh yes, we won.

But the dream didn't stop there on that sunny Wembley afternoon. Next season, 1993-94, was hardly an anticlimax: in the play-offs again but out in the first round. Secretly, I didn't mind too much, not just for cardiac reasons, but two consecutive years at Wembley would have been too sugary.

This season we were always just off the pace for a top-five finish, ending a solid ninth. If Deano (Dean Kiely) stays in goal and Barnsey (Paul Barnes) keeps popping them in at the other end, you could do worse than risk a fiver on City for the First Division. It has to be better odds than the lottery.

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