This week, Chester City were charged by the Conference for breaking five separate competition rules. The charges related to Chester not being able to fulfil two successive league fixtures within a week. The first being their game at Forest Green on 9th February, which was postponed when the players refused to board the team bus and the second being their home game against local rivals Wrexham on 14th February, which was called off due to an unpaid police bill. As result, Chester were suspended from the league for a period of 7 days, which has also seen their game with Kettering Town on 17th February called off. So what does the immediate future hold for Chester City, a club in enormous debt? The future most certainly looks bleak for the Cheshire Club. On 10th March, they face a date with the High Court in London, with a possibility of being wound up over an unpaid £25,025 tax bill, but that’s only part of their continuing problems. The fans are also in protest over the running of the club that has seen Chester fall to the bottom of the Conference. Last season attendances averaged 1,972, whereas as this season the figure has plummeted to below 500, which has also taken its toll on the club.
The Chester players have also become increasingly frustrated with the situation the club find themselves in. They have only been paid one week’s salary in three months and this has resulted in many opting to move, leaving Chester with only nine senior players. Already this month the club has seen top scorer Nick Chadwick and midfielders Anthony Barry and James Owen leave. Defenders Rhys Meynell and Kevin Roberts also look set to leave as both have served a two-week notice to terminate their contracts.
Fans are even now calling upon the FA to ‘help pull the plug’ on the club and allow them and the supporters trust, City Fans United (CFU) to reform the club and develop it into a democratically owned, community football club. Supporters Direct also released a statement suggesting that “whilst the end of Chester City FC in its current guise may seem like a tragedy, it is not. We call on the FA to do what it can to pull the plug and enable a new supporter-owned club to rise from the ashes, so the story has a happy ending.”
However it seems that the Conference are reluctant to throw out the troubled club due to the implications it would have on the other 23 Blue Square Premier teams, even though even the fans have accepted the fact the club will probably not survive for too much longer.
This is sad news for a football club that has been in existence for 126 years and has produced talent such as Ian Rush and Lee Dixon.
Chester first entered the league in 1931 and have always remained in the lower divisions. Up to 1974/75, they were the only team never to have won a promotion but they broke that duck the following season as they finished 4th in Division Four. Chester have also caused one of the greatest League Cup upsets as they beat Leeds United, champions of the Football League, in the same season.
However, Chester’s off the field problems first started in 1998 as they entered administration for the first time and by 2000, they had lost their league status. By the summer of 2001, Chester faced going out of business. However 2004 saw Chester gain promotion back to the football league, claiming their first national title.
Chester’s money troubles continued and in 2009, the club entered administration for the second time. Their fate was finally sealed as they were relegated back to the non-league.
With Chester being placed in the hands of the administrators and debts of £7 million, inclusive of the chairman Stephen Vaughan’s £5.5 million investments, they incurred a 25 point penalty at the start of the season. This forced Vaughan to put the club up for sale for just £1. However it seems a buyer looks unlike due to the poor financial state of the club.
Chester City FC are just a number of clubs that now find themselves in financial difficulties. Premier league team Portsmouth have been threatened with administration, while Crystal Palace are the most recent team to encounter a 10 point penalty after falling into administration.
Still questions remain. Why are teams now struggling to cope financially with the demands of the country’s national sport? Is a financial crisis waiting in the wings? Or is the fact that football has been dominated by foreign owners and people not interested in the sport at all, who do not know how to run a football club? It is difficult to say at the moment. We will have to wait and found out.