Sky Sports talks to York City duo Matty Blair and Paddy McLaughlin about winning at Wembley twice, life before the Minstermen and the club's return to the Football League...
By Rob Lancaster - Tweet me: @SkySportsLanny. Last Updated: August 16, 2012 4:34pm
From Gravesend to Wembley is not that far to travel, but for the players of York City it was the start and end point to a topsy-turvy journey that eventually climaxed in promotion to the Promised Land that is the Football League.
A gruelling campaign took in stops at Braintree and Barrow, Solihull and Salisbury, as the Minstermen fought their way through the play-off system.
"My target was honestly just to get on FIFA (the computer game). I don't know about now, we will just see what happens."
Matty Blair Quotes of the week
Yet it was Wembley that was the favourite destination for Gary Mills' side. On two successive weekends they made the trip down from north Yorkshire and then returned home victorious, firstly in the FA Trophy final against Newport and then, even more importantly, seeing off Luton Town in the play-off final.
For Matty Blair and Paddy McLaughlin it was the perfect finish to their debut campaigns at Bootham Crescent, two team-mates who had trod very, very different paths to end up in League Two.
McLaughlin came to York after being released by Newcastle United, a place where he had rubbed shoulders with the likes of Joey Barton, Jonas Gutierrez and Peter Beardsley, a man who coached him during his time at St James' Park.
Blair, in contrast, had turned out for Racing Club Warwick, Stratford Town, Bedworth United, Reddich United and AFC Telford, rubbing shoulders with electricians, teachers and prison officers.
He himself worked in a pub, for his mum's delivery company and also in promotions, something he had to carry on doing even once he'd joined Conference club Kidderminster during the 2010/11 season.
"I worked as well to keep the extra money coming in, as I was living on my own in Coventry," Blair told Sky Sports.
"It was after a game against Crawley on the Tuesday night that I had to go to work at 2am the next morning, handing out Tropicana fruit juice on what was known as the 'milkman shift'. I did something like eight or nine shifts.
"The money was good, but I was getting up at 2am, going and doing a five-hour shift and then training. I'd go home and sleep for a bit, get up and get on with my day, then go to bed at 7.30-8pm moody."
This is all a far cry from where Blair - a player with serious pace and a non-stop engine that suggests he was manufactured in a German car factory - finds himself now, a Football League player whose two productive seasons in front of goal can't have gone unnoticed by those even higher up the pyramid.
The forward forever wrote his name into York City's history books when he bobbed up (albeit from an offside position) to grab the winner against Luton, his 20th and easily most vital goal of a highly-productive season
But what would he be doing now if his career hadn't quite panned out in such a way? "To be honest, I haven't got a clue," he admitted.
"Probably in my old man's shop (that's an 'old man' in Andy Blair who just so happened to have played for Aston Villa, Coventry City and Wolverhampton in his career), which sells sports and schoolwear in Coventry."
"It (playing in the Conference) was obviously more physical, but I was also surprised at how much football was played. I enjoyed it a lot more, having a crowd there and with three points at stake. It felt real, and I felt like a footballer."
Paddy McLaughlin Quotes of the week
Asked if he believed he would always end up in the league, he responded: "No. Never.
"My target was honestly just to get on FIFA (the computer game). I don't know about now, we will just have to see what happens.
"It only really sunk in (about promotion) when I came back to York. We went away with the squad to Benidorm and then had a break, but when I got back to York I had fans coming up to me and saying 'thank you so much for what you achieved last season'.
"Grown blokes were coming up and giving me hugs, telling me that I'd made them cry.
"Now it's excitement. It's about finding out what this league is all about. I'm a bit naive to it, it's a new challenge."
For McLaughlin, a midfielder with a sweet left foot but who also never shirks a tackle, the journey couldn't have been more of a polar opposite to Blair's.
As a junior in Belfast he caught the eye of a number of English clubs - including Bolton and Manchester City - but plumped for Newcastle on a "gut feeling".
He spent four seasons on Tyneside and captained the Magpies' reserves, but first-team opportunities were never forthcoming.
"I loved it (at Newcastle), apart from the second season when I was hampered by injuries just as I hoped to kick on. I got a bad knee injury in October that kept me out until Christmas, then when I came back from that I did my hamstring," he said.
"That whole season was pretty much a right off. In the third and fourth seasons it was pretty much playing with the reserve team and then training with the first team at times, though I never got the call up.
"During my fourth season I had hoped to go out on loan, but then the manager changed. I stuck around to try and catch his eye, but then in February I went to Sweden for a month. I had the chance to go there from March to June, but I needed a hernia operation and came back at the end of March.
"When I went back I asked about my future and was told I wouldn't be getting another contract, leaving me to try and get my name around to different clubs."
The Northern Ireland Under-21 international considered returning to Sweden to continue his career, while there was even the possibility raised of a chance to try his luck further afield in North America, with MLS outfit Toronto.
In the end, though, a meeting with Mills convinced him York was the place to be; a first season that saw him manage a double-figure goal tally from the middle of the park suggests he made the right choice, too.
"It was tough, an unsure time," he said of being released by Newcastle. "York came in with the offer at the end of May, then I signed at the end of the June.
"In between my mind was made up after speaking with 'the gaffer'. I wasn't going anywhere else after that. It would have taken something very special to change my mind.
"As soon as he spoke to me in the office I could see myself playing at York. He talked of promotion, and when he spoke of that I got a little excited about that prospect. It seemed real from the start, it wasn't just talk."
Playing in the Blue Square Premier would provide a steep learning curve, yet McLaughlin took to it like a duck to water.
"It's different (something of an understatement). But you came off feeling like you'd played a game," he added.
"It was obviously more physical, but I was also surprised at how much football was played. I enjoyed it a lot more, having a crowd there and with three points at stake. It felt real, and I felt like a footballer."
Both Blair and McLaughlin will definitely feel like footballers when they run out for York City's first game back in the Football League since May 2004, at home to Wycombe on Saturday. For the two players and the club itself the last few years have been full of ups and down - now all three are on the rise.