Saturday 6th April saw one of the most studied football turnarounds completed in record time and I for one was delighted to see Chester FC “Return” to the Conference just three years after going completely out of business. Cast your mind back to March 2010, Chester City FC as was were in the Conference, unable to complete fixtures, fans were boycotting games which in my opinion is the death knell for start! At the same time the club were financially wrecked with players going on strike and the future looked non-existent. It was a difficult time for a club that had realistically been struggling for 20 years since they left their Sealand Road ground then had to play for two seasons at Macclesfield Town’s Moss Rose ground, a 70 mile round trip as the crow flies. Yo-yoing between the Football League and Conference did not do them too many favours as perhaps people expected too much from a club and read too much into their potential at a time when they should have consolidated and built on what they had.
The club went out of business and literally had to start from scratch, a bunch of die-hard supporters refused to let the game die in the town and hastily got a collective of supporters, professionals, businessmen and ex-players alike to get a team name registered and raise funds to get a club restarted again but without the baggage of its previous regime. The club successfully applied to the Evo-Stik League and was admitted to Step four, which is known as The Evo-Stik League Division One North, featuring sides such as Lancaster City, Cammell Laird, Clitheroe and others. In a way they were lucky to get admitted to such a high level as most new clubs would have to apply at Step six or lower, just as Wimbledon, Maidstone and Aldershot! They secured the lease of the former clubs ground, The Deva Stadium and backed by a tremendous amount of goodwill and support the club gained three successive titles.
The game this weekend which saw Chester win 1-0 at home against Boston at the Deva Stadium was watched by 3685 people, higher than several League Two home games that took place on the same day and shows what potential they will bring to the Conference Premier. A total of 33 wins and an unbeaten run of 30 games shows that Neil Young’s team will not be any pushovers either. Whoever takes on the sponsorship of the Conference levels of football will surely be rubbing their hands at the prospect of a Conference Premier that looks just as strong, if not stronger than its League Two counterpart. The progress through the leagues was swift but effective, yes they swept all before them but they re-learned their trade and have made friends throughout the non-league pyramid, not to mention boosting the coffers of many clubs with much needed away gate revenue. Last season when I was at Marine FC, Chester fans came to the game at the Arriva Stadium, they were respectful to the level of football that they were at, knew their football and contributed to the clubs Floodlight fund collection and that effect was probably similar at lots of clubs at that level.
For me though, the “Return” of Chester to a high level of football shows a lot more than a club being able to steamroller through divisions on a momentum of support and results, it shows eternal hope to fans of many clubs who are struggling or out of touch, or just living on borrowed time. It shows that however much a business or owner can get their hands into a club, the power of a clubs support can ultimately decide whether a club lives or dies. It provides credence to the belief that fan power still exists and that whatever situation a club finds itself in, in this modern age of football there is always hope. I’m not for one minute saying that fans of clubs in severe trouble should start AFC Clubs or abandon their own to re-start for the sake of re-starting but it does show that fans of clubs like Darlington 1883, Scarborough Athletic, AFC Halifax Town and so on are not joking when they say that they will be back. Chester provide a prime example of what a well run fan orientated and operated club can achieve.