Wednesday, 12 December 2007
A wing-half, former underground surveyor Hauser made 83 Football League appearances (scoring 10 goals) for Blackpool between 1955 and 1962, before dropping out of professional football and joining Cheltenham Town.
Following the departure of Bill Lambton, 29-year-old Hauser took over as manager of Chester shortly before the 1963-64 season got underway. Chester had endured very little success since the Second World War but Hauser set about improving the club's fortunes. A mid-table finish in Division Four in his first season represented progress after three successive re-election applications, before steering the club through an amazing 1964-65. The club scored 119 league goals and a further 22 in the two main cup competitions, with all five regular forwards scoring at least 20. Hauser was a regular throughout the season, which saw Chester finish just 8th despite their goal glitz.
The 1965-66 campaign saw Chester finish 7th, after looking favourites for promotion before full back namesakes Ray and Bryn Jones both suffered broken legs against Aldershot on New Year's Day. Chester's fortunes began to decline after this and, after struggling in 1966-67 (after which Hauser stopped playing), things got worse a year later. A home defeat to fellow strugglers Workington on February 17, 1968 brought to an end Hauser's five years in charge, and his association with professional football in England.
After leaving Chester, Hauser returned to South Africa to resume his underground surveying career.
Friday, 7 December 2007
Supporters came from 36 clubs to extend the hand of friendship to Chester, yet another football club to feel the cold breath of financial crisis. They descended on the Deva Stadium for a "Fans United" day and were rewarded with a decent game more in keeping with English football than any European super league match. Typically, Brighton sneaked an undeserved point in a 1-1 draw with Paul Armstrong's injury time penalty, cancelling out Mike Conroy's first half goal.
In the season of Pierre van Hooijdonk and Paolo Di Canio, the camaraderie among almost 4,000 supporters was mightily reassuring to witness. Both clubs' MPs were there and Satelite broadcasters Sky TV turned up to beam events to the nation. Unfortunately, the game's paymaster's commitment to the lower divisions did not extend to installing a satellite dish for the evening, so the sponsors were treated to Vets in Practice. Even that represented an improvement: earlier this season all Chester's television sets were repossessed.
'Fans United' was a Brighton idea eagerly adopted by the Chester City Independent Supporters Association. Two years earlier, there was a real possibility that the club would disappear altogether. Last year, ailing Doncaster were involved as they sped out of the professional game. This time round, there is no danger of either club playing in the Conference in the next season although doubts persist about Chester's ability to function at all. The link between all three is chronic mismanagement behind the scenes.
Stories of Chester's financial embarrassment are legion but perhaps none typifies both the dire straits the club found itself in and its capacity to survive than manager Kevin Ratcliffe paying £5,000 out of his own pocket to have the water re-connected so the club could play Everton in a high profile pre-season friendly match.
The club remained in administration at the time and supporters' spokesman, who was to become club secretary, Michael Fair is scathing about former chairman Mark Gutterman's contribution: "people are taking control of football clubs who aren't competent to do it. Football isn't an ordinary business, it is part of the community. All we have had is someone with no connection with Chester coming in, promising the earth and delivering absolutely nothing."
At half time a 100 metre scarf - comprising the colours of all 92 league clubs - was paraded around the stadium to the strains of Canned Heat's Let's Work Together. With Portsmouth fans planning to lay a coffin outside the gates of Fratton Park today and Kenneth Richardson, Doncaster's self styled benefactor, in court this month for conspiracy to burn down his own grandstand, these were and continue to be grim times for supporters somewhere. Twas ever thus: Northampton and Bournemouth, have almost withered on the vine in recent years and supporters with an unblinkered view fear the domino effect: when one goes under, a dozen follow.
Christine Russell, Chester's Labour MP, praised fans for their attempts to preserve the club, "The CCISA have done more to raise the profile of Chester Football Club in a few short months than others have done in the 25 years that I have lived in the city." Chester's spirited display certainly merited a win. Their goal, direct from a Brighton corner, was a cracker. Alex Smith, a pacy left back, picked up a clearance in his own half and kept on running, Goalkeper Mark Ormerod parried his initial shot but Conroy, on loan from Blackpool, tapped in. The equaliser was cruel in its timing and hotly disputed, referee Peter Walton punishing Martyn Lancaster's challenge on Jamie Moralee with a penalty. Paul Armstrong scored his first senior goal with commendable coolness.
David Felgate leads me down the Hilton Park tunnel from the home team dressing room, past the kit room and out on the terracing so that we can talk in peace on a dark September night. It is no more than a few yards but takes a matter of minutes, so much is he still in demand in football. He pauses to catch a word with a Leigh player along with his old friends from the Deva Stadium. His interest in happenings at the Deva are still evident as he listens to the words of Gordon Hill in a post match press conference and asks me what was going on.
The strong figure of the former Welsh International goalkeeper has won many friends and plaudits over many years, his desire to give his all with a philosophy of good fortune has created a goalkeeper who is refreshingly not just another footballer motivated by financial greed. For David considers himself lucky to have even played professional football: "I was fortunate. When I first started in the game. I was at a place called St Asaph in North Wales. I was placed to play for a team in St Asaph, St Asaph City boys at the time and I was lucky because there was an Everton scout there who actually saw me play. He took a chance on me to go down to Everton to the Bellefield Training Ground to play and I enjoyed it. I was about fourteen or fifteen at the time but there was nothing there for me. There were too many players comings, it's a big club at Everton so I asked to get released."
Where many a player simply fall out of football at this stage, Felgate did totally the opposite, catching the attention of several clubs. "A Bolton Wanderers scout came out of the blue and the day I asked to get released at Everton, he came knocking on the door. About two days later, I went to Bolton and played against Blackburn at Accrington Stanley's ground and then three days later I played at Old Trafford in front of fifteen thousand in a youth game. So I was catapulted into the big time."
David went on to become a loyal servant to Bolton Wanderers, the club that gave him his first big chance. A full nine years were spent at Burnden Park and in that time the big Welshman was just happy to be a part of the team. A refreshing change from football as we know today where multi-million pound contracts and sponsorship deals are sought by the bigger names in football. "To be honest, it was a completely different ball game all together when I was at Bolton. I was just so desperate to play. I was given an opportunity to play and I thanked everybody for giving me the chance to play. Hopefully, I was blessed with a little bit of skill because I think the average term of a goalkeeper or an ordinary footballer is around four or five years and then they went out of the game, into the non leagues and whatever. I was lucky, I think I've been playing for almost nineteen maybe twenty years now, so I was fortunate", explained Felgate.
"The money wasn't fabulous. I think I left Bolton Wanderers when the money was starting to get better. It was just down to timing and I lacked it. I've never looked back and thought ooh, if only, because if you start doing things like that, it's pointless doing it. The players who are getting the money must be decent. The Beckham's, Scholes and the Owen's and whatever, they obviously deserve it. At the end of the day, it's an entertainment business, even if you're playing non league in the conference. When I played in the league I always tried to entertain the crowd. When I was at Chester City I used to have a great rapport with the supporters simply because at the end of the day, I think they pay the wages and you've got to give something back. "
Felgate continued: "Sometimes some people don't realise, some players are money orientated at times and I think that's down to, not the greed of the players because I think they only give them what the clubs say well listen you're worth £20,000 this week we're going to pay you that. I never even got anywhere near that but like I say, my goal was just to play."
The Welshman's talent was soon recognised and David recalls the ultimate highlight of his career. "It would have to be the time I spent in the Welsh squad. When I got my first Welsh international cap and my only international cap. But at that time I was cover to Dai Davies and then Neville Southall, that was a good time and obviously my two visits to Wembley with Bolton. There are a lot of players who have never made it into the twin towers. I was fortunate to play, we won one and got beat once." Sadly for David, he only experienced his international dreams turn into reality the once, always playing in the shadow of legendary Welsh goalkeeper Neville Southall.
And then the time came for Felgate to leave Burnden Park onto pastures new. "The funny thing about it was, I left Bolton Wanderers after nine years with them and I went to Wolverhampton Wanderers. But I heard that Graham Barrow had been interested at the time. I went for a month to Wolves and enjoyed it. The manager at the time was Graham Turner and he was fabulous with me. But I heard that unfortunately Billy Stewart got an injury and I came simply because I wanted to keep playing. I didn't want to sit in any reserves and play on a Wednesday night in front two hundred people, I just wanted to play and Graham gave me that opportunity."
Felgate enthused: "I tried to repay that back to the supporters and to the people of Chester at the time. I enjoyed it, I thought it was a great club. I really enjoyed it, a friendly atmosphere, a great crowd and a kind of close knit community. That's what the lads realised about the place and it's saddening to see the situation Chester have found themselves in. I always look for their results, I read to non-league papers and when they got relegated from the league, it was sad for me. I moped around for a couple of weeks, I just couldn't believe it. "
Felgate recalled: "There were a lot of good people at Chester. Ooooh! And loads of great memories. I mean, Graham Barrow won't like me saying this, he basically threatened me a few times because when they used to play the ball back to me, I used to try and dummy the centre forward going to shoot on my right foot and then bring it in. I did it once cut inside and then I went down on my left side, managed to clear it on my left side, the forward ran across me and I cut back inside. I think we just managed to get away with it. To be honest I think Graham was just going to throttle me if I'd have done it again like."
"But I used to do it because I thought the crowd wanted to be entertained and I used to get bored, you know if the ball would be up the other side of the pitch. I used to have a laugh and a joke with people, like I said I think it's an entertainment business no matter where you are and I think the crowd deserve to be entertained. Even if the ball would be out of play at the other end of the pitch you are always interacting with the crowd and I think that was always important."
"At Chester, it was great because Billy Stewart was like a local hero, he'd been there years and he'd done really well for them. It was a little bit difficult at first. I remember the first game I played for Chester, was against Wigan Athletic. I remember going over on the Friday morning and I said to Mark Came, what's the defence like? He went fabulous, solid as a rock and then we got beat six three. I turned around to him in the dressing room and said to him, what the hell have you let me into here! He went, no! We'll get better. And in truth we did and we got promoted and I'm thinking to myself yeah, what's going on here. I remember Wigan playing and cutting us up into pieces. But that's how it was, the lads stick together there and no matter how big the club is, if you always stick together you'll find success."
Constructed in what must have been record time, there were doubts about weather or not Chester's new stadium would ever get built. As the club abandoned Sealand Road at the end of the 1989/90 season the following two years were spent in exile. The club took advantage of the Cheshire County F.A. training facilities in Moss Farm on the outskirts of Northwich and played there home games some forty miles away from the city at Macclesfield's Moss Rose ground. Attempts were made to play home games closer to home, with possible spells at Tranmere's Prenton Park and Wrexham's Racecourse Ground investigated, but in both cases the local authorities stepped in preventing such moves from taking place.
Speaking through his match programme notes for Chester's first league game at the Deva Stadium, chairman Ray Crofts described how surprised he was at the speed of the stadium construction. He said: "Morison Shand Construction have completed the stadium in an amazing thirty weeks and produced a home that Chester City Football Club and the people of Chester can be proud of. The local authorities, Police and Fire Brigade have all contributed to the successful completion of the ground and I am grateful to them all for all their help and co-operation."
On the afternoon of Tuesday 28th January 1992 history was made when the first turf was cut at a specially prepared ceremony on the site of Chester City's new home, later to be named the Deva Stadium following a naming competition run by the club through the local press. There were many worrying months for city fans prior to the ceremony as they were anxiously awaiting forms of evidence that their club was to finally return to the city following that testing time in exile across the County of Cheshire in Macclesfield. Ray Crofts continued: "The opening of the stadium brings to an end many months of anxiety not only for myself but for everyone concerned with the Club. It is a fitting tribute to all those people concerned with the club that we have such an excellent stadium back within the City of Chester."
The Deva was to be the first stadium in the country to comply with all the rules and regulations (the Taylor report) which were set out in the aftermath of the Hillsborough Tragedy. These features include special disabled spaces on both sides of the ground, automatic turnstyles and exits as well as all other safety features that are needed to meet the Taylor Report requirements.
It is unclear what the total capacity of the ground is, some sources report the grand capacity as being around 6,000 whilst others say it is actually less at approximately around 5,800. What is for sure the total seating available is 3,400, all of which is fully covered. However, City fans were just delighted to be back in the City after a long period of uncertainty surrounding the future of the football club. Chairman Crofts paid tribute to those loyal supporters who stuck by the club during its time in exile away from the City. He said: "I would like to thank our loyal fans for their support over the two seasons at Macclesfield and hope that together we will enjoy success on our return to Chester."
Completed just in time for the start of the new 1992/93 season, the Deva Stadium was officially opened on 24 August 1992 by The Rt Hon Lord Aberdare KBE, then chairman of the Football Trust. The players stepped out to a rapturous home coming in front of a carnival atmosphere at the first ever game to be hosted at Deva Stadium. Sadly though, that first season at the Deva turned out to be a complete disaster. On the pitch, Chester City spiralled out of control, Harry McNally's managerial career came to an end and by the time May 1993 came around the club dropped out of the second division for the first time since 1986.
Being a football supporter really comes into its own when wearing a scarf becomes a neccessity and not just a retro fashion statement. Huddled in the festive fug recalling those pre-Christmas stuffings and horrendous Boxing Day away trips, the season's midpoint evokes a curiosly Dunkirk spirit. Warmed within by those stick top-shelf tipples that only get uncorked at Christmas time, and stoic in the knowledge that a few more months of frozen foot standing and damp floodlip afternoons remain to come. The holiday tans and unfeasible optimism of August seem a very long time ago indeed.
But it could be so much worse. Just spare a though for the groundsmen at football grounds all over the country whose job it is to prepare their clubs playing surface for the next game. Here at Chester, as a season draws to a close preparations are already underway to make sure the Deva Stadium playing surface is ready for the new term. City groundsman Gary Kent has been with Chester City Football Club for years. His vast experience in ground maintenance is a asset the club are proud of.
Gary and his team start working to revamp the pitch as soon as the final fixture is completed. With each year that passes, this seems to become a more a more difficult task to complete. Close season breaks are becoming increasingly shorter and shorter and Gary has to bear in the mind, the pitch needs to be ready for the possibility of pre season friendlies being played on it as early on as July.
The company that laid the present Deva Stadium playing surface in 1992 also supplied the playing surface at Liverpools Anfield Road stadium. The similarities end there though as Liverpool have had their pitch renewed on at least three occasions since 1992 whilst the Deva Stadium pitch remains in its original form. The process of preparing the playing surface is painstakingly time consuming.
One of Gary's many tasks include brushing seventy tonnes of sand across the playing surface that has then to be drag matted to ensure the surface level. There are parts of the Deva pitch which suffer from drainage problems and all have to be carefully nurtured to allow those areas to be capable of withstanding the trials of the coming season equally. Reseeding takes place late on in the process and needs to be carefully planned at the correct time in order for the surface to be ready as required for the opening fixtures of a new campaign.
Playing throughout the season generates a heavy wear to the surface. During half time and full time on a match day the ground staff can be seen carrying out minor repairs before a full scale repair operation is undertaken the following day. Gary Kent's team will work as required to keep the pitch in playable condition and this will include a seven day week if the weather dictates it to be required. Gary said: "The pitch needs to be rolled and in particular we have to have the pitch level before a frost or freeze makes the pitch impossible to work on."The current Deva Stadium pitch is rolled with a large industrial sized lawn mower that can take a long time to complete. All other pitch requirements are completed by hand in a more traditional manner and therefore top of Gary's shopping wish list is a compact tractor to allow the work to be completed in a much shorter space of time. Gary contined: "The tractor will allow other attachments to be pulled across the surface and will allow several jobs to be done quickly and that is something we don't have at present."
Throughout the course of a campaign, the Deva Stadium pitch can take quite a battering from the full programme of first team matches, reserve games and squad training. Gary highlighted the goal areas as a particularly difficult area of the field to maintain. Training can mean the pitch suffers from damage to one area only and a morning's squad training can do more damage to the pitch than a full ninety minute football match bearing the same conditions. Despite taking such heavy usage Gary is proud of his pitch. "There are worse pitches around than ours" muses Gary "but my concern is that the Deva pitch holds out for the rest of the season and all fixtures are completed on time for the season's end in May."
Walking me down the Deva tunnel, through the blue double doors and into the East Stand, the former Everton youngster sat me down on one of the blue seats with a beaming smile clearly pleased to be back at the Deva. Just as we were about to begin our conversation a distant "Hey Jenks! How ya doing?" could be heard echoing from the voice of our approaching groundsman, Gary Kent. When the Deva is empty it has a strange ghostly echo and feel, but that didn't prevent Gary Kent from reminiscing over previous years with 'Jenks'.
His popularity within the club is there for all to see and will no doubt become a favoured signing by Steve Mungall. Iain explained to me how he became a Chester player for the second time: "I found out that the gaffer here was interested in bringing me back to Chester. I was on a free transfer in the summer and they wanted to get the deal wrapped up as soon as they could. I was quite interested in coming back as well because I know a lot about the club, I was skipper here, won promotion here and got relegated here so I know a lot about the club and I was only too pleased to come back."
But whilst making his comeback debut with the Blues, Iain must have had a bit of shock in the first half when Chester found the going tough against a well organised Morecambe outfit. Iain said: "It was a bit of a battle for the first twenty minutes, there was not much football played. In the second half, I think we showed that we played the better football. We got at them a little bit more and then with the standard of football in the second half, there's really not much difference from the Conference and a Third Division. As you said in the first half it was a bit of a shock for the first twenty minutes, everyone just kept lumping the ball forward and then when we did get the ball down and played we looked the better side. In the end I quite enjoyed the game."
Having made well over a hundred and sixty appearances for the Blues last time round, Iain has many great memories about his first spell around the Deva Stadium. He points to two key highlights that surround the great promotion season under boss Graham Barrow. Iain explained: "There are two highlights for me. The first year I signed here we got promoted and I every single game and the second would be when I became the skipper of the side. I made forty five appearances as skipper. I've had some really really good times here, more good times than bad times and hopefully we can have more good times and start pushing ourselves back up into the league."
Iain has seen a plethora of great characters around the club and was only too willing to begin sharing comic stories about those former colleagues of his. "Eddie Bishop used to bring funny videos on the coaches, he was just crazy. As we are sat here now, behind us is the sponsors box and he had a bet that he could smash the window with the ball when we're training. Mike Pejic was boss at the time and when he did smash the window with the ball everywhere went dead quiet. That's just eddie for you! There's a few good characters around the club now, but it's a young team, a very young team and that's only good for us because if we do survive this year as I think we will they can only get better. Steve Mungall is a getting good side together and he wants a few more signings and the youngsters can only get better."
Iain begun his football career at Goodison Park, signing on as a trainee. During that time, he begun to force himself into the first team making three full starts and two substitute appearances in football's top flight during his two season stint with the toffee men. "I started at Everton, but I was a professional swimmer first. I had a chance of going swimming or football and I had to make that choice, so I started my career at Everton and went to football. I broke my ancle on my debut, and only made another handful of appearances for Everton in the first team. Then I went across to Bradford City on loan, then signed for Chester City, spent five great years around here and then got a £200,000 move to Dundee United. Seven caps for Northern Ireland and that was a great experience going away around the world with the International side."
But the Northern Ireland International had a tough time with injury problems since he joined United from Chester in March 1998. A permanent fixture at left back in Chester's play off campaign of 1996-97, Jenkins talent was spotted and he subsequently made the move north of the border to Tannadice. However, the defender played just four times under then manager Paul Sturrock, mainly due to a niggling back injury, and had found it difficult to get back to full fitness. After a nightmare ten months he was ready to make his comeback in a pre-season friendly against Irish outfit Longford in July 1999, but went over on his ankle, further delaying his comeback preparations. When he regained full fitness he challenged for a permanent first team place but at the end of the 1999/2000 season he found himself out of favour and return to join up again with manager Kevin Ratcliffe, this time with Shrewsbury Town. "I worked my way to Shrewsbury and then back home to my native Chester. In footballing terms I'm still only young, I'm only twenty nine so hopefully, I think I've got another five or six years to offer the club. The way I felt on the pitch today was fine so hopefully things are looking up."
And Iain will be glad to get a full ninety minutes under his belt, especially having had such a torrid time with injuries over the last four or five years. "I hope I've put injuries behind me now. I don't want to see a treatment table ever again! I've been unlucky with injuries at times but hopefully they are all behind me now and as you've seen today I've been running around injury free, there's no problems with the way I run or tackle. I'll be taking one game at a time but I want to play every single game I can for Chester City."
Now Iain is looking forward to the difficult task ahead with Chester City, he firmly believes the quality of football isn't that far off the third division and that didn't give Iain any doubts when he considered dropping out of the football league. "I don't think there's much difference between the Conference and Third Division. I have dropped down to the Conference as I need and want to be playing first team football. Because of the injuries I've had people will look at Iain Jenkins and say 'oh he's been injured'. But I'm happy to prove a few people wrong by playing week in and week out. I know I'm not guaranteed first team football, nobody ever is, but I have that chance rather than going somewhere and sitting on the bench."
Many people will be pleased to see Iain Jenkins return to the Deva Stadium, non more so than Chester City manager Steve Mungall who was delighted to capture the defender. When announcing the signing, Mungall said: "Iain is an experienced player, he's a good defender, has two good feet, and he's a good talker." That'll be exactly what struggling Chester will need if they are to stave off the threat of relegation from the Nationwide Conference, and as Iain concluded our conversation, he thinks Chester have a good future. "No problem, yeah definitely. From what I've seen all week and the way we've shown we can play in the second half today, almost definitely."
The non league equivalent of the FA Charity Shield, the JC Thompson Shield was first contested by Chester City in its twenty first season of competition. That season, 2001-2002, the contest reverted to its original format of being played between the Conference League Champions and the winners of the Conference League Cup. Since 1988, a change to the competition format was administered as it was decided the Conference Champions were to take on the FA Trophy Winners.
Upon approach to Rushden & Diamonds impressive home, Nene Park, you immediately get the feel for the huge financial backing that benefactor Max Griggs has invested into this small town Northamptonshire club. After eleven years, Rushden, now in the nationwide football league have facilities that would be the envy of any a great club. Whilst walking around the perimeter of the stadium, Chester Chronicle sports reporter Ian Bedford summed it all up, "It's just like the Premiership in miniature" he said as we strolled around in awe of Rushden's growing empire.
Just 934 people braved the icy cold November conditions to see this low key challenge for the silverware with Chester performing in front of 41 dedicated travelling City supporters. Those inside the stadium saw a strong Rushden & Diamonds side pushed all the way by a spirited Chester City outfit before finally winning the Nationwide Conference Shield after a penalty shoot-out.
Gary Williams gave Chester an interval lead with a 33rd minute strike from the edge of the penalty area but Brian Talbot's side snatched an equaliser seven minutes into the second half. The manager's son, Daniel, turned home Scott Partridge's cross as Chester keeper Wayne Brown struggled to reach the strike.
However, last season's Nationwide Conference champions were only level for five minutes as Mark Beesley restored Chester's lead with a great 25-yard curler that flew past on Tony Pennock in the Diamonds goal. Rushden equalised for the second time midway through the second half when Jim Rodwell heading home from close range and that was how it stayed for the remainder of normal time and the whole of extra-time.
In a dramatic penalty shoot-out Chester had the initial advantage when Talbot had Diamonds' first penalty saved but Chris Blackburn saw his effort saved and Michael Rose missed the target to ensure Diamonds clinched their first piece of silverware as a Football League Club. A very short presentation followed the shoot out which most of the 937 crowd avoided as the icy cold weather tightened its grip on the evening.
In his post match press conference, a bitterly disappointed Blues Boss Steve Mungall shared the players disappointment at falling at the final hurdle: "I feel for the boys obviously. They matched Rushden and in the end we finished the stronger at extra time. All credit to them, I spoke to the lads before the game and about the Jeckle and Hyde team we have got and it is to stop and they more than proved it that they can do it and I won't accept any more Jeckle and Hyde performances from them. They have proven they can play for ninety minutes and even through extra time, so I feel gutted for them and for the fans. It would have been nice to take a trophy home for them and obviously for the chairman."
Mungall contined: "I was pleased with a lot of things that happened in the game, and there's a few little things that we can pick up on but overall I was pleased with the way the boys went about the game and we were very unfortunate not to take anything away from it."
13 November 2001
|JC Thompson Championship Shield Roll of Honour|
|1989||Maidstone United||Telford United|
|1992||Wycombe Wanderers||Colchester United|
|1993||Wycombe Wanderers||Northwich Victoria|
|1996||Macclesfield Town||Stevenage Borough|
|1998||Halifax Town||Cheltenham Town|
|2001||Rushden & Diamonds||Chester City|
Having left the M6 and driven through Lancaster en route to Christie Park one couldn't help but be surprised by a huge banner, strewn from lampost to lampost across a busy roundabout on the approaching outskirts of the town. The sign advertising the game read: Morecambe v Chester City. Saturday 13th October, 3.00pm Christie Park. One could be excused for thinking this Nationwide Conference football match was the biggest event in the seaside resort that weekend. It certainly was for the 303 travelling supporters who made the journey into deepest Lancashire. They were sent home with smiles on their faces for the second time in a week as our amazing immediate change in fortune continued. I was standing outside the dressing rooms, waiting for Caretaker Boss Steve Mungall whilst across the way the first face to appear out of the home team door was that of our former player, Chris Lightfoot. Despite him being forced out of the game through injury earlier that week, the expression on his rather red face said it all. Morecambe were taken by surprise. "The lads have just had a grilling", he said.
Lightfoot, who still lives in Runcorn was once very highly rated at the Deva Stadium but now he finds himself at Christie Park just happy to be playing football for the seasiders. "It's all right here at Morecambe, it's only part time but there's a good team spirit about the place. It's just nice to be back playing, I didn't play much last season at Crewe and it's much nicer being on the pitch than on the bench. " Despite his tender age of 31, Lighty believes all his intensive football training has damaged his body. "I've got a bit of a thigh strain at the moment, but I hope to be fit for the next game. Although I'm only 31, in the last few years I've had a bad time with injuries. The hard times have done me good really. I train twice a week now. I think my body has taken a bit too much of a battering training every day."
But a young Chris always seemed destined to play football from an early age to continue a family tradition. He was born into a family of footballers who truly loved to get down to business on the pitch. "It was a family thing for me. My dad played and my grandad played. We're a family of footballers! I started at school and then joined Chester City when I was fourteen. When I left school I joined them as an apprentice. I stayed there for twelve years. I left to go to Wigan Athletic with Graham Barrow for six months. Graham got the sack then I moved to Crewe Alex. I stayed there for six years and now I've come here."
Lightfoot is a man who has seen it all with Chester City, from Sealand Road, playing in exile at Macclesfield, to the joys of promotion at the Deva Stadium. Lightfoot, whose career has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, recalls plenty of fond memories. "Ah, loads of fond memories at Chester. They were a great set of lads every season, different lads come and went but we always had a great team spirit with Harry McNally. I've some stories about Harry McNally but you couldn't write them anyway!" But after some persuasion, Lighty continued: "Oh, this is the best one! One day we were turned over, I can't remember who buy but the groundsman had filled the bath up at Sealand Road. Instead of putting cold water in, he put hot water in. And Harry, he jumps in the bath, burnt himself and come out screaming and shouting at us with a pair of red feet. He had scalded his feet. And that's just one of the ones you could print! "
And as Chris confirms, McNally wasn't the only character to grace the club. "Over the years there's been loads. I used to travel in with Eddie Bishop from Runcorn too, oh god he was always up to something, but you couldn't print them stories! And when you put Billy Stewart and Gary Bennett together nobody could stop them." But amidst all the humour, as for many a footballer, Chris recalls one of his greatest memories, the first goal he scored for Chester City. "The year we went up always sticks in my memory, but I always remember my first goal at Sealand Road against Notts County. We drew three all. I think it was only my second or third game for Chester."
Lightfoot continued: "The biggest high point though must be the year we got promoted. At the end of the season it all went a bit pear shaped. Graham Wilks wouldn't give Graham Barrow any money to keep the lads together that had done well. In the end Graham resigned and the players followed. Mike Pejic and Kevin Ratcliffe came in and to be fair to them, they were given no money and I think we were down before Christmas. So there's a few disappointments as well, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself, made some good friends and I've seen a few of them today that I haven't seen for a few years. It's always nice to see familiar faces."
Famous for launching Ian Rush's footballing career and being the birthplace of England star Michael Owen, the City of Chester have numerous connections with English Football's finest players. But the connection to the city with current Liverpool player Danny Murphy holds a link more special than all the rest. He has never played for Chester City Football Club, but City born Danny is the first former Chester Schoolboy player to win full England International honours.
Chester Schools Football Association paid tribute to Murphy in November 2001 after the City youngster made his England debut as an impressive second half substitute in the friendly with Sweden at Old Trafford on 10th November, 2001. The former Kingsway High School Student, who has now played well over 100 games for Liverpool, was first spotted by Dario Gradi at Crewe. Danny Murphy has resurrected an Anfield career that was seemingly drawing to a close at one point. Signed from Crewe Alexandra for £2 million in 1997, after impressing alongside Michael Owen for England in the World Youth Championships, he arrived with a reputation as one of the most promising youngsters in the game.
However, with competition for first team places at Liverpool so tough he struggled to establish himself as nothing other than a fringe player and was loaned back to Gresty Road at the tail end of the 1998/99 season. His Liverpool days were seemingly numbered but on his return the following season he finally made the break though into the first team, scored his first goals for the club and staked a claim for a regular place in the starting line-up.
Whatever Danny Murphy goes on to achieve in football he is already assured of everlasting fame at Anfield thanks to his superbly struck free-kick that earned the merseysiders a coveted first win in ten years against Manchester United at Old Trafford in December 2000. A scorer of spectacular goals, Danny possesses skill and vision and his equally adept playing in midfield or attack. A cruel injury blow forced him to miss out on Liverpool's Worthington Cup final win in 2001 but he figured in the memorable cup final triumph's over Arsenal and Alaves that year as the merseysiders completed an historic treble cup win haul.
Danny continues to play an integral part in the Liverpool squad and have pride in paying tribute to this talented Cestrian.
Over the years, there have been many players to have worn the colours of Chester Football Club. There can be few though who can match the sterling service that Grenville Millington gave to the club in a distinguished playing career which lasted over ten years. Whilst at Sealand Road, Grenville played in our first ever promotion season of 1974/75 and also helped the club to reach the semi finals of the League Cup in the famous cup run of that same season.
From his beginnings, Grenville was born into a family with a footballing heritage, his primary influence on joining the game came through his family. "It was down to my Brother. He started and ended up becoming an international goalkeeper. So he started when we were both young and I always just followed him. He went on to play for West Brom and Wales so it has always been in the family. My uncle played for Shrewsbury so I think that is where it started" said Millington.
Raised locally on Deeside, Grenville impressed in football at an early age, playing for Queensferry Primary Schools, Deeside High School and Flintshire Schoolboys. His performances didn't go unnoticed as he was asked to go along for trials at a number of clubs including Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Crewe Alexandra and Arsenal. However, he left school without being signed by any League club and instead began playing for Queensferry Wanderers Youth. IT was whilst playing for them that Grenville joined Chester. "The late Ron Bishop contacted the Chester Manager, Ken Roberts, and organised a trial for me. I joined Chester on amateur terms."
With Chester, Grenville was signed as cover for the first team 'keeper, but he did impress enough to represent Wales at amateur level. "I won nine amateur caps for Wales and I also represented Great Britain in helping them to qualify for the 1970 Olympic Games. I considered it a major honour to have represented my country at any level." He made his league debut for Chester against Lincoln at Sealand Road. "I was given my first team chance when Terry Carling was injured. We won 2-0." Grenville didn't impress enough to sign professional and in 1970 he was released by Chester. Grenville then joined Cheshire League side, Rhyl. "I had two seasons with Rhyl and I remember my time there as being extremely happy. I then joined Witton Albion with whom Mick Metcalf was with as manager."
In the summer of 1973, Grenville was invited to go on tour with Middlesex Wanderers to Japan. "We stayed for six weeks playing exhibition matches. Upon my return I received a call from the Brighton manager to go for a trial. I spent 12 weeks at Brighton before returning home for a weekend. I received a call from Ron Bishop (again!) to go and see the Chester manager, Ken Roberts, as he wanted a 'keeper. I then signed a professional contract." That was in September 1973. Grenville then went on to serve Chester for nine years in which time he played in many memorable matches for the club.
"The League Cup run of 1974/75 will always have tremendous memories for any Chester fans, but for different reasons the games I will always remember are an end of season friendly against the Police, an away match at Barnsley, a home game against Doncaster, the Newcastle and Leeds League Cup matches and the away match with Aston Villa. I'll also never forget the Vince Pritchard's training sessions and the help I received from the staff including Ken Roberts, Bill Green, Cliff Sear and Vince Pritchard. I'll never forget the tremendous support the fans gave me either."
Grenville continued by marking the famous cup run season as his most favoured memory in football. "I would say the league cup run and getting promotion. I think it was the first time in the history of the club when we got promoted. I think getting promotion was one of the highlights, if not the best one, because the club hadn't been promoted before. But certainly the league cup run holds in everybody's memory. "
For a man who served so long for his home town club, he has lots of stories to tell. "I've got a stack of them!!" he claimed as he began to describe a time when Ken Roberts was asking for volunteers to travel to Cardiff City for a Welsh Cup tie on a Thursday evening, "I remember nobody wanted to go, and we were all so glad when Cardiff scored in the dying stages because none of us wanted to hang around for extra time!"
Grenville continued: "I can remember playing in goal at Colchester, they had a penalty right on the last minute and Colchester's ground is very tight and the supporters are right on you. The guy who put the ball on the spot was a guy called Gary Moore who played for Chester a little bit later on and as he run back to take it, Ian Seddon who was a player at Chester came up to me. I knew Colchester needed the points to get into the top four and we were in mid table so it was very tense. He walked towards me and as I was standing in goal he said what's on the pitch at Chester Granville? I said 'I don't know Ian', he said 'Oh, all right then and as he walked out I said, which way is he gonna put this penalty. He said, I don't know I haven't a clue. And of course I'd like to say I stopped him, but I dived out of the way and he scored."
Grenville came to leave Chester at the end of the 1981/82 season having made 289 League appearances. "The new manager, John Sainty, told me that he didn't want any part time players, I had gone part time after I had moved into business, so that was the end." However, it wasn't the end of Grenville's football career. "I played for Holywell reserves with my good friend Glyn Griffiths before rejoining Ken Roberts who was manager of Oswestry Town." The in December 1983, Grenville received a call to help Wrexham out of a goalkeeping crisis. "Bobby Roberts asked me and I signed for Wrexham as a non contract player." Replacing a young Stuart Parker in the Wrexham team, Grenville made his league debut in a 1-1 home draw with Darlington on New Year's Eve 1983. The likeable custodian that kept his place in the Wrexham team until the end of March before being replaced by Ronnie Sinclair. "I have mixed memories of my time with Wrexham. The place and the people were so friendly, but I had a leg injury that would not go away so I always thought that I could have done better."
All in all though, despite the good times, Grenville recalls relegation with Chester as a distinct low point, ""We were relegated one year, and we got relegated in a big way. We weren't just relegated but in a big way and that was very disappointing. It is hard to get back as Chester are experiencing at the moment in the Conference. " Our former goalkeeper still gets involved in all the action down the deva stadium continuing on at the club in his current position as goalkeeping coach, "I coach the kids main, and there's one or two real good ones at the club but I help Wayne Brown out too."
FA Cup 3rd Round - 9 January 1965
Legendary Manchester United footballers such as George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton were given a tough time as the Theatre of Dreams was awash with Cestrian cup fever. In front of a record attendance for a competitive fixture involving Chester Football Club, over 45,000 mancunians packed into Old Trafford for a thrilling cup tie as lowly Chester almost caused one of the FA Cup's most unbelievable upsets.
The English FA Cup Competition is renowned for its unpredictability, seldom has it been labelled by many football writers as the greatest knockout cup competition in the world. In his Old Trafford programme notes, Manchester United Manager Sir Matt Busby was expecting a difficult test from his lower division counterparts. He wrote: "The records show we have never previously clashed with Chester in the FA Cup, but I feel sure we can look forward to an exciting and interesting match against opponents who have built up a sound reputation as an enterprising side recently". Busby continued, "Our last meeting was at Chester's Sealand Road enclosure nearly three years ago when, in a friendly, we had the distinction of being the first side to play under their new floodlighting system.
In 1965, Manchester United who were three leagues above Chester at the time got quite a fright as the Cestrians took a shock lead in a rousing first half display. Cheered on by thousands of Cestrians it was Chester who took the game to their illustrious hosts right from the off leaving the Stretford End wondering what was going on.
The national press looked on in dismay, expecting the Red Devis to make easy work of disposing Chester from this FA Cup campaign, however the sunday newspapers were collectively full of praise for a brave Chester side, this following report was published by the Daily Mail.
Two players dominated this rousing, so typical FA Cup thriller - Chester's goalkeeper hero, Dennis Reeves and Bobby Charlton, the one united forward to live up to his reputation in this David and Goliath clash. Reeves was magnificent. Charlton, whose vintage scheming show virtually put United into the Fourth Round. Forget the scoreline, It does not tell the story of this match ... a point which the gallant Reeves would readilly concede.
United should have won far more convincingly. Had it not been for Reeves and his gallant colleagues they would have done so. Chester, of course, had the inspiration of a ninth-minute shock lead. And what a beautifully taken goal it was as Jimmy Humes threw himself at a Hugh Ryden corner. Their jubilation was understandable as the ball fairly whistled into the corner of the net.
There the score stood for 50 minutes. In between Reeves covered himself in mud and glory. United's chance taking did not match their outfield work. Too often they were in a hurry ... and played into the hands of Chester's well drilled defence. How different it was in the second half. United began to play more like themselves. Charlton saw to that. His superb ball control and searing runs put the skids under Chester. And, of course, it was his flighted pass which brought the long-awaited equaliser in the 59th minute.
That pass dropped at the feet of the unmarked George Best and from the inside left position, the little winger turned and rammed it into the net to put United on the vistory trail. Three minutes later, debutant Albert Kinsley, who had seemed a trifle out of his depth, got the winner from close range after a long, searching cross from the left had bounced luckily his way off the outstretched foot of left back Malcolm Starkey.
It seemed all over bar the shouting. But salute gallant chester. They were far from finished and it took a fine peice of work by Charlton, in his own penalty area, to get United out of trouble, eight minutes from the end. With only seconds left another do-or-die save by big Bill Foulkes prevented an almost certain equaliser when Gary Talbot all but met a pass from Mike Metcalf.
Of all the places my tea has been eaten,
Few have been better than Nuneaton,
And as I travelled south last Friday night,
I hoped that things would at last go right,
For two defeats in a row had been suffered by we,
The mighty Chester City F.C.
Our first year in the Conference has blown hot and cold,
Moderate success from our side combining young and old,
And while several matches have been somewhat tame,
Others have been thrilling like this game,
But within minutes of the start of the proceedings for the night,
It was 1-0 to the Boro' boys in blue and white.
But these days City can find a way back,
And soon looked dangerous on the attack,
Mark Beesley's goal meant our deficit had gone,
Stevie Whitehall put us ahead, 2-1,
Boro' should have soon levelled from the spot,
But Peake failed to score with his tame shot.
The second half saw City survive an onslaught,
But every ball of danger, Brownie caught,
And three points were to be finally found,
In the humble surroundings of this ground,
For few experiences, light or dark,
Can beat my night out at Manor Park.
At uni in the Potteries I'll laugh and joke,
After all, Boro' did beat the mighty Stoke,
And provided Canvey Island are no trouble,
We'll have completed a unique double,
Of beating the two unfancied non-league teams,
Who shattered Stoke and Vale's F.A. Cup dreams.
Yet it is the FA Trophy occupying my mind,
For once each draw has been so kind,
And always been given a draw at home,
We're one round from Villa, a footballing dome,
So if we beat Canvey, we're at last in a final,
First time since before music was played on vinyl.
Eamonn O'Keefe was born in Manchester on 13th October 1953 and played as a teeneger for Stalybridge Celtic before a spell with Plymouth Argyle. He didn't make the Plymouth side but went instead to play for top Saudi Arabian Club Al Hilal returning to Manchester disillusioned and signing for Mossley in December 1976 under the then unknown manager Howard Wilkinson as a left full back.
Upon Bob Murphy's return to Seel Park as manager a year later O'Keefe was moved to an attacking midfield position and it was one he relished. His pace, power and eye for goal saw him help Mossley to the Northern Premier League & Cup double in 1978-79 and a place in the England Semi Pro side. He played against Scotland and Holland in the May 1979 tournament scoring the winning goal against Holland in the final.
O'Keefe was then snapped up by Gordon Lee at Everton for a £25,000 fee, money that went on to paid for the erection of the Park End stand at Mossley's Seel Park ground. Eamonn went on to make 40 appearances for Everton scoring 6 goals and was capped by the Republic of Ireland, thanks to his fathers origin on 5 occasions and made a further 4 appearances as an over-age player in the under 21 side. He was then transferred to Wigan Athletic for a £60,000 fee and had later spells with Port Vale, Blackpool, St. Patrick's Athletic (Ireland) before Harry McNally signed the player for the Blues.
Eamonn went on to make a string of appearances for the Blues, quickly becoming a Sealand Road favourite during his final playing days of an interesting career. After leaving City, Eamonn went on to have a brief spell as a manager of Ireland national league team Cork City.
David Pugh was one of many a shrewd non-league signings by arguably one of Chester's most charismatic managers, Harry McNally. Despite never playing professional football himself Harry, as many Chester supporters recall, was a huge character. He knew football inside and out at all levels and when he spotted David Pugh plying his wares with then local Conference side Runcorn, he saw potential in David and knew he would be an idea acquisition for the Blues. But 'Pughie' as he was known by his Deva teammates recalls life being difficult under Harry's management. "The first few years were a nightmare with Harry," Pugh recalled. "He didn't play me in the right position" confessed Pughie.
But when Graham Barrow was appointed successor to Harry McNally, David Pugh's career saw something of a revival and he proved a big hit with the Deva Stadium supporters. David still remembers the fans chanting his name off the terraces and puts that down as one of the greatest feelings he experienced in his playing career. "The last season I was at the Deva was great with Graham Barrow in charge. I was played in the right position, we won promotion and I scored one or two good goals." Pugh continued, "the one I scored at Rochdale sticks out in the memory, I still have a lot on video. I watch them now and again. I still keep in touch with Chris Lightfoot, Graham Abel, Gary Bennett and I work with Billy Stewart at Liverpool. We had some great laughs together."
Pugh left the Deva Stadium shortly after Graham Barrow resigned over a disagreement with the board of directors. He soon signed for fellow league team Bury at a cut price transfer fee. Since retiring from the game, Pugh now works for Liverpool Football Club as a full time coach along with other former City player, goalkeeper Billy Stewart. Saddened to see how far Chester City have declined, the former City star firmly thinks the new management team can help restore the club to its former glory. "Oh god yeah", said Pugh, "things have changed here, but I think they can sort themselves out." Not ruling out a future managerial position himself, Pugh believes Chester have found the right man in Mark Wright to guide the club to future success. "You've got to have a proven manager at this level, someone who has an in-depth knowledge of non-league."
Arguably Chester's most famous export, and you would have known just how successful Ian Rush would turn out to be just by watching him dramatically break into Chester's first team in 1979/80. A young Rushie first caught the eye of Chester youth coach Cliff Sear whilst playing his football at schoolboy level around Deeside. Sear immediately spotted his great potential and before his fifteenth birthday he had signed schoolboy forms with Chester before gaining an appenticeship at the beginning of the 1978/79 season. "I spent the summer of 1977 helping to paint the old main stand at Sealand Road!"
Rushie spent his first season in the reserve and youth teams under the guidance of Cliff Sear. "I scored a few goals that season, but nothing to get excited about. I used to clean the boots of the first team centre half Bob Delgado, probably the chirpiest character at the club." But playing for Chester and earning sixteen pounds a week was the heady heights for a kid who had to start his career in hand me down boots. But the St Asaph born lad quickly became Britain's most expensive teenager when Bob Paisley paid £350,000 to sign him from Chester. That after Rushie had broken into the first team with style notching his first senior goal at Gillingham - a right footer from all of eight yards out "It wasn't the most spectacular goal I ever scored, but I still get a kick just talking about it. It's one of my most cherished memories." Rushie went on to score seventeen goals in thirty four games that season. "I remember I was given an emotional farewell at Chester, where double the normal crowd were in the ground for my last game and hundreds of youngsters invaded the pitch at the end to cheer me off"
Ian Rush's departure from Sealand Road for Anfield was a relatively quiet one. He went to Liverpool as an 18 year old in April 1980, as he recalls "It was March that Liverpool first wanted to sign me, and I turned them down! I felt that I was nowhere near good enough to play for them". But Rush had certainly got himself noticed by the end of the 1980-81 season. His debut was against Oulon Palloseura of Finland in the successful European Cup campaign of that season, but many remember him from the 1981 League Cup Final replay against West Ham. Although he didn't score, his pace was breathtaking and he came very close on more than one occasion. The season ended on a high for Liverpool, and the Ian Rush legend was in the making.
Rush's first Wembley goal came in the following season's League Cup Final, this time against Spurs. It also saw his first Championship (he was to win five in all), and the beginnings of perhaps the most prolific striking partnership in British football - Rush and Dalglish. How could defences cope with the mastery and trickery of Dalglish, combined with the ruthlessness of the predator Rush. I n truth, they rarely did, allowing Rush to go on to score an incredible 345 goals in a Liverpool shirt in a massive 649 appearances.
It is hard to pick out the highlights of such a phenomenal footballing career, there are just so many!! How could anyone forget the sheer weight of goals scored in the early years? The dramatic return to Anfield in 1988, a transfer coup to rank with the best of them? Or the 1989 Cup Final where Rush came of the bench to score twice and win Liverpool the Cup? Best of all perhaps, the 1986 Cup Final, the first Mersey Final. Outplayed for much of the first half, Bruce Grobelaar almost coming to blows with his defence, only for Rush to come good in the second half to destroy the team he supported as a boy. The double went to Anfield for the first time, Everton piped to the post twice, and the second best goalscorer of the 1980s having to settle for a Wembley goal and a runners-up medal.
What was the appeal of Ian Rush? It was his modesty, his incredible workrate (the first line of defence), his desire to play football, a desire that ironically led to his departure from Liverpool to Leeds United in the summer of 1996. It simply wasn't enough for Ian Rush to sit on the bench and pick up his wages at the end of the week. He wanted to play first team football, to feel the buzz on a Saturday afternoon in front of seething crowds, to do what he did best.
On one of the coldest nights of the season in February 1997 Ian Rush came home. It wasn't the homecoming all liverpool supporters had hoped for - Rush was only a second half substitute, but the reception was fantastic (as it had been earlier in the season at Elland road) and like the predator he was Rush was desperate to score. Despite Leeds being 3-0 down by the time he came on he fought hard. I personally remember watching him on satellite television fight for so long before, never giving up, never admitting defeat. How many at Anfield would have denied him a consolation goal on that cold winter's night at Anfield?
All in all Rushie had a glittering football career, his haul of 44 FA Cup goals (39 of them for Liverpool) is a 20th century record while his five-goal total in FA Cup Finals (two in 1986 and 1989 and one in 1992 all on winning Liverpool sides) is an all-time best by an individual. Rush shares with Geoff Hurst the League Cup scoring record of 49 and was the first player to win that competition five times, completing his nap hand as Liverpool captain against Bolton in 1995. He scored 10 times in 18 Wembley outings for the club.
He also collected five Championship medals, one European Cup and was awarded the MBE. Rush scored an all-time Mersey derby record of 25 goals against Everton, won Europe's Golden Boot with 32 League goals in 1984 when he was also double Footballer of the Year and captained Wales, for whom he scored a record 28 goals in 73 games. After leaving Leeds United he later played for Newcastle United, and near rivals Wrexham and Sydney Olympic.
Currently playing for Swindon Town, Birkenhead born Alan Reeves begun his topsy turvy football career with wirral side, Heswall. Under impressive form, the centre back was quickly snapped up by Norwich City in 1987. Opportunities were few and far between at Norwich and with Reeves missing life closer to home, he quickly opted for a move back over in the North West with Chester City.
However, his spell at Sealand Road was short lived. Still unsettled, the six foot defender was placed on the transfer list all season after experiencing an unhappy time at Sealand Road, but moved on in the following summer to Rochdale with the aim of revitalising his career. Outstanding performances for the Dale in his natural central defensive position resulted in a £300,000 move to Wimbledon in 1994.
Signed under the Bosman ruling from Wimbledon, Alan only become a first-team regular during the 1999/2000 season, under Jimmy Quinn. Alan left the 'Crazy Gang' for Swindon in search of regular football and up to then, Reeves hadn't really produced any form at the club. One of new manager Colin Todd's first actions was to tell Reeves that he could leave on a free transfer.
However, Reeves impressed during the next pre-season campaign, and was taken off the transfer list. He was given a second chance by Andy King when he was installed as manager and his displays at the heart of the Swindon defence earned him the captaincy. Alan signed a new contract at the end of the 2000/2001 season and early into 2002 he even scored a vital goal against our close rivals Wrexham (thanks Alan!!) that may go some way towards pushing the struggling Racecourse side closer to relegation.
A good professional 'Reevesy' also has the ability to score goals. He's a good team leader and an excellent motivator who had the potential to go even further in his career, had he so desired to do so.
When Everton beat Watford 2-0 in the FA Cup final of 1984, Kevin Ratcliffe became the youngest captain since Bobby Moore (23 years previously) to lift the famous trophy. That match signalled the start of the most successful period in the club's history. In the next three seasons, Ratcliffe skippered Everton to the European Cup-Winners' Cup, two League Titles and two more FA Cup Finals.
It so nearly didn't happen. After impressing against the formidable Joe Jordan on his debut at Old Trafford in 1980, Ratcliffe spent two years yo-yo-ing in and out of the side and might have left for Ipswich after a difference of opinion with manager Howard Kendall. However, in December of 1982, he claimed a first-team place for good, and from then on it all happened very quickly: within a year he was made team captain, and soon after that was representing Wales.
All the trophies came in the 3½ seasons after he made the captain's armband his. There might well have been another even bigger cup – in 1985 Everton were unquestionably the best side in England, and as Champions they stood every chance of winning the European Cup the following season. Cruelly, they were denied their opportunity by the post-Heysel ban on English clubs in Uefa competitions.
While Ratcliffe was a footballer of limited natural ability, such were his pace, reading of and general approach to the game that this became irrelevant. It was his speed that caught the eye most – even if the Everton offside trap was breached, he was often able to turn and catch the intruder; indeed, they used to say you could tell the day after a match if he'd been playing as the pitch would be covered in scorchmarks.
He was predominantly left-footed, and his touch on the ball was only average, but he easily overcame these by concentrating on doing the simple things well and not elaborating unnecessarily. Neither was he dominant in the air, being competent rather than competitive, but when he played alongside such aerial battering-rams as Derek Mountfield and Dave Watson, he didn't really have to be. Nevertheless, while Kevin Ratcliffe is an Everton legend of the highest order. Had he been a more adept footballer, his name would probably be mentioned with the same reverence as Bobby Moore.
After leaving Everton, he went to Scotland and played for a short spell with Dundee United before returning to England and played very briefly for Derby County before joining Mike Pejic at the Deva Stadium. Pejic's reign was to be short lived as Chester struggled in the second division, when Pejic left the club, Ratcliffe then went on to manage Chester City after being appointed by chairman Mark Gutterman. When Kevin joined the Blues his distinguished playing career was coming to its end, he made a number of elementary mistakes on the field and that didn't go down too well with the supporters who taunted him for being Welsh for some time. But, once praised as being "the best young manager in the country" by Chairman Gutterman, Ratcliffe won the fans over for his no nonsense management approach.
The key highlight of his management career at the Deva Stadium was achieved when Ratcliffe took the club to the 1995-96 playoffs, only to drop out at the hands of a comprehensive defeat by Swansea City. He is another in a long line of ex-Evertonians who have gone into management, and another who before long may well be tipped to return to Goodison as manager at some stage. Who know's what might have been as Ratcliffe seemed destined for a long spell in charge at the Deva Stadium, he event went to the lengths of paying a £5,000 water bill to ensure a pre-season friendly with Everton took place. But the controversial American Terry Smith bought the club and immediately fell out with 'ratters' after expressing his personal desire to be involved in first team affairs. It wasn't long before the former toffeeman was back in football though, he was soon to be put in charge of team affairs with Shrewsbury Town.
Within the Deva Stadium cathedral of football, the congregation could only watch with disappointment and believe they were attending a funeral service for Chester City's Football League career. As the home supporters filed away after the final whistle that dark saturday afternoon in May, they paid their final respects and kissed goodbye to the concluding chapter of Chester City's sixty nine year association with the Football League. A status that looks like becoming evidently more and more difficult to regain as time goes by.
By the Chester City manager's own admission, the club had failed in what could have been deemed to be one of the greatest escape acts of all time. Ian Atkins was brought in on a life support mission to revive the clubs fortunes. His leadership skills swept through the club like a massive breath of fresh air and he really did give us a fighting chance after a first half that had it continued, may have delivered the earliest relegation in footballing history. "There is a lot of feeling about what went on in the first part of the season," he said in the quiet sanctuary of his office an hour after the final whistle had confirmed the darkest hour in his managerial career. In every club from Ross County to Exeter City there are dramas unfolding, no more so during the final football league season at Chester City.
"It was a different game and Peterborough did well on the day," Atkins added. "I can't knock the players and I feel for the supporters. We've done brilliantly to give ourselves a chance." He set the club's pulse racing from rapid to weak by masterminding an incredibly entertaining demolition job over Mansfield Town. But then Chester were to struggle to find any competitiveness against Brighton and Hove Albion, who's hefty victory over the blues could have been responsible for placing one of the final nails in the Chester coffin.
But for the triumphant insults of the visiting Peterborough fans the atmosphere would have been funeral like from the near five thousand crowd that packed inside the tiny, cramped Deva breeze blocks to witness the most hurtful act of vandalism to ever be initiated at Chester City. The barbarous destruction of the football club who nurtured Ian Rush into the game, who once upon a time made it to the heady heights of the League Cup Semi Finals was there for all to see throughout that final football league campaign. But on that final day of the 1999/2000 season, Chester City Football Club was left hanging on to a thin threaded lifeline. They had one final chance to evade that much feared relegation into non-league obscurity by beating Barry Fry's Peterborough United.
But the game was effectively placed beyond them just after the hour, when on sixty four minutes Peterborough substitute Richie Hanlon's goal shook the deva foundations that finally collapsed with the after shock of the news that Shrewsbury Town had won in Exeter. Chester struggled to make any impression on the Peterborough defence. The visitors looked more and more threatening as City became more tense, Hanlon collected the ball 30 yards out and with virtually his first touch, since being sent on as a substitute just a minute earlier, he rifled the ball home off the post. With the Conference trap door opening beneath them Chester fought hard to repair the damage and Mark Tyler did well to keep out a Hemmings free kick and Beckett was a hair's thickness away from connecting with substitute Darren Wright's subtle lob. But it wasn't Chester's day. It wasn't their season. The game was up and the fans knew it.
Chester fans have suffered more disappointments than most since the club joined the League in 1931, but none, no matter how bad can ever be compared to this. A day that had promised so much delivered severe heart breaking pain that, for many true blues, proved too much and the tears flowed. Chester Chronicle's Ian Bedford summed up the feeling quite well, opening his match report the following Friday by describing the blow as being so indescribably large that it could have registered on the Richter scale.
Peterborough manager Barry Fry was clearly distrought after the game, his thoughts and memories of relegation well documented in his personal autobiography, 'Big Fry'. Fry is commonly known as one of the most engaging and entertaining characters in English football, a man who knows the game inside and out and a man who has seen it all in football, success and failure. However, he never enjoys witnessing relegation, and his side, Peterborough United have relegated two sides in successions, firstly Scarborough and now Chester City. In his book Fry said: "The Chester game had deep significance in that they were fighting for their lives and in the lead up to it I decided to take a gamble and held a private practise match at Cambridge solely for the benefit of goalkeeper Tyler."
Fry continued: "Although he started off shakily in this private game, conceding two early goals, Mark showed me enough to justify his selection and there in no doubt that my picking him, and his subsequent fine display in the 1-0 win at Chester, was a massive boost to everybody as we looked forward to the play offs. My gamble had paid off big time, but for Chester there was no such luck. For the second season in succession we were to send a team tumbling into the Conference on the last day, having brought about Scarborough's demise a year previously. There is no joy in that. The place is like a morgue. All you see around you are fans crying and players on the pitch with their heads in their hands and when you go into the boardroom for a drink there are no hellos and goodbyes from people who are simply overcome with grief. You just pour yourself a glass of something, knock it back and get out of there. There is no consoling anybody."
Fry really did look distraught as he departed from the Deva glum. As Chester look likely to struggle through their second Conference campaign, it remains to be seen if the damage of the Terry Smith regime is Irreparable.
Chants of "Big Cyrille, oooh ah, Big Cyrille" echoed around the stadium as the former England and Coventry star strutted his stuff on the hallowed Deva turf. Hailed a hero by the North terrace regulars, Regis played a commanding role during Kevin Ratcliffe's first full season in charge of the Blues.
Cyrille Regis will always be remembered as one of Coventry City's most illustrious sons. The ex-striker expressed his surprise, but was clearly pleased by the belated show of support. The french born striker, whose trademark was scoring highly spectacular goals, began his playing career in the midlands with West Bromwich Albion alongside other star players like Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson, Derek Statham, Len Cantello and Tony 'Bomber' Brown.
Regis broke into the first team at West Bromwhich Albion within a few months of signing for West Brom in May 1977 and remembers some of the racial abuse that he endured initially from some of the Hawthorns crowd, "I think they were rebelling against me 'cause I'd taken a white guy's place in the team," he said. However, the West Brom fans were quickly impressed by his early scoring exploits and were quick to warm to the former electrician who had joined Albion from the non-league obscurity of Hayes.
Regis believed that it was this early recognition and acceptance of his talents by both the club and fans alike, which allowed his career at the Baggies to develop. Large black communities in nearby Handsworth also provided support for Regis and his colleagues at a time when coloured supporters were reluctant to attend matches for fear of their own safety. Regis would later reach the pinnacle of his career in 1987, when he was a key figure in Coventry City's F.A. Cup winning triumph.
He stayed at Coventry City for another seven years, winning the only major medal of his career. He then played two years for Aston Villa and ended his career at Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wycombe Wanderers and finally with the Blues. Regis played twenty seven times for Chester helping contribute to a relatively successful season by scoring seven goals that term. His outstanding performances made him a joy to watch as his strong commanding figure became clearly too much for many opposing sides in Division Three that year.
Chester City 3 Preston North End 2 (2/4/94)
During this easter weekend, Chester City took a massive step towards promotion back to Division 2 with a memorable win over Preston North End. Let's today look back at the game and events of the time…
This Easter Saturday fixture assumed the status of Chester's biggest match of the season, with City top of Division 3 and Preston fifth, just five points behind and with a game in hand. City had drawn 1-1 at Deepdale at Christmas in front of 12,790, but with the Blues unbeaten at home since September and North End struggling away from home, Chester fans were confident of victory. In the visitors line-up was future City legend Stuart Hicks, while City were as follows: David Felgate, Spencer Whelan, Joe Jakub, Roger Preece, Mark Came, Colin Greenall, Dave Thompson, Graham Barrow (Stuart Rimmer), Mark Leonard, Graham Lancashire, David Pugh. None of Chester's team that day are currently playing in the Football League, although Felgate and Preece have both appeared in the Conference this season, for Leigh RMI and Telford United respectively.s
Sadly, the game was partly overshadowed by an infamous lock-out of hundreds of fans of both sides after the unfortunate decision was made not to make the game all-ticket. 5,638 made it inside to witness a titanic struggle and they were the lucky ones as they witnessed an end-to-end affair. This was despite a howling wind that made conditions difficult. City also made life difficult for themselves after conceding a 13th minute opener from Gareth Ainsworth, before loan-man Lancashire bundled home an equaliser ten minutes later. Yet they still went in behind at the break after the prolific Tony Ellis struck shortly after the half-hour mark to the delight of the travelling hordes.
City were missing the leadership of Chris Lightfoot in midfield, and after Barrow ended his own league career at half time, the side looked a little depleted in the middle. But after weathering a North End storm at the start of the second half, City came back into the game and levelled on 67 minutes through a looping header from Leonard. The impetus was now with City, who scored a dramatic winner three minutes from time. Pugh's cross eluded goalkeeper Steve Woods and Lancashire was on hand to score from close-range to send the Deva into raptures.
Chester gained eight points from the next four games to clinch promotion on St. George's Day after beating Hereford United 3-1, finishing runners-up to Shrewsbury Town. Preston had to be content with a place in the play-offs, where they lost to Wycombe Wanderers.
Despite their reputation as a giant of non-league football, Yeovil endured a miserable mid-1990s. The 1993/94 season saw them finish a lowly 19th in the Conference, just avoiding relegation (which they duly suffered a year later). They did though experience some success in cup football, finishing runners-up to Macclesfield Town in the Conference League Cup and eliminating 2nd Division Fulham from the FA Cup.
Where Were They Then?
A number of our current staff had cause to celebrate in 1993/94. Iain Jenkins played a key role in our promotion team, while Ted McMinn (Burnley), Andy Porter (Port Vale) and Dean Spink (Shrewsbury Town) all helped their sides go up. Meanwhile, Gary Brabin appeared in the FA Trophy final for Runcorn and was in the England semi-professional side, while teenagers Wayne Brown (Bristol City) and Stuart Whittaker (Bolton Wanderers) both made their league debuts in the First Division. Brian McGorry was transferred for £60,000 from AFC Bournemouth (where Michael McElhatton was starting his career) to Peterborough United but was unable to save the Posh from relegation to the 2nd Division. Mark Wright was a regular in the Liverpool team that finished in a lowly (by their standards) 8th position.
Do you discard your football programme after every match? Just imagine if you had supported Chester for 50 years or so and had kept every programme since your first visit to Sealand Road. Today, you would possess a valuable treasure-chest of memorabilia documenting the evolution of the club from the days of past glories to those of current life at the Deva Stadium and the progression of programme features from cartoons to computer aided graphics. This website attempts to give you an insight into the memories that such a post war collection would contain.
I believe that football programmes are the one true link between a football club and its supporters. Each issue represents a fraction of the club's history, and that there is no better way to track the joys and sorrows associated with Chester than through the perspectives gleaned from the writings penned week to week in home and away publications. The offerings of yesteryear provide reliable chronicles of the happenings at Chester Football Club and the rise and fall of household names and famous teams, as well as insights into events around the City.
This part of Talking Blue charts the changing designs and contents of programmes from the spartan issues available immediately after Word War II to the magazines of today. In addition, you will see images of programme covers for each season to highlight representative home issues and some of the more sought-after away editions. These illustrations will allow you to form your own impressions about the changing face of the game and may evoke nostalgic memories of your favourite footballers and matches.
I designated this section of the website for supporters and collectors of all ages with a passion for football and a fascination with Chester's proud history.
Pre-war programmes from Chester Football Club are few and far between. Having gained election to the Football League from the Cheshire League in 1931, they remain much sought after and can command high prices for each individual copy when and if they come on the market. This particular issue illustrated dates back to the 1934-35 season when Chester finished in third position in the old Football League Third Division North setup, ironically enough behind Champions Doncaster Rovers and Halifax Town who have both tasted Conference football in the last five years. In those days it was particularly hard to gain promotion to the second division, as only the Champions went up.
A large 16 page programme printed by Williams and Mansley of Chester was the order of the day with a wrap around cover being used. There was no mention of their opponents or date on the front cover, it carried a drawing of a Chester player in his Blue and White striped shirt was overshadowed by a more prominent advert for Walker's Warrington & Falstaff Ales. This game played against York City at the old Sealand Road ground in September 1934 resulted in a 5-1 win for the home side.
Very few pre-war programmes give any details of attendances, but this one was the exception, not only informing the public of how many supporters had attended the games, but also giving the gate receipts too. The first team was averaging in the region of 9,000 spectators at each home league game, with the reserves, who competed in the Cheshire League, getting more than 2,000 a game to watch them. The highest gate receipts that season to date had been a paltry £492.9s.6d. for a game against Hartlepool which had attracted a gate of 8,979. By my reckoning, I make that an average admission price of 5p per customer, a bit different from the prices paid to watch Chester City play these days.
At the age of thirteen, I watched the 1990 world cup championships in awe, following the trials and tribulations of Bobby Robson's England crusade through Italy. Gasgione's tears et al. Little did I know then, that England defender and former Everton stalwart, Gary Steven would be working at the Deva Stadium ten years on. The things that struck the onlooker about the young Barrow in Furness born Gary Stevens were his pace and stamina rather than any outstanding technique or intelligence. True enough, he never was as naturally gifted a footballer as his right-sided partner in crime Trevor Steven, for example, but he was certainly able enough and always showed a willingness to work hard on his ball skills and learn to play better football.
Gary joined the toffeemen as a Barrow schoolboy playing in midfield, but somewhere along the path from youth team to fist eleven he was converted into a right-back. It was a position that suited him well, so much so that he made his senior debut in the number two shirt at the tender age of eighteen. Even at that stage his quality showed; even if a winger tricked his way past the Stevens challenge he was frequently thwarted by a second tackle from the youngster before a cross could be delivered, such was his ability to recover.
Stevens settled so neatly into the side that Everton found they could do without Brian Borrows, a contemporary of his and no mean footballer, some Evertonians would describe Brian as a considerably better player technically than Stevens but lacking the raw pace that frustrated so many wingers who faced Stevens. Borrows was released in 1983 by Howard Kendall, who judged rightly, as it transpired that Stevens's footballing attributes could be improved considerably. Indeed, after no little effort on his part, Stevens became a very capable footballer, his crossing in particular improving tangibly.
The effect to which Stevens linked with Trevor Steven down the Everton right did not go unnoticed. The benefits of their highly successful partnership were reaped not only by their club but also by their country. The fine Everton side of the mid-eighties supplied four players to the England squad for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, the right-sided pair accompanied by Peter Reid and Gary Lineker. In fact, only Reid of those four was missing from the party at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, though by that stage all four had left Everton. Stevens went in 1988 after falling out with manager Colin Harvey, signing for Rangers, where he was joined a year later by Steven. Later he returned to Merseyside with Tranmere Rovers, for whom he played an important role in their relatively successful spell in the early nineties.
After retiring from the game, 38 year old Gary joined Chester City during the Summer of 2001. Appointed by Gordon Hill, Gary is studying sports physiotherapy at Salford University and assisted Chris Malkin with the task of providing physiotherapy support to the current Chester first team squad. After a poor run of form, Gary was dismissed during the festive period, along with management team partners Chris Malkin and blues boss Steve Mungall.