Update: Despite the appalling weather, large numbers of supporters from many clubs turned up for the march from York Minster to Bootham Crescent. Well done to them all. It was a great shame the match itself was called off at such a late stage, but it did allow the fans to make their point anyway.
Have a look at the York web sites listed below for photos of the day, and also for news of the York City Supporters Trust.
York City supporters are calling on fans of other clubs to gather at Bootham Crescent for City's Division Three clash with Lincoln on February 2nd for a Fans United Day.
The future of professional football in one of England's most historic cities is under threat due to the actions of the Club's current owners.
However, York City is not just another small club struggling financially. Given that it has one of the highest wage bills in Division Three the Club has made significant losses over the past few seasons. However, the bank overdraft is small compared to many other lower division clubs.
The 'killer blow' is the proposal by the directors (who also happen to be the key shareholders, with 94% ownership) to sell the Club's home to the highest bidder for around £5 million before the end of March 2002. The Bootham Crescent site is prime development land in a city with booming property prices. Not only have Douglas Craig and his fellow directors announced that they intend to quit the Club, but the Club must quit its home of the last 70 years and, if it survives, find somewhere else to play in the 2002/03 season.
The key issue is that the money from the sale is not being reinvested in a new ground for York City. Instead the money will be pocketed by Craig and his fellow directors. The directors appear to have 'sidestepped' certain FA rules. This week Craig sits on the arbitration panel that is deciding whether the owners of Wimbledon can move the club to Milton Keynes.
Save City campaigner Pete Brandon said, "The actions of the directors are not in the best interests of York City Football Club. We risk losing our club."
City, who this Saturday face Premiership millionaires Fulham in the FA Cup 4th round, have an 80 year history of great cup adventures.
Brandon added "It is very important all fans stand together at times like these. This is not just about York City. It is about asset strippers threatening the survival of clubs up and down the country. The FA is supposed to be the guardian of the English game. But what are they doing? If the FA won't show they care, the fans will."
There are fears that owners of other clubs may copy the actions of Craig such that assets are sold off to benefit individual shareholders at the expense of football clubs and their local communities. This could lead to a domino effect whereby in the next few years several Football League clubs could disappear.
The Fans United Day promises to be a celebration of how football fans can set aside their rivalries and unite for the good of the game.
Further details of the fans struggle to save their club can be viewed at www.saveyork.co.uk.
It's time to protest, and it's time for fans of all clubs to come together to show that York City won't be allowed to die. It's our game, our grounds and our clubs that we're fighting for. Think about what we all stand to lose, without clubs like York City and grounds like Bootham Crescent to visit...
As a Brighton fan, it grieves me to see other clubs in the same situation we were in a few years ago, and the phrase "asset stripping" (allegedly) still in common use. In 1995, our beloved Goldstone Ground was sold for £7 million (the new owners soon sold it on, with planning permission, for over three times that amount...), and we were told that we would have to share a ground elsewhere.
Ironically, the last ever game at the Goldstone was due to be against York City. It lasted 16 minutes, before the frustrated fans spilled on to the pitch (as shown below). York fans had made a long journey for such a short "game", but they were gracious enough to support our cause and we are still grateful. (Even though we got relegated and they didn't!)
The following Tuesday, it was announced that Brighton would stay at the Goldstone for another season - a grim season that would see many more protests against the way the club was being "run". One of the few highlights was the first "Fans United" day on 8th February 1997. That thousands of fans from many clubs (and many countries) could come and stand and protest together, shows we have more in common than we may have realised until that point. It lifted the fans, and it lifted the players to a 5-0 win against Hartlepool that was significant enough to save us from relegation at the end of the season. We finally left the Goldstone on 26th April 1997. Off the field, we were finally saved by a new Chairman - Dick Knight.
But we were still homeless, and the following year Fans United (see picture) was held on Valentine's Day at our temporary "home" ... in Gillingham. That was arranged in support of our friends (and relegation rivals) at Doncaster Rovers, who were also having serious problems with their own Chairman. Subsequent Fans United days have been held for a number of clubs.
So, it keeps happening, and we need to keep protesting. Don't let anyone make a profit out of your club. Be at Bootham Crescent on February 2nd. Wear your own colours, but realise that we're all in this together.
Saying Goodbye - see below for a Brighton fan's personal memory of the York game.
See also our Road Swing article for another view on the York game, and what clubs mean to the fans.
See below for David Conn's article in the Independent - York's shocking story couldn't be put any clearer than that. Not only are the club and ground being sold by the Chairman for his own profit, but he has given notice to quit the Football League at the end of the season. The club may end up with no home and no league status - surely the end?
Keep an eye on these web sites for more information:
Brighton v York on 27th April 1996 was the start of something in our family. I'd been living in exile in Yorkshire since 1987, but I still followed the Albion. I say followed, in the papers mainly & the odd trip to Rotherham or Barnsley.
Ever since there had been rumblings about the sale of the ground & move to Portsmouth, I'd been subscribing to the Argus in the hope of finding out more. I, like a lot of people wasn't a PC user, so the Argus or Ceefax was as far as information technology went. As the months & weeks went on & it looked as if 27th April would be our last game at the Goldstone, I got more & more wrapped up - there was no way the ground was going without me saying goodbye.
So on that sunny Saturday morning I set off, wearing a shirt, holding a scarf & with a camera in my handbag. How could I put nearlly 20 years of memories into one film? I couldn't. I told myself to savour every moment. It was a perfect spring day as I strolled accross Hove Park, the same sort of spring day that would have seen my mother pushing me in a pram not very far from here all those years ago. I went to the club shop before the game & bought a babygrow. I wasn't pregnant & didn't even want any more children, but it looked cute.
But the atmosphere was not that of a spring day. There was something up. I don't know quite how to put my finger on it, I couldn't summon up the enthusiasm to sing my heart out, I just wanted to look, listen & remember. I couldn't settle into watching the game. I stood in my old spot on the North Terrace, trying to spot former friends amongst the crowd, but the whole crowd was watching, waiting for something to happen.
We didn't have to wait long. 3.16pm to be precise. Fans on the pitch, players off, game over.
I couldn't go without saying thank you & goodbye. I walked slowly down to the pitch, people were just milling about. A steward helped me over the wall. I just bent down to touch the pitch, to say thank you & so long. As I turned to walk up the terracing, a spark ignited inside me. Mr Archer, I don't care where you live, I don't care how rich you are, I won't let you let my club die. I don't want my kids to grow up not having the memories that I have had because of this club.
Life for us changed that day. I was shaken out of my complacency, I may not have done very much, but I was there for the team when they needed them.
By the time the first kick of the 96/97 season took place I was pregnant & the babygrow was worn by my beautiful daughter Emily to our last game at Hereford.
The passion that came flooding back on that sunny Saturday has not gone away, it lives with us every week. It doesn't matter if we've driven 250 miles for a 0-0 draw, or we've lost 2-1 in injury time - we were there, we have a team to support. Thank you Dick Knight. Thank you Brighton fans.
Historic York is more renowned as a tourist honeypot than a hotbed of football, but York City supporters have risen up to condemn the club's chairman, Douglas Craig, who last week announced that, unless he could find a buyer for the club, he would withdraw it from the Football League. If he fails to achieve the asking price of £4.5m for the club and its Bootham Crescent ground, York will be forced to leave their home, which is owned by a holding company in which Craig has a 62 per cent stake.
Craig and three fellow directors paid between them around £200,000 for their shares. They transferred the club and ground to the holding company in 1999 to sidestep an FA rule designed to prevent shareholders making money by winding up a club and selling its ground. At the time they told shareholders the move was designed to secure the club's future at Bootham Crescent.
This normally sedate, prosperous city has been in shock since. Craig has been unpopular with fans for years, but was still generally regarded as an old-fashioned chairman who would look after the club. Even the local newspaper, the Yorkshire Evening Press, which sponsors the club, last week accused the directors of "betraying" the fans and "selling them down the river."
Craig, 72, described in Rothmans Football Yearbook as Douglas Craig OBE, JP, BSC, FICE, FI, MUN E, FCI ARB, M CONS E, is an engineer and a former local Tory councillor. He was invited on to York City's board some 20 years ago and became chairman 10 years ago, taking over from Michael Sinclair, a former businessman who is now a local priest. Sinclair has not spoken to the press, but he is known to have passed his 123,000 shares to Craig not for the market rate, but for no more than £1 each. Several former directors have said they did the same, explaining that it was considered a privilege and a duty to serve the club, and it was a York City tradition never to seek to make money out of it.
Under Craig, York have struggled, first to stay in the Second Division, then, since relegation in 1999, to avoid relegation to the Conference. They have, though, developed a reasonably successful youth policy which included the sale of Jonathan Greening to Manchester United for £1m in 1998. Craig earned national notoriety in 1994 by becoming the only chairman to refuse to sign up to the "Let's Kick Racism Out of Football" campaign, a stance he maintained until two years ago.
In July 1999, Craig wrote to all York City's shareholders, asking them to approve a plan to transfer the club, and Bootham Crescent, to a new company, Bootham Crescent Holdings (BCH). Craig pointed out that he and his three fellow directors, John Quickfall, Colin Webb and the former playing hero Barry Swallow, owned 94 per cent of the shares and had already approved the plan.
He explained that the purpose of the transfer was to escape one of the Football Association's rules. The rule provides that when a club is wound up, its shareholders should be paid only what it originally cost them to buy their shares. If there were any surplus, the rule provides that the money must go to local sporting or charitable institutions, or the FA's Benevolent Fund, not to the shareholders.
Craig explained: "Your directors are concerned that in certain circumstances these provisions could adversely affect the ability of the company or any successor to continue playing football at Bootham Crescent."
In fact, it is difficult to see how the rule could be interpreted in this way. Its purpose is the exact opposite - to protect clubs and their grounds from asset strippers by removing the ability to profit financially from winding up a club and selling its ground. The rule was for a century part of three aimed at preventing people from exploiting clubs financially. The other two provisions of "Rule 34" were restrictions on dividends and directors' salaries.
Since Tottenham Hotspur became the first football club to float on the Stock Exchange in 1983, top clubs have sidestepped the provisions by forming holding companies, thereby allowing shareholders to make money out of clubs. The FA has never protested.
In 1998, on the advice of Nic Coward, the FA's head of regulation, Rule 34's first two restrictions were abolished, even while the Football Task Force was reaching a conclusion that the rules should be updated, not weakened, to provide effective protection for clubs in the age of the plc. Yet, after a thorough review of the rules, Coward recommended that the FA keep the third restriction, against winding up a club and selling its ground.
At York, the transfer of the shares duly took place and Bootham Crescent was transferred to the holding company, free of the FA's restriction. The Land Registry notes that BCH paid the club £165,000 for Bootham Crescent.
In BCH's latest accounts, filed only a fortnight ago, Craig wrote: "BCH was formed as part of a corporate restructuring exercise to enable the club to be secure in its activities."
The accounts disclose a club making a loss, its wage bill exceeding its income, but not in the near-terminal position of many lower division clubs. It has no major creditors, an overdraft stated to be under £100,000 and, crucially, no mortgages on Bootham Crescent.
All of which has made the directors' actions even more unpalatable to supporters. Last Wednesday, Craig released a statement which put a price of £4.5m on BCH, which owns the club and the ground. Alternatively, a purchaser could buy only the club, which would then be forced to leave Bootham Crescent. "Any parties seeking to acquire the ownership of the Football Club will be required to vacate the ground and premises at Bootham Crescent," the statement says. BCH, it says, would give anyone buying just the club £1m towards paying off its overdraft and making Huntington Stadium, a local athletics ground, fit for football. If no buyer comes forward by 31 March this year, Craig has said he will resign the club's membership of the Football League on April Fools' Day. Craig says he cannot afford to keep the club going in the face of mounting debts.
Bootham Crescent is in a residential area close to the city centre and the £4.5m demanded for the club and stadium reflects the ground's perceived market value. Far from securing the club, the transfer to the holding company means that Craig and his three fellow directors stand to share nearly £3.5m from selling BCH and the ground.
Fans have reacted furiously - particular anger has been directed at Swallow, the club captain during the Seventies, when York played in the Second Division alongside Manchester United and Aston Villa. So far he has not spoken publicly. A supporters' trust is being formed, hoping, in the short term to help to buy the club, if not the ground. Some supporter-shareholders are understood to be considering a legal challenge to Craig's actions.
Fans have bitterly pointed out that Bootham Crescent has been substantially built by supporters' fund-raising efforts, including most recently the roof on the Shipton Street end paid for by fans in memory of David Longhurst, the York player who died on the pitch in 1990 during a match against Lincoln City.
"I thought Craig was ultimately a fan and had the club's interests at heart," said Steve Beck of the official Supporters' Club. "He has revealed now he is not the club's custodian but an asset stripper. The directors should go for the price they paid for the shares, and let others safeguard the future of the club we love."
Craig did not return my call this week, nor did he answer a series of written questions about his actions. The club's website said yesterday that he was talking to two "serious" prospective buyers. Many people are at a loss as to what has motivated the directors to behave as they have. From the FA, the game's governing body, which has seen a vitally important rule sidestepped again, there was similar, baffling silence. York fans are urging them to act to enforce their own rule, but as things stand, only £4.5m, or a change of heart by Douglas Craig, can save York City and their ground.
This article is on the Independent's website at sport.independent.co.uk/football/comment/story.jsp?story=115099.
See also "Craig under pressure to quit Wimbledon panel" at sport.independent.co.uk/football/nationwide/story.jsp?story=115098.