After the insults from almost all quarters and months of hard work, Chester FC, the club borne from the ashes of the Vaughan family’s disastrous spell in charge of Chester City, will start the forthcoming season in Division One of the Evo-Stick (formerly the Unibond) League. Amongst the goodwill, good intentions and idealism of the new club, an uglier side to the new club reared its head during their first ever match, a pre-season friendly at Colwyn Bay last Saturday. Outbreaks of trouble throughout the day resulted in damage being caused to the Colwyn Bay ground, and the trouble was sufficient for their next match, another friendly match against Rhyl, who were demoted from the Welsh Premier League into the Cyrmu Alliance earlier this summer, to be cancelled as well.
The specifics of what happened at Llanelian Road on Saturday are, largely, neither here nor there. Talk on the club’s forum has ranged from a handful of people drinking too much to the police over-reacting to a situation that could have been otherwise avoiding, but blanket denials that there was a significant problem at the match have fallen upon deaf ears. There were around 1,500 Chester supporters at the match on Saturday, and the uppermost estimate of the number of people that were involved in any trouble seems to be around twenty to thirty individuals. The fact of the matter is, however, that it is not acceptable to try and sweep the issue under the carpet by trotting out the old lines of it “only being a tiny minority” that “couldn’t handle their drink”, because, ultimately, all supporters of Chester FC will be tarred by this brush.
It seems likely that it will take time for some supporters to get used to the culture of non-league football. At the level at which they will be playing this season, the freedom to have a drink before, after (or, if the match is bad enough, during) the match is taken as a given. They will have to get used to that, and if they cannot weed out the troublemakers immediately (because we obviously don’t know at this moment in time whether this was a one-off or a sign of things to come), then they will have to self-police. They will be big fish in a small pool next season, and it is likely that local neanderthals that fancy a pop at a “big” club coming to town. There will likely be further provocation throughout the course of the coming seaason. They can either choose to see the reputation of their club getting dragged through the mud, or they can do as much as they can to nip this potential problem in the bud now.
A large amount of goodwill was thrown in the direction of this new club from other supporter-owned clubs and, indeed, from the local council that gave them the lease on The Deva Stadium. There is still absolutely no doubt about the motives of those that are running it or the overwhelming majority of its supporters, but these supporters have an important decision to make. Do they wish to revel in the “no-one likes us, we don’t care” culture that some trouble-makers choose to take refuge in, or do they wish to reflect a positive image of their club to build the relationships with the community that the people running their club are desperate to? One would suspect that the overwhelming majority of them would prefer the latter, but this requires a zero tolerance attitude towards trouble from all of the club’s owners, and not just from those that are carrying out the day-to-day running of The Deva Stadium.
It is, frankly, not good enough to make any justifications for what happened on Saturday. Blaming a “tiny minority” or “police overreaction” are canards, nothing more than nothing less, and falling back old favourites such as these or getting caught up in precise who-did-what-to-whoms are no use to anybody except for those that cause trouble and then, once they have sobered up, are seeking to justify their behaviour. The massive majority of Chester supporters are already paying the price for last weekend’s behaviour by having to miss out on a match this weekend, and the cancellation of the match against Rhyl is probably a good thing, on balance. Considering what happened at Colwyn Bay, the police were really left with little alternative.
Not, it is likely, that many of those that were involved in what did go on last weekend will be likely to be that bothered by any of the above. The biggest pity about all of this is that the people that put the most work into the club, those that fought tooth and nail to get it going and to secure the future of Chester FC, those that give up their time to ensure that there is a club there for people to turn up at and watch, are those that will suffer the most. They will be the most embarrassed and will have the most apologising to do (both publicly, through the media, and privately, to Colwyn Bay FC itself). Perhaps stewarding their own supporters at away matches will be the answer to this problem. Ultimately, Chester’s supporters are the owners of their club and they still have a bright future. They just need to nip this problem in the bud rather than allowing this unfortunate incident to become the defining feature of their club’s rebirth. It’s their call.