Gary Mills

With 2 spells as City's manager, Gary Mills' reigns have provided both highlights and lowlights in City's history.

No one can deny us our Wembley successes in May 2012.  Having taken over Martin Foyle’s failing team in October 2010, Gary Mills galvanised City and narrowly failed to make the play offs in his first season. It was worth the season's wait. Arriving with City 16th in the Conference, he left with us in 2013 in 18th in Division 2 and never in a relegation place. He returned in 2016 and oversaw a disastrous relegation season, unable to recover McNamara's disastrous reign.


Appointed on 13th October 2010, his first game was a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Bath City when he told BBC Radio York: "It's got to be sorted. We've got to start being organised. I need to look at the situation and get a couple of leaders out there to get us playing, get us organised and get players back into the areas they should be playing".

Michael Ingham noted from day one, "I liked what he was about from day one. So positive an enthusiastic. He set high standards from the get go which I loved. Training methods were completely different limiting the number of touches of the ball. Some players struggled with it at first, but we quickly realised why we were doing it. We were going for a quick tempo passing game. At this point I went from an old age goalkeeper pumping it up to the number 9 to a modern day goalkeeper playing out from the back with short passes".

Mills was also particularly concerned at the size of the squad, "We've got a lot of players - too many. I need to get a smallish squad of players working for each other. You can't have half a dozen sitting in the stands in their suits not being involved on a Saturday afternoon and there are a few issues that it's my job to sort out".

It didn’t stop him extending the contracts of midfielder Danny Racchi and winger David McDermott. He also brought his former Tamworth skipper Chris Smith back to the club.

The large squad was trimmed by releasing youngsters Dean Lisles and Jamie Hopcutt who he considered not ready for the first team and forwards David Dowson and Mark Beesley. Big money signing, striker Michael Gash was instructed to lose weight.

The remaining strikers didn’t impress and he finished at Forest Green with Alex Lawless and Peter Till up front. Next up was a tough FA Cup Round 1 match at League Two promotion chasers Rotherham. Backed by over a thousand travelling supporters, City came away with a very creditable 0-0.

Alex Lawless was a surprise departee, Smith said, "I am very disappointed to see a player of Alex's calibre leave the club as I feel that he has much to offer and has been very popular with the supporters, however, we need players who want to play for York City, are focused on their jobs and happy at the club". At the same time, Mills sought to improve his offensive options, bringing in Leicester City striker Ashley Chambers and Sunderland midfielder Robbie Weir. Attempts to sign Jason Walker and Jamie Reed stalled. "He (Walker) is a player I rate and someone that I have looked at, "he's a goalscorer and the type of player I would like in my side", Mills said. Walker was to join Luton and an initial bid for Reed failed.

There was some good news, a superb 3-0 win over Rotherham was followed by a 4-0 win against Rushden & Diamonds.

On the transfer front, City were fighting off big bids from Luton for wantaway David McGurk who was nearing the end of his contract.

It was Boucaud in and Purcell out through the transfer door as Mills continued to wheel and deal, somehow a loan move out or Gash fell through, its not known whether due to weight issues he got stuck in the door.

November ended with a manager of the month award for Mills, in his first full month, a cup win at Darlington and 5 consecutive clean sheets.

By early January, Mills had eventually signed Jamie Reed and we went to Premier League Bolton for our Round 3 FA Cup tie. Although we narrowly lost, we more than held our own, Reed made an impressive debut and all looked rosy.

Unfortunately, the season didn’t kick on as hoped, but the foundations had been laid for 2011/2.

Captain, David McGurk recalls, ““He (Gary Mills) wasn’t interested in your weaknesses. He told you what you were good at and took a lot of pressure off the players. “He also gave us a lift in training. It was enjoyable, but intense at the same time and we worked hard. “Everything was two-touch and we had some good footballers in the team. He played a 4-3-3 formation which he believed in from the past and everyone bought into it from the start. Some of the football we played was the best I’d ever seen. I remember being on the bench for the Grimsby home game that season and saying I’d pay to watch this. Even the Grimsby players couldn’t believe what they had seen at that level as they walked off. It wasn’t so much about the work we did in training, but the confidence he gave us to go and play, pass the ball and enjoy ourselves. Back then, it (Mills’ defensive coaching) was similar to what you hear from the best coaches in the Premier League now in that, when you’re attacking, you set up to counter the counter. “He put together a system that was well-drilled. Everyone knew their responsibilities and we always had somebody sat in front of the back four. “I remember Jimmy Sangare doing that, as well as David McDermott, which surprised a lot of people and Pars (Dan Parslow) when the club went up. He will be a breath of fresh air and will get some confidence into the place again. I would expect them to now go on and finish in the top half of the table this season, although the play-offs might be out of reach. Everything was positive”.

In 2019, Michael Ingham recalled, "Gary Mills had a structured style of play, to play through the thirds rather than a long ball to Rankine. His man management skills were the best I knew in my career, he'd put an arm around you and always had time for you" whilst dismissing claims of an out of control drinking culture. Equally, Jamie Reed (Radio York, 26/December/2019) noted on the way down south for his first City overnight trip that the team coach pulled up at Mills' local in Nottinghamshire, Reed was assured by Michael Ingham that it was a regular occurrence, something Reed went onto believe helped team bonding. Equally, Daniel Parslow, speaking on YHB in 2002 said that Mills "always made you feel 10 feet tall".

Hamza Bencherif was another supportive of his methods, "he (Mills) liked taking important, responsible players who knew how to make decisions. He said to them, 'You do what you want the week, as long as you are good on the field on Saturday'. He wanted 100% players in training and matches. He also had a ritual, that of taking his players outside to the bar the day before. With York, we went to a bar in Northampton. We played darts, billiards, listened to music, we ate fries, sausages for those who could eat them and finally, we could drink. The goal was to get together and have a good time. He wanted to build a team spirit. But he had a problem with the new generation, unlike ours. They knew that the older guys in the locker room were responsible guys and knew how to put things right in those moments. These guys, instead of being responsible, they complained and blamed Gary Mills".


How many summers have we had a more successful intake of new players than in 2011?  Jason Walker, Matty Blair, Ashley Chambers, Paddy McLaughlin and Lanre Oyebanjo included.  I challenge anyone to name a summer when City have had a more fruitful summer signing spree.

Who could ask for more than May 2012 and 2 Wembley wins in a week.  Watching the post match celebrations, it seemed like Gary Mills was the McGill’s elder brother, not a hired hand.

With the post Wembley euphoria, the 2012/3 season was upon us very quickly.


Maybe the dual Wembley successes clouded a few eyes.  Maybe the reality of football’s financial fair play was already striking home.  We returned to The Football League with our Conference squad very much intact.

Looking around the squad, there wasn’t a great deal of league experience.

We’d lost James Meredith, out of contract and, rather disappointingly, off to Bradford, rather than one of the Championship clubs who were rumoured to be chasing him.  Coming in, Danny Blanchett, a direct replacement for Meredith and, to wide acclaim, the returning Jonathan Smith.

Expectations were high, Stevenage and Crawley had proved it was possible to come out of The Conference and achieve back to back promotions.  Gary Mills did nothing to calm the waters.

The 3 pronged strike force that had seemed invincible in The Conference struggled in Division 2.  They weren’t helped by a pre season injury to Matty Blair and then a much more serious once to Michael Coulson with the season was still in its infancy.

Throughout 2011/2, a never say die attitude and fearsome strike force masked any deficiencies in our defence, although when called upon, the defence always seemed liable to rise to the occasion, witness late season results at Luton (twice) and Mansfield.

Back in The Football League, at Barnet in August 2012, a very poor home team were never truly out of the game as City’s defence was always liable to lapses.   At the other end, City cut through Barnet’s defence at will to win 3-1.

The injury to Dave McGurk in January 2012 had already robbed us of possibly our best defender for almost a full year, just weeks after we’d turned down a £80,000 bid from Luton for him. Clarke Carlisle was signed to help to address City’s defensive woes.  His run in the side coincided with our rise up the table with a play off place the ultimate goal.  In November, apparently without talking to City, he negotiated an 18 month contract with Northampton to replace his short term deal with City which had just a few more weeks to run.  For whatever reason, perceived ability or wages or 18 month contract, he was allowed to join Northampton immediately. Our slump can be dated from that very day.

Upfront, things were also taking a turn for the worse.  Coulson’s long term injury was coupled with other team’s coming to grips with City’s attack.  Lead by the diminutive Jason Walker, we struggled to present an imposing threat, the lone striker dwarfed by towering twin centre backs.  In Division 2 size does matter. Even when Gary Mills signed a new striker (and he signed 3 front men in January), the formation barely altered.  Perm Walker or Michael Rankine as the lone frontman from the start, sub one for the other late on and occasionally give a few minutes to someone else.  It seemed to cry out for a Walker / Rankine dual strike force. Clamours for Jamie Reed fell on deaf ears, his post City career never ignited.

A few weeks before his departure, he almost gave the board his own ultimatum when stating if the board wanted to play 4-4-2, it wouldn’t be under Mills. Mills could be intransigent in his ways. Brian Clough style, he wanted to play his way and wouldn't change things to counter the opposition.

Even when the axe came, there was still strong support for Mills in recognition of the success he brought to City. It was a brave decision to sack him so soon after Wembley and was not universally welcomed. However, it can be justified due to the survival under Nigel Worthington, although Mills has always insisted City would have survived under him.

However, his last 2 months were painful.  Not sure how much budget he had in the January transfer window, but he appeared to  be scraping the bottom of the barrel, or maybe investing for the future, take your pick when you consider Jameel Ible, David McDaid and Ben Everson.  Whatever, they appeared funny signings at the time and none worked out. Maybe by March, Nigel Worthington seemed to be allowed a bigger budget, perhaps to preserve our league status.

Before that, the cases of David McGurk and Jonathan Smith are hard for the outsider to understand.  McGurk, one of our best defenders appeared out of favour whilst Mills signed and sold Jonathan Smith within 6 months of buying him, a player he had sold 12 months earlier.

A fit Dave McGurk appeared to be denied a recall to the team.  Chris Smith seemed destined to be always the first name on the teamsheet.  Meanwhile, repeated calls for Jamie Reed merited only occasional appearances, only very rarely could he be said to have made himself indispensable.

Maybe Mills was stymied by the lack of a reserve side.  Perhaps it would have allowed McGurk to get back to match fitness quicker and would have provided more opportunities for some of the younger, fringe players.  Would Michael Potts have pushed for a first team place earlier than 15 months into his City career with reserve football?  Might Tom Allan and Tom Platt come to the fore earlier?

Whatever, in Division 2, Gary Mills put out a side that was rarely, if ever, outplayed and came away with good results from away trips to most of the top half of the table.  It was at home where his favoured formation struggled to break down visiting defences.

No one will ever take away Gary Mills successes in 2011/2.  Two Wembley wins inside a week will stay in the memory for a long time. However, in his last season, he could not refresh the side, a team that was intransigent in formation.

Incidentally, Mills is the fourth successive City manager whose City career ended with more wins than defeats, I wonder how many clubs can say that.

AFTER CITY (The First Time)

After his departure from City, Gary Mills spoke only very briefly to the press. In June 2013, he spoke at length about his time at City and his plans for the future.

"The crowds were about 2,200 when I first went to York and then it goes up to 3,500. That generates a lot more money." When Mills took over at York the club were 16th in the Blue Square Bet Premier. Just 30 months later, and with a promotion in the bag, he was sacked with the Minstermen 18th in League Two, four points clear of the relegation places. "Everybody sitting in the stand wants instant success," he said, alluding to the achievements of Stevenage and Crawley, who both manufactured back-to-back promotions from non-League to League One. At York, we go up and the fans want you to go straight up again, whereas staying up is a success. I was asked to do three jobs at York. First, to keep them up in the Conference, then it was to get promoted and this season I was told to keep us in the league and would have done that. You have to be brave. Once you start panicking and you start to change things, it escalates everything."

Mills said, “I had two-and-a-half years at York and took them from the bottom of the Conference to doing the double, winning at Wembley and then getting them back into the Football League. We were finding our feet in League Two and enjoying it, if I am honest. But then, out of the blue, we lost to Bradford and the chairman told me that the club no longer required my services. So, yes, I do feel hard done by. I have learned though that you never win by saying too much how you feel or talking about what really went off. But what I do know is that I put York back in the Football League and I did it by playing football in what I believe is the right way. We wanted to keep it on the deck and pass it and I was proud of the way we did that. I do feel hard done by, not going into a new season now managing a football club somewhere." Mills has spent the last few weeks adding to his coaching badges. "I have done my UEFA A-license this summer, with a few other lads on the same course," he said. "Nigel Clough was on it. Robbie Fowler, Kevin Davies, Dwight Yorke, Des Lyttle – who was my coach at York – were all there too. There was a good bunch of lads there. It is another step, it is one that you have to have by 2015 if you want to manage in the league."

Watching England's under-21 side flounder in Israel over the last few weeks has only fuelled Mills' hunger for a return. "I know what I am capable of and sometimes I don't feel I have had the rub of the green. But, sometimes, when you talk like this, people say well 'you should have done this or that then. I like the way my teams play football and, when I was watching the England under-21 side and the full senior side – there is no escaping it, they are poor. We still seem to be unable to keep the ball. Certainly at York I had a team who could do that. We played excellent football. I am just itching to get back in and stamp my authority on another club; to implement my philosophy."

For some of Clarke Carlisle's observations of his time with City and Gary Mills, please refer to our book reviews

In September 2013, he was appointed as Gateshead manager and teamed up with David Rush, the ex City striker, initially, as his assistant. The big fear that he would end up at Luton never materialised! Taking Gateshead to Wembley and play off final defeat in 2014, he couldn't build on that success and moved to Wrexham in April 2015, being sacked in October 2016. Within a week, he was back at City.


October 16, 2016. WELCOME BACK GARY. If you can do the same as last time, 2 Wembley wins and more wins than defeats (especially if you can cut out some of the draws), we'll all be happy.

After an initial Saturday lunch time call from Jason McGill, Gary Mills was back in post as City's manager that evening. All this just 2 days after he'd been sacked by Wrexham.

Slowly, Mills began to turn the team around.

Within about 6 weeks, he’d signed 10 players. Some (McDaid, Cooper and Charles) made little impression, whilst others (Parkin, Moke, Newton and Lappin) were to become mainstays of the side. A first away win in 15 months was achieved on Boxing Day at North Ferriby but was quickly followed by defeat in the return game on New Year’s Day.

Some impressive draws were achieved at high flyers, including Dover and Aldershot whilst The FA Trophy provided a run of wins.

Later, the Dover game was the subject of much comment. In 2023, speaking on a behind a pay wall edition of Jon Parkin's ”Undr The Cosh!" podcast, Jackie McNamara , City’s CEO at the time noted thaT at ABOUT 6pm on Friday he received a text from one of the players to say the beers were flowing. McNamara phoned Mills, it was clear that Mills had had a few and he said the players were drinking. Jon Parkin said that ”it wasn’t one or 2 pints, but more like 6 or 7 and there was also sausages and chips on offer as they played darts and skittles. Parkin went onto say that Matty Fry had to go off during the game, suffering the after effects of the night before. Parkin noted such bonding sessions happened “4 or 5 times but City were never beaten the next day". Naturally Mills and McNamara disagreed on pre match preparation.

Gradually results improved, but too many draws and the occasional hiccup (home defeats against Gateshead in February and Bromley in April included) meant slow progress as City fought to move out of the bottom 4.

A further 8 players were added to the squad by the end of March. The Derwin Martina and Johan Ter Horst episodes brought no credit to anyone. Who would have thought Sam Muggleton to be a Gary Mills player? Or perhaps, it showed an open mind to be flexible and compromise his principles to bring success to City. Arriving with Jon Parkin in scoring form, Mills had the same motivational skills but as the season progressed, he became increasingly open to do whatever was necessary to get the points, once castigating Parslow for making a short pass, Pars, we don't do that any more, just lump it forward to Parky".

A run of 3 successive away wins going into Easter pulled City clear of the bottom 4. However, the last 3 games included 2 draws and a defeat and saw City slump back in to the bottom 4 as we entered injury time on the final day of the season when an injury time own goal from Solihull Moors saw Guiseley climb to safety and condemn City to relegation. If only one of those last 2 draws had been a win, we’d have been safe.

It was still 3 weeks to the FA Trophy Final and the end of the season. In the interim, Mills’ future was played out in heavy handed way. It was announced there was a break in his contract if we were relegated and that he (and Darren Caskey) would be offered new contracts on reduced terms with an ultimatum to quickly decide whether they wanted to accept the terms. Some commentators suggest that Martin Gray was being lined up in case Mills turned down his new contract.

They did, we won at Wembley. It was perhaps the sort of situation that would have been better played out behind closed doors. It would have been sufficient to announce Mills and Caskey had signed for the new season whilst if they hadn’t, it would be far from the first time a club had released their manager after relegation. Some boycotted Wembley, believing Wembley was irrelevant following relegation. There was enough social media postings to suggest neither the Mills’ re-appointment in October 2016 nor the decision to retain him for 2017/8 were universally acclaimed.

For 2017/8, City remained full time and kept both the reserve and intermediate sides. A credit to the backing of Jason McGill. Equally, Mills' charisma meant that all bar one of the players he wanted to retain started the following season with City.

Mills announced he wanted to run with a small squad. Joe Worsnop was an early signing and suggested the level of set up than we were looking at, a keeper nearing he veteran stage who’d played for many years around the non league scene. The signing of Michael Rankine raised some eyebrows, returning to a full time contract after being part time at Guiseley where he’d hardly set the world alight at Guiseley.

The 2017/8 season started badly with a home defeat by AFC Telford, a team widely expected to struggle. Good away wins followed, but home form was inconsistent. Generally, the players who’d stayed from last season, didn't hit the same standards this time around.

Team selection was muddled, swapping formation and personnel won't have helped. Aidan Connolly was banished to the youth set up when he said he didn’t want to play again for City after being criticised by Mills. There appeared to be some unrest amongst the players. There was suggestions that Mills was too arrogant and that it was his way or no way. Some social media postings suggested as drinking culture within the club.

City’s FA Cup game at Salford was seen by many as being pivotal. Tactical changes was a half time deficit turned into victory, but defeat in the next 2 games at Harrogate and South Shields saw the end, quicker than many expected. His fate probably sealed by the time he gave a cantankerous post match interview to Radio York at South Shields. During both his times in charge, such prickliness was demonstrated on other occasions as things went against Mills. Later media sources suggested Mills' fate was sealed even before the South Shields game.

Over recent years, City have often struggled to meet fans’ expectations. Certainly, in the later Football League years and since we’ve dropped out of The Football League, we’ve had a competitive budget, one than has exceeded on field results.

Gary Mills joined a growing list of City managers who’ve struggled to deliver results compatible with a generous budget. The balancing act is to fulfil our potential whilst overcoming the setbacks. The Telford defeat was followed quickly by away wins at Blyth and Bradford. We showed the talent, but equally inconsistent performances let us down badly giving away to fan unrest.

Criticism is easy, but consistent criticism is tiresome and wearisome.

Gary Mills' Legacy

Gary Mills will be fondly remembered by many City fans, however those same fans may also regret the lack of progress in The Football League in the 2012/3 season, if not that, his return in 2016, if not that, relegation to Conference North in 2017.

Memories of the 2011/2 season will live long in the memory. The free flowing football with Walker, Blair and Chambers forming a potent strike force with an equally impressive defence them made for a decent City side. We were a match for anyone, a joy to watch.

Yes, he could be stubborn, but in the same way that you might want Geoff Boycott to bat to save a match, I'd turn to Gary Mills to win a game for me. Witness those "one off" games. In 2012, we overcame Luton in a 2 legged FA Trophy semi final, we had seemingly blown our best chance of a play off final when drawing at home with Mansfield. At Wembley, Gary Mills wasn't afraid to make changes after the Trophy success to combat the different threats offered by Luton in the play off final. Come 2017, few people (City fans included) gave us a realistic chance of beating Lincoln, runaway Conference leaders and hot off the back of winning at Premiership Burnley to reach the quarter final of The FA Cup, in an FA Trophy semi final. We did.

Like with many managers, he divided opinion. To the players, it was the usual divide between those players in the team and those not in the team. Speaking to (January 2021), Hamza Bencherif noted he was one of the best managers he played for under, noting “he was a misunderstood manager, because a lot of people considered him an ‘old-school’ manager, in a negative way, but he’s not at all. It’s just because he’s a manager who will give you the responsibility and he trusts you, and if things don’t go well, you’ve got to take responsibility for yourself, and as a changing room, you have to do that. I think with the new generation, it’s harder to give that responsibility” whereas Danny Galbraith wasn’t the only one to criticise the drinking culture under Mills. Equally, no manager’s position in 2013 divided supporter opinion more than Mills.

Thank you, Gary Mills.

Gary Mills - Meets The Fans (2011)

Gary Mills - Meets The Fans (2016)

Speaking on York Hospital Ball (April 2022) Sophie Purves stated Gary Mills was a charismatic and inspiring person who had a strong relationship with Jason McGill which made it difficult for Jason to say no to Gary. That strength really helped during the 2011/2 season but she believed Football League clubs were more organised in scouting and exploiting opponents’ weaknesses, often they’d nullify the threat of Matty Blair and City struggled. Gary Mills would concentrate on own team‘s strengths, not the opposition. She felt team spirit was totally down to Gary Mills, Mills knew how to manage his players, for example, he allowed them to walk around central London on the day before the Luton game a have a couple of beers to relax them. He noted the Jason McGill / Gary Mills relationship started to become strained following a trip to Benidorm in summer 2012. Sophie believed it was practical, not vindictive, decision to sack Mills.