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Sunday, 4 August 2013

Think Rome, Babylon, Czarist Russia, Le Roi Soleil – or, You Can’t Beat Lower League Football

The football season has started. Not the Premiership, the home of that warped, money-drenched form of the game, a league so puffed up with a sense of its own importance that its ultimate implosion cannot be many seasons away. Think Rome, think Babylon, think Czarist Russia, think Le Roi Soleil.

No, I refer to what we call ‘real football’, the lower league stuff, played by teams whose players live amongst the public they entertain, who earn wages on a par with what some of us fans earn, plain men whose physical imperfections have not been erased at the grooming salon, the gymnasium, or on Photoshop. There are still two precious weeks before the Premiership assaults our nostrils with the smell of filthy lucre and the sight of pouting prima donnas, whereas League Two, where York City face 46 games over the next  nine months, is up and running.

About 4,350 of us showed up for Saturday’s opening fixture - a figure some way up on last year’s average. Our opponents, Northampton Town, brought about 700 supporters. Fans like theirs enjoy a fixture at York, especially in the nice weather. It’s a great day out in a delightful city – and the beer ain’t bad. They arrived with high hopes of the coming season. Last year they got all the way to the play-off final at Wembley, only to be walloped by Bradford City, so they’ll be looking to go one better this time around. 

For me, returning to the terraces after three months was a little like going back to school after the long holiday: same old faces but a few signs of change. One of my mates was missing due to a heart operation; one or two others looked a full year older, despite sporting nice sun tans; and there were those youths who have grown a few inches, or had a new haircut, or had a girlfriend in tow. The admission price has gone up too.

The story of the game is pretty much as last season: York outplay the opposition for most of the ninety minutes with a decent passing game, carving out two or three golden opportunities, but never quite manage to stick one away. We even have a good-looking goal disallowed. As the clock ticks around towards a quarter to five I’m heading towards the exit, ready to hurry to the station and get a cup of tea before taking the train north. The 90 minutes are almost up. One last attack brings a corner. Over it comes, up goes 35-year-old Richard Cresswell, playing his first game for York since he departed for – yes, the Premiership, way back in 1999. Nods it down, and in comes new signing Ryan Jarvis to smack it into the net from about fifteen yards. Get in!

I find myself exchanging high fives with an old fellow who confides, ‘If they keep this up I’ll need another bloody heart op.’ That’s when I feel someone leaning against me for support, a fellow waving a crutch in the air. I’m about to shove him away when I see he only has one leg. There follow four tense minutes of added time, then the final whistle. Re-sult.

There was more to this weekend: a bike ride to Bishop Auckland, for example; and a moment’s reflection on the fact that it was forty years today that I left London for the North… but I think I’ll leave that until another day.

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