Steve Watson

Steve Watson spent nearly 3 years as manager. His 51.9% win ratio is the best of all City managers

After nearly 3 years in charge, on 13 November 2021, 4 hours after the goalless draw at Curzon game, City announced that it was “mutually agreed” that Steve Watson and Micky Cummins would leave the club with immediate effect.

Appointed in January 2019 (when he and Cummins left part time roles at Gateshead), with City in second place, sadly City failed to overhaul Kings Lynn in his first corona virus hit season, our points per game not quite matching The Linnets. After a 4 month shutdown, City tamely went out to Altrincham in the play off semi final.

After the Martin Gray / Sam Collins era, City looked a much better organised side under Watson. Indeed, in November 2020, when Chesterfield, recently relegated from The Football League, were seeking a new manager, there were unconfirmed reports that Watson was interviewed for the job. Certainly, his persona (and record prior to City) suggested he could be a candidate for jobs bigger than City.

Watson’s first 2 “full” seasons were both curtailed by coronavirus. Each of his 3 close seasons were marked by the axing a large number of players.

Once again, his time with City saw us fail to give any real playing time to the younger, home grown players. Even in the badly curtailed 2020/1 season, with enough under 21 players to field a full side, few got any real game time.

Some said the 2020/1 squad was bloated, 25 professionals at the start of the season and then light in numbers for the 2021/2 season later as the team was beset by an unusually large number of injuries. Our defence was badly affected whilst the midfield less so, but impacted by key midfielders moving back in to defence. With Donaldson, Willoughby, Beck and Gilchrist as strikers, many expected 2021/2 would see a glut of goals with the feared foursome showing the scoring prowess they’d all regularly shown at former clubs. Under Watson, Donaldson started strongly but Watson left with City goalless in his last 3 games as City manager.

In terms of playing budget, once again, City was amongst the biggest in our division but failed to justify it with results.

At times, Watson appeared intransigent with his formation. Going for a defensively solid formation (in terms of numbers at least) at the expense of forwards, it was only in the 2021/2 season that Olly Dyson and Mackenzie Heaney offered the prospect of genuine wide play on both flanks.

As early as August 2021, the optimism of City’s new LNER stadium (and a good pre-season) was draining away. After the 4-0 defeat at Gloucester and the 2-1 home defeat to Brackley, Watson seemed to be at a loss what to do. He said his players couldn’t implement his pre match instructions during the games. That is always a worrying sign. One that was revisited at times later during the season, a good week on the training ground but on Saturday the players seemed to have forgotten all the week’s preparation. Steve Watson at a loss to explain why.

Come Watson’s final month and City were engulfed by a betting scandal, assistant manager Micky Cummins and 3 players falling foul of the FA’s strict betting regulations.

Come Watson’s final week. It started on Monday with Watson bringing in his old friend (and former boss), John Askey to cover whilst Micky Cummins was suspended and Watson being awarded NLN Manager Of The Month for October. On Tuesday, he came out of the dressing room after the defeat at Leamington and spoke with City fans still milling around on the terraces. He didn't have to, but he did, he was appreciative of the City fans travelling to the game but it was clear that he was hurting and he seemed at a loss as to how to get the team playing to their full capabability.

4 days later, the end came at Curzon. Despite a strong start, City hit the woodwork twice in the first 12 minutes, the game petered out into a 0-0 draw. The second half marred by some ugly scenes involving City fans. A couple of supposed City fans (the Radio York commentary team did not recognise them) hurled some vitriolic abuse at substitute Jason Gilchrist when he was warming up and confronting Watson later said, “Getting screamed at from 10 yards when you’re trying to do your job is difficult, especially when some of the statements were just mind-boggling. It’s awful but I can’t let that affect us, especially when it didn’t make any sense. We had to let that die down and let the stewards do their job and get the right sub made to try to get the right outcome. It’s not football. They seem to think that they’re entitled to do it. I can’t really get involved and I’m not getting into a slanging match”. At the final whistle there were a number of punches thrown as City fans left the ground.

Come the end, City sat 11th in National League North with 19 points from 13 games played, just 2 points outside the play off places.

Winning 51.9% of his games, Steve Watson left City with the best win ratio of any permanent City manager.

Whilst social media was awash with “McGill Out” and “Sack The Board” postings, there was barely any call for Watson’s dismissal.

Ultimately, with Watson in change and despite a horrendous injury list, it was difficult to see City climbing too far up the table to make a real bid for promotion.

Looking back at recent managers, Steve Watson‘s pedigree was up there amongst the best of them. A high calibre player, his arrival saw City’s team become more professional in outlook. One thing he struggled to do was to make City more resilient. Effectively, 3 separate teams over his 3 seasons, a lack of resilience seemed to be a common thread, once things went against City and heads went down, that was it, no coming back.

Once again in the change over of manager, there were various comments regarding the players' physical fitness. To some extent, I'm always inclined to think its more down to morale in a failing side rather than physical fitness, although in this case, there was some evidence to suggest that Watson's training sessions focused on tactics whilst he relied on the players themselves to maintain their own physical condition. That may even be down to his background as a part time manager where players take care of the own fitness and training sessions focus on match tactics. The subject of an extensive injury list in his last season is another matter.

Maybe Steve Watson is just the latest in a far too long list of managers who many supporters see as the public face of Jason McGill and the board of directors. Someone for a section of fans to vent all their frustrations upon.

Maybe things won’t improve whilst the current regime maintain their current stance. Will it take chairman / board re-engagement or new ownership before things change for the better?


  1. Steve Watson became the first ever City manager to win 3 divisional manager of the month awards
  2. Steve Watson was appointed Chester manager on December 23rd 2021, less than 2 months after leaving City. He struggled to turn around their fortunes and left by mutual agreement at the end of that season
  3. A year later (1st/Nov/2022), speaking on Radio Newcastle, he noted,"(I) left Gateshead with a heavy heart, I spoke to York, saw the facilities and felt it was the right decision to leave, I managed through covid, I think I had the best ever win % of any York manager, (and in the last season had an) horrendous injury list with about 50% of the squad injured, disappointed (to be sacked).
  4. By 2022, criteria for a new manager was weighted much more heavily on those with previous full time roles.