Sunday, 17 July 2011

My own mini City

March 10th 2010 was a dark day for me.  It marked the day any person who cared about Chester City Fc had known was coming but didn't want to accept, the day the club was wound up in the High Court.

Moving to Chester in 1989 I had started to attend games on a regular basis when the club opened the Deva Stadium  in 1992 when MCFC fixtures didn't clash.  Chester City really did remind me of a miniature version of MCFC the management changes the ownership changes the false dawns the new hopes the shattered dreams.

Club Owner Stephen Vaughan had long since lost fans support, crowds were down to 300-400 in the Conference Premier.  There are various reasons behind this perhaps the biggest was many fans believed the club were being used as a front for some of Liverpool's gangsters.  At first many didn't want to believe or accept it.  Then in 2008 the club held a minutes silence for a "club benefactor" Colin Smith. The press headlines saying "Cocaine King gunned down"  meant the rumours did indeed appear true and that news also marked a decline in Chester City which lead to the relegation to the Conference.  They went into administration and were hit with a 25 point penalty.  Rumours were rife the club was leaking money at an alarming rate.

Then just before an away game in February '10 the players finally had enough after months of not being paid they refused to board the coach to go to Forest Green leading to the game being postponed .  Added to an earlier game being abandoned due to a fans protest pitch invasion,  It was painfully clear the club had zero future.  The fans supporters group CFU (City Fans United) were already making plans for a phoenix club.  This despite being laughed at by Vaughan saying all members were "a bunch of fools in a bingo hall".

So fast forward after March the CFU had enlisted the help of Supporters Direct a group that supports and encourages fan ownership and community involvement.  Along with reps from FCUM AFC Telford and AFC Wimbledon it was made very clear fan ownership and was a very workable option.  It was also very simple anyone could join the CFU and £1 of the membership fee paid for 1 share in the club, renewable each year.

The new club's name was voted on with a return to City's original name Chester Fc being the winner.  Local Graphic designer Martin Huxley designed the clubs crest coming up with a simple yet classic design.
Chester City Council granted the club the lease of the Deva Stadium the club appointed Neil Young as Manager.  The club applied to the FA for placement in the football pyramid. The news came through Chester had been placed in the Northwest Counties League (step 9 ) which was a shock previous phoenix clubs like AFC Halifax Town and AFC Telford starting in step 8 which in Chester's case should have been The Evostick North Division One (Northern Premier League Division One North).  Chester appealed and the FA accepted they had indeed made a mistake.

The season started with a 1-1 draw V Warrington away followed by the clubs first ever league win V Wakefield again away.  The came an unforgettable  Wednesday evening at the newly christened (by sponsorship) Exacta Stadium, Trafford Fc were the first home opponents and were soundly battered 6-0 in front of  over 2,700 (league average is approx 400)
 Half time in the match even saw Chester "sign" Perry Groves and Pat Nevin, no they weren't coming out if retirement it was part of a deal with Radio 5's Colin Murray he would donate £2,00 to Chester if they signed Groves and Nevin and named them as unused subs through out the season.  He even kept listeners of his show updated throughout of Chester's progress.

Crowds were healthy at the Exacta averaging out at over 2,300, the league record was beaten V Bamber Bridge when over 3,300 packed out the ground.  In the end the title did go to Chester but it really was only just 3 points clear with an 8 goal margin over Skelmersdale United going into the last game, Chester lost 2-1 away at Garforth Town while incredibly Skelmersdale did indeed score 7 but already relegated Ossett Albion scored 2 meaning yes Chester were league champions by two goals!
The triumph was bitter sweet you may notice some of the players in the youtube video above wearing t-shirts bearing the face of someone.  That someone was Club Director Richard Wightman a man I had the pleasure of calling a friend for over 12 years, who sadly passed away in January through ill health.  Wheelchair bound all his life he had never let anything get him down despite his health problems his death was a terrible shock and rightly he got a huge turn out as family, friends and supporters paid their final respects.  Seeing his coffin enter Caldy Valley church draped in the clubs flag was unbearable his effort and commitment was key to convincing many disillusioned fans Chester Fc were the real deal and we did indeed have our club back.  The T shirts I mentioned simply showed how much he will be missed with his picture on them taken at the clubs first ever friendly at Colwyn Bay smiling so happy that he had played a part in getting the club started.  R.I.P Rich I will always remember you mate.
12 months on from that Colwyn Bay game the club continues to go from strength to strength season ticket sales are rocketing towards 1,000 the first two friendlies of pre season have attracted crowds of over 1,800 to the Exacta.  It's certainly an exciting time for me being a Manchester City fan and it's also an exciting time for me as a Chester Fc fan the future looks oh so good where as for both teams just a few years ago there the addiction and love for them but little else.  And certainly in Chester's case not bad for a bunch of fools hey Mr Vaughan!

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