HEROES from Chester City’s past have reacted with a mixture of disbelief, despair and shock to the news that their old team could be kicked out of the league if their football-related debts are not paid by Monday.
The club’s very existence is, once again, under threat but the Blues won’t go down without a fight – and some of the most celebrated players in their 124-year history are eager to lend their support in any way they can.
Among those vowing to stand shoulder to shoulder with the fans in their hour of need is Gary Talbot.
The 71-year-old, one of the most feared marksmen to ever play for the club, struggles to comprehend just how dire the situation has become.
“It’s just not right at all,” said Talbot, who bagged more than 100 goals for Chester during two spells in the 1960s. “I can’t believe it’s happening. The support for Chester is fantastic. They’re wonderful supporters and they don’t deserve what’s happening.
“It’s totally wrong and it’s not fair on the Chester supporters.”
Talbot, who lives in Eccleston, has attended crisis meetings held by fans in recent months, showing his support for those who are trying to rally round to halt the club’s side. He went along because he feels he owes a debt of gratitude to the Blues supporters who used to chant his name from the Sealand Road terraces.
“When I came down to Chester 40 years ago, the fans took a big interest in me,” said Talbot. “So I’m taking an interest in them now and trying to pay something back.”
Striker Alan Tarbuck, who had a successful two-year spell with Chester at the start of the 1970s, has one word to sum up the mess his old team is in – “embarrassing”. The 62-year-old, who is working hard to raise the profile of the club as a key member of Chester’s newly-formed past players’ association, cannot see how the Blues can pull themselves out of the mire.
Tarbuck, now working at the Dickens car dealership in Wrexham, said: “As ex-players, myself, Gary Talbot and Grenville Millington have talked about it and we need to go forward – and I say that as supporter and an ex-player.
“We just need to go forward, but what can we do? What is the answer?”
Another 70s hero, goalkeeper Grenville Millington, has sympathy for both the fans and the staff at the Deva Stadium, all of whom have been hit hard by the club’s financial troubles.
“I always feel sorry for the staff who are there – the players and backroom staff who have to put up with it all,” said Millington, 57, who was eager to thank club officials for their support of the past players’ association. “It’s all very sad for them and whether they can see a way out, I’m not sure. Where do they go?”
The Blues’ all-time leading scorer Stuart Rimmer was shocked to learn the full extent of his former club’s problems.
Work commitments mean he is unable to attend a legends night for former Chester players next week, but he has met members of City Fans United – the group behind the event – to sign items for a fundraising auction.
“It’s obviously a sad situation and I just hope it all gets sorted out,” said Southport-based Rimmer, 45. “It’s a shame I can’t make it next week but I’m happy to do anything to help the fans and hopefully I can make it over to Chester soon.”
Rimmer’s former strike partner Gary Bennett, a colourful and sometimes controversial character from the Harry McNally era, still holds Chester in high regard despite a later spell playing for bitter rivals Wrexham.
The 47-year-old said: “It seems to have gone from bad to worse and there seems no end to it. There are that many off-the-field troubles at Chester that it’s very difficult to get it right on the pitch. I’ve got a lot of respect for Jim Harvey but it’s difficult when your hands are tied.”
Bennett, who earned his place in Chester folklore with two goals in a memorable 2-1 FA Cup third round victory at Wrexham in 1987, added: “They are staring down the barrel with relegation a big possibility. Where does the club go from there?
“You couldn’t rule out the club completely folding and that would be a travesty.
“People always say that Chester is not a football town, but the football club has been a part of that city for years and years and it would be a big, big shame to lose it.”
Peter Jackson, a stalwart centre-back and captain for the Blues in the mid-1990s, came up against his old club last season while he was manager of Lincoln City. He had no idea at the time just how far Chester would slide.
“Things seemed to be going OK then, but in the space of 12 months it’s fallen apart,” said Jackson, who parted company with the Imps in September. “It’s sad to see a side go like that, but when it’s one of your former sides, it makes it even worse.”
The 48-year-old, who was Chester’s player of the season in the 1995-96 campaign, added: “It’s always the fans who have been paying their money over the years who get hit worse. I’ve got a close relationship with a lot of Chester fans – we had a good rapport – so you feel for them.”
Iain Jenkins, who played in the same defence as Jackson, was one of the most popular Chester players of the 1990s. During his five-year stay, he experienced the thrill of promotion as well as play-off heartache and the crushing blow of relegation. Life off the field was rarely dull back then either.
There was even a period in the mid-90s when City’s players were paid late – and it is no secret that the current Deva Stadium regime has struggled, on occasions, to ensure Harvey’s squad is paid on time.
Jenkins, 37, said: “If I can say anything to the players, it is go out and play for yourself because, no matter what’s going on off the field, if you’re performing you can easily get picked up by another club.
“They’ve got a job to do – continue to do it. The moment you are unprofessional, no matter what’s going on, fingers will get pointed at you.”
Jenkins has not been in good health since he hung up his boots. He suffers from arthritis and a circulation disorder called Raynaud’s disease, which led to him having a toe amputated.
Now fully recovered but having to take modifying drugs for the rest of his life, he is enjoying success as assistant manager of Scottish League Division Two leaders Cowdenbeath.
Like Jenkins, popular striker Luke Beckett went through some hard times at the Deva – notably relegation to the Conference in 2000.
He is dismayed to see his old team back in the non-league wilderness and in danger of slipping even further down the pyramid.
“It’s a shame. I loved my time at Chester,” said 33-year-old Beckett, one of the best strikers to play for City in the last decade. “It was a nice club. The 2,000 fans who went were fantastic to me and to the club. I’ve followed them ever since.”
Beckett, who now combines playing for Gainsborough Trinity in Blue Square North with studying for a sports massage degree, added: “Hopefully it will all work out for them and they get another stay of execution.
“To not have a football club would leave a big hole in a lot of people’s lives.”
Not for the first time, Beckett is bang on target. The implications for City if they miss Monday’s payment are huge and nobody connected with the club – from the fans to its former players – will rest easy until the future of the Blues is assured.