Wembley remains a venue that has eluded Chester FC throughout their 132-year history.

But there have been moments when we have come close to achieving that dream, and 20 years ago to this day was one of those moments.

A crowd of over 5,000 had packed in to the Deva Stadium on Sunday, May 11, 1997, as Chester City played host to Swansea City in the first leg of the Division Three play-off semi-final.

Kevin Ratcliffe’s side had finished the season in sixth place, one place ahead of Cardiff City, after a strong season while the Swans had ended the season in fifth spot, one point ahead of Chester with 71.

At the end of the 1996/97 Division Three season, Chester finished above Cardiff, Hull City and Brighton & Hove Albion while Wigan Athletic and Fulham occupied the top two spots.

It was a clash that would see two Merseyside legends come up against each other on the touchline.

Former Everton captain Ratcliffe had worked wonders with the Blues on limited funds and helped steer them through some choppy waters while Swansea boss Jan Molby, revered on Merseyside for his time at Liverpool, had overseen a good campaign for the South Walians.

Molby and Ratcliffe may have shared a battle or two while in opposite corners during their playing days but the 0-0 stalemate at the Deva on that Sunday afternoon was as tense and fraught as any Merseyside derby.

It was a game where neither side gave an inch and the atmosphere beforehand was febrile.

Swans striker Jonathon Coates could have shattered the deadlock as early as the fourth minute when Steve Torpey crossed from the right but the un-marked Coates saw his tame shot pushed behind for a corner by home keeper Ronnie Sinclair, back after injury.

The match then exploded into life after eleven minutes when Chester’s tough-tackling midfielder Shaun Reid went in hard on David Penney. The Swansea bench, led by an incensed Molby, leapt to their feet baying for action from referee Clive Wilkes but Reid escaped with a booking.

Swansea’s experienced keeper Roger Freestone needed to wait just another four minutes before enjoying his first taste of the action.

On-loan Sunderland winger Sam Aiston caused all sorts of trouble down the left wing before curling in a teasing shot but Freestone was equal to the effort.

The matchday programme

A minute before half-time, Chester thought they had broken through when David Flitcroft slammed the ball into the back after pouncing on Rod McDonald’s partially cleared shot. But Chester’s fans were in despair as the linesman ruled McDonald offside.

The second-half was packed with incident, referee Wilkes adding five more names to his notebook.

Swansea had come out after the break sensing the game could be won and looked the more likely of the two sides to be take an advantage into the second leg.

Substitute Carl Heggs, who would go on to play for Chester in the 1999/2000 season, spurned two glorious chances to put the game to bed ahead of the second leg at the Vetch Field.

On 72 minutes he robbed Reid 30 yards out from goal, battled through to the edge of the box but he fired his shot wide of the post. Then seven minutes from time, Freestone lauched a long goal kick which found Heggs but after drifting into the area he failed to even test Sinclair as his weak effort drifted harmlessly wide of an upright.

Referee Wilkes blew his whistle to bring an end to proceedings and leave the tie on a knife edge.

But the drama was far from done and the second leg three days later would prove a feisty and bad tempered affair that saw Chris Priest sent off in Swansea as the hosts ran out 3-0 winners to crush Chester’s Wembley dream.

Swansea’s joy would be short lived, though, as they would eventually go on to lose in the play-off final at Wembley to Northampton Town, then managed by future Chester City manager Ian Atkins.

CHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Sinclair, Davidson, Jenkins, Reid, Woods, Alsford, Flitcroft, Priest , McDonald, Milner, Aiston. Subs not used: Fisher, Brown, Rimmer.

SWANSEA CITY (4-4-2): Freestone, Thomas (Heggs 55), Moreira, Walker, Edwards, Jones, Appleby, Penney, Torpey, Ampadu, Coates. Subs not used: Chapple, Jenkins.

REFEREE: C.R. Wilkes (Gloucester).