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Carl Heggs was one of the players brought in by Ian Atkins as City fought to pull away from the relegation zone in 1999/2000. A hard working striker, who also played under Atkins at Northampton Town, Carl joined the club on loan from Rushden and Diamonds and scored two goals in 13 appearances including a vital strike at Leyton Orient that helped secure a 2-1 victory.

Following his released by Rushden Carl linked up with Ian Atkins for a third time, at Carlisle, and was a regular in the side at the start of the season scoring five goals in 30 appearances for the struggling Cumbrians. After leaving United the Leicester born striker had a trial at Boston United before signing for Forest Green Rovers in summer 2001 where he scored ten goals in his first season and played against City at the Lawn in April. Carl also featured against Chester in August 2002 but moved back to the Midlands with Ilkeston Town in November where he took the dual role of player and assistant manager. At the end of the 2002/03 season Ilkeston were relegated to the Doc Martens Western League. Although the former West Bromwich Albion player started the following season with Ilkeston he was sacked after being sent off in the opening game, a 6-0 home defeat to Redditch United.

After leaving Ilkeston Carl dropped out of the game and spent 12 months in Spain but returned to Conference football with Tamworth in 2005. The veteran striker was back in the news in 2006 when he was a member of the Lambs team that reached the FA Cup Third Round where they were unluckily beaten by Stoke City on penalties. In June 2006 Carl joined Hinckley United on non-contract terms but left the club in February 2007 and signed for Redditch United. His experience paid dividends for Redditch who promptly embarked on a 12 match unbeaten run that helped secure their place in the Conference North after being marooned at the bottom of the table. At the end of last season he returned to Tamworth but is currently back playing with Redditch at the age of 37.

Another former Ian Atkins signing is also still playing at the age of 40. Tony Hemmings joined Chester from Ilkeston Town in January 2000 and scored two goals in nineteen appearances including a contender for goal of the season in the 5-0 hammering of Mansfield. Although Tony had previous Football League experience with Wycombe Wanderers he had dropped into non-league football in 1995 and played for a host of clubs including Macclesfield Town, Hednesford Town, Gloucester City and Altrincham.

After leaving City, Tony followed Ian Atkins and Carl Heggs to Carlisle United where he made 22 appearances before returning to Ilkeston Town in 2001. The pacey winger hit a run of goalscoring form for the Derbyshire side prompting promotion chasing Tamworth to pay £7,500 for his services in December 2001. In January 2003 Tony returned to Ilkeston for a third time where he again played alongside Heggs in the side that was relegated to the Doc Martens Western League. Next port of call was Alfreton Town of the Unibond Premier League although he finished the 2003/04 season on loan at Grantham Town.

The nomadic left-sided forward spent the 2004/05 season with Chester’s former FA Trophy opponents Stourport Swifts of the West Midlands League and although he looked set to retire at the end of that campaign he opted to extend his career with Gresley Rovers. Amazingly Tony is now in his third season with the Derbyshire side, where he is also the coach, and in recent weeks has featured at full back for the Unibond Division One South side.

Another former City player who made his debut in the 1999/2000 season is still playing in the Football League. Chris Blackburn had only just passed his 17th birthday when he came on as a substitute at Rotherham in one of Kevin Ratcliffe’s last games in charge. Chris returned to the Reserves for the rest of the campaign and made his first start for Chester in the opening Conference fixture against Rushden and Diamonds. Over the next three seasons Chris made a total of 70+13 appearances for the club as well as playing for the England semi-professional team against an Italian X1. At the start of the 2001/02 season the midfielder had a trial with Manchester City but a knee injury in November 2002 saw him out of the side until April the following year. He left the club at the end of the 2002/03 season when his contract expired

In June 2003 Chris was playing for the Nevada Wonders of the USL Pro Select League but returned to England the following month and signed for our Conference neighbours Northwich Victoria. In February 2004 Chris was on the move again, this time to Morecambe, for whom he made more than 150 appearances culminating in the Conference Play-Off Final against Exeter City last year when the Shrimpers won a place in the Football League.

While playing at Christie Park Chris made a successful conversion from midfield to centre half and it was his performances as a central defender that persuaded newly promoted Swindon Town to sign him during the summer. Although Chris has found chances limited at the County Ground he scored two goals when he made his debut in a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy game against Brentford.

Chas Sumner [Published 26/1/08] | Pictures © Evening Leader




















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