Soapbox in Chester: more interesting than a royal wedding



You know Pete Sixsmith. It takes only an FA Cup Final, wall-to-wall Rugby Union or an England international to drive him on to the road to satisfy his immense appetite for the more obscure corners of football. A royal wedding was just the prompt he needed …

Oliver Cromwell was a great Englishman, of that there is no doubt. Under the rule of the Commonwealth, there would have been no royal weddings or any of the page-after-page reporting that goes with it; good as that is for Samson’s litter tray, it is not great for the brain.

Unfortunately, Olly had a bit of a downer on football and ale, so maybe I would not have been as pleased by old Ironside as I originally made out. As well as his his highly visible and undisguised wart, he also had other imperfections.

Not so the Evo-Stik League. They decided to have a full programme of Division One North fixtures while the toffs and toffesses were throwing bread buns at each other and snogging the bridesmaids. They ended up with an incredible afternoon of football.

Chester were top of the league and needed a draw at Garforth Town to be certain of promotion. Skelmersdale United were second, three points behind and with a goal difference that was seven worse than Chester’s. They were at home to already relegated Ossett Albion. A shoe-in for the boys from Cheshire ? That’s what we all thought.

I was going to watch Harrogate Railway play Cammel Laird, but the cancellation of a stroll around Fountains Abbey due to heavy rain put paid to that. My two travelling companions opted for an early arrival in Harrogate and a brunch at Betty’s tea rooms.

I joined them, scoffed a Fat Rascal and decided that they were sensible enough to leave in the town of toffee and foul tasting Spa water, and took off to Garforth.

Two thousand Chester fans had the same idea. I got into the ground at 1.40 and it was almost full. By kick off time, the attendance record at the Genix Healthcare Stadium had been shattered.

Chester City went under last year and a new club, Chester FC was formed. It’s a supporter-owned club, still playing at the Deva Stadium (offices in England, pitch in Wales ) and starting all over again at Step 4 of the non-league pyramid. Fans had sensibly allowed the old club to die so they could start with a clean slate; some recent owners have made Mike Ashley look like The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Niall Quinn all rolled into one.

The opponents, Garforth Town, did not roll over. Owned by Simon Clifford, the man behind the ICFDS franchise (Brazilian Soccer Schools), they have had a fair bit of publicity since he bought the club.

A former Brazil skipper, Socrates, turned out for them a few years ago as did Lee Sharpe, the former Manchester United winger and Celebrity Love Island contestant. (No, I don’t know what it was either). And they almost had Paul Gascoigne as manager before he pulled out of the deal to retrain as a hostage negotiator.

Chester opened the scoring in the 45th.minute and I opined loudly to all and sundry, that they would go an to win comfortably by three clear goals. News came that Skem were 3-1 up in their game, but the Cheshire masses were grinning as much as the cats associated with their native county.

And then they did a Sunderland – their backsides fell out in the second half. From being full of confidence, the self doubt crept in. Garforth equalised, Skem went 5-1 up and they lost it big time.

The ball was hoofed rather than passed, they fell out with each other and they no longer did what they have clearly been doing all season. When Garforth’s Matt Dempsey hit a superb second (a repeat from his part-namesake Clint would not be welcomed today) and news filtered through that Skem were 6-1 up, the tension was as great as it would have been at Buck House when Williams granddad got up to speak.

Skelmersdale made it 7-1 – one more and they would have won the league and Chester would have had to negotiate the bear trap known as the play offs. Chester pressed, the Garforth keeper made one very good save, but the equaliser was not to be had.

Then, news came that Ossett had pulled a goal back. 7-2 meant that Chester were up as long as they did not concede another. Cue celebrations from 2,300 of the 2,428 there as Chester began their long climb back to the Football League through Evo-Stik Premier, Conference North and Conference Premier.

Now we have a game against Fulham that will (I hope) be technically far superior to this one. There will be 15 times as many people there, although only a quarter of the amount of visiting fans, and there is little at stake. But sometimes, the event transcends the ability level, and this was one of those occasions making it all the more interesting for a neutral. Mind you, the Chester fans would probably not agree with me on that one …

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