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The Conference Years: Chester City

19 May 2014

Remembering where we once were.

Of all the football grounds in the country which hold vivid memories for Rovers fans, Chester’s Deva Stadium is probably right up there. From one of, if not our darkest hour in 1998 when relegated from the Football League, to five years later when the unending quest for light at the end of the tunnel came hurtling in to view.

Rovers didn’t have to wait too long to revisit the scene where their inevitable relegation would be confirmed and trekked across to the border with North Wales for a Tuesday night Conference fixture in August 2000.

In an ill-tempered affair, both sides were reduced to ten men and Steve Wignall endured his first defeat as Rovers boss in a comfortable win for the hosts thanks to Paul Beesly’s double and Danny Carson’s strike. Incidentally it was Jimmy Kelly, who would go on to play for City, who incurred the Rovers red card.

Another player who would, infamously, make the transition to the Deva Stadium was Rovers winger Kevin McIntyre and it was his goal in the second minute of the return fixture at Belle Vue which settled proceedings for Wignall’s men in December of the 00/01 season.

Chester would finish in eighth place, 4 points ahead of ninth placed Rovers, and they would do battle several times in the following couple of seasons.

Rovers, who would finish fourth, took four points from Chester, who would finish 14th, the next season after an entertaining 1-1 draw at the Deva in which Neil Campbell opened on the quarter hour mark before being sent off for his part in an altercation with Dean Spink – who also saw red – prior to Scott Ruscoe’s equaliser.

The return (March ’02) was more straightforward and Dave Penney’s men got the better of Mark Wright’s courtesy of goals from Robert Gill and Paul Barnes.

The ante was somewhat ‘upped’ during the summer of 2002 however, when, with both clubs aware that there was an extra promotion spot up for grabs courtesy of a newly introduced play-off system, Kevin McIntyre controversially moved west.

His return was somewhat livelier than the 0-0 draw at Belle Vue and overshadowed the first of four meetings between the two rivals that season.

Come March, the promotion race was really hotting up but it looked unlikely that anyone would topple runaway leaders Yeovil. A pulsating Monday night fixture at the Deva Stadium in front of the TV cameras produced a controversial 1-0 win for the hosts against nine men Rovers who were to lose both Dave Morley and Jason Blunt to red cards.

The sides were somewhat inevitably paired in the new play-off system and the TV producers knew where to head; to the first leg at Belle Vue on a pleasant Thursday evening. McIntyre was once again the centre of attention and fired home, a long, long time before Tris Whitman’s last gasp drive kept the hosts alive.

The return four days later was equally compelling and dangerously nail biting. Wayne Hatswell’s opener was cancelled out by Paul Barnes and the tie would be decided from 12 yards and a penalty shootout.

Dave Cameron proved as much the villain for City as Andy Warrington, who’d saved his decisive penalty, was the hero for Rovers.

Penney’s men would go on to defeat Dagenham and Redbridge in the inaugural Conference play-off final while Chester would follow only a year later, pipping Hereford by a point to take the title.

Since then, the city of Chester has had a remarkable relationship with their football club. 2009 was the year in which Chester City, as they were known, were relegated back to non-league amid a messy backdrop of financial uncertainty. This culminated in the Club being wound up in early 2010.

Chester FC were formed as a result and having worked their way up from Northern Premier League Division One North to the Conference, they have just suffered relegation back to the Conference North (6th tier) with a goal difference that was just two goals worse than Hereford’s.

*Andy Watson, Mark Albrighton and Justin Jackson are all present in the Chester box during the side’s goalless encounter on September 28th 2002 in front of nearly 5,000 at Belle Vue*

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