Chester is a city in the North-West of England that strays close to the Welsh border. It is a fascinating part of the country, steeped in culture and rife with historical relevance. Once a Roman fort situated in an ideal location on the River Dee, it was named Deva Victrix and remnants of those ancient times are still prevalent within the city to this very day.
The walls that engulf the medieval part of Chester are the most accomplished in the British Isles. And the black and white Tudor houses still stand intact along a quaint cobbled high-street. Not often is the history of a town or city so eminent, but it has been wonderfully preserved here.
It’s a place known and loved for a plethora of reasons, but certainly not for it’s football team. Although that doesn’t meant their story is any less of a fascinating one to tell.
The City’s current team, Chester FC, are currently loitering in the lower reaches of the Conference: the first division outside of the classic Football League. Whilst on the face of it there is nothing overly spectacular about that, the club’s modern history has been without doubt the most turbulent in it’s long existence.
Chester City FC was established back in 1885. They played at the Deva Stadium and were allocated Football League status in 1931. From their first appearance in 1931 up until 2009, the club only spent four years out of the Football League. Famous former players include Ian Rush, Roberto Martinez and Cyrille Regis.
Trouble was brewing a while before the club dropped out of the Football League at the end of the 2009 season. But it was that relegation that sparked a chain of woes both on and off the pitch.
The owner of the club at this point was Stephen Vaughan Jr. His father, Vaughan Snr, had invested heavily in Chester City after taking over back in 2002, but to little avail. From a financial point of view, the club was hopelessly mismanaged and these inadequacies ultimately manifested themselves in real significant fashion during the 2008/09 season.
In January 2009, the club was loitering in the lower reaches of League 2. At this point, with the transfer window open, they should have been rallying; strengthening in order to preserve their league status. But riddled with monetary deficiencies, Chester had to ship out most of their senior players in the window. From the subsequent wreckage of those sales, a team with untried youth players at it’s core were left to battle the drop. Unfortunately, a return to the conference (and non-league football) was inevitable.
That summer, with relegation confirmed, the financial troubles became insurmountable. The club went into voluntary financial administration and were levied with an automatic ten point deduction ahead of the new season. Not long after however, the club was bought back by ‘Chester City Ltd (2004)’, a company set-up by the Vaughan family. For many supporters, this was the final straw. Their purchase stunk of a desperate effort to alleviate debt but for the family to cling onto ‘their’ train-set.
The club struggled to attain affiliation from the FA ahead of the next season after having their company voluntary arrangement rejected. After much deliberation and a vote from the rest of the conference sides, Chester’s affiliation was eventually granted, but at the cost of a further fifteen point deduction.
Was that the wake-up call the club’s hierarchy needed? Not quite. A combination of the previous regime’s frailties and continued paucity at board level meant the death knell was not far off.
Problems were stacking up, and they became embarrassing at the turn of 2010. The playing staff refused to train after not being paid for three months. The police refused to oversee a local derby with Wrexham without payment, which had been long outstanding. And the coach driver for the team’s away trip to Forest Green refused to go anywhere without payment.
The club was on its knees. And after succession of rearranged games, the other teams in the Conference decided that enough was enough. After granting Chester a further 14 day stay of execution, they recommended that they be excommunicated from the Conference. They duly were, and the club was finally wound up over an unpaid tax bill on 10th March 2010, just shy of their 125th anniversary.
A nightmare for the supporters you might think? But ponderous and inconsolable in their grief, quite the opposite in fact. Having been disillusioned by the manner in which their club had been run into the ground for so long, most had undertook a boycott of games long before Chester City was liquidated. Contingency plans had been rattling on for some time with a view to forming a phoenix club, headed by fans group ‘City Fans United’ (CFU).
The timing of the club’s liquidation gave them sufficient time to apply for a license and get their foot back on the footballing ladder ahead of the 2010/11 season. Chester council agreed a lease with the CFU to allow the new club to continue playing at the Deva Stadium, and the club was named Chester FC after a supporters poll.
So Chester FC, a club ran by the by the fans, started their first ever season in the Northern Premier League Division One North, the eight tier of the English football pyramid. Sure it was a reality check for some of the supporters, but it would prove to be another chapter in a pretty incredible journey.
Since inception, Chester FC have gone from strength to strength. They were promoted in their first season after a dramatic final day, in which Chester FC lost 2-1 and second place Skelmersdale won 7-2, coming just two goals short of a dramatic eight goal swing: they trailed by three points and were eight goals behind on goal difference going into the final day.
In their second season, they were promoted again. This time in much more comfortable fashion. The club finished the campaign with 100 points, 17 clear of their nearest challenger. At this point, the team’s attendances were on the up too. Locals were rallying behind the fan initiative and the Deva Stadium was starting to draw in crowds of 4,000 plus. A staggering difference when compared to the paltry attendances of circa 500 during the final knockings of the Vaughan family’s tenure.
Quite remarkably, the club’s golden run didn’t end there either. Led by their new boss Neil Young, Chester FC finished comfortably clear at the top of the Blue Square North Division acquiring 100 points and scoring 100 goals for the second consecutive season.
At this juncture Chester FC find themselves in the conference just three years after Chester City FC were expelled from that very division. Granted, despite being many pundit’s tip to secure a fourth successive promotion, they are currently languishing third from bottom in the division. Results started poorly, but they are unbeaten in their last three games having acquired the services of former Stoke player Danny Higginbotham and look to be moving in the right direction
But it could be worse, as these fans know. At least they have a team to watch on a Saturday afternoon. At least club that is financially stable. At least supporters are flocking in to get behind a young, galvanized side filled with local talent.
Most importantly of all though for this set of suffering supporters, after all of their financial tribulations and ownership wrangles, the club is theirs in again. In every sense of the word.
For more information about Chester FC, visit their website: http://www.chesterfc.com
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