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Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 13:12 UK

Chester hit rock bottom

Jonathan Legard
By Jonathan Legard
BBC Formula 1 commentator and lifelong Chester fan

Even Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger, never mind Jim Harvey, would baulk at the prospect of making sense of Chester City under the current style of ownership.

Chester fans
Chester fans watch the club's relegation last season

Perhaps if Avram Grant had really been up for a challenge back in English football, he would have tried his luck at the Deva Stadium rather than Fratton Park.

But it's not hard to see why he chose the bottom club in the Premier League, rather than the bottom club of the Blue Square Premier. Billionaire or threadbare?

You probably heard about the two spells in administration during the summer, the Football Association ban on pre-season games as well as the postponement of the opening Conference fixtures, and the 25-point deduction which virtually guarantees a second successive relegation - a first even in Chester's chequered history.

But the events of the last few weeks epitomise the malaise at the heart of the club which once upon a time announced Ian Rush to the world and nowadays just craves stability and continuity after owner Stephen Vaughan installed Jim Harvey as his 11th manager in eight seasons.

On 30 September Chester sacked Mick Wadsworth after just 13 games in charge. Wadsworth - in happier days, one of the late Sir Bobby Robson's most trusted coaches - had nine months left on his contract.

by KING A_star_blue_eaglefan4life

Days later, managing director Bob Gray revealed a projected loss of more than £600,000 for this season, and claimed that unless new investment was found the club would go out of business in a matter of weeks.

When word went round that September's salary cheques had bounced, as well as the cheque to pay for the team bus to Hayes and Yeading, the reality seemed even more perilous.

Then on 6 October, Harvey - previously prince of Prenton Park in his Tranmere Rovers playing career and more recently boss of Morecambe and Forest Green - was appointed amid familiar pledges of funding for new players.

At the same time, Vaughan strenuously denied the club was in danger, claiming he did not know how his managing director had produced the figures.

And in a move surely calculated to indicate progress, club director Ian Anderson was appointed chairman on Thursday evening. However Vaughan, the outright owner, does not have a seat on the board after resigning nearly two years ago.

This place is full of negativity and it's really difficult. I've never known an environment like it

Sacked manager Mick Wadsworth

So who or what do battle-hardened Chester supporters believe as they look on, appalled at the way their club is staggering ever more disturbingly from crisis to crisis, and possibly oblivion?

Even those with short memories will recall similar promises about new signings made to Mark Wright in his third incarnation as Chester boss last season.

During the doomed fight for Football League survival, the only arrival in five months was an emergency goalkeeper.

A proposed takeover by a Merseyside developer, Gary Metcalf, was grandly announced with due diligence seemingly an afterthought. Nothing has happened.

The same Mr Metcalf had been behind earlier grandiose multi-million pound plans for a stadium makeover including retail outlets. Nothing's happened.

Ian Rush
Before his sparkling Liverpool career, Ian Rush was a Chester player

What is happening, however, is a complete breakdown of the relationship between owner and supporters. Disillusionment and apathy are taking hold, with a potentially fatal erosion of an already small support base.

The last home game attracted just 1,019 hardy souls to watch another defeat.

The gap between income and expenditure which dragged the club into administration can only deteriorate once more, this time for the new company, Chester City Football Club Ltd (2004), with the same majority shareholder as the old one - Stephen Vaughan.

A £225,000 parachute payment from the Football League has been blocked. A £30,000 payment from the Premier League is also on hold.

The Inland Revenue will soon be demanding payment in line with the terms of the administration order.

What's more, it's understood that an official at the club gave a personal guarantee that all football debts would be cleared by the middle of October. Time is almost up but how much money's gone down to meet the deadline? And how vigorously will the authorities act if the agreement is not honoured?

On the evidence of the Conference's decision to break its own rules to allow Chester to start the new season, despite owing money to creditors, Vaughan can probably bank on another positive result.

He remains consistently defiant over calls for him to sell the club. The question is, what's it worth? Given the predicted losses, surely not much. Hence the nominal offers from local businessmen, so far rejected by the owner.

Jim Harvey
Harvey believes his style of passing football may be what City need

Reports that the former York City chairman, John Batchelor, with plans for rebranding as Harchester Rovers or even Red Bull Chester City, was prepared to pay in excess of £1m might explain why Vaughan appears in no rush for an exit.

The longer he holds out for that sort of improbably Hollywood payday, the more grisly the club's predicament.

Wadsworth's parting shot will serve as a warning to Harvey before his first game as Chester City manager, at home to Rushden & Diamonds.

"This place is full of negativity and it's really difficult. I've never known an environment like it," he said.

Few supporters would disagree. But most would concur that changing the name on the manager's door doesn't get to the root of the problem at the Deva Stadium.

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see also
Chester name Harvey as new boss
06 Oct 09 |  Chester
Hayes & Yeading 0-0 Chester
03 Oct 09 |  Non League
Manager Wadsworth leaves Chester
30 Sep 09 |  Chester
Chester permitted to start season
13 Aug 09 |  Chester
Chester hit by 25-point penalty
06 Aug 09 |  Chester
Chester can make pre-season bow
31 Jul 09 |  Chester
Chester facing threat of closure
17 Jul 09 |  Chester
Wright resigns as Chester manager
22 Jun 09 |  Chester
Vaughan family buy Chester City
11 Jun 09 |  Chester
Chester move into administration
17 May 09 |  Chester
Metcalf confident of Chester deal
27 Mar 09 |  Chester
Chester dismiss Batchelor offer
05 Dec 08 |  Chester
Chester City ponder name change
11 Mar 07 |  Chester

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