Founded as Chester FC in 1885, the club was formed from the merger of Chester Rovers and Old King’s Scholars FC, joining the Combination League in 1890 after five years as friendly and tournament specialists.
Initially playing home matches at Faulkner Street and later The Old Showground, the club moved to Whipcord Lane for the 1901 season after The Old Showground was destroyed for housing, leaving the club without a home at the turn of the century. A purpose-built ground on Sealand Road (right) was to become their home for ninety-five years, and Chester Football Club officially moved in with a 4-0 win over Bangor City on 15th December, 1906.
Their greatest successes were to be had at The Stadium, with the first being the Combination League title in 1909. The following year Chester joined the Lancashire Combination, staying their until they founded the Cheshire County League in 1919.
A Bright Future
Eleven years later, Chester first tasted league football as Charlie Hewitt guided them into Division Three North, and throughout the 1930s they never finished outside the top ten in that division. It was during this period that Chester recorded their highest ever win, a 12-0 thumping of York City in the league, and Chester won the Welsh Cup after beating rivals Wrexham in 1933.
Although Chester won the Welsh Cup and finished third in the league in 1947, Chester’s fortunes took a grim turn, and the team never finished in the top half of the league until after the North and South Third Divisions were merged in 1958, when Chester were placed in Division Four.
After the surprise appointment of South African Peter Hauser as manager in 1963, Chester’s fortunes looked brighter, with an entertaining promotion challenge in the 1964-65 season ending with the unique statistic of three strikers scoring twenty goals each in that season. This fortune did not turn into promotion, however, and with injuries to full-backs Bryn Jones and Ray Jones the following season, they failed to gain an almost certain lift to the next tier of English football.
The following few years were not inspiring for Chester’s fans – save a glorious period in 1971 when they missed promotion by a point – until in the 1974-75 season, with Chester the only team in the Football League to have never been promoted, Ken Roberts lead the team into Division Three after scraping into fourth place in Division Four on goal difference. That season, they also ran to the League Cup semi-finals, only to be beaten at Villa Park in a thrilling 5-4 rollercoaster by Aston Villa.
Consolodating their status as a Third Division club, Chester enjoyed a modicum of success with runs to the fifth round of the FA Cup in both the 1976-77 and 1979-80 seasons, and missed promotion again by a point after finishing fifth in 1978. Chester also won their first English national trophy after beating Port Vale in the short-lived Debenham’s Cup.
Chester City Football Club
But this success faded after the £300,000 transfer of local hero Ian Rush to Liverpool, and in 1982 Chester again found themselves in the doldrums of the Fourth Division. The club – now styled Chester City Football Club – finished bottom of the Football League in 1983, but were re-elected in a landslide to secure their place.
In 1986, under the stewardship of Harry McNally, Chester were promoted once again to the Third Division, for their last visit to date. McNally worked wonders with a meagre budget, and City narrowly missed out on a playoff spot in 1989. But more bad news was to come, as Sealand Road’s owners forced the club to move out, and Chester were left with no choice but to play home matches at Macclesfield’s ground, Moss Rose. The club avoided relegation by the slightest of margins in successive seasons, this despite tiny attendances, and after the restructuring of the Football League in 1992, moved into their new home, the 6,021-capacity Deva Stadium, just a mile away from Sealand Road.
Back in Chester, the club were relegated by a landslide, but survived to be promoted again the following year. But in the close season of 1994, the shock resignation of manager Graham Barrow, and the resulting exodus of players, left Chester with a threadbare squad – they were relegated, and stayed in Division Three for five years.
Falling into administration in October 1998, Chester nonetheless were undeterred and comfortably avoided relegation to the Football Conference, and the club again seemed to have a good future as American tycoon Terry Smith bought the club at the end of the season. He appointed himself as manager after Kevin Ratcliffe resigned in August 1999, and was forced to yield his position after just four league wins up to January 2000, allowing newly appointed ‘Director of Football’ Ian Atkens with the task of uprooting Chester from the very bottom of the Football League. Despite his efforts, Chester were relegated on the last day of the season, ending 69 years in the Football League.
Atkins resigned, and Smith appointed fans’ favourites Graham Barrow and Harry McNally as manager and ‘consultant’ respectively. But as one of Smith’s biggest critics, McNally quit after a week. Barrow managed to lead the Blues to ninth place in the Conference, winning the Conference Trophy in the process, but Smith deemed this a failure and sacked Barrow in favour of his friend Gordon Hill, an appointment deeply unpopular with fans. With tensions rising and the future of the club in jeopardy, with just one win in twelve matches at the start of the 2001-02 season, Smith sold the club to Liverpool businessman Stephen Vaughan.
The Vaughan Era
Revitalised, with a new owner and new manager in Mark Wright, Chester avoided relegation to the Conference North in 2002 and went on to miss-out on promotion in the playoffs the following year in a penalty shootout against Doncaster Rovers.
Beginning the 2003-04 season as promotion favourites, Chester clinched their first national league title after fending off Hereford United and beating Scarborough 1-0 to claim elevation to the Football League for 2004-05. But, despite being tipped for a second successive promotion, manager Wright resigned the day before the first game of the season. Caretaker Ray Mathias saw-off Notts County the following day, before Ian Rush returned to Chester to ensure their survival despite being heavily criticised for playing a bland style of football.
In April 2005, Keith Curle took over, but despite better-looking football, Chester dropped from a promising fourth place in December to sit bottom of the newly-named League Two by March. Mark Wright returned, and thanks to a run of five wins Chester again scraped by to remain once again in the Football League.
After a largely unforgettable 2006-07 campaign, Chester started the 2007-08 season on a high, with new manager Bobby Williamson leading the team to a competitive playoff position by October. But a run of bad results with just one win in fourteen saw Vaughan resign as chairman before Williamson was sacked, and youth team coach Simon Davies was placed in charge for the remainder of the season. He managed to keep the club afloat on the last day of the season as Chester clinched a point over Stockport County to end the season in 22nd place, their worst position since returning to the Football League.
Chester were relegated after another forgettable season and now ply their trade in the Blue Square Premier League.