Today, we are pleased to welcome back John Dobson. John signalled York City’s return to the Football League firmament at the onset of 2012-13 and it’s been an impressive beginning to the season for the Minstermen, currently lying just a couple of points outside the promotion zone. Here, however, John expresses disquiet at the continuing delay of the club’s necessary stadium move. He can be followed on twitter at @johnnydobbo.
Last spring was an amazing time to be a York City fan. Consecutive weekends at Wembley resulted in a trophy and a promotion, but sandwiched between the two was an announcement crucial to the future of the club.
After a lengthy process, drawn out by vested interests and spurious concerns about the city centre becoming a ghost town, planning permission was granted for a new community stadium on the edge of town on the site currently occupied by the Huntington Stadium, home of the city’s rugby league club, York City Knights, and the city’s athletics club.
Some background. City moved to Bootham Crescent in the 1932 after ten years at Fulfordgate and three years after election to the Football League. It’s a 1920s stadium and despite improvements to terracing, seating and lighting, still feels like one. The club’s tenure of the ground only became an issue in the late 1990s when then chairman Douglas Craig separated the ground and the club, transferring the stadium into a new company.
This was for our own benefit, we were told at the time. As fans of many, many clubs who have experienced this and the ensuing financial problems will know, this was utter, utter bullshit. In 2001, Craig announced his intention to resign the club from the Football League and sell the ground – sat on prime land in a desirable area – for housing. John Batchelor bought the club and promised a lot of things he wouldn’t deliver, including buying the ground back. Batchelor was a liar and a crook, more akin to Walter Mitty than the much-admired former chairman Michael Sinclair, and took the club into administration in 2003.
The rescue came from the fans and the purchase of club and ground, finally reunited, was facilitated with loans from the Football Stadia Improvement Fund due to be repaid when Bootham Crescent was sold. A deal was signed with Persimmon Homes regarding purchase of the site when York City vacated it and the process began to find a new home.
Finding a site was hard enough. Months, years even, of wrangling eventually identified Huntington Stadium as the place to go. After even more wrangling, the athletics club was found a home at the university and after more wrangling – seriously, the city has seen more wrangling these past few years than a dozen cowboys would see in a lifetime – the rugby league club finally came on board.
But just as it looked like everything was a go, a campaign group sprang up on the premise that if the department stores proposed as part of the overall development were built, nobody would ever go into the city centre again. This was nonsense, of course – I mean, what would be left in the historic centre of York for anyone to see or do if a John Lewis was built three miles away? – but still had to be given due credence by the decision-makers. Eventually, permission was granted on the Wednesday between the two Wembley visits.
Any suggestion that that was the end of it, however, has been dashed by a report in the Press this week. The delays have seen the date for actual work to begin put back from the end of next year to June 2014. The opening of the stadium has, consequently, been pushed from somewhere between November 2014 and March 2015 to July 2015. While there’s a certain amount of sympathy to be had with the developers after the long and drawn-out procedure to even get this far, this has been sprung on everyone with no notice. It impacts the rugby league club most as they’ll now be sharing Bootham Crescent for two years rather than one.
While the football club aren’t stirring anything – for the time being at least – as a fan it’s difficult to feel anything other than cynicism. The future of the club depends on this. The upkeep of the venerable old Crescent is cripplingly expensive, money that could be better spent elsewhere. News of this delay and the throwaway remark from the developer about moving into a “very lengthy procurement process” is just depressing. We just about resolved with ourselves that leaving the Crescent is the only option, no matter how long we’ve each been going, no matter that it’s really handy for the city centre (well, pubs and railway station) and no matter how much we’d like to stay.
I’m at the stage now where I will believe that there’s a new stadium when I’ve parked my arse in one of its seats and not a moment before.