York City rejoice in National League return in their centenary year and modern new home as manager John Askey revels in making fallen club ‘feel proud again’ after play-off final win over Boston United
- York City beat Boston United 2-0 in the National League North Play-off final
- Minstermen secured return to the fifth tier after five years in regional football
- Goals from Lenell John-Lewis and Maz Kouhyar guided them to promotion
- Thousands of fans streamed onto the pitch in celebration at the final whistle
- Manager John Askey turned York’s season around following a slow start
- He spoke of his pride at returning the club to ‘somewhere it should be’
The repeated ‘stay off the pitch’ announcements were well-intentioned, especially in light of the week’s events, but they were always going to be futile.
When the final whistle finally went, joyous York City fans streamed onto the pitch from all angles and mobbed their promotion winners.
There was some goading of the disappointed Boston United support in their section but when the visitors responded with magnanimous applause, a mutual respect broke out.
York City lift the National League North play-off trophy and mark their return to the fifth tier
The celebrations followed a joyous pitch invasion following their 2-0 win over Boston United
The Minstermen are back in the National League after spending five years in regional football
The Minstermen were on their way back to the National League after five agonising seasons in regional football. They’d bottomed out; now the only way was up.
That it happened in their centenary year and in the first season their smart new LNER Community Stadium was allowed to admit fans only made the moment all the more special.
‘I’m really pleased that a football club like this is back to somewhere it should be,’ said York manager John Askey. ‘Hopefully this is a new start.’
You could counter that no club has a divine right to be at any level but let’s consider the facts.
York played in the Football League uninterrupted from 1929 until 2004. Eight seasons in the Conference were followed by another four-season stint in League Two.
All reasonably-minded football followers would consider York a League club but the horrors of 2016 and 2017, when they suffered relegation from League Two and then dropped straight through the National League, left them in the depths of despair.
York fans celebrate after Lenell John-Lewis opened the scoring early on in the play-off final
John-Lewis fired home just five minutes in to settle any nerves among the York support
The sixth-tier National League North has become a graveyard for erstwhile League sides – some who went bust, reformed and climbed back up the pyramid, others who have simply sunk.
It features Darlington, Hereford United, Chester, Kidderminster Harriers, York and Boston – all League clubs this century – plus ambitious upstarts like AFC Fylde and Brackley Town.
So it’s far from straightforward to get out of, as York discovered with mid-table finishes as they acclimatised to the lowest level of football they’d ever played in.
This season promised more of the same old frustration. A slow start to the campaign under Steve Watson saw Askey, who took Macclesfield back into the League in 2018, brought in as assistant manager.
With York some way off the play-off places, Watson was replaced by Askey, initially on an interim basis and then as they gathered winning momentum through March, permanently.
Afghanistan international Maz Kouhyar sealed it with York’s second in the closing minutes
The contrasting emotions were visible at the final whistle as York celebrated their promotion
York City: Jameson; Dyson, Kouogun, Sanders, Barrow (Brown 71), Wright, McLaughlin (c), Hancox, Kouhyar, John-Lewis, Donaldson
Substitutes not used: Woods, Willoughby, Whitley, McKay
Manager: John Askey
Scorers: John-Lewis 5; Kouhyar 86
Booked: Kouogun, Hancox
Boston United: Dewhurst; Ferguson, Shiels (c), Garner, Ferguson, Byrne, Abbott (Massanka 60), Green, Wright Jnr (Hanson 75), Elliott, Dimaio (Preston 83)
Substitutes not used: Duxbury, Wright Snr
Manager: Paul Cox
Booked: Abbott, Garner
Referee: Matt Corlett
They ultimately finished fifth and play-off wins over Chorley and Brackley set up this special occasion, with the 7,500 tickets available selling out within hours.
It was an atmosphere of passion and colour, with both sets of fans inside the ground and singing an hour before kick-off.
Any York nerves were settled just five minutes in. Boston’s defence failed to deal with Scott Barrow’s long throw into the box and the ball fell to Lenell John-Lewis to sweep home.
John-Lewis, on loan from Grimsby, was a major fitness doubt after injuring his thigh scoring the winning goal at Brackley but the man understandably nicknamed ‘Shop’ was always going to make it.
‘In the second half, he was virtually playing on one leg,’ said Askey.
Boston’s main threat came from corners and long throws but York outdid them for physicality and restricted sights of goal.
Given Boston’s first shot on target came after the 80-minute mark, they could have few complaints at the outcome.
York also rattled the woodwork through Clayton Donaldson late in the first-half but they couldn’t kill the contest off.
Nerves crept around the stadium as the minutes ticked down and Boston pressed York further and further back. Home keeper Pete Jameson made an important stop to keep out a Shane Byrne free-kick.
But with four minutes remaining, veteran 38-year-old forward Donaldson put in a crunching tackle to set York on the counter and Maz Kouhyar – the first Afghan to play professionally in Britain – sparked pandemonium by scoring at the near post.
York fans stream onto the pitch as the final whistle sounds to celebrate their promotion
Thrilled York players make their way back out onto the field for the trophy presentation
Celebrations carried on long into the night as York made their return to the National League
The lifting of the trophy felt cathartic for York, who can look forward to National League football again next season and no doubt will already be thinking how they can break back into the EFL.
‘I know how much it means to this football club,’ added Askey, who spoke to the media clutching a celebratory can of Budweiser.
‘Although I never had any links to the club before, I know how important it is to get to a level where we make the club feel proud again.
‘To do it in the centenary year and in the new ground, it couldn’t have been timed any better.’
Spare a thought for Boston, however, who have now suffered five play-off heartbreaks – two finals and three semi-finals – since they came into this division in 2010.
A fan dressed in a t-rex outfit waves a ‘City are Massive’ flag pitchside ahead of kick-off
York left Bootham Crescent and moved into the LNER Community Stadium last year
The 8,500-capacity all-seater stadium welcomed fans for the first time this season
They too welcomed fans to a new stadium back in August and swapped managers in mid-season.
Squeezing into the final play-off spot on the final day, their late season insurgency saw them beat the higher-placed Kidderminster and Fylde to get here.
They sold all 870 tickets given them by York and hundreds more watched on a big screen back at their own stadium.
This was one game too far but you can expect Paul Cox’s team to be among the promotion favourites next season.
‘I’ll never celebrate finishing second or losing,’ Cox said. ‘It’s a horrible place when you lose a game like this. I don’t want that again.’
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