My name is Peter Jobes, and I’m an addict. Like countless others, I’ve succumbed to the lure of the infamous time-killer Football Manager.
I didn’t want to do posts on games, for fear of making the extent of my addiction public knowledge –but that was until my York City promotion campaign of 2011-12 happened.
It started innocently enough, after a calamitous honeymoon period of a five-game winless run the campaign began to gather pace. Free signing Omar Koroma began to flourish playing ahead of the playmaking maestro that is Matthew Lund, averaging a goal every-other game. York began to climb from the foot of the Blue Square Premier and into contention for the top spot, which was being kept under siege by early leaders Gateshead.
As the season began to take shape, the results began to make our rivals take notice. A Matty Blair inspired 4-0 win over Luton Town drew some murmurs of satisfaction from the fans, while a Jamil Adam glut in a 5-1 home win against Tamworth caused some media rumblings: Could this really be York’s year? A return to league football?
January and February would prove to be pivotal in the quest for promotion. Gateshead’s lead at the top of the league stood at six points over second placed York City, and the title six-pointer at Bootham Crescent was fast approaching. Before the business-end of the season really begun there was the matter of a cup distraction: We had somehow managed to progress far enough in the FA Cup to set up a 3rd round tie versus Tottenham, at White Hart Lane. With Spurs being the team I support, I thought I’d reserve special praise for manager Harry Redknapp in my pre-match media commitments – but it appeared he got a quote in before I even had a chance: “I’m not Peter Jobes’ biggest fan, put it that way.” Oh, never mind then.
We battled like beavers, but it was futile: York were duly dispatched by a makeshift Tottenham team with a respectable, but flattering, 1-0 scoreline (Steven Pienaar hit the crossbar twice alone). The cup dream was over, but the £140,000 television revenue from the fixture at least made me feel better about spending the whole season £3k over my wage budget. Silver linings.
Gateshead. At home. This would be the game that could ignite a title-race so exciting that people would realise that England really is home to the greatest league in the world – the Blue Square Premier. The match was a cagey affair throughout. An injury crisis of biblical proportions meant that we were forced to play a 4-4-1-1, instead of our typical counter-attacking 4-4-2. Lund put in a shift as CAM, for almost the whole game, ‘almost’ because he managed to give away a penalty on 42 minutes while defending a corner. The penalty proved decisive. Gateshead were gifted a 1-0 win and the race for the top spot was all but over.
Realising that Gateshead had only lost twice all season prior to our match in mid-February, I was forced to accept that the now nine-point gap at the top of the league was probably not going to be recovered. Driven mad by the stark realities of falling out of the running for the only automatic promotion spot as early as spring, I decided to do some Italy-at-Euro-2012-esque tactical experimentations. I looked at how well a 4-2-3-1 could retain possession in non-league football, and how safe a flat 4-3-3 could be against the better teams in the league, knowing full well that I’d likely have to pull out all the stops in the play-offs at the end of the season in order to achieve the season’s dream of promotion.
The experiments ended fruitless, the change of strategy clearly too bewildering for my players to cope with so deep into a campaign – we would have to soldier on with our somewhat generic 4-4-2.
The season came to an end, we, like the rest of the league, were steamrollered by Gateshead, who finished on 104 points. York City had to make do with 2nd and their comparatively meagre 86 points. The dreaded prospect of the play-offs loomed.
The semi-final put us against an Ebbsfleet side who managed to recently fall from challenging us for second place to clinging to the final play-off spot in 5th. The away leg was a nervy 2-2 draw, which required an 87th minute Paddy McLaughlin equaliser to save us from having our work cut out at Bootham Crescent. The second leg started well enough, Argentine brick-wall Martin Camano picked the perfect time to net his first York City goal and put the Minster Men 1-0 up early on. York had 17 shots but couldn’t seem to kill the game off, our failure to finish Ebbsfleet off came back to haunt us seven minutes from time when a looping cross found Michael West, who had crept in at the far post, 1-1. We were heading for extra-time. Ebbsfleet held their own for the first period of extra-time, but a Ben Swallow inspired breakaway on 112 minutes ultimately found Matty Blair, uncannily cropping up at the far post to put York ahead. Eight minutes of ultra-defensive containing later and York City were in the final!
It has taken a while to get here, it’s been a long season after all; but the events of the following match are an absolute roller coaster. You may as well forget the last 913 words, what’s important is that you strap yourself in for this one:
Wembley! Do I suit up? It’s 5am but it would be rude not to, after all, we’ve managed to get a crowd of 38,820 down the M1 and A41 for this promotion decider! York City versus Wrexham will be the match to define a season, a season of toil, sweat, blood, and 90thminute losses. A season that played host to an injury-crisis that put five first teamers out for between five weeks and two months all at the same time. A season of anguish that would be all worthwhile should we be victorious today…
I opted for a Mike Bassett inspired four-four-f***ing-two formation, fearful of trying to play keep-ball against a Wrexham team that were on a run of form that culminated in them winning their play-off semi-final second leg game 4-1 versus Mansfield. All we needed to do was to be tight in defence, while allowing Matthew Lund to feed the prodigal goats that were Omar Koroma and Jamil Adam up front.
The game began extremely well. York took the lead through an own goal on 20 minutes. First blood.
The second came 10 minutes later, a close range Jamil Adam header had the Yorkshire club dreaming, “Wrexham’s gameplan is being undone!!” The commentator was flattering us, and we loved it.
Wrexham clearly needed to press on and find a goal, but in doing so they let Jamil Adam in again, this time to square the ball to Matthew Lund, who finished calmly. 3-0. It was at this point I remember whispering to myself ‘not even we can mess this up now!’ The rollercoaster had reached its summit…
…and immediately began to crash to earth. Wrexham get one back straight from kick-off – 3-1.
Half-time came, and passed. I was feeling fragile, their goal was unsettling. I decided not to ruffle any feathers and told my players to ‘keep it up’. They didn’t. Wrexham score two minutes into the 2nd half. 3-2.
By this point, I thought I’d better put the open-top bus parade order on ice. I panicked, and chose to make the defenders sit deeper, and look to counter whenever they could. It didn’t work, and Wrexham were, amazingly, on level terms by the 53rd minute, a quite incredible collapse.
The season had been turned on its head once again, success had become failure in all of 20 minutes. The rollercoaster continued…
While the immediate collapse of a healthy lead was clearly down to poor management, the decision to utilise more grit and ball-winning players in the middle of the pitch whilst concentrating on attacking down the flanks worked a little better than my idiotic attempt to sit on a 3-0. Ben Swallow tirelessly sprinted down the left wing before squaring to Omar Koroma, who netted a timely 4th on 69 minutes. This time I was sure no more mistakes would be made.
I went defensive as the clock ticked on, we even managed to have the better of the chances, five minutes from time we looked to see out the win, using our last sub to bring loanee defender Ben ‘Gibbo’ Gibson in to shore up the defence. We were 5-4-1 and tentatively treading into the big time.
Luck had been pretty elusive throughout our season, but it seemed to be helping us cruise to a win here, because that’s what we were doing – cruising. We were cruising, that is, until lady luck upped sticks and deserted us, leaving York up a creek with no paddle in the process…
The 91st minute, three were signalled for stoppage time by the fourth official, and Wrexham were chasing a lost cause of a through ball. The City fans were whistling for full-time while Michael Ingham collected the loose ball – and then a real whistle sounded: the referee’s. Mr Ross had adjudged Ingham to have carried the ball outside of his area when collecting it, a red card offence. “That was a dubious decision!” snapped the commentator, and I felt I had to agree.
‘Wait. I’ve no subs left! Umm, Paddy McLaughlin, he looks like he’d be a good ‘keeper in a crisis, naturally a CDM, but all he’ll need to do is deal with Wrexham’s freekick and hoof it up the pitch and we’ll probably survive.’
McLaughlin gets his keeper’s jersey on and scurries from the middle of the park to the goal, but wait, they’ve taken the free-kick before he got on his line!? They’ve scored! 4-4.
York’s improbable recovery has just become impossible. My ‘sitting-on-a-lead’ tactics have now cost me twice. I have a midfielder in goal and a formation that vaguely resembles a 5-3-1. I put my fastest full back on the wing and prayed for a miracle…
For York to win from here something big needs to happen, a pivotal incident. Said incident comes in the 106th minute – a red card – to York midfielder Scott Kerr. We’re down to nine men, and our central midfield has completely disappeared. We limp on…
‘Full time in extra time? They didn’t manage to register a single shot on target against my makeshift ‘keeper? Well now all he has to do is show that he’s secretly Bruce Grobbelaar and we’ll surely be up into League Two!’ But we have another problem on top of having an outfielder in goal, York ended with one striker, two natural midfielders, and five defenders; there wasn’t much penalty-taking pedigree available. It begins…
They score, we score, they score, then, inevitably we miss. McLaughlin was clearly too preoccupied with his new-found goalkeepeing duties to concentrate on converting his penalty. 2-1 down in the shoot-out we carry on. But Wrexham go on to miss their next three penalties in a row! (all missed rather than saved, of course), amazingly, 9-man, goalkeeper-less York City are one kick away from promotion. James Meredith, the reliable, perpetually moody, lightly-injured left-back steps up to answer the Minstermen’s prayers…
Blazed over. There was still at least one more round of penalties to be taken, but we knew. We all knew. Our chance was blown.
Wrexham goalscorer Ryan Jarvis, rather oddly took the sixth penalty, and scored. It was all down to centre-back, Dave Winfield to keep us in it. “If there was ever a time to score, this is it” the commentator advised. The penalty was cleanly hit, and high. Too high. The ball rattled off of the under-side of the bar and away from the goal. The Wrexham players began to sprint to their ‘keeper, they were a Football League team.
The nine remaining York players trudged off of the pitch, and into the dressing room to a heroes’ welcome from manager Peter Jobes: ‘it was a valiant effort out there, now let’s try to go up automatically next time, eh lads?’