City's League Position - The fall and the fall

York City have played in 5 different tiers of England's football pyramid. Over the years, City have seen a gradual decline in performance whilst season by season, you can expect a struggle rather than a promotion push.
Oh Dear

Updated to include the 2023/4 season and most figures reflect the truncated (PPG) 2019/20 season but not the 2020/1 season which was declared null and void.

Of all the divisions, we've played in Division 4 (now known as Division 2) for the most number of seasons.

Overall, City have finished in 17th, 20th or 21st positions on 7 occasions. 6 times we've finished 4th and on 5 occasions in each of 22nd and 24th place. Conversely, only once have we filled 1st, 2nd and 23rd places in the league table.

Read on.... or Download all the numbers here.

Restructuring and Rebranding

The original 12 team Football league was formed in 1888. Division 2 was introduced in 1892. The 12 founder members were all from the north and midlands. Quickly, the bias shifted southwards. By 1905, 40 clubs completed in the 2 divisions and the number expanded to 44 clubs in 1919 on resumption after The Great War. In 1920, The Southern League, en masse, joined as Division 3 and a year later it was re-branded as Division 3 South with a Division 3 North being established. By now there were 88 members. It wasn’t until 1950 that the number increased to 92. To maintain numbers in the regionalised leagues, the north / south split varied depending on the make up of the teams. Teams like Walsall, Mansfield, Port Vale and Coventry flip flopping between North and South.

What were known as Divisions 1 - 4 until the advent of The Premier League have since undergone a couple of re-branding exercises so now we have The Premier League, Championship and Leagues 1 and 2.

For the purposes of this page, we refer to them as Divisions 1 – 4.

The Closed Shop

Until 1987, The Football League operated as a near closed shop. The bottom 4 league clubs having to apply for re-election. You had to be a complete basket case to be voted out as the clubs tended to vote their fellow member clubs back into The League.

For example, in 1964, the 4 clubs re-applying were overwhelmingly re-elected. York City (48 votes), Southport (45), Barrow (42) and Hartlepool (36) were all re-elected. Whereas, the non league clubs applying for membership (Wigan Athletic, Gateshead, Romford, Yeovil Town, South Shields, New Brighton, Guildford City, Gloucester City, Morecambe, Weymouth, Bexley United, Poole Town and Scarborough) gained just 26 votes between them. There were 48 votes possible for each club. Division 1 and Division 2 clubs had a vote each (in total 44 votes) and the Division 3 and 4 clubs a further 4 votes between them. So City gained the maximum possible votes. Wigan were the best of the rest with just 5 (out of 48 votes). Scarborough were one of 3 clubs to gain no votes.

City re-applied 7 times (1950, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1978 and 1981). In over 50 years only 13 teams left The Football League (and not always because of being voted out).

It wasn’t until 1987 that automatic promotion from non league into Division 4 was established when champions Scarborough replaced Lincoln who’d finished bottom of Division 4. In 2003, the play offs were introduced allowing promotion for a second non league side.

City’s League Status

City were elected to The Football League in 1929 as members of Division 3 (North), in the days of regionalised lower league football. City were to remain in that league until 1958 when regionalised football came to an end. In those 22 seasons, we finished bottom half on 14 occasions and maybe just twice were serious promotion contenders. The top 12 teams in each section formed Division 3. With City finishing 13th, we were founder members of Division 4. Promoted a season later, we survived just one season in Division 3 before relegation. 1965 saw us promoted for a second time, a season later saw our second ever relegation.

Tom Johnston was appointed manager in 1968 and oversaw 2 promotion campaigns. In 1971 to Division 3 and 1974 to Division 2 for the only time, to date, in our history. Successive relegations in 1976 and 1977 under Wilf McGuiness saw us plummet back into the basement division.

In 1984, Denis Smith’s side won the Division 4 championship and we then enjoyed 4 seasons in Division 3.

In 1993, Alan Little‘s side won promotion out of the basement division. We enjoyed 6 seasons in Division 3, equalling the 1970s 6 season spell under Johnston / McGuinness, as the longest we’ve played above the basement division.

2004 saw relegation from The Football League and into the non league wilderness where we remained for 8 seasons.

After 4 years back in the league, we started the 2016/7 season back in the National League.

Our Average League Position

In the 22 seasons we spent in Division 3(N), we finished top half just 8 times.

Since then, we've spent 2 seasons in Division 2, 16 in Division 3, 32 in Division 4 and 15 (excluding the covid expunged season) in non league.

Given that record, Division 4 is our natural home. 21st place is our natural position.

Looking at our league position. On just 17 occasions we’ve finished in the top 6 (or top quarter of the table), 20 times in the second quarter (positions 7 – 12), 22 times in the 3rd quarter (positions 13 – 18) and 28 times in the bottom quarter (i.e. position 19 or lower).

Put another way, 18 times in positions 21 or lower and 19 times in positions 17 – 20. That is, 37 seasons fighting against relegation compared to just 24 in the top 8.

Put another way, 6 times we've finished bottom and just once have we finished top.

So struggling in Division 4 is our natural home.

By the end of the 2023/4 season, you could look at it in a different way and I’d suggest 80th in the pyramid (or 12th in Division 4 (basement division)) is our average position, but that position is slightly skewed by the 18 seasons we’ve played higher than that against just 15 we’ve played below it. However, whilst City remain outside the Footall League that position will dropped fractionally every season.

By dint of playing at our lowest ever level, 2017/8 saw us achieve our lowest ever position in the pyramid. 11th in National League North equates to 137th place in the pyramid (allowing for the 10 teams in National League South to be ranked above us). A season later, we finished one place lower in the league, 139th in the pyramid.

In May 2018, Sky Sports made their own take on league standings. Taking the average league position of every club, they scored clubs' 2017/8 position. They placed York City in 127th (which ignores NLS) position in the pyramid, that's 42 places below 85th which they calculated as City's long term average position. Only Coventry (and since then they've put it right, finishing 52 places behind their average were bigger under achievers. Read More

Sky Sports repeated the exercise in May 2019. For the 2018/9 season, they placed City in 128th (which ignores NLS) place in the pyramid. City's average finishing position over the past 50 seasons is 79.9 (12th in Division 2) or the 86th best of all clubs which they calculated. That makes City the biggest under achievers in Sky Sports' table. Read More