Like last week this latest edition of our regular trawl through the internet does not feature Rovers weekend opponents, which in all honesty is probably a good thing. We’ve faced Derby twice already this season, another Brian Clough or Baseball Ground based video would frankly be overkill. Instead we’ve gone for an old foe rather than a current adversary, a regular Rovers nemesis at the turn of the millennium, who this week sadly lost their battle against the murkier side of football. Episode 35 of Viva Video is dedicated to Chester City.
A fortnight ago Chester City were kicked out of the Conference. The club had been long struggling, the fans long despairing over the Stephen Vaughan’s tyrannical ownership of City. However, in early February the club’s unpaid players refused to board the bus to travel for a match at Forest Green and the club’s demise snowballed from there as they were unable to fulfill their fixtures. This week the club, all one hundred and twenty-six years of it, was wound up at the High Court. So muddied were the waters at Chester City with the various unsavoury ex-board members holding on to keep their hand in the club that the Chester City supporters group City Fans United was if anything positive at the result of the High Court’s decision. The CFU have already put plans in place to retain senior football in the City and have the full-backing of the Council to do so.
I have mentioned in past articles on this website my own frustration at the football hype wagon that carries the Premier League along shoulder high belittling any other football that may happen anywhere. In the week that Chester City went to the wall their story was embarrassingly under-reported in the national sports press. They had more important things to concern themselves with you see than the death of a long standing community football club, they were waiting to see if two overpaid pros with a combined weekly salary approaching eight times Chester City’s unpaid tax bill would shake hands. We’ve said it before, but we really do hate football these days.
Anyway, Chester then, of course we can empathise with the plight of CFU and their fellow Chester City fans, but for the grace of God our own club would have gone the same way twelve years ago. Rovers fans too watched unscrupulous men with no love for the game or its values tear a club apart whilst the FA did as much as their acronym’s other meaning. Rovers survival from execution led to five years in the Football Conference, the final three of which were undertaken in the company of Chester City. In 2003 both sides were in contention for promotion back to the Football League, and with Yeovil Town having secured the Conference title, Rovers and City came face to face in the semi-finals of the first ever Conference play-offs.
As with the two league meetings between the teams, which had finished 0-0 and 1-0 in City’s favour (the latter albeit with Rovers down to nine men) the play-off meetings were to be tense nervous affairs. In view of a higher league finish Rovers should have been at home for the second leg, but had to relinquish this privilege owing to a clash with a racing meet on the adjacent racecourse. In front of the television cameras and nigh on 7,000 in Belle Vue Chester took the lead in the first leg and looked set to hold the advantage through to the second game. That is until injury time, when Tris Whitman took a pot shot from the edge of the box that swerved away from the City keeper and found the bottom corner to spark incredible celebrations on the Pop Side as the striker wheeled away running the length of the stand, leaving a trail of jubilant Doncastrians spilling over the advertising hoardings in his wake.
So all square going into the second leg at a sweltering Deva Stadium. Again Chester City took the lead as Warren Hatswell turned the ball in from close range. But again Rovers equalised in the second half, Jamie Paterson brought a fine save from the City keeper, Robert Gill saw his follow-up hit the bar, and first to the rebound was Paul Barnes who bundled it home to set-up extra-time. So nervous was I that I remember nothing of extra-time, but for a brilliant Andy Warrington save late on, but my state was nothing compared to the bloke sat in front of my uncle in the other stand who spent most of the second period vomiting. With no goals scored the match went into a penalty shoot-out, and one which despite being at the game, I only watched for the first time a year ago. Here for you this week is what I missed as I stood slumped against the back of the Deva away end unable to watch;
After all that has happened since, it is hard to believe that this is less than seven years ago. Our paths may have differed greatly since this afternoon in May 2003, but Viva Rovers does wish Chester City fans, and the CFU, all the best in their efforts to re-establish football in their community.