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Bootham Crescent - The Home Ground Of York City

Formed in 1922, City spent 10 seasons playing on the outskirts of York before moving to Bootham Crescent. We should finally vacate our city centre location in 2019 when we return to the outskirts of York

Fulfordgate

When York City Football Club was formed in 1922, eight acres of land were purchased for £2,000 in Heslington Lane, Fulfordgate. This was in the south-east of the city, away from the centre and not far from where the university is now situated.

It was very much a rural setting, the land was known as Gate Fulford. Hawthorn hedges formed its boundaries and it was very well drained. There were no turnstiles as we know them today, only gates. The name was reversed to be called Fulfordgate. At first there were no covered stands. The dressing rooms consisted of an old army hut. Later, open stands were bought from York racecourse.

Building works meant we had to play our first 2 home games in the Midlands League at Mille Crux, Haxby Road, the home of Rowntrees football club.

The first match played at Fulfordgate was on Wednesday, 20 September 1922, against Mansfield Town. The game went ahead only after the necessary requisite deposit, which amounted to £180, was paid. This cash, courtesy of one of the directors, Mr. John Fisher, was produced literally at the last minute.

On October 7, City's game against Barnsley was designated as the ground's official opening. 2,500 turned up, at the same time, over 9,000 were at Clarence Street watching a rugby league game, a portent of things to come.

Gradually, the ground was built up and improved and, within a couple of years, covered accommodation was available. In the letter of application for admission to the Football League in 1927, York City were able to say that the ground was 'splendidly drained, well-equipped, spacious and capable of being extended to hold up to 40,000 spectators'.

Considerable improvements were made that year. New turnstiles were fitted and stronger fencing was built around the pitch. It was reported that when that fencing was completed, it would be much more difficult for a spectator to surmount it and go on the pitch - an important feature from the referee's view. Behind one of the goals, nine-tier terracing replaced the old banking. The covered 'popular' stand was extended and could now house 1,000. There was also by now a small seated stand. Ground improvements continued, many undertaken by The Supporters Club, throughout City's time at Fulfordgate, the summer of 1931 saw improved banking at theFulford End and thhe covered side was fully terraced, giving shelter to around 5,000 fans. 1931 saw the erection of the first brick built offices.

Before City were elected to the Football League, the biggest crowed housed at the ground was 8,318 (receipts £366) to see the English Schools' Trophy semi-final between York Boys and Brighton Boys on 12 May 1928. In the York team were Reg Stockill and Dave Halford, both of whom went on to have distinguished football careers. By the time of the election to the League the following year, it was estimated that Fulfordgate could accommodate 17,000.

The ground was to stage two big FA Cup third-round replay matches against top flight opposition. In January 1930, for the visit of Newcastle United, 12,583 congregated, paying receipts of £900 5s 3d. The following year, Fulfordgate records were set when 12,721 paid £1,058 16s for the visit of Sheffield United.

However, crowds were generally low and pleas from the directors for more support went unanswered. At the time, annual losses were a regular occurrence. By December 1931, the directors were seeking to cut players' wages by 10%.

A couple of other games at the ground stand out. In September 1930, City beat a team from HMS York, the newly launched warship cruiser which had adopted City's maroon colours, 7-1 in a friendly, City going a goal down early on. In November 1931, an amateur international between England and Ireland was played at the ground.

Bootham Crescent

Towards the end of the third season in the Football League, concern was expressed at York City's poor support. One of the directors, Mr. G.W. Halliday, was convinced that the only solution was a change of ground. A major problem about Fulfordgate was the relative inaccessibility of the place. It was a good distance from the railway station and the tram service to Fulford had only a single track with a loop system for tram cars passing one another which also restricted the service. Indeed areas of York, Bootham and Clifton included had no tram service, meaning a walk into the centre to catch a tram out to Fulfordgate. As early as 1929, pre Football League, the club had noted the tram struggled to cope with the crowds and had held talks with York Tramways with the view to double the track, a request that was denied due to the costs involved. The bus routes had not been fully developed and, with general car ownership still a long way in the future, Fulfordgate, without doubt, was not an easy ground for the majority of supporters to reach.

Early in 1932, a ground which was geographically ideally situated near the centre of the city became vacant.

For a number of years York Cricket Club had played at Bootham Crescent, but they had decided to move to new headquarters at Wigginton Road, which is now the site of York & District Hospital. Yorkshire Gentlemen's Cricket Club had previously played at Wigginton Road, but they in turn had transferred to Escrick Park. Cricket had been played at Bootham Crescent for many years. Meanwhile, in June 1890, Yorkshire beat Kent by eight wickets on the Wiggington Road ground in what remained,until 2019, the only County Championship match played in York.

Known as "Bootham crescent", the land was owned by Barker's Charity which dated back to 1711 and was associated with St Saviours and provided many basics for the needy and impoverished in York.

After preliminary discussions and visits to the Bootham ground, the directors were unanimous of the opinion that a change should be made and a special meeting of the shareholders was held at St George's Hall, Castlegate, on 26 April 1932 to consider and approve the intended move. 3 days earlier, just 2,154 saw City beat Halifax by 7-2 in the last ever league game at Fulfordgate. At the time, there was an expectation that City would continue to play at Fulfordgate for another 2 or 3 years.

At the meeting the Chairman, Mr. Arthur Brown, drew attention to the 'gate' receipts figures in the three seasons of League football at Fulfordgate, (1929-30 £261; 1930-31 £183; and in 1931-2, when the club were near the top of the table for the first half of the campaign, £198). This represented average league crowds of approximately 4,000 and at the end of the day a deficit on the balance sheet. The board felt that the class of football had been good enough but the distance to Fulfordgate from the main parts of the city, coupled with the inadequate transport services, had a serious effect on attendances especially in bad weather and in winter when early kick-offs were the order of the day to complete matches in daylight. In those days, many men still worked a five and a half day working week, not finishing their shift until 1 o'clock on Saturday.

Mr. Halliday pointed out that in a one-mile radius of Bootham Crescent the population was 30,000, whereas for a similar radius at Fulfordgate it was only 3,000. On the question of ownership against tenancy, Mr. Brown stated that Fulfordgate was mortgaged as far as possible and the present mortgage, bank interest and overdraft would exceed the rent and rates at Bootham Crescent by £40 per annum.

The directors were satisfied that the new ground would fulfil all requirements. There were no restrictions as to banking, terracing and the erection of stands and the property of the shareholders would be fully protected if the lease expired. The lease, eventually signed in early June, was for 14 years with an option for a further 7 years, at £90 per annum rising to £100 from year 8.

The oldest stand at Fulfordgate needed replacing and it was pointed out that the club could put up a structure three times the size on the new ground. New dressing-rooms were also required at Fulfordgate.

There was some opposition to the move. A former director, Mr. J. Fisher, who had proved a benefactor back in 1922, said that during the club's ten years existence, it had built a playing history and a ground second to none in such a short time. He pointed out that it had been a bad time for football clubs generally with regard to crowds and that good times would come again to Fulfordgate. He condemned the proposal as a bad policy when it involved renting a ground instead of owning it. The Fulfordgate pitch had an excellent playing surface, whilst the new ground was on land subject to severe flooding. There was also a danger of Bootham Crescent being more heavily-rated once it got valuable equipment on it. Another former director, Councillor W.H. Shaw, also opposed the scheme and expressed doubts regarding the approaches and, looking ahead to the future, car parking limitations at the new ground.

After much discussion, the matter was put to the vote and by a majority of over three to one (115 for, 37 against) the shareholders approved the move to take on lease the Bootham Crescent ground. The Fulfordgate site was subsequently sold and developed as a building estate. There is nothing now to indicate it as the site of the birth of modern football in York in 1922.

The summer of 1932 saw a period of feverish activity as the new ground was equipped. The area was first drained and then built to the design of Messrs Ward & Leckenby, architects of York. Two stands were erected - the Main (members') Stand the Popular Stand.

Messrs Wiliam Birch & Sons were appointed as main contractors, within weeks, the new ground was built in readiness for the 1932-3 season. Legend has it that The Yorkshire Brewery provided funds to build the social club and that they dismantled the cricket pavilion and re-assembled it in their yard.

The Supporters Club undertook the responsibility for defraying the cost of The Popular Stand. There were deep pockets and willing hands, many supporters gave penny and threepenny coins to the cause. Throughout the club's history, The Supporters Club and the supporters in general have played a part in the building and maintenance on Bootham Crescent. In 1932, they removed many railway sleepers from Fulfordgate and manhandled them across the city to help build the new ground. They humped barrow loads of hard core and soil into place to build the incline for The Popular Stand. The Popular Stand was topped out with a plaque noting the efforts of the supporters in building and maintaining the stand and it remained in place until the plaque fell into disrepair in the 1970s.

1212 World War 2 saw football first suspended and then re-instated as a means of maintaining morale. Clubs were able to call upon forces personnel based in the area and played in semi formal leagues and cup competitions. In 1942/3, the Northern Section consisted of 48 clubs, City drawing up on many soldiers based at Strensall, Fulford and Catterick finished 17th. In The League North War Cup, City reached the semi final before losing to Sheffield Wednesday (pictured, note the roof).

For many years, the ground remained largely unaltered.

In 1948, City purchased the ground. In 1946, at the time of expiry of the original 14 year lease, City signed a new 21 year lease at the same £100 rent, rising to £125 from year 8. The post war boom in football saw City investigate options to purchase the ground. A £3,000 bid was rejected in Septeemebr 1947. A £4,000 offer was made a month later and it was finally agreed in principle in February 1948, City paying that sum into a bond as a series of tortuous negotiations continued. A final price £3,886 was agreed, adding legal and surveyor costs for both sides and a portion of rent due to up to the sale date, the final price was £4,075, around £340,000 in today's money.

It wasn't until the early 1950s that terracing in The Popular Stand (then no seats) and The Shipton Street end were concreted.

The late 1950s saw a period of change at the ground. The Main Stand was extended and floodlights erected. The section of The Main Stand nearest Shipton Street was built in 1955 (evidence of the join is still visible today) following the cup run. The first floodlights were erected in 1959.

I remember when I started supporting City in the late 1960s, the club shop was a small wooden programme shop at the Bootham Crescent end, near where the gymnasium was later built. It wasn't until the 1970s that the first club shop appeared on its current site.

Around this time, 3 long standing traditions stopped. The "happy Wanderer" song which had been played at home games since our 55 FA Cup run was discontinued. It heralded the end of two other traditions. Shortly afterwards, the tunnel that ran the length of the ground behind The Popular Stand was closed, meaning an end to the practice of both sets of supporters changing end at half time (and before the start if their team was kicking the wrong way) and also the tradition of lowering City’s flag about 5 or 10 minutes before the end of a game.

The 1970s saw 2 significant changes due to the rise of hooliganism. First, the enclosed tunnel that ran underneath The Popular Stand and enabled both sets of supporters to change ends and be behind the goal their team was supporting was closed. Then, as City reached Division 2, the designated end for home supporters was moved from the Grosvenor Road end to the Shipton Street end, initially as a one off for the visit of Manchester United in December 1974 and then a permanent change.

Also in 1974, The Popular Stand became seated, using seats bought second hand from Manchester City.

In more recent years, further work has occurred. Spurred on by promotion in 1984, various Main Stand improvements were made (including offices and dressing rooms) and The Shipton Street turnstiles were re-aligned. 1986/7 saw hospitality boxes built, a rare example of such facilities having no view of the pitch. Even later, during the 1992/3 season, the Family Stand and original Family Room beneath The Main Stand were opened. The Enclosure disappeared with The Main Stand being extended with extra seats down to ground level and the canopy of the roof also widened and re-angled to provide more protection against rain.

In August 1991, The David Longhurst Stand which can be traced back to a supporters initiative to provide covered terrace for the loyal City supporters, was opened.

In November 1997, when the 1996/7 season accounts were published, City confirmed plans for a new Grosvenor Road stand had been deferred due to the unavailability of grant aid.

For many years, supporters regularly helped to renew the ground every summer, in the 1960s sometimes alongside the players. The work often involved painting, replacing sections of the corrugated iron roof and repairing the wooden fence around the pitch and was often rewarded with a season ticket.

In 2005, Billy McEwan revived the concept of supporter ground aid as he lead supporters in giving the ground a thorough cleaning as Billy's new brush went through the ground and club, although strong cleaning materials and much elbow grease were required to bring the showers and changing rooms up to the high standards that Billy required.

Craigs Sells Ground - Read All About It

Following the Douglas Craig / John Batchelor eras, the club lost ownership of its own ground. It was sold to Persimmon Homes in the Craig era. The York City Supporters Trust bought back Bootham Crescent in 2004. An agreement with the Football Foundation enabled City to re-secure the ground with a £2m loan (at £100,000 interest per year) until work on a new ground (a condition of the purchase) was completed.

It was this amount that Nestle paid City in January 2005 to rename Bootham Crescent as Kit Kat Crescent. The same sum was paid annually each year over the length of the 5 year deal. In January 2010, the ground reverted to its traditional Bootham Crescent name.

Our home for over 80 years is likely to become York's latest buy to let bonanza within the next decade. As well as football, it has hosted rugby league, American football and the one county cricket match in 1890. A rock n roll revival concert in 1979 proved a short lived diversion into the search for alternative income streams, though various bands have played The Social Club over the years.

Can we expect to see a John Woodward Way (probably a dead end), a Michael Owen playground (to commemorate his four goals for England Boys on our ground) and a Keith Walwyn Parade (for key workers). Plans for some of the smaller back streets to be named after York's heritage iconic The Shambles were vetoed by City's defence whilst the council apologises for the slip which means the skyscraper apartment block will be known as "The Jason Mooney Flaps".

The Future - Monks Cross

Many claim Bootham Crescent to be land locked with no room for expansion and with little (or no) scope for any non match day revenue raising activities whilst its age means there is considerable ongoing expense on maintenance.

Plans for a new ground progressed at a slow pace, largely caused by getting council support and agreeing upon the site. A number of sites were suggested and ruled out, including A64 west of York, York North (Nestle factory (Haxby Road)), the old gas works (Foss Island), British Sugar factory (Poppleton Road) and York Central (disused railway land between the station and carriage works). Eventually plans for a Community Stadium at Monks Cross (Huntington) were formulated.

On 27 March 2015, detailed planning permission was finally approved and plans are afoot for City to be at their new Monks Cross ground in time for the start of the 2016/7 season.

Hopefully, the new ground will provide us with income streams for 365 days a year. Some smaller clubs use their ground for much more than just matches. Steve Beck has previously used the example of Macclesfield who own their own banqueting suite and host a EU sponsored computer training lab which generates £500,000 a year.

Building work started in late 2017 and we should move into the new ground for the start of the 2019/20 season.

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