Whisper it quietly but Chester FC aren’t shaping up half bad for next season.
The 2-0 defeat to Boreham Wood on the last day of the season was one of the lowest points in the reformed club’s recent history, only topped by the relegation that wasn’t in 2014, ending a campaign that had promised so much at one stage to a chorus of boos and no customary lap around the pitch. It was galling to say the least.
Jon McCarthy, already under scrutiny from some fans for the club’s poor run of form towards the end of the last campaign that saw them fall from seventh to 19th, was facing what seemed an impossible task during the summer ahead.
Six weeks on from Boreham Wood and what a difference has been made.
The deficiencies of last season have been identified and addressed in a manner that has taken many, including myself, by surprise. Had you told me that players such as Paul Turnbull, Ross Hannah, Andy Halls and John McCombe would have been putting pen to paper a couple of months ago then I would have dismissed it as hokum. Shows how much I know.
There were reasons for last season and how it panned out. Not excuses, but reasons why reaching as high as seventh and fixing our gaze on the play-offs was always going to be fanciful.
A need to stick to the smallest budget since we had returned to the National League was one of them, as was the lack of any funds to strengthen in January, resulting in some players turning out for the club on non-contract terms for little more than expenses. Add to that the horrendous luck with injuries to key players and it was always going to be a long haul.
But this is a club that has no benefactor to put their hands in their pocket during lean times, it was a case of having to cut ones cloth accordingly and hoping for the best in order to make sure the good ship Chester FC didn’t head into choppy waters.
Sure, McCarthy will have made some decisions he may have regretted along the way, tactically or otherwise, but the truth is that pretty much only Braintree Town and North Ferriby United were beneath the Blues in terms of spending power last season. It was a season that did not end well for either one of those clubs.
I am no McCarthy apologist or sycophant, I just get to see another side of it sometimes that allows me to at least be reasoned with my judgment.
I am Chester fan, I have been since the first time my dad ever brought me to the Deva Stadium in 1993 for a game against Northampton Town. For the record we won 1-0 thanks to David Pugh. Where this club heads matters to me just as much as any other Blues supporter.
My love for the club can sometimes be a curse in my job, a job where I have to be balanced and not allow myself to get too carried away or caught up in emotion. I’ve probably failed in that respect on a couple of occasions.
But I also see how hard people work behind the scenes, both those who are paid and those who volunteer, and how, for all the rumour, people are striving for the very best for this football club day in, day out.
Given the prevalence of social media in today’s digital world, managers are under scrutiny more than any in history. But that is part of the job and something that has to be taken on the chin. If you are willing to take the plaudits then you must be willing to accept the critics.
Things needed to change on the playing side over the summer, and change they have, for the better.
The pending sale of Sam Hughes has obviously aided the matter of the budget but it still has to be invested wisely and the spending power of the Blues falls once again into the lower reaches.
But bringing Turnbull, Hannah, Halls, McCombe and the likes of Harry White in, as well as retaining promising players such as Alex Lynch and Ryan Astles, means that there is at least something to provide optimism for next season. There has to be a dream and something for fans to cling on to. Each one of those players signed would be of interest to teams battling at the top end of the National League, something that shows this club remains a draw.
McCarthy has been backed by the board this summer and has achieved most of his transfer targets so far and done his business early. Unlike last season, there has been ample time to prepare and that should stand the Blues in good stead.
But the Blues manager will have to start the season well and he knows that.
Despite all the reasons listed behind last season’s woes, August brings with it new challenges and the fact remains that Chester fans will start the campaign without seeing their team win at home for nine months.
Last season had its ups and plenty of downs but when the season starts on August 5 it is a chance for a clean slate and a chance to judge where this Chester side and its management team are at with a little bit of backing.
A ball has yet to be kicked since the end of last season but there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful that this coming season can promise more and by the way the squad is shaping up it looks like it could be our strongest side since being reformed.
Make no mistake, though, that the Blues have to deliver on the pitch and demonstrate that lessons have been learned from the way the last campaign ended but, with their willingness to make positive strides on the playing side and address weak links, they have earned the right to give it another go.