Uncovering York’s Football Heritage: A Look through the Archive

Today, Francesca discusses the work we’ve recently been doing on our Uncovering York’s Sporting Heritage project…

For many of York’s residents, men and women, young and old, the thrill of being in the crowd at Bootham Crescent and cheering on York City’s ‘Minstermen’ has been one of the defining experiences of York life. From the building of Bootham Crescent Stadium in 1923, through the ‘Happy Wanderers’ reaching the FA Cup semi-final in 1955, to the team’s record-breaking 100-point season in 1984, and the historic campaign by the Supporter’s Trust to save the club from financial troubles in 2002, York City’s history is one of highs and lows. It is a story that we have been lucky enough to be able to preserve and help to tell at York Explore, the new home of York City’s archive.

The club’s programme archive, once held at York City Football Club Foundation, has been deposited at York Explore as part of the Uncovering York’s Sporting Heritage project. The project, a collaborative effort between Explore York Libraries and Archives, York City FC Foundation and York City Knights Foundation, is generously funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and aims to preserve and share the stories of how sport has shaped York’s communities over the past decades. In addition to hosting a range of activities and working with various community groups to share Explore’s archives with residents, as part of the project we hope to engage local sports teams with the opportunities of managing their own archive, and to expand our own sporting collections by working with local teams who wish to deposit their archives with us; York City FC was the first to do so.

York City’s archive is a rich trove for uncovering the proud history of the club. The collection contains over 2,500 match-day programmes collected by fans over the decades, from single sheets noting team lists and advertising local tea houses, to the glossier modern programmes covering youth teams and charity work undertaken by the club. It also includes an extensive collection of press cuttings, fanzines, tickets and other items that tell the rich story of York City’s players and fans over the twentieth century. In this post we will have a glimpse into just a few of the treasures of the York City FC archive…

The image above is one of the oldest of the archived programmes, for an FA Cup match against Huddersfield Town in 1938. This match is still the most highly-attended game in Bootham Crescent’s history, with over 28,000 spectators. In those days there was neither seating nor covered stands at the stadium, and all viewers watched the match from banked stands behind a memorable white picket fence. The York City collection also includes this picture, reprinted later in the York Press, showing the crowd at the 1938 Huddersfield match.

One of York City’s proudest moments was undoubtedly its historic cup run in the 1954-55 season, when the plucky Minstermen reached the semi-final of the FA Cup. The squad were quickly dubbed the ‘Happy Wanderers’, after the popular 1954 song by The Stargazers, which gave the souvenir booklet below its name.


Another curious commemorative object in the collection is this first-day cover from 1974. First-day covers were special envelopes or postcards, issued by the Royal Mail in very limited runs, to commemorate significant occasions. Fans would send off for the cover and receive it in the post on issue. This cover commemorates York City’s first match in Division Two, having been promoted in 1974, and is signed by the club captain Barry Swallow.

One of the more memorable chapters in York City’s recent history was its financial troubles, and the determined efforts of the Supporters’ Trust to save the club in 2002. The Trust campaigned and raised funds to support the club through a range of endeavours – many of them recorded in the programmes and ephemera in the York City archive – even including walking over hot coals! This poster was one of many carried and waved by Supporters’ Trust members at matches and on marches through the city.

The project to sort, box, catalogue and partially digitise the York City archive has been carried out by Explore staff together with an enthusiastic body of volunteers, made up of York City fans with an interest in the history of the club. Collecting and sorting the material has provided us with a fascinating glimpse into the club’s history: one of highs and lows on and off the pitch, but telling the story of a devoted fanbase. When it is safe for us to reopen our archives service, this collection will be available for public consultation.

Do you belong to a sports club that might be interested in preserving and sharing its own archive? Explore is developing some ‘Managing Your Sporting Archive’ sessions especially for sports teams, giving you all the necessary know-how to start sorting, storing and sharing your archive – see our Events page for more details as they are confirmed, or contact us at archives@exploreyork.org.uk to be kept informed of when they are likely to be. In the meantime, why not check out our Keeping Your Archives page for advice and information on how to get started with managing your archives?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s