July, some say, is a little too early for the football season to start. The new season lumbers to life each year in the manner of a bear awakening from hibernation. We don’t merely leap to life, ready to jump into another year of those twin false gods of hope and despair, though. We have to be spoonfed our addiction, as if on a drip and we have to be cajoled back into action. This afternoon was the sporting equivalent of hearing the alarm sound and realising that, yes, it’s time to rise from the slumbersome pleasures of the close season. No more Saturday afternoon barbecues or the pretence of having a plethora of different interests for you, dear football supporter! It’s that time of year again.
This afternoon at The Deva Stadium, however, we were shaken to life with rather more of a jolt than we may have been anticipating. The Supporters Direct Cup may be a match borne from an organisation fostering togetherness and sense of solidarity amongst those of different persuasions, but no-one seemed to have passed this particular version of the script to the players of Chester FC and FC United of Manchester. Indeed, in a more competitive environment this match would likely have produced a rash of cards from the referee, including more than one of the scarlet variety. This was a feisty match, in which tackles were absolutely not being withdrawn from and that contained one or two manifestations of what some have chosen in recent times to call “handbags”, and it was a match which ended in a deserved win for the team newly promoted into the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League.
The match, however, was the culmination of something greater. With its annual conference held yesterday, a marquee had been erected in the car park of The Deva Stadium with, outside of it, a example of the safe standing that the FSF continues to push as an alternative to the tip-up plastic seats with which we are all so familiar. And, of course, there were speeches. FC United’s General Manager Andy Walsh has become a regular fixture on the podium at such events as this, but he never fails to take the breath away with his coruscating delivery (perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the venue, the target of much of his ire today was a certain Mr Vaughan), whilst The Guardian’s David Conn brought the feeling that the outside world is listening to an an appreciative audience and the Labour MP Tom Greatrex continued to build his stature as The Politician Most Likely To Listen To Football Supporters.
As perfectly judged as they were, however, they were not the reason why we were there this afternoon. For all the politicking (and, yes, sometimes this can be easy to forget), we are enthusiasts for a game, and that was what we were here to see today. On a bright, blustery afternoon, then, we were eventually cajoled from our seats, our beer and our roast pork sandwiches into the small yet perfectly formed Deva Stadium for a match that sits somewhere between a competitive match and a pre-season friendly in the overall scheme of things. That, considering everything, Chester should have been chosen as the hosts for this year’s shindig was hardly surprising, and the stadium announcer made the important point of recognising the role that their opposition had played in enabling Chester to field a team today. It was that sort of day.
Or, at least, it was that sort of day of the pitch. Once the referee’s whistle blew, it became quite clear that there were scores to settle and that this would not a great deal like a friendly match. The tensions are obvious: the defection of Jerome Wright from FC United to Chester and Chester’s promotion at the end of last season, which means that the two teams will meet again twice in the league this season. But these tensions blew up into fighting on a couple of occasions which would, in a more competitive match, have led to considerably heavier sanctions from the referee. When the players put their handbags down, though, there was an entertaining game trying to break out. Chester started strongly – they are expected to be there or thereabouts at the top of the Northern Premier League at the end of the coming season – and spent much of the first twenty minutes or so encamped in the FC United half. The off the ball shenanigans, however, seemed to affect the home side more and with just over half an hour played a deft header from Lee Neville gave the visitors the lead, and they held it reasonably comfortably until half-time.
At half-time came the substitutes, eight for Chester and a similar number for FC United, and the difference was immediately apparent. This was a more cohesive-looking Chester team (although still somewhat short of what we might expect to be their first choice at the start of the team), and they pressed forward in search of an equaliser, getting closer and closer as time went along, although the bad temper of the two teams was still the defining characteristic of what was occurring on the pitch, with Cheste’s Michael Wilde and the FC United captain Kyle Jacobs being forcibly substituted by the referee after their altercation. The home side did, eventually get what they deserved, although it came from a most unexpected source. Sixteen year-old Joe Ormrod had been on the pitch for less than fifteen minutes when, with nine minutes left to play, he lashed the ball into the top corner from twenty yards out. Four minutes later, Chester snatched the lead when Liam Brownhill rolled to ball to Alex Brown, who scored from close range. Even with this lead, there was time for a little late drama when Carlos Roca broke through and rounded the Chester goalkeeper Danby, but he pushed the ball a little wide with his run and could only hit the side-netting with his shot.
It is, of course, difficult to draw too many assumptions from a match played in these circumstances. We can say for certain, though, that supporters of both clubs can look forward to more niggle when the two sides meet again at The Deva Stadium in the league on the twenty-fourth of August. It will be, of course, down to the supporters of the two clubs to ensure that any such aggression is limited to the confines of the pitch. On this bright sunny afternoon in August, though, both sets of supporters have much to look forward to over the next nine months. The positive atmosphere of Friday’s Supporters Direct conference kicked off an excellent weekend, and this match completed it perfectly. Our most sincere thanks go to everybody at Chester FC for being such accommodating hosts.
There is a small selection of badly-taken photographs here.
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