Hopeless Football League Teams 5: Chester City, 2008-9
For the fifth in our Hopeless Teams series, we delve back relatively recently into the past by welcoming Richard Bellis. Richard co-runs Richard and Neil’s Football Blog with his brother Neil and was the proud recipient of a nomination in the recent NOPA football blogging awards run by Picklive. 2011, however, largely saw Richard and Neil occupy themselves with the production and dissemination of The Blue & White Fanzine, a new print publication mainly devoted to the reformed Chester FC: a luscious object designed by our own Michael Kinlan and featuring contributions from TTUers William Abbs and myself. Here, Richard looks back to an ignominious year in the Cheshire club’s previous incarnation.
Inept. Incompetent. Useless. Three words that would be aspirational to the Chester City team of the 2008-09 season. Relegation from the bottom tier of the Football League is a sure sign of any team’s awfulness, but the manner in which the Blues slid out of the league is perhaps the most obvious sign of ineptitude ever seen in the Football League.
At the start of the campaign, there were four teams that had points deductions, none of which were Chester City. Luton were favourites for relegation after receiving a record 30 point deduction whilst Rotherham and Bournemouth weren’t much better off with a 17 point handicap each. Darlington rounded off this sorry quartet with a meagre 10 points subtracted.
Staying up then, should have been a formality. In the event it was anything but. Darlington and Rotherham both had very good teams and would have played in the play-offs but for the deductions they suffered. Luton, of course, had no chance, but that still left one relegation place up for grabs.
The problems that City would face over the course of the season were extremely evident in the first game of the campaign. A 6-0 defeat to Dagenham & Redbridge showed that the team needed improving up front and at the back. Instead the squad was a glut of midfielders, with a grand total of nine central midfielders making appearances over the course of the season. Compare that to the seven players who played in defence and you can see what the problem was.
After the battering at Dagenham and rolling over in the League Cup to Leeds United, the experienced centre-back Paul Butler was replaced in the starting line-up by Shaun Kelly a talented, but inexperienced, youth prospect. This was to become a pattern over the season, with outgoing players replaced by members of the youth team. Whilst this may seem laudable from the outside, the truth was that the club couldn’t afford anyone else.
After City’s first win of the season – a 5-1 demolition of Barnet – things looked to be going well. Manager Simon Davies led the Blues through their best run of form all season in September, winning against Grimsby and picking up draws against Bury, Shrewsbury and Luton. Things went swiftly downhill after that though and Chester only won one more game under Davies (3-0 against Brentford) before he was sacked and replaced with Mark Wright in November. There was further bad news as young striker Paul Taylor (who is now doing extremely well at Peterborough) was found to have failed a drugs test and had his contract with the club terminated.
Wright came for his third spell at the club having previously led Chester City to its national championship (Conference) in his first spell and only three wins in twenty games in his second spell. He immediately talked about getting some new signings in, especially players over six foot tall, but soon after his arrival owner Stephan Vaughan put the club up for sale, stating that reduced revenue was the main reason behind his decision.
On the pitch Chester didn’t really improve under the new manager, winning three games, drawing one and losing four before the turn of the year. Wright pleaded with Vaughan to get some new players in but instead several left without replacement, as it was revealed that the club was under a transfer embargo. To make matters worse injuries and suspensions began to pile up and Chester failed to win for the first three months of 2009.
There were few glimmers of hope for City. The best performance during this awful run was in the last ten minutes of the home game against Dagenham & Redbridge, where Chester scored twice to rescue a point. This was one of just seven gained in this three month period however, and the club were getting increasingly desperate.
A change of control was announced in mid-March, but the ‘new owner’ never actually paid for the shares and the club remained in Vaughan’s hands, still continuing to lose money and slipping towards relegation. Mark Wright even took the unusual step of declaring that “I can do no more” for the club after City dropped into the relegation zone for the first time. He remained in charge until the end of the season however.
April saw Chester’s first win since Boxing Day after David Mannix and Ryan Lowe netted to beat Notts County away. It wasn’t all good however, as long suffering ‘keeper John Danby damaged ligaments in his shoulder and was forced to miss the rest of the season with Lowe going in goal for the final minutes.
Despite the win there was even more turmoil off the field. It was revealed that Mannix and Jay Harris were under investigation by the FA for betting offences committed at their previous club Accrington and later that Damien Mozika, by far and away Chester’s best midfielder that season, had been suspended by the club for “serious breaches of club discipline”.
An emergency ‘keeper, James Spencer, was found for the final, vital games of the season. The Notts County win was followed by a poor 2-0 defeat to Macclesfield at home before another valuable win was picked up away at Accrington Stanley. In the most important fixture of the season against Bournemouth however, the Blues easily succumbed to a 2-0 defeat which left them needing results elsewhere to go their way to avoid the drop.
They didn’t. Chester drew to Aldershot and lost to Darlington which left the Blues comfortably relegated. It was well deserved after some of the most lifeless performances I have ever seen. In every match it just seemed like a matter of time before the opposition scored and our ‘strike force’ consisted solely of Ryan Lowe for most of the season. He did a good job in netting 14 goals, but there weren’t enough goals coming from elsewhere.
Perhaps the most depressing thing about that season however, was that we actually had some decent players. Laurence Wilson, Damien Mozika, Kevin Ellison, Ryan Lowe, John Danby and Mark Hughes were all good players, but there just weren’t enough of them in the squad. The young lads who came in tried their best, but they had little chance against teams that were packed with experience.
In the end Chester managed just eight wins, drawing 13 and losing a mammoth 25 games. They shipped a monster 81 goals and scored 43. Once the season was over the club released most of the squad and went into voluntary administration. That, however, is a story for another day.
You can follow Richard on twitter at @richardtbellis