On Wednesday morning at 11:12am, 125 years of history was ended in proceedings that lasted less than a minute in real terms. Regular readers of A Different League will have followed the developments of the ailing border club in recent weeks, so the news will have come as little shock.
The coverage given to the plight of Portsmouth at the same time has perhaps diminished football fans’ awareness of what has been going on at the Deva Stadium. Indeed, more than one contributor to forums on Wednesday admitted this was the first they had heard of the story. While this is sad in itself, it must be added that Chester’s demise has received a supportive and sympathetic reaction from football as a whole. The case on Wednesday followed a similar pattern to the meeting at which they had been expelled from the Football Conference on February 26. The failure of anybody to represent the club at the hearing made its outcome a foregone conclusion. This marks the end of a saga that has run for two seasons and caused the relationship between ex-owner Stephen Vaughan Snr and the supporters to reach breaking point some time ago. Relegation from League Two last season was followed by Vaughan’s disqualification as a company director and a 25-point penalty at the start of this season for the same financial problems. Although the ownership of the club has officially transferred to Stephen Jnr, an ex-Chester player and Liverpool trainee, it was the widespread view that the man who could officially do nothing was still running the club from behind the scenes. It is also believed he was behind the current ownership’s last act with regard to the club – an abortive attempt to take them into the League of Wales.
City Fans United, who have become the vehicle for Chester supporters to plan for the future, now see the opportunity to rebuild the club as a focal point of the wider community. That their membership now goes just over 1,000 is an indication that they have a mandate, especially when a CFU boycott led to only 425 fans attending the game with Salisbury on January 19. Their plan is to start again from a lower level, possibly the Unibond Divison One North, with a view to working their way back up the football pyramid. Aldershot, Accrington Stanley and AFC Wimbledon provide the inspiration that it can be done. Indeed Newport County, who went out of the Football League in 1988 and then were wound up while bottom of the Conference in 1989, currently sit 24 points clear at the top of the Blue Square South. If Chester can use the rebirth to generate unity and upward momentum, there is no reason why they cannot ascend in a similar fashion.
However, there remains one obstacle in the way, at least on paper. One would have thought that the bid led by Palle Rasmussen and his Danish consortium died with the clunking of the judge’s gavel. When asked if this was the end, Rasmussen was insistent that it was not: “No, the opposite. We have had two roads to follow so far, this just means that we now only follow one road, and that is the one without Fodboldselskabet A/S (The name of the venture). Together with a large group of local Chester-business men we will now apply for a Unibond Premier League Licence as well as the rent for Deva Stadium.” When asked if these Chester-based businessmen had recently come forward, the answer was negative: “Well they have been behind our bid from day one, we just did not want to show all our cards until after yesterday’s court meeting.” This begs two questions. If people with substantial capital from the area were willing to invest in the club, why did they not come forward at any point while the Vaughan family had Chester City up for sale? And why, if there were people with hard currency on board, did the Danes feel the need to go down the internet consortium route? Over 300 people bought shares in the new company in Odense on March 6. This writer did ask whether or not they would be reimbursed given CCFC 2004’s demise and as of yet, no direct answer has been given to that question.
The other point it clarifies is that the pledge to be open and transparent with the club’s supporters was somewhat disingenuous. Whether it is a clever move or not, “not wanting to show all your cards” is hardly conducive with the open dialogue that Rasmussen promised the CFU. The view that they were a rival or competitor intent on creating an alternative version of the club appears to have had some validity. However, it is the CFU proposal and business plan that the City Council have seen and it is the CFU vision for the club that appears to have its hardcore supporters on board. There may technically be two horses in this race, but it is looking increasingly like only one is a genuine runner.
City Fans United – Q&A with spokesman Jeff Banks