Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Chester Football Club's involvement in the West Cheshire A.F.L

Chester Football Club's involvement in local football leagues can be traced back as far as the 1894/95 season when Chester joined the Wirral District Amateur Football League as Chester Reserves. This is Chester's first recorded reserve campaign and during that season controversy prevailed with Birkenhead based side L.N.W. Locomotive brought a charge against the conduct of the spectators at Chester.

subsequently the seals brough a counter charge against the linesman provided by Loco! Both charges were eventually dropped but a long running dispute began during the following season when Chester refused to pay the sum of £1 18s to Tranmere Rovers Reserves for expenses claimed by Rovers after Chester failed to turn up for a game there. Only when the club was was threatened with suspension, did Chester pay up.

When the club returned to the competition in 1912 the league was known as The West Cheshire A.F.L. Whilst the club was recognised as "Chester" in the League's official records they were referred to in the local press as Chester Reserves. Little of note occured during this two year spell although they were once excused after fielding a team of less then eleven players.

Their four season period in the League from 1923 as Chester 'A' brought Chester's only tangible success. Having defeated Hoylake United in the semi-final of the League knockout competition. The Pyke Cup, in 25/26, they then lost out in the final, played at Ellesmere Port to Runcorn. However twelve months later they were crowned as league champions and promptly resigned!

Chester then made a successful application to re-join the league in June 1937 only to withdraw a month later. Next came a single season spent with us in 1938-39.

Chester 'A' then spent season's 1952-53 - 1963-64 and 1968-69 - 1970-71 under the West Cheshire banner. During these years Chester competed in other reserve leagues, such as the Cheshire County League and Northern Floodlit League. Understandably the West Cheshire leagues were used by the club to field youth players and trialists.

With thanks to the secretary of the West Cheshire Amateur Football League for his assistance with this article.

Ian Rush - The Making of a Legend at Chester Football Club

Flint born youngster Ian Rush began his distinguished career at Sealand Road. After impressing in the youth ranks, he went on to play 34 League games and score 14 goals during the 1979-80 campaign.

Rushie made his debut in April 1979 in a 2-2 draw with Sheffield Wednesday in midfield, but established himself as a potent centre forward the following season. His first league goal came when Chester drew 2-2 at Gillingham on September 15, 1979.

Rush's reputation was enhanced by scoring for Chester in a famous 2-0 FA Cup third round win at Newcastle United in January 1980, with Chester equalling their best run by reaching the last 16 where they narrowly lost to Ipswich Town two rounds later. Unfortunately the lateness of British Rail meant most Chester's fans missed Rushie's dazzling display of dexterity at Newcastle, they arrived at St James' Park just in time for the second half.

Rushie's last game for Chester was a 2-1 win over Southend United at Sealand Road on April 26, 1980, when unusually he failed to score.

Despite interest from Manchester City, and in spite of Rush being a boyhood Everton fanatic, Liverpool won the race to sign the 18-year old in April 1980. Manager Bob Paisley paid a record fee for a teenager of £300,000. It remains Chester's record sale.

Rush was managed throughout his time at Chester by Alan Oakes, although much of the credit for his development is given to youth manager Cliff Sear. Nearly 20 years later, Rush and Sear worked together on the coaching staff at Wrexham.

Later Rushie made his managerial debut back with Chester City at the Deva Stadium. Sadly a disappointing campaign meant Rushie was soon to be given his marching orders.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

City draw in latest Derby Encounter - Wrexham 2 Chester City 2

Chester City travelled to Wrexham's Racecourse ground earlier today to resume on of the world's few international derbies.

This was the 73rd occasion the two sides have clashed in the league, Wrexham edging the head-
to head with 29 victories against Chester's 26. Today's game ended in a 2-2 draw to notch up the 18th league draw between the sides.

On the field it was basement club Wrexham who fought back with a brace from Michael Proctor to rescue a point for the Red Dragons.

Wrexham still remain rooted to the bottom of League Two though. Chester took a 26th minute lead through Kevin Roberts after he volleyed past Wrexham 'keeper Anthony Williams.

But Proctor equalised 10 minutes later much to the delight of new manager Brian Little.

On the stroke of half-time Chester got their noses back in front through Paul Linwood, but Proctor volleyed home with 15 minutes remaining to make the scores 2-2.

Wrexham: Anthony Williams, Pejic (Done 66), Steve Evans, Hope, Baynes, Proctor, Taylor, Llewellyn, Aiston (Spender 83), Eifion Williams, Roberts (Garrett 78).Subs Not Used: Michael Jones, Gareth Evans.

Booked: Roberts, Proctor, Baynes.

Chester City: Danby, Marples, Butler, Linwood, Wilson, Partridge, Dinning (Grant 26), Roberts, Ellison, Lowndes (McManus 52), Hughes, Grant (Yeo 67).Subs Not Used: Ward, Holroyd.

Booked: Lowndes, Hughes.

Att: 7,687

Ref: Keith Woolmer (Northamptonshire)

Grenville Millington - Chester's Cult Hero

Today we remember Grenville Millington. A true goalkeeping legend for Chester Football Club, whose fans voted him as there Cult Hero in the BBC Match of the Day's survey in 2005.

Millington made his Chester debut as a 17-year old in April 1969 in the final home game of the season against Lincoln City. However, this was to be his only appearance for Chester before being released and he returned to Rhyl. While with the Lilywhites he came up against Tony for the only time, when Rhyl met Swansea City in January 1971 in the FA Cup. He also had a spell with Witton Albion and played on trial for Brighton & Hove Albion, before returning to Chester in November 1973. His first game back ended in an FA Cup win over Telford United and he became first-choice goalkeeper ahead of John Taylor.

The 1974-75 season was arguably Chester's finest campaign, as they reached the Football League Cup semi-finals and won promotion from Division Four. Millington was vital to both successes as he played in every game, memorably making an outstanding save from Malcolm MacDonald in a quarter-finals giant killing win over Newcastle United.

Millington remained first choice goalkeeper until early in 1977-78, when fellow Welshman Brian Lloyd was signed from Wrexham and Millington was to barely play for the next two years. However, he regained his place early in 1979-80 and helped Chester reach the FA Cup fifth round. He was an ever-present in 1980-81 and the following season retained his club player of the season award despite Chester being relegated. This season saw Millington involved in a bizarre incident when a Football League Cup tie with Plymouth Argyle was abandoned after he collided with a goalpost - causing it to break!

The 1982-83 season saw Millington begin as regular goalkeeper but an injury in a home defeat by Mansfield Town in October 1982 marked the beginning of the end of his playing days with Chester. After beginning to focus on his coaching work with youngsters, Millington played just one more game - a 2-1 defeat by Scunthorpe United on the final day of the season - before leaving the club for Oswestry Town in the summer.

Millington returned to Football League circles the following season, when he made 13 league appearances for Wrexham. This brought the curtain down on his league career.

In the late 1990s, Millington became goalkeeping coach with both Wrexham and Chester and worked off and on for the latter until leaving in February 2006. He is now goalkeeping coach at neighbouring Connah's Quay Nomads.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Remembering Harry 'Houdini' McNally's Reign as Manager

The late Harry McNally is incredibly well-thought of by Chester City fans the world over, as he did tremendously well with a limited budget in his seven years at the helm. When he became manager in July 1985, McNally inherited a side that had finished bottom of the Football League a year before and had needed an excellent run under Mick Speight to avoid a similar fate in 1984-85.

Despite's Speight's success, McNally was appointed in his place amid protests from supporters. He was to soon silence his doubters as Chester finished runners-up in Division Four, only their second promotion since joining the Football League in 1931. Despite having to contend with the loss of key players Andy Holden and the prolific Stuart Rimmer through injury, Chester sealed promotion with three games still to play after an outstanding campaign.

After comfortably guiding Chester to safety in 1986-87 and 1987-88, McNally enjoyed his most successful season with the club in 1988-89. He led the Blues to 8th position in Division Three (now League One), missing out on a play-off spot by just four points. Unfortunately the following season saw Chester struggle home in 16th place, amid growing uncertainty over the club's future as it became clear they would be leaving their cherished Sealand Road home.

Chester spent the 1990-91 season exiled more than 40 miles away at Moss Rose Macclesfield, operating on tiny crowds and a limited budget in comparison to most of their Third Division rivals. McNally guided Chester to safety before the end of the season in 19th place. During the season McNally offered to resign after a heavy drinking session at the club's Christmas party ended with him hospitalised, but the club rejected the offer and he repaid them by keeping the club up.

With Chester rock bottom of the table and feeling the effects of being homeless, there were calls for McNally to resign after a woeful 5-2 home defeat by fellow strugglers Darlington in January 1992. But he stood firm and got the best out of his side. An incredible late season run saw Chester pull themselves out of the mire, with an outstanding 1-0 win at promotion chasing Stoke City on April 25, 1992 effectively securing survival. At the end of the season, The Sun named McNally as their manager of the year for his achievements on a shoe-string budget.
McNally brought the club home to Chester in the newly renamed Division Two with optimism growing for what lay ahead, but unfortunately age was to catch up on many of his side. A 3-0 win over Burnley in the first Football League match at the Deva Stadium was the only win in the opening 12 games of the 1992-93 season and McNally was sacked. His sacking was criticised by many pundits, who felt his achievements through the Macclesfield years had not been properly recognised by the club.

Everyone who knew Harry McNally has a favourite story about him. Players who played under him often speak with affection about a number of the bizarre incidents he was involved in, such as jumping in a bath containing no cold water when raging at how Chester had thrown the points away in a 4-4 draw with Bury in 1987.

Earlier that year, McNally had astounded spectators during a Freight Rover Trophy tie away at Chester's arch-rivals Wrexham. Frustrated as Chester trailed 1-0 with time ticking away, he hauled an injured Colin Woodthorpe to his feet, just moments before he helped Chester grab a priceless equaliser. Chester went on to win 3-1 and McNally had helped Chester beat their rivals for the third time in 12 months.

McNally was always a fan of hard men and one of the reasons for his success at Chester was the physical strength of the side. Harry suffered a broken foot when playing in a friendly match on Chester's pre-season tour of Scotland in 1992. He admitted afterwards he knew the opposition player was going to catch him and injure him, but didn't want to pull out of the challenge because it would not set the right example to his players!

Surprisingly, McNally didn't manage another club, but frequently offered his services as a scout to other clubs (including Tranmere Rovers and Preston North End), and did some hospitality work at Chester after his sacking. McNally was one of the biggest critics of Terry Smith's ownership of the club, and resigned after only a few days as a consultant at the club in 2000.
McNally died from a heart attack in Chester on December 12, 2004, aged 68. While he had no surviving close relatives, several notable footballing figures attended his funeral.

Chester City Football Club have now re-named a stand to honour their former manager, known as the Harry McNally Terrace. This was opened on December 26, 2006 by current chairman Stephen Vaughan with a plaque also presented the same day on behalf of the fans by Chester City Supporters' Trust.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Chester Soundly Beaten in First Ever Home Game

Chester Football Club made their first ever home appearance at their Faulkner Street ground back in September 1885. The game was a friendly derby encounter with Cheshire rivals Northwich Victoria. It was hotly contested with "fast, rough and furious" play being reported at both ends of the field.

Sadly, the new football club in the City struggled to find the net and lost their first match on home turf by three goals to nil.

The club's aim was to challenge the likes of Northwich Victoria and other cheshire clubs for local bragging rights. Northwich proved to a strong and well organised outfit who soon went on to play in the higher reaches of the football league when organised league football came about.
How things have changed as today we see our friends from Northwich struggling for their lives both on and off the field. The original match report from the Chester Chronicle tells the tale:

Chester 0 Northwich Victoria 3
Saturday 26th September 1885

This match was played in five weather before seven or eight hundred spectators. The Chester club has been greatly strengthened by an amalgamation of all the footballing talent of the City, and can now place on the field a more formidable team than of yore.

Rhodes-Denton, the Northwich Victoria captain, having won the toss, chose to play with a slight wind behind him.

From the kick-off the home forwards at once assumed the aggressive, but not for long, as the visitors backs quickly repulsed them, and the play became very even for about ten minutes, when from a good turn the visitors earned a corner, which was taken by Turnbull, and placed right of the mouth of the goal, and Malam rushing up headed in good style the first goal for the Victorians.

The game now became very interesting, as both teams put in some good play with Southworth, the Chester back, playing in fine form, and being found plenty of work.

The visitors vigorously attacked their citadel, and gaining another corner, which was entrusted to Malam and well played, they secured a second goal by a splendid fast shot from the foot of Lever.

After the interval the play because fast, rough and furious, each goal being visited in turn, but both were held intact by their respective custodians, until the Victorians, from a combined run, shot the ball through the Chester goal, Turnbull being the executant, but on appeal by the home umpire, the referee disallowed for off-side.

From now until the call of time the game was stubbornly contested, although the visitors had slightly the better of it, and from a good run Turnbull added another goal by a grand header. Leaving Northwich Victoria the winners by three goals to none.

Chester: James, Southworth, Walley, Hack, Turner, Roberts, McMillan, Lockwood, Tomkinson, Maddock, Clare

Northwich Victoria: Harper, Anderson, Molyneux, Rose, Hughes, Butterworth, Turnbull, Lever, Rhodes-Denton, Hanky, Malam.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Wales International John Hartson could be on his way to the Deva Stadium

Former Wales striker John Hartson is wanted by Chester. It has been revealed today that the Coca-Cola League Two club have made an offer to sign the 32-year-old who is currently out of favour at West Bromwich Albion.

Hartson has yet to feature for Albion this season and recently spent time out on loan at Norwich City Football Club.

Chester City chairman Stephen Vaughan is hoping to add the Welshman to boss Bobby Williamson's ranks but is yet to receive a reply from the Coca-Cola Chester want to take Hartson on loan and then making the move permanent in the January transfer window. What an acquisition this would be!

'HARTS' joined Albion from Celtic for an undisclosed fee in June 2006, putting pen to paper on a two-year deal.

He made the perfect start to his Baggies career the following month, scoring twice on his debut in an opening-day victory over Hull.

During 2005/06, the powerhouse striker fired 20 goals in 41 games for Celtic, including seven as a substitute, as Gordon Strachan's men pulled off the SPL and League Cup double.

Hartson started his career at Luton as a trainee before being snapped up by Arsenal, where he bagged a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup runners-up medal after losing to Real Zaragoza in 1995.

Harry Redknapp took the 6ft 1in hitman to West Ham in February 1997 and he notched an impressive 33 goals in 73 appearances for the Hammers.

Wimbledon signed him for a club-record £7.5million in January 1999 but, following relegation, he joined Coventry for a brief spell before Martin O'Neill splashed out £6.5million to take him to Parkhead.

Hartson quickly became a firm fans' favourite with the Hoops, scoring nine times against Rangers in Old Firm clashes.

He won three league titles, two FA Cups and one League Cup during his time north of the border.

In addition to his wealth of Champions League experience, he helped the Glasgow club reach the 2003 UEFA Cup Final.

The Swansea-born ace retired from international football to focus on his club career in February 2005 after scoring 14 times in 51 appearances for his country.

Give it to Ron Campaign raises £10k in a month

The Give it to Ron' campaign has taken less than a month to hit its initial £10,000 target to pay for Chester City legend Ron Davies to have a hip replacement operation.

Wear and tear from his playing days has caught up with the former Seals striker, who was known for his trademark leap and awesome heading ability.

That strain has left him in great pain and facing the prospect of needing a wheelchair if he did not have the operation he needs near his home in New Mexico, USA.

The bulk of funds and activity has been generated by Southampton fans and the club, which passed on £1,754 from programme sales against Davies' former club Cardiff last month.

However, Davies' other clubs, Norwich City and Chester City, and their fans have been active in helping to raise awareness of his plight and to raise funds. Articles appeared in the Chester press and City's matchday programme recently.

Campaign chairman Duncan Holley said: "Ron has been knocked out by the whole thing.

"Having been forced to retire from work and suffering from arthritis in his hip, there is no doubt that he was at a low ebb when we first contacted him back in June. Since the start of the campaign he has been reconnected to old friends and colleagues and has met and talked
with many new acquaintances.

"All have made him feel that there is life in the old dog yet."

Speaking from his home in Albuquerque, Davies said: "I just can't believe there are so many nice people in the world. I've had some great calls from old friends who I'd lost contact with and I've spoken to some wonderful people who are planning to do some great things for me. I just can't believe it."

Monday, 19 November 2007

Meeting Captain Courageous - Gary Brabin

Meeting 'Captain Courageous'

Being described by PA Announcer Rob Clegg as 'Captain Courageous' raised a few eyebrows when this big midfield placed the ball in the back of the Leigh RMI net, but to many former nightclub bouncer Gary Brabin is seen as the hard man in our side. "They want to see me with the misses!" joked Brabin. "She's harder than me," claimed the Brabs. "Joking apart, we're just holding it together. We're all battling, it's nice to be acknowledged but I'll always try to give my best. We just have to see what happens."

The big scouser was brought to the club by Steve Mungall, initially joining the Blues just to train with the squad having walked out of Plainmoor just a couple of months into a two year contract. "I'm from liverpool. I went to Torquay and gave it a go down there. But it wasn't for me. I had signed a contract for a couple of years but I walked out after just a couple of months. I left on good terms at Torquay but I just never settled down there living so far away."

Brabin continued: "I was officially here before Mark was given the job. Steve Mungall brought me down but I was suspended at the time. I knew a few of the lads, Chris Malkin and Paul Carden, I was at Blackpool with them. I came in with Chester just to train whilst I was suspended and when I was eligible to play during that time I think we had three managers around here. Steve Mungall, Owen Brown and then Mark Wright. It felt a bit strange but I agreed to play for a month and it's been over two months now. I wanted to see if Mark Wright still wanted to stay. It is different under Mark Wright. Everyone has their own qualities, Steve Mungall has a lot of qualities and Mark Wright has as well."

An Everton supporter himself, the former Hull City and Blackpool star is accustomed to the odd relegation battle here and there and he's confident Chester will pull away from the danger zone. "I don't even think about relegation. We'll be safe and I think we will be a force to be reckoned with next year." And the strong midfielder is no stranger to life in the Nationwide Conference, having enjoyed a spell with his local side. "I've played in the Conference with Runcorn a good few years back. I had three years there and had an FA Trophy Final appearance. I had some great years, also managing to get into the England Semi Professional side and I really enjoyed it. I just love playing football on a Saturday afternoon."

Happy Birthday to Stuart Rimmer - October 2007

Today is a special date in the history of Chester City Football Club. The Blues all time record goal scorer, Stuart Rimmer celebrates his birthday. You have to go back 22 years for City’s last win on this date. A certain Stuart Rimmer was celebrating his 21st birthday and he capped a terrific performance by helping himself to four goals in an astonishing 6-3 victory against Preston North End at Deepdale. His 17 goals in 15 games helped extend Chester’s unbeaten run to nine gams as they challenged for promotion that year.

After a quiet start the game came to life after 31 minutes when five goals were scored in a dramatic 14 minute spell. Milton Graham, who had a magnificent game, set up the first goal when his low cross was met by Rimmer and the skilful midfielder repeated the trick six minutes later, for John Kelly to score against his former club. Preston pulled one back through Wayne Foster after 40 minutes, but by half time Chester were 4-1 ahead as Stuart Rimmer completed his hat trick. Graham was the creator of Rimmer’s 2nd with a superb pass, and straight from the kick off Rimmer sprinted through the Preston defence before cooly slipping the ball past Platt.

In the second half Ricky Greenhough came on for David Murray and joined the scoring spree when he chested down Brett’s corner before firing in City’s fifth. Slack defensive play allowed Preston to pull two goals back through Welsh and a Gary Brazil penalty, but four minutes from time Rimmer rounded off the scoring with a twice taken penalty after Atkins had brought down Greenhough. In the last minute Rimmer had an excellent opportunity to add a 7th for Chester but he shot wide when it looked easlier to score.

After the match the players were typically brought down to earth by Harry McNally who gave them a verbal roasting for the sloppy defending that almost let Preston back into the game!

Paul Beesley - "an outstanding professional"

"An outstanding professional" were the words of Graham Barrow when I ask him about his experienced centre back, Paul Beesley last season. Harshly treated by Chester's American owner Terry Smith, former Leeds United and Manchester City player Paul Beesley was given a torrid time whilst astutely assisting manager Graham Barrow through Chester's first season in non-league obscurity.

Voted Player of the Season for 2000/2001, the supporters recognised his true value, he was a pleasure to watch, enthusiastically organising Chester's back line. The former top flight defender's efforts went a long way towards helping Chester City proudly sport the lowest goals against record in the Conference that season. That was until Terry Smith stood in, upset the management team and assigned the defender to scouting trips away from the first team action Beesley so richly deserved.

The veteran defender, though to be one of the most commanding ever to play for Chester, was banned from playing for the first team at the end of the 2000/2001 season because former owner Terry Smith accused him of standing in the wrong position at a corner against Canvey Island in an FA Trophy Semi Final. "I've put all that behind me and now i'm doing what I want to do - play football", said Beesley. "Everyone knows the problems I had with Terry Smith. It was a terrible time for me. What he did was unexplainable. But that's gone now. I'm playing football and i'm enjoying it."

Paul Beesley had been around professional football for eighteen years but has lost none of his appetite for the game, despite being later dismissed by Smith. "To him (Terry Smith) finishing eigth in the league was deemed as failure." explained Joe Hinnigan, who later returned back to the Deva Stadium under invitation from new owner Stephen Vaughan. Now with Nationwide Conference newcomers Stalybridge Celtic, centre half Paul Beesley has been outstanding, according to his current manager Paul Futcher. The defender was described as being in a different class during Celtic's magnificent 2-1 win against league leaders Boston United and his normally reserved manager paid a glowing tribute to the 36-year-old.

"Paul Beesley has been magnificent all season," beamed Futcher. "He has an outstanding presence, good organising skills and a sure touch. He is a good talker as well as a good example to the other players - an all-round proper professional. When I was the player/manager at Southport I like to think I did a similar thing although I was older than Paul. But you need someone like him on the park - he's worth his weight."

Beelsey concluded: "I'll be 37 in the summer and at my age you have to treat every game as if it's your last. We've got a good little side at Stalybridge Celtic and it's handy for me living only 40 minutes away from the ground. Coming to Stalybridge after what happened in the last few months at Chester has been like a breath of fresh air."

Wayne Brown on non-league life at Chester City Football Club

Although he is still at the tender age of 23, to most people former bricklaying goalkeeper Wayne Brown is renowned as a Deva Veteran. Since joining Chester City in time for the start of the 1996/97 season from Western Super Mare, the former player of the season has established himself as Chester's last line of defence and an obvious first choice in any Chester managers starting line up. A clearly passionate member of the squad at the Deva Stadium, the Southampton born goalkeeper has now become one of the longest serving members within the current playing staff.

Wayne's enthusiasm is clear for all to see. His keenness to help the Blues make a strong impression on the Nationwide Conference provides any football manager with the confidence that he has a reliable man between the sticks. Wayne's ambition demonstrates his commitment, he aims to be part of a team that will be challenging to bounce back into the Football League at the first attempt. "I want the club to get back into league football. That's where we belong. But if we continue to play like we did against Leigh RMI then we won't. We've got to up our game against lower teams in the Conference. I think we're taking it too easy at the moment and I don't think we've played well in a decent game yet. We need to start booking our ideas up."

Focussing his attentions more and more into the present situation, Wayne was deeply disappointed with the team's performance against Leigh RMI. "It was embarrassing. It certainly wasn't our best performance. We know we've got to do a lot better and show a bit more heart as a team." The 1-1 draw with Leigh did extend City's unbeaten run to nine games but Manager Graham Barrow wasn't a happy man. Graham described the performance as his worst moment in football and he'll be hoping he doesn't have to stand in front of the press representatives to say the same thing ever again. "This was the worst result in my own history in the game of football, and it won't happen again," said Barrow.

Wayne found it difficult to pinpoint any troublesome areas. He claimed that the side has to take a collective responsibility and work together more to achieve the ultimate aim. "I couldn't tell you really. We need to improve our all round team performance. We need to work hard in training and build on everything."

Off the field, our classy keeper has proved he's got safe hands at work and at home! He and his partner Shannon, proudly became parents for the first time last month. Weighing in at eight pounds and half an ounce, baby Mia was born in Chester on the Friday before our away fixture with Hednesford Town. The new father was present throughout the birth. "Mia's as good as gold," said an ecstatic Wayne. "She's been keeping me up for quite a few nights! But it's great to be a father."

A Brief History of Chester City Football Club

Chester Football Club were founded in 1885 as an amalgamation of Chester Rovers and Old King's Scholars and initially played their home games at Faulkner Street in the Hoole area of the city. For the first five years of their existence they only played friendlies until joining the Combination League in 1890. A first senior trophy, the Cheshire Senior Cup, was won in 1895 and in 1898 the club relocated to the Old Showground also in Hoole. The stay was only brief as, twelve months later, the club were forced to temporarily disband when the ground was lost to housing.

In 1901 a new home was found in Whipcord Lane and the club went from strength to strength, winning the Combination League in 1909 after finishing runners-up in the preceding 5 seasons. The early 1900s saw the first of Chester's Welsh Cup victories, against Connah's Quay in 1908, (further victories followed in 1933 and 1946). By now the club had moved to the much loved Stadium, in Sealand Road, which remained home for 84 years until the final game against Rotherham in April 1990. In 1910 Chester were elected to the Lancashire Combination and after the First World War were founder members of the Cheshire County League which they won in 1922, 1926 and 1927. The appointment of Charlie Hewitt as manager in 1930 saw a concerted effort to attain League status and crowds flocked to the Stadium to see the goalscoring exploits of Salford school master Arthur Gale who scored an incredible 73 goals in 39 League games. On June 1st 1931 Chester were elected to the Football League, in place of Nelson, and throughout the 1930s never finished outside the top 10 in Division Three North. In 1933 Chester hammered Second Division Fulham 5-0, their finest FA Cup performance, and in 1936 the club achieved their highest League victory, a 12-0 win over York City.

Chester struggled in the years following the Second World War but were well served by stalwarts Ray Gill (a record 406 appearances), Ron Hughes, Eric Lee and Tommy Astbury. In 1964/65 the "Famous Five" forward line of Talbot, Metcalf, Ryden, Morris and Humes scored 116 of Chester's record 119 League goals while, in the FA Cup, the club were narrowly beaten 2-1 by League champions Manchester United after leading at half time. Promotion from Division 4 was achieved under Ken Roberts in 1974/75. The club also reached the League Cup Semi-Final where they were narrowly defeated by Aston Villa following wins over League champions Leeds United (the 3-0 victory is arguably the club's greatest result) and Newcastle United. The late 1970s saw the emergence of Ian Rush, who became the club's record transfer when he moved to Liverpool for £300,000. Relegation in 1982 was followed by a name change, to Chester City, in 1983 and three years later Harry McNally led the club back into Division 3.

The sale of the Sealand Road ground in 1990 saw Chester forced to play their home games at Macclesfield for two years. Unfortunately a return to the city, and the new 6000 capacity Deva Stadium, culminated in relegation although there was one bright spot when Stuart Rimmer broke Gary Talbot's club league scoring record. Rimmer, who was also the club's record signing, went on to score a total of 135 League goals for Chester. In 1994 Graham Barrow led City back to Division 2 but the yo-yo existence continued with relegation in 1995 when Kevin Ratcliffe took over as manager. Ratcliffe led the club to the play-offs in 1997 and was also in charge during the traumatic 1998/99 season when the club almost folded due to financial problems.

In July 1999 controversial American Terry Smith purchased the club and installed himself as manager following the departure of Ratcliffe in August. However, Chester struggled at the foot of the table and former Northampton manager Ian Atkins was belatedly given the job of trying to retain League status. Despite an heroic effort Atkins was unable to prevent relegation to the Conference after 69 years in the Football League.

Graham Barrow returned as manager for City's first season in the Conference and the club won silverware when they beat Kingstonian in the final of the Nationwide Variety Trophy. The club also reached the semi-final of the FA Trophy and 3rd Round of the FA Cup but this could not prevent the sacking of Barrow during Summer 2001. Former youth team coach, Gordon Hill, took control on the playing side but it was all change in October when Smith sold the club to Stephen Vaughan. Although Hill was briefly replaced by Steve Mungall it is former Liverpool and England defender, Mark Wright, who has now been given the task of reviving the club's fortunes.

Local Rivalry with Birkenhead FC

Chester 8 Birkenhead 0
Combination League - 12 October 1907

As Chester Football Club moved into the twentieth century, the club competed in the Combination League. Along with sides such as Tranmere Rovers, local wirral team Birkenhead were a club who became keen rivals with Chester, just as in the manner of present day confrontations dictate with neighbours Wrexham.

Back in the opening stages of that Century many fierce battles enraged between the 'Cestrians' and their Wirral counterparts, Birkenhead. On one occasion Chester drew away to Birkenhead in an FA Cup clash. The game resulted in a 1-1 draw with the replay at Whipcord Lane turning out to be a thriller as Chester edged out to become the eventual winners with a 5-4 scoreline. However, immediately after the game Birkenhead raised protest on the basis that our ground was too short. Chester didn't defend the accusation and the flaw forced Chester out of entering any future cup competitions.

From that moment onwards a unique atmosphere ensued during clashes between the two clubs. In October 1907 supporters witnessed an impressive eight nil demolition over Birkenhead at their new eleven month old home of Sealand Road. Amidst the Jubilant scenes from the crowd, the supporters who were present at this game enjoyed the spectacle as Chester completely outplayed Birkenhead with extreme superiority.

Through the regular Football News column on page five, local newspaper the Chester Chronicle published the following match report in the 19 October edition.

match programme
This game was one of the first
where Chester Football Club issued a programme

Football followers and critics of wirral were given rather a different opinion of the merits of the Chester team on Saturday than they expressed after the match against Tranmere. Chester again played at home, but in a more earnest spirit, and bent of retrieving their reputation, after the disaster of the previous week, at the expense of Birkenhead. How well they succeeded is told by the eight goals they scored against none. The shocked and silent crowd of a week previous was a happy and jubilant crowd, and the team they had classed as "no good" had more than pleased them, and many declared that there was no team to touch the Cestrians in the Combination - no not even Tranmere. Well, perhaps if Chester had played as they did last week against Tranmere they would have gone a step nearer to Crystal Palace.

Birkenhead came to repeat the accomplishment of their neighbours, the Rovers, but their attempt was an extremely weak one, and eight goals does not exaggerate the superiority of the Cestrians. Birkenhead and Wirral clubs usually provide Chester with points, and a substantial amount of goals, but Saturday's score is a record against them, and will give the Chester goal average a needed improvement, for it is much below last years.

It was a relief to see Grundy and Lees back again, whilst Matthews played at right half instead o Appleton, who had been off form of late. Straight from the kick off, through smart, short passing, puzzled the visitors defence, and in the first minute their goal was in danger. Lipsham sent one of his swiftest shots across the goal, and the ball afterwards went behind. The attacking was all done by Chester, and the visitors were completely outplayed. The pressure could not go on long without goals, and three came before the interval. The first goal was scored by Wallace Jones after some smart play between Matthews and Grainger, the latter passing the ball on to Jones who scored with a curling shot, which the goalkeeper appeared to think was going wide.

Birkenhead made an effort to draw level but Dodd cleared a weak shot across the goal, and the ball returned to the other end, and Freeman shot with great force, the ball, fortunately for Birkenhead, striking the goalkeepers legs. Freeman again got through the defence and forwarded the ball in front of goal. From a corner kick, splendidly placed by Matthews, Lipsham scored the third goal and half time arrived with the score Chester 3 Birkenhead 0.

The second half was simply a game of shooting for Chester, and Birkenhead had to turn all their efforts to defending the goal. Chester halves completely overpowered the forwards, and the ball rarely passed the half way line. The forwards saved themselves of every chance of a shot, and the fourth goal dribbling through the defence, with a shot from close range. The fifth came from a free kick near the penalty area. The Birkenhead defence expected Gordon to shoot at goal, but he passed the ball to Wallace Jones, who was by his side, and he scored with a good shot. Wallace Jones also scored the sixth with a very clever shot, which was taken with his back to the goal. Freeman added the seventh from a corner, and he also added an eighth.

Birkenhead were an outclassed team, and Chester are to be congratulated on their splendid play. They have not quite regained their old dash, but for accurate play and shooting, the display was of their best, and how different from the week previous. The forwards were quicker, and their "tricky" and neat short passes altogether upset the calculations of the Birkenhead halves, but they possessed a good pair of backs, who defended stubbornly.

Williams seemed more at home with Lees than he was lately, although his partner was not at his best, and was limping badly at the conclusion of the match. His shooting was slower and not so accurate as usual and he missed one or two chances of scoring. Freeman and Wallace Jones were both in great form, and each showed that shooting was more profitable than dribbling the ball through the goal by scoring three goals each. The halves were far too good for the forwards they had to meet, and the inclusion of Matthews in the line was a great improvement. He played a magnificent game, and was the most prominent man on the field. Grundy was better than ever after his slight rest, but Russell was again weak. Dodd had a light day in goal, not having one dangerous shot to save.

Graham Barrow in Profile

Being a manager is a lonely job and Graham Barrow would surely agree at his demise from the job he dearly loved by a club that has a habit of kicking him in the teeth. Graham was a very dedicated manager at the Deva Stadium in just as much as he was when he played for the club. "Management is only second to playing" he reminisces, "but you do get a lot of pleasure".

Graham's enthusiasm helped to inspire promotion into the second division of the football league during his first season as a football manager. As all managers would know – there is no better feeling than to give the supporters what they hope for. To be able to witness their happiness and joy makes all their efforts worthwhile. "It's their life this football club, and if I can make their life happier by giving them a successful team then you know it's a great feeling really" Graham enthused.

Success was fast becoming Graham's 'middle' name and he has the history books to prove it. In terms of gaining promotion, Chester are not the only club he's experienced it with, he has in fact done it twice in the conference with Altrincham Town, and once with Wigan Athletic. These form some of his most favoured memories in the game of football. But it doesn't stop there, Graham has also played in big Cup games – his favourite being with the cup-winning Wigan Athletic team when he played under the famous Wembley towers.

Then, there is the fun side to football – the people he's met like former manager Harry McNally and Blues striker Gary Bennett. "They are some of the funniest people I have ever met" smiles Graham. Football is pretty intense for 9 months of the year but if it's been a good season then the break can be rewarding. " We've had trips away. We've been to Majorca as a group of people together, and there's no better time to be with a group of footballers than when they've won something" says Graham "They are letting their hair down and you have a fantastic time".

Graham's career started like most do nowadays – from school. But in those days – school football was not nearly as organised as it is now. "We played probably organised football at 15 or 16 and maybe 15 times a year with the schools" he recalls. Graham got it as tough as it comes in football – he was turned down by our next FA Cup opponents, Blackburn Rovers as a kid and so began from the absolute bottom, and that was non-league football. "I played for my hometown Chorley Town" remembers Graham "and then continued with Southport and Altrincham Town".

Graham didn't get into league football until what is considered in football to be pretty late. "These players [Chester] have played league football before I even got past the amateur stage," he says. In his first season playing with Wigan Athletic he had a particularly good season – scoring 18 goals in midfield – "I really enjoy scoring goals" he admits, "I mean some players don't score many goals – even the top class players". He even has a picture of his favourite goal, an equaliser, which he scored when with Chester, our local rivals from over the border, Wrexham, formed the opposition in a quarter final tie.

And not only was he able to score goals – he became a very versatile player, playing not only in midfield, but up front and at the back as well. When it comes to his best position "I really enjoyed playing midfield" says Graham "because you've pretty much got an all round involvement in the game". And although he enjoyed that position – it could have cost him a little bit as he had the build and physique to play centre-half and would probably have gone on to play higher had he done so. Graham continued as a player until he was practically 40 – which is not that common nowadays – simply because it was so enjoyable and he didn't want to "go back to work".

At the age of 32 he was open to some wide opportunities and at the time he felt he wanted to move on from Wigan Athletic – he had been approached by several Lancashire based clubs and was offered the prospect of becoming a player coach from Harry McNally. That made him stop and think – how could he turn such an opportunity down that could further his career towards managing alongside playing? "I don't think that many people plan to go in to be a manager," thinks Graham "it's probably people who are interested in coaching".

As time went on and inevitably as usually happens in football, Harry was sacked and Graham was asked to manage the team on a permanent basis. "Even as a kid at school the PE teacher allowed me to pick the team at an early age, so I had responsibility then" he remembers, "maybe it was always going to happen, I don't know". Keeping professional, he didn't let his success go to his head – and was careful, obviously with a loyalty to Harry – but management was a natural progression and he didn't really feel 'put on the spot'. "I didn't particularly enjoy it at first" puts in Graham "it was the responsibility of playing and managing". And in that he means that he had to choose players, and inevitably leave players out – but not just players, his friends. "I had a clear conscience – I had to tell people" he recalls "once I knew I could handle that – then I knew I could do everything".

Management was obviously Barrow's forte. In his first year, he gained them a promotion to Division 2. "It was more than I ever expected," admits Graham. There was always the danger that what had happened to the club in the past, could in fact happen again, and the team didn't get off to the best of starts – but there was something there. And to achieve something over the season, the way they went about it, gave Graham a feeling of elation – and he knows that only if he does it again, will he match that feeling.

Graham's achievement was recognised nationally. In October 1994, at the League Managers Association Annual Dinner he was named runner-up in the Manager of the Year Award for Division III and came third in the national Manager of the Year Awards. Joe Kinnear of Wimbledon was first, Mark McGhee of Reading was second and future England manager at that time, Kevin Keegan of Newcastle was fourth!!

Then he moved on, to bigger and better things, managing Wigan Athletic and then later on moving across Lancashire to Rochdale. Whilst working over at Notts County last season, he clearly remembers the day he heard the news of our relegation. "I remember walking into the dressing room [at County], and turned on the radio, and there it was – the result came through that they had been relegated" says Graham sadly. He was disappointed in his heart. City had had a great chance to stay up on the last day, so it was very sad. "I did keep in touch with the supporters, came back every now and then with others teams, and was always welcomed back, it was a sad day" remembers Graham.

Following the end of his agreement with Notts. County, Graham returned to the Deva Stadium. His aim being to attempt to do the ultimate and get us back in the league, sadly we all know what happened. One things for sure, managing a football team is very time-consuming compared with the playing itself – and that's one thing Graham has come to accept "it's been a long time since I sat down and enjoyed a film or something like that". The saddest thing about the job is that if the team has won at a quarter-to-five, the manager is thinking ahead to the next game at five-to-five – whereas the players would be relaxing a little and enjoying the result.

Graham, having now experienced life in football as a whole, understands why some have turned to drink and the like. "If you are not careful it can ruin your life" he said "but its not too bad for me – the family are involved in football". "Basically it's a mind game, and you have to have self-control." Graham continues. Graham is married to Margaret, and they have two children Hannah (17) and James (13) who all live in Chorley, Lancs. His family and in particular his wife, have supported him throughout his career in full time football. James has taken after his father in terms of football and is currently playing in Burnley where he is the captain of the Under 15s team.

When asked if he wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, Graham replied "If somebody had asked me 5 years ago, I would have said no. You feel for your children and you are frightened of the heartache." But Graham has enjoyed himself so much, he knows that James could go on and have a good career at least in the conference if he doesn't make it at a higher level. He feels that James has potential, but its out of his hands and will be up to others to judge him. "He understands the game and enjoys it too" he adds "he hasn't been pushed – he's just gone down that road himself".

Written November 2000

Football's Emergency Recovery Expert - Ian Atkins

Uncomfortably close to the bottom of the football league and looking for a new manager? Who are you going to call but Ian Atkins. It is a course of action that has become the football equivalent of dialling 999 and asking for the fire brigade. Chester City are one of many clubs to summon football's one man emergency service. He has seldom failed to put out the fire - and then only when up against virtually impossible odds. Struggling Manager and Chairman Terry Smith threw in the towel on his short and unsuccessful management career at the turn of the century and assigned Sheldon born Atkins, the master of crisis management to the almost impossible task of recovering Chester's ailing fortunes and retaining the clubs' coveted Football League status.

The former Shrewsbury Town, Sunderland, Ipswich Town, Everton and Birmingham City defender has been a lower division Red Adair since he was 32. How has he kept his hair, let alone his sense of humour? "It's enthusiasm for the game of football." He said. "People say, 'look at the clubs you've been at', and a lot wouldn't have entertained the idea of taking them on. I did, because I love football, and also for the experience of doing it."

Ian's first managerial job was at Colchester United, just relegated from the Football League but, in what was to become a career blueprint, he arrested the fall, improving the team and developing players. "With six weeks to go we had no balls, no shirts, nothing. It took up four months to get going because we didn't have any players. But what we achieved there is the grounding for where they are now."

Jobs as assistant manager with big clubs have not worked out. "At Birmingham City we won promotion to the first division and were top when they went bust, and Terry Butcher took me to Sunderland, but got the sack within three months," Atkins described.

Four and a half years at Northampton Town is, so far, his longest tenure. "They were second from bottom of the league and four years later, we'd got to Wembley twice, won promotion and been six minutes from the first division," he said. "They were in voluntary receivership when I took over and I don't think people realised what an achievement that was, spending nothing, beating the likes of Kevin Keegan at Fulham, who spent fortunes. It was a grafting, grinding side, but we had great spirit."

Atkins quickly became popular with Chester supporters
Atkins quickly became popular with Chester supporters

Then Ian's phone rang with an SOS call from the Deva Stadium. Terry Smith was quickly discovering there was more to team management than meets the eye and following a new years defeat at the hands of Carlisle United the reigns were handed over to Atkins in the hope Chester's route away from oblivion could be averted. By Ian'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 and his leadership skills swept through the club like a massive breath of fresh air. Ian really did give us a fighting chance after a first half that had it continued might 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.

"It was a different game and Peterborough did well on the day," he 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 as the club dropped through the trapdoor and into oblivion. That ended Chester's seventy years of life in the Football League.

Despite being unable to create a great escape, Atkins is proud of his reputation. However, he fears that he has become known as a lower division specialist and will never have the opportunity to go on to achieve his dream and manage at the highest level of English football. "I've learnt my trade, I've got contacts and not that many people have my track record, but I don't think that means anything now. Supporters want a big name and it frustrates you. I always thought that the art of management was trying to build something, especially in the lower divisions when you lack money. Rather than spit your dummy out, you've got to get on with it. It can be difficult if you're a perfectionist, and my standards are no different from Alex Ferguson's. I know I've got the ability, it's just having the opportunity."

Arthur Albiston - Player Profile

A veteran defender, Arthur joined the Blues during the twilight years of a remarkable footballing career. His playing career began as a schoolboy playing in his home City for Edinburgh and District Schools. From there the talents of the youngster were immediately recognised and he promptly signed as a trainee for Manchester United in July 1972. Arthur turned professional two years later in July 1974 and just three months later, he made his first team debut on 9 October 1974 against Manchester City in a League Cup tie, at Old Trafford in front of 55,000 spectators. His League debut came six days later at Portsmouth in a 0-0 draw.

However, it was Albiston's F.A. Cup debut which was more notable than most, as it was made in the 1977 cup final tie, against arch rivals Liverpool. He replaced the injured Stewart Houston, who had damaged his ankle two weeks prior to the cup final. Arthur was only 19, with just a handful of first-team appearances behind him, when injury to Stewart Houston presented him with his big chance. He came into the side towards the end of 1976/77 and was immediately pitched into the FA Cup Final against Liverpool. He confounded critics who predicted that he would be a weak link, that the Merseyside flyer Steve Heighway would cut him to ribbons, and he played an accomplished part in a stirring victory. As well as locking up the left flank of the Red Devils' rearguard, he found time to attack on the overlap, leaving England internationals Phil Neal and Tommy Smith staggering in his wake on one scintillating run that was marred only by a wayward cross.

After the game, amid the inevitable euphoria, Arthur remained commendably level-headed, and it was typical of the generous youngster that he offered his winner's medal to the unfortunate Houston. Though much touched by the gesture, Stewart declined with thanks.

Once in the team Arthur remained a fixture for a decade. The reason was plain: he was good at his job. He had speed, assured control with both feet, first-class distribution and a canny tackle. His only weakness was lack of height which occasionally left him exposed against big strikers, especially when defending deep crosses to the far post. Arthur played in four cup finals collecting three winners' medals, a club record at the time.

Arthur's talents were recognised at international level. He realised his dream of playing for his native country early on, representing Scotland at youth, schoolboy, under-15 and under-21 levels before going on to collect 14 full caps for the Scottish national team.

Arthur Albiston was never lauded as a superstar, he never figured in a transfer saga and his name was never tainted by even the faintest whiff of controversy. But when it comes to the final reckoning, when all the media hype is cast aside for the meaningless pap it truly is, and when the player's real worth down the years is reviewed, there will be few names that stand comparison with that of the plucky little Scottish left-back.

For a start, only five men - Bobby Charlton, Bill Foulkes, Alex Stepney, Tony Dunne and pre-war goal-scorer Joe Spence played more senior matches for the Reds. While statistics alone can mislead, such a record speaks volumes of a consistency and loyalty beyond reproach.

He left Manchester United in August 1988, on a free transfer, after making a massive 464 (18) appearances scoring 7 goals. When he was allowed to join West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer at the age of 31, he was as fit and mobile as ever - and, arguably, some supporters still saw him as the best left-back at Manchester United. After a season at the Hawthorns, Albiston had spells with Dundee United, Chesterfield (loan), ourselves and Molde before retiring from the game.

Although he didn't have the greatest of times with us at the Deva Stadium, the Manchester United legend will be remembered for his superior commitment and drive. Now involved with the under 15's at Manchester United's school of excellence, Arthur is proud to have been such a loyal servant to the Old Trafford club. This can clearly be seen when between March 1980 and April 1983 Arthur Albiston made 126 consecutive league appearances for the Red Devils, how many modern day players can boast such a record? Football needs more men like Arthur Albiston.