As 2010 draws to a close, the time has come to reflect on the most traumatic, tumultuous and triumphant 12 months in the history of football in this city. In the first of his two-part review of the year, DAVID TRIGGS charts the tragic demise of Chester City and the rebirth of the supporter-owned Chester FC – in the words of those who made the headlines.
“We are surprised, disappointed and shocked at events taking place at the Deva Stadium.”
– a new year failed to bring new hope, as supporters group City Fans United issued an angry statement reacting to the news that Morell Maison had been put in charge of the day-to-day running of Chester City. Maison, who was in talks to buy the Blues from the Vaughan family, oversaw a disastrous spell as manager and owner of Halesowen Town.
“I was desperate to get out of Chester. The players aren’t getting paid a penny, we’re getting beat week in, week out, and it seems to be getting even worse there.”
– midfielder Anthony Barry spoke out about Chester’s woes when he escaped the chaos and signed for Wrexham.
“They work all week and live for watching their football club at the weekend, so it must be very difficult for them to see the state their club is in.”
– popular manager Jim Harvey, first casualty of the Maison regime, felt more for the fans than himself when he lost his job.
“We didn’t make a penny on the gate and that’s unfortunate.”
– Blues director Bob Gray was in downbeat mood when a CFU-backed boycott saw only 425 fans turned up to watch the home match with Salisbury. It was the lowest ever attendance recorded for a home league fixture at Chester.
“I am sick to my stomach and it gets me completely down thinking about all our problems.”
– stalwart supporter Barrie Hipkiss summed up the feelings of all fans just days after Chester narrowly avoided being wound up in the High Court over an unpaid £26,125 tax bill. The Blues were given a 42-day reprieve but ongoing cash problems saw them fail to fulfil fixtures against Forest Green and Wrexham.
“CFU are a bunch of idiots who are hell-bent on destroying this football club. When you’re meeting in bingo halls, do you need taking seriously?”
– Blues owner Stephen Vaughan’s now-infamous rant at the club’s fans was broadcast in an interview on Sky Sports News. The ‘bingo hall’ was in fact the Guildhall – one of Chester’s finest buildings and venue for a well-attended CFU crisis meeting.
“Friday’s events are unparalleled in the history of our national sport and it is with much regret these circumstances have evolved.”
– an official statement from the Football Conference confirmed what all fans had been dreading – Chester’s expulsion from the league following a vote by member clubs. The Blues had broken five competition rules. Enough was enough, and the club’s record was expunged. Their last match was a 2-1 home loss to Ebbsfleet on February 6, watched by just 388 fans.
“One-hundred and twenty-five years of history have been extinguished today but that’s just the body of the club – the soul lives on.”
– expulsion, then extinction. But CFU board member David Evans was defiant after seeing his beloved club wound up at the High Court in London. Chester City FC was officially pronounced dead in a 30-second hearing at 11.05am on Wednesday, March 10.
“You have killed our club but not our spirit.”
– this message, addressed to Stephen Vaughan, was written by lifelong Blues fan Ian Silcock and pinned on the gates of the Deva Stadium. The council-owned ground was quickly repossessed, but the fans were already getting ready to build a new club of their own.
“Now we can well and truly prepare for the future, but carrying an important piece of history with us.”
– with the old Chester City officially no more, CFU press officer Jeff Banks looked forward to the task of creating a fan-owned ‘phoenix club’. Blues supporters voted overwhelmingly in favour of christening the ‘new’ team Chester FC – the title the old club held for most of its 125-year history.
“We’ve got complete confidence in our business plan and we’re confident the council will view CFU as the right choice.”
– Banks was sure CFU’s bid to win the all-important lease for the Deva Stadium from the council would be a success. CFU and its 1,500-strong membership faced unwanted competition from a mystery Danish consortium who wanted to establish a football club in the city.
“IT MUST BE CFU!”
– on the day council officials were due to meet both interested parties, The Chronicle threw its support behind the CFU bid with this back-page headline and an impassioned plea to side with the supporters, rather than the Danes.
“It was the panel’s unanimous view that City Fans United were further advanced in terms of required management structure. Without doubt, their pride in the club is unrivalled.”
– the words of council chief executive Steve Robinson were music to the ears of all Blues fans as the announcement was made on May 5 that CFU had won the keys to the Deva Stadium – the single most crucial step in reestablishing a senior football team in Chester.
“This is your club. Everything is yours and without you it won’t work.”
– Chris Pilsbury, chairman of the CFU group responsible for reviving the Blues, spelt out what it meant to be involved in a supporter-owned club when he addressed more than 500 fans at Chester’s Guildhall. It was the start of a new era for football in the city.
“This club has got massive potential. It’s got everything here.”
– a new club needed a new manager and the relatively unknown Neil Young had no hesitation in ending a hugely successful spell at Colwyn Bay to become the first boss of the revived Chester FC.
“It terms of our climb back up the league, this has saved us two or more years.”
– Blues chief executive Steve Ashton led a successful appeal against the FA’s decision to place Chester FC in the North West Counties League. Ashton argued that the club should begin life higher up the non-league ladder – and an FA panel agreed, ‘promoting’ them to the Evo-Stik League.
See next week’s Chronicle for part two: July-December.