From the moment he set foot on the hallowed Deva Stadium turf back in January 2001 as a young, raw 19-year-old, with his tricky play, pace, diminutive stature and immaculate cornrows, Jimmy Haarhoff was destined to be a Chester City favourite.
And that was exactly how it panned out. Those Blues fans who were in attendance during that first season in non-league football, where Graham Barrow produced an eighth-placed finish, an FA Cup third round and an FA Trophy semi-final, all under the chairmanship of Terry Smith, could attest to the hum of excitement around the ground whenever the Zambian born attacker, all 5ft 5ins of him, entered the field of play. He was a game changer.
It's 15 years since Haarhoff, small in stature but big in heart, first arrived at Chester and despite playing just 48 games and scoring five goals in all competitions, he is a player that is still held in high regard, a player for who entertaining the crowd came naturally.
Living with the gaffer
"When I first came and Graham (Barrow) was manager and he looked after me. I was only young and had never been away from home so he took me into his home with his family, fed me and kept a roof over my head at Chester until I found a place of my own and was able to stand on my own two feet," recalls Haarhoff.
"He was brilliant to me and a great, great manager to work under.
"I'd come from a big city like Birmingham to come to Chester and I was just a teenager but I loved the city and the people. It felt like home away from home for me.
"I'd never known anything like it. Things were crazy at the time because of the American owner (Terry Smith), he used to show up at training and get involved and things like that, but I just wanted to keep my head down, work hard and try and impress Graham and get in the team.
"I'd always loved to entertain and loved to try and excite the crowd. Things started off well for me and I was getting in the team and managing to make an impact. I felt the warmth and love of the fans too, they are the best set of fans I have ever played in front of and I really felt part of the club and they welcomed me with open arms. That meant a lot to me."
Haarhoff made 13 appearances in his first season with the Blues, netting once, but made a considerable contribution to the club's FA Trophy run to the semi-finals, where Canvey Island would eventually end Barrow's side's bid for silverware.
But Chester were heading towards turmoil under Smith towards the end of the season, with fans marching a coffin through the city down to the stadium before the final league game of the campaign at home to champions Rushden & Diamonds.
Barrow's bizarre sacking during the summer defied belief given the job the Blues legend had done under the circumstances, and Haarhoff became the forgotten man for the club under Smith's right-hand man Gordon Hill, whose disastrous reign at the club was brought to an end when Stephen Vaughan took ownership of the club. In came ex-Tranmere Rovers stalwart Steve Mungall as caretaker manager, who saw instantly the talent possessed by Haarhoff, throwing him into the line up for a 2-0 home win over Hereford United, a game where he netted the opener.
A brief upturn in form for the Blues eventually nose-dived and out went Mungall and in came ex-Liverpool and England defender Mark Wright to the Deva Stadium helm. It was to prove the beginning of the end for the popular Haarhoff.
"We did ok that season but Graham left at the end of it and there were a few changes at the start of the next season and we didn't know what was happening at the club," said Haarhoff, who returned to Chester in 2012 to play in a charity match in memory of seven-year Blues fan Ciaran Geddes, who tragically died of heart failure while playing football.
Out in the cold
"We had a few managers until Mark Wright eventually came in and took over, but that was when things began to go wrong for me. I didn't really fit into his style of play and I found myself playing less and less. It was a tough time.
"I always thought I should be playing more, but all players do. But I always used to notice that when a game was dull or was in need of a spark that the fans would start murmuring and calling for me to come on.
"There was kind of a buzz around the ground and I could feel it, it shook me up a little bit and was just willing him (Wright) to bring me on. It was so frustrating for me as it was like the fans could all see something that one or two others maybe couldn't see."
Haarhoff's knew the end was in sight for his time as Chester player and moved on loan to Droylsden in 2002, making the move permanent shortly after. It was to be the beginning of the end for Haarhoff's playing career, with his faith beginning to play an increasingly prominent role in his life.
"I knew my time was coming to an end and when I moved to Droylsden it just wasn't the same," he said.
"I longed for that time under Graham again and needed someone to take me under their wing to help me along. I was a player that needed that kind of support at the time."
Keeping the faith
Spells at Moor Green and Halesowen Town would follow, but in 2005 the affable Haarhoff was baptised into the Seventh-day Adventist Church and, with his worship on Saturdays, his career as a footballer would come to an end at the age of just 24.
"I was coming to a point in my life where I had to make some serious choices," said Haarhoff, who became a father for the first time last year.
"I loved football but my love for my faith was greater, I knew that something had to give.
"As a Seventh-day Adventist I worshipped on Saturdays, which isn't ideal when you are a footballer. Some people thought I was crazy to quit playing and said I should carry on and just go part-time, but I had to follow my heart and my faith. But I couldn't step away from football altogether, it had been my life since I was a child. Playing football is a joy and a privilege but I wanted to pursue something more."
But far from turning his back on the game, Haarhoff channelled his passion for the game and his desire to spread its positive message to the younger generation by taking his coaching badges. Soon he was a skills coach for the FA and a new career path had unfolded before him, one that would allow him to keep both football and faith in his life.
"I'd always wanted to get into coaching," said Haarhoff, who was capped twice by Northern Ireland under-18s due to him being a British passport holder from outside the Home Nations.
"I decided to do my coaching badges and I worked for a time as a skills coach for the FA's community programme. I found immense joy in being able to get out into local communities and deliver coaching sessions and to see the pure joy that the game in it's simplest form brought to young people. I knew that it was a career path that I wanted to embark upon.
"From there I decided to set up my own business, Step 2 Sport, so I could be my own boss and in charge of my own destiny and build on my love of football. "Football is a beautiful game and a wonderful tool you can use to bring people together, regardless of background."
Haarhoff's love affair with the game is deep rooted. It was developed on the streets and local pitches of his Lusaka home in Zambia as a child, honing his skills with a ball he made himself.
"I came over to England from Zambia when I was eight and I'd always had a football at my feet when I was in Zambia, but we didn't have much money and we certainly couldn't afford to buy a leather ball to play with, so we made our own," recalled Haarhoff,
"It was so small, like a size two, but I took it wherever I went and all I ever wanted to do was play football. It was all I thought about day and night.
"But when I came over to England I didn't know where I could play but I eventually started playing for my school team in Year 6. By the time I was in Year 7 I was playing for a senior Sunday League side full of grown men, I was only 11. When some people realised how old I was and how I was playing against grown men, people started taking notice of me.
"I knew how to play and football just came natural to me. I was seen by a few scouts, played for a junior team and before I knew it I was signed up by Birmingham and was having trials for England under-16s. But it's so hard to make an impact when you have so many other players all going for the same dream.
"I played some reserve team football and managed to get on as a late substitute against Crystal Palace for the first team, but I knew in my heart that I would have to move elsewhere if I wanted to play professionally.
"I had the chance to do that and I'm extremely grateful for that. It's something I'll always cherish.
"There are those days when I look back at my playing career and think 'what if?'. But I love the path I have travelled on in the last 10-15 years and I'm truly happy. My time at Chester, though, will always stay with me. It was a joyous experience, one that I am thankful for. Chester and it's fans remain in my heart and it is a club that helped me fall in love with the game."