Monday, 19 November 2007

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.

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