Modern Day Non-League
York City 1-1 Chesterfield (National League)
My last visit to York was eleven months ago, back in November for my forty something birthday, staying in a plush, quaint, romantic retreat with the wife, close to the Minster, we walked down the cobbled roads of the Shambles and into York Christmas Market with a mulled wine and minced pie in hand, ate tapas at Ambiente, drank tea at Bettys, and left a day later, after a quick shopping stop at York Designer Outlet, where I brought myself two flowery Hugo Boss shirts and a pack of three Ralph Lauren pants all at a knocked down price.
This year I haven’t time for shopping, because Chesterfield are in town… It’s the Spireites against the Minster Men, the battle of the steeples, Churches v Cathedrals, the National League teams separated by five points and five places, both in the hunt for promotion, bidding to return to the promised land of the football league. For the visitors, it’s their fourth season in the fifth tier of English football. For York, they have had six years outside the 92, and last season only gained promotion back to this level after beating Boston United in the final of the National League North playoffs.
It's just under two hours’ drive from my home to the LNER Community Stadium, but I plan to leave with plenty of time in hand.
I’ve worked out the automatic speed settings on my new car, so am heading up the M1 without the need for any fancy footwork, just a click of the button as I pass Bolsover Castle on my right and ironically, the sign for junction 29 and Chesterfield to my left.
Coming off at the M18 where I hit a bit of traffic, I’m soon on the A1 heading past signs for Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsley and interestingly Wakefield, the largest city in England to never boast a football league club.
Onto the A64, I’m heading down the outer York bypass to the cities farthest north-eastern point, it’s a newly built retail centre that has everything you need from Primark to the Range, Next to M&S, American Golf to Yorkshire Hydraulics, I park up at the Vangarde Shopping Centre and grab a Costa before moving on to ask a steward in orange where I’m supposed to park for the match.
I’m told to head for the Hollywood Bowl car park, the York City Stadium is within a newly built leisure complex that includes a swimming pool, gym and impressive looking five-a-side football centre amongst many other first-class fitness facilities on offer.
The stadium itself is largely hidden by the surrounding buildings, some even attached to it, there’s a Nando’s a Prezzo, a Starbucks a Cineworld, all within touching distance of the football club, I get the feeling it’s more like going to a gig than a game, a much nicer, pleasant, modern family styled environment without an imposing yobbish dated ‘home supporters only’ pub in sight.
On asking how to get in, I’m told to walk towards the main reception but notice a single guarded door to the left which says ‘Press & Media’… Waving the steward inside to open it, I ask where I’m supposed to head, luckily, I’ve hit gold, he looks down his list and my names on his sheet… Did I say it’s like going to a gig? A fellow steward then takes me down a concrete passageway beneath open ducting before walking me through and into the concourse of the stand, it all feels very much ‘backstage pass’.
He points me to the stadium open where I’m met by another steward who tells me where to sit, but before that, I take a gasp as I wow at the surroundings, my first visit to an arena that is less than two years old, it’s bright, modern, enclosed, impressive, spacious, I was expecting something like Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium which in itself is quaint, but I feel like I’m in Latvia or Albania and in a modern Eastern European venue, the arena's multi-coloured seats, impressively lit, it’s another level to any small all-seated ground I’ve previously been to. I head up for my spot in the media section, cushioned surface with arm rest, table in front, next to the radio commentators, match reporters and tweeters already perched ahead of the game.
As kick off nears to the playing of John Denver's take me home, country roads, the stadium slowly builds to an impressive turn out from both home and away fans, as I read the matchday programme I notice that gates have been very good this season, York often topping 6,000 plus, tonight is no different, Chesterfield fans on the far side and behind the goal to my right, have sold out their allocation, the venue capacity at around 8k.
It’s my first viewing of either team, ever, in fact, but I’m immediately impressed with Chesterfield, after a bit of ‘quick out the traps’ home pressure, the away side settle and dominate the entirety of the first half.
A free kick is conceded dangerously on the edge of the area which gives the visitors a real opportunity to take the lead in the opening ten minutes. Right back Jeff King already has four for the season, turns out he’s a set play specialist, as he curls home into the bottom corner.
The aftermath is home side frustration, York can’t get going, they can’t keep the ball, their decision making often poor, as Chesterfield cruise in third gear, knocking it sideways before unleashing their pace down the flanks.
The pony tailed skipper Jamie Grimes plays out from the back, composed at centre half, often with (too much) time on the ball, comfortable in possession, the midfield trio of Banks, Oldaker and Jones look too physical for the miniature Minster Men midfield in opposition, the pace that Chesterfield have in attack is frightening, Uchegbulam down the right is rapid, Asante on the left no slouch, Tshimanga the number nine, always waiting to pounce.
There’s not too much to talk of in the first half, it’s competitive and going the away sides way, Chesterfield manager Paul Cook is constantly talking to his side, telling them to press, his 4-3-3 looks like a formation that really works with his personnel, whilst York City look to me like strangers, Gaffer John Askey cross armed on the edge of his technical area, his side not always playing on the same wavelength, I’m impressed with centre back Max Kouogun who does the simple things well, but not much else takes my shine.
York do improve during the later stages of the first half, and during the opening minutes of the second, they force a corner, but decide to play it short, it’s those kind of decisions that really frustrate, the opportunities that John Askey’s side have to get the ball in the box, or have a pop at goal, are often over-complicated, un-necessarily, I wonder if they’re being over-taught, when in reality, if they stick to the basics, they’ll have much better opportunity to score more goals.
The longer the game goes on the more I feel this is Chesterfield’s to lose, an injury to midfielder Ollie Banks, a player who I remember from his younger days at FC United, is probably where the game starts to take a change, no longer are Chesterfield dominant in the centre of the park, York get more of a foothold, and with two substitutions, through the leggy Immanuelson Duku and crowd favourite, Mitch Hancox, they find themselves back in the game after a good move down the left is turned home by Hancox with little more than ten minutes to play.
The home side are good value, they’ve been the better beast this half, but for an early scare when King’s low cross evaded everyone, there’s no question I believe Chesterfield are a better team, better drilled, but they take their foot off the gas, it’s hardly been fully pressed all night, and York deserve their leveller.
Much better during the second 45 is the diminutive duo of Olly Dyson and Dan Pybus in midfield, whist Maziar Kouhyar on the left wing dazzles. The Afghanistan international is slight but technically gifted and it’s his pass which leads to Hancox scoring.
The late stages of the game really pick up pace with both sides searching for a winner, it’s proverbial end to end stuff and late on Doku lets fly but for Fitzsimons in the Chesterfield goal to brilliantly tip round the post for a corner, a save out of the top drawer, that ensures his side at least take something from the game. It should have been three points, they'll be annoyed with one, they would have been distraught with nothing.
There’s plenty to be impressed with, for the home side the eye-catching skills of Kouhyar earn himself a sponsor’s man of the match, I really like Kouogun at centre half who quietly goes about his business with a calming presence, former Harrogate right back Ryan Fallowfield is an old favourite of mine, he’s technically good and always looks to get forward.
For Chesterfield, I feel there’s more to come, a team that is probably better than its performance suggests, defensive duo Grimes and Williams look assured and solid, their attacking trio a real threat on the break, young Nigerian born winger Jesurun Uchegbulam, only recently signed from Matlock Town, he started his career at AC Milan, and I’ve not seen many faster with my own eyes in the flesh.
Football is changing, and whilst you can still do your Frickley Athletic’s and your Pontefract Collieries of this world, non-league football is moving modern fast, like the game in the upper echelons, to a more family orientated, occasion out, rather than the grubby spit and sawdust pie and pint, cash on the gate type of Tuesday night you became used to with the lads.
I can’t help feeling, a lot of these people inside the venue, mums, children, grandma's, parents, together, on a cold dark night in October, probably wouldn’t have come, if the game was at the old Bootham Crescent, but this family feel, inside a new spectacular purpose built entertainment facility, on a carpet like part synthetic perfect green pitch, gave a real feeling of theatre, and that after all is why we watch football, to be entertained by the occasion.
The stadium is a must to tick off for any groundhoppers who have not yet been, the football in the National League is at a bloody good level too, and I’ll certainly be watching York, and Chesterfield, again, in the not too distant future.
York City: Ethan Ross, Ryan Fallowfield, Max Kouogun, Sam Sanders, Alex Whittle, Dan Pybus, Gus Mafuta, Olly Dyson (Mitch Hancox 72), Luke James (Nathan Thomas 72), Lennell John-Lewis (Immanelson Duku 77), Maziar Kouhyar.
Chesterfield: Ross Fitzsimons, Jeff King, Jamie Grimes, Tyrone Williams, Branden Horton, Darren Oldaker, Mike Jones, Ollie Banks (Tom Whelan 65), Jesurun Uchegbulam (Liam Mandeville 70), Kabongo Tshimanga, Akwasi Asante (Armando Dobra 70).
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 25th October 2022, York Community Stadium, York (att 6,325)