Both clubs were hoping this season would see them recover from their rapid declines but their starts suggest tough campaign lies ahead
8 September ~ Two former League clubs are not finding life easy in the regionalised sixth tier. Stockport County’s visit to Bootham Crescent to play York City on Saturday afternoon will, likely, generate the largest attendance of the day in the National League North. A crowd of 3,000 or more is not bad for that division.
The attendance will be a little below that of the FA Cup first-round clash between the two sides at the same venue in November 1992, which Stockport won 3-1. That was my first ever live football match. Truth be told I remember little other than his sheer size meant only three quarters of County striker Kevin Francis was ever visible from the David Longhurst Stand.
Current Stockport boss Jim Gannon was part of another early personal football milestone when his side’s late winner in the Division Two play-off second leg ended City’s hopes of back-to-back promotions. As I was sitting in the coach outside Edgeley Park it dawned on me that play-offs are not always fun.
Gannon made more than 400 appearances for Stockport, during which time they won two promotions, made Wembley four times, reached the League Cup semi-finals and played in the second tier for five straight seasons. He brings the club to York on Saturday amid his third stint as manager and the team’s fifth straight season outside the League. The club’s decline has been largely continuous and they are now semi-professional.
York can also look back on the 1990s with great fondness. There were Wembley wins and cup upsets over Manchester United and Everton. In 2012 Gary Mills lead them from a previous Conference purgatory and captured the FA Trophy. But since defeat in the League Two play-offs under Nigel Worthington in 2014 the Minstermen have hurtled out of the League and kept on falling under the disastrous stewardship of Jackie McNamara.
Many felt the return of Mills as manager, another win in the FA Trophy and the decision to remain full-time all suggested a swift return to the National League was possible. Season ticket sales outstripped last year and players such as Jon Parkin stayed. But a 1-0 defeat at home to Telford on the opening day shattered any illusions about how the the season would develop.
That defeat also showed that York will be considered a scalp for other teams this season – a novel reality for many fans. There have been a few easy wins but too many lapses at the back and a tactical inflexibility that sees Mills simply revert to the long throw and the long ball when an early breakthrough isn’t achieved.
The status of the long-awaited new stadium and the precise nature of McNamara’s ongoing role at the club are as vague as ever. Both teams come into the match on the back of much-needed, goal-heavy wins. Stockport dismantled Southport 6-0 while York defeated Spennymoor 4-2. But with the likes of Salford City already seemingly clicking into gear, both sides will not want to be hanging on for the revamped play-offs.
Stockport’s latest owners have said they want full-time professional football and League status back by 2020. York want it sooner than that. It is already looking unlikely that both will take step in the right direction this season. Greg Norman
York photo by Paul Thompson/WSC Photos: Bootham Crescent in 2006
Stockport photo by Colin McPherson/WSC Photos: Outside Edgeley Park, 2006