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HELLO ALBERT, HELLO SPION KOP!
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HELLO ALBERT • WSC ARTICLE – AUGUST 2000

[Albert Badge]

CHESTER v WREXHAM RIVALRY

It was a classic case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Arfon Griffiths' swashbuckling Wrexham side came up against a solid Chester team that Alan Oakes had made difficult to beat. Both teams fielded a strong contingent of locally born players. By Monday 3rd April 1978 when they clashed at the Racecourse, Chester knew they were out of the running as far as promotion went. Wrexham were ahead of the pack, had two impressive runs in the FA and League Cups under their belt and were favourites to win the Welsh Cup, having defeated Chester on the way. A crowd of twenty thousand, many wearing pristine red and white scarves, flocked to the ground in anticipation of English lamb being served up. The size of attendance was not unusual. Wrexham have been able to tap into deep North Walian roots of support – but in the lean times, transport to Merseyside and Manchester is cheap and easy.

Before the match Arfon Griffiths was presented with a copy of the club's new disc "We're Gonna Score" recorded by Brymbo Male Voice Choir. But it was the Chester fans who sang all the way home as they pulled off a surprising 2-1 victory. The Robins had been unbeaten in the League at home and had lost only to Liverpool and Arsenal in the respective cups – now Chester became the third member of an illustrious trio.

The stars of both clubs were in the ascendant. Wrexham went on to win promotion and the Welsh Cup and enjoy five seasons in the Second Division. But the seeds of Chester's demise were already being sown. Both clubs were in the throes of ground improvements. Sealand Road was adorned with a new 3,000 seater stand for the 1979-80 season. The cost, including savage interest repayments, crippled the club. Not even the sale of the young starlet Ian Rush (300,000 with no sell on clause) could stem the financial crisis. Playing fortunes dipped as a result and after florist Reg Rowlands, chairman for thirty-four years, stepped down, he was followed by a succession of property speculators with no local loyalty. Each in turn saw City's salvation in terms of sale and relocation. The new stand of 1979 was reduced to rubble only thirteen years later.

The development of a new ground entailed exile at Macclesfield for Chester and meant that City's youth and reserve teams went by the board. This cost the club dearly as neighbouring rivals, like Crewe, expanded their youth catchment area to include Chester. Danny Murphy was one of the many fish that got away from Chester's net. As City finally developed a youth policy, the club was plunged into instability again because of an inability to sell players on. Then in 1999 a new owner, American Terry Smith, began to import players from abroad. Chester's most capped player had been Bill Lewis with seven appearances for Wales. Angus Eve, a Trinidadian international, who joined Chester last season, eclipsed this record.

Chester's saga of stadium development is a long and fraught one. But so is Wrexham's – though they have managed to stay put at the Racecourse. New stands were built in the seventies in order to entice the Welsh national side back to North Wales. Remember it was here that England lost a home international 4-1 accompanied to cries of "Are you Chester in disguise!" But as the Robins' playing fortunes waned so redevelopment stalled. Some of the plans were breathtakingly ambitious – a 44 million development unveiled in 1991 remains on the architect's drawing board.

That same year Wrexham finished bottom of the pile and were only saved from the Conference by League restructuring. Nine years later and Chester are not so lucky. Even the influx of foreign stars – Eve of Trinidad, Martin Nash of Canada, could not keep City from the drop. The League has lost its only international local derby. A mere twelve miles separate the two towns but so does the border between England and Wales. The intense local rivalry will continue among the fans only now there is a chasm in terms of footballing status.

Colin Mansley

© 1997-2008 Steve Mansley | User Stats | Technical | Webmaster
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