City Fans United celebrates its first birthday today, and what a year it’s been since the organisation was launched back at the Divas Show Bar in Chester one year ago!
The meeting saw the two largest supporters groups – the Chester City Independent Supporters Association and the Chester City Supporters Trust – merged into one group, the new entitled City Fans United.
It was a move that unified the supporters, as the Official Supporters Club and the Chester City Exiles also fell under the CFU umbrella and all moved forward in one direction whilst the club lurched from crisis to crisis under what some of the members of the local press described as “car crash management”.
CFU knew that the club would struggle to last the season with players not being paid, and morale sinking lower and lower – all this after an administration that saw the chance for a fresh start lost thanks to the Vaughan family deciding to keep it ‘in the family’.
If seeing the club being denied a licence to play football in August 2009 wasn’t enough, we then had a wafer thin squad, many of whom were youngsters thrown in at the deep end at completely the wrong time, and it wasn’t a surprise when the club failed to eat in to the 25 point deduction that had been handed out by the FA and the Conference.
In November, CFU working party group members met with Cheshire West and Chester Council members to establish a relationship that would see the club progress off the field if the worst should happen with Chester City FC – and how vital those meetings were given what followed at the Deva Stadium.
In December, whilst the club owners were planning the departure of manager Jim Harvey, over 20 legends of the past attended the biggest re-union of Chester players in recent history back at the Divas Show Bar in a never to be forgotten night that raised over £3000 for CFU.
Shortly after Christmas, Morell Maison was appointed manager of the club in a move that infuriated most supporters, replacing popular manager Harvey, with a cock and bull story of why Harvey was replaced – with conflicting reports from the club as to why he was pushed out.
CFU members met with Maison and Vaughan associate Gary Metcalf and were left totally underwhelmed about their vision and ideas for the future, and from that point there was going to be only one outcome.
Then came the club’s appointment with HMRC in the High Court, which gave the club 41 days to find £26000, much to the owner’s celebration, however the good times weren’t to follow.
Chester City then began to struggle to attend or host games, with disputes raging in every corner, players received one week’s wage in a 3 month period, and refused to travel to Forest Green, and even the team coach suppliers drove back to Chester when payment was not forthcoming.
CFU were then accused of being “ellbent on destroying the football club” and “meeting in bingo halls” by the previous owner who had been banned as a company director just months earlier. Those “bingo halls” as he put it were the scene for a new beginning for football in Chester.
Then the cancellation of the biggest game of the season, the cross border derby against Wrexham, as the authorities demanded payment ahead of the game which could not be provided – even CFU members received calls asking for the police bill to be paid!
In fact CFU members received various calls off the previous owner of the club whilst the owner at the time remained as silent as ever. An offer was then made to CFU to pay £1.00 for the club – but take on the debt, on the surface, a £750,000 debt, scratch away, and that total would reach £1m.
So, the inevitable happened, and Chester City were first expelled from the Conference when the club inexplicably failed to turn up to defend itself, and then the re-match in the High Court saw Chester City go out on penalties, as the club was wound up in the matter of 30 seconds, 125 years of history wiped out in one fell swoop.
That history though, was to be maintained, as City Fans United were ready to go, we knew that to have any chance of the club being able to participate in a League come what August 2010 then we had to be ready to step in, and step in we did.
An application was lodged on March 10th to reform the club, meaning that we could take our history with us, and that application was received and eventually rubber stamped – with the fans choosing the name ‘Chester FC’ as our reformed club name, and one that went back to the past.
The next obstacle for CFU to overcome was the bid from a group of Danes, led by a campaigner on Facebook, who wanted to buy an English football club, but had absolutely no links with the City – other than Jan Molby who used to live there!
The Danes had earlier met Vaughan, and claimed a sale had been agreed, when in fact it hadn’t, and was yet another obstacle put in the fans path to stop us from reforming, and we had met the Danes too but were left completely unimpressed by their plans for the club’s future.
Yet they still fancied their chances, and were speaking publicly about how “we should follow them” when in actual fact CFU had made an offer to the Danes to become the international arm of City Fans United – but they chose to proceed with their own bid after they had given their word that they would not do so.
CFU then met with CWaC officials with their presentation as to why they should be awarded the lease to the Deva Stadium, and were going head to head with the Danes, and the ultimate eye brow raiser turned up at the HQ Building when Gary Metcalf turned up to assist the Danes with their bid.
Thankfully the Council chose the best option for the future of the club, and celebrations were held at the Deva Stadium following the award of the lease, but there was still so much hard work to be done.
The lease was awarded in early May, so the next step was to bring the structure of the club together, and then the public meeting at the Guild Hall installed so much passion back in to the supporters with the new badge, superbly designed by fan, Martin Huxley.
The badge would become an icon for all, and on the night former Blues striker Daryl Clare was left amazed at the support that was in front of him, and backed us all the way, as did Former Players Association Chairman Grenville Millington, who threw £20 on the top table in the knowledge that that money would go back in to the club.
500 people attended that lock out meeting, and afterwards, the board had the unenviable task of choosing the first manager of the club, and into the early hours of the morning a decision was made, and Neil Young was to become the first person to make his way into the Chester FC manager’s office.
In June, another 500 strong crowd celebrated the 125th anniversary of Chester Football Club at the Racecourse in another never to be forgotten night for Chester fans – and sadly England keeper Robert Green!
Neil Young then began the building process whilst CFU continued all the work behind the scenes, to set up the club, which included a major involvement from international credit card bank, MBNA, who threw their hat in to the ring first, as they knew that this was one to back, and even supplied us with our Chief Executive – Steve Ashton – who has helped put the club where it is today.
The club was racing forward and the weekly meetings held were done so to ensure that the club would be ready for the start of the season, which we were expecting to be in the Northern Premier League / League 1 – but then we were dealt with a big blow as the football authorities – who had seen our business plan all along decided that we were going to be placed 4 leagues below where the previous version left off, the first time a club had reformed and been placed so low down the league pyramid.
CFU would not take this lying down, and an appeal was launched to fight the decision, and backed by local solicitors, this was turned around, and the FA – who rarely back down, did so, and Chester FC were launched up to the Northern Premier League First Division, and as another bonus, the Northern Section.
Only problem at this point was the fact that our pre-season was prepared in order to start the season on 7th August, but now we were happily facing the problem of another two weeks to wait, but this allowed Neil Young to get the fitness levels sorted out.
Amidst all this, new replica shirts were available to Chester fans for the very first time ahead of pre season, and the match at Colwyn Bay was an emotional day, which threw up more obstacles for CFU to deal with, and some that would potentially go against the club, and an unwanted image for the club which a lot of work was put into to reverse before the club would be strangled by events at Colwyn Bay.
So, a successful pre-season, and then onto the Evo-Stik season, and still City Fans United were in the news, this time on national radio, where Match of the Day presenter Colin Murray helped “The Blue Knights” out with his own money as he pumped £2000 in to the club as promised as Chester set about signing former Premier League stars Pat Nevin & Perry Groves, with all travelling up to an unbelievable night in September where our first home game resulted in a 6-0 win for the Blues.
There have been so many challenges towards City Fans United to deal with but we believe that they have been overcome as best as could be hoped for, and the inspiration for many was the fact that the membership was rising month by month – considering CFU started with 200 members back in October 2009, (those being life members of the two previous supporter organisations) going to 500 in January 2010, and then reaching 1000 in March.
It was then 1500 by May, and the 2000 barrier was hit in June, and eventually just in time for the start of the season, 2500 members of CFU was announced – an unbelievable number, and a lot of members being based in different countries around the world, but wanting to do their bit – family members were also encouraged to join, and without those numbers we wouldn’t be where are today.
Every CFU member can hold their heads up high as to what has been achieved, there is still so much more to be done of course, and improvements can always be made to what we have done so far, and they will be made. The membership would demand that, and we have always listened to opinions from both members and non-members, after all being a Chester fan is inclusive – it’s not about an us and them situation, it’s about embracing everyone who wants to follow the club.
The difference about being a City Fans United member is that you collectively, with all other members own a piece of the club you love, and be proud that you did all you could to keep Chester on the football map, no matter what League we ended up in, you helped with whatever donations you made to the fighting fund, and you saw the results when the team ran out at Colwyn Bay and Warrington.
We are all Chester fans at the end of the day, and that is why we are proud to be City Fans United.