Anyone turning up at The High Court on The Strand in London this morning hoping or expecting to see fireworks was disappointed. There was to be no last minute impassioned speech, in the manner of Gregory Peck in “To Kill A Mockingbird”. For the second time in less than two weeks, the owners of Chester City Football Club didn’t even carry the common courtesy to attend a meeting that would shape the destiny of their club. This time, the reality of their destiny was swiftly delivered. Chester City (2004) Limited was wound up over its unpaid tax bill in a matter of minutes, and that was that. Perhaps this time they knew in their heart of hearts that this was a busted flush.
On the same day, reports started to circulate that Cheshire West & Chester Council had issued an eviction notice from The Deva Stadium to the burnt-out carcass of the club. By this evening, Chester Fans United had issued a press release confirming that they plan “to deliver an open, honest football club, properly run by the fans and which encapsulates the whole community”. Chester City is dead, but football in Chester will carry on and after years of what has given the impression to most outsiders of being something akin to an abusive relationship, the supporters of the late club can now finally get on with the job of shaping their own destiny and building a club that they can be proud of.
The week and a half between Chester City’s expulsion from the Blue Square Premier and the winding up of the limted company that had run it into the ground had been a nervy one for those anticipating a rebirth. Rumours about the desire of Welsh Premier League club TNS to move into The Deva Stadium and play some sort of hybrid club in the new “Super Twelve” that is due to start in Wales at the start of next season proved to persistent, if ultimately baseless. Thei owner, Mike Harris, had failed to submit a draft proposal for the move by the 1st March deadline that had been required by the Football Association of Wales.
The Chester Projekt’s silence was viewed as positive by some but ominous by others. Would they step in a the last minute and give the Vaughan’s an exit route? Well, no, as it turned out. The illusion of openness and democracy that they had sought to project at the start slipped by the time of their big meeting. The forum was closed to the public, questions sent in that questioned the suitability of Palle Rasmussen (whose ill-advised comments about CFU had been the nail in the coffin of them getting Chester supporters on their side in significant numbers) were edited and the deadline to run for a place on the board was quietly brought forward without anyone noticing. The website has been silent since the end of last month, and surprisingly so. There is nothing left for them to buy, now.
At the last minute – just yesterday – another news story broke to make Chester hearts flutter. The BBC reported that, according to the Welsh Premier League secretary John Deakin, “The Welsh Premier League have received an application from Chester City to join”. Would this be the sting in the tail, the final plot twist that would keep the Vaughan’s in charge of Chester football? Well, possibly not. It is rumoured this evening that Mr Deakin didn’t receive a formal application, only an enquiry from the Chester City club secretary. Regardless of the truth behind this, there is now no club and no stadium (it is absolutely inconceivable that CWaC would give the lease on The Deva Stadium to anything even remotely connected to the group that brought Chester City to it knees – if they somehow did, they would deserve all the rent arrears that they would inevitably end up with).
Vultures may continue to circle. There are still Is to be dotted and Ts to be crossed, and the ultimate decision that will confirm the future of the new club for Chester lies with the council. Until that decision is signed, sealed and delivered, nothing is finalised, and Chester supporters (as well as CFU) will already be aware of this. However, there is a feeling momentum starting to build around CFU and it now is starting to feel that the infectious enthusiasm that has been so effectively expressed by the board of the organisation may spread across the city. A new slate, and a new club that everyone in the city can be proud of.
It has taken months, a boycott of the club and the sort of anguish that most football supporters could only barely imagine, but the finishing line is in sight, and with the finishing line will come a whole new adventure and an end to the drawn out agony of the last few years. The spirit of football in Chester always rested with these supporters, and was never going to be extinguished by the Vaughan family, expulsion from the Blue Square Premier or even the winding up of the limited company that mismanaged it. It’s too strong for that. With a little luck, football can finally now wave goodbye to them – father is banned from acting as a company director for another ten years and nine months, after all.
At the recent “Beyond The Debt” rally in Manchester, Dave Boyle of Supporters Direct said that for as long as people within football continue to underestimate football supporters, the supporters will continue to score victories over them. The Vaughans and their hangers-on underestimated the support of their own club, and they squandered everything, even after having been given more opportunities to get things right at the club than they had any right to. Nothing is cut yet, and certainly nothing is dried, but Chester supporters can at least hope and believe again.
As a final aside and a final goodbye to Chester City, it feels appropriate to put this up, from YouTube.