Recently by Madowl Blue
We're 10 games into Chester FC's league campaign now, and so far it's gone quite well. OK, the team is one place lower than most fans would like the club to be, but it's early days yet, and there's still a long way to go to overtake our new bitter rivals Chorley!
It is easy to take for granted the fact this team, and the whole management structure, are all-new, given the players have won seven of their 10 Evostik Division One North matches. Possibly because in the last few Chester City FC seasons the squad kept chopping and changing every summer anyway.
Nonetheless, for Chester FC to maintain the momentum, it's vital the team keep putting pressure on the opposition. There have been too many matches so far this season where the first half has been a bit lacking, with the team unable to get a strangehold on the game.
It's a bit like when I was watching my 'other' sport, Formula One, through my bleary eyes at silly-o-clock on Sunday morning, to see Lewis Hamilton struggling without third gear in the Japan Grand Prix. And that, to bring home a slightly dodgy analogy, is what Chester FC are missing too. They are either right up to speed and scoring goals for fun (particularly via the impressive Michael Wilde), or they get held to 0-0 at half-time by Harrogate Railway Athletic, who currently prop up the table.
Minor quibbles aside, it's absolutely great to see how many fans continue to support the club both home and away, even after the initial novelty has faded. The initial budgeted average home crowd figure of 1,100 is beginning to look quite tiny...
It has been a while since I last blogged on the Chronicle's Deva Fever page, and in that time, one or two things have happened at the club...
One of the reasons I had not contributed to this page so often over the past year or so was the sheer depression at the state Chester City FC (as it was then) had plunged into. The club was sinking fast, and eventually became possibly the only football club ever to increase its points tally (from minus three to zero!) after seeing its results expunged for the whole season when Chester City FC was wound up quicker than you could say "If only we had a cup run."
Thankfully, during my absence, some bloke called Jeff Banks wrote a few pieces on here documenting the club's demise, but for some reason he seems to be a bit more busy these days...
All joking aside, it has been an unbelievable rollercoaster of a year for the club, one which will live in the minds of all fans of Chester FC (as it is now). Despite the relatively lowly Evostik Division One North league the club now finds itself in, the team, the structure, the atmosphere and everything associated with the club has been reborn, reformed and revitalised.
Yes, the Blues are Back, with a capital 'B'. And what a delight it has been to see the club in action over the past few weeks, attendances dwarfing our rivals- relatively, we are titans in this division, which is such a novel feeling it'll still feel good at the end of this season!
Personally, any doubt I had over the new club passed upon attending the club's first home friendly to Aberystwyth Town, in front of a respectable crowd of about 1,000. Positive play on the pitch was rewarded with good-natured applause, Chester's opening goal was greeted with plenty of cheers, but the absolute clincher for me was Mark Peers (then only a trialist, I believe), who scored from just past the halfway line in a David-Beckham-against-Wimbledon-esque way.
It wasn't just the fact that goal was worth the admission fee alone, or that the fans were in fine voice afterwards, but also the way the team celebrated together, like they'd known each other for years, lifting Peers off the ground in jubilation. For the first time in a long while, I was again *proud* to be a Chester fan!
It says something that the only point this season I've been disappointed/angry/spitting feathers has been at the recent Chester vs Chorley clash, where Chorley escaped with a lucky 2-1 win (no thanks to The Penalty That Was Not A Penalty, Mr referee), and they were a little 'off' on the general sporting nature Chester had almost become accustomed to from other rivals this season. But it's nice to get heated on footballing matters, and footballing matters alone!
The next task for the Blues is simple. Just win the division, and get revenge on Chorley...
What a week of football it has been, with crazy results, poor performances and controversy abound. But how do the events compare? Let's find out:
* Case 1: Wigan Athletic being pummelled, thumped and destroyed in a 9-1 drumming.
Sunday's result wasn't the greatest for Wigan. Things looked alright at half-time, having been thoroughly outclassed but only one goal down. Their worst ever second-half sees the result become a more eye-popping 9-1 in favour of Spurs by the final whistle. It's the sort of result the videprinter likes to rub in for fans on the losing side, as it slowly types out Tottenham Hotspurs 9 (NINE) - Wigan Atheltic 1.
Result: - Wigan Athletic fans feel about one-fifth as despondent as Chester City fans do right now. They lost 9-1, with a defensive performance their manager Roberto Martinez hasn't seen so wayward since his playing days at Chester City, under 'team captain' Stephen Vaughan Junior. But, they score the same number of points as they would have done if they'd lost 2-1, and they'll get over it.
Case 2: Ireland vs France and something to do with someone called 'Henry Handball'
Yes, yes, it's ol' Thierry Henry and using his va-va-voom to cynically cheat and unfairly put the Republic of Ireland out of the 2010 World cup with a blatant, disgusting act of cheating. It was an act so disgraceful even the French were quite embarrassed about the whole thing (but not too embarrassed to insist on a match replay, obviously).
Result: Republic of Ireland fans feel about half as despondent as Chester City fans. Yes, this bad result will sting now, but there's still a good team there, and Euro 2012 will be around before they know it. They weren't going to win the World Cup anyway.
Case 3: Swindon Town and the winding up order threat
Swindon Town are facing a winding up order over a ÃÂ£2.45m debt bill which threatens to strangle the life out of the club. Depressing stuff. That's it.
Result: Swindon Town fans feel almost as despondent as Chester City fans. The debt is just over half the size Chester City's was over the summer, but at least good, honest people are trying to sort out the matter for the benefit of the club, without resorting to unsavoury loopholes.
Case 4: Chester City
Well, where to start? Who's the owner of the club now- is it Stephen Vaughan, or is it his son Stephen Vaughan Junior, who in a desperate attempt to show that while dad is officially not a fit and proper person to run a football club (no, really?), has 'bought' the club and will apparently have no influence from Vaughan the Elder.
Assuming Vaughan the Younger did buy the club over the weekend, according to a local radio station, then how much was it for? A consortium failed to buy the club for a rumoured ÃÂ£250,000 last week, with the offer described as 'silly'. Well, clearly Vaughan Junior must have been saving up his pocket money very well, or has been earning ÃÂ£40,000 a week while at Northwich Victoria, if he's made an offer that's matched the asking price (supposedly ÃÂ£750,000)!
Oh, and on top of that, the threadbare team is losing to part-time squads, the players are holding crisis talks, loan players are departing and none can be brought in to replace them, and the crowds are paltry.
Suddenly a one-off handball cheating incident doesn't sound so bad, does it?
Hello, Madowl Blue here. I'm back and I'm grumpy.
Since my last entry (back in the somehow-less-gloomy time of February this year), Chester City have plunged down into the root of the Blue Square Premier about as quickly as its dignity, having its good name dragged through acres of mud during the off-season.
The latest chapter has been the miserable, yet somehow fully-deserved, 0-4 thrashing against Barrow to deny the club an FA Cup 1st round draw, and more crucially, the revenue such a cup tie could have brought.
For Barrow, it was poetic justice to get revenge on Stephen Vaughan, who had effectively brought their club to the brink of extinction before he moved on to bigger and better things. Like saving Chester City. Lucky us...
And so, following a dismal performance and anger at the way a couple of protesting City fans were treated during the match, a protest movement was organised at short notice. A mobilised, united force to meet outside Chester Town Hall, marching valiantly toward the Deva Stadium with a clear protest message against the way the club is being run.
Except it all fizzled out quite quickly.
Maybe it was the short notice given to fans, maybe it was because the march didn't have the backing of the newly-formed City Fans United (who understandably don't want to jeopardise any potential future negotiations with Stephen Vaughan), maybe it was because City fans have been too apathetic about the situation (feeling numb from too many defeats and broken promises over the years), or maybe because, most unlikely of all, the club played excellently against AFC Wimbledon!
But let's not kid ourselves. True, Chester reduced their points deduction to 'only' -7 with a convincing 3-1 win over AFC Wimbledon, another club whose fans know full well what it's like to go through the hard times. It also meant it was the first back-to-back league wins for 99 matches, and means Chester's run of form recently looks in decent shape. Compared to Liverpool, anyway.
But all of this means diddily-squat if the club faces further sanctions or even expulsion from the Conference if it doesn't cough up the money needed to pay two outstanding debts by Monday, November 16. Fans can't suddenly think everything's all wonderful at the Deva again because Chester City is now only 16 points behind 23rd slot. Sorry to burst the bubble like that, but it's a harsh reality.
And what's available if the club can't pay up? City Fans United have already admitted they won't be in a position to do much if the club folds tomorrow, instead building up a 'war chest' for a possible August 2010 bid. Besides that, there's only the slim chance a potential buyer for the club is found in the meantime, with (an even skinnier chance) Vaughan prepared to reduce the club's asking price.
Until then, future protest movements need to be focused and simple. Saturday's involved too many stages and too much of a timetable, and so not many bothered. For the fans, a simple statement such as the red card distribution idea would get the message across more succinctly and more easily. Just a thought.
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 ÃÂ£870,000 superstar who was happy to be paid just ÃÂ£2,200 a match during his time from January to the end of the season.
His name was simply LÃÂ©o, 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), LÃÂ©o 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 ÃÂ£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 ÃÂ£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.