Bicycle Kicks: A Season In The Saddle

I may as well get this out in the open straight away: I’m a York City fan. One who is aiming to get to every single one of our Conference league matches next season, starting on Saturday. Those two sickening revelations out of the way, it’s only fair to tell you that I’m planning to do the whole thing on my pushbike.

I conceived of the idea last August as I was pedalling from London to Crawley for last season’s opening match; one of a million thoughts that tend to buzz around my empty head on a solitary bike ride – ‘what if I did this for every match for an entire season?’. The sort of thought that should be immediately dismissed. It wasn’t though, and now it’s taken over my life. A life which would have been so much simpler if I’d never been to Crawley.

Since then, the anticipation has been slowly mounting. I spent the week before the fixtures were released in a state of frenzied expectation. When they were finally announced, I was almost disappointed; I’d been given a relatively easy ride. It was almost too serene.

The serenity was quickly punctured. Mystifyingly, the powers that be had organised our August Bank Holiday match at Gateshead on the same day as an international athletics meeting in the same stadium. It could have been a fun double-header, but hopes of seeing our players snapped out of their customary lethargy by incoming javelins were cruelly dashed. The match was moved forward a few days, leaving me with a ten day itinerary of York to Wrexham to London to Newcastle; with three days to complete the 300-mile last leg. This mini-tour of Britain aside, Torquay’s welcome promotion leaves the trek to Eastbourne and back as the longest trip, barring us drawing Penzance AFC in the cup.

On the flip side, there is a real dearth of local derbies. The demise at Conference level of our traditional rivals Scarborough and Halifax means that I’ll be spending New Year’s Day alone at not-so-near neighbours Mansfield, staring into the dark rivers of my soul.

York City is a small club, but not without history. An FA Cup semi final as a third division side in 1955, two seasons in the second tier in the early 70s, the first team to gain 100 points in a season, mid 80s cup tussles with Arsenal and Liverpool, a 3 – 0 win at Old Trafford; these are the riches of the poor.

Our decline can be traced to the sale of the club by then chairman Douglas Craig and his withholding of the ground for himself in the process. Self-confessed asset-stripper John Batchelor took over, changing the club name to York City Soccer Club to appeal to the American market and incorporating chequered flags into the design of the badge, shirt and corner flags to reflect his involvement in motor racing.

When he drove off into the sunset, a supporters’ trust was formed to save the club from extinction. Our subsequent relegation from the league for the first time was perhaps inevitable. It was certainly swift. Ten years ago we beat Man City in the league. Hull City entertained us in a league match in 2004. Hopefully, we’ve now reached our nadir. Last season’s team was comfortably the worst I have ever seen and quite possibly the worst in the club’s entire history.

Martin Foyle is the man charged with dragging us back up from our lowest point. He has cleared out a lot of last season’s woefully inept team which he inherited in mid-season from Colin Walker, whose sole remarkable features are his uncanny facial and vocal resemblance to Nick Park’s Wallace – ‘more hapless midfielders Gromit?’. Foyle has had money to spend over the summer; unexpected cash made available from our incongruously successful run to Wembley in the FA Trophy final.

Of the eleven new players, two in particular stand out. Firstly, Alex Lawless, signed from Forest Green, for whom he ran the show in the unlucky 3rd round FA Cup defeat to Derby, looks like he’ll add some much needed class to themidfield. Given that his first name means ‘outside the law’ in Latin, I’m looking forward to Lawless Lawless marauding around the centre of the park for us.

Secondly, the disappointingly predictable sale to Scunthorpe of our promising young striker, Adam Boyes, was offset by the capture of Ebbsfleet’s classy attacker Michael Gash, following a seemingly interminable pursuit. Happily, this swap means that our in no way puerile ‘We all love Boyes’ chant can be easily updated, without diluting its childishness.

You can follow my progress throughout the season on my website – I’m looking to make the whole experience as interactive as possible.

I want to meet fans along the way of other Conference clubs and supporters of any team who’ve done something similarly ridiculous. I’m raising money for The Alzheimer’s Society throughout my ten month slog, if anyone wishes to donate, they can do so through my website.

Please feel free to leave comments, hints, tips, encouragement and abuse on there as well. When you look out of the window and snuggle back under the duvet on a wet Thursday in February, think of me, halfway to certain defeat at Kettering, raindrops and tears mingling on my ruined thighs. Pedalling on.

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