Thursday, 28 April 2011

Two down, One to go....

What an amazing few days it has been.

Last Friday, we were all getting pumped up for the game the following day at home to Bamber Bridge, and hoping the lads would be able to take advantage of a slip from Skelmersdale, and take advantage they have done, coupled with Curzon Ashton taking a point at Skem last Saturday, and then the boys destroying Fylde with a majestic second half performance, the Blues have one hand on the trophy.

Firstly, going back to last Saturday, I think we all hoped that we could break the 3000 attendance barrier at the Exacta, and the beaming face of Mark Howell confirmed that with we were going to do just that - what we didn't expect was to hit 3,300 - which just goes to show that anything is possible if you market it properly.

Get your flags out for the lads!
I must say I was absolutely taken aback by the superb flag arrangement in the main stand when I took a look outside, I have never seen the place looking so good, and credit to new Community Fundraising Officer Ann Wiggins, and Commercial Manager Paul Bodman for their efforts in putting those flags out.

Whilst the lads were getting their first taste of the pitch I jokingly shouted to Adam Judge & Greg Stones that their job was to sign each and every one of the flags - you can imagine the response that got!

Anyway, a quick visit to the Blues Bar and woah, you couldn't move, the Man Utd v Everton game had brought everyone down extra early it seems, and the place was absolutely buzzing, and at that point I just knew it was going to be a great day.

There was plenty to do pre match, and as ever it all seemed rather hectic, but plough through it we would. First job was to get all the details of the pre match plan, and run through with Cleggy, who would then ramp things up before kick off - we'd put a few extra dramatic 'ramp up' tunes in there too to drum up the atmosphere.

Famous Five - together again
Then time for me to meet the Famous Five for the first time (aside from Elfed Morris & Gary Talbot), and incredible that Micky Metcalfe had flown over from Gran Canaria especially to be here for the game, and to meet up with his former colleagues. Before I forget I must say this, I bumped into Gary Talbot yesterday at Tescos and he said that Mickey was so blown away by Saturday, that he wanted to know how Chester had got on at Fylde as soon as the final whistle went - yet another example of the 'Chester FC effect'.

Anyway, back to the Famous Five, and a quick shake of their hands, followed by a quick plan of action for what we wanted them to do - which was to recreate that famous photo, with them all kicking balls into the net in front of the Harry Mac (okay last time was Sealand Road but we'll ignore that part now as it wouldn't have been much fun recreating it in front of the new Tesco Home store would it??), and when we led them out the reception was perhaps one of the best I've ever heard at the ground.

So, we walked them over to the goal, and each of them took their place, stepped up, and to a brilliant Harry Mac Terrace, each took their kicks, and all but one scored, we'll gloss over that, but suffice to say they all had a good laugh about it, and had the obligatory photo - and then made their way back.

At this point the Junior Blues had already formed their guard of honour for the first team's arrival, but what better tribute than to have each of the Famous Five walking back through the GoH to take even more fantastic applause from the fans.

So, then time for the lads to come out, and to what I believe is the best reception in a long long time at home, obviously the Scarborough game in 2004 with a full ground was probably the last time, but this one seemed so much better for different reasons, this is everyone's club now, and everyone knew the part they had to play in raising the roof to help the lads.

The game started well enough, and then the magic started when in the 13th minute a beautifully lofted ball from Michael Powell found Simmo and he and the keeper clattered into each other, but Simmo got up the quickest to knock it in for a 1-0 lead and the place erupted once more, I think I was down by the tunnel at the time dancing a jig of delight!

Then we should have had a penalty, and everyone became incensed that it wasn't given, and Neil made his feelings known and the ref was called over by the linesman, who then went on to send Neil to the stand with no hesitation, not even a talking to!

The rest of the half seemed a bit cagey after that, but then Powelly rose to meet a Boothy free kick and suddenly it was 2-0, and time for everyone to go beserk again - I was up at the top of the stand for that one, such is my inability to stay in a seat during a match!

Cleggy chill-axing with the Blues Live boys pre match
Half time came round, and I knew we had lots to do, so I took the Famous Five down to the pitch so that Cleggy could fulfil his dream and have a chat on the pitch with the players he adored in the 1960s - Cleggy doesn't half come in for some stick, unfair stick, you should see what he has to contend with before, during, and after matches, and trust me he is the right man for the job!

The second half seemed more of a formality and eyes were constantly checking mobiles to see what was going on at Skem, with the answer being a 1-1 draw and this time there was no late drama as time ran out on Skem, and the Blues were3 points clear once again as the final whistle sounded.

I was down at pitchside at that point as the Lap of Honour was due to take place of course, we just decided to get on with rather than keep everyone waiting, and my thoughts were just elation that the day had gone so well, as myself & Pat guided them round to make sure everyone got to see the players & management team.

Once the game had finished, some duties still to do as Chris Simm came up for his man of the match award with the sponsors, and as per usual once the photos were done upstairs, it was time to take him downstairs to the Blues Bar, and take the applause of the fans down there.

Then a couple of people asked if I could get the autographs of the Famous Five, and they were so impressed with the whole day, they loved every minute, and yet another indication of what this club means to both current and former players alike.

Time then to chill with a pint with Mrs B - I've made reference to my wife in several places as this last 12 months has been possibly the hardest in my life, whilst setting up the club and looking forward to the first ever game, we lost a baby, and seeing what she had to go through was very very painful indeed, and will stick with both of us for the rest of our life. I'm a very lucky person to have someone who whilst not liking football, helps out at the club at home games, and is sharing the pride of what has been achieved at Chester FC.

Back to the football though, and after having a few glasses of wine at home on Saturday night, it was time to start thinking about Monday's game at Fylde.

We knew that a win against Fylde would put us in great shape for the last game, and we hoped (but did not expect) Prescot to get anything against Skem in their match.

On the Hipkiss Express, there's a jolly hostess
I jumped aboard the Hipkiss Express on the way up to Fylde, and had a good chat with several regulars, all enjoying talking about the good times we've had this season, and where we can go from here. It was great arriving at Fylde - I'd missed the Cup game, so this was my first visit, and dropped off at the pub before the ground, well there's no better place for a drop off is there, especially on a sunny day - the only problem being five coach loads of people arriving at the same time, and most looking to get a drink from the bar!!!

The pre match build up was good too, and I took a bit of time speaking to various people in the crowd whilst soaking up the rays before kick off, and the customary pre match burger (or two!).

The first half was a tight affair, and with the news that Skem were leading at Prescot, we then saw our boys fall a goal behind, and all of a sudden everyone in the ground was working out the permutations, and knowing that as it was standing, we'd be level on points with Skem.

Get in Boothy!
We need not have feared, as a brilliant second half display saw Chester win 3-1, and the scenes at the end were great, with people jubilant at what was very nearly a title triumph, it wasn't of course and we have to be reminded of that - but that victory was huge, and means just the one point needed now to secure the championship - a defeat could even be enough, but we won't even consider that an option as we know Skem could and probably will run up a few goals at home to Ossett - it's great though knowing that there are still targets to be hit, 100 points for the team, and the golden boot for Wildey!

The journey home was a fun one, as I went back on the team bus, and had a Non League Show interview to do, as did Neil just after 7pm, however, it was timed with half the lads getting off the bus at Haydock, and I could hardly hear a thing, but all good anyway - Caroline Barker and her team have been brilliant towards Chester FC and have followed us every step of the way, and I'm sure they'll be one of the first to send a Congratulations message through to us tomorrow if we do the business.

So, 6 days ago we were all looking forward to our last home game, and now today we're looking forward to what could be the biggest moment of our history so far, and as dates go, on 29th April 2010 we put our case to the Chester and Cheshire West Council to be the new tennants of the Deva Stadium - with some unwanted Danish opposition, but hey, just look at us now, we're sizzling!

Enjoy the match tomorrow, and as Perry Groves put it to me before Monday's game at Fylde...

"Play the game, not the occasion, and the League will be yours."

Come on you Blues!!!

Friday, 22 April 2011

The Night before the Big Day!

It's been a nice week this week, with the weather being fantastic, and the lads being boosted by the midweek result up at Lancaster, there is a new feeling of optimism around the City again, just days after we were all feeling miserable after the match against Radcliffe, me more so perhaps as some kind soul decided to scrape their car across mine, well I say mine, it was actually Mrs B's car that got scratched - typical hey?

Anyway, back to the footie again, and the big match tomorrow - the last home league game of the season, it doesn't seem five minutes since they were stepping out against Trafford, but here we are, with a chance of finishing with a win and leave everyone on a high point - there is a strange familiarity to that Trafford game, with the Junior Blues all set to provide the team with a guard of honour tomorrow, just as they did back in September, and Colin Murray has been back in touch, just as he was in September!

We did of course want to sign off at the Exacta with a win to clinch or already celebrate the title, but that wasn't to be, so we're instead still fighting for the title with Skelmersdale, why us hey, why oh why are we the only club in the land to be over 90 points and scored over 100 goals this season to still be in a position where we cannot uncork that Champagne?

Reason is of course, Skem's major winning run that saw them win 13 out of 15 games, before they travelled to Lancaster, knowing that a win over the Dolly Blues would take them 2 points ahead of us but all on level games, and maybe that pressure started to tell on United, as they lost to a last minute goal - what a new hero Lancaster's Alex Johnson now is with the Chester faithful, and I'm sure he'll get a bottle of champagne himself if that turns out to be the difference come next Friday!

It's going to be a nervous time, but we're confident that we can stay focused enough to see this through, and win the title, we're all craving it so much that to not get there would be so disappointing - but we would of course not be out of it knowing we'd have the play offs at home - but let's not even consider that yet hey?

The time is now for the lads to step up and be counted, 3 wins and it's ours, it's as simple as that - you can't help feeling that a win tomorrow would put us in great shape for Monday's trip to Fylde, and with a bit of luck Curzon Ashton can put one over Skem tomorrow too, and give us the chance of winning it on Monday - that would be great.

Media wise it's been an interesting week. I was left unimpressed with the Chester Leader comments that were attributed to Neil, saying he was "finding it hard to stay positive" and on Tuesday the comments were "If I'm brutally honest with myself, I don't know what to do next" - these comments were at the end of a 10 minute interview, where Neil was insinuating that he hadn't thought yet about the next game, as it was too soon to even think about given what happened at Radcliffe.

Neil was obviously down after the 2-2 scoreline last week, we all were, but he could easily have called an end to that interview, but didn't, and maybe he paid the consequences with the last questions from a tiring day being turned against him. I registered my disappointment with the Leader about those comments, and said to them in a phone call that it was about time they nailed their colours to the mast and got behind us rather than just doing interviews, and turning comments around.

I was pleased therefore to see today's paper, whereby they sort of did that, but still not really - if you see what I mean.

The Chronicle have been exceptional in their coverage, and continue to back the club - and that is really appreciated by everyone at Chester FC - even when times are hard, they do their level best to get behind us for the next game.

I had a conversation with Colin Murray earlier today, and asked him to big up our game tomorrow against Bamber Bridge, and he understood the nerves our lads were displaying, but still reckons we'll go up - great to hear.

Nerves are definitely coming into play, and on Thursday night at training, the club had a sports psychologist in attendance, to help show the lads what great things they've done this season, and how they CAN cross the line as Champions - the players seemed to appreciate what was going on, and hopefully we'll see a really positive show tomorrow from the boys.

Also at training the other night was Grenville Millington, who had offered help to coach our goalkeepers, knowing how lonely it can be when keepers make mistakes, and I'm pleased to say Judgey was delighted with the training help on offer, again hopefully we'll see Judgey full of confidence again, if he is the main in between the sticks tomorrow.

We've made tomorrow a "Flag Day" and will be ramping up the atmosphere as much as possible to fill the place with positivity ahead of the game. We just want everyone to be right behind the boys as we go into our final game.

Well that's it for tonight, let's hope that this time tomorrow we'll all be talking about some great goals from the men in blue & white, and maybe the fact that we're only 3 points from winning the title.

Come on you Blues!!!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

How to lose respect & alienate opposing fans - Volume 2

Well, having seen it already with Chorley, we once again come across another club that end up causing a stir with Chester FC, but on this occasion, down to just one person, a programme contributor.

Last night was the latest stop on the rollercoaster that is Chester FC, at Curzon Ashton, and on paper one game that we had all been looking at for ages thinking this would be a key game in our season.

Originally of course, this game was supposed to have taken place the week before Christmas, but of course the weather saw to that and threw it straight into our run in.

Barrie's latest Hipkiss Express
I decided to get on the Hipkiss Express last night for a change, and it’ll probably be the last time too, I get superstitious at the best of times, and last night may have seen the end of my coaching-it days, as the evening turned into a miserable one, and that was just sitting next to my mate Richie ha ha!

Anyway off from the Exacta we went, in good mood, confident that we could take something from the game, and arrived at Curzon’s Tameside Stadium following a relatively stress-free journey on the roads.

All still looking good. Then off into meet the board members of Curzon Ashton, and all seemed very friendly and hospitable – especially the elderly gentleman proving the cups of tea, who saw nothing as a problem last night.

Also in the board room was the oldest surviving Manchester United player, from the 1940s, Jack Crompton, who is now the President of CAFC, and pleasantries exchanged.

A nice little walk around, saw a very decent bar full of Chester fans, then outside to see a cracking stand for this level of football, then catching up with a few friends at the ground, before taking a look at the match programme.

Then, the night took its first turn for the worse. Upon reading the “Welcome To The Tameside Stadium” and “Terrace View” all the good about the hospitality that the home side were showing, which included the board room, the bars, the food caterers, the stewards, and the police – all of that seemed to pale into insignificance when reading through the programme, and with one fell swoop Curzon Ashton hit a low.

This year's award for Spitting of the Dummy goes to...
 In what should be an “official programme” someone had taken it upon themselves to pen a piece that had a right pop at Chester FC, and slated us for being in the NPL and stated that we should start at the bottom of the football pyramid, rather than where we had ended up. The writer then went on about should Chester have finished bottom of the league, would we have been granted a stay of execution to stay up based on facilities, and that we in essence should be blamed for Leigh or Ossett – whoever finishes second to bottom – going down – well I’m sorry but if you finish second to bottom you don’t deserve to stay up anyway.

Then onto page 3 of what appeared to be a ‘fanzine’ rather than an ‘official programme’, and the total lack of respect for not just ourselves but other clubs as well, with FC United of Manchester being referred to as FC Man Ure – some of course will find it funny, but again, this is supposed to be an official programme and not a fan zine, can you imagine our reaction if our rivals up the road had something in their programme about “Jester” – we’d go mad, and rightly so.

The constant moans about the referees they’ve had was somewhat boring too, christ, we’ve seen enough to last us a lifetime both home & away – and in particular last night, but it isn’t something for go harping on about in the “official programme”.

Then followed the dig at the Exacta Stadium, labelling it a “graveyard” with 2100 fans in it, again insulting to the Chester fans if this was considered an official match report.

Then the old chestnut about the entrance fee at the Exacta, us charging £10 of course, but not that we need to justify it, but the rent for the Exacta is substantial compared to what a lot of clubs in this league will face – and we are ambitious too, a fact reflected by our fans, who have come in their thousands to watch the Blues this season, how many extra Curzon fans would have come along had it been £9 or £8, or even £7 – my guess is not a lot, given their home attendances, which for this league are average.

We are ambitious, we want to move on up the Leagues, and so the admission is part of that strategy, it’s as simple as that.

Then the problem of paying a pound to enter the Blues Bar, which again doesn’t seem to put many off when you see a full bar inside, because fans are happy that the money is being re-invested with the club.

It was a real shame that the programme team saw fit to allow this piece of disrespectful writing into their programme, and when challenged about it, the Curzon Ashton board could only offer a feeble sorry, as they didn’t know who had wrote it, and hadn’t even seen it. I made my feelings known about the article, and advised them that their whole club which had given us a professional image, had now been let down by one person’s contribution, which was purely insulting to the people who would end up buying it, ie 800 people from Chester.

Our programme...professional
We at Chester have a team of people who scrutinise everything about our match day programme, looking for any kind of typos whilst coming up with content, and we wouldn’t dream of allowing anything that insulted the team we were hosting that day into it.

As mentioned, opinions like this belong in a fanzine rather than an “official programme”, and Curzon Ashton should look at that as to why people were left annoyed at their club. Take that element out, and I’m sure there wouldn’t have been a complaint in the house about their club, apart from beating us 3-1 of course.

Then followed the journey home on the Hipkiss Express constantly venting my thoughts on the world of Twitter & Facebook, before finally getting home and struggling to drift off to sleep after witnessing a rare thing, an away defeat.

Right, that’s enough from me now, I’ve said my piece, I’m not even going to refer to the game, we all know the result, we know where we now stand, and we’re all new members of the Lancaster City supporters club for the next week or so!

Come on the Dolly Blues!!!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Squeaky Bum Time

Yes, the phrase that's on everyone's lips at the moment, it really is squeaky bum time as the end of the season draws ever nearer, and Skelmersdale - our closest rivals in the Promotion hunt - are suddenly just 3 points behind us with a game in hand.

Skem - doing a "Hereford"
Now a lot has been said in various quarters about why the lead is now only 3 points instead of 13 - but let's just remember that Skem always had at least a couple of games in hand on us and have done a "Hereford" so far in winning 8 games on the bounce, but when you see the games they've played they have had a nice run of fixtures, granted they still needed to go out there and win them, but now is the time we'll see what they're made of - the next 4 games are tricky.

We of course simply have to get back to form, a few more wins and we're there, in the Premier League - what has gone largely unnoticed of course is the fact that we've actually qualified for the Play Offs, and that should be celebrated in itself - but it shows how far we've come as a club in the last 12 months that we're actually viewing that as a disappointment if we end up in the Play Offs.

If it happens then we'll deal with it - right now it looks like the lowest we'll fall to in the League would be 2nd place, which still ensures you home matches in both the Play Off Semi Final (against 5th place) and the Play Off Final, so we'd still be in pole position, but let's hope we don't even have talk of the play offs come April 29th at Garforth!

I've been doing my predictions all the way through the season, and originally I had us to win the League whilst Witton were playing Chorley at home in a few weeks time, but they have shockingly fallen away recently, but like every other Chester fans, hopes they get back to winning ways at home to Skem tomorrow.

I've now got us to clinch the title with a point at Garforth - this with us going into that game 3 points ahead of Skem, who are unlikely to slip up against Ossett in their last game.

Don;t you just hate tickly coughs?
It's been a while since I blogged on here and that has to do with me feeling lousy, a touch of man flu - have done a previous blog about that here, with a cracking video - but I really have felt so crap that the PC was just a distant thought, and annoyingly its dragged itself out still now, with one those dead annoying tickly chesty coughs, so lots of Covonia being sunk at the mo!

It's been another busy week or so, with all those recent home games taking place, and lots to deal with - the curzon Ashton game saw us entertain Graham Abel - one of Harry's Boys from the 80s, and on the same day I received a call from Ryan Lowe who wanted to come and see us in action, so I invited him to do a half time interview - knowing that he'd love the reception. Some obviously see Ryan as one of SV's friends - having spoken to Ryan on a few occasions, I know that he viewed the situation at Chester City as disastrous, but is more than delighted that we have come back the way we have, and will continue to support Chester FC in the future.

Whilst trying to sort out the half time interviews in that game, I got called to the ref's room as it was made known to us that the Assistant Referee had pulled up injured in the first half and a change was needed, but as no fourth official is at games at this level, we were left with going out over the PA system with trying to find a replacement, someone who was qualified to do the job.

Naturally, you start to think that 99% of people on our ground are Chester fans, and is it such a good idea for someone to put themselves forward for the role, imagine if a controversial decision was made, they could be victimised for life!

Thankfully the person who stepped in didn't put a foot wrong all the second half (for both teams), and the incident passed, but a shame that we couldn't win that game.

Saturday, back to winning ways at Mossley, and an important cleareance off the line from Michael Aspin who has been brilliant recently, and deserving of his man of the match awards that he's netted. Skem of course kept up their challenge with another win, you kind of expect it now!

We then went to Woodley on Tuesday night, in a place that felt about -2 having left Chester in sunshine - what's going on there???

Oi! Mind the roof!
We were also on the flight path to Manchester Airport, so every time the ball went in the air you'd catch sight of an incoming plane probably returning from a warmer climate, and after originally venting my jealousy towards them, realised that they'd be flying back in to a colder one!

What about the game then? Well most of it was spent watching high clearances coming back at the player who launched it - a bit like those days on the beach when you smack one of those lightweight balls in the air and then with gust of wind it flies back over your own head for a goal kick, or even worse a goal!

It wasn't the best of games that's for sure, and I think relief was all around the place when Simmo came on to level the match up, but disbelief a few minutes later when he blasted over from close range - that should have been the winner, but it wasn't - we have to deal with it and move on - oh and Skem won again!

On the media side of things, I had a phone call from Al Jazeera TV the other day, who are doing a programme on English Football, and they want to see the impact the fans have on their clubs, and are doing a piece on Liverpool, Plymouth, and Chester - when the call came through I was curious to see why they had chosen us, but the producer that I'm actually dealing with is from Chester, so it's a good story for him to cover!

The good news was is that he rang me back after I originally called him to return a left voicemail, as he went on to say that he was calling from Qatar, so my bill would have been huge had he not called me back!

We may see something on the Radcliffe game for the above feature, so will keep posting about that with the latest developments with it.

A delighted Michael Owen
This week has also been dominated by getting the press release ready for the Manor House Stables, and Steve Ashton has done a lot of work on this one and deserves great credit for pulling it together, it's also great to see Michael Owen wanting to help his home town club out too, and along with fellow owner Andrew Black, and the help of Mike Foster at Deva Racing, has given Chester fans the chance to 'own' a racehorse that will run in Chester FC colours and will hopefully net some prize money - it is of course £50 per month for 6 months, and that may be too much for some, but I'm sure there will be 50 people out there - especially in the business world that follow Chester and fancy a bit of a punt on this one!

So, onto tomorrow then, and the home game against Cammell Laird, and a chance to put things right again, and we've hopefully got a stack of former players attending the game tomorrow, and we're hoping that they'll be able to walk round the pitch to applaud the supporters before taking their seats - we've got plans for players from the 50s through to the 90s attending tomorrow which should be great to see.

It's also Grand National Day tomorrow, and I'm sure the usual lengthy queues in the bookies with first timers in there with their slips, who are you going for? I'm going for Balabriggs - hopefully it will end up a worthy winner!

So, fingers crossed tomorrow then, and let's hope we can net another 3 points in our pursuit of the title - COME ON YOU BLUES!!!!