The phoney war is over... now let the real battle commence.
After an encouraging pre-season, which concluded with an impressive performance against Port Vale on Saturday, Chester FC get their campaign under way this weekend.
And, ahead of the trip to Solihull Moors, we asked our fans' jury members for their hopes and expectations for the season ahead. Here's what they had to say...
"As a long time Chester supporter I've now been conditioned to adopt the 'glass half empty' attitude and retain the lowest of expectations. Too many times I've been giddy with excitement, only to have my hopes for the season cruelly dashed, sometimes even before the end of the opening game.
"I've watched the Blues in a couple of pre-season matches and liked what I saw. I think Harry White is a brilliant find: he looks a proper striker, strong and direct, but with a good first touch. And although the squad looks a bit thin in places (defence in particular is a bit of a worry), I like Macca's recruitment.
"With this in mind I'm hoping Chester can get a top-half finish in the National League and a decent run in a cup (heaven knows we're overdue one).
"I know plenty of bookmakers are predicting us to get relegated, but I genuinely expect us to finish higher than last season. I hope Jon McCarthy pins some of the bookies' predicted tables on the dressing room walls, as proving the experts wrong can be quite a motivational tool.
"I also hope the feel-good atmosphere around the club lasts all season. Season ticket sales have been brilliant, new sponsors announced and there is a real buzz about the place.
"Chester FC is like an extended family: everybody has their own opinions as to how the club should be run and the team should play. We're a passionate bunch, but with our feet firmly on the ground, unlike our emotionally incontinent neighbours down the A483. I just hope we demonstrate a bit of patience with the team and we all stick together and really get behind the boys. COYB."
"I am really excited for the new season and I can't wait to start it off with an away trip to Solihull Moors next Saturday. A reason why I am more excited this year is because of the players which have been brought in over the summer. From the returns of Ross Hannah and Kingsley James, and to exciting signings such as Harry White, Andy Halls and John McCombe, our squad is a lot stronger than last season, which means we can push on.
"Not many people were expecting us to sign the quality of these players, but Jon McCarthy needs to be thanked for this by giving the fans some hope and optimism for the new season, rather than apathy and despair which lingered over the end of last season. As shown in pre-season, Harry White has an eye for goal, Andy Halls has been impressive, John McCombe has looked solid, Lucas Dawson can pick out a good pass, and Paul Turnbull can get stuck in. Some of these were lacking a few months ago, however, we look a lot fresher now and hungry to achieve.
"Maybe McCarthy has made one or two blunders in the press recently, but it is what happens ON the pitch what matters and we need to get behind the boys right from the first whistle at Solihull until the final whistle at Barrow. Forget what went wrong from January-April, we should look forward to a fresh start with a much improved team.
"Also, I should note the excellent work which has been going on behind the scenes, such as the new website, the promising season ticket campaign, and the immaculate new pitch.
"For this season, I expect us to kick on from last season and finish in a significantly higher position. Of course, our aim is to always stay clear of the relegation zone, but I have an optimistic feeling about this season. I honestly think that we can finish in the top 10 and maybe even push for the play-offs.
"Anyway, I am looking forward to following the Blues up and down the country, home and away for my eighth season now, and I have never been as excited. Hopefully this season will produce something exciting with some special memories to treasure. Here's to a rollercoaster...
COME ON YOU BLUES!"
"Having not seen any of the pre-season friendlies it's difficult to know what to expect this season, but the Port Vale game seems to have provided some momentum and a real feel-good factor leading into the season opener at Solihull.
"On the face of it the squad looks stronger, especially in midfield, which should make us a lot more solid and competitive, providing a good platform for what looks an exciting, in-depth forward line. My concern is at the back where we look to be lacking cover. Hopefully in this area we can utilise the loan market to good effect and keep our fingers crossed that we avoid too many injuries.
"I think we can look forward to a solid mid-table finish. From there my hopes are that we can be consistently competitive and entertaining to watch, hence maintaining decent attendances throughout the season. Throw in a little cup run and perhaps another of the young lads making a name for himself, and this could be a season where we put a bit more money in the kitty to be able to build and have a real good go at a play-off position the following season.
"For me, we’re not quite there yet, but I’d happily be proven wrong. COYB!"
"It was clear that the team lacked leaders and experience on the pitch towards the end of last season, but this appears to have been rectified with the addition of some impressive experienced professionals over the close season, no doubt boosted by the sale of Sam Hughes.
"I hope the team can go on to have a stable season with a decent home record playing some decent football.
"With the play-offs now extended to the top seven, it will certainly make the league more competitive than ever.
"Whilst the squad has been improved with quality and experience, I do fear that we lack the depth in strength at the moment. If we have another season of injuries and suspensions like the last one, then the squad will certainly be tested to the max."
"With the new season less than a week away, I am looking forward to it as much as I have each summer for over 30 years. During that period, the one consistent is that this is always a time for optimism. If you aren't optimistic in August, why bother? The only question is how long before the optimism fades and reality sets in. The key to a good season for all cubs is harnessing this positivity and keeping it going. As we saw last year, a great first part of the season can soon evaporate, leaving only frustration on the terraces, which inevitably further affects the performances on the pitch.
"The squad has seen some much-needed rebuilding. Firstly the return of two past players from recent mediocre seasons would not ordinarily be a cause for optimism. However, both Ross Hannah and Kingsley James were good performers in poor teams and firm fan favourites. Their re-signing therefore is a huge positive not just on the playing side but also as players the fans know will perform. Both players will be an improvement on the pitch.
"Our other signings are the usual mix of players seasoned at this level and young prospects. Up front the addition of Nyal Bell and Harry White will provide real competition for places with Hannah and a fit-again Akintunde.
"In the middle, Paul Turnbull comes highly rated from Barrow and I would expect him to feature heavily alongside James. Lucas Dawson showed flashes of what he is capable of at the end of last year and I hope he can start to reach his potential early in the coming season. In defence the departure of Sam Hughes, while a ringing endorsement for everyone involved in his development over his time at Chester, left a large gap to be filled. The signings of Nathaniel Rowe-Turner, Andy Halls and John McCombe add experience and size to the defence.
"Given the paucity of choice we had up front last year, I look forward to having forwards competing to be in the starting 11, which can only be a cause for optimism. Similarly in midfield, where one wonders how the manager can settle on a formation that can accommodate the essential workmanlike job that the likes of James will do alongside the sort of creativity available from players such as Dawson, Craig Mahon and Jordan Chappell.
"Seeing three youth players graduate to the first team squad to join Matty Waters reflects well on the club's growing ability to start developing our own players. The difference unearthing a quality player or two and selling them on can have is essential to the fan-owned model. Inevitably not all will achieve the level that Sam Hughes has but I am looking forward to see what Nathan Brown, Tom Crawford and James Jones can do when they get their chance.
"I would really like to see the season start with a continuation of the positivity that has built up over the summer following the dire second half of last year. The transfer activity was mostly done early and looks to have strengthened the squad. Season ticket sales have been very good, which shows that there is a healthy fanbase for the club to continue to build upon. Pre-season has gone well enough, too, although I say this from afar as I haven't been to any of the games. So far, so positive.
"This leaves just the coaching side. This has been strengthened by the promotion of Tom Shaw, who will be able to give Jon McCarthy some support in the dugout each week as well as his coaching. I hope that promoting a senior player to this role has the same effect on the pitch as it seemed to at the start of last year when Ian Sharps did the same. While there was much clamour for the manager’s head, the fact is that he is still in charge and everyone should get behind him and the players. They are our team, so should get our full support when they are representing us. Anything less, particularly a this stage, really is self-defeating.
"How optimistic should we be? Well, as a fan-owned club in a league of well-funded opposition, I think that establishing ourselves as solidly mid-table with a cup run is what we should hope for. Those newly extended play-off places are not too much of a stretch from mid-table though…….
"Most importantly, lets win that first home game. COYB."
"My hopes and expectations for next season is to see some progress. We've seen progress off the field this summer, and now we need to see some on the pitch. Avoiding relegation is the bare minimum for me; I want to see this team push higher and hold their place in mid-table.
"A few years back we finished 12th and I had hoped we could use that as a foundation to really start pushing for the play-offs, but it wasn't to be. I do believe this squad is capable of bettering 12th.
"In terms of our attacking options, we are sorted. Hannah and White appeared to be the stand-out two, but now Bell and Akintunde are pushing their case for a start. It's a nice selection dilemma to have; one we didn't have at our disposable last season.
"That is progress, now let's see some more! Here's to an exciting season. COYB!"
Our Chester FC Fans' Jury will be running throughout the season and if you are interested in becoming part of it you can email email@example.com.