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JULY 1997
30 July 1997
Stuart Rimmer is hoping that his testimonial match postponed from the end of last season can be re-arranged for next May. The striker, who has been with Chester 10 years, was hoping to play Everton but the game had to be shelved following the sacking of Joe Royle at Goodison Park and City’s own involvement with the end-of-season play-off’s. Now with Howard Kendall back in charge negotiations are starting again for the match at either the end of the coming season or the start of the next.

Chester have confirmed an interest from Sunderland for Northern Ireland defender Iain Jenkins, but are still waiting for a firm bid
28 July 1997

Over 1,500 people attended the open ‘fun day’ held at the Deva Stadium yesterday. Chief executive Bill Wingrove declared the exercise a “massive success”. Fans were able to wander through the entire stadium from the changing rooms to the board room. All the players were present and a friendly game was played against a Saunders Honda X1. The club shop did a roaring trade taking over £5,500. Looks like this will become a permanent fixture in pre-seasons to come.
Manager Kevin Ratcliffe has confirmed that he will not be going out to buy a replacement for injured Shaun Reid. With Nick Richardson returning from injury and Neil Fisher finding his form, this would seem the obvious pairing in midfield for the start of the season. Richardson has performed superbly on the pre-season tour but is still on a week-to-week contract at present. The other main midfield contender Chris Priest is suspended for the opening two fixtures.
24 July 1997
Shaun Reid is recovering following his operation at the Chester Grosvenor Nuffield Hospital for snapped cruciate knee ligaments. The operation went as well as could be expected but the influential midfielder will miss the whole of the coming season. Neil Fisher, who had a poor season last time round, is doing his best to fill Reid’s boots with his third pre-season goal and an all-round good performance in last night’s 2-3 defeat at Aberystwyth Town. Gary Bennett scored the first goal in his third spell with the club, with rather a little help from the home goalkeeper who dropped Benno’s speculative free kick into the net!

City are holding a fun day at the Deva Stadium this Sunday 27th July starting at 12:30. Admission is free and all the first team players will be there – with the exception of Reidy no doubt.
Blues chief executive Bill Wingrove said: “Supporters will be able to view behind the scenes and talk to the back room staff at the club. A host of entertainment will be provided, including various side shows.”

The new kit will also be in stock in the club shop – shirts are priced at £29.99 (children) and £34.99 (adults).

City gave trialist Jim Bentley his first run out at Aberystwyth. The 6ft 1in centre half, released by Manchester City, played alongside Julian Alsford. “Jim looked OK but he’s lacking match fitness.” added the manager.
22 July 1997
Midfielder Shaun Reid could be out of action for up to 12 months after suffering a bad knee ligament injury in yesterday’s game at Newport. Reid’s injury was bad enough to warrant surgery at the Chester Grosvenor Nuffield Hospital today. The seriousness of the damage will not be known until after the operation. Ironically Reid’s set-back coincides with the return to the side of Nick Richardson following a similar injury.
22 July 1997
Confusion surrounds the rumour of a mystery bid for a stake in Chester City FC. Sky Sports (and some north-west regional papers) carried a story of Keith Williams, a Manchester based, though born in Blacon, millionnaire. He stated an interest in covering the players wages at City and bringing in several big name players including Ravenelli, Ian Rush, Neville Southall and Barry Horne. City chairman Mark Guternam described the rumour as “nonsense”. Added Guterman “It would be nice to have Ravanelli but I’m not sure he’d get in the team at the moment”. The club are currently thinking about taking legal action against Sky Sports regarding the story.
Meanwhile, there are murmours of a £600,000 bid for Iain Jenkins, possibly from Sunderland, on the cards. Who knows, perhaps we’ll get Sam Aiston back with the deal!
17 July 1997
Chester embark on their short pre-season tour of south Wales today taking with them a squad of 16 players. Competition for places will be fierce, especially in midfield, with the return from injury of Nick Richardson. Richardson, out for 10 months after snapping cruciate knee ligaments at Hartlepool played for an hour against Preston and turned in a good performance. Currently on a week-to-week contract at the Deva he will be hoping for a more permanent deal if he continues to impress as he did the other night.

“Kevin Ratcliffe and Stuey Walker are having to hold me back by the reins at the moment,” said a delighted Richardson, “Kev only wanted me to play for 20 minutes but I had to go on a bit earlier because Rod Thomas got injured. I’ve had no reaction to my knee injury and I feel really good. Fortunately I had no setbacks in my rehab and at a push I could have played towards the end of last season.”

With regular midfielders Shaun Reid and Chris Priest both suspended for the start of the season, Richardson should find his name in the starting line-up come August 9th.

Chester referee Mike Jones was in charge of the recent friendly with Preston at the Deva Stadium. Mike, who is just 29, lives in nearby Huntingdon and joined the League list this summer. He makes his debut at Mansfield Town on August 9th. He isn’t the youngest referee in the League though, that distinction goes to 28 year old Andy Hall from Birmingham, who coincidentally makes his first League appearance when he officiates at the Deva on the opening day match against Lincoln City.

Incidentally a few new rules will come into being this season they are:-
  • The captain winning the toss can only decide which way to kick.
  • The keeper can’t pick the ball up from a throw in.
  • The keeper has to release the ball after six seconds.
  • The keeper can now score from a goal kick.
  • And teams can score direct from the kick off.

16 July 1997

Rumours abound at the Deva that Northern Ireland International Iain Jenkins may be on the move to a Premiership club, possibly Coventry City or West Ham United. Sunderland, Chelsea and Aston Villa have also been linked with City’s 24-year-old skipper in recent weeks.

“We have had clubs ringing up to enquire about Jenks,” said assistant manager Gary Shelton. “But we’ve had no bids.”
City will do well though to hold on to the skipper who has impressed since returning from a serious injury last season, and will be commanding a high fee for his services.

But Jenkins, who signed a new improved deal at the end of last season, is in no hurry to move on. He played in last night’s 2-1 friendly victory over Preston – a game that marked the return of prodigal son Gary Bennett. Back with the Blues for a third time, Bennett, could prove to be the final piece in the Blues promotion jigsaw. The 33-year-old striker didn’t score last night but manager Ratcliffe is convinced his £50,000 surprise capture will get goals.

“When Gary gets in the box he has only one thing in mind – to hit the target. He gives us that little bit more and he makes things happen.” said Ratcliffe.

Rod Thomas limped off with a twisted ankle after 32 minutes of the Preston game while. Ross Davidson was City’s other casualty. He has a groin problem. Davidson and Thomas join Spencer Whelan (knee), Shaun Reid (neck) and Rod McDonald (foot) in physio Stuart Walker’s busy treatment room.
Chester lost their opening pre-season game at Bangor City 2-1 on Saturday despite a gem of a goal from Neil Fisher. The Blues fell behind in the tenth minute and had a great chance to equalise before half time with new signing Rod Thomas missing from the penalty spot. The home side doubled their lead a minute into the second half before Neil Fisher scored from 20 yards. Despite a late onslaught Chester were unable to equalise against the part-timers from Farrar Road.
Chris Priest will be suspended for the opening two games next season against Lincoln City and Carlisle United (cup) following his sending off in the play-off match at Swansea City. Shaun Reid is also suspended for the same two games following comments made to the referee at the end of the same game.
Chester have sold about 300 season tickets so far – about the same number for the corresponding time last season. Club Secretary Derek Barber stated: “We are currently keeping pace with last year and there will probably be some stragglers who will come for tickets between now and the start of the season.” Stragglers? I think customers might have been a more appropriate description!
12 July 1997
Chester have re-signed striker Gary Bennett from neighbours Wrexham for a fee of £50,000. The forward, now aged 34, has signed a three year deal for what will be his third spell with the Blues. City made the move quickly following Wrexham’s signing of Shrewsbury skipper Dean Spink, the whole deal being done in little more than three hours.

10 July 1997
Gary Shelton could become a Chester City record breaker next season.The veteran midfielder will go down in history as the oldest player to play in a league match for the Blues – if he plays at Lincoln on Janaury 10 1998.

Shelton, now 39, will break Graham Barrow’s record on 39 years and 293 days – set on April 2 1994 against Preston. “It will be a great honour if I do break the record,” said City’s player coach. Someone did tell me I’ll break the record next season but somebody else said that Alan Oakes holds the record.”

But Football League records state that Barrow definitely holds the record. And with City only have a small squad, Shelton, who played 25 times last season, has more than a chance of making the record books. And Shelton, who will be 40 in March, wants to continue playing.

“I enjoyed playing last season and if called upon I’ll play again,” said Shelton, who has made more than 500 league appearances in a career spanning 20 years. Shelton played for Walsall, Aston Villa, Notts County, Sheffield Wednesday, Oxford, Bristol City and Rochdale before moving to The Deva three years ago.

He arrived as a player when Mike Pejic was manager and has since become Kevin Ratcliffe’s right hand man.
They almost led City to promotion last season – and the play off failure has made them more determined to get it right next time around.

City have now been in training for a week and play their first friendly at Bangor City on Saturday. Ratcliffe will take a first team squad to the League of Wales side, who are now managed by Ratcliffe’s ex-Everton team-mate Graham Sharp. City’s other friendlies are: July 15 – Preston (H) 7.30ko; July 19 – Newtown (A) 3.00; July 21 Newport (A) 7.30; July 23 – Aberystwyth (A) 7.30; July 25 – Caernarfon (A) 7.30; July 29 – WBA (H) 7.30; August 2 – Leek (A) 3.00.

9 July 1997

Nick Richardson has been given the all clear for a playing return. Out for almost a year after snapping his cruciate knee ligaments, Richardson, is now back in full training and eyeing up a first team return.

“Nick’s looked good since he’s come back,” said Chester City assistant manager Gary Shelton. “He had a week’s training at Lilleshall before he returned for pre-season training with the lads and he looks sharp. He has been given the all clear but we won’t be rushing him back to play. We’ll settle him in gradually.”

That means Richardson may have to sit it out in next Tuesday’s friendly at home to Preston North End. It will be the first friendly for both clubs – and that could see a decent gate at The Deva, Preston always travel well and Gary Peters has again spent money during the summer. Prices for the game are £5 for adults and £2 concessions.

City’s only injury worry is Shaun Reid. The all action midfielder, signed from Bury last season, has ricked his neck. “It’s nothing serious,” added Shelton. “It’s just a reaction to training.” City have penciled in their final pre-season friendly – at Leek Town on August 2. Leek were promoted to the Vauxhall Conference and will give City a stern test. And the Staffordshire side will have a familiar face in goal. They have just signed former City keeper Ray Newland from Torquay United.

City’s other friendlies include a mini-tour of Wales with stop-offs at Newtown, Newport, Aberystwyth and Caernarfon. They then take on first division West Brom at The Deva on July 29 – a game that marks the return of former Blues cult hero Cyrille Regis.

8 July 1997

Danny Murphy – Liverpool’s new Kop kid – could be heading back home to Chester next season. Chester City fan Murphy – the 20 year-old whizkid from Newton – has virtually signed and sealed a £3 million deal that will take him from the humble surroundings of Gresty Road, Crewe to one of the biggest football clubs in the world.

But, in true Liverpool policy, Murphy, might have to wait his turn at Anfield. And Murphy may be heading for The Deva after Chester City – his hometown club – secured a deal with Liverpool to stage their reserve games between November and March. Details of his move from Crewe Alex were today emerging after Roy Evans beat off Spurs and Newcastle to get the England youth international.

Liverpool will pay an initial £1.5m – and that fee could double based on appearances and international recognition. And Murphy, who used to go to Kingsway High School in Newton, is tipped for the big time with England. He has just returned from the World Youth Championships in Malaysia – and now aims to take the Premiership by storm. He returned to his Newton home last month – and he hasn’t stopped running around since.

Liverpool have always been first in the queue to snap up the youngster, who is yet another player to roll off Dario Gradi’s Gresty Road production line. Murphy, a former Chester and Cheshire Schools striker, has made over 100 league appearances for Crewe – and played a big part in the promotion play off success last May.

Meanwhile over at The Deva, Chester City are now almost a week into their pre-season training. Kevin Ratcliffe has reported no early injury scares – and the Blues boss is concentrating on organising a couple more friendlies before the big kick-off. City’s first friendly is against Preston next Tuesday when City fans will get their first taste of new signing Rod Thomas.

7 July 1997

Chester City new boy Rod Thomas will make his Blues bow next week. Thomas – City’s only summer signing – will play in a pre-season friendly at home to Preston North End on July 15.

Fans will get their first taste of Thomas – and a refreshed City side. Manager Kevin Ratcliffe hasn’t pushed the players too hard since they returned for pre-season training last week. Tuesday’s game has come a little too soon for Ratcliffe’s liking but it gives the Blues boss a chance to see how Thomas, a free transfer signing from Carlisle, will settle in. It will also be a big night for Nick Richardson, who could pull on a City shirt for the first time in 11 months.

Richardson snapped his cruciate knee ligament at Hartlepool last September but has made an excellent recovery. The former Cardiff City and Bury midfielder saw a specialist on Friday when he hoped to be given the all clear to play again. On a week to week contract, Richardson now has to prove his fitness. He spent a week’s intensive training at Lilleshall before returning for pre-season training.

Skipper Iain Jenkins is the only other player recovering from injury. The Northern Ireland defender had a shoulder operation during the summer. Pay rebels Chris Priest and Ross Davidson have yet to re-sign. Ratcliffe hopes to have talks with the two players this week.

4 July 1997

Liverpool are on their way to The Deva next season. The Merseyside giants will play their Central League games at Chester between November and March next season. Officials at City are keeping tight-lipped about the ground share deal but Liverpool boss Roy Evans and chief executive Peter Robinson have checked The Deva out this summer.

The Anfield club are happy with the arrangement – and so are City, who tried unsuccessfully to tie up a similar deal with Everton two seasons ago. City fans will also want a taste of the action with the likes of talented teenager Michael Owen gracing the Deva. Owen, whose father, Terry, used to play for Chester, hopes to make the switch to the first team this season but they’ll still be plenty of big names heading to Chester.

Extra gate money will boost the Blues bank balance but the main reason for the deal is to improve links between City and Liverpool. Chairman Mark Guterman is a big fan of the ’feeder club’ idea – and striking up a ground share with Liverpool could benefit the Blues in the long term. In the short term, however, the club is hoping to attract more fans to watch Chester try to make it third time lucky in their bid to get out of the soccer basement.

And they will be holding a fun day at The Deva on Sunday July 27.

“All the first team squad will be available to talk to supporters and sign autographs,” said chief executive Bill Wingrove. “Fans will be able to see behind the scenes and a host of side shows will also be available. The club will also take the opportunity to unveil next season’s home and away kits and the open day will start at 12 noon and end at 4pm.”

City kick off their pre-season friendlies on July 15 – at home to Preston North End.

“It’s a little earlier than we wanted,” said manager Kevin Ratcliffe. “But that’s the date they came up with.” City then embark on a short tour including stops at at Newport (July 21), Aberystwyth (July 23) and Caernarfon on July 25. On July 29, Cyrille Regis returns to The Deva with West Brom, where he is now coach. City are also hopeful of arranging another game before the season kicks off at home to Lincoln on August 9.

A sun-tanned Kevin Ratcliffe was relaxing Stateside in his Florida holiday retreat when the telephone rang. It was Mike Pejic on the line asking him if he was interested in a job.

“Mike said that was a job available and asked if I was interested,” Ratcliffe recalled. “He wouldn’t tell me what club it was but I told him I was interested.” Ratcliffe, who had already committed himself to a deal with Bury, would find out more about Pejic’s mystery offer on his return. “I’d agreed to sign for Mickey Walsh at Bury before I went away but Bury went back on certain tings when I returned,” added Ratcliffe, who then decided to take up Pejic’s offer as player coach at Chester City.

“The job appealed to me. It was only 10-15 minutes away from home although financially I was on a lot less than I would have been at Bury. But I was doing something I was interested in going into - the coaching side of the game. And I was going into the coaching side of things at the right time in my career.”

But after a few weeks, Ratcliffe – and poor old Pejic – must have been wondering what they had let themselves in for.
“Considering Chester was on the doorstep, I’d never kept in touch with who was playing for them,” said Ratcliffe.
“I think we had three players signed on – and I was one of them! We had problems signing players but that was the least of our problems. We went in cupboards looking for kit – and couldn’t find any. We couldn’t find any balls, bibs, cones and even boots. We didn’t even have a physio! We were like a Sunday League outfit.”

It didn’t get any easier. Fans were still reeling from the Graham Barrow resignation. Whoever replaced Barrow was in for a hard time.
“I think Graham could see what was coming,” added Ratcliffe. “I don’t think anyone would have saved us from relegation that year – not even God. But I’ve said all along that the club needed someone like Mike Pejic to come in and sort things out. Mike and I worked all hours and I believe the job would have killed him if he’d have carried on.”

Public enemy number one, Pejic found it difficult to deal with the pressure – Ratcliffe also cracked a few times when fans turned on him. “I found it difficult to play because I was coaching, watching games and looking at players,” he said. “Then I had to play in midweek and on a Saturday. The problem I had that I could rectify our player’s mistakes in the pitch but when I made one there was no-one there to rectify it and it probably resulted in conceding a goal. Fans did have a go at me and rightly or wrongly I had a go back. They seem to think it’s alright to have a go at you for an hour and a half – and it’s worse the lower down the leagues you go.

“You don’t notice it at the top but you do at the bottom. You know where it’s coming from, you know who’s shouting what and you remember what clothes they’re wearing! I’d just love it for some of the players to go and watch these fans at work  and slag them off for 90 minutes.”

Ratcliffe survived where Pejic didn’t but he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to stay on. Youth coach Derek Mann took over as caretaker manager - and that suited Ratcliffe. “Derek and I had a good relationship,” said Ratcliffe. “He let me coach a lot more and I enjoyed that. I was more involved and I was given the chance to organise things a lot more. Mike wanted to do everything but Derek was quite prepared to delegate.”

Ratcliffe was happy with his new hands-on role until Mann quit after illness.
Chairman Mark Guterman was uncertain about giving the job to Ratcliffe, who still hadn’t turned the corner with the frustrated fans. Ratcliffe wasn’t convinced whether he wanted the job either. He didn’t apply but he told Guterman what his plans where and in May 1995, Ratcliffe was the new Blues manager with Gary Shelton as his assistant. He signed Neil Fisher within a week and then moved for Cyrille Regis.

“Cyrille was a terrific signing,” said Ratcliffe. “Some people said that Cyrille was on a £1,000 a game but he was on nowhere near that. He was on peanuts and he was doing us a favour. He put numbers on the gates at home – and away.”

Then came the start of the season – and a double header with Wigan – now managed by Barrow. “It was billed up as a head to head between the two of us,” recalled Ratcliffe. “It was a crucial game for me but it was also important for some of the players, who were here when Graham was manager. We beat them 4-1 at home and it was good. My reaction at the end of the game was ’job done’.”

But the job wasn’t completed as City missed out on the play-offs by a point that season – and Ratcliffe was feeling the pressure as he lost his head when he kicked out at Rochdale substitute Dave Lancaster in April 1996. Most of the frustrations were due to lack of firepower upfront.
City weren’t scoring for fun like they did at the start of the season – and that’s what cost them a place in the play-offs.

“We all now we had to buy a striker that season but we had no money – simple as that,” he added. Money is still tight but Ratcliffe understands that. “Mark Guterman has ploughed in between £250,000 and £500,000 into this club – and I know that I can’t go begging for money all the time,” he added.

Money was made available last season but again City missed out. Ratcliffe just hopes that this time it will be third time lucky when he begins his third season in charge at The Deva on August 9.

3 July 1997
Chester City survived a major scare when arranging a new three year kit deal with Italian designers Errea. Blues chief executive Bill Wingrove received a worrying fax last week saying the Milan-based production plant had been hit by a tornado. “It was a bit worrying,” said Wingrove. “But they’ve assured me the kit will be here on time.” Errea supply kit to Middlesbrough and Italian Serie A sides Parma, Vernoa and Genoa.

The home kit will be traditional blue and white stripes with the away strip a green and black check affair. City will unveil their new kit at the club’s family fun day on Sunday July 27.

2 July 1997
Chester City boss Kevin Ratcliffe believes his side will be stronger, fitter – and better – this season. The Blues boys were back at The Deva today for pre-season training – and Ratcliffe is more than happy with his squad.

“I’m happy with the squad and I think it’s a lot stronger than this time last year,” said Ratcliffe, who has made only one signing during the close season. But the introduction of speed merchant Rod Thomas from Carlisle could prove another masterstroke. Working on a shoestring budget, Ratcliffe has a habit of bringing in excellent free transfers. In his first season in charge, Ratcliffe enticed Cyrille Regis to the Deva and last time around, goalkeeper Ronnie Sinclair played a massive part in City’s almost-successful season.

“Rod’s a good signing,” added Ratcliffe. “His style didn’t suit Carlisle’s style but it suits ours.” The addition of Thomas boosts City’s first team squad to 23. “I’m happy with that number especially when we’ve got Nick Richardson and John Murphy fit again this season,” said Ratcliffe.

“Nick didn’t play after September and John Murphy looked back to his best at the end of last season. They will increase competition for places and we’ve got five and a half weeks to work out our best side. Pre-season is one of the most important times of the season. If you miss the first week then it’s difficult to catch up. We’ll be taking it easy today and then we’ll have a programme to work to.”

City’s first pre-season friendly is less than two weeks away. Preston are the visitors to The Deva on July 15 where City fans will have their first sight of wing ace Thomas. But it’s unlikely any more new faces will be on show. “We’ve got certain players in mind but I’m not being rushed into making rash signings,” added Ratcliffe. “I’ll only bring in players who are better the ones we’ve got – and that’s what I’ve done with Rod Thomas.”

1 July 1997

Chester City are 16-1 to win the Division Three Championship. And the way chairman Mark Guterman is talking, the Blues are going for title glory.

“We’re going for promotion,” said Guterman as he unveiled star signing Rod Thomas last Friday. But the bookies don’t rate City’s chances. Ladbrokes reckon Jan Molby’s Swansea – who dumped City out of the play-offs last May – are the favourites. The Swans are 6-1 with relegated Peterborough (7-1) and Notts County (9-1) the next best bets. Brighton, who could be thrown out of the Football League, are 10-1 while Devonians Exeter and Torquay are favourites to go down to the Conference.

Those 16-1 odds might entice some of the City players in to having a bet. They return for pre-season training tomorrow with just one new face to introduce. Speedy winger Rod Thomas meets up with his new team-mates for the first time tomorrow. And Ross Davidson and Chris Priest – who have turned down new contracts – will also be returning. City are hopeful they will sign and manager Kevin Ratcliffe is expected to have talks with them this week. If the players don’t agree, they will go on a week to week contract.

Championship odds from William Hill
Peterborough United, Swansea City
10-1 Cardiff City
11-1 Notts County, Shrewsbury Town
12-1 Chester City, Colchester United
14-1 Brighton & Hove Albion, Hull City, Leyton Orient, Lincoln City, Macclesfield Town, Rotherham United
16-1 Cambridge United, Scunthorpe United
20-1 Mansfield Town
25-1 Barnet, Rochdale, Scarborough
40-1 Darlington, Doncaster Rovers, Torquay United
50-1 Exeter City, Hartlepool United


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