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HELLO ALBERT, HELLO SPION KOP!
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HELLO ALBERT • ISSUE 26  

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Editorial
Back To The Future – Part 2
Could The Roman Revolution Come To Chester?
United For Survival
Thoughts Of Chairman Mark
United Colours Of Football


THE THOUGHTS OF CHAIRMAN MARK

On 26th November 1998 with Chester City in administration, Mark Guterman announced he was resigning as chairman. Did anyone else notice the irony of this date? It was exactly a year to the day since Chester’s hastily re-arranged match with Swansea. The Vetch Field had been declared unsafe the previous Saturday and no-one could quite believe it when Chester offered to swap fixtures and bring the home match forward. Forty eight hours notice was given for this. Presumably police clearance was given but they seem to need at least ten days for FA Cup replays these days. The short notice meant that around a thousand were lost from the expected attendance had the match been played on a Saturday in March as originally intended.The only reasonable explanation to come out of the club at this time was that they had a cash flow problem. It was the first warning of the crisis to come.

In The Story of the Blues Mark Howell, Chairman of the ISA outlines the background to City’s crisis. Following on I would add some comments of my own on mark’s namesake, the departed chairman of the Football Club and then some thoughts on the ISA itself.

The Big Idea
What was Guterman’s motive for taking over Chester City? No-one could understand it at the time. He was given the benefit of the doubt by fans when he arrived but he proved enigmatic and pretty uncommunicative. Was he buying Chester City as a plaything? He was known to have a box at Old Trafford and was therefore interested in football (If that isn’t a contradiction in terms). Was he buying City as an investment? Hard to see, although he was rumoured to be a property developer and might be looking to expand the Deva. Was he an altruist? Call me a cynic but hardly and he didn’t speak in these terms. Unlike Jack Walker or Jack Hayward or even Max Griggs with Rushden and Diamonds who want to see their home town team get to the top, Mr Guterman seemed to have no such ambition (Or clout).

When Mr Guterman did speak – it was of five year plans and building up the youth policy with a view to becoming a selling club. The youth set up, to Mr Guterman’s credit, is going well but Chester did not sell any players to help balance the books until deadline day 1998 by which time the club appeared to already be in a financial pickle.

The Big Idea leaked out when it was discovered that Mr Guterman planned to head a consortium who would bid to take over ailing giant Manchester City, with Chester providing fodder as a feeder club. Now here was the potential to generate millions of pounds. At the time and perhaps still today with football enjoying a commercial boom it would be possible for a number of business people to put forward such an audacious plan and take financial institutions along with them. But the fans and more importantly, the board of Manchester City were having nothing to do with it. The Big Idea was strangled at birth.

In a League of their own In a parody of the Life of Brian where the rebel leaders try to incite their followers by saying What have the Romans ever done for us? We perhaps ought to be grateful that Mr Guterman at least spoke up on behalf of the lower League clubs when threatened with plans for League restructuring. He and John Reames (Lincoln City) seemed to make the running in this. Guterman was outspoken against Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks (He called him a bully) and Karren Brady (Birmingham City) who he accused of lacking finesse. But it was Leyton Orient chairman who pipped Guterman in the election to be Third Division representative amongst the League chairmen. A second opportunity provided by the platform of Chester City passed Mark Guterman by.

Small is beautiful
As Mark Howell has chronicled in this edition, despite a rescue package being announced by Mr Guterman after the sale of three players last March, it was not long before the club appeared to be in financial difficulties again. This time fans were understandably less tolerant of excuses. By the end of the season the beleaguered chairman was writing a very defensive and self-justifying article in the match programme. He claimed that no-one had come forward to put money in to the club and that he was solely responsible for keeping the club afloat. In one fell swoop Guterman managed to put just about everyone’s back up. No-one in the Chester business world was likely to respond to his whinging. A better approach, as the ISA have shown is to woo local business and commerce and make use of the many contacts that a fan-base affords. The fans themselves resented the fact that they too had put their money into the club over the years and yet no mention of this was made by Guterman. He seems as prickly as a herd of hedgehogs to criticism and just made himself more and more isolated by his pronouncements.

We were by last summer, used to impressive words from Mr Guterman but less impressed by failure to pay bills and so on. It was also widely believed he was using the football club to support his other mysterious business interests and his own lifestyle. A distinct lack of detail on the club accounts did nothing to deny such rumour. It was perhaps in attention to detail – not working with supporters; not taking time to follow up business and commercial contacts in the city that undermined Guterman’s grand schemes. And like most Football chairman he was an inveterate gambler with the future of the football club – like Mr Micawber always hoping thatsomething would turn up – an away tie at Old Trafford perhaps or the lucrative sale of a player or two. He himself stated in the article in last season’s Scarborough programme that “It is worth noting that although we have one of the smallest average attendances in the league, we also have one of the highest wage bills It is worth noting that this is no way to run a business. The time is soon coming, I believe, when clubs will have to cut the cloth to suit the money they get in”. Only Mr Guterman himself can take responsibility for agreeing the level of wages and contracts which he was evidently unable to meet. Unfortunately we are still living with his legacy. And although he might have resigned as chairman of the football club let us soberly remind ourselves that Mr Guterman is still, at the time of writing, the owner.

Independent Appeal
The most recent Hello Albert, admittedly as long ago as last season, asked, “Is there anyone out there?” Borne out of the frustration of always being the victims while chairmen fiddled away, the article was a plea to the fans to get organised.

Since then such a lot has happened it is scarcely credible. Chester fans have organised and how! Several people responded to the article and half a dozen or so of us met on the day after England’s win against Colombia to think about launching an ISA. We planned an initial meeting and were thirty or even fifty people interested enough to come along. Due to impeccable timing as far as the crisis at the club (Beyond our control) was concerned and a publicity campaign which culminated in a red card demonstration at the Everton friendly, the attendance on that night at the Cross Keys was over two hundred. The exploits of the ISA have been well documented in the last eight months or so:

• the leaflet campaigns raising the profile of the club and helping to increase attendances
• the meetings and newsletters helping to keep the fans informed of developments at the club
• the bucket collections raising much needed fighting fund finance for players and staff expenses
• the lobby of the Football League and parliament
• the socials – helping to galvanise support and raise more money
• the Fans United day which helped promote the club and the plight of others nationally

The ISA has been well led by Mark Howell (No he hasn’t paid me to write this). He is an absolute natural. His rapport with the fans and his tremendous energy mean that the organisation has got off to a flying start. We have been well served by all the members of the committee - Mike Fair in particular as press officer has been brilliant, with a sure grasp of the issues and sound communication skills he has ensured the ISA has hardly been out of the spotlight. Thanks should also be conveyed to Sandra Povey, Chas Sumner, David Evans, Bernie Curd, John Featherston, Sarah Evans, Steve Spencer, Glynn Poole, Mickey Clifford, Vi Jennaway and now newly elected members of the committee Ed Jones, Les Smith and Martin Williams. The list could go on to include a cast of hundreds.

Chester fans have proved that they can organise effectively and campaign impressively. Now we must ensure that any prospective buyer of the club is committed to working with us the fans to ensure the best interests of Chester City FC. We cannot afford to become dependent on another “Mr Big”. Football clubs must be run differently in the future. Bath City, Northampton and Bournemouth have all shown that clubs can be run successfully by fans having a major say. There is no reason why Chester can’t go down the same path.

It has been the worst of times and the best of times to be a City supporter over the last year or so. The financial crisis and uncertainty have been awful but the achievements of the fans through the ISA have been a cause of great celebration and no little pride. Let’s keep it going and keep on working together.

Mark Howell


ISSUE 26 Editorial
Back To The Future – Part 2
Could The Roman Revolution Come To Chester?
United For Survival
Thoughts Of Chairman Mark
United Colours Of Football
 

 

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