York City Knights’ fans have reacted with sorrow and gratitude after James Ford resigned as head coach today.
Known to all as Fordy, he leaves the club for a new challenge – becoming assistant coach with Super League club Wakefield Trinity.
Ford initially arrived at the Knights in 2011 as a player on loan from Widnes Vikings and made 57 appearances for the club.
After spells as an under-20s coach and first-team assistant with the Knights, he became the men’s head coach in 2015.
A tumultuous couple of years saw the Knights’ existence under threat. Despite that, Ford marshalled his troops to the League One Play-Offs in his first year at the helm before, in 2016, guiding the team to the same stage, being defeated in Toulouse.
Then, in 2018, the Knights didn’t need the Play-Offs. Ford put together a squad that won the title after a colossal battle with Bradford Bulls, and the club returned to the second tier for the first time in five years.
In 2021 he coached the team back to the Play Offs.
The victory over Halifax Panthers became the first Championship Play-Off the Knights had ever won, a victory that earned the Knights a semi-final berth against Leigh Centurions and a match that would prove to be Ford’s last in charge of the club.
Ford departs the club with a coaching record, including the aborted 2020 season, of 131 wins, 71 losses and 3 draws from 209 matches, giving him a win rate of 62%, second only to Richard Agar (69% win rate from 36 matches).
Knights chairman Clint Goodchild says he sees Ford as a future England manager.
“James leaves with our best wishes and he will always be welcome back at the Knights,” he said.
Ford said: “There’s no real standout reason as to why I’ve decided to leave the club. The relationship I have with Clint is strong and I believe in the direction he’s taking it.
“I think his leadership is certainly going to help the club take that next step.
“The relationship between everyone at the club is really strong and, in some ways, I’m really sad to be leaving.
“But every coach’s journey at a club comes to an end. Players and coaches come and go but the club is still there. It’s in safe hands and I am desperate to see York continue improving and become a Super League club in the very near future.”
He thanked the staff, players and volunteers at York City Knights.
“And then, we move onto the supporters,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say that we’ve a pretty special relationship with each other.
“We’ve had some tough times and we came through those tough times to enjoy some really good times. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite get the job done for you and I assure you it wasn’t through a lack of effort!
“I think we’ll all agree that the Knights are in a really strong position to kick on and take that next step.
“The last thing I’d ask of everybody, the staff I’m leaving behind, the players, the supporters is to keep doing what you do.
“The new head coach will love you all for it and, together, you’ve got a real chance of taking the next step of making a Grand Final and challenging for promotion.”
Fans queued up to pay tribute. “Thanks for everything James, I’ll admit I was doubtful when you became head coach but I’m very happy to have been proved wrong! Great coach, even better bloke,” said Sarah Kendall on the Knights’ Facebook page.
Ernie Mason wrote: “Good luck James at your new club, you’ve led us through some dark times and more recently through some great times.
“I always hoped you’d be the one to take us into Super League and I guess you did too. No doubt we’ll see you again when you return to watch the Kneets!”
And Brian Orchard said: “What you have done for this club has been outstanding.”
Wakefield boss Mark Applegarth welcomed Ford to the club.
“Myself and James Ford grew up coaching together at Wakefield College and he’s gone on to do a brilliant job at York.
“He compliments me really well in terms of our strengths and I think he’ll be a great addition to the group. He’s a real technical coach, good at detailing, speaks well in front of the group and is a real thinker of the game.”
Ford said: “Mark is someone I know really well and I’m excited to work with him again.
“I’m a West Yorkshire lad and I understand how people in and around Wakefield feel about their rugby. I’m honoured and privileged to work for you all.”