History of York City F.C. (1980–present)

Players celebrating, one of whom is holding aloft a trophy
York City players after the club's victory at Wembley Stadium in the 2012 FA Trophy Final

York City Football Club is a professional association football club based in York, North Yorkshire, England. Its history from the 1980–81 to the current season saw fluctuating fortunes in the 1980s and 1990s, and relegations from the Football League.

York made their seventh re-election bid after 1980–81, before the club won its first and only league title after finishing first in the Fourth Division in 1983–84 with 101 points. They were the first team to score this many points in a Football League season. After four seasons in the Third Division, York were relegated in 1987–88, statistically the club's worst Football League season. They beat Crewe Alexandra on penalties at Wembley Stadium in the play-off final in 1992–93, winning promotion back to the third tier of English football, now renamed as the Second Division. The following season, York competed in the play-off semi-final, when they were beaten by Stockport County. Later in the 1990s, they knocked Premier League teams Manchester United and Everton out of the League Cup in successive seasons. After six seasons, York were relegated to the Third Division in 1998–99. In the following years, the club experienced financial troubles; chairman Douglas Craig offered the club and its ground for sale in December 2001.

The club was bought by John Batchelor in March 2002, but the following December they went into administration. In March 2003, York were taken over by the Supporters' Trust, and were relegated to the Conference National in 2003–04, ending 75 years of Football League membership. The team were unsuccessful in the play-offs in the 2006–07 and 2009–10 seasons, and were beaten at the newly rebuilt Wembley Stadium in the 2009 FA Trophy Final. In 2011–12, York defeated Newport County at Wembley Stadium in the 2012 FA Trophy Final, and shortly after returned to the Football League with a 2–1 win over Luton Town in the play-off final. In their second season in League Two, the club reached the play-offs but were knocked out in the semi-final by Fleetwood Town. After four years back in the Football League, York were relegated to the National League in 2015–16. They were relegated to the National League North the following season, but won the FA Trophy after beating Macclesfield Town in the 2017 final.

1980–98: Fourth Division championship and first play-off success

A graph charting York's league positions
York's league positions since 1929–30

The 1980–81 season started comfortably for York City, and the team were 14th in the table by mid January 1981.[1] However, three wins from the last 18 matches saw them finish in bottom place.[1][2] York's seventh application for re-election was successful with 46 votes.[3] Poor form at home contributed to York occupying the bottom half of the table for most of 1981–82,[4] with a club record of 12 successive home matches without a win set.[5] Barry Lyons was dismissed as manager in December 1981, and the club dropped into the bottom four under the caretaker management of Kevin Randall.[6] Former York player and club director Barry Swallow took over as caretaker manager in March 1982,[7] and several convincing home wins toward the end of the season[6] helped the team to 17th place.[8] Denis Smith, who had played on loan from Stoke City the previous season, was appointed player-manager in May 1982, with Viv Busby as his assistant player-coach.[6] York finished 1982–83 in seventh place;[9] their inconsistent away form in the last half of the season led to them missing out on promotion.[6] The club occupied one of the top two places in 1983–84 from the second week of the season onwards,[10] and won the Fourth Division championship with 101 points.[11] They became the first team to achieve a three-figure points total in a Football League season.[12] The Yorkshire Evening Press billed them the "Team of the Century".[13] York set new club records for most wins (31), most away wins (13) and most goals (91).[14] For the first time since 1954–55, York had two players score over 20 league goals in a season; these were John Byrne and Keith Walwyn.[15] A profit of almost £15,000 was posted and the club aspired to further progress and promotion.[16]

Winning six of their first eight matches in 1984–85, York were top of the Third Division by early October 1984.[17] After a run of two wins from 11 matches, they slipped to 11th place in mid December 1984, though they continued to occupy a top half position[17] before finishing the season in eighth place.[18] In January 1985, York beat First Division team Arsenal 1–0 at home in the FA Cup fourth round, courtesty of a late penalty scored by Keith Houchen.[19] They reached the fifth round for the third time and drew 1–1 at home to European Cup holders Liverpool.[20] They lost 7–0 in the replay at Anfield[21]—the club's record cup defeat.[22] York started 1985–86 well and were second in the table by late November 1985, before a poor midseason spell saw them drop into midtable.[23] After being unbeaten in the last nine matches,[23] they finished seventh in the table,[24] marking the fifth consecutive season in which York's end-of-season league placing improved.[25] They reached the FA Cup fifth round for the second consecutive season, again drawing 1–1 at home to Liverpool, before losing 3–1 after extra time at Anfield.[23] York made a strong start to 1986–87, and in late September 1986 they were in second place.[26] They won only seven of their remaining 38 matches and needed a point from their last match to avoid the danger of relegation, which they achieved with a 1–1 draw against Notts County.[27] York finished 1986–87 in 20th place.[28]

Smith left to take over at Sunderland in May 1987, and former Blackburn Rovers manager Bobby Saxton was appointed in June.[29] Only two players were under contract at the time of Saxton's arrival; his hastily arranged squad struggled from the start of 1987–88,[30] and only won their first match in late October 1987.[31] York were bottom of the table for most of the season,[31] and were relegated after finishing in 23rd place.[32] The season was statistically the club's worst in the Football League, with the fewest wins (eight), most defeats (29) and the fewest points since the three points for a win system was introduced (33).[25] York made a poor start to 1988–89, and Saxton resigned with the club bottom of the Fourth Division in mid September 1988.[33] Swallow took over on a caretaker basis before the former Hartlepool United manager John Bird was appointed in October 1988.[30] York's away form improved in the second half of the season, and in the last week they had a slim chance of reaching the play-offs.[34] They missed out on a play-off place and finished the season in 11th place.[35] A record loss of £190,000 was posted for the season, but the club carried no overdraft because of interest-free loans from directors and a £100,000 share issue.[36] York started 1989–90 strongly and were in third place by mid December 1989.[37] Successive home defeats in late December 1989 marked the start of a decline[37] that saw them finish the season 13th in the table.[38]

John Ward making a fist while walking on a grass field
John Ward left York late into 1992–93, which culminated in promotion via the Third Division play-offs.

In September 1990, York player David Longhurst collapsed and died after suffering heart failure during a home match against Lincoln City.[39] A few months later, a newly built, covered stand at the Shipton Street End of Bootham Crescent was named after him.[40][41] York were the Fourth Division's second lowest scorers in 1990–91, as they finished 21st in the table.[42] Douglas Craig, who had been on the board since 1978, succeeded Michael Sinclair as chairman in June 1991.[43] York had won two of 11 matches by mid October 1991;[44] Bird was dismissed and was replaced in November by Aston Villa assistant manager John Ward.[45][46] York continued to be placed in lower midtable,[44] and finished fourth from bottom for the second year running in 1991–92.[47] They started 1992–93 with a club-record start of four wins,[48] and led the table until late December 1992.[49] Ward left for Bristol Rovers in March 1993,[50] shortly after a midseason slump in which York won only one of 13 matches.[49] Ward's assistant Alan Little took over[51] and York finished the season in fourth place.[52] They played Bury in the play-off semi-final, drawing the first leg 0–0 at Gigg Lane before winning the second leg 1–0 at home with a goal from Gary Swann.[53] In the final at Wembley Stadium, York beat Crewe Alexandra 5–3 on penalties, after the score had finished 1–1 after extra time.[54] Wayne Hall scored the decisive penalty as York won promotion to the third tier,[55] now named the Second Division after the formation of the Premier League in 1992.[56]

York made a good start to 1993–94, before a series of poor results saw them slip to 17th place in late November 1993.[57] They only lost five of their last 30 fixtures[57] to finish the season fifth in the Second Division table[58]—their highest league placing since 1976.[25] They lost to Stockport County in the play-off semi-final, being beaten 1–0 in the second leg at Edgeley Park after drawing 0–0 at home in the first leg.[57] York were in lower midtable for the first half of 1994–95, but improving form saw them move up the table,[59] before finishing in ninth place.[60] They struggled through most of 1995–96, and only avoided relegation by winning their last match away to Brighton & Hove Albion;[61] they finished in 20th place.[62] This season saw York record a 4–3 aggregate victory over Manchester United in the League Cup second round.[61] York defeated a strong United team including some younger players 3–0 at Old Trafford in the first leg; in the second leg, United fielded some more experienced players, and despite losing 3–1, York progressed on aggregate.[63] United went on to win the Premier League and FA Cup double.[64] York finished 20th in 1996–97,[65] only securing safety in the penultimate match with an away win over Rotherham United.[66] For the second consecutive season, they eliminated Premier League opponents from the League Cup in the second round, with a 4–3 aggregate win over Everton.[67] After drawing the first leg 1–1 at Goodison Park, York progressed after winning the second leg 3–2 at home.[67] In mid December 1997, York were fourth in the table, but declining form after New Year[68] saw them finish 1997–98 in 16th place.[69]

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