YET another turbulent week at the Deva Stadium came to a head yesterday after the visit of Eastbourne was controversially abandoned following two on-pitch protests against Stephen Vaughan.
The decision to abandon the game came on Cheshire Police advice after both teams and referee had exited the field moments after the Blues had gone in front, for the third time, in the 72nd minute. A second pitch invasion of a dramatic afternoon was said to have caused safety concerns to players and the 869 supporters in attendance.
A 20-strong first-half protest, when City led 2-1, had been dealt with by stewards. Protesters ran on to the pitch with banners calling for the removal of Vaughan from the crisis-hit club, accompanied by ‘Vaughan out’ chants from the Vaughan Stand. Stewards escorted the supporters off the pitch, placing them back in the Vaughan Stand before play resumed.
Although Vaughan declared in an interview before the match that he had effectively ‘retired’ from football but aimed to still put money into the club despite his 11-year director’s ban for an alleged VAT fraud, that did not deter protesters from expressing their anger at how the club has sunk to its lowest level in existence.
It is unclear what the repercussions will be from the protest and what effect it may have for tomorrow’s crunch meeting of the football authorities to discuss Chester’s footballing debts.
The Blues, who are under a transfer embargo and have lost four key first-team players recently, have been threatened with expulsion from the Blue Square Premier if they do not come up with the money by tomorrow.Related content
In the match, City started brightly in what was an entertaining end-to-end game, taking the lead after just five minutes with a superb Anthony Barry free kick from 20 yards, before a defensive mix-up a three minutes later led to Liam Enver-Marum firing in a powerful 25-yard equaliser.
After 18 minutes, Nick Chadwick squandered the chance to put Chester ahead once more, forcing Dan Knowles into making two great saves.
But Chadwick made amends when, in the 28th minute, neat play around Eastbourne’s 18-yard area between himself, Mark Beesley and Lloyd Ellams, allowed rookie Ellams to fire home to give Chester a deserved advantage.
Play was then interrupted while the first protest took place, which served to knock the Blues out of their rhythm, emphasised when John Danby dropped the ball from a Borough corner, allowing Kayne McLaggon to score from six yards.
In a second half which saw fewer clear cut chances, City piled on the pressure and took the lead when Beesley charged down the left wing before providing an inch-perfect inswinging cross for Chadwick to head in.
Sixty seconds later and the game was abandoned.
Chester manager Jim Harvey, whose rock-bottom side are 23 points from safety, said: "I’m disappointed that it was called off. As far as I was concerned there was no threat to the players on the field, but the referee said the police had come and said to call it off and that was it. I don’t think it should have been abandoned – I think it should have carried on.
"We’re here to play football and today the boys were excellent. We were looking to go on and win it today and for the game to be abandoned was really disappointing.
"We’re all a bit bemused about it, and you have to think of the consequences, because it’s not going to help anyone in Chester."
Blues managing director Bob Gray said he was "totally upset" by the way event unfolded.
He added: "The police said it (the decision to abandon the game) was made in the best interest at the time, and certainly not our decision. There are loyal supporters who vent their anger in better ways than we have seen here today.
"But we are sympathetic, we don’t hold grudges. We understand their frustrations and why the demonstration has taken place but, next week, give them a slap on the wrist and don’t do it again."
Official supporters club stalwart Barrie Hipkiss added: "I know they’ve got frustrations, but the way they’ve let it out doesn’t help the club at all, because now I can see us having a hefty fine, and what the league will think on this now with the meeting coming up, it does concern me.
"The club desperately needs stability on and off the field and until we achieve that I can’t see us going anywhere. I appreciate what Stephen Vaughan has done, but this is worse than the Terry Smith days. The club is at it’s lowest ebb."
Page 2 - A fan's account of what happened:
A Fan's View
Having witnessed first hand the events at the Deva Stadium all I can say is heaven help us if there is ever a major disturbance that requires handling by our police.
In no way do I condone the actions of the protesting element in the crowd but it was so noticeable that when the first encroachment onto the pitch occurred the two police officers and stewards dealt with it quickly and in a calm manner. The two police officers appeared to talk to the people involved and it was dealt with with very little fuss.
When the incident occurred in the second half what a different story. Police officers and dogs arrived in such numbers that there were almost as many of them as there were protestors and yet they appeared to be totally lacking any leadership.
There seemed to be no attempt to reason with the protestors or indeed any warning over the tannoy that their actions could cause the game to be abandoned. Was the officer in charge really saying that the police present were incapable of keeping what was a relatively small group of teenagers under control for twenty minutes until the game was completed?
At no stage did there appear to be any danger to either players, officials or spectators and did they for one minute consider the small band of Eastbourne fans who had made the long journey north.
The actions of the protestors did not help the Chester cause but the actions or inaction of the police was totally disproportionate to the situation.
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- I totally agree with 'Fans View' about the disproportionate response by the police to the second protest when three or four young fans ran on to the pitch. Whilst it was understandable that the referee should remove players from the pitch until the non-violent protesters were rounded up it should not have necessitated the abandonment of the game. If this is the type of response required to a peaceful protest then pity help us in a real emergency. The authorities should be more concerned over the cause of the protesters than punishing the few who took part. If they did more to prevent some people from taking control of and sullying the good names of decent little football clubs, like Chester City, then there would be no need for protests.