Almost nine thousand fans packed into Wigan Borough’s Springfield Park to witness York City’s first-ever game in the Football League on 31st August 1929.
Almost nine thousand fans packed into Wigan Borough’s Springfield Park to witness York City’s first-ever game in the Football League on 31st August 1929. The visitors appropriately marked the occasion with a famous 2-0 victory after Reg Stockill – aged only 15 years and 281 days – scored their opening goal. Centre-forward Jimmy Cowie added to it and York’s team on that illustrious occasion was: Farmery, Archibald, Johnson, Beck, Davis, Thompson, Evans, Gardner, Cowie, Smiles, Stockill. However, England Schoolboy international Stockill was destined to play only one more game for York before moving to Scarborough and later Arsenal.
That triumph was soon followed by their long-awaited first home match against Wrexham on 4th September, when an attendance of 8,726 witnessed a goalless draw. Even so the club went on to enjoy a highly promising debut campaign and finished sixth in the table. Their biggest win was 6-0 at home to Rochdale and their largest Fulfordgate crowd, 10,120 for the Easter Monday visit of Third Division North champions-elect Port Vale. York also progressed well in the FA Cup, which brought them a third round visit to First Division giants Newcastle United. More than five thousand City fans formed part of a 38,674 attendance for a game staged in a dreadful snowstorm. As would be expected the Magpies took the lead through a Hughie Gallacher header shortly before the interval. But little York gamely fought back and were rewarded with a glorious equaliser from Wally Gardner just beyond the hour. The gallant underdogs then continued to defy their acclaimed opponents, with goalkeeper Jack Farmery and centre-half Charlie Davis especially magnificent. Immediately following the shock 1-1 draw, more than one thousand fans greeted the return of their battling heroes at York Railway Station.
Less then eight years after their formation, York were now entertaining First Division opposition in the replay and hundreds of spectators were locked out of a 12,583 gate due to the huge demand. Further sensation witnessed the hosts actually take the lead midway through the first-half when Sam Evans drove into the net. But Gallacher headed a trademark equaliser on 36 minutes before being handed an opportunity to give his side the lead after being fouled by Charlie Davis during the second-half. However, the Scottish international saw his penalty blocked by the redoubtable Farmery and then struck the rebound wide. Nevertheless, Hutchinson soon made amends for that miss with the winner just a couple of minutes later as the battling hosts finally bowed out of the competition.
One very important appointment that season was that of Billy Sherrington as full-time secretary. Sherrington had been a founder member of the club and already acted as honorary secretary since 1924, although he was forced to relinquish his position as club director. The following month manager Jock Collier announced his intention to resign at the end of the campaign. Therefore for the next three years Sherrington combined his role of secretary with that of team manager.
The next season of 1930-31 York had to be content with a mid-table position, although they were once again performing extremely well in the FA Cup. In the third round they were drawn at First Division Sheffield United, where once more they displayed plenty of steel of their own against the Blades. In front of a 31,821 crowd, Gibson gave the home side the lead on 52 minutes before Frank Laycock equalised for York with ten minutes remaining. A new attendance record of 12,721 in the subsequent replay at Fulfordgate eventually witnessed the favourites progress through 2-0.
York began the next season in really excellent form and found themselves second in the table to Gateshead by Christmas. Support was proving rather disappointing, however, with gates only averaging out at around 5,000, while three successive defeats over the festive period seriously dented any genuine promotion challenge and ended with another mid-table finish. Reg Baines created a new record upon his return from Scarborough with 29 League goals. These included three hat-tricks, while his side were also involved in a number of high-scoring fixtures – noticeably beating Halifax Town 7-2 in the last League game held at Fulfordgate, while also losing 8-1 to Crewe, 7-2 against Hartlepools and 6-0 at Gateshead. But York did comfortably defeat bottom club Rochdale twice over Christmas – 5-2 and 5-3 – with Baines enjoying a five-goal haul. Their FA Cup experience was less successful than previous years though, when losing at New Brighton in the first round.
The following season of 1932-33 and York moved into their new home of Bootham Crescent. But not before they opened their campaign with a defeat at Crewe. Their Cheshire neighbours Stockport County were to provide the challenge as over 8,000 supporters attended the new stadium to watch a 2-2 draw. Tom Mitchell, who was later to manage the club, had the honour of scoring the first York goal and Reg Baines added another from the penalty spot. That result was followed by a 6-2 defeat to Rochdale in their next home game as York – now in their new strip of chocolate and cream striped shirts and white shorts – went on to experience their worst season to date in the Football League. Indeed they only avoided having to apply for re-election on the final day of the campaign when a 6-1 home victory over bottom club Darlington finally allowed them to leapfrog New Brighton. In the FA Cup they also went down at the first attempt after losing 3-1 at home to local rivals Scarborough Town, although a welcome brighter spot had been another 29 goals for the prolific Reg Baines, until he was sold to Sheffield United for a £500 fee just before that crucial final game of the season. A couple of days later he was joined at Bramall Lane by his outside-left colleague Peter Spooner in a similar deal. However, both would later return to York and help write glorious new chapters in their story.
Finances were continuing to be a major problem for the still fledgling Football League club, especially in view of their recent relocation to a new ground. Jock Collier was reappointed as manager in May 1933 and he started a major overhaul of the squad. That improved results somewhat and York eventually finished in 12th position in what was still a rather disappointing season, although another future great servant, centre-half Tom Lockie, had arrived from Barnsley. New forwards Maurice Dando and Ted Hathway also claimed 39 League goals between them. Once again the FA Cup failed to provide much cheer after Hartlepools United won 3-2 at Bootham Crescent in the first round. Inside-forward Tom Fenoughty left at the end of the season after eight splendid years of service with the club in both the Midland and Football Leagues, during which time he had scored 104 goals in 252 appearances.
For the 1934-35 season York opted to switch their reserve side back to the Yorkshire League in a bid to reduce costs. However, their seniors had another mixed season overall and had to settle for 15th position in the table. Maurice Dando was still scoring for fun with hat-tricks in a 5-0 win against Rotherham United and a 7-0 mauling of Carlisle United, while Crewe Alexandra were also thumped 7-3. Importantly given their ongoing financial problems, the FA Cup once more proved profitable, although a pitch invasion and an attack on the referee from angry home supporters marked a dramatic 3-2 victory at Burton Town in the first round. George Bowater snatched a disputed late winner for the visitors with his second goal of the game after Ted Hathway had converted a penalty. York then beat New Brighton at Bootham Crescent in the next round before being drawn at home to First Division Derby County, who included one of City’s former tormentors in ex-Newcastle centre-forward Hughie Gallacher. Former York youngster Reg Stockill was also at the Baseball Ground but was forced to miss the game though injury. It was the first major contest to be held at Bootham Crescent and a record 13,612 attendance watched the visitors sneak a late 1-0 success. At the end of the campaign the free-scoring Maurice Dando was sold to Chesterfield after 46 goals in 86 games for the club.
The 1935-36 season was to prove a very poor one as York trailed in 16th place in the table, and were also defeated in the FA Cup first round as non-league Burton Town gained revenge for the previous year with a 5-1 first round win at Bootham Crescent before a totally stunned 6,182 crowd. There were also a number of heavy defeats on the road that season, including a club record 12-0 loss at Chester, together with thrashings at Walsall 6-0, Accrington 7-2, Oldham 6-2, Rotherham 5-0 and Mansfield 5-0. Peter Spooner had returned from Sheffield United and was an ever-present on the left-wing, although ten players were later given free transfers.
In the summer of 1936 Tom Lockie was confirmed as trainer and coach to the reserve team. For the third time in their history York opted for a change of colours of red shirts with white collars, white shorts and red socks. Despite being unbeaten in their opening six games their form proved largely inconsistent and a final placing of 12th once again disappointed. Welshman Albert Thompson had been a regular soldier before arriving from Bradford and went on to fire 28 goals for them in 29 games, while York were again flourishing in the FA Cup when reaching the fourth round for the first time in their history. Hull City, Southend United and Bradford City (the latter two after replays) were all beaten. Indeed the 1-0 triumph over Second Division Bradford at Bootham Crescent arrived courtesy of an 87th minute winner from Jim Nicol, and was the first time the club had beaten opposition from a higher division. Next opponents Swansea Town were also from the second tier and York achieved a remarkable 0-0 draw in atrocious conditions of lashing rain and a quagmire pitch at the Vetch Field. However, the Welsh outfit finally prevailed 3-1 in the replay following another difficult test.
In March 1937 manager Jock Collier announced his departure from the game and was replaced by Tom Mitchell. Reg Baines returned for his third spell at the club to offset the loss of Albert Thompson to Swansea. What was to follow had the football world talking about York City once again as the team surged all the way to the FA Cup quarter-finals with victories against Halifax and Clapton Orient (both after replays), and then home wins over Coventry, West Brom and Middlesbrough. York were eventually knocked out of the competition in March in a replay against Huddersfield Town after a record 28,123 had watched the first game at Bootham Crescent. They had also began well in the League and a sequence of seventeen games without defeat eventually found them on the edge of the promotion race, although their magnificent Cup exploits had left the side with a number of games to catch up on and they finally had to settle for 11th position. Reg Baines celebrated his own return with another 28 goals in all competitions. The reserve team was also progressing well and duly claimed the Yorkshire League Championship.
For the following 1938-39 season most of the successful FA Cup side were retained, aside from Reg Baines, who went to Halifax, and Malcolm Comrie. Bob Mortimer had arrived from Blackburn to shore up the attack and he contributed 22 League goals. But seven successive defeats around October and November resulted in another long re-election fight, which was only avoided with a win in their penultimate game against Darlington. Rochdale had earlier inflicted York’s biggest-ever home defeat when winning 7-0 at Bootham Crescent, while heavy losses were also the order of the day at Crewe 8-2, Bradford City 6-0 and Oldham 6-0. As a consequence of their previous efforts, York were actually exempt from the FA Cup until the third round of the competition, when Millwall proved much to good with a 5-0 triumph at Bootham Crescent. A further reward had the Third Division North side travelling to play a Dutch national XI in Rotterdam, where the visitors went down 8-2.
Despite the continuing threat of the onset of war, York opened their 1939-40 campaign with a 2-2 home draw with Chester before losing at both Rotherham (2-1) and Rochdale (1-0). The City squad travelled back from Spotland on Saturday 2nd September and the following day war was finally declared. The York players assembled at Bootham Crescent on the Monday morning and secretary Billy Sherrington duly announced that football had been stopped and the club had no opportunity of further revenue. The players were in turn handed their insurance cards and given permission to return to their homes. It would be seven long years before football was to resume.