Saturday, 27 February 2010


I was at Burnley v Portsmouth today and normally I'd be listening out for the latest score from wherever Chester were playing. But not today and not for some time into the future. Yesterday my club was expelled from the Football Conference and that is pretty much that.

Bad news is still bad news even when it is expected. I doubt if I am the only Chester fan who will remember for the rest of our lives where we were when we heard the news. Of course if you're not a Chester fan this may sound like so much hyperbole, but think for a moment: what if this was YOUR club? I was in one of the broadcast rooms at the University of Central Lancashire when the news flashed up on the screen. It was a horrible feeling.

Of course we all knew it was coming. It was obvious for months that the club could not complete the season. Appalling business practices, an atmosphere of violence and intimidation, and alienation of the supporters, had been going on for years. But it was still a hammer blow.

I suspect the football authorities will want to wash their hands of the Chester saga as soon as possible. I doubt if the national media will bat an eyelid. That would be a mistake. There are many lessons which can be learned for the benefit of other clubs. One is the over-indulgence of the football authorities who should have clamped down on the Vaughan regime much sooner. And even more deserving of penetrating questioning is the administrator who took over the club last summer and unbelievably sold it straight back to Vaughan, the very man who had created Chester's crisis in the first place. This was akin to giving a convicted arsonist a can of petrol, a box of matches and a pat on the head. Who regulates these financial wizards? The administrator - Refresh Recovery of Skelmersdale - should be forced to answer for its actions. They were supposed to make decisions that would keep the company going. They made decisions that guaranteed its demise.

Among other lessons is that it always worth listening to the supporters. The fans are the only ones who have come out of this debacle with credibility. Their reading of events, as expressed on messageboards and by the City Fans United group, has been spot on.

So we have been kicked out of the league, and rightly so. What next? Unbelievably, things could get even worse. In less than two weeks the Chester City 2004 company faces a winding up order. If the Vaughan family contest this, or manage to hoodwink the court into allowing them to continue, we will be left with the ultimate lose-lose situation - the club with nowhere to play but the Vaughans still owning the company. The best solution is for the company to be wound up, leaving the way clear for the supporters to launch a phoenix club and start the long trek back to respectability.

And even here the waters are muddy. A group of football enthusiasts from Denmark have arrived on the scene, banding together through Facebook to come up with the spiffing wheeze of buying a football club. You guessed it, Chester. The Vaughans claimed to have sold it to them a week ago. Clearly they haven't. But the presence of the Danes is an unwelcome distraction. There is no evidence that they have the money or the knowledge to carry this scheme through and it is hard to avoid the fear that they will bite off far more than they can chew if they proceed.

So our season is over, our reputation is trashed, and we have no idea if we can launch a new club or not. Football Association, Football Conference, the Vaughan family, and Refresh Recovery: you have a lot to answer for.

Saturday, 20 February 2010


At Goodison Park today to see Everton beat Manchester Utd 3-1. It was a really good display by Everton. Their mental composure impressed me most, that and the fantastic confidence of their young players who scored after coming off the bench, Gosling and Rodwell. With Fellaini and Cahill added to the injury list not many of us in the press room thought Everton would stop United, but Everton played with confidence in their own ability, despite conceding the first goal of the game. As a spectacle, this was so much more enjoyable than that aberration that took place a fortnight ago, the Merseyside derby, when there was more premeditated violence than an average mixed martial arts contest.
Rooney was out of touch, certainly not his usual awesome self. David Moyes revealed this week that Rooney rang him up a few months ago to mend fences after using his book to malign Moyes. One or two of my press colleagues wondered if Rooney has mixed feelings now about returning to Goodison - no longer determined to rub blue noses in it. The abuse level from the stands was well down on previous years too. Perhaps the penny has dropped with Evertonians that it isn't a good idea to wind the lad up. Whatever the reason, this was a terrific result for Everton.

Friday, 19 February 2010


Significant developments in the world of sports journalism. The BBC's position as the prime supplier of live football commentary has taken a knock. In the latest round of bidding for Premier League radio 'packages,' Talksport won two and Absolute Radio one. Talk will now have exclusive rights to commentary on the late Saturday matches and the lunchtime Sunday games. Absolute will air live commentary on the 'second pick' Saturday 3pm game, after the BBC has first pick.

Meanwhile newspapers' efforts to make money from online publishing takes another small step today as the Manchester Evening News offers an online e-zine celebrating 100 years of Old Trafford, Man Utd's home. The MEN is already selling a print version. The online publication, priced £1, has the same written content plus audio and video interviews. For the sake of the industry and its ever-shrinking workforce, I hope it does well.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


I'm digesting the news that Chester City's match away to Forest Green tonight has been called off because Chester couldn't raise a team. I confess to feeling a grim sense of satisfaction. Apparently several players refused to board the coach because they haven't been paid for months. Well done the players. They have cut the club enough slack already.

The owners have now managed to get the players on strike and the fans on strike. If this is not enough to persuade the FA to send in a trouble-shooter to sort things out then they will be even more derelict in their duty than they've been so far.

Things are so bad that the club's supporters have been moved to write to every other club in the Conference apologising for the club's abysmal conduct this season. Not that the fans are the ones who should be apologising.

This farce has arisen because of the appalling way the club has been run over the last few years, racking up debts while alienating everyone. Because when it went into administration in the summer the administrator (whose conduct should also be investigated) sold it back to the same people who had caused the crisis in the first place. And because even now the owners are refusing to negotiate a proper sale. Offering the club for sale at £1 without disclosing the extent of the debt is like asking someone to throw a petrol bomb into their own house.

The final insult is just around the corner - that we will probably go out of business just before we are due to play our greatest rivals. Wrexham are due at the Deva on Sunday. I'll be amazed if the game takes place. The police won't staff the game unless they are paid up front and there is no money.

What a way to go, with our old foes dancing on the grave.

Sunday, 7 February 2010


News that a top commentator has been (allegedly) assaulted by a top football coach is all the more surprising because the episode didn't involve Alan Green.

Instead of the BBC's outspoken Ulsterman it was Portuguese Jorge Baptista who was on the receiving end when confronted by the ex Man Utd coach Carlos Queiroz. The incident took place at Lisbon airport.

"I will continue to be the same commentator and say my opinions whether he likes it or not," said Baptista. Greeny was there in spirit, if not in person.

Saturday, 6 February 2010


Just back from Anfield after reporting the Merseyside derby. Liverpool won 1-0 and congratulations to them on winning despite being down to 10 men for most of the game. I was really depressed though by the vicious attitude of players of both teams. I've seen a lot of hard-tackling derbies over many years but this wasn't hard, it was reckless. Kyrgiakos' two-footed tackle put Fellaini out of the game - a disgrace. Carragher set the tone with an appalling tackle on Pienaar in the very first minute - should have been booked but wasn't. Pienaar later put in an equally bad challenge on Mascherano. In the second half Gerrard followed through on Pienaar who was on the deck and soon afterwards Pienaar jumped late into Gerrard and collected a second yellow.

What is the point of George Sefton, Anfield's renowned PA announcer, telling the crowd that LFC will not tolerate racism or homophobia if the players then go about their business with as much respect as back-alley hoodlums?

When the dust has settled Benitez and Moyes need to take a look at themselves and so do their players. This derby match was riveting in the way you can't tear your eyes away from a burning building, but if this was anything to do with the Beautiful Game my name's Pele.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Forget John Terry (Wayne Bridge only wishes he could) but a more significant long-term story this weekend was the launch of 3D televising of football.

Sky took the plunge at the Arsenal v Manchester United game and the general response from the critics was positive.

You had to be in one of nine selected pubs to watch the 3D images and Kevin Rawlinson of the Independent felt it was worth while. "As Nani chipped in," he wrote, "the ball seemed to shoot out of the screen. It was a little too real."

"Spectacular was the only word for it," raved Alan McKinlay in the Mirror. "At the start it felt like Cesc Fasbregas and Wayne Rooney were shaking hands on the carpet just in front of you."

Frank Wiechula in the Express hailed the "crystal-clear cutting-edge technology" and proclaimed "the way we look at football will never be the same again."

The special black-rimmed specs might take some getting used to. "It looked more like the annual meeting of the Buddy Holly convention," wrote Rawlinson. But how quickly does the future become the past. "As the technology progresses you'll be able to throw the specs away," said McKinlay.

Martin Kelner of the Guardian has probably chucked his away already. He was "mildly underwhelmed" by the experiment, but admitted that seeing the 3D movie Avatar the previous night didn't help. "Football was never designed to compete with interplantary warfare and alien sex." There again, John Terry wasn't playing.