Here in York, rheumy tap-room eyes still moisten over the ale as the names of the 1955 side: 'Forgan, Phillips, Howe ... Bottom, Wilkinson...' are recanted with Barnstoneworth-like rhapsody. That year, of course, City became the first Third Division side, North or South, to reach the semi-final of the FA Cup, dumping the Blackpool of Matthews and Mortensen, the Spurs side of Blanchflower and Ramsey (The Daily Express: NO FLUKE. IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN SIX!) and Notts County, only to lose to Newcastle after a replay (Arthur Bottom's disallowed goal in the first game is still growlingly disputed.)
It is the sort of thing we do, providing hope and manna for the little club, the little man the world over. And there are still a few arthritic memories that become sprightly at the thought of 1938 when it all began. Then, the Second Division leaders, Coventry, and the First Division sides, West Brom and Middlesbrough, were routinely disposed of on a pleasantly audacious jaunt to the sixth round, only to lose to Huddersfield, again in a replay.
The latter-day triumphs include, naturally, that famous 1985 scuttling of Arsenal with a late Keith Houchen penalty. The following season, in the League Cup, we beat Chelsea 1-0 at Bootham Crescent, though the 3- 0 reversal in the second leg rather taints the memory of that particular feat.
As with the heinous Bottom incident, there have been other cases of bad luck. In consecutive seasons, home draws against Liverpool in the FA Cup resulted in replays. In the first, in 1985, the Anfield side shaded it 7-0. However, the following year a Keith Walwyn "goal", which would have put us 2-1 up with 20-odd minutes left, was annulled for no visible reason and the game was lost 3-1 after extra time.
Still, it has all been grand stuff. However, until a few weeks ago, the club's recent ineptitude in cup ties brought no optimism for a return to those days when, in the Coca-Cola Cup, we were drawn against, of all teams, Manchester United. We like them big, but not colossal.
On the morning of the first leg I instructed my bookmaker to add two noughts to the 12/1 on offer about City winning the tie. A few mildly insane York fans were hoping to hang on to a one-goal deficit. The more seriously deranged spoke of nicking a draw. But, among the realists, there was no hankering for the taste of sardines. We were going to lose. Worse, it might be a humiliation. Best send the dog to the relatives for a while. And move those ornaments.
But, sweetness and light, how wrong we were.
Eleven years ago the dear Lord above, in a perverse mood, sent a lightning bolt on to the city's Minster. And perhaps it was in a mood of belated contrition that, two and a half weeks back, he decided that the team whose nickname bears the name of his house should bring the town some recompense. Indeed, 20 minutes after the kick-off, no one who was there could deny there was something weirdly divine about the Minstermen's performance. Oft-leaden feet sprouted wings, the usually pragmatic passes from the back were sprayed around with laser precision. As for United, were they Scarborough in disguise? Paul Barnes scored, scored again, and Tony Barras added the third. History was made. Sublime, quintessential history. The greatest York City game ever? Arguably. Probably.
Family pets were dispatched happily home in taxis all over town. Glassware was retrieved from holes in the garden. And newly hopeful football widows enhanced nightwear with the newly erotic logo "Portakabin". Those of us who were there required counselling to cope with the joy. Four-hour debriefing sessions had to be held in the pub. Yet there was still that nagging business of the second leg with Cole, Keane, Schmeichel and That Gallic Chap returning to spoil the party.
Come the match, come horror when Dean Kiely, our brilliant young goalkeeper, suffered a bashed-in face in the 3-0 demolition of Hull City the weekend before. In the tap rooms, upper lips stiffened. These things are sent to try us. But to lose Deano, of all people... Since United had poached our youth team keeper a week before (only the most paranoid could smell a rat here) there was only the 19-year-old Andy Warrington left - 61 times on the subs' bench and never a first-team game. He would have to be a hero, a saint such as the city breeds. Hopefully.
At kick-off time, hopes were still afloat. Thirteen minutes later, when the United we feared had lacerated the City defence and strolled to a two-goal lead, they were completely grounded. Or were the lads just teasing us? You can see the funny side of it now, of course. But it wasn't until they stopped remembering the hype of the past fortnight that they began to get a grip. And in the 38th minute they scored.
In the second half it was all guts and sweat. Le Philosopheur, a rare creature on Bootham Crescent turf, struck a scything shot across goal. Cole threatened, but could not deliver. Then, with 10 minutes left, Scholes gave them a third. Now it was only 4-3 on aggregate. Ten minutes to go, and how the second hand of one's watch snags at times like this. But we dug in. We had more to prove than this millionaire-littered lot. And we survived.
The smiles are unstoppable at the moment. We are trying not to be smug. As I said, it was nothing new. Really.
Oh, but thank you, God. Thank you!Reuse content