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2004 - 2019 - The Non league Years

Back in non league football for the first time in 75 years, it wasn't as easy (on or off the pitch) to escape as envisaged

Hopes were high of a swift to The Football League for the "Arsenal Of The North", a labelled director Terry Doyle coined in recognition of City's shirts and perceived status in The Conference.

City struggled, Chris Brass was relieved of his managerial duties in November 2004 but remained as a player under Viv Busby, who'd returned to the club a few weeks earlier to assist Brass. Billy McEwan was appointed manager in February 2005 and saw City narrowly avoid relegation in 2005.

With the club suffering losses during each of the first 2 seasons of Supporters' Trust ownership, the McGill family concluded a deal in June 2006 to assume 75% ownership of the club.

There is no doubt that The Supporters Trust played a very important role in saving the club, many people putting in many long and unpaid hours to see the club pull through, some making significant donations and gestures whilst the whole fan base worked as one. With the McGill family taking control, the role (and apparent need) for the Supporters Trust was diminished, to the detriment of the club.

Billy McEwan was gradually re-building the side and reached the play offs in 2007 losing to Morecambe in the semi finals. He couldn't re-create results a season later and was replaced by Colin Walker. Initially as caretaker manager, such were the results, he was promoted to permanent manager. City couldn't build on his early success and he was relieved of his duties within a year to be replaced by Martin Foyle.

City struggled under Foyle, his first full season saw City survive a relegation battle in 2009 and lose meekly to Stevenage in The FA Trophy. City were back at Wembley a year later. This time, losing to Oxford in the play off final after going 2 down in the first 15 minutes. Richard Brodie scored 37 goals during the 2009/10 season.

With Richard Brodie's move to Crawley for 275,000 pounds in August 2010, Foyle suffered from a similar malaise, being unable to re-capture the previous season's form. He was replaced by Gary Mills in October 2010.

Slowly, Mills turned around City's fortunes, finishing the season in 8th place in 2011. For a second successive season, City went out of the FA Cup in Round 3 away to a Premier League side, on neither occasion were City disgraced.

With a host of new signings for the 2011/2 season, hopes were high. Probably not since 1954 have so many of City's summer signings clicked. It wasn't plain sailing, but the attacking threat of Walker, Chambers and Blair was apparent as was the defence, built around Chris Smith, McGurk and Parslow, flanked by Oyebanjo and Meredith. With Ingham in goal and Kerr shielding the back 4, City could be a formidable unit.

Confidence grew as the season progressed and results improved. Daniel Parslow later noted the team felt they could beat anyone and with fitness, a strong work ethic and team spirit, knew they could keep going and outplay anyone in the closing stages of a game. A trait that saw them overcome Luton in a tight 2 legged FA Trophy semi final and then Mansfield in the play semi final with an extra time goal to clinch a trip to Wembley. That would have to wait as City's first trip to Wembley was for The FA Trophy Final and a comfortable 2-0 win over Newport. It was back to Wembley a week later for the play off final. Despite conceding an early goal to Luton, City's confidence shone through as City controlled the rest of the game to win 2-1 and return to the Football League.

City's return was to last just 4 seasons.

Starting the 2012/3 season with a largely unchanged squad, several players couldn't make the step up and City struggled. A raft of uninspiring signings didn't help, as didn't Mills' intransigence in his playing principles and formation. He was sacked in March 2013, the decision splitting opinions amongst City's fans.

Nigel Worthington's appointment was both rapid and surprising but he secured safety in 2013. After a slow start to the following season, the new year saw a long winning run, built on a measly defence with young loanee Nick Pope in goal. The winning run took City from 23rd place into the play offs where City lost to Fleetwood in the 2014 semi final.

That summer City went on an ambitious re-building process, a number of players were signed on 2 year contracts. Unfortunately, Worthington failed to get his ideas over to the players, he resigned in October 2014, frustrated that his players were not responding to him as he wished.

Next in was Russ Wilcox.

Wilcox complained about his new charges being unfit and of inheriting a squad that wasn't up to the job, something that was to become a common theme although possibly a lack of confidence and motivation, rather than fitness, was the underlying problem. However, he finished the 2014/5 season with City in 18th place.

Wilcox's side was dour, occasionally abject, but were just about holding their own when he was sacked. He lasted a few days over a year, Jackie McNamara being a surprise replacement. Despite a large number of loan signings, he was unable to keep City in The Football League in 2016.

McNamara's reign lasted just under a year and ended in rather bizarre circumstances, having tendered his resignation, he remained as caretaker manager for a further week. Gary Mills, after a spell at Gateshead, was sacked by Wrexham on the Thursday following McNamara's resignation and was appointed City's manager over the weekend.

Mills strove to improve City's fortunes and with City enjoying a good run, safety was almost assured with 3 games to play. Unfortunately, those 3 games yielded just 2 draws and City were relegated to National League North in the very last minute of the 2016/7 league season. A Wembley FA Trophy Final win over Macclesfield was scant consolation.

Having used a club record 42 players during the 2015/6 (Wilcox / McNamara) season, City used 48 players during the next season (McNamara / Mills). In the 2016 calendar year, City used 63 different players.

Still the sackings went on. Mills was sacked in September 2017 and replaced by Martin Gray a day later.

Early 2018 saw a further delay in the planned move to Monks Cross. With a stand off between Jason McGill and the Supporters Trust, Jason McGill briefly threatened to withdraw funding and put the club up for sale. He later relented.

With City outside the Football League, youth team funding was lost in 2018. Immediately, Burnley took advantage of it and signed City's promising 16 year old Vinnie Steels on a free transfer. The reserve team had already been disbanded due to cut backs. It was a disappointing first season in NLN.

Gray was sacked in August 2018 and his successor, Sam Collins lasted only until January 2019 as the pace of sackings increased whilst City floundered mid table in National League North in 2019, struggling against sides who only a few years previously would have viewed a pre season friendly against City as a big occasion.

The era was marked by each new manager (Worthington, Wilcox, McNamara, Mills, Gray and Collins) being appointed within a few days of his successor losing his job, given the haste of the appointments, some questioned whether due diligence had always been followed. Equally, appointed early in the season, each new manager was dealt the players that the previous manager had wanted (some players with good contracts to the end of the following season), not necessarily players that the new manager would have signed. Consequently the bloated squad where some players were consigned to train with the youth squad, others knew they could expect little game time and all knew that if they didn't perform there were plenty of players in reserve ready to step up. For the players, having been sold the club and signed by one manager, they had to prove themselves again to a new manager, some squads having players signed by 4 different managers.

Within 10 days of Collins departure, Steve Watson was recruited from Gateshead. Over the rest of the season, a gradual improvement was discernible and Watson put in place more structure and organisation around the club. Hopes of a push for the play offs remained tantalisingly just out of reach, whilst the move to the new Monks Cross stadium was once more delayed into the 2019/20 season. Gary Mills