It’s not what we’d want, this points deduction business, but it is making the bottom of League Two very interesting indeed. There is a definite feeling that, having seen the points deductions handed out to AFC Bournemouth, Rotherham United and Luton Town, many other participants in that particular division decided that they fancied a year off. The trouble with this theory is that the clubs at the bottom of the table have made a reasonably good job of catching up. Rotherham United managed to get their heads above water in October and have crawled above Grimsby Town. Bournemouth got to zero with a 3-3 draw at Luton last Tuesday, and Luton themselves are only seven points away from what has become a mystical figure at the foot of League Two this season.
Chester City are in the pack of clubs that have been looking nervously over their shoulders for the last two weeks, but the suspicion is that they have more pressing concerns than this season’s relegation battle to worry about. The supporters of the club are in a state of something approaching a state of civil war over the activities of the Supporters Trust (two members of the Trust Board there have recently resigned), while the club’s owner, Steve Vaughan, has recently put the club up for sale. Crowds have dropped to an average of under 2,000, with just 1,300 turning out for their matches against Barnet and Brentford. Chester’s supporters fall into the category of bring “long suffering”. They were relegated from the Football League in 2000 after years of struggling to avoid the drop and stayed in the Conference for four years before getting promoted back in 2004. Since then, however, they have struggled to make their presence felt in the Football League, and avoided relegation by just one place last season.
Whatever internecine battles may have been going on at The Deva Stadium, Chester’s supporters may have to put their differences behind them to fight a bigger foe. John Batchelor has been sniffing around Chester City. Those of you with long memories will remember when he pitched up at Mansfield, hoping to buy Mansfield Town and change their name to “Harchester United” and professing not to care about what anyone thought of him. Batchelor’s history should, in a righteous world, have led to him being banned for life from any further involvement in football. He openly admits having asset stripped York City during his short spell in charge there in 2002, but his plans to take over at Mansfield never came to anything, although his overtures towards the club did result in this magnificent reaction when he tried to take his place amongst Mansfield’s travelling support for an away match at Macclesfield. His tactic at Chester seems to be the same, and it is an amazing insight into the inner workings of a man who seems to have absolutely no business sense whatsoever. In his first local interview, he claimed to have learnt from his mistakes in the past, but there was precious little humility in this interview a week later, full of the usual nonsense about his apparent magic formula to be able to run a football club without supporters.
It’s a special day for Bournemouth. Three months short of his 37th birthday, former England midfielder Darren Anderton has decided to quit. He has been somewhat unfairly maligned, has Anderton. Despite the “Sicknote” nickname, he played almost five hundred club matches and is the last member of the Euro 96 team to retire from playing. At his best, he was a sublime player – a scorer of great goals rather than a great scorer of goals. While David Beckham received the plaudits for his free kick against Colombia for England in the 1998 World Cup, many forgot that it was Anderton who flashed in the brilliant opening goal in a match that England had to win to qualify from their group. The one medal of his career – a 1999 League Cup winner’s medal at Tottenham Hotspur – seems like scant reward for eighteen years in the game. His retirement has come at a good time for Bournemouth, though, who have finally dragged themselves up to zero points, and have the clubs immediately above them firmly in their sights.
Anderton’s arrival as a substitute wakes up what has previously been a dull afternoon at Dean Court. Just over an hour has been played when he comes on from the bench, most of it to little notable effect. Chester manager Mark Wright is in his third spell as the Chester manager, and he seems to be largely concerned with keeping them in the Football League through playing out as many goalless draws as possible. Josh McQuoid headed wide and only slightly misjudged a cross-cum-shot in the first half, but this was about as much as the first forty-five minutes could muster to provide to keep the supporters warm on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon. With eight minutes left to play, however, comes the incident that changes the flow of the match. Chester’s Tony Dinning challenges for the ball with Bournemouth’s Danny Hollands and elbows Hollands in the face, leading to an automatic red card. Anderton takes the resulting free kick and the ball flashes just wide of the post. With two minutes left to play, however, his moment comes. Chester fail to clear a cross from the right, and Anderton drives the ball into the corner from twenty yards out for the only goal of the match.
Three vital points, then, for Bournemouth, who have now closed the gap on the clubs just above them – Grimsby Town and Rotherham United – to just seven points. It’s quite possible that, of the teams so harshly docked points at the start of the season, only Luton will still be in the bottom two by the new year. For Chester City, however, the omens from this result are not good at all. They are eleven points above Bournemouth at the moment, but on this evidence that situation won’t remain the same for much longer. For now, however, their major victory this season may turn out to be having a team called Chester City to support. Their supporters need to pull together and do what they can to keep their club alive.