This season has reached the stage when those who wield the power at clubs take stock and weigh up whether their team is heading in the right direction. The pressure to act quickly is strong, the increasingly trigger-happy chairmen of the land have managers looking over their shoulders.
That is not quite the situation at York City, though. The news that the manager Jackie McNamara’s position might be in danger is not exactly a surprise. They were relegated from League Two last season, are fourth-bottom of the National League, have not won an away game in 13 months and on Tuesday were beaten 6-1 by bottom-of-the-table Guiseley. A public ultimatum was issued on Wednesday, stating that their game against Braintree Town on Saturday was McNamara’s last chance.
That is an unusual enough situation, but stranger than that, it was the manager himself who issued the ultimatum. “Following a meeting with the chairman this morning,” the statement read, “and in light of the disappointing performance and result last night, York City manager Jackie McNamara has considered his position going forward. It has been decided that, if the team fails to gain a positive result at Braintree Town on Saturday, the York City manager will tender his resignation.”
Such a statement raises more questions than it answers. What, for example, constitutes a positive result? Given their last fixture ended in a 6-1 defeat, would a 5-1 loss be regarded as an improvement? Do they need to win, or will a draw be enough? “That remains to be seen,” McNamara said when asked on Friday what would lead to him staying. “I think in my heart, I’ll know.” The chairman Jason McGill said on TalkSport: “I think he will stay if we win.”
McNamara confirmed that it was his idea to release the statement, although one wonders whether it will actually inspire his players or merely put more pressure on them. “I thought it was best to put something out, to try getting the reaction I want,” he said. “It was my decision to do it this way. Honesty is always the best policy. If I get the response I want, I’ll stay, but if I don’t I’ll pass it on to somebody else.”
His public stance has not always been consistent. Last weekend he declared he would definitely not be resigning (“I’ve never been one to give up or throw the towel in,” he said after losing to Aldershot), which in turn came a week after he admitted he was considering his position.
A curious affair all round, but it does seem to fit with the chaotic goings on at Bootham Crescent since McNamara arrived in November 2015. McNamara was appointed with the club third-bottom of League Two having won only twice all season, but despite a brief flurry of positive results in February, they were relegated in April.
Over the summer, 20 players were recruited, permanently and on loan, as McNamara ripped things up and started again. In total 37 players have arrived since he was appointed, and only one remains from the squad he inherited – the goalkeeper Scott Flinders, who was loaned to Macclesfield at the start of the season but not before he was given a five-match ban for racially abusing the Wimbledon striker Lyle Taylor last season.
But the nuclear option has not worked particularly well. York are two points off the relegation zone, having lost five of the past six games. Guiseley were the low-point, but there have been plenty of those, on and off the pitch. McNamara has fallen out with some in the local press, and in September was fined nearly £500 for not having a valid ticket on a train to Edinburgh.
He claimed the machine at the station was not working, that he did not know it was a criminal offence to board a train without a ticket and he subsequently tried to pay on board. “Sometimes the truth gets in the way of a good story,” he said about the way the incident was reported, unhappy that he had been declared a “fare dodger” by some. “Either the machine wasn’t working or there was something more sinister.” Quite what that might have been, he did not expand upon.
Perhaps to prevent that situation occurring again, he collected a new car last Monday morning (as well as spending time with his family in Scotland), which caused further consternation among fans as he missed training to do so. That is the sort of thing which would barely be mentioned if the team were doing well, and again McNamara seemed irked on Friday that it was perceived negatively, but under the circumstances it was perhaps not the wisest move.
“York fans’ expectations aren’t the greatest,” said Michael Miles, editor of Y Front fanzine, “so a lot of them were prepared to give him another go. He was promising good football, and the chairman spoke of a football revolution. But it’s been an absolute disaster. We’ve got to the point where loyal fans, who have been going for donkey’s years, have said they’re not going back while he’s in charge.
“He speaks very well, seems committed to the cause and he’s obviously trying to do the right thing. But somewhere it’s going wrong, and I think once you’ve lost the majority of fans, it’s very difficult. Even if we do win on Saturday, where do we go from there? There will be York fans going who will want the team to lose, so McNamara goes.”
Maybe the most surprising thing in all this, given his record, is that McNamara still has a job to resign from. McGill, who has been chairman since 2008, is known to have a close relationship with his managers (and on Friday McNamara spoke at length how much he admired McGill), but has spoken about how hard he therefore finds it to sack them. One assumes a resignation will offer him a way of avoiding this, and it is understood that McNamara will not seek compensation if he does leave.
Attention then turns to Braintree, who may offer McNamara some hope as their home record is nearly as bad as York’s on the road. They have lost five of their seven home games this season, and sit third-bottom of the table. In theory they should stand a chance, and McNamara could live on. “You hope,” he said when asked if his statement would have a galvanising effect, “but life’s not that easy.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010