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Gary Mills

No one can deny us our Wembley successes in May 2012.  Having taken over Martin Foyle’s failing team in October 2010, Gary Mills galvanised City and narrowly failed to make the play offs in his first season. It was worth the season's wait. Arriving with City 16th in the Conference, he left with us 18th in Division 2 and never in a relegation place.

2010/1

Appointed on 13th October 2010, his first game was a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Bath City when he told BBC Radio York: "It's got to be sorted. We've got to start being organised. I need to look at the situation and get a couple of leaders out there to get us playing, get us organised and get players back into the areas they should be playing.". He was also particularly concerned at the size of the squad, "We've got a lot of players - too many. I need to get a smallish squad of players working for each other. You can't have half a dozen sitting in the stands in their suits not being involved on a Saturday afternoon and there are a few issues that it's my job to sort out".

It didn’t stop him extending the contacts of midfielder Danny Racchi and winger David McDermott. He also brought his former Tamworth skipper Chris Smith back to the club.

The large squad was trimmed by releasing youngsters Dean Lisles and Jamie Hopcutt who he considered not ready for the first team and forwards David Dowson and Mark Beesley. Big money signing, striker Michael Gash was instructed to lose weight.

The remaining strikers didn’t impress and he finished at Forest Green with Alex Lawless and Peter Till up front. Next up was a tough FA Cup Round 1 match at League Two promotion chasers Rotherham. Backed by over a thousand travelling supporters, City came away with a very creditable 0-0.

Alex Lawless was a surprise departee, Smith said, "I am very disappointed to see a player of Alex's calibre leave the club as I feel that he has much to offer and has been very popular with the supporters, however, we need players who want to play for York City, are focused on their jobs and happy at the club". At the same time, Mills sought to improve his offensive options, bringing in Leicester City striker Ashley Chambers and Sunderland midfielder Robbie Weir. Attempts to sign Jason Walker and Jamie Reed stalled. "He (Walker) is a player I rate and someone that I have looked at, "he's a goalscorer and the type of player I would like in my side", Mills said. Walker was to join Luton and an initial bid for Reed failed.

There was some good news, a superb 3-0 win over Rotherham was followed by a 4-0 win against Rushden & Diamonds.

On the transfer front, City were fighting off big bids from Luton for wantaway David McGurk who was nearing the end of his contract.

It was Boucaud in and Purcell out through the transfer door as Mills continued to wheel and deal, somehow a loan move out or Gash fell through, its not known whether due to weight issues he got stuck in the door.

November ended with a manager of the month award for Mills, in his first full month, a cup win at Darlington and 5 consecutive clean sheets.

By early January, Mills had eventually signed Jamie Reed and we went to Premier League Bolton for our Round 3 FA Cup tie. Although we narrowly lost, we more than held our own, Reed made an impressive debut and all looked rosy.

Unfortunately, the season didn’t kick on as hoped, but the foundations had been laid for 2011/2.

Captain, David McGurk recalls, ““He (Gary Mills) wasn’t interested in your weaknesses. He told you what you were good at and took a lot of pressure off the players. “He also gave us a lift in training. It was enjoyable, but intense at the same time and we worked hard. “Everything was two-touch and we had some good footballers in the team. He played a 4-3-3 formation which he believed in from the past and everyone bought into it from the start. Some of the football we played was the best I’d ever seen. I remember being on the bench for the Grimsby home game that season and saying I’d pay to watch this. Even the Grimsby players couldn’t believe what they had seen at that level as they walked off. It wasn’t so much about the work we did in training, but the confidence he gave us to go and play, pass the ball and enjoy ourselves. Back then, it (Mills’ defensive coaching) was similar to what you hear from the best coaches in the Premier League now in that, when you’re attacking, you set up to counter the counter. “He put together a system that was well-drilled. Everyone knew their responsibilities and we always had somebody sat in front of the back four. “I remember Jimmy Sangare doing that, as well as David McDermott, which surprised a lot of people and Pars (Dan Parslow) when the club went up. He will be a breath of fresh air and will get some confidence into the place again. I would expect them to now go on and finish in the top half of the table this season, although the play-offs might be out of reach. Everything was positive”.

2011/2

How many summers have we had a more successful intake of new players than in 2011?  Jason Walker, Matty Blair, Ashley Chambers, Paddy McLaughlin and Lanre Oyebanjo included.  I challenge anyone to name a summer when City have had a more fruitful summer signing spree.

Who could ask for more than May 2012 and 2 Wembley wins in a week.  Watching the post match celebrations, it seemed like Gary Mills was the McGill’s elder brother, not a hired hand.

With the post Wembley euphoria, the 2012/3 season was upon us very quickly.

2012/3

Maybe the dual Wembley successes clouded a few eyes.  Maybe the reality of football’s financial fair play was already striking home.  We returned to The Football League with our Conference squad very much intact.

Looking around the squad, there wasn’t a great deal of league experience.

We’d lost James Meredith, out of contract and, rather disappointingly, off to Bradford, rather than one of the Championship clubs who were rumoured to be chasing him.  Coming in, Danny Blanchett, a direct replacement for Meredith and, to wide acclaim, the returning Jonathan Smith.

Expectations were high, Stevenage and Crawley had proved it was possible to come out of The Conference and achieve back to back promotions.  Gary Mills did nothing to calm the waters.

The 3 pronged strike force that had seemed invincible in The Conference struggled in Division 2.  They weren’t helped by a pre season injury to Matty Blair and then a much more serious once to Michael Coulson with the season was still in its infancy.

Throughout 2011/2, a never say die attitude and fearsome strike force masked any deficiencies in our defence, although when called upon, the defence always seemed liable to rise to the occasion, witness late season results at Luton (twice) and Mansfield.

At Barnet in August 2012, a very poor home team were never truly out of the game as City’s defence was always liable to lapses.   At the other end, City cut through Barnet’s defence at will.

The injury to Dave McGurk in January 2012 had already robbed us of possibly our best defender for almost a full year, just weeks after we’d turned down a £80,000 bid from Luton for him.

Clarke Carlisle was signed to help to address City’s defensive woes.  His run in the side coincided with our rise up the table with a play off place the ultimate goal.  In November, apparently without talking to City, he negotiated an 18 month contract with Northampton to replace his short term deal with City which had just a few more weeks to run.  For whatever reason, perceived ability or wages or 18 month contract, he was allowed to join Northampton immediately. Our slump can be dated from that very day.

Upfront, things were also taking a turn for the worse.  Coulson’s long term injury was coupled with other team’s coming to grips with City’s attack.  Lead by the diminutive Jason Walker, we struggled to present an imposing threat, the lone striker dwarfed by towering twin centre backs.  In Division 2 size does matter.

Even when Gay Mills signed a new striker (and he signed 3 front men in January), the formation barely altered.  Perm Walker or Michael Rankine as the lone frontman from the start, sub one for the other late on and occasionally give a few minutes to someone else.  It seemed to cry out for a Walker / Rankine dual strike force. Clamours for Jamie Reed fell on deaf ears, his post City career has still to ignite.

A few weeks before his departure, he almost gave the board his own ultimatum when stating if the board wanted to play 4-4-2, it wouldn’t be under Mills.

Even when the axe came, there was still strong support for Mills in recognition of the success he brought to City.

However, his last 2 months were painful.  Not sure how much budget he had in the January transfer window, but he appeared to  be scraping the bottom of the barrel, or maybe investing for the future, take your  pick when you consider Jameel Ible, David McDaid and Ben Everson.  Maybe by March, Nigel Worthington seemed to be allowed a bigger budget, perhaps to preserve our league status.

Before that, the cases of David McGurk and Jonathan Smith are hard for the outsider to understand.  McGurk, one of our best defenders appeared out of favour whilst Mills signed and sold Jonathan Smith within 6 months of buying him, a player he had sold 12 months earlier.

A fit Dave McGurk appeared to be denied a recall to the team.  Chris Smith seemed destined to be always the first name on the teamsheet.  Meanwhile, repeated calls for Jamie Reed merited only occasional appearances, only very rarely could he be said to have made himself indispensable.

Maybe Mills was stymied by the lack of a reserve side.  Perhaps it would have allowed McGurk to get back to match fitness quicker and would have provided more opportunities for some of the younger, fringe players.  Would Michael Potts have pushed for a first team place earlier than 15 months into his City career with reserve football?  Might Tom Allan and Tom Platt come to the fore earlier?

Whatever, in Division 2, Gary Mils put out a side that was rarely, if ever, outplayed and came away with good results from away trips to most of the top half of the table.  It was at home where his favoured formation struggled to break down visiting defences.

No one will ever take away Gary Mills successes in 2011/2.  Two Wembley wins inside a week will stay in the memory for a long time. However, in his last season, he could not refresh the side, a team that featured an intransigence in formation.

Incidentally, Mills is the fourth successive City manager whose City career ended with more wins than defeats, I wonder how many clubs can say that.

AFTER CITY

After his departure from City, Gary Mills spoke only very briefly to the press. In June 2013, he spoke at length about his time at City and his plans for the future.

"The crowds were about 2,200 when I first went to York and then it goes up to 3,500. That generates a lot more money." When Mills took over at York the club were 16th in the Blue Square Bet Premier. Just 30 months later, and with a promotion in the bag, he was sacked with the Minstermen 18th in League Two, four points clear of the relegation places. "Everybody sitting in the stand wants instant success," he said, alluding to the achievements of Stevenage and Crawley, who both manufactured back-to-back promotions from non-League to League One. At York, we go up and the fans want you to go straight up again, whereas staying up is a success. I was asked to do three jobs at York. First, to keep them up in the Conference, then it was to get promoted and this season I was told to keep us in the league and would have done that. You have to be brave. Once you start panicking and you start to change things, it escalates everything."

Mills said, “I had two-and-a-half years at York and took them from the bottom of the Conference to doing the double, winning at Wembley and then getting them back into the Football League. We were finding our feet in League Two and enjoying it, if I am honest. But then, out of the blue, we lost to Bradford and the chairman told me that the club no longer required my services. So, yes, I do feel hard done by. I have learned though that you never win by saying too much how you feel or talking about what really went off. But what I do know is that I put York back in the Football League and I did it by playing football in what I believe is the right way. We wanted to keep it on the deck and pass it and I was proud of the way we did that. I do feel hard done by, not going into a new season now managing a football club somewhere." Mills has spent the last few weeks adding to his coaching badges. "I have done my UEFA A-license this summer, with a few other lads on the same course," he said. "Nigel Clough was on it. Robbie Fowler, Kevin Davies, Dwight Yorke, Des Lyttle – who was my coach at York – were all there too. There was a good bunch of lads there. It is another step, it is one that you have to have by 2015 if you want to manage in the league."

Watching England's under-21 side flounder in Israel over the last few weeks has only fuelled Mills' hunger for a return. "I know what I am capable of and sometimes I don't feel I have had the rub of the green. But, sometimes, when you talk like this, people say well 'you should have done this or that then. I like the way my teams play football and, when I was watching the England under-21 side and the full senior side – there is no escaping it, they are poor. We still seem to be unable to keep the ball. Certainly at York I had a team who could do that. We played excellent football. I am just itching to get back in and stamp my authority on another club; to implement my philosophy."

For some of Clarke Carlisle's observations of his time with City and Gary Mills, please refer to our book reviews

In September 2013, he was appointed as Gateshead manager and teamed up with David Rush, the ex City striker, initially, as his assistant. The big fear that he would end up at Luton never materialised! Taking Gateshead to Wembley and play off final defeat in 2014, he couldn't build on that success and moved to Wrexham in April 2015, being sacked in October 2016. Within a week, he was back at City.

2016

October 16, 2016. WELCOME BACK GARY. If you can do the same as last time, 2 Wembley wins and more wins than defeats (especially if you can cut out some of the draws), we'll all be happy.

Gary Mills - Meets The Fans (1)

Gary Mills - Meets The Fans (Again)

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