YORK CITY SOUTH
I’m writing this Nigel Worthington appraisal before I even write his welcome piece. Yes, there were some clamours for his departure, but even so, the end came very swiftly. Was it just 4 defeats in 29 games (make that one win in 17 and you’re closer to the truth), a post play off failure malaise or just a feeling of was it all worth it?
Overall, his City record was played 76, won 23, drawn 29 and lost 24. Goals for 79 and against 76.
On his arrival, NW rallied his troops once to ensure we survived our first season back in the Football League. A year later, NW took us to the play offs.
You could say his side had a dour playing style or some of his signings were dubious (or worse). No one could disagree with either viewpoint. Once again, this season, we struggled to impose ourselves on our opposition and struggled to score goals. We were dour, but equally we were generally well organised and difficult to beat. Think of our run last season, we went to all the top teams and came away unbeaten.
You could question the wisdom of some of his signings, but you could do the same with any managers’ signings. Look at Wes Fletcher, Josh Carson, Keith Lowe, John McCombe and Russell Penn and you see the core of a good team.
At the start of 2014, I questioned the wisdom of giving 3 of them contracts for the next 30 months. So far, they’ve generally proved me wrong. But, I would question again why he gave so many players 2 year contracts in the summer of 2014.
Quite rightly, he would say they were his first choices and he did what he needed to do to secure their signatures. So far, in the main, they haven’t lived up to their billing. Tony Straker indicated that one of the reasons he joined City was the security of a 2 year deal rather than the one year extension (with higher wage) on offer at Southend. With 3 Bosman frees, maybe 2 year deals swung the deals. Where I might have a bigger problem is the number of free transfer players signed on 2 year deals. If press reports are to be believed, in the summer (2014) we signed 8 players on deals that run to 2016 (or 2017). A word of caution though, Sander Puri was widely reported as having joined on a 2 year deal only to leave after one year. Maybe he was paid up to leave, press reports were wrong or the deal was actually one year with a one year option. Personally, I’d be inclined to say to prospective free transfer signings, take a one year deal with an option on a second year (which depending on the deal might be triggered at City’s request or the player playing a set number of games). After all, it’s a buyer’s market with so many players on the free transfer list.
Towards the end of his reign, NW appeared frustrated that his players were unable to show in matches the good work they’d been doing in training. Daniel Parslow recalled he was very fit, joining in with all the training sessions and often demonstrating what he expected of his players. Perhaps, he wasn’t the first manager to be able to get his players going again after play off failure. Perhaps, the hard knocks of the first week of the season when we conceded late result changing goals in each of our first 3 games were more decisive than we first thought, draining the confidence out of himself and the players.
2 players NW paid money for were Ryan Bowman and Jake Hyde. I used to applaud buying the cream of the Conference (when we were in the Conference) but I wonder nowadays as its professional league, whether the rough diamonds are still there to be unearthed at £20k a pop? Maybe the non league value is lower down the pyramid with players who are not playing professionally.
I suspect his legacy maybe more that during his time we’ve raised our league status and standing. When he addressed YCS in March 2014, he spoke about how he found a club that wasn’t properly set up for The Football League. He put some of our 2013/4 success down to instigating a weight training programme which made City a more physical side. Off the pitch, his spell coincided with the arrival of Andy McMillan and Richard Cresswell onto the staff, plus the appointment of John McGhee as General Manager. Their work has yet to bear fruit but its a sign that we’re moving forward. Its strongly believed that NW only agreed to sign a permanent contract in the summer of 2013 when City committed to multiple upgrades to our Wiggington Road training complex.
The works included a multi purpose large glass-fronted viewing room (the first team use to eat and have meetings and debriefings. It doubles as a communal viewing area for parents when our age banded sides play on a weekend and serves as an area for the players and others to congregate); additional changing rooms, a small gym, rehabilitation unit and numerous pitches in excellent condition (thanks to new irrigation) for all teams to play on, not just the first team.
In the summer of 2013, three months after arriving at the club and staving off the nightmare of relegation back to the Conference, prior to signing a permanent contract, NW outlined his vision for the club. It resulted in £120,000 of improvements at our Wiggington Road training facility.
Communications Director Sophie Hicks said: “Nigel’s legacy comes in a lot of different ways really. I think he added a better level of professionalism. Because he had managed at a higher level, he had very high standards and firm ideas of how he wanted to do things, which we as a board we bought into. I think his main legacy is the development and improvement of the training ground. I’m sure that anyone who heard him speak about his vision for the club would agree. He took a great interest in how the pitches were prepared, including Bootham Crescent, and helped everyone raise their game at York City, including all the staff behind the scenes. Nigel’s legacy is very much looking at the whole of the football club from the youth teams right through to the first team. He encouraged people to be better and to raise the standards and that was something that was needed, coming out of the Conference. Obviously, Gary Mills did an amazing job getting us back into the Football League, but I think it was the right time for a higher level of professionalism”.
In my younger days, I remember players training in the car park at the ground, it was loose gravel and riddled with puddles in the winter. Selling that to a pro, or the parents of a prospective youth player isn’t easier. We have a smart complex. Compare and contrast.
Also, the youth system received a significant overhaul, Andy McMillan and Richard Cresswell being recruited and through them, links to bigger clubs are being established.
At times I thought NW was due a move upstairs into a Technical Director type role, overseeing the wider progress of our club. At the time of his departure, Russell Penn was quoted as saying only a few weeks earlier, he feared a bigger club might be in for NW. Huddersfield was suggested, a feeling that passed through my mind at the end of last season.
The end came very quickly. One bad defeat (only his 4th in 29 games) and he was off. Having not had a managerial role in the 2 years before he arrived, I can only assume he is financially secure and maybe the prospect of those long return drives, 2 or 3 times a week from his Norfolk family home made him reassess his priorities.
Whatever, he resigned, he didn’t wait for the bullet and the compensation that is due to a sacked manager. Top Man. How many managers would have waited for the sack and taken a pay off? All the very best for the future Nigel.
On his departure, Nigel issued the following statement. “After Saturday’s result and, in the best interests of York City, I have made the difficult decision to leave the club with immediate effect. I feel the timing of my departure will give the players ample number of games to gain the points needed to ensure York City finish in a good position in League Two by the end of the season. In recent weeks, performances have not been up to my high standards and I take full responsibility as manager. I would like to thank the board and the McGill family for their tremendous support. We have had a great working relationship. The supporters and the players should be very grateful to them for their loyalty, commitment and hard work in trying to take this club forward. I have enjoyed a wonderful time at York City over the past 18 months. The fans have been fantastic throughout and I have appreciated all their support. The experience would not have been the same without the friendship of all the staff at the club. In particular, I would like to thank my assistant Steve Torpey for his loyalty and dedication to me and York City. It has been an absolute pleasure and honour to have been manager of York City and I very much wish the club every success for the future.”
A board statement, released by the club simultaneously, said: “It is with great sadness that Nigel Worthington has decided to leave. We could not have asked for a more professional and hard working manager. We will always be grateful to him for the huge contribution he made in maintaining our Football League status. “We thank Nigel for all he has achieved in making York City a better club and the legacy he leaves. He has been a gentleman throughout.”
Footnote: Despite being out of football for a period of time immediately before joining City and never having managed in the basement division, his network allowed him to sign on loan (and give Football League debuts to) Nick Pope and Ben Davies.