John Askey set for 'strange' York City reunion with Hartlepool United
There is an air of trepidation for Askey as he prepares for this afternoon's National League fixture. Unlike the other 45 games slated this season, today's fixture is the one which will have been subconsciously circled in the mind of the Hartlepool boss.
Sure, in the New Year, Askey will welcome York to Hartlepool for the return fixture, but this one, in York, holds a little added substance to it.
It’s just over a year ago exactly since Askey was surprisingly relieved of his duties at the LNER Community Stadium following a breakdown in the relationship with then-owner of York, Glen Henderson.
Askey, it’s widely considered, had done a remarkable job with the Minstermen, having taken over on an initial interim basis in November 2021.
His early progress in the National League North led the club to making his appointment a permanent one later that season before Askey did the unthinkable and gained promotion to the National League via the play-offs – a feat regarded as one of the best in the club’s recent history.
Askey turned down offers within the Football League to remain with York where he made a solid start to life in non-league’s premier division before he felt he was being undermined by former owner Henderson which would, ultimately, lead to Askey and York parting ways.
Such was the job he did in North Yorkshire, and the affiliation built up with supporters, Askey was linked with a return to the LNER Community Stadium in February before Hartlepool came calling with an offer of managing in the Football League – albeit briefly, with Askey unable to work quite enough magic to prevent Pools from dropping back into the National League.
And since the fixtures were released in the summer, Askey’s return to York has been one which has been earmarked by both sides – Match of the Day commentator, and York fan, Guy Mowbray summarising things, at least from the York side, when writing via his social media on Friday: “Wish I could be at #YCFC tomorrow. Will be watching from afar. All there, please give Sir John a rousing welcome home from me. The man did great things and is one of us. Always will be. Then play your part in his team getting stuffed.”
For Askey, however, it presents an interesting dynamic. Even so far as minor details such as changes made by York at the stadium which will see Askey, and his Hartlepool team, take to the dugout which was the home dugout when he was in charge of the club – with all four corners of the ground set to give him a positive reception.
But in his attempts to play down the occasion, the hurt Askey felt when being dismissed by York still shines through.
"It’s a funny feeling because it wasn’t one I was really looking forward to,” admitted Askey.
"It’s a strange one going back. I had a good time there, where the supporters and the players were really good to me, especially when I left – the support was fantastic.
"But, when the game kicks off, it’s not something that I’ll think about. All I will be thinking about is us winning, and if we come away with three points I’ll be very happy and will obviously wish York all the best for the future. That’s all that matters.”
Askey was in attendance to watch his former side in midweek as they did what his Hartlepool team couldn’t do in the FA Cup when seeing off National League North side Chester.
The Minstermen have seen an upturn in form since the appointment of Neal Ardley as manager as they look to climb away from the bottom end of the table and mount a challenge for the play-off places many had expected from them in pre-season – and that’s something Askey feels his former team can do, if not this season, then next.
"I went to watch them on Tuesday. They started off really well and could have been two or three up and then Chester gradually came into the game and could have got something from the game,” said Askey.
"They’ve spent heavily on players. The centre-forward from Scotland I think they’ve spent a lot of money on, the centre-half who they brought in from Aldershot – we’re talking hundreds of thousands they’ve spent on players.
"They’ve got a huge squad and I’m sure, in time, they’ll get it right and they’ll be a force, if not this season then next season.
"But the only thing that really concerns me is Hartlepool and that we do well, because if we can be in and around it come January, when we get everybody fit, then we can give it a really good push.
"All we can do is give the information to the players, but it’s what the players do on the pitch. If I was a player it would be one of the games I would be really looking forward to.”
One of the reasons this is a game for any player to look forward to, particularly those in blue and white, is because of the sizeable away following set to descend on the LNER Community Stadium.
Despite their struggles this season Pools will be backed by a sold-out away end as they look to bring an end to their current run of four league games without a win.
“It’s phenomenal considering the situation we’re in,” said Askey.
"But it just shows the passion that supporters have got for the football club and it will be a fantastic atmosphere – it will probably be the biggest crowd that York get this season and it’s one that, as a player, you should really look forward to.
"If we can get the crowd going it will make a huge difference to us because our away support, whether it’s the beer or whatever, always seem to be louder than the home support, especially when you’ve got as many numbers as what we’ve got.
"I think they probably understand the situation we’re in. But we’ve got to give them something back.”
Askey, however, will be hoping he does not give something back to his old club in terms of points when the full-time whistle is blown.