On Thursday a meeting takes place at the planning department of Cheshire West and Chester council. With respect to anybody wishing to be granted permission to build an extension to their house, this carries more importance than the typical day-to-day developments overseen by a local authority. At stake is the future of football in a city where 125 years of continuous play were halted (hopefully only temporarily) when Chester City Football Club were wound up in proceedings on 10th March that lasted less than a minute.
Since this traumatic day, Jeff Banks and City Fans United have been hard at work laying the foundations for the reformation of the club. On March 25, they issued a press release declaring that 70% of its members had voted for the phoenix club to be named Chester FC, which was the name of the border side until the early 1980s. At the start of April, CFU’s membership passed the 1500 mark and they have already made plans to hit the ground running, with a spot in the Unibond League likely to await them. All they need is the right to play at the Deva Stadium.This is where there is a minor difficulty. Followers of this story on ‘A Different League’ will be aware of Palle Rasmussen and Fodbold Selskabet, a venture which had originally intended to raise money to buy out previous owners the Vaughan family via an assembly in Odense, Denmark on March 6. Though there was some 300 individuals willing to part with hard currency at this meeting, the winding-up order seemed to sound the death knell for these plans as the entity they were attempting to purchase no longer existed. We contacted Mr Rasmussen on March 11th, and he remained defiant and upbeat, making a surprising declaration, “Together with a large group of local Chester-business men we now apply for a Unibond Premier League Licence as well as the rent for Deva Stadium.” This indeed remains the case, and so there will be two proposals for CWCC to ponder and weigh up against each other.
Though you can never be too certain about these questions, it would appear that CFU are the only real game in town so to speak. They have the support of the Chester public and the core of their support are with them. Jeff Banks spelled this case out in a press release on 22nd April, “CFU has continued to be transparent with its members and more importantly the community of Chester. It is our belief that we have the complete backing of both our membership and the wider community as we enter the most critical stage of the application process. We also have the support of local and national businesses of all sizes and developed an excellent relationship with the football authorities. In addition, our plans for the creation of the Seals Foundation underline our aim to develop a football club that serves not only the local football community but also the entire city. Our bid has also received overwhelming support from the Chester Former Player Association, which includes many famous names from Chester’s footballing past, and we are the only bid that is able to ensure that 125 years of history is not lost.” Following the early attempts by the Danes to engage in some kind of dialogue with the Chester support, the Fodbold Selskabet bid has become distinctly distant by comparison. Perhaps Mr Rasmussen and his large group of local Chester-business men mean as well as they said they did, and perhaps they really do have substantial capital behind them.
This begs the question as to why they did not put all of this out in the open at an early stage when the two parties could have come to a mutually agreeable solution. Why, in the words of Mr Rasmussen himself, did Fodbold Selskabet, “not want to show all our cards?” Hopefully we will find out the answer to this and many more questions. If there was any doubt that the CFU bid was the most popular one, it was confirmed on Wednesday when the three main candidates for the City of Chester constituency in the General election all came out in support of CFU. Christine Russell of Labour, the present incumbent, made her preference absolutely clear, “I give my 100% backing to the bid by City Fans United to create a new Chester Football Club at the Deva Stadium. The Football Club should be a community asset, not a business opportunity for someone who has no real attachment to the Club. I believe City Fans United have the commitment, the loyalty and the business acumen to make a real success of Chester Football Club.” Elizabeth Jewkes went slightly further than nailing her colours to the mast, explaining that she is not just a supporter, but a fully-fledged member of CFU, “As a member of CFU I am 100% behind the creation of the phoenix club. I spoke at the Guildhall meeting and offered practical help in setting up the business as I have experience of setting up & running community businesses like this. Chester needs it’s football club back. We can not lose 125 years of football. I applaud the fans for working so hard to create a supporter owned not for profit club and will do everything I can to help.”
Stephen Mosley of the Conservatives clearly felt the need to make a contribution also, “I wish City Fans United all the very best in their endeavours to start a new club in the City and bring football back to the Deva Stadium.” If there is a group in the world who know which way the wind is blowing, it is the canvassing politician. That they realised not backing CFU equated to electoral suicide demonstrates the clear wish of the city as a whole, and will surely have registered with the Council. Hopefully by Friday all of this will be cleared up and in the personal view of this writer, it is hard to see any outcome other than City Fans United getting the opportunity to build their club again as something that belongs to the wider community. Having spoken to Jeff Banks on a few occasions, it is clear that nobody has worked harder in recent times to give hope to supporters who had known nothing but despair for so long. He deserves the chance to see his labour come to fruition, and those supporters deserve the chance to see some success both on and off the field.