Image Credit: York City Football Club
At last, the box can be ticked. York City have finally played their first match at their brand-new ground, the LNER Community Stadium. And in what is perhaps a sign of the times we’re all living in, it didn’t go remotely to plan.
This wasn’t a bustling Saturday afternoon affair with supporters cheering on both sides’ every move. This was a bitter, rainy Tuesday night encounter — the Minstermen’s first match since a draw at Kidderminster Harriers well over a month ago. At the LNER Community Stadium on 16 February, though, York couldn’t even celebrate a draw. Visitors AFC Fylde cruelly spoiled the party as they claimed all three points from a scrappy, windswept game.
A mixture of government restrictions, York City FC Covid isolations, and National League North season breaks have disrupted the club’s emotional move from its previous home Bootham Crescent to the LNER at both ends. The club and supporters had no clue the 1-0 league win over Guiseley on 28 December would prove to be their final match at their rickety old previous home, Bootham Crescent, where they first became tenants in 1932. And since, a number of matches have been slashed from York’s fixture list and rescheduled for a number of reasons. On the one hand, it’s about time the club finally did get its new existence going. On the other, what an underwhelming and inaccessible way for it to happen. Football matches in front of zero fans just aren’t the same. But we already knew that.
In a first ever meeting between York City and AFC Fylde, a long barren spell of matches over the past month for both was abundantly obvious; quality wasn’t wholly lacking, but moments of prolonged possession and smart passing were.
York looked to be heading safely into the dressing room at 0-0 at the break. Fylde had other ideas. Alex Whitmore pounced as the ball fell loose from a set-piece. He volleyed into the roof of the net in impressive style. Manager Steve Watson (pictured) would have to bin his half-time notes; they no longer applied. The visitors led at the break.
The match was really won for Fylde by a refereeing decision ten minutes after the restart. Harry Bunn was penalised and booked for a rugged but seemingly fair challenge in the middle of the park. Fylde’s No10 Nick Haughton — once of Bolton Wanderers and Fleetwood Town — looked a class above everyone else on the pitch throughout. In keeping with that was his resulting free-kick. It crashed back off the upright, but went in cruelly off the back of York City goalkeeper Pete Jameson. It felt like a stab to the gut that the Minstermen didn’t deserve. This club have been through quite enough. Lady Luck wasn’t on their side… Is she ever on anyone’s side, these days?
Just a minute later, Jake Cassidy’s superb wing play had earned the hosts an immediate route back into the contest. Felled in the area, he handed the ball over to skipper Sean Newton, tasked with scoring from the spot. He slammed home the penalty — 2-1 meant game back on.
The inevitable raft of substitutions disrupted the rhythm of the match, no end. But there was still enough time for Haughton to sprinkle more of his magic on this blustery encounter. A second free-kick meant another chance for a goal. There was no deflection on this one; no goalkeeper near it to take Haughton’s name off the scoreboard. This was his — a magnificently shaped free-kick which nestled cutely in the other corner. Jameson was unmoved. After 81 minutes, his side were down and all but out.
Fylde were in the National League last year, one division above York, and while this was the Minstermen’s first home defeat of the season (cue whispers of a curse at their new ground), the visitors were that extra level of tidy on the ball that York just couldn’t compete with.
As York City remain in eighth, Fylde move up to second with this decisive victory. Yet comparisons of league positions could all become exceedingly irrelevant very quickly indeed. Last season was curtailed and its promotion and relegation decided on a points-per-game basis. If rumours are true, this campaign might not even see that much respect — total cancellation is a genuine option.
This was billed as a momentous, historic occasion for the city of York — the football club’s first match at the new stadium they will share with the city’s rugby league club, York City Knights. One City fan jokingly told his social media followers that he was off to watch Dad’s Army, as Fylde fired in their third. While that may be a tad dramatic, there’s no getting away from the fact that with no spectators present, York did lose their first match at their new home.
As York City Football Club enter a new era, one fact of the matter seems patently true. Football needs its fans back. The sooner the Community Stadium can actually welcome the community, the better. A tough night, but the club and the fans mustn’t panic. Football offers no time to dwell.