York City 2 Northampton Town 2

Barclays League Division 3

23 April 1988

scene and heard

The context

Remember how news travelled in the days before mobile phones and the internet? Down the pub on a Friday night, that’s how. In this way, just before chucking out time, my friend Mark found there was a coach trip to York the next day, and that places remained which might be claimed in exchange for cash. And being at a loose end we both turned up early on Saturday morning, paid over a fiver each and settled down to sleep off our hangovers.

This was one of those random outings that people in our district sometimes organised, for no better reason than relieving the monotony of life in a Northern town. Nothing connected the people on the bus apart from living in the same place. The passengers were of all ages, sexes, shapes, sizes and degrees of coherence, and no-one – us included – seemed to have a plan, other than to get to York and see what happened.

life in a Northern town

Dropped off somewhere near the Minster with instructions to be back there at eight, the live-long day and the cultural delights of York were all ours. So naturally we dived into the first pub we saw, a scabby boozer called the Londesborough Arms that had a chip shop conveniently attached. There we discovered from the local paper that York were playing Northampton, and going to the game began to seem an excellent idea.

Emerging into daylight and heading towards the ground (via several other pubs and chip shops, plus a public toilet where I got locked in and had to climb out over the adjacent cubicle), we soon remembered we had no idea where it was. Nothing daunted, we spotted Clifford’s Tower and, correctly surmising that you could see Bootham Crescent’s floodlights from the top, it was then a simple matter of following first the river, then the railway, and finally a breadcrumb trail of Sunderland grafitti.

Bootham Crescent, 1980s (Shane MacClure)

Bootham Crescent

This grafitti was a souvenir from the occasion, four weeks previously, when an estimated 6000 Sunderland fans descended on the city for a Third Division game. On an afternoon given added edge by the return of visiting manager Denis Smith, who left York for Wearside under something of a shadow the previous summer, mayhem predictably ensued.

There is a news report on the bother, and some good views of 1988 Bootham Crescent, here:

Sunderland fans smash York city ground

Sunderland v York when Sunderland were in Div 3

At this time Bootham was essentially unchanged since the Thirties. Such minor recent refinements as existed (perimeter fencing being one) were hurried consequences of a remarkable Cup run in 1984-85, when the team sensationally knocked out Arsenal in the snow before taking Liverpool to a draw in the 4th round. The replay was lost 7-0, but Ricky Sbragia’s equaliser against the European Cup-holders and Keith Houchen’s languid winning penalty in the Arsenal match have gone down in folklore.

languid (York Press)

The ground in 1988 had two open terraced ends, the Shipton Street and the Grosvenor Road. The former for was home fans, the latter for away. The Grosvenor was tidiest, while the Shippo featured rough banking at its rear and corners. There was also terracing to the front of the Main Stand. And finally the narrow Popular Stand on the opposite touchline was – like the Main Stand – a 1932 construction, with 1600 rickety plastic seats on a former terrace under a lean-to roof. This stand, seated in 1974 for the team’s one and only season in Division 2, had been ravaged by the Mackems and damage was still being repaired.

The game

The result was 2-2 and if I remember rightly (by no means a given) York came back from 0-2 against the promotion-chasing visitors. Gary Howlett scored both York goals. We stood on the Shippo, towards the Popular Stand, where I nabbed a copy of the York fanzine Terrace Talk from a shifty looking seller (the publication had just been banned by the club for some imagined transgression, so his nervousness was understandable).

Longhurst (York Press)

One of the fanzine’s rallying points was its “Roof the Shippo” campaign. Poignantly, David Longhurst played in the Northampton side that afternoon. Two years later, by then a York player, he would die of a heart attack on the Bootham Crescent pitch and the newly-roofed Shippo would be dedicated to his memory.

Proceedings over and (despite in-ground pies) ravenously hungry, we headed back into town. And there we stumbled on quite a find. Channel 4 had recently broadcast a Brookside spin-off, Damon and Debbie, following Bobby and Sheila’s son Damon as he moved to York (and was unfortunately stabbed to death by the locals). While in York, Damon worked in a World War 2 theme restaurant called Monty’s Bunker. And to our delight we discovered that not only was Monty’s Bunker a real place, but it was also open and empty. And (appropriately) it served scouse.

Bunker thrill

The journey home was lively, as these things tend to be: many people had hit the pubs in York, and the highlight of the trip (in fact possibly the year) was a lady of ample girth being thrown off balance by a sudden corner somewhere near Derby and ending up wedged horizontally in the aisle, while rival factions tried to free her from either end. It was like Winnie the Pooh in the rabbit hole, if Winnie the Pooh bought his clothes in the plus size section of Littlewoods catalogue. We rolled back into town just before last orders, and persuaded the driver to let us off at the pub from where we agreed the whole impromptu venture just twenty-four hours previously. The end of a perfect day.

Revisited

These pictures show Bootham Crescent with just a handful of games remaining, as the club prepare to relocate to their new purpose built/retail enabled/multi sport etc etc out of town ground at Monk’s Cross. It was a chilly November morning. As I arrived the team coach was departing for a game at Altrincham, leaving the supporters’ bus awaiting its last few arrivals.

Monk’s Cross looks set to be smart and practical in the way only new-build prefabricated grounds can be. Bootham, meanwhile, shows not just its age but also visible signs of non-investment during decades of yo-yoing between League, non-League and the present doldrums of the National League North. There’s only one way into the Shippo now, as modern houses and flats crowd the back wall. The top of the Grosvenor Road terrace is truncated, with fenced-off sections making it oblong where once it was humped. The overiding impression is of rotting wood, peeling paint and a venue overstaying its welcome in an area that would rather be without it.

hunk of Monk (York City FC)

Cathedral cities tend to have complicated relationships with football fans and football grounds, and maybe in Monk’s Cross York have found a solution. This is a sad end for a place that once packed in 28,000 for a Cup-tie with Huddersfield, and where the splendidly-named Arthur Bottom scored the majority of his 137 goals for City. But for ever it will be associated in my mind with a club day out in an Eighties spring, Damon Grant dressed as a soldier and an overweight woman wedged in the aisle of a 36-seater coach.

Teams (from programme)

York: Endersby, McMillan, Johnson, Clegg, Tutill, Hood, Howlett, Bradshaw, Helliwell, Wilson, Himsworth.

Northampton: Gleasure, McGoldrick, Wilson, Donald, Wilcox, Slack, Singleton, Culpin, Gilbert, Adcock, Longhurst.