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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April, 2004, 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK
Fans treasure Chester success

By Jonathan Legard
BBC motor racing correspondent - and Chester City fan

From Gravesend to the promised land, all hail the new Chester City.

Saturday's championship clincher against Scarborough was classic material for the old-style Chester to falter and fail at another crucial crossroads.

Chester striker Daryl Clare celebrates promotion to the Football League
Daryl Clare has hit 30 goals this season for Chester
Their final Football League fixture in 2000, for example, was a wretched 1-0 home defeat when a draw would have saved them from the drop.

But Mark Wright's demanding, abrasive management has fashioned a team in his own image - ambitious, determined and self-assured, qualities rarely associated with the club.

Instead of collapsing in a nerve-wracked heap 'New Chester' held firm, scrapped for victory in front of a sell-out crowd and claimed the club's first title since the 1926-27 Cheshire Championship.

Yes, it's that long ago, so you can understand why the achievment counts for so much.

Holding off Hereford's bullish charge - they have racked up seven consecutive Conference wins - reflects enormously well on the spirit among Wright's squad.

It's a startling turnaround from those dark days when the American Terry Smith was club owner.

Relegation, debts, boycotts, sackings and programme rants - they were unhappy times.

By the time Liverpool businessman, Stephen Vaughan, persuaded him to sell in 2001, the club had no money, no hope and almost no supporters at the bottom of the Conference.

These are heady days indeed at the Deva

Two million pounds and two and a half years later, the club is probably as strong as it's ever been.

"We intend to go on and win more titles," Vaughan proclaimed to the jubilant crowd after Saturday's title presentation at the Deva Stadium.

"There is no reason why we can't emulate the successes that Doncaster Rovers (last season's Conference play-off winners, now promoted to Division Two) achieved this season."

He added: "We will plan for the future, and strengthen where we need to strengthen."

Wow. Once upon a time, they couldn't afford boot polish in the Chester boardroom.

It's almost too good to be true. Chester, championship, big cheques - where's the catch?

Pessimists bring up the subject of Unibond club, Barrow, which Vaughan owned then sold acrimoniously a decade ago.

Chester boss Mark Wright celebrates promotion
Chester fans will hope Mark Wright stays on as Chester boss

But Vaughan, 42, has taken Chester out of the Conference in champagne style.

Talk of a possible merger with Tranmere Rovers has fizzled out and Vaughan insists he's at Chester for the long run.

The only blot on the horizon is the future of Mark Wright.

His success with Chester won't go unnoticed - only three league defeats is a record bettered only by Arsenal.

The defence, featuring the outstanding Danny Collins, has conceded just 32 goals in 41 games.

The attack, led so dashingly by the Conference's leading marksman Daryl Clare, has scored 84 goals.

Wright has been tipped for the top job at Southampton, and interviewed for jobs at Tranmere and Stockport.

The lure of a bigger club may yet prove irresistible over the summer.

Hopefully, Saturday's triumph will have convinced Wright to have a proper stab at Football League management after his abortive few months at Oxford United.

His chairman's financial muscle is firmly in place to back a bid to fulfil his First Division ambitions.

First Division? I tell you, these are heady days indeed at the Deva.

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