As the UK waits to see how David Cameron will mend Britain’s battered economy a separate rehabilitation program is complete in the town of Chester. Chester City FC, who were liquidated on March 10th 2010, have been reformed by a consortium of fans under the name of City Fans United.
During a time where football fans everywhere have been deluded by certain aspects of the modern game, such as the staggering debts clubs have amassed, the astronomical wages players are paid combined with the disgusting behaviour displayed by some of the so called “leaders of the game”, this amazing story gives everyone hope.
News coming through that the local council had granted the lease of the Deva Stadium to the consortium on a five year deal, means that the club will play their first game under the new name of Chester FC in August. They will start in either in the Evo Stick Premier League (formerly known as the Unibond League) or the Evo Stick First Division North- two or three leagues below the Conference.
It was assumed by everyone that liquidation would spell the end of the club that had been in existence since 1885. However, this group of fans have proven that the power of an undying love for a club along with a sense strong community spirit will always overcome the influence of poor management and corruption in football.
As complex as the situation seems at Chester the problems started from an all too familiar source. In 1989, whilst playing in the old Third Division, the club was separated from its stadium by the then chairman, Eric Barnes. Barnes sold the Sealand Road Stadium to the Greyhound Retail Park and left Chester City without a place to play. In desperation Chester were forced to ground share with Macclesfield for two years- 45 miles away from their home. Crowds barely reached four figures and the outlook was bleak.
In 1992 a popular new chairman named Ray Coates managed to bring the club back to Chester with the development of the 5829 capacity Deva Stadium. Despite being relegated back to the newly formed Division Three in their first season back in Chester, the club finally had regained a sense of solidarity and immediately won promotion back to Division Two the season after. Unfortunately, Coates was then forced to retire due to ill health and sold the club to property developer Mark Guterman.
Guterman’s reign was one that made Mark Goldberg (the guy who managed to waste his fortune on Crystal Palace in six months) look like a genius because, under Gutermans leadership, the club faced numerous winding up orders failing to pay its players, which led to the club being put into administration in 1998.
Despite the problems off the pitch, Chester (who were now in Division Three) continued to play attractive football, with numerous youth team players in the first team, and were kept up through the intelligent management of Kevin Ratcliffe.
In July 1999, yet another change of ownership was in place with the club being bought out by American Terry Smith. Smith promised a quick rise to the then First Division but only succeeded in taking the club out of the Football League entirely.
The 2000-2001 season saw Chester finish a disappointing eighth in the Conference, but bigger problems were to come, because during the following summer it became apparent that the club was in grave danger of becoming insolvent. They were saved in September 2001 by Liverpool amateur boxing promoter Stephen Vaughan. Vaughan (who recently became the only person ever to fail the FA’s fit and proper persons test) appointed Mark Wright as manager and after missing out on promotion via the playoffs in 2003, City finally made it back to the Football League by becoming Conference champions in 2004. This was the club’s first ever National title and the only way was up, or so it seemed.
On the eve of the clubs first game back in the Football League, and with anticipation in Chester reaching fever pitch, Mark Wright resigned due to a disagreement with the chairman. Chester continued to struggle eventually being relegated back to the Conference on the final day of the 2008-2009 campaign.
The truth of the matter was that this sorry tale is a story of a club wrecked by greed, corruption and gross incompetence. The money started to dry up in 2007 when one of the clubs major benefactors mysteriously died. The club held a minute’s silence and it was later revealed that the benefactor was a man by the name of Curtis Warren- a notorious Liverpool gangster murdered by a rival gang. This forced Vaughan to resign as chairman and he was replaced by his son, Stephen Vaughan Jr, who was just 24 at the time. Vaughan Jr voluntarily put the club into administration at the end of 2008-2009 season by which time they had been through 18 managers in nine years. City were then bought back by a consortium under the name of Chester City 2004 which included various members of the Vaughan family, in turn raising questions about the validity of the CVA. Chester started the 2009-2010 season with a 25 point deficit for being in administration and for being found guilty of financial irregularities. The club was eventually liquidated in March and Stephen Vaughan, along with his son, were charged for the serious assault of a police officer just three weeks later.
However, despite suffering under the ownership of the Vaughan family, plans had been in place to reform the club long before its eventual demise. This meant that the CFU consortium were able to forward an application to the FA asking permission for reformation the day Chester City went into liquidation.
City Fans United was born through various sets of supporters groups coming together along with the assistance of people from clubs who had been there before, specifically from Kevin Rye of AFC Wimbledon and Supporters Direct.
This resulted in local schoolteacher and fifty year season ticket holder Chris Pilsbury being elected as chairman and at this current point in time CFU has over 1500 members. The clubs business plans had been put together long before March 10th with advice forthcoming from newly formed clubs, such as AFC Telford and AFC Manchester, and they have now been approved by the FA. This, combined with the fact that they now have a place to play, has allowed Chester FC to start advertising for a manager who will be in charge of recruiting the playing staff, all of which has been incorporated into the budget of the business plan. Because City Fans United applied to reform the club the same day that it went into liquidation Chester FC will not need to start playing at the very bottom of the football pyramid. As well as this they will be able to carry the previous 125 years of history forward under their new name. Teams playing in the Evo Stick leagues typically only attract crowds of around 300, so Chester FC expect to make quick progress as they look to re-establish themselves as a Football League club.
This past season has seen numerous clubs end up in court over winding up orders, but the story of CFU shows us is that the power of a football fan will always be greater than the power those who enforce the law as well as those who break it.
What the consortium of City Fans United has done is an act of football at its purest. Players and managers come and go at every club in the world, but what this marvelous tale proves is that the fans of any club will always be the true driving force behind it all.
This summer will see the greatest players on Earth come together for the World Cup in the exotic setting of South Africa. The event will be exposed for all it’s worth in turn creating a sense of hype that is unprecedented for any other sporting event, and rightly so. However, despite the buzz that the World Cup brings, nothing will match the excitement and the fervor that each Chester FC fan will feel the moment that the first whistle is blown to signal the beginning of a new season and the dawn of a new era at the Deva Stadium.
To get involved with Chester FC or to apply for the vacant managers position visit www.cityfansunited.com.
Written By Kieran Lovelock