Recently by Madowl Blue
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Oh dear.
There's no escaping from it, it's been a rotten few days for Chester City. A poor run of form, albeit something fans should be used to by now at this time of the season, because it happens every year, has coincided with a potential exodus of players to leave the squad looking frighteningly thread-bare.
The club is trapped in a vicious circle right now, where a reduction in fans led to a lower wage cap, so the squad has to get smaller, so the manager's options are increasingly limited, so the results are poor, so there is a reduction in fans, which leads to a lower wage cap, so....well, you get the picture. Add to the pot a 'credit crunch' (you might have read about it once or twice in the news), a deserted City FC shop on Watergate Street - save for the poor staff who work there - and the reasons for cost-cutting mount up.
Trouble is, this ever-tightening noose is so restrictive now, it's difficult to see how the club can recover from this so-far so-poor season. Numbers are down to about 20 for the squad, including long-term injured Stephen Vaughan. The depth, sad to say, is just not there.
It all means manager Mark Wright can only do so much, repeating his tactic of three seasons ago of trying to force narrow wins and scrape to get the points required for safety. But his hands are tied from not being able to bring any new blood into the squad during the January transfer window (unless he can get something in the loan market pronto. Someone. Anyone!), and not having many options on the subs bench means the tactics will always be pretty one-dimensional.
What is worrying is the club could still yet sucked into a relegation scrap, with Bournemouth certainly not out for the count just yet in their efforts to overcome their pre-season 17-point deduction.
Inevitably, fingers of blame get pointed at all ends in terms of who is responsible for this gradual spiral of doom occurring in the first place. The truth is there have been several factors, but naming and shaming won't bring the hundreds of disillusioned fans back to the Deva Stadium.
Right now, there is great concern if the club doesn't improve its current trend, it'll be playing in the Blue Square Premier (or whatever the Conference will be sponsored by), if not this season, then probably next.
Perhaps circumstances will change radically. This is Chester City, after all, where you should expect the unexpected. The club is still up for sale, for one thing...
Chester City's draw against Lincoln City was a well-earned point, given the threadbare squad Mark Wright had at his disposal, owing to injuries and suspensions.
City's squad is not plentiful in numbers at the best of times nowadays, and the lack in depth was sorely highlighted by a midweek Cheshire Premier Cup defeat, where a bunch of youngsters City seemed to cobble together willy-nilly, mixed with a couple of recognised faces, ended in a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Crewe, who were able to field several first-team players. It was an out and out rout.
Still, despite the woeful result in the week, Tony Dinning must've done something in that match to prove himself worthy of being in the starting XI for Saturday's encounter. Fortunate for him, fortunate for the team, as his little free-kick provided the assist for Anthony Barry's super 25-yard strike.
Youngster Ben Jones was also able to get a little matchday experience toward the end, even if it was a bit of a surprise for him to be picked to come on ahead of Paul Rutherford.
Overall, the hard-fought point was convenient, especially with other sides below winning and leaving Chester now 15 points clear of the relegation zone. A few more battling 'moral victories' will be required to ensure safety in League Two for this season though...
With there being a lack of action both on and off the pitch at Chester City right now, I've been spending the week taking part in a successful virtual experiment that could see the club gain promotion by the end of this season.
Yes, I've been playing Fifa 09 on my PC, one of the better football games to come out in the past few years for the platform, and took charge of Chester City in manager mode, with the hope I could last longer than any of the real-life gaffers this decade.
Now, I should point out here the game isn't *totally* realistic. The stadium is almost always full to bursting, Paul Taylor is still in the squad (although, luckily for the purposes of this experiment, he sustained a cruciate ligament injury early on and missed the rest of the season), and no matches are called off due to frozen pitches. Oh, and the board kept reminding me to play Tony Dinning because he was a 'fans' favourite'. Make of that what you will.
Anyway, I went on to act out almost a carbon copy of recent managers' efforts, in that I started out strong, collected about 30 points and put myself in play-off contention, before taking one point out of seven games as my exhausted squad tumbled down the table. So far, so very City.
Luckily, the January transfer window opened, and here is where the secret of my (and hopefully the real life Chester City, if anyone from the club is reading) success began. Searching around the market, no player would come to the club on a permanent deal, so I searched the loan market instead.
And there he was. An £870,000 superstar who was happy to be paid just £2,200 a match during his time from January to the end of the season.
His name was simply Léo, a 16-year-old attacking midfielder from Fluminense in the Brazilian league. Right-footed, and - get this - an impressive sprint speed of 71% and acceleration of 69%, because that's what scouts look out for, they can rate how quick a footballer is in percentage points.
Since the successful loan deal (I'm not quite sure how he adapted moving from Brazil to the UK in winter, but he seemed to cope quite well), Léo scored no less than 60 goals as Chester soared up the table, the fans delighted to pack into the stadium and help fund another tier on the Vaughan stand (it was more real than the proposed development at the Deva will ever be, I suspect). The club eventually finished a comfortable 11 points clear at the top of the table and won promotion to League One.
As a bonus, the club also won the FA Cup, thrashing Nottingham Forest in the semi-final 6-1 and narrowly beating Chelsea in the final 2-1.
In conclusion, I urge Mark Wright and Stephen Vaughan to track down this Brazilian star of the future and sign him before the end of this month. The only thing that's standing in the way, as far as I can tell, is just easing the wage cap bill be removing Mannix, Butler, Dinning and Johnson. After that, you may as well start making preparations for expanding the trophy room...
A new calendar year means only one thing for football clubs these days, and that's the opening of the transfer window, and with it the chance to rejuvenate flagging squads with an injection of fluid talent to bolster the team's chances of improving their league position.
At least, that's how the theory goes. With a club such as Chester City, the focus is more on retaining a decent enough squad to last throughout the rest of the season. Manager Mark Wright is all too aware of how quickly form turned in January 2007, when several key players left the team, with some shining in their subsequent roles.
The main two from that month had to be Jon Walters and Roberto Martinez. The former was brought in on a free and was sold to Ipswich for a tidy sum that could yet top £400,000 if Walters is sold on to a Premiership club this month.
The move was a big stroke of good fortune for City, of course, as Ipswich only saw how good Walters was when the teams played out two matched in the FA Cup fourth round. City were very lucky to be in the competition after Bury were thrown out for an ineligible player- an experience Droylsden have been able to share recently after they were expelled for the same reason (ironically, with on-loan City player Sean Newton).
Roberto Martinez became manager of Swansea City in February 2007, and a quick peek at the league table says they are settling in nicely mid-table in the Championship, having been champions of League One the previous season with him at the helm.
The main task for Chester City this month, therefore, is to hold on to players such as the in-form Ryan Lowe, promising star Damien Mozika and young talent such as Paul Rutherford.
However, with a decrease in attendances potentially constricting the wage cap limit on the club even further, the squad may have to offload a few names it would want to keep.
Following Chester City is sometimes like a well thought-out panto. Sometimes, you might argue, it's like a tragedy or, if you were to be unkind, a farce. But at this point in the season, with the Christmas season in full swing, surely it's a panto.
Especially with none other than recent villain of the fans, John Batchelor, and his persistence in trying to buy the club put up for sale by Stephen Vaughan.
And Batchelor's vision of a TV fictional team playing at the Deva stadium in an attempt to make the club profitable and sponsor-friendly has not gone down well. "Boo!" "Hiss!" shout the fans, as an undeterred Batchelor nonetheless makes his way to witness the home game against Notts County from within the stadium.
"I'm going to buy this club," says the resilient Batchelor.
"Oh, no he isn't!", shouts Stephen Vaughan from the director's box.
"Oh, yes I will," retorts Batchelor. "We've met on a number of occasions regarding the sale of this club."
"Oh, no we haven't."
"Oh, yes we have."
"Oh, no we haven't."
And so forth.
Meanwhile, a group of overseas investors, led by former City player David Jones, stand outside the stadium, looking puzzled, and shuffle their feet despondently as they walk away from making their own club buyout bid.
They, sadly, have not been entertained. Whether they actually attempted to make a genuine bid or if they really had the financial clout to run a club such as Chester City isn't so relevant now, but their fan-friendly ideas on how they'd run the club were commendable, and made for a more savoury vision of the future than the Dream Team idea.
Because fans are an integral part of the club, and indeed every football league team. That's why it's so gratifying to see City's attendance swell by more than 150 with a visit from children and parents of AFC Waverton (and they picked a good match to go to- a rare convincing home win!). Initiatives like that make the club more popular, and it doesn't take too much time, effort or money if dealt with correctly.
Another bit of positive publicity was generated when ITV reporter 'The Gloryhunter' briefly supported this club as part of his season-long tactic of supporting whichever league team wins the match at the ground he attends. He had been a supporter of Darlington until Chester unexpectedly earned a hard-fought 2-1 win there.
Sadly, his journey with Chester did not last long, as City lost the next game to Bournemouth, but his brief period of gloryhunting at Chester did result in him producing a couple of video blogs on his website (external link).
These videos were largely complimentary affairs and he was able to meet more committed followers of the Blues than him. All good stuff, and can only help raise the profile of the club. Particularly when it's still on the market...
It's been another fascinating week for Chester City, and as usual, the main interest comes from off-pitch matters.
Since Stephen Vaughan slapped a £2m price tag on the club (which by my maths makes it worth about one million Woolworths companies plus one million Honda F1 teams), one interested party has attracted more attention than any other.
Step forward John Batchelor, a man who this week has struck terror into the hearts of all City fans with his frank comments on how he'd run the club. You can read them here in the Chronicle interview (not for the faint of heart).
Doesn't exactly come across as very endearing to the fans, does he? Deep down, beneath my disbelief at the concept of trying to resurrect a Sky TV series which ended last year and erect a real-life Harchester Utd, I admire his brutal honesty, if little else.
Just to detach from him admitting he doesn't "give a monkey's about" Chester City's 120 years of heritage, the idea of Harchester Utd seems flawed to say the least.
OK, there are 27,000 registered 'fans' of the Sky TV series 'Dream Team', but that will not correlate to 27,000 fans of a real-life Harchester Utd.
A recent motor racing concept called Superleague saw teams drive around with liveries of football teams including Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspurs, AC Milan and Rangers, but the grandstands at the tracks they raced on (including the season-opener in British track Donington) were practically empty, because supporters of these clubs didn't much care for the idea of supporting a car which had their team's logo on, and a driver they'd probably never heard of.
I used to watch a cartoon on CITV called The Hurricanes, but would I have supported a real-life football team called that, if they played anywhere up to 600 miles away? No!
And what of the Harchester Utd football team? A look at their (fictional) history says they fought relegation (hm, maybe this club isn't so different after all), qualifying for the Champions League (ah, that's different), and being found guilty of match-fixing and corruption and therefore being demoted a division.
Oh, and then to finish off, an explosion at the club killed many of the players.
I think Chester City's history has enough drama already, thanks.
Stephen Vaughan met Batchelor earlier this week, then said in an interview "under no circumstances would he sell" to him, adding Vaughan had "more chance of taking over at Liverpool than he (Batchelor) has of taking over here," much to the relief of City fans.
Batchelor remains undeterred, but given his ideas and his...questionable past with previous ownership/interest in football clubs (a number of Stockport, Mansfield and York City fans have unmistakable views on what they think of Batchelor), it seems unlikely the 'Dream Team' will be playing at the Deva Stadium anytime soon.
Do you have several million pounds you've been storing under your mattress for a special occasion? Have you found yourself with a little extra to spend following the Government's decision to cut VAT to 15%? Want to make your Christmas a little more magical?
Why not spend your hard-earned cash on something that will make you the talk of the town? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, now is *your* chance to own Chester City, officially ranked as one of the nation's top 100 football clubs!
Now on the market, and situated near a popular commercial district and major transport networks, this charming, detached stadium offers pleasant views of the River Dee and...some fields, as well as being in both England and Wales, a unique feature which you can show off to other football club-owners.
With several careful owners (and some less so, quite frankly), this club has everything you need to be a success - a well-maintained pitch, some floodlights, a bar, a couple of burger stalls, a car park which becomes even more easy to find a space at with each passing season, a shop which is sometimes open and a die-hard core fanbase of 1,200 maniacs who'd support the club through thin and thinner.
There's also a squad of City players who, for the most part, will give it their all for the full 90 minutes, although some get a little discouraged when the team is five goals down...again...
* For further details on this wonderful opportunity to own a football club at a price that's much more affordable than the overly-fancy, so-called 'Premiership' clubs, contact a Mr S Vaughan at the Deva Stadium, Bumpers Lane, Chester. Hurry now, offer might end soon!
"I'm happy here as assistant manager. I'm learning every day, gaining experience. I have no qualms about staying here but it's down to the chief executive, the chairman and of course the new manager. I'm happy here."
Wayne Allison, November 14, 2008, speaking to the Chester Chronicle.
"I wanted to bring people up to date with my situations, as I have now left Chester City. I felt it would be a difficult situation to remain at the club after the change of circumstances, although I must stress that Mark Wright had wanted me to stay on in a coaching capacity and didn't want me to leave."
Wayne Allison, November 16, writing on his blog at mysportsthoughts.com.
Seems to sum up another typical week at the Deva Stadium, really. News of the Chief's depature has come as a mild surprise, and it's sad he didn't stay long enough at the club to carve a name for himself as a potential manager.
But, with the incoming Mark Wright and Steve Bleasdale management team, it appeared to be a case of 'two's company, three's a crowd' and Allison seemed to be the unlucky third wheel.
It's also a shame we never got the chance to see the Chief lace up his football boots and appear for Chester City as a player either. But the best of luck to him for his future - his short tenure at the club didn't get to see much in the way of success on the pitch, but he was popular with the fans.
The continual revolving door seems not to be just limited to managers and assistants, either, with old names potentially making a comeback in the starting XI.
Of course, with numbers limited in the Chester City squad (ever-decreasing attendances resulting in an ever-tighter wage cap mean the squad cannot be too numerous), this could mean outcasts Paul Butler and Tony Dinning could be given another chance to feature.
Not wishing to be unkind, but both will have to produce better performances than the last times they were in a City shirt if they intend to prove themselves worthy of being regular starters.
The acid test for Wright now will be to see if he can ensure City grab a few points before January and, once the transfer window reopens that month, to see who should stay and who should go.
Wright blamed having to sell many key players in the January 2006 transfer window as the main reason for the club's subsequent slump down the table. This is his chance to avenge that, but with the wage cap rule in place, he'll have to do it with one arm tied behind his back...
THE first I'd heard that Mark Wright would be returning to Chester City as manager for the third time, I honestly thought it was a wind-up.
That was until I saw the official website proudly stating the 'Conferance' winning team of Wright and Steve Bleasdale would be back in the driving seat, albeit on a 'non contract basis'.
Whether that means the duo will only be there in a caretaker role, or may lead to a more permanent job at the club, I'm totally unsure. To be honest, I'm totally unsure this was the best possible combination for Chester City no matter how long they'll be there.
Needless to say, message boards have been hives of activity following the bombshell announcement. Some are angry, the majority in disbelief.
True enough, the club was successful under Wright and Bleasdale, winning the Conference and propelling the club back into the football league. Since then, though, Mark Wright left on the eve of the season-opener of the following campaign, before coming back 18 months later to get the club out of a relegation battle. The joy of a five-win streak and escape from relegation was soon tempered by a long series of excruciatingly dull football and negative playing, so much so that Wright left once more.
So can Mark Wright really get the results Chester City need right now, and bring with him the hundreds of disillusioned fans who prefer to do something else with their Saturday afternoons? The first test will begin after Wayne Allison leads the squad out in the home fixture against Morecambe.
Still, might see a few more clean sheets from Chester City now...
SO FAREWELL then, Simon Davies. Manager number 12 since club owner Stephen Vaughan took hold of the reins (if you include the six caretaker roles), and what has been the reaction among fans? Apathy, glumness, and a general 'ho-hum' atmosphere.
It sums up the general mood of the club that hardly anyone is shocked. Absolutely no ill will is meant against Simon Davies, but he never convincingly looked like he'd made the step up from coaching the youth team (where he had shined).
But we've been here before, haven't we? So many times a new manager has attempted to breathe fresh life into the club, they'd get the results for about a month, before a run of bad games would shift them out before the end of the season.
All right, in Simon's case, he unfortunately never had that good run of form to lift spirits among the squad and the fans (a clutch of 0-0 draws, although preserving Chester's league status last season, is hardly awe-inspiring), but such records have become depressing for all concerned.
I wish Simon Davies all the best for his future, and sad that he's yet another manager leaving with a poor-looking record on his CV. Still, it didn't stop ex-gaffer Bobby Williamson going on to become manager of the Ugandan national team, of all places!
Potential managers to head City now include Wayne Allison (most likely the first choice, unless he turns the role down), Steve Bleasdale (former Mark Wright assistant) or Brian Little (who'd have to do better than at the last club he was at....where was it?....somewhere in Wales?....ah yes, those fellas in red).
Whoever the new incumbent is, I wish them the best of luck. They'll certainly need plenty.