Result: Chester 0-0 Southport (National League North)
Venue: Deva Stadium (Tuesday 1st January 2019, 3pm)
I’d done it! A whole calendar year without seeing a nil-nil was in the books and so I set off on a New Year Day trip to Chester full off optimism that the run would continue into 2019. Nah, just kidding, I awoke with a strong feeling that the first day of the year would bring it to an end in shuddering fashion. Would my instincts be correct? Well, I was about to find out.
I grabbed the train (an actual Northern one, I know I couldn’t believe it either) and headed into Warrington to catch the train down to the county town (city?) of Cheshire, stopping to pick-up a Tikka sandwich at WH Smith’s en-route over to Bank Quay. After a fair wait, we eventually got rolling and arrived in Chester after around a half-hour’s journey and I set off on a walk of the city walls ahead of finding a drinking hole or two. I was quite taken aback by the amount of “Hello’s” I received on said walk though! Anyway, with my sights set on a number of the historic city’s watering holes, I headed towards Eastgate and to see what I could find.
Well, not much was the answer at first which I found slightly surprising. My first three options – the Boot, the Marlborough Arms and the Queen’s Head – were all closed and dark and I began to fear this trip would be something of a let down. As such, I licked my wounds in the Square Bottle Wetherspoon’s over a Punk IPA (£3.49) and tried to figure out a contingency as best I could as the clock ticked onwards beyond midday. Eventually, I came up with something and after a second-look at each to see if anything had changed in the post-12 o’clock times, this wasn’t the case and so I looked to the cathedral for some divine intervention…..and I found it!
Chester is the county town/city of Cheshire and is a walled city upon the River Dee, close to the border between Wales and England. It was founded by the Roman Legio II Adiutrix as a Roman fort (castrum) known as Deva Victrix (from either the God of the Dee or from the pre-existing British name for the waterway and the legion based there) in the reign of the Emperor Vespasian in the year 79AD and was one of the main military camps in Roman Britain prior to being converted to a major civilian settlement. They also built an amphitheatre and four main roads and its comparable size to other major cities of the time indicate it may have been intended to have become the Roman capital of Britannia Superior, rather than Londinium. After seemingly becoming part of post-Roman Powys and an apparent battle which featured the legendary KIng Arthur, 616AD saw the Welsh army defeated by Æfelfrith of Northumbria with the city becoming Legacæstir.
In 689AD, King Æthelred of Mercia founded the Minster church of West Mercia in the city which would go on to become Chester’s first cathedral (the current houses the body of his daughter St. Werburgh) before the city’s walled defences were strengthened and lengthened by the Saxons on their arrival to protect the city from the invading Danish forces. Despite breaching the walls to take the city for a short time, the Danes would be forced back out due to the seizure of cattle and wasting of the surrounding areas by King Alfred, whose daughter Æfelflæd, Lady of Mercia, would go on to create the new Saxon burh. would later These defences later ensured Chester would be one of the last cities to fall to William the Conquerer and the conquests of the Norman army, and it was upon the capture that the castle was added to overlook the city and Wales beyond. The name of Legacæstir would last into the 11th century before falling out of fashion, with the more simplistic title of Chester being introduced instead, though the period between the 14th and 18th century saw the city also known as Westchester, due to its prominent position in the North West of the country, being awarded its city status in 1541.
More recently, Chester played an important part in the Industrial Revolution with the Newtown and Hoole areas featuring the Shropshire Union canal and all that came with it, meaning it then supported a cattle market and both of the city’s rail stations – Chester General and Chester Northgate – with the railways providing many workers with jobs and most of the income and exports. Much of Chester’s current architecture dates from the Victorian era with many being styled in the Jacobean way and post-war modernisation saw negative feelings end with an agreement that historical buildings in the city should be protected and re-used, rather than being knocked down.
All three of the pubs here were open and I began with the first of these in the form of the Dublin Packet. A nice little place, they even had Blue Moon on draught which I didn’t expect in the slightest and this quickly made my mind up what I was having today! Coming in at £4.30 wasn’t all that bad too, though I didn’t get the slice of orange which makes it all the more improved and after finishing up I headed just up the way and past the Christmas Tree, bypassing the Coach House for now, just in case things didn’t improve on the pub front in the meantime and instead popped into the Shropshire Arms alongside. BLUE MOON AGAIN(!!!); I exclaimed in my mind as I spotted the Belgian-style wheat beer’s sign on the bar and I knew what was the order of the day once again immediately. What made it even better was it was cheaper (£3.90) and the slice of orange was in existence this time around. Superb stuff!!
Finishing up in here whilst watching the start of the early kick-off, I continued my way across to the other side of Eastgate and along one of the roads off the side to the Old King’s Head which must have been one of, if not the, oldest pub I visited during the day and I settled in within the beams and dimly lit rooms along with a pint of Thatcher’s £3.70 before I continued on up the road and back to the Falcon on the corner of the street which would lead up towards the ground. A welcome surprise was that it was a Sam Smith’s pub and cheap beer is always the order of the day in there and so I knew what to expect as soon as I saw the “Tadcaster” emblazoned offerings dotting the bar. A pint of Taddy Lager for just the £2.30 was just the trick for my final pre-match drink before I headed off towards the Deva Stadium and the England-Wales border.
Arriving with a good ten minutes to kick-off, I made my way around the ground to the terrace and paid my £12 entry and was into the ground for my second ever visit, my first being Chester F.C.’s first ever home game – a 6-0 triumph over Trafford, whilst I was still watching the visitors home and away – and the club signed Pat Nevin and Perry Groves with Colin Murray (who we spoke to after the game) in situ too. A strange one was all that. The Deva has obviously not changed much, if at all, since then. Two all-seater stands, one on each side, populate the touchlines, whilst both ends are home to sizeable covered terraces, with one (the usual away terrace) home to a clock, though the Port fans weren’t in great enough numbers for that to be in use today, and they instead congregated in the end of the right-side stand from my viewpoint in the home terracing. The tunnel, dressing rooms, boxes and the like are located within the Main Stand on the left-hand touchline. That’s the Deva in summary and this is the story of Chester FC….
Chester Football Club was founded in 2010 after the demise of Chester City shortly beforehand. City, who had started out under the Chester FC name following the merger of Chester Rovers and Old King’s Scholars and began playing at Faulkner Street, initially in friendly contests and occasional cup ties. Eventually, Chester made the step into competitive league football, joining the Combination league in 1890 and moving to a new home – The Old Showground – eight years later. Unfortunately, they would be forced out due to housing development after just one year there leading to the club’s initial disbanding.
Returning in 1901, the club was now playing at Whipcord Road but would move to the snazzily named “The Stadium” on Sealand Road in 1906, the ground which would become their long-term home. This stability led to silverware – Chester lifting the Combination in 1909 before a switch to the Lancashire Combination was taken the following year with the club remaining here through to after WWI when they left to become a founder member of the Cheshire County League. They would reach the Football League in 1931, taking the place of Nelson, and wouldn’t finish a season outside the top ten for the rest of the decade, this period seeing Chester record both their record wins in the FA Cup & League, overcoming Fulham 5-0 and York City 12-0 respectively.
The club lifted their second Welsh Cup title in 1933, defeating close rivals Wrexham to do so and also won consecutive Division 3 North Cups. However, the outbreak of WWII would see the side broken up and despite winning the Welsh Cup for a third time in 1947, and finishing 3rd in the league, form would drop off for Chester with no top-half placing managed through to 1958 and the merging of the regional divisions to create a national Division 4. Even then, it would take six further years for this to change. The mid-1960’s would see an upturn in fortunes begin with the club just missing out on promotion, despite netting 119 goals in League games alone. They would again go close in 1971, losing out on a spot to go up by a solitary point, but would right the dubious honour of being the only club in the Football League to have never achieved a promotion by nipping fourth place from Lincoln City in 1975 on goal average. The club also reached the semi finals of the League Cup that same season, a run which featured a giant-killing, as Chester beat English champions Leeds United 3-0 as well as Newcastle United before going down in a tightly contested replay to Aston Villa.
Now in Division 3, Chester went about consolidation of their place and also reached the FA Cup 5th Round in both 1977 & 1980 and narrowly missed out on promotion in 1978. The club also became one of only two clubs to win the short-lived Debenhams Cup (a competition for the two sides from outside of the top two divisions that went furthest in the FA Cup) in 1977 to record their first national trophy in England. After finishing bottom of the league in 1984, the recently renamed Chester City (1983) comfortably won re-election and remained in the League. Selling on the likes of a young Ian Rush and Lee Dixon over this period, the loss of the former not helping he club as they dropped back to Division 4 in 1982 before being at the basement two seasons later. They would recover swiftly though and return to Division 3 in 1986 and again just missed out on promotion in 1989. This preceeded a spell where City moved out of their long-term Sealand Road home, in 1990, spending a time sharing at Macclesfield Town’s Moss Rose, which affected income, though the club survived battles with relegation in both 1991 & 1992 ahead of returning to Chester for 1992-’93 at their newly built Deva Stadium home.
Now in the renamed Division 2 after the creation of the Premier League, City began their time in their border-straddling stadium with an, immediate relegation to Division 3, before bouncing back immediately as runners-up. After the departure of boss Graham Barrow led to a threadbare squad, the club were again relegated and this time would remain there for a substantial time – five years in all – though did lose out in the 1997 play-off semi-final to Swansea City. However, this was a close as they would get to the Division 2 ever again, as administration issues and multiple manager changes led to instability and relegation from the Football League in 2000. They would go close to folding the next year and the ownership issues would only grow over the next few years and despite reaching the Conference play-offs in 2003, losing the final on penalties to Doncaster Rovers and getting back to the Football League the next year as Champions, more. managerial upheavals would end up with relegation being staved off in both 2005 & 2008, but they finally succumbed in 2009 to a club who would follow the same future path that was soon to occur – Darlington. Points deductions all, over the place saw Chester begin the year with – 10 points and an overturned CVA saw this become – 25.
The club was later prevented from beginning the 2009-’10 campaign and despite eventually getting underway, they struggled, ending up bottom and were suspended in February of 2010 after a culmination of issues and they were later expelled from the Conference and duly wound up shortly after an application had been made to join the Welsh Premier League. The club’s supporters group, City Fans United, stated their intention to create a new fan-owned entity and Chester FC took a spot in the Northern Premier League Division 1 North for 2010-’11 (after overturning an initial placement in the North West Counties on appeal), playing at the Deva Stadium. The club enjoyed immediate success, three straight promotions, winning both the Division 1 North and NPL Premier Division titles and the Conference North championship too, these successes seeing the club back in the Conference Premier by 2013. They would spend the next five seasons before being relegated back to the now named National League North last time out.
The game got underway and it quickly became apparent that my run would be in serious trouble come around 4.50pm. You know when you can just tell? Well it was one of those days. An apparently weakened Chester looked solid enough, but did look more in trouble on the odd occasion anything at all happened against their visitors who came into the game in a rich vein of form. The first half-hour or so really was dire and I was quite happy I opted have my pie then so I didn’t have to endure it with my complete consciousness. Devarn Green fired comfortably over for Southport, but that was largely that.
On the half-hour that big chance came when, just after Jordan Archer just couldn’t provide a touch to direct a low ball into the open net with Grant Shenton in the Chester goal committed, Archer was sent clear of the defence and one-on-one with Shenton, but he found the Chester stopper in no mood to fold and he stood up as long as possible to block out the striker’s effort. Sadly, that was pretty much that apart from a few shots going well awry here and there. Half-time was something of a welcome break for once. One guy behind me remarked there would definitely “be a goal in this”. I wasn’t as sure.
The second half began in far better fashion than the first – not that it had much to improve on, mind you – and despite the game being more watchable, chances still were almost non-existent. In fact, it took until around the hour mark for anything resembling something that could render a “oooooh” from those watching to occur, when Matty Waters fired over from range, the ball nestling in the terrace behind rather than in the goal itself. Southport began to make attacking changes and look for the points as we entered the final half-hour but this didn’t do much to help in all honesty.
David Morgan hit a well-struck but unthreatening effort straight at Shenton and Charles fired just over later in the game, but that was really as good as it got for the visitors and it was the hosts that almost grabbed the elusive opener (and likely winner) with five minutes or so left to play when Craig Mahon’s goal-bound effort was blocked within the six-yard box by a ‘Port defender betwixt some nervy defending but that would be that and a run dating back to 25th November 2017 at Gillingham came to an end. Nil-nil was, well and truly, written all over it. I made a quick exit.
After the game, I beat a quick haste through the evermore cold night and back to the city centre, popping into the second of the older pubs I’d visit on the day, the Old Customs House where I opted for a pint of Peroni (£4.30) to aid me in my attempts of getting back warmth, before walking off back towards the station, stopping off in the fairly close-by Olde Cottage where I had a pint of a White Ale £3.30 before hopping back on the train back to Warrington and undertaking the short-walk back across town for the train back to end off the day.
It had been a decent one all things considered, the pubs I ended up visiting were a good contingency and the Deva is a decent stadium to watch a game in, even if its location isn’t the best. Yes, the game was pretty dreadful in the long-run and it ended my long nil-nil less run and so it now has a place in the memory banks for two reasons! Hopefully get back on-track for another run from Saturday, or perhaps the tone has been set for this year already….
Value For Money: 5