I was a home and away fan in season 98/99.
Why? Well I suppose it was the act of defiance. We’re down among the ‘dead men’ but we will not be cowed.
I was playing for City’s Internet team back then and there was a great camaraderie among the lads that got to play against rival net teams as part of what became a kind of weekend ritual of traveling away, playing the opponents (or other local Internet team if they didn’t have one) pre-match, and then going on to the game. A particular highlight was being stood next to the then Bournemouth chairman (Trevor Watkins) while he berated the local council for closing their park training pitch (for water-logging) when he was in the team to play against us ahead of the real match that afternoon. It was a beautiful sunny day, the ground was dry, and would they be so kind as to get off their arses to open the changing rooms as they were embarrassing him in front of guests and he had to get back to the main ground to greet the City chairman by 1pm!
Why am I bringing this up now you ask? Well the social media reaction to our loss to Real Madrid this week has made me think long and hard about the polarisation of my fellow blues on the subject and what my own response should be.
To my eternal shame I missed 2 games that season. That may seem not a great crime to most but the problem is one of them was York away. Yes that’s right I didn’t go – I stayed at home and went to my works do which had been organised by my house mate and to be honest I had a great time which I wouldn’t have had had I gone to the match! Why is this a problem? Well I’ve always felt a touch of a fraud when talking about how far we’ve come since then.
Ridiculous I know, since unlike some of the 200,000 other blues that claim it I WAS actually present as part of the *cough* 3,007 attendance against Mansfield. I defiantly sat in my seat in Lower BB and I can honestly say no-one was sat within 10-15 seats of me in any direction. I would normal have gone with several other City mates but I was alone that night. I was also present at away losses to 2nd bottom Lincoln City at Sincil Bank (my personal low) & Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park who that season became the only team in English football to hold a 100% league record against us.
But I wasn’t at Bootham Cresent.
The significance of York away is that it has come to symbolize the depths to which City sank (it was the nadir of our history – 12th in the 3rd tier of English football) and the benchmark to which our recent success is often compared. Whenever we have a bad spell or poor game the mantra is often “Remember York away – remember how far we have come.” I know this as I have often said those very words.
It seams Blues of a certain age have become almost fixated on the subject. Following the Blues in the 80s & 90s was grim at times and 98/99 is seen (rightly) by most as rock bottom. As a result our ability to digest our current situation is skewed. “We’ve won a trophy and reached the Champions League semi-final for the first time. What the hell are people moaning about? Poor season you don’t know the meaning of it – Remember York away?”
Social media post Madrid has become a battleground between those angry at our season and those touting the past as a benchmark to put down the ‘Johnny come latelys’. The truth however, as always, lies somewhere in between. My son is 11, a season ticket holder, and has known nothing but success. He is blessed by being born in an era when City are on the up, successful, and I hope it stays that way! I have however caught myself on several occasions this season saying the words – “when I was young” – to justify another poor City performance.
The simple fact is City have often not stepped up to the plate this season. Yes we did reach our first ever Champions League semi-final but that should not be counter balanced by York away. We should have seen our players fight for it. I don’t subscribe to the over-awed argument. Over half of the team that started have played at the Bernabeu before. They are all internationals that have won titles and trophys before. We have simply drifted without purpose in too many games. We have not wanted it. The poster on the wall of the CFA is not being adhered too – “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. That is the story of our season. It is also the story of Leicester City’s season. It is why they and not us are champions.
It’s also why older blues need to put away the ghost of 99 and York away and stop apologizing for our poor performances. York away will next season be 18 years ago – we will start to field players that weren’t even born then. The demographic of your average home & away fan is 40% 16-24, 36% 24-34 and the remainder 35+. It’s fair to say that the majority of our away support from next season will not remember York away never mind have actually been there. It is no longer relevant to the team of today or our younger supporters nor should it be. It true that you shouldn’t forget your history. It is a part of who you are but neither should you live in the past.
“The past is your’s but the future’s mine.” So says The Stone Roses lyrics that are often used to mock the rags in recent times.
We need to let go. To #daretodream. To expect to win. To believe that we deserve to be on a par with Real, Barca & Munich. To, god forbid, aim to dominate to Premier League in the same way the rags did. It may not be possible as money is not the be all and end all it once was in the late 90s & 00s. It may go against the grain of those of us that stood by the blues in the dark days. But to use York away as the benchmark is fallacy. It’s no longer who we are. It’s ok to be annoyed by what was a truly shocking performance against Madrid. Yes it was ONLY 1-0 but we wouldn’t have got the away goal we needed if we were still playing today!
To fail to be in next year’s Champions League might not upset the York away-ists but you know what? I WAS a York away-ist in all but ticket and it’s time to move on. Tomorrow’s match has become huge. The Pep era is about to begin and it needs to be at the top table. It’s about where we’re going and I for one am hoping the journey is an exciting one not one about looking over my shoulder anymore.