Monday, 31 January 2011

Farewell Richie lad...

Last night was undoubtedly a very, very sad night for Chester fans, as one of our true blues was taken from us and sent to spread the word about the Blues in a better place as one of our board members and friends, Richie Wightman sadly passed away.

I got to know Rich from my time on the board of City Fans United, and then of course at Chester FC, and instantly struck up a friendship that always carried many laughs, much mickey taking from both sides which always went down well, and got to know a cracking lad, who was Chester through and through.

I'm sure we all know someone the same, but I think it's fair to say Rich was one of a kind, who would openly speak his mind in front of anyone, and they would listen, for his opinion - however strong it was - counted.

Being disabled, Rich never let this be a barrier to him, and he would never see that as a problem either, it wouldn't stop him from anything and that is pure testament to his strength and character.

Rich has always suffered but never showed it to anyone, preferring instead to keep the banter going, and fair play to him he was always taking the mickey out of me too!

I think its fair to say that the board were absolutely devastated when we heard of Rich having renal failure last week, as it came totally out of the blue, and it was one of those shock moments for all, where nothing else mattered.

The next few days were touch and go, but then Rich appeared to be on the road to recovery, and even yesterday seeing him in hospital in good spirits cracking jokes, and taking delight in the fact that we'd built up a 7 point lead over our rivals, all seemed good.

But then the phone call that turned everything upside down, and left us all totally devastated when we heard he had lost his fight - and believe me it must have been a great fight - but I really believe that he had found a happy place before he decided to leave us.

All my sympathy goes to his family, who must be so proud of what he achieved, at the end of the day Rich was so instrumental in helping build Chester FC from scratch, and his dedication to ensureing disabled supporters got as much help as possible, he truly is a Chester legend, and he will be sadly, sadly missed.

Farewell Richie lad.

Monday, 24 January 2011

January hoodoo well and truly buried now

So, it was back to the Exacta Stadium on Saturday for our third game at home in a row, but plenty going on in the week building up to the game.

First off, we almost had a visit from the BBC on the cards again, with another presenter from BBC Radio 5 potentially coming down to see the Blues in action, however, this time we couldn't quite get that one secured so that will hopefully take place in the not distant future instead.

The Lord Mayor with Bill Oddie
Plenty of calls & e-mails this week with the Chester Chronicle & the Chester Leader as we were preparing for the visit of the Lord Mayor & Lady Mayoress on Saturday, the first time they would be visiting the Exacta Stadium, so we were naturally keen to impress.

On Thursday, a quick interview with the Chester Leader in my lunch hour at work, they were after an update on where we were, although it would have been nice for the person on the other end of the phone to at least know we were top of the league at the present time!

Midweek also saw us having to consider whether or not to deploy the pitch covers for the game on Saturday, and we studied the weather forecasts, and the decision was made to place the covers down as a precautionary measure on Friday, after the lads had trained the night before on the hallowed turf, and I'm reliably informed that around 20 people came down to the Exacta on Friday afternoon to help.

What we weren't expecting during midweek was the news that Chris Simm was made available for transfer, and Neil was in there like a shot to secure the services of the player who had impressed for our promotion rivals Chorley, and also for Conference side Southport, and so the news was broken on Wednesday night about our new signing - great news.

Question at that point was would he be eligible for Saturday, and that was of course confirmed the next day when the paperwork was complete and Chris would go straight into the squad to face Ossett Albion, probably not the news they wanted to hear!

Friday then, and time to tune into the Friday Night Football Show on Dee 106, and a quick text to Shane Pinnington to announce our thanks to the volunteers who had been down at the Stadium in the afternoon to lay down the covers.

Get well soon Richie lad!
During the show, Chris Pilsbury - fresh from his appearance on the Seals Podcast on Thursday night's recording - told of the situation with board member Richard Wightman. I think it's fair to say the board were in shock when we received an e-mail on Thursday morning advising that Rich was seriously ill in hospital, following a kidney failure - Rich has been a major part of the success of Chester FC, and he doesn't deserve any of the suffering that he is going through right now, and the sooner he is out of intensive care the better, and we hope to see Rich again very soon - all CFC fans I'm sure share that sentiment.

So, Saturday morning arrived then, and up at 8.30 to get some brekky and a shave before heading down to the Exacta - and thanks to being stuck behind a car going 20mph down Lache Lane, I didn't get there until about 9.40am, and straight into the ground to see that the cover removal operation was in full swing, so straight into it with everyone else, and an hour later all done, game on.

Back in the office with Barrie Hipkiss we shared a joke or two before taking a few calls from fans anxious to see if the game was still on, so pleased was I to give them the good news!

So, before heading home, a quick stop at the burger van on Bumpers Lane for a Bacon & Sausage bap, and taking one home for the Mrs too, and my god, it was heavenly - as was the cuppa that Mrs B had made for me when I got home too!

Just an hour to spare then before getting ready and heading off back to the Exacta, and once there it was time to sort out the usual pre match stuff, and welcome the legend of the week, who this week was former Blue, Ian Edwards - and he was made up to be here again, accompanied by Bob Delgado, who had already received the legend treatment earlier in the season, so Ian & Bob were ushered straight up to the Legends Lounge.

One of the funniest moments was seeing Jane Hipkiss go weak at the knees, she won't thank me for this, but she had a proper crush on Ian Edwards when he played here previously, and she was like a kid in a sweet shop when Ian walked in!

Pre match I called into the club shop, and Michael Wilde was being shown the new Wilde Thing t-shirt, and I said to him at that point that I was expecting a hat trick from him today, and not to let us down - all in jest of course!

So, to the game then, and what a corker for us hey?

Wildey go and get a hat trick please?
We had hoped that we would be back on form at the Exacta, and it wasn't long before Wildey notched the first goal, before on the half hour mark he'd make it two - just - from the penalty spot.

Then a further goal from new signing Chris Simm - great to see him get on the scoresheet on his debut, and everyone went in at half time very happy.

So down to the tunnel with Ian Edwards then for the Seals Lottery draw for January, yes we were finally up to date with the draws - the only problem was whilst standing at the side by the tunnel, Julie was getting ready with the tickets in the bucket, only for a ball to come flying over hit by the Chester subs warming up, and yes, it hit the bucket, all the tickets ended up going everywhere and we had a job on our hands to get them all in the bucket again!

So, Ian was introduced to the crowd, with Jane Hipkiss safely tucked away - and it was great to see yet another legend getting a great reception by the Chester faithful.

On to the second half then, and I had to quickly nip back into the office, and as has so often happened this season I heard a roar, and the realisation sunk in that I'd not just missed another goal, but I'd missed Wildey's hat trick goal - so I'd have to wait until the highlights were out before I'd see it again - but at least Chester's number ten had delivered on my request for a hat trick from him!

Iain Howard then staked his own claim for man of the match by grabbing two goals, and to be fair if Wildey hadn't of got the hat trick, I think Iain would have secured the award after a great performance.

Forget Gullit, it's Total Football at Chester!
 That sixth goal was just something else though, and I maintain my view that if that goal had been scored in the Premier League or in an international game, then we'd be seeing countless re-runs of it, as it was just "total football" from the first pass to the moment Iain Howard lashed it into the corner of the net - what a great goal. I celebrated that much that I lost my footing and nearly ended up making a right tool of myself and flying down the steps by the Directors door, but just managed to hold on to my dignity!

6-0 then, and a great day for the Blues with no soft goal conceded today too which was great, and I'm sure Richie Whiteside shared that view - then once the man of the match award had been sorted , time to sink a pint and reflect on what a great feeling it was to be 8 points clear at the top.

So, another great weekend for the Blues then, and with our rivals games all being called off - what a great move investing in pitch covers has been - time to enjoy the gap we're opening up, with the old adage of points in the bag being better than games in hand.

One final thing for Saturday, was a quick text to Colin Murray to update him on our latest result, and he replied with "Magic, saw the result earlier" and there is some good news with Colin which I'll go into once the news is released very soon.

That's it for now, roll on Saturday - when hopefully we'll pick up more points at Garforth!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Get in there!

Saturday saw a return to winning ways at the Exacta Stadium - thank god! All fears that we'd never see another win at home were thankfully dismissed in style as the Chester fans witnessed a first home League win in the month of January since 2002 - unbelievable stat that!

Barrie Hipkiss - proper legend
The weekend started early for me, with an appearance on Dee 106.3's Friday Night Football Show, where I teamed up with (Sir) Barrie Hipkiss who revealed that he'd been invited to Buckingham Palace, and he deserves it - let's hope the Royals bow to him, they should do for all the work he's put in!

It was the second time I'd been on the show, so I asked Shane if I'd get a hat trick ball if I was invited on again (a la Soccer AM!), and I tell you what time just flies when in that studio what with all the cheesy 80s tunes being played!

Anyway, onto Saturday, and up at 10am to watch Soccer AM as part of the pre match routine, then on to the ground and straight away met up with Nigel Edwards who was our Legend of the Week, and Nigel was absolutely thrilled to be there on Saturday, so I took him up the Legends Lounge and introduced him to everyone up there - he said that the set up now was amazing, and it was never this good in his day!

I was later to find out that Ian Moir would be there too, so thought let's have 2 players on the pitch for the half time interview - with Cleggy away, Tom was covering his role in the PA room for the day which meant I would do the pitch side job, typically it was raining and my plans for a half time penalty for Nigel were in the balance!

I was so wanting to give Nigel his (unofficial) 300th appearance for Chester at half time, and made sure I'd got a cap to mark the occasion too!

Anyway, the match got underway, and you just felt that this would be Chester's day, and with the early sending off, it certainly felt even more like our day, on looking back at the footage today it's all a bit of a melee (?) in there but the result was a red card for the jolly luminous green giant - I asked Asp who was marking him prior to the game, and he said if it was him he'd need to take a pair of step ladders out onto the pitch with him!

Now the story of my season has dictated that I miss many goals, although recently I'd had a half decent record, but getting ready for the half time stuff, I decided to let Chris the Steward get on with the 'pulling the tunnel' out as half time approached, so kept my distance behind out of the way, only to hear a great roar - bugger, I'd missed Bradley's goal, which was scored at a great time of course just when it seemed the lads were going in at half time on level terms.

You wouldn't have thought they'd scored though as they came through the tunnel at half time looking extremely focused on winning the game - not a smile to be had, which suggested that they'd not been happy with their performance in the first half and wanted to make amends in the second half.

So, anyway, half time and time to line up Nigel & Ian (I don't think Ian minded when I labelled him a 'part time legend', after all he'd only played 25 times for the Blues, but it was great to have him there and he is such a happy character - strange that with him being Scottish!

Nigel gave me a quality answer to what his memories of the Aston Villa game back in 1975 was, "losing!" he said, brilliant - not much coming back from that is there?

Nigel, Gary, Grenville
Thankfully the rain held off and the half time penalty kick challenge too place, and Ian went in goal as Nigel - who told me before the match that he'd never taken a penalty - despatched a fine penalty that Messrs Wilde & Field would have been proud of with Ian tipping it into the roof of the net in front of the Harry Mac Terrace.

Next item, and time to embarrass Lily Hymes our Commercial Assistant. Lily has done a great job since being at the club but this was her final game, so we'd arranged for the lads to sign a shirt and get it framed, and we just had to get Mark Connolly - her favourite player - to present it to her. I think Lily was suitably embarrassed.

Onto the second half then and it wasn't long before the 2-0 lead was gained, with Wildey out-jumping his marker to nod into the back of the net in front of the home end to effectively kill the game, he hung in the air for so long!

Then time to miss another goal as I had to go and check to make sure the microphone was working in the Legends Lounge for after match activities, a 30 second job - only I picked the wrong 30 seconds as I heard yet another roar and returned to discover Robbie Booth had scored the third goal - grrrrrr.

Down to the tunnel area again for full time though as we wanted to ensure the players went up to the South Stand to clap the kids who had come through the gates as part of our initiative to get into the local schools but before they could do that Wakefield scored a consolation goal. The full time whistle soon followed and the face of fury from Richie Whiteside said it all - gutted at not keeping a clean sheet.

Following the match it was time to relax with the media lads, as we put on a special meal deal on for them as a thanks for their efforts in 2010, accompanied with a few beers of course, just nice to relax post match whilst watching the Arsenal game, and talking all things Blue, and at 7pm the match day at the Exacta ended.

The weekend of footy continued yesterday, I left the house for about 5 minutes during the day's games, and who'd have thought all 4 games would end in draws - bizarre.

Oh well, time to get ready for work again now - as a new week begins.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Young's Barmy Blue 'n' White Army!

Well last night was another night of frustration as Chester had to settle for a draw against the in-form team in the League, and what a first half we had too, as AFC Fylde showed us what they’re capable of with some very swift attacking early on.

Wildey - back on target
It was good to see us respond in the right fashion though with cracking goals from Michael Wilde – good to see him back on the scoresheet again, and then Bradley Barnes grabbing a cracker of a goal too, sadly though we were undone before the break and that was that as far as the scoring was concerned.

It was great to receive a call from Jim Harvey yesterday prior to the game who really enjoys coming back to watch Chester, the last two times I didn’t know he was coming so yesterday gave me the chance to get him down on the pitch as I know he’d not really had the chance to thank the fans for the brilliant support he received during the turbulent times of the SV era around 12 months ago.

A few things had to be boxed off before the game, such as the preparation for the PA, photographers, and of course BiG Lupus, who continues to have his picture taken with the kids, which is great to see at each home game – think he may have got a bit wet last night out there though!

Good to see the mascots enjoying themselves too, with two kids enjoying the Exacta Experience last night, and I must have passed them 100 times whilst they were on their tour of the ground with Lily last night as I did my impression of a human yo-yo with stuff to sort out prior to the game, but they certainly looked to be enjoying the tour, and amongst them was Ian Bedford, former Chester Chronicle Sports Editor – it’s been a while since I saw Ian, and good to hear that he’s a West Stand-er too for our home games.

The real Ashley Williams!
 One of the funny things to happen yesterday was the picture of Ashley Williams that I put on the website, or at least I thought it was Ashley Williams until I received a call from Neil Young whilst on lunch in town yesterday telling me it wasn't Ashley that was in that picture – it was Jamie Reed of Bangor City, he hopefully enjoyed his brief stint on the official website – it was removed as soon as I was in position to remove it!

So, onto the game, and it was certainly a topsy-turvy game and the first half was spent up by the Directors door doing that nodding motion with every header that the boys were heading on the pitch towards goal, and of course wild celebrations with both goals going in only to see a bit of wall slapping when they made it 2-2.

I decided to head off to the Harry Mac Terrace for the second half to join in with the singers behind the goal – it’s what I used to love doing so a chance to get the vocal chords going again!

The lads in there were great, and lots of banter to be had too and the “I am a Chester fan, I am a Cestrian...” song made its debut and will hopefully be repeated for a good while yet – come on lads, don’t let me down!
Young's barmy blue n white army
For the record, here’s the lyrics:

I am a Chester fan,
I am a Cestrian,
Youngy’s barmy Blue n White army,
Chester FC top of the league*,
And I’m proud to beeee Chester FC!

*possible Plan B in case we get knocked off the top “We are the boys in Blue and White”

Also, a bit of encouragement was given to the Main Stand & the West Stand to give us a song of their own, and they did so too – good on them. The fans really got behind the side last night, and I’m sure that was appreciated by those playing in blue and white on the Exacta pitch.

So, the fans in good voice, we’ve kept Fylde at arm’s length in the table, we’re still top and unbeaten in 2011, it’s not all bad is it, but it would be nice if we could break that January hoodoo on Saturday against Wakefield!

Come on you Blues!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The fine line between success and failure

Just heard on Sky Sports News that 11 managers have been sacked since Christmas, an unbelievable statistic considering Christmas was barely 2 weeks ago.

Roy Hodgson was perhaps the biggest one the media have centred on with Liverpool obviously being one of the biggest clubs around, but Roy was only allowed 6 months in the job despite inheriting a side that was inbalanced thanks to the man the fans seemed to adore, Rafa Benitez - and yet towards the end of his reign at the club, he was booed, and many fans questioned his decisions.

Hodgson was never really given a chance, and quite openly said that he'd not received the backing of the fans from the off - he did of course back track that statement of course but the fact is he was right - Liverpool fans are best known for their patience, but slipping to four points above the relegation zone proved that they weren't staying patient this time, and the introduction of 'King Kenny' may yet be an inspirational moment of the season, but it could also go the other way given that he's been out of the game for 20 years.

Roy - he still scares the **** out of you!
 It wasn't a great week if your name happened to be Roy, with Ipswich manager Roy Keane getting the chop, but here you can say that the club was patient, giving him 2 years to turn the fortunes of the club around, and I think when he took over the board expected promotion, but in fact they have had the reverse, with ongoing battles against relegation, and a Cup defeat at the hands of deadly rivals Norwich this season probably didn't help matters one bit.

So, 11 managers have lost their jobs then, as Chairmen and Directors of clubs decide that they want a fresh face to give their club the push it needs to either get them up into promotion places, or to try anything to avoid relegation.

Here at Chester, we've seen our fair share of Managers come and go, with nearly 20 managers in one decade proving that Chester was probably the worst place to be if you were a manager - it certainly wasn't the safest place to be that's for sure.

The Dream Team get stuck to the dugout roof
Stability is the key for any football club, and right now we have Neil Young at the helm at Chester, when we made the decision to appoint Neil it was following a lengthy late night discussion between all the board members, and every angle was looked at, it really was the most important decision the board would have to make - the first Manager of Chester FC.

If it all went wrong then we would be accountable for the decision made, but we had belief in someone that had fought his way out of the league we're currently in, and he knew the League too, which is a massive bonus. It's all well and good going for someone who has management experience further up the ladder but would they know the leagues below them - no, probably not.

The results that we've seen so far have been nothing short of amazing - even though we've had a blip at home, you have to step back and look at the situation just a few months ago, whereby we hadn't kicked a ball, other teams in the League pretty much had a spine of players that teams would be built around, and had played together in past seasons, but here we were going from scratch, so being top at Christmas & New Year was just fantastic, and a real testament to Neil and Gary, and the rest of the management team.

Time will tell obviously if the nerve can be held for the remainder of the season - and I'm confident it can be - although the rest of the board are not being drawn into a belief that the League is already won, far from it. We're prepared yes, and will plan for the three scenarios that are possible at the end of the season, that being 1) winning the League, 2) going into the Play offs, and 3) not going up.

One example to look at is FC Halifax who started life in the same league as us, but in their first season only finished in the top 10, and didn't even secure a play off place, so we need to keep that in the back of our minds as a warning to us all not to expect instant success - we can all hope for it yes, but it's not a given, and we have to battle for every point, and that's why we need to get behind the side 150%.

Our position right now looks to be a straight dog fight between ourselves and Chorley, with Curzon Ashton dropping more points last night in perhaps a result that we weren't expecting, but I did say that Curzon would not win all their games in hand, they only have 3 now, and we still have to play them twice.

So, back to the original topic, managers, and Neil has certainly done extremely well so far, he's got us in a leading position at the top of the table, something we didn't expect, but certainly hoped for. Hope does develop into expectancy though, but we must keep focused here as the push begins, and I really think that once we hit that 50 point mark, a mental barrier will be removed for the lads, and the run in will really begin.

Last night, we held our first board meeting of the new year, and plenty to get through which culminated in a three and a half hour meeting, and there will be more on the transfer front today as Neil strengthens for the most important part of our season.

Jacko - coming to an Exacta near you
Something I wasn't expecting happened on the way to the meeting at the Exacta, as whilst driving there my phone went off, and it was the legend that is Peter Jackson, so had a good conversation with jacko - one of my heroes in the 90's, and pleased to say Jacko will be joining us in the near future at the Exacta as one of our Legends of the Week, and he's looking forward to coming over, and will I'm sure get a great reception from everyone.

That's it for now...

Come on the Blues!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

From Euphoria to Heartbreak as 2011 begins

Happy New Year!

Well it was to begin with anyway, but 3 days into it and we're left licking our wounds after Warrington produced a storming comeback to level the game yesterday despite being 2 goals down, but in truth we never seemed in control of the game and could have ended up with losing the match.

All this after a last minute win at Prescot Cables on Saturday which saw the Blues extend the lead at the top of the league to 6 points, thanks to a late winner from Stuey Jones, who popped up with another important goal this season - which obviously sparked scenes of delight - gutted that I couldn't make the game on Saturday, but I was still doing a jig when the tweet came in on the moby!

So, lots of studying the table on Saturday night pointed towards a healthy start to the new year, and then thoughts turned to Monday with the visit of Warrington. Appeals went out to volunteers to help assist with teh removals of the covers, bearing in mind it took 3 hours for almost 20 people to lay them down a couple of weeks ago, and a fantastic response saw around 50-60 people attend, and the covers were removed in a very short space of time.

So, onto the day yesterday, it began a busy one, arrived at the ground at 1pm with my first mission to look after former player Arthur Albiston, who was our guest 'Legend' of the week, now I know there has been talk of some of the guests we've had down at the Exacta not qualifying for the 'Legend' tag, but this is more of a fun term that we're using it as, remember we want to see the former players enjoying their day too, and "Former Player of the Week" just doesn't sound right, so we'll stick with the 'Legend' term for now!

Hopefully looking to get Daryl Clare & Stuey Rimmer up soon, they would have been here for the Woodley game on Dec 8 had the weather not conspired to go against us, but we'll keep on trying, it's all down to availability of course.

So, having led Arthur up to the Legends Lounge, he then reeled off some classic stories about the players he featured alongside, such as Billy Stewart, Graham Barrow, Gary Bennett, and Stuart Rimmer, whilst playing for the great Harry McNally, and I wished I could have stayed with him as I could have enjoyed those stories all afternoon but plenty of other things to do unfortunately.

We had a visit from a student reporter from Leeds Student Radio, who had previously done a feature on fan owned clubs last season, and came down to the Deva to do an interview with me as CFU had been building up its presence at the beginning of last year, so it was good to see Kev Kirrane again, and set up a few interviews with him, with a player, although when I appealed to the lads in the changing room for a volunteer it was like one of those times at school when nobody wants to do it and they all volunteer someone else - quite funny really!

Then aproached Grenville Millington to an interview with them, which he gladly accepted, with him claiming that he was one of the biggest names in football, as he spelt out Millington with his fingers referring to his long surname!

Neil Young & Chris Pilsbury then followed, as Kev got a good few interviews in, but whilst all this was going on, Paul Wheelock showed interest in speaking to Arthur Albiston, so a quick sort out for that one, then a quick Happy New Year to Gary Talbot who was inside the Legends Lounge.

I couldn't believe how quickly kick off time was approaching, and it was time to get revved up for the game, which after 2pm I pretty much normally am, but with everything going on, I was nearly caught cold, as I realised the players were just about to come out, and I needed to be down at the touchline to go and fetch the mascot off the pitch, so raced down and then did the job, and then up to my usual place in the main stand - by the door, as mentioned before since doing this role, I feel the need to stand as I'm feeling every strain of the game, and would end up annoying the person next to me by heading every ball that thelad are heading on the pitch!

Delight of course then when we scored after 5 minutes, and all thoughts were turning towards a comfy home win, but the performance wasn't great in the first half, and I think many thought the same at half time. Before the bad news came though, the second goal for the Blues as George Horan followed up Steven Beck's earlier goal to make it 2-0, and at that point we felt it was safe.

Now I can't remember if Michael Wilde's chance came before the Wire made it 2-1, but that one where he grabbed hold of the ball in the middle and went on a mazy run, and almost, almost went on to score what would have been one of the goals of the century but the ball just ran away from him...and unfortunately the rest is bad news.

Warrington had shown signs of getting back in to the game, but up to this point had not taken advantage of their chances, that changed however, and it was soon 2-1, thanks to a series of errors at the back, and all of a sudden the complexion of the game changed, and a frenetic end to end finish saw the vistors turn the screw on us, and deservedly got their equalizer with just a couple of minutes left on the watch, so so frustrating when at 2-0 we should have shut up shop, but we didn't.

It could have been so much worse of course, with another attack from the men in red, and a low ball from the right should have been hammered home, but it was a cross reminscent of Anderton's for England in Euro 96 against Germany, and the Warrington lad could only smash it into the stand rather (thankfully) than the home net.

The final whistle followed, and disappointment took over for the next few hours, and reflections on how poor we'd played, and probably got more than we deserved result wise, but it still remains the case that we'd played badly in 2 games and come away with 4 points, and if the story was the other way round, ie win at home, draw away, then it would be classed as promotion form, so if there is a positive to take from the games over Christmas & New Year, then this is it!

Still fed up this morning though as I write this, and still can't make up my mind on whether the Chorley result yesterday is a good one or not, but ours certainly should've been better - simple as that.

Onto the Trafford game next week now, and how we'd take a repeat of the 6-0 home game on September 8th hey?