17 May ~ York City fans spent last Saturday at Wembley, where much of the crowd chatter was about how awful the ground was – all-seater, soulless and inaccessible. Today, supporters find out whether such qualities will be recreated at future home games, when the application for York's new stadium goes in front of the local council planning committee. The proposal has left many fans wondering what the purpose of a lower league football club should be.
The story of how York ended up in this situation bears retelling. In 2001 the club's long-term chairman asset-stripped the club by selling our Bootham Crescent home before offloading the footballing side of the business to John Batchelor, a man who would later boast: "That's what I do – I fuck companies," (and he did). Eventually the stadium was reunited with the club, thanks to a £2 million loan from the Football Foundation, which was given on the condition that the club sell up and move to a new site at the earliest opportunity.
It has taken the best part of a decade for that opportunity to arise and the result is horrifically uninspiring: the chance to move to a basic all-seater ground that consists of three stands and a mere 6,000 seats, and is situated in a shopping park on the edge of the city. The entire project only exists only as an enabling development so a John Lewis store can be built on the adjacent greenfield site.
Even worse, the club's potential home looks like it was designed by a safety officer with a Meccano set. It features what appears to be a bus shelter down one side; Burton's concrete box Pirelli Stadium is architecturally thrilling in comparison.
Supporters have been left in the uncomfortable position of lobbying hard for something none of them want: to leave an untouched, pre-Taylor Report city-centre football ground that is filled with character and only a few minutes' walk from city-centre pubs and the railway station. But it has been presented as a stark choice: move and keep the club's name alive or stay at Bootham Crescent and face bankruptcy. The McGill family have patiently and loyally subsidised York's extended stay in non-League but this cannot go on without the additional funds to pay off the loan and undertake redevelopment at the existing site.
The debate over the club's proposed "community stadium" should be taken as a chance to consider why clubs such as York City continue to exist. Rather than pretending that the team could still sweep up the leagues and sustain itself at Championship level, fans need to adopt a more realistic position that looks at the wider purpose of the club.
In the current footballing environment, the best that York supporters can hope for is a financially stable club competing at the top of League Two, offering affordable football to a proud city and rebuilding a youth system that has produced many Premier League players. The club should retain some ambition, yes, but without forgetting the last decade of scrimping and fundraising that has been required to survive multiple financial crises.
If the club is to exist for future generations of fans to enjoy, a key part of that involves recognising that a team's surroundings are just as important as the ever-changing cast of players on the pitch. Considered in these terms, it would be a crying shame to abandon a stadium that sits at the very heart of the community it seeks to serve. James Waterson