Send not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. The bell tolled for Chester City at just after 2.00 this afternoon. Against the predictions of many – myself included – the Football Conference made the right decision and expelled Chester City from its organisation. This evening isn’t a time for celebration. We should mourn the passing of the club and take a moment to consider the whys and wherefores of how this came to pass. What some people seemed to fail to grasp was how desperate the situation for supporters of the club had become. How desperate do you have to feel to actively wish for the death of your football club?
The people involved in Chester Fans United weren’t professional activists chasing their own agendas for quasi-political reasons. They were ordinary football supporters like you and I, just people that wanted a football club that they could be proud of and they could support without the seeds of doubt in the back of their minds about what it was that they were supporting. To follow a football club is an act of faith which transcends merely turning up on a Saturday afternoon, handing over some money and moaning or cheering. It is an extension of one’s own personality. Most football supporters put up with a considerable amount of ill treatment in the name of their love of the game. Chester’s supporters have put up with more than almost anybody else in the game over the last few months. Now, from the ashes of this loss, something great can be created.
The overwhelming majority of us cannot even imagine how it feels to be in the situation that Chester supporters have been put in over the last few months, a period during which their relationship with the club that they support has collapsed into something approaching an abusive relationship. As recently as last week, Stephen Vaughan Senior, still acting as the owner of their club even though his shouldn’t have been since December, attempted to ridicule the people of CFU. The Chester Projekt attempted the same thing and, although they did at least a feeble and half-hearted apology a couple of days ago, they have no place in Chester. They backed the wrong horse, and they should have the good grace to understand this and withdraw from any further involvement in the proposed take-over of the club with what is left of their dignity intact.
For all the hurt, however, hope can start now for Chester supporters. The lower divisions of non-league football may prove to be culture shock for them, but the road back to the perch from which they have fallen will be an adventure that will certainly prove to be more exciting than the spousal abuse that they have suffered over the last few months. With the support of the council (who surely are now left with no option but to evict the broken shell of Chester City from The Deva Stadium), they can rebuild – a club that the people of Chester can be proud of. A club, the very existence of which continues the spirit of the club. A club that stands as a testimony to the fact that this situation must never be allowed to happen again.
They will find that they make many, many friends on the way. They will find that there is a community that will support them and will stand alongside them and offer the best advice that they could hope to receive. And one day the rest of the world will feel that Chester are back, when the truth of the matter is that the spirit of the club never went away – it was just hijacked by other people for their own means for a while. Nobody wanted Chester City to die. To suggest otherwise is insulting the motives of those that opposed the regime that ran this club to the grave.
There are still loose ends to tie up, of course. There is still talk of appeals, legal action and until we hear otherwise, the take-over of Chester City remains firmly on. They are still dependent to an extent on the actions of others. The council now has to do the right thing. Their decision, however, has been made infinitely easier by the Conference’s decision today. It will be hard work for CFU and there will doubtless be times when those involve will take a moment to wonder about their sanity in taking on such a job in the first place. However, the will is there and the passion and belief are there. For Chester City supporters, today is the first day of the rest of their lives.
As a final aside, it is worth taking a moment to congratulate the Football Conference for making a courageous decision – one which may have gone against their natural instincts and seemed unlikely, on the basis of a couple of public statements made during the week, to come to pass. They have shown clear resolve in making this decision, and it is easy to understand how they could have fudged it again, even though it would have been the wrong decision to make. The league has rescued its credibility and integrity in making this decision.