A history of how Chester FC came to be ahead of Barnet's visit to the Swansway Chester Stadium
Chester Football Club was founded in 1885 as an amalgamation of Chester Rovers and Old King’s Scholars and initially played their home games at Faulkner Street in the Hoole area of the city. For the first five years of their existence they only played friendlies until joining the Combination League in 1890. A first senior trophy, the Cheshire Senior Cup, was won in 1895 and in 1898 the club relocated to the Old Showground also in Hoole. The stay was only brief as, twelve months later, the club were forced to temporarily disband when the ground was lost to housing.
In 1901 a new home was found in Whipcord Lane and the club went from strength to strength, winning the Combination League in 1909 after finishing runners-up in the preceding five seasons. The early 1900s saw the first of Chester's Welsh Cup victories, against Connah's Quay in 1908, and further victories followed in 1933 and 1946. By now the club had moved to the much loved Stadium, in Sealand Road, which remained home for 84 years until the final game against Rotherham United in April 1990.
In 1910 Chester was elected to the Lancashire Combination and after the First World War were founder members of the Cheshire County League which they won in 1922, 1926 and 1927. The appointment of Charlie Hewitt as manager in 1930 saw a concerted effort to attain League status and crowds flocked to the Stadium to see the goalscoring exploits of Salford school master Arthur Gale who scored an incredible 73 goals in 39 League games. On June 1st 1931 Chester were elected to the Football League, in place of Nelson, and throughout the 1930s never finished outside the top 10 in Division Three North. In 1933 Chester hammered Second Division Fulham 5-0, their finest FA Cup performance, and in 1936 the club achieved their highest League victory, a 12-0 win over York City.
Chester struggled in the years following the Second World War but was well served by stalwarts Ray Gill (a record 406 appearances), Ron Hughes, Eric Lee and Tommy Astbury. In 1964/65 the ”Famous Five“ forward line of Talbot, Metcalf, Ryden, Morris and Humes scored 116 of Chester’s record 119 League goals while, in the FA Cup, the club were narrowly beaten 2-1 by League champions Manchester United after leading at half time. Promotion from Division Four was achieved under Ken Roberts in 1974/75. The club also reached the League Cup Semi-Final where they were narrowly defeated by Aston Villa following wins over League champions Leeds United (the 3-0 victory is arguably the club’s greatest result) and Newcastle United. The late 1970s saw the emergence of Ian Rush, who became the club’s record transfer when he moved to Liverpool for £300,000. Relegation in 1982 was followed by a name change, to Chester City, in 1983 and three years later Harry McNally led the club back into Division Three.
The sale of the Sealand Road ground in 1990 saw Chester forced to play their home games at Macclesfield for two years. Unfortunately a return to the city, and the 6,000 capacity Deva Stadium, culminated in relegation although there was one bright spot when Stuart Rimmer broke Gary Talbot’s league scoring record. The popular striker went on to score a total of 135 League goals for Chester.
In 1994 Graham Barrow led City back to Division Two but the yo-yo existence continued with relegation in 1995. Former Everton and Wales captain, Kevin Ratcliffe, led the club to the play-offs in 1997 and was also in charge during the traumatic 1998/99 season when the club went into administration and almost folded due to financial problems. In July 1999 controversial American, Terry Smith, purchased the club and quickly installed himself as manager. However, Chester struggled at the foot of the table and despite the belated appointment of Ian Atkins the club were relegated to the Conference, after 69 years in the Football League, following a heartbreaking home defeat to Peterborough United on the final day of the season.
By the 2001/02 season Chester were facing a further relegation down to the Unibond League but Smith sold the club to Liverpool businessman Stephen Vaughan in October 2001 and results started to improve on the field following the appointment of Mark Wright as manager at the start of 2002.
The revival continued into the 2002/03 season when a host of new signings took Chester to the Conference play-offs. Two hard fought games against Doncaster Rovers, in the semi-final, saw Chester defeated on penalties but the club bounced back strongly from this setback. Based around a strong defence, and the 49 goal partnership of Daryl Clare and Darryn Stamp, City took the Conference by storm in 2003/04 and with only four defeats in 42 games deservedly secured a place back in the Football League. Promotion was guaranteed with a 1-0 victory over Scarborough in front of a delirious capacity crowd at the Deva Stadium who celebrated Chester’s first championship in 77 years.
Unfortunately, the next four seasons back in the Football League, saw a succession of managers and a series of struggles against relegation. City started the 2008/09 with Simon Davies in charge but the former youth team coach was replaced by Mark Wright in November for his third spell as manager. Sadly, the departure of many experienced players during the transfer window saw City relying on youth team players for the remainder of the campaign and the club were relegated back to the Football Conference. Their final Football League game, on May 2nd 2009, resulted in a 2-1 home defeat to Darlington.
During that summer Chester was placed into administration by Stephen Vaughan and given an automatic ten point deduction by the Football Conference. In a controversial move, the Vaughan family bought back the club and transferred the ownership to a new company, Chester City 2004 Ltd. However the CVA agreed with the creditors was thrown out by HMRC resulting in a further fifteen point deduction as the FA refused to accept the new club’s affiliation.
Unfortunately the financial problems that had dogged the club prior to administration quickly returned. On the field, manager Mick Wadsworth was replaced by the experienced Jim Harvey in October. Although there was a brief upturn in results the appointment of Morrell Maison as Director of Football heralded the departure of Harvey at the end of the year.
Chester started 2010 with a team of untried youngsters as more players departed the club. On February 6th the club played their last ever game, a 2-1 home defeat to Ebbsfleet United. Three days later the club were unable to field a team to play at Forest Green Rovers and the next home fixture, against Wrexham, was called off when the council served a prohibition notice over unpaid police bills.
On February 11th Chester was suspended by the Football Conference and two weeks later expelled from the league. The club was finally wound up in the High Court on March 10th 2010 in the year of their 125th anniversary.
While the old club was falling apart the supporters group, City Fans United, was already beginning to prepare for the worst and when Chester City was wound up the fans were in an a strong position to launch a phoenix club. At the start of May the lease to the Deva Stadium was secured by the supporters group and Chester Football Club was officially reborn on Thursday May 20th 2010.
Neil Young was unveiled as the manager of the reformed Chester and along with assistant Gary Jones he set about assembling a squad from scratch for the new supporter’s owned club. Young arrived from Colwyn Bay having experienced two successful seasons with the Welshmen.
Chester FC was placed in Evo-Stik League Division 1 North (step four of the National League System) and played their first ever game, a friendly fixture at Colwyn Bay, on July 10th 2010. On August 24th the Blues took to the field for their first competitive game which resulted in a 1-1 draw at Warrington Town with Rob Hopley having the distinction of scoring the club's first goal.
Two weeks later Trafford were the visitors for the first match at the newly sponsored Exacta Stadium and 2,734 supporters were treated to a goal feast as the new look team won 6-0. Michael Wilde netted a hat-trick and he went on to score 36 league goals that season, including five trebles, in a total of 107.
Chester won the league title at Garforth Town on a dramatic final day. As the Blues were losing 2-1 in Yorkshire, nearest challengers Skelmersdale United were beating Ossett Albion 7-2 meaning that Neil Young's team secured the champions by the narrow margin of two goals.
It was local-born captain George Horan who lifted the trophy that day and the following year he was lifting championship silverware for a second time when Chester won the Evo-Stik Premier League at the first time of asking. The title was wrapped up, against closest rivals Northwich Victoria, at the Exacta Stadium on Easter Monday. In front of 5009 supporters the close neighbours fought out a 1-1 draw with Matt McGinn scoring a crucial equaliser five minutes from time. In the end the Blues finished 17 points clear of Northwich having totalled 100 points and scored 102 goals.
The success story continued in 2012/13 when a third title was celebrated as the Blues ran away with the Blue Square North by a margin of 16 points over Guiseley. Records continued to fall as Chester netted more than 100 goals for the third consecutive season and a record breaking 107 points were accumulated. Another thrilling campaign was capped off when the Cheshire Senior Cup returned to the city for the first time since 1932 following a 2-1 victory over Stalybridge Celtic at Witton Albion.
After three successful title winning seasons Chester FC will take their place in the Conference Premier league only three years after Chester City lost their place in the same League.
In October 2013, Chester's home ground was renamed the Swansway Chester Stadium following an agreement with a national car dealership.