York City - 1982 - 1991 - Denis Smith and Division 3

Another promotion campaign and more cup runs but once again a failure to re-build

Denis Smith arrived on loan as a player in March 1982. I doubt if he thought he'd be around the following season as player manager. He was and set about building a new side, based on some experienced players he knew from his playing days. The club became more professional, organised and forward thinking in its outlook.

1982/3 saw an impressive home record. A poor away record hampered City's push for a promotion place throughout the season.

That was rectified a season later as City were crowned Division 4 champions with a record 101 points in 1984. From a long way out, the team felt invincible and gradually pulled clear at the top of the table. To date, it is the only championship winning side in our history and was the first ever time a team had got 100 points in a season. Forwards Keith Walwyn and John Byrne, with power and class, plus 52 goals between them, proved too strong for many teams and were supported by a backbone of Smith's former playing colleagues (Jones, Hay, Evans, Haslegrave and Busby).

In Division 3, the 3rd tier, City pushed hard for back to back promotions, heading the table for a few days in October, however an FA Cup run, cumulating in a win over Arsenal and drawn game with Liverpool in Round 5 saw City's promotion hopes scuppered. With big cup games came big crowds and ticket disappointment. Vouchers were distributed at a league game resuting in a crowd of 10,948 for the game with Wigan in February 1985, the last ever season a 5 figure crowd saw a league game at Bootham Crescent. The Liverpool games saw the last appearances of the season for Keith Walwyn and Ricky Sbragia, succumbing to achilles and back injuries respectively.

City went again in the following season, with similar results. Another defeat to Liverpool in an FA Cup Round 5 replay and a late season slump ended City's promotion hopes.

With captain and leader John MacPhail gone, City struggled during the 1986/7 season missing relegation by one place. A shocking home defeat to Caernarfon put pay to another cup run.

Despite impressive ground improvements, the team had struggled on with largely free and cheap signings. Denis Smith resigned in May 1987 to move to Sunderland. Later the club was to say that money was available to Smith who chose not to spend it. However, with hindsight, chairman Michael Sinclair, much later described by Ricky Sbragia as "a fantastic chairman" might have regretted that City didn't look to push on more under Denis Smith. A season after MacPhail had left, Keith Walwyn also left for another paltry fee via the transfer tribunal and both were replaced by free transfer signings. City didn't help themselves as they offered most players only one year deals.

It was City's age old dilemma. A team comes together for next to nothing, takes the club forward, but when the time comes, those players cannot be adequately replaced, whether it is the fees to buy a new John MacPhail or Keith Walwyn or the wages they would demand, it wasn't the first (or last) time City had failed to refresh a successful side.

Bobby Saxton replaced Smith. Admittedly, when he arrived few players had actually signed contracts for the 1987/8 season, eventually most of those offered terms did sign, but without Walwyn, Gary Ford and Simon Mills, some of the class was missing. That summer also saw a behind the scene change as Keith Lamb left for Middlesbrough after 6 years and was replaced by Keith Usher as Club Secretary.

City started badly, losing their first 5 league game and registering their first league win of the season at the 16th attempt. City struggled along for the rest of the 1987/8 season, only vacating bottom place on the last day of the season to Doncaster, arch rivals of the decade. As City exited Diviion 3 by the back door, Denis Smith's new team, Sunderland, exited via the front door as champions.

Back in Division 4 and despite spending a six figure sum on 3 new players (Kevan Smith, Steve Spooner and Chris Marples), Saxton failed to improve playing fortunes and tendered his resignation in September. The board were very reluctant to accept it.

City looked to Hartlepool and John Bird for the next manager. Hartlepool were enjoying some relative success. He and his assistant Alan Little oversaw a small upturn in City's fortunes as City finished the season in 11th place.

1989/90 was an inconsistent season, City slipped back to 13th place.

A new side was being shaped. Wayne Hall arrived and formed a full back partnership with fit again Andy McMillan. Ray Warburton was to prove an able, albeit increasingly injury prone, centre back. Up front, David Longhurst arrived in January 1990, but suffered an injury in his 4th appearance with 2 goals to his name.

With Longhurst fit, prospects seemed bright for the 1990/1 season. Tragedy struck on September 8 when David Longhurst collapsed and died on the pitch. After that, City struggled for the rest of the season, finishing 21st. Later that season, Jon McCarthy and Dean Kiely were to make their City debuts.

With Paul Stancliffe recruited, as an on the pitch leader, hopes were high for the 1991/2 season. Once again, the parts of City's side seemed stronger than the whole and John Bird was dismissed in October 1991 as City's side continue to underperform.

Footnote: the 1980s saw the continued demise of the longstanding official Supporters Club and the formation of the York Nomad Society