Non League Daily

Supporter Ownership: Pain followed by pride at Chester FC

A death, a painful one, but a neccassary one.  Chester City, one of the most famous lower league clubs died in 2010.  In their place Chester FC, inspired by volunteers, now flourish.

After three promotions in three years the Blues, ran by a Supporters Trust, found themselves back in the Conference, although only the demise of another club, Hereford United, kept them in the league after a well below-par season.

Now though they are "established", in the words of chairman and former City goalkeeper Grenville Millington and the ambitious figurehead of the club is only looking one way and he shows little time for people who say his club can't get there.

"I used to play in goal and on my back I had number one, not like these keepers who have fourty two and thirty one on their backs. I had number one on mine and that is where I want Chester FC to be. Please don't come and tell me why we can't be, I don't want to hear why people think we can't be there. Just tell me why we can be there and how we can progress there.

I know what I am saying but it is alright saying we can't, all I want to hear and focus on why we can. The players train Monday, Tuesday and Thursday now so we are moving forward and trying to make things happen.

Anybody would be proud to have that number one spot but if it happened to us we would be extra specially proud for us. I am already proud of the likes of Steve Burr, the players and our volunteers but if we got promotion back to the Football League I would think it stems from our original board, the work they put in and what has been put in place since"

However, Millington also revealed the pain behind the decision to "let the old club die".  A messy and long winded road to being wound up was walked, eventually the death knell for City was sounded in March 2010.

The new club's chairman paid tribute to the volunteers and key figures who have put the new club back into the highest tier of the Non-League pyramid.

"The first board here, who resurrected the club, had a very painful decision to make to let the old club die. That was the first thing they did and that was very painful for them. They resurected a new club and got funds from supporters, who were very determined to help.

They got a manager in Neil Young, who then proceeded to get a team together. So the board give us a club, Neil gave us the team and there we were. We had new heroes to support. We had some good gates to get the best players in, three promotions later we were into the Conference and although we had a bit of luck by not getting relegated due to other clubs misfortune.

The new board came in and steadied the ship and they have appointed Steve Burr and Jon McCarthy into the management team. Their experience helped them put together a team that has helped me us, I think, an established Conference club"

That was acheived with a clean slate, a blank canvas, however you want to phrase it, the new club wiped clear any aspects of the old club and moved forward as a completely new entity. 

That wasn't without problems, as Millington explained and the new board were "shocked" by the level of work required to keep the club going, a stance that the man himself replicated.

"There were no aspects of Chester City carried over into Chester FC. The volunteers that run the club were shocked by the work required to keep the club running. Our first three years, where we acheived three promotions, meant we were doing really well on the pitch and that was matched off the pitch.

However, we had to up the standard off the pitch and maybe we got caught out a little bit. Even now I am shocked by the work it takes to get a fan owned club to a decent standard in the Conference. We have good ideas but you need someone to implement them and that isn't always possible"

Lessons have been learnt though and the overspending that caused the death of Chester City will not be repeated as Millington and the Supporters Trust ensure that the club lives within its means.

"I was at a club last week where a chairman said he had put £5m into a club, but there is none of that at Chester. We spend what we have and we look after the club, ensuring it lives within its means"

We are ran with care. If we have £50 to spend, we don't go out and spend £60. We keep a tight hold on the cash because we don't want a situation like we had in the previous years. Nobody at Chester is money in their own pocket, it is all going into the club"

After the messy demise of Chester City it is clear to see that Millington and the Supporters Trust are ensuring that Chester FC are aspiring to be a club to be proud of.

Interview: Mark Carruthers

Photo: ChesterFC.com

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