In 1999, York City Football Club ceased ownership of their city centre ground, Bootham Crescent, following backroom shenanigans courtesy of then owner Douglas Craig. In order for the club to remain in existence, they required a loan from the Football Stadia Improvement Fund who placed the condition that the club must identify a new site for the stadium by 2007 with detailed plans to follow within two years to avoid financial penalties.
‘What is this doing on a rugby league blog?’ I hear you cry. Well, the proposed new ground which has been dogged with problems and has seen arguments between pretty much every party involved while also contributing to serious financial difficulties for the football club will also be shared by Kingstone Press League 1 team York City Knights. The site that was chosen was that of the Huntington Stadium, a second rate athletics stadium with two stands which also happened to be the home of the Knights and, in 2012, permission was granted to transform the site into not just a stadium but also restaurants, shops, public service offices and a cinema. This stadium was scheduled to be ready between late 2014 and mid 2015 but, after council disagreements and high profile arguments between Jason McGill (York City FC owner) and John Guildford (then York City Knights owner) saw tensions run very high throughout the cities two main sports clubs. These issues saw the Knights left homeless following their eviction from Huntington Stadium as their proposed ground share with York City hit trouble after conflict between the two owners – many people have speculated that Guildford was a real hindrance to the process and, while I am not able to say whether that is fact or not, progress has definitely been made in the last twelve months.
After the club was threatened with closure under their former owner where there was a very real threat that the club wouldn’t see out the 2016 season, Jon Flatman stepped forward to lead a group to takeover the club. Now, anybody would realise that the potential of both the rugby league and football clubs in the city would be massive when their moves into the stadium actually occurred and, while York City FC have struggled over the past few years with the uncertainty, 2017 saw a sterling recovery from the Knights who are now really looking forward with hope and expectation of genuine progress in the coming years. At the start of the last campaign, the side formed after the demise of the York Wasps were most certainly behind their rivals in preparations after a mass exodus of the 2016 squad, due to the uncertainty, left the squad bare and highly rated coach James Ford worked exceptionally hard with Flatman and Co. to sort out the mess that threatened to affect a whole campaign. As it went, following sterling recruitment, coaching and support, the Knights were one game from the Championship 1 play off final – a position the club would definitely have taken at the start of the season. Furthermore, the Knights showed just how far they had come after a famous day in June. Following a highly impressive marketing campaign, a huge crowd packed into the old Bootham Crescent – a groundshare which, in 2017, was highly harmonious – to see the Knights dominate and deservedly dispatch with moneybags Toronto Wolfpack and inflict their first ever defeat. It harked back to days under Richard Agar and Mick Cook where the Knights really were a club looking forward and was a day that rugby league fans dream of – great performances, great support and great weather, three reasons why fans love the game.
The genuine partnership between both the rugby league and football clubs this year has been evident and it now really seems that both teams are pulling in the same direction and working towards a successful future for both sports in the city come the day when, eventually, the York Community Stadium is ready for occupancy. Regularly, newspaper interviews with both sides have demonstrated a support for one another, as have both team’s social media accounts where congratulations and partnership are evident and promoted, a harmony which is certainly necessary is the promised ground share is to be successful.
This week’s huge news that diggers are expected on site before Christmas has been taken with a pinch of salt by plenty of fans, myself included, as there have been multiple false dawns with the whole project but, if construction really does begin, both teams definitely have futures worth looking forward to.