In less than seven days time, representatives from City Fans United will sit down with members of Cheshire West and Chester Council. The aim of CFU is to secure the lease on The Deva Stadium, a council owned football facility that sits on the western-most outskirts of the city. They aren’t unopposed in their application for the lease. The Danish group, whoever they may be (and the rumour has now started that those “advising the group” are considerably closer to home than is likely to be made public in the near future), have decided to ignore the requests of the CFU committee and of a broader cross-section of the club’s supporters and press ahead with their application for use of the stadium. It is their prerogative to do so but, in turn, it is also the right of Chester supporters to shun them in favour of the club that is promising that the mess of the last twelve months can and must never happen again.
We already know that the FA has directed anybody seeking the licence to be a phoenix club for Chester with the benefits that this brings has already been directed to CFU. Any other bidder would be a completely new club and, as such, would have to start at the bottom of the football pyramid unless they could prove that safety issues at away matches because of the size of the travelling support would mean that they have to play at a level at which would ensure the safety of crowds. With Chester FC set to start next season, either at The Deva Stadium or elsewhere, no such guarantees could realistically be made by the other group. How far down the leagues they would start is anybody’s guess, but the final decision would lay with the FA.
It seems implausible that CWaC would give the lease to them, but if they do they will set in motion a situation that would be an embarrassment to the city that it represents. Such a decision would create a farcical situation in which the club with the will of the supporters of the old club (CFU now has well over 1,500 members) would be forced out of its home city, while the stadium in the city itself would echo with emptiness as a club that there is absolutely no evidence of any local support for played out its existence. Football supporters in the city may be torn, and Chester FC would be weakened (though probably not fatally so) by the imposters in their place at The Deva Stadium. It is right and proper that CWaC should go through the correct channels and processes prior to granting the lease on a facility that is, ultimately, in their hands on behalf of the people of their city. However, such good intentions are only worth the paper that they are written on if they make the right decision at the end of the process, and there have already been many bad decisions made in relation to football in Chester over the last couple of years or so.
A handful of bad decisions were made today at Chester Court, where several of those that had been involved in the protest pitch invasion at the match between Chester City and Eastbourne Borough earlier this year which really acted as one of the major catalysts for the beginning of the endgame for the club’s regime. Those convicted were given three year banning orders and fined £150 each. It seems heavy-handed for the court system to treat protesters as if they are just common hooligans (they were speaking for the overwhelming majority Chester supporters at the time of their actions), but it’s not all bad news. The banning order will not apply below the Conference North & South, so barring any FA Cup runs it seems that they may even see out their three years without, ironically, missing any matches.
Such actions and the somewhat over-zealous response to them is not the concern of CFU, though. They have to get on with the job of not losing out on The Deva Stadium. In the worst case, it is critical that, even in the worst case scenario, the CFU membership doesn’t give up on this nascent club. Should the lease on the new stadium somehow be given to the Danish group, the new Chester FC has to start anyway. They have come too far to not own this club of theirs. They have been messed around and passed from pillar to post too many times to allow themselves to become pawns in somebody else’s game yet again. No matter what else happens, their club on their terms is the least and the most that they can or should expect. The community projects are real, the potential is huge and Chester FC can be as much of an asset to its community in the future as the last twelve months has been damaging to the reputation of football in the city. All it needs for now is a home. Cheshire West and Chester Council: over to you.