In a week where Liverpool and Real Madrid haggled over a few extra million for the sale of Xabi Alonso, a more important story was unfolding. Chester City Football Club, relegated to the Blue Square Premier last season, could be forced to fold after the FA refused their application of affiliation. This story has received very little press coverage, surely we should care more about our local teams.
Of course Chester has made mistakes, they have had a tumultuous time over the past few years, bouncing up and down between league and non-league football. Their fortunes can be summed up by the simple fact that ex-England defender Mark Wright has been their manager on three separate occasions. Being a lower league team is hard, it is even harder when the manager quits and returns more times than Kevin Keegan. Chairman Steven Vaughan made the following statement on Monday: “I had a frank and constructive meeting with both the FA and the Conference. There are a couple of issues that need to be finalised, then a statement will be made in the next 48 hours.” Yet here we are four days later and the lack of noise coming from the club is worrying. The signs seem fairly ominous.
Chester is not the only lower league club who have been in trouble. Over the past few seasons Stockport, Rotherham, Bournemouth, Darlington, Luton, Southampton and Leeds have been forced into administration and the penalties that go with it. The clubs must take a large portion of the blame but so should the majority of football fans. Teams like Chester and Darlington have to live in the shadows of their more illustrious neighbours. They have small attendances, little money and even less profile. Yet they are more important to their towns, they give it an identity. There is pride in travelling to Wycombe or Yeovil on a November night – can the same be said for a leisurely trip to Old Trafford on a Saturday afternoon?
The lack of finance at lower league level is in stark contrast to the booming trade being done by Premier League clubs. The greed of top level clubs will stop them channelling any money down to those who are less fortunate than themselves but there is still something that the everyday fan can do. Go and watch some lower league football. It may be too late to save Chester but do not ignore your local club. What the football league may lack in skill it more than makes up for in atmosphere and passion. There is no top four in the lower leagues, each season is different. Two years ago Carlisle were nearly promoted to the Championship, last season they escaped relegation to League 2 by the skin of their teeth. Take your chance to be part of something at a local level rather than a faceless drone at a soulless club who do not care.
So instead of going of giving your money to a billionaire at Manchester City, go and watch Oldham instead. Tired of overpaying for Tottenham or Arsenal, take a trip to Underhill to watch Barnet. Ignore Liverpool and go and watch John Barnes try and kick-start his managerial career at Tranmere. Exeter City have won two promotions on the trot, go and watch that bright prosperous club instead of the shambles that is Portsmouth. Try your local club – you will not be disappointed.
It has been a sad week as we lost one of the great characters of our game – Sir Bobby Robson. His success both at home and abroad was superb but what we really loved about him was that he was not afraid to be himself. In the modern game, managers are unable to admit mistakes and show weakness – not Sir Bob. The story that best summed him up is one told by Howard Wilkinson:
“My best memories of Bobby are the funny ones, all the more funny because he remained blissfully unaware, nor offended that his faux pas became a source of such fun. At one England Under-21 gathering, I selected Shola Ameobi a young striker at Newcastle under him. Bobby had also bought at great expense Carl Cort, a striker from Wimbledon. Shola had about six Christian names, most of them, to me, unpronounceable and in an attempt to put him at his ease on his debut performance, I called the lad over and asked him what Bobby called him when he was at the club. With absolutely no sense of resentment, rather more with a sense of love and understanding, Shola said, ‘Carl Cort, mostly.’”
A truly great figure who will be sadly missed.
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