At worst, if, as expected, United lost and exited the FA Trophy at the second hurdle, I could console myself by catching up with a load of friends from university over coffee, curry and beer in a kind of bringing together of lives old and new. Best case scenario, United upset their Conference National opponents and the weekend would go down in awayday legend.
I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while. Britain has been having its annual tiff with the Snow Lords, which has been fine when the university decides it’s in everyone’s “best interests” to stay tucked up in bed and suspends the day’s teaching, but gets pretty irksome when you can’t get out of your flat without looking like you have severe temporary balance issues, you can’t get to Rotherham to do some reporting and the football’s cancelled. I even had to watch Soccer Saturday. The shame!
There had been doubts about this one but I know the public of York are reliable sorts and thanks to their superlative shovelling efforts (only plastic spades were allowed. Not sure why, it isn’t Skeggie beach) the match was a goer. And I would like to express my gratitude to them for getting up at the crack of dawn in order to assist Boston’s progression towards Wembley Way with such good-natured charm and epic ignorance of what was about to unfold.
I digress. I love York and wanted to make the most of every minute, hence my mid-morning arrival to meet an old friend for coffee, the first of several pre-arranged catch-up the details of which would be out of place here. What I don’t love is the people who cram its every street, road, alley and medieval Gate this time of year. The slow crawl of the coach trip tourist - snapping away on disposable cameras at every hint of Roman heritage, dragging surly kids in tow and being fobbed off with false historical facts by flustered tour guides - is a given but the place had been invaded by a breed of ultra-slow Christmas shopper, designed only to piss off the tiny minority of people who weren’t searching for gaudy sweaters for Auntie Pat and Uncle Cecil.
I fought my way through this interminable street-clogger race and made Bootham for about 2.30, giving sufficient time to catch up with Boston connections in the Burton Stone pub, whose clientele seemed pretty oblivious the football match going on round the corner. I’d never been in the Burton Stone because I’d never had cause to. They say York has a different pub for every day of the year but I learnt pretty quickly that you wouldn’t go within a long punt downfield of the majority of them. The pleasant Burton Stone wasn’t one of them, however.
On to the matter at hand. I’d never stood on the sweeping away terrace at York before but the view really does show the age of Bootham (sorry, KitKat) Crescent. The sooner they get that new ground, the better I think. Boston had travelled in decent numbers (164 according to the local press) in a crowd of 1300-odd and made all of the atmosphere. Evidently, the Ultras (in true Ultras fashion) only turn up for ‘big’ games, which was a shame because a bit of verbal sparring would have completed the afternoon.
Before the big freeze paralysed the football schedule, the Minstermen had been on a seven-match unbeaten run, guided by former Pilgrim Gary Mills, and we knew this was a tough assignment. After all, City have a taste for Wembley, having visited twice in two years. But going forward they offered little in the first-half and James McKeown wasn’t unduly troubled. The back four, including York-born Shaun Pearson, were as solid as the mounds of compacted ice bordering the pitch.
Scottie and Hurst had drawn on old Rotherham contacts for pre-game intel and studied York’s 3-0 win over the Millers in the FA Cup last month as prep. And their research paid off when ‘football fwiend’ Spencer Weir-Daley headed in James Yates’s corner on 30 minutes. The reaction was surreal – absolute silence from three quarters of the ground and the faintest of roars from the away section as voiced drifted off into the cold, open skies above.
The second-half was one-way traffic and I would imagine City had 80% of the possession. But, for all that, they created very few actual attempts on goal and McKeown only made one save of note from Andre Boucard’s Exocet. As more and more red and blue waves crashed against our defensive line, the mood amongst the Boston fans grew from content with a replay at York Street on Tuesday night to cautiously optimistic to downright boisterous. It was a chilly afternoon, ripe for bouncing.
The win was narrow and satisfying. A wholesome performance of defensive grit and steel, all the more impressive given the team hadn’t played for three weeks. And perhaps the Wembley arch is moving onto the horizon – we’ve a home tie with either Cirencester Town or Gloucester City in round two.
I must mention a couple of sour points on an otherwise brilliant afternoon. Firstly, one of our number was booked by the police and accused of chanting racist obscenities. I think twisting Michael Rankine’s name to ‘Wankine’ is more a comment on his off-beat performance than the colour of skin and if we’re the first set of away supporters to think up that particular moniker then I’d be very surprised.
Secondly, I had the misfortune of encountering a rather aggressive City fan in the Hansom Cab in town after the game. Now, when I’m having a drink with some old mates, I don’t want to hear about how the referee missed five definite handballs by our defenders and how I’m going to be involved in fisticuffs because SEVEN years ago a few Boston fans made light of York’s financial problems by waving around some five pound notes. Sour grapes, perhaps, or are we just that hated? Needless to say, after the turbulence we’ve been through in the last few years, I think he’d agree we’ve been affected much more than they ever were.
Next Match: Boston United vs. Hyde United at York Street. Yes, at YORK STREET. I’m back for Christmas.