Thursday, 26 May 2011

Promotion Party & Parade draws a line under the season

What an amazing time Chester fans had last weekend, with the City Fans United Promotion Party last Friday night, followed by the Town Hall Civic Reception on Saturday which included the first open top bus tour since the 1970s featuring a winning Chester side on the top deck, complete with Championship trophy!

Friday was quite an eventful day to say the least, I'd been in touch with Daryl Clare as I'd invited him as CFU's guest for the evening together with his family. It was 12 months to the very date that Daryl had last been over for the Chester FC Re-Lanch at the Guild Hall, so what better opportunity for him to come over and see what had been achieved in that space of time.

I'd kept Daryl in the loop on how things were going as well as keeping up to date on how his career was going with Alfreton, who enjoyed promotion to the Conference this season. Daryl was certainly keen to come over and join in with our celebrations.

Oops, wrong Travelodge - nice one Jeff!
So, Daryl was booked into the hotel, and thought I'd give him the directions to the hotel, but completely forget that there were two hotels of the same chain in the City Centre, and yes, I'd given him the wrong hotel directions, so I got the call at just after 6pm on the Friday night with Daryl already walking through town from Pepper Street down past the Grosvenor Museum - the woman at Travelodge by the amphitheatre had told them it was only 10 minutes walk - what she didn't tell them was the best way to get to the Travelodge up by the Fountains roundabout!

I offered to go and pick him up, but as I was in the Saxo, it would have been a bit tricky to fit 2 adults, 3 kids, a buggy and a case in the car - Daz had already parked his car up in the car park by the other Travelodge so had decided to leave it in there overnight.

He declined the lift as he was happy for them all to have a walk up the road to the roundabout, but then I received a call back from him telling me little Courtney's CD was still in the car, so like a fireman running to his fire engine, here I was running to the Saxo - all ready for the Racecourse, but it was time for a slight diversion, so off I went picked him up and drove back to the car park, had a great chat along the way, whilst feeling a complete knob for giving him the wrong hotel directions!

Anyway, back to the hotel, dropped off, and then I made my way to the Racecourse for the do, had a good chat with Jonathan Legard who was hosting the evening, and began to relax, speaking to various supporters there on the night, and I'd decided that that's how I'd approach the evening, by catching up with many fans who I'd not had the chance to do a few weeks ago at the Club Awards evening.

It was a great night, with the CFU Player of the Year award going to Michael Wilde, the Away Travel Player of the Year going to George Horan, and the Best Dressed Award going to Gary Powell!!!

It was also great to see the Chairman of the Evo-Stik League along with the League Operations Manager attending the do to present Wildey with his Golden Boot Award, and with it a great speech by the Chairman who announced that we should never have been placed in that League, and that was greeted by an ovation by the Chester fans at the venue.

Courtney Clare - a star in the making!
Then we were tresated to a rendition of Danny Boy from the talented Courtney Clare, another reason why Daryl had brought the family over with him. Little Courtney has already wowed many with her singing, and the Pavillion Suite was certainly brought to a halt to listen to the 8 year old sing, and what a reception she got at the end of her song, a standing ovation!

Another song was to follow, and we really believe that she could go far, although I'm not sure where that voice came from, it certainly didn't come from her dad, although I joked with him the other day that he should get up and sing at the next do!

The rest of the evening saw a great quiz, where Michael Wilde showed us an impression of Iain Howard, and George Horan did the same for Carl Ruffer!

Then we had an amazing auction that saw Trevor Storton's shirt being auctioned for over £500 - amazing, and the very first yellow away kit for next season being bought for £210 - nice one Chris!

That topped off the evening, and I had to head home at that point, but the following morning was amazing too, and having got up early made my way down to the Exacta Stadium for the start of the bus tour. We were expecting the players to pack out the top of the bus, but a few late withdrawals meant that there were a few spaces left, so I took my place at the back of the bus, and when we got going from the Stadium, we passed a handful of people down Bumpers Lane, whilst the police then raced off to the traffic lights to stop the traffic, and let the bus make its way round onto Sealand Road - I think we were all rather cautious as the bus turned a corner, holding on tight!!

Mind the Bridge!
The bus eventually made its way up Canal Street which saw the first real load of fans waiting for us with flags, before we then turned on to Northgate Street to see the bridge above packed with people taking photos, and then passing that we then saw the crowds in the distance - we'd all wondered if it would be a half decent turnout, but I think its fair to say we were all left gobsmacked when we saw just how many people had made their way to the Town Hall - we felt like a Premier League team that had just won the title, or the FA Cup, as all you could see was a swarm of blue and white everywhere!

What a great sight!
The bus bypassed the Town Hall, before embarking on a trip down Werburgh Street, and one lady heading out of her workplace for an early brekky it would seem, shouted "Not being funny but who are ya?" in a big scouse accent, I shouted back "We're Chester!" with arms open wide. She then responded, "Ah, I'm not from round here", to which I sarcastically shouted back "You can tell!" given the strong accent, and lack of knowledge about the club!

Anyway, heading round Eastgate Row you could see the tourists thinking WTF?? But it was great that on Races Day we could give the City something different to celebrate, and when we made our way back up the cobbles on Northgate Street, people were hanging out of windows above shops to greet us, all that was missing was the ticker tape!!!

I'd been filming most of this as it was something I wanted to keep forever, and so glad I did, as it gave the different angle of the bus tour from the top deck, rather than the countless many videos taken from within the crowds.

The bus came to a halt and the players were quite rightly given a magnificent welcome by the crowd, and a few interviews were carried out - whilst I took the opportunity of grabbing the trophy and thrusting it in the air in celebration - have it!!!

So, in to the reception we went inside the town hall, where a couple of nice speeches were given by the Mayoress and also Mike Jones, and it really hammered home just how much we'd pleased the community with the efforts on and off the pitch this season and long may it continue.

The morning ended with the though, bugger I've got to get back to the Exacta now to pick the car up, and so I took the No 10A to Connahs Quay via Sealand Road, not quite as glamorous as being on the top of the bus, but a great chance to reflect on what had been an amazing day in the growing history of Chester Football Club!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Time for it all to quieten down? No, not really!

It's been a couple of weeks since that amazing finale to our season, and the superb promotion party - part 1 at Chester Racecourse last Saturday night - what a do that was.

It was always promising to be a great do, the moment Colin Murray gave his thumbs up to hosting it, and what a job he did, and to be fair to him he was feeling worse for ware before the event, suffering from illness, and on the Friday afternoon I got the "bad news" call - I thought 'oh no, this is it, we're going to see our host pull out' - and to make matters worse we kept on missing each other's calls as I was down at Chester Races celebrating with the lads, when at the end of the afternoon I'd noticed the missed call!

Anyway, the voicemail was classic, "Jeff, I've got some bad news I'm afraid, but not as bad news as bad news could be, but it's still bad news" - I was already confused with that!

Anyway, I phoned him back and he told me that he'd been drafted in to do the Sunday afternoon show that he thought he'd got out of, and that meant that he had to be in work at 9am on the Sunday, add to that he was feeling rough, but he said he was still intent on coming up to host the event, and so he did driving up after his saturday show finished, and he would head straight back down to London from our event at 11pm - what commitment to the cause that was!!!

He did a great job, and some of the gags were classic, at one point I thought we'd hired a comedian for the night! The best thing though was that he was so down to earth and bring Perry with him was great too, who was well up for slamming those drinks down his throat!

Perry was sat on the same table as our Chairman, and it wasn't long before he came over to our table to speak to Colin telling him that the Chairman had said that there may be room for 3 people on the board so you know what Perry was thinking....I was busy thinking "oh no, what have I started here, Colin, Perry & Pat on the board???" - that would make board meetings interesting!!!

The night itself saw the awards dished out to the players, and Wildey & George definitely deserved their accolades, and now the battle is on to become the CFU Player of the Year, which takes place this coming Friday night, another event to be hosted by a top BBC sports person, this time in the form of Chester fan Jonathan Legard.

The best award of the night had to be the Clubman of the Year Award, which saw Richard Wightman voted as the winner of the award, and it was great to see Richard's mum Lesley come up and collect the award, I think it was fair to say that moment was so full of emotion for everyone concerned, but well deserved too.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that things wind down now that the season is over, well I wish that was the case, there is still so much going on, what with the CFU Promotion Party to be organised (and at this point I'll say that Pat Cluskey has done a great job with both Parties), and also the Open Top Bus Tour for the Saturday morning before the Races, it's still a busy time.

For me personally, it's been a nightmare last couple of weeks, with serious family illnesses dominating my life, and maybe I've put football ahead of that which at times is inexcusable I will admit, but people who know me will know that I'll always try and do my best to balance things up.

Looking at the forums in the last week has seen a huge debate on the pricing of season tickets and matchday admission, and a hell of a lot has been said, some healthy debate, others totally off the mark - and the fact of the matter is we discussed this in great depth to ensure we arrived at the right decision. It must be remembered that each one of us on the board is a big Chester fan, and we go through what everyone else goes through, we all have season tickets ourselves, and do what we do for the love of our club.

The decision arrived at therefore was to increase the prices slightly - and I do believe it's slightly, given the fact that it's a solitary pound on the Harry Mac - which is mainly where the younger people go, and £2 in the stands - mainly where a lot more of adults go, not that that's the reason for the increase - nothing like it at all, we're just looking at the future, and if we want to be challenging for promotion from the Conference in a few years time, then we have to be looking at full time football - that is going to be a key life-changing moment as far as the football club is concerned, and we have to be ready for it, we have to be ambitious.

If prices were kept as they were last seaosn, then we'll go into next season with the same budget for the manager to use, when we all know that wages will be higher as you climb the leagues, and in the conference you're looking at annual wage bills of £500k-£1m, so to prepare for that kind of money, we have to look at the long term strategy, I really don't believe the price increases are unfair, in fact I've spoken to lots of people and they really do believe that the prices are fair, and as all money is going back in to the club then they are happy to pay it.

We also asked in the survey last year if people would be prepared to pay more in order to keep the youth prices down, and a huge percentage backed this idea, this prior to this year's Census which saw another massive vote for raising the prices if it meant we could move forward again - the questions is over the word 'modest' increase - which I believe the increase is.

Another point was made that the prices should have been kept as they were 'as a thank you' to everyone, and again i refer to the point that we are all fans, who want the best for our club, and there are indeed other ways we can offer thanks to fans for the journey we are embarking on, like for instance the Club threw a party for the fans who have committed countless hours to the club, volunteering their time to clean up after games, working the turnstiles, selling programmes, running the shop, helping behind the bar, and many many more vital jobs that need doing, all because they love their club, and I know they appreciated it.

That's the way the Club should look after it's army of volunteers, and they will be represented at next week's Civic Reception at the Town Hall, not everyone will be due to the numbers allowed, but they'll be represented nonetheless.

We're also looking at the kids, as they have formed 30% of the support that the club has now got, I somehow think that if prices had been raised by £1 for them, and only £1 for the adults in the seated stands, then there wouldn't have been half the kick off that there has been, but we wanted to keep the kids prices as they are given that they are the future, and any rise for their prices would be unhealthy at this point.

The board will always be open to criticism, we have to make decisions, and so far most of them have proved to be the right decisions, the club is looking professional from top to bottom right now, and will continue to do so, but we must look to progress - looking at the Conference, many teams have got into it but not prepared for the step up, and hopefully when it happens, it will be a massive step up, but we have to be ready for it.

On the player front, it's been an exciting few days with the arrival of Jamie Rainford, I know Steve Ashton has done a tremendous amount of work with Neil on Jamie's signing, and it's resulted in Chester getting an excellent deal on the transfer, given that Marine wanted a lot more money for him last season.

I obviously won't go into the figures agreed, but to see £60k quoted was completely laughable, and should in no way be taken seriously, a bit like the fact that people believe some of our players are on £500 a week, two words..."Get Real!!!" - that really is complete nonsense - let's not forget Chester City FC were paying that for full time wages, well they should have been paying them I should have said, but our lads are on wages nowhere near that amount, and I'm sure they'd love to be on that kind of money, but they're not!

The transfers kept coming too, with Liam Brownhill's addition on Saturday, and another one in the pipeline at the moment, but as ever we'll stay tightlipped - we put a press release out the other day about Jamie Rainford, as the two clubs agreed the other day that rumours about the player were unhelpful, so we moved quickly to put that to bed.

Anyway, another week has passed at Chester FC, as the dust begins to settle on the promotion campaign, but as said, one more party to come, followed by the bus tour, and I think we better get that trophy in bubble wrap, and hope that we don't have a Real Madrid moment on the bus!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Homecoming Party...

After a break of a few days, time to catch up on Saturday's events at the Exacta, when Chester FC staged the Homecoming Party, and what a day that turned out to be - under gorgeous blue skies!

Get in there!
The day started with a photoshoot at 12noon, so straight to the Exacta to get there in time for the shot, and upon arrival many fans already waiting for the gates, and also the club shop to open, no doubt to snap up the Champions t-shirts that had been specially printed for the occasion.

Going inside the ground, and seeing the players, it was clear to see they'd had a big night out on the town as they were all hungover!

But fair play to them they then got changed, and were in their kit in no time and were getting ready to meet the fans for the celebration.

Then wondered outside with a a pint to soak up the celebratory atmosphere, and caught up with Shane from Dee 106.3, and Cleggy who were running the afternoon for us.

Looking a bit posh
The photoshoot took place before the gates were opened, and we had a good laugh on that one, and the board were invited to sit down on the seats with the squad being both behind and in front of us, and I was sat directly in front of Powelly and Chris Simm, so had to hope that nothing untowards was going on behind me, I didn't want a warm shoulder or neck!

Once that was done with the players headed back inside, and then the fans were all admitted and how fantastic to see over 1000 coming in to join in with the celebrations, it was such a good feeling, and thoughts were why didn't the club do this when the Conference was won in 2004? - It was an easy thing to do but it goes so far to reward the fans.

I then went to see the players at 12.50 just before they were due to come out at 1pm, and the funniest scene of the whole weekend greeted me when I entered the changing room, it was like a library, with all the players just sat there hunched over, hungover, and no music blasting out - I told them this was the quietest I'd seen them before going out on to the Exacta pitch!

Then back outside, and time to join Cleggy as he introduced the players one by one, and they all deserved the recognition they received from the fans - they were our champions after all!

Once they'd all got out on to the pitch it was time to take them round for their lap of honour with the trophy and it was great to see the players have so many photo opportunities with the fans.

After the lap of honour was complete, it was time for Shane & Cleggy to get going on the mike, and they did a great job, speaking to various people - I didn't really want to speak as my voice has been heard enough this season in other places, but Cleggy insisted, so a nervous speech in front of the Exacta Stand - I'd not been that nervous through all the other interviews I'd done!

This time he doesn't miss!
Then once I'd done that, I thought it would be a great idea if Wildey could have a chance to put that penalty miss out of his mind by taking one against Big Lupus, so I approached Wildey, who was a bit reluctant as his leg was killing but I managed to talk him round, and away we went - we would have gone to the home end, but the speakers were there, so off to the old away end for the pen, and Chester's number 10 made no mistake!

Once that was all done it was then time to mingle with the fans, whilst the players then signed autographs and spoke to the fans, and I took the opportunity to speak to Rich Wightmans mum, who wanted a photo of the board with her, so I suggested we stand in the Harry Mac next to Richie's flag, and that was a nice moment for all concerned.

After everyone had left the pitch there was still some work to do, as I'd arranged for ESPN Brazil to come down to the Exacta - they'd got in touch on Thursday about doing a piece on the ground, with the England-Wales border the subject, so I'd invited them down in the hope that they'd be joining in with a promotion celebration, but sadly their plan had been delayed, so they didn't turn up until everyone had pretty much left, but I still did the interview with them - with the trophy in my arms!

Never did I think that I'd ever be doing an interview for a Brazilian football channel, but hey this season has been amazing with various worldwide interest, I received a Congratulations e-mail from a French TV channel who'd done a feature earlier on in the season, and also this season we've had a Norweigan, Danish, and Middle East (Al Jazeera) tv crew with us - have to see who we can get next year!

That'll do for now, as it's nearly 7am, so time to get ready for work!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Championes Championes Ole Ole Ole...

What an insane end to Chester FC's very first league campaign, but one that ends on a really high having secured the title following an unbelievable twist of events that no-one expected!

The build up to the big day was the feeling of confidence of going into the game at Garforth needing just a point but believing we'd get the three to make it 100 points.

The day itself started with the departing of the team bus from the Exacta Stadium at 10.15am, and many fans who were themselves jumping on the Hipkiss Express(es) were there in force already to wave the boys off!

We had a good laugh on the way, with the lads in great spirits, and every other car that went past the coach on the motorway seemed to have a Chester scarf in it, and many let us know they were Blues fans with the obligatory horn tooting!

The funniest thing on the way was watching Gary Jones engrossed in the royal wedding, apparently he's a bit of a royalist so was enjoying soaking the coverage on the tv - mind you half the team was too!

The coach then stopped for brekky at a Holiday Inn about 20 miles from Garforth where they all had a light breakfast before setting off again, and now the excitement started to begin in earnest.

We then approached the ground, and now the sight of Chester fans in their colours was there to greet us, and what a sight it was - it felt just like Cup Final Day when you see the coaches arrive at Wembley, well this was our Wembley for the day, and most probably the 44th Cup final of the season!

Straight into the ground then and time to sort out a few media duties before going outside and sampling the atmosphere - I was hoping to sample a pre match burger but that queue was too bloody long!!

So, went for a walk around the ground to speak to a few regulars, and catch up with people who I used to chat with so often, but through my role have hardly had time to do since the season started, so it was nice to catch up again.

It really was the longest wait for a match to start though, and a look at the watch showed it was only 2.15 - another 45 to go - sheesh, why is it taking so long???

Then, it was time to get into my seat in the half decent stand that a lot of the Blues fans were situated in, and get behind the lads for what we hoped would be the championship winning performance and result - well what the hell, just the result would do!

No further had we kicked off it seemed that the first 'tweet' came in from Frank Hughes at Skelmersdale telling us that they had gone 1 up - no problem I thought, was half expecting that, then came 2-0. Hmmm.

The news then came through that it was 2-1, so suddenly Ossett were producing a fightback to help us out, not that we needed it as we were doing okay, creating a few chances, but not looking in trouble.

Then just before half time Asp lobbed a nice ball through to Powelly, who turned on a sixpence (often used commentators line there!) to hammer it home and put us into the lead - his fourth goal in four games, not a bad record for a lad who seemed to be getting hammered for some of his earlier performances, a tad unfair I'd say considering he'd only played about twice!

So, in at half time 1 up, with the news that Skem had grabbed a third - no problem, we were winning and it would mean Garforth would have to score twice to stop us winning the league, it looked unlikely didn't it???

During the first half the PA announcer said that he'd keep us up to date with the score at Skem, but as soon as he blurted out the early goal for Skem, we told him to put a lid on it, as we didn't need the lads distracted by that all match - just as well really considering what followed in the 2nd half!!!

Half time, and a quick breather - glass of water, happy that we'd gone in 1 up and were just 45 minutes from glory, it was a nice feeling.

Out for the second half then, and ready to go, only the substitution for Garforth seemed to galvanise them, and soon enough tweets were coming through from Skem that it was 4-1, then 5-1, and all of a sudden Garforth drew level.

It got worse of course, when Skem knocked in a sixth goal, and the unthinkable happened...Garforth scored to put themselves 2-1 up, a great goal, but one that completely knocked the stuffing out of us.

Suddenly, we were up against it, and when the news that Skem had gone 7-1 up came in, I began fearing the worst, could our dreams be in tatters??

Up popped the news that Ossett had pulled one back, so 7-2, and so it was back to 2 goals required for Skem IF we lost our game, what we had to bear in mind though was of course that we could not afford to concede another goal AT ALL.

I took a quick look around and I don't think I've seen so many people looking at watches and mobile phones to try and get updates, then someone shouted that it was now 8-2 but all eyes were on Neil who had someone at the Skem ground, but before we could get any signal from Neil, it was then 'apparently' 8-3, the emotions were now horrendous, I felt physically sick at this point.

Peterborough 2000 - horrible
Neil then looked up and signalled that it was still 7-2, and couldn't understand where other scores were coming from, but I guess we'll just put it down to those bizarre but really unhelpful 'last day rumours' - I think we all remember what happened in 2000 when someone jumped up mistakenly believing that a goal had gone in at the Shrewsbury v Exeter game, and we were 'apparently' safe, so we HAD to find out what the real score was.

It was 2 minutes before the end of the game, and we made our way down to the tunnel, and our game was all of sudden coming to an end, and we'd fail to find that equalizer, with the lads clearly affected by what was going on at Skem.

Neil then signalled that there was 6 minutes of injury time at Skelmersdale, so we then knew our fate, if Skem scored another 2, it would mean play offs for us, this was just unbearable.

After a few minutes I walked over to Neil, to find out, my timing was great as he turned round and said 'We've done it' before the celebratory pitch invasion took place - I'm not the strongest of lads, but I just lifted Youngy in the air in sheer delight, as we had done it, clinched the title in amazing circumstances.

For you Richie!
It was all full on celebrations from that point, and after several hugging of players, and fans, it was back to the tunnel where 'calm-as-you-like' Pat Cluskey was handing out the 'We did it Rich' t-shirts, which we were desperately hoping we'd be able to wear in memory and tribute to Rich Wightman, and I swear it was Rich who played his part by getting us over the line, under a gorgeous blue sky on Friday!

The singing fan in me came out as I joined in with just about every song that was being sung, but I was absolutely shattered at the same time, with adrenalin keeping me going!

It wasn't long before the trophy was held aloft and that signalled the first achievement of our proud little club, with an amazing 2300 fans that had turned the M62 into a sea of blue and white, I don't think that estate in Garforth knew what had hit it!!

Just before getting on the coach it was time to grab a Championship winning burger, one I'd been craving for all match, but knowing if I'd have had one at half time, I probably would have been sick in that 2nd half, so now I could enjoy my favourite match food - none of this prawn sandwich stuff for me thanks!

The journey home was a quiet one personally as I just felt drained, but the lads at the back of the team bus were going for it good style, with plenty of signing going on.

One funny moment was Wildey asking if we had actually won the title as he'd heard that Skem had scored enough to win, we told him that the trophy wasn't going back now!!!

It was also broken to Wildey that he'd won the golden boot so that delighted him, and Chester's number 10 was in good form for the rest of the night!!!

Back to the ground, and time to film the homecoming, but from an inside the coach point of view rather than the fans outside seeing the bus coming in, and Big George was there with the trophy straight away to show it off to everyone - how good though, a Chester lad holding up a Chester FC championship trophy - sweet.

It was a great day, and then the official homecoming party, but I can't summon up the energy for that write up now, that will have to wait!!!

Well done you Blues!!!