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JUNE 1997

30 June 1997
New boy Rod Thomas shunned Scarborough – and Marseille – to sign for Chester City. And the former England U21 international believes he’s made the right decision.

“Chester have got a good footballing side and there’s no reason why we can’t be in the second division,” said Thomas, who completed his move from Carlisle to Chester on Friday. He was due to sign for Scarborough on Thursday but City chairman Mark Guterman and manager Kevin Ratcliffe acted swiftly to get their man.

“Scarborough wanted me and my agent was fixing me up with a trial at Marseille,” added the 26-year-old Londoner. But I found out about Chester’s interest in me two weeks ago and I was interested. I’m ambitious and I wouldn’t be here if the club wasn’t ambitious. They were one of the better sides we played last season and they were a little bit unlucky in the play-offs. I think they deserved to go up because they play good football.”

City missed out on the play-offs but Carlisle celebrated promotion to Division Two. Thomas played 33 times but felt he didn’t fit in with manager Mervyn Day’s game plan. “The sweeper style didn’t suit my game, but I think Chester’s style of play will suit me. I’m very positive in the way I play. I’m more of a creator than a goalscorer and I’ll be aiming to bring players into the game – and be in a winning side!”

Assistant manager Gary Shelton said: “Rod runs at players and he’ll add another dimension to our game. We are very pleased to sign him.”

The Thomas signing has also delighted The Blues chairman, who played a big part in bringing Thomas to The Deva. Guterman dealt with Thomas’ agent, Mel Stein – the man who looks after Paul Gascoigne. “We are delighted to sign him. We’ve beat off competition from other clubs and we still want to sign a couple of players before the start of the season.”

The players return for pre-season training on Wednesday when Thomas will meet up with his new team-mates.
27 June 1997
Chester City today unveiled their first summer signing.

Former England youth and U21 international Rod Thomas is winging his way into The Deva. The Blues called a press conference for three o’clock when they were expected to parade their new signing. Twenty-six-year-old Thomas arrives from promoted Carlisle United on a two year deal. He can play on either flank and has lightning place. And there’s no doubting his ability.

And Blues boss Kevin Ratcliffe has also acted quickly to get his man. Third division Scarborough were chasing the former Watford winger – and reports in yesterday’s Carlisle News and Star said that Thomas had signed a three year deal at The McCain Stadium.

But City have stepped in with a better offer and Thomas was expected to finalise his free transfer today. Thomas, who has been at Brunton Park for four years, spent most of last season on the bench.

His traditional winger style didn’t suit Mervyn Day’s five man midfield policy. But City are unlikely to leave Thomas out in the cold. They are winger-less following the return of loan ranger Sam Aiston to Sunderland and the off-loading of Kevin Noteman.

Roger Preece is back in League football. The ex-Chester City and Wrexham favourite has signed for Shrewsbury.

Preece, a Shropshire lad, has been handed a player coach role at Gay Meadow – and the 28-year-old midfielder is delighted.

“It’s just great to be back in the league football,” said Preece, who played Conference football with Southport and then Telford after leaving The Deva last October.

And the Telford link played a big part in Preece’s move to Shrewsbury. The Shrews new boss is Jake King, who was Preece’s manager at Telford.

“Everything’s worked out really well, I was really down when I left Chester but I knew that I could get back into the game – and it’s great to be involved again. It’s the best of both worlds for me, I’ve had no real problems with the knee since and I want to play as much as I can in the first team. But if my knee doesn’t stand up to things then I’ve got the coaching to fall back on to.”

And Preece will want to make sure he’s fighting fit for September 13. That’s when the Shrews visit The Deva.

“I’ve got to say I’m looking forward to it,” said Preece, who made 169 league appearance during six-year stretch with City. “The Shrewsbury v Chester game was the first game I was looking for when the fixtures came out. We’re going to Chester in September and the return is in January – they’ll be good games.”

Preece teams up with another ex-Blue at Shrewsbury where former manager and physio Derek Mann is now football in the community officer.

26 June 1997
Chester City’s latest batch of trainees today signed in at The Deva. The eight new arrivals include one defender from Wrexham but none from the Chester area. But youth coach Dave Fogg believes City’s new kids on the block have what it takes to become professionals. “It’s the first set of trainees that I’ve brought into the club – and I’m quite pleased,” said Fogg. “If they work hard then they may become professional footballers.”

If they do become pros, they’ll be following in the footsteps of Jon Jones, Ryan Dobson, Craig Warrington, Martin Giles and Phil Clench. They all made the step up during the summer but Fogg will still be keeping a close eye on them.

“I’ve discussed things with Kevin Ratcliffe and Gary Shelton and we think it would be better if the first year pros still worked closely with me for another year,”added Fogg, who now has a 16-strong youth squad.

The new kids on the block are:
Martyn Lancaster – a right-sided player from Haydock
Dave Pendleton – a centre half from Southport
Karl Rendell – a centre forward from Runcorn
Darren Moss – a right back from Wrexham
Matthew McKay – a midfielder from Warrington
David Lloyd – a left winger from Liverpool
Matthew Conkie – a goalkeeper from Weaverham and Danny Carson from Huyton.

On the first team front, manager Kevin Ratcliffe is chasing a left-sided midfielder and could have a deal sealed by the time the players return for pre-season training on Wednesday.

Former Chester defender Paul Futcher is the new manager at Vauxhall Conference side Southport. Chester-born Futcher takes over from Ronnie Moore, who became manager at Rotherham last month.

25 June 1997
Two ex-Blues were in the news today. Former skipper Peter Jackson, released on a free transfer last month, will start pre-season training with Conference outfit Halifax Town. And Colin Greenall, who quit The Deva three years ago, could be on his way out at Wigan. Greenall, who played 42 times for City – and was named player of the season – in their promotion year, has turned down a one year contract at Springfield Park.

The 33-year-old stylish defender wants a two year deal after lifting the Division Three Championship with the Latics. And if Wigan boss John Deehan fails to reach a compromise with his captain, Greenall could become a target for Rochdale, now managed by former Blues boss Graham Barrow.

Meanwhile, Jackson, another winner of the Blues player of the season award, is hoping to stay in the Football League. The popular centre half will start the season with Halifax but is interesting a number of league clubs. “It’s early days yet,” said Jackson, who lives in Brighouse, which is only a couple of miles away from The Shay. I’ll start pre-season training with Halifax and take it from there.”

Jackson chalked up 100 league appearances with the Blues but missed out of the play-offs because of hernia operation.

24 June 1997
Kevin Ratcliffe today gave his shot-shy strikers a vote of confidence.

“I’ve been reading a lot about us wanting to get a new striker, but I’m quite happy with my strikeforce and the signing of Rod McDonald increased the competition for places. It would be nice to buy a 20-goal-a-season striker but they cost a lot of money.”

Bury’s 36-year-old Mark Carter has been mentioned but Ratcliffe may be looking elsewhere. “Mark’s a proven goalscorer but he’s also 36. Realistically it’s better to look for a younger player who will cost us £40,000 who we can then sell on for a lot more money. We are looking for new players but it’s very quiet at the moment. The lads are back in training next week and we’re just making the final preparations for our pre-season.”

City have home friendlies against Preston and West Bromwich Albion. They are also going on tour to mid and South Wales.

20 June 1997
Neil Fisher can’t wait for the new season to kick off. Chester City’s ex-Bolton man struggled to make any impact in the Blues promotion push last season. And Fish can’t seem to put his finger on where it went wrong.

“It wasn’t a lack of confidence. I just don’t know what went wrong. I had a good first season with Chester and maybe I thought it was too easy. I then worked really hard and perhaps tried too hard, and that’s when things started going wrong. Then I tried to relax out on the field and that went against me too. I just couldn’t win. Now I’m really looking forward to the new season and just hope it’s nothing like the last one. I feel I’ve let a lot of people down, especially the manager and the lads. But it’s made me even more determined to get my form back.”

Fisher, who started only 19 league games last season, lost his central midfield berth following the arrival of hardman Shaun Reid. And with Reid and Chris Priest occupying the two midfield anchormen posts, Fisher fancies the role on the left wing. Kevin Noteman was freed and on-loan winger Sam Aiston has returned to Sunderland. The number 11 shirt is up for grabs – and Fisher wants it.

“I’d like to make the number 11 shirt my own, I fancy playing on the left side of midfield. That’s where I played when I first came to Chester and it’s my favourite position. I think that’s where Kevin Ratcliffe sees me playing and having a regular position might help my game.”

The versatile Fisher has played in central midfield, right midfield, left midfield, right back and left back. “Sometimes it doesn’t help you if you can play in different positions, I think it’s affected my game.”

18 June 1997
Chester City’s outspoken chairman Mark Guterman today accused Football League bosses of money wasting. Guterman is furious at the number of reports commissioned by League chiefs.

“They are being irresponsible with the league’s money,” he said. “It’s just report after report with the costs running into six figure amounts each time.”

Guterman played a major part in blocking regionalisation plans for Division Three and the Conference last season. The report, carried out by accountants, suggested that a return to the old Division Three North and South Leagues would benefit cash-strapped clubs like City. That radical plan didn’t go ahead but Football League chief, David Sheepshanks, chairman at Ipswich, still believes it is the best way forward.

Guterman disagrees and said: “All they are interested in is making money for the first division clubs.”

City could be planning to change just one fixture in the 1997-8. The home game with Scunthorpe on Sunday December 28 could move to the Monday. The Football League have penciled in all matches for the Sunday. But that could change.

“We’re allowed to change three games in the season and I’ll have to speak to Kevin Ratcliffe if we want to move it to Monday,” said secretary Derek Barber. The only other change could see Colchester moving their Saturday fixture on December 20 to Friday 19.

16 June 1997

Chester City will kick off, and sign off, the new season at home.

Lincoln are the visitors to The Deva on 9 August with a home clash against Scarborough completing their 1997/98 campaign. “It’s great to be home on the first day,” said City’s top scorer Andy Milner. “It’s better than last season, we were at Brighton on the first day, and it was hot down there.”

The Football League fixture computer has churned out a Boxing Day clash away at Hull while City’s return to Moss Rose, Macclesfield will be on 25 April.

13 June 1997
Iain Jenkins spoke for the first time today about speculation linking him with a big money move.

“I’ve read that a lot of clubs are after me but I’ve heard nothing,” said Chester City captain Jenkins. “Chelsea, Aston Villa and Sunderland have all been mentioned but as far as I’m concerned I’m a Chester City player.”

Jenkins, who had an outstanding season as the Blues narrowly missed out on promotion, has just signed a new improved two year deal at the Deva. But the 24-year-old defender is now a wanted man after making a big impact on the international soccer scene with Northern Ireland. Jenkins, who only found out he was eligible to play for Bryan Hamilton’s side 10 weeks ago, has since become a regular. One B team game was followed up by a World Cup qualifier in Armenia and an end of season tour to Thailand.

“I can’t believe how things have turned out,”added Jenkins. “I was only finding my feet at the start of the season following the car crash and now there’s talk of a move to the Premiership. But that’s all it is at the moment – talk. Kevin Ratcliffe and Mark Guterman will look after my interests and I won’t be leaving Chester City unless it’s in the best interests of myself and the club.”

Jenkins, who kicked off his career with Everton, where he made six first team appearances, is ambitious and wants to play in the Premiership. His valuation is increasing all the time – especially after three faultless displays at right back with Northern Ireland. The cash-strapped Blues could easily demand a £200,000 plus fee for Jenkins, who has chalked up 126 league appearance in four seasons.

Versatile Jenkins is capable of playing anywhere along the back four as was City’s regular left back last season. But he could return to his favourite right back role next season with Ross Davidson unlikely to re-sign for the Blues. Davidson, who comes from London, has refused to sign a new contract. The former Sheffield United defender has been having talks with promoted Fulham. Chris Priest – City’s other pay rebel – hasn’t attracted any interest yet – and is expected to return to the Deva for pre-season training on July 2.

12 June 1997
Ex-Everton striker Stuart Rimmer has become a victim of the current crisis at Goodison Park. Rimmer – Chester City’s record signing and record goalscorer – had hoped to attract Everton to the Deva for his testimonial match before the start of the season. But with Everton still searching for a new manager and a new sponsor, Rimmer’s match has been put on hold.

“It definitely won’t be pre-season,” said Rimmer, whose two spells at the club have totaled ten years. “I really don’t know what’s going to happen because I’d sorted out all the details with Joe Royle.”

Royle has since left Goodison and until the Toffeemen appoint a new manager, Rimmer will have to put his big match plans on hold. “Hopefully we can look to the end of next season,” added Rimmer, who has been given a new one year deal to stay at The Deva.

Southport-born Rimmer, 33 in October, played 28 times last season, scoring six goals. That took his record-breaking tally to 127 league goals for the Blues.

And Rimmer will aim to improve on that as he battles it out for a regular place in the starting line-up. Andy Milner – last season’s top scorer with 14 – and mid-season signing Rod McDonald were the main strike pairing last season. But things could change up front as City try to make it third time lucky in their bid to escape from Division Three. Rimmer, Milner and McDonald will also face the challenge of young guns John Murphy and Jonathan Jones.

And Blues boss Kevin Ratcliffe is desperate to sign another striker before the start of the season. Ratcliffe wants a 20-goal-a-season man but those kind of players don’t come cheap. Money is available to spend on new players but the transfer activity is unlikely to start until after the players return for pre-season training on July 2.

Two ex-Blues boys are still looking for new clubs. Kevin Noteman and skipper Peter Jackson were both released last season and have yet to sort themselves out. “It’s early days at the moment,” said fans’ favourite Jackson. “Most of the managers are away although I’ve had a couple of offers.”

11 June 1997
Chris Priest is ready to put pen to paper – but not with Chester City. The Blues midfielder, who has said no to a new deal at the Deva, has far more pressing engagements.

“I’m getting married,” said Priest today, who will tie the knot with girlfriend Joanne in nine days time at Leigh Registry Office. “That’s my main concern at the moment. We’ve just come back from a family holiday in Alcudia and I’m getting married in nine days time. We’re not going on honeymoon so then I’ll be able to think about football.”

Priest has turned down an initial offer from Blues boss Kevin Ratcliffe. He wants more money. But the 23-year-old former Everton man still thinks he’ll be back at the Deva when the squad regroups on July 2. “I’ve had no phone calls from anyone although it’s been interesting reading all things about me on Teletext,” revealed Priest. There’s been all these things saying I’m leaving because I’m ambitious and want to play at a higher level. That certainly hasn’t come from me. Chester have made me an offer and I’m not accepting it but I think there is room for negotiations when I return. I’ve been told to return to pre-season training on July 2 and I’ll be getting myself fit for then.”

Priest will go on a week-to-week contract if he fails to hammer out a deal suitable to both himself – and the club. “I don’t want to leave Chester, I want to stay and we’ll just see what happens.”

Priest’s last game for City ended in double disappointment. He was sent off as the Blues were dumped out of the play-offs at Swansea. “It was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for me,” added Priest, who struggled with a thigh strain for the early part of the season. I wouldn’t like to think that the Swansea game was my last for Chester, but it does cross your mind.”

Priest is one of two players holding out for more money. Right back Ross Davidson, who had a tremendous season, has also refused to sign.

6 June 1997
Striker Andy Milner is to re-sign for Chester City on a one-year contract. The 30-year-old Cumbrian has agreed terms with the Blues but the search for attacking options goes on. City assistant manager Gary Shelton confirmed this morning that Milner had committed himself to Chester for another season but stressed that a proven goalscorer was still the club’s number one priority.

“Andy had a good season last year in terms of goals and assists”, he said “It’s good news for us that he is staying. But hopefully we will also bring in another striker. That will be good for competition. We will have Andy, Stuart Rimmer, Rod McDonald, Jonathan Jones, John Murphy and someone else all battling for two places and that’s got to be good.”

Shelton said that enquiries had been made for one or two players and added: “We’re looking for someone who can stick the ball in the back of the net but so is everyone else. We missed out last year. Everyone knows the chances we created and we need to take more of them. Andy Milner is very unselfish and does create chances for others. He’s more of an all-round player than a natural goalscorer.”

Chester’s name had been linked with Mark Carter, released by second division champions Bury but the club have denied speaking to the player. Shelton said though:“Mark’s been released on a free and people have put two and two together but we haven’t spoken to him. It’s pure speculation. He does get goals. He got 16 or 17 last season and he’s experienced but he’s 36 and that could be a problem. We do have some money available for the right player but we might need to wheel and deal.”

Meanwhile midfielder Chris Priest and full back Ross Davidson have yet to agree new terms and Shelton said: “They’re the only two holding out now and we assume they will be going on week-to-week contracts. It’s disappointing but they’re ambitious lads and important members of our team. But if they’re not happy and want to go elsewhere then there’s nothing we can do. Financially we have a budget and if they can’t fit into that then that’s that.”
5 June 1997

Andy Milner’s future at Chester City could be decided by the end of the week. The 30-year-old Cumbrian born striker has been offered a one year deal – but was playing his cards close to his chest.

“I have replied to the club’s letter and it is up to them after that. I am just waiting to hear from them. It will all become clear, I would like to stay. I am happy here.”

Milner was a regular in City’s team which fell at the last promotion hurdle against Swansea in the play-offs. “We have not got too far to go,” he added. “We were only a couple of steps short at the end.”

It’s no secret the Blues, though, are after a 30-goals a season striker, with Bury’s Mark Carter one of the names that has been mentioned. The club has also approached two other strikers – both experienced players with lower division clubs – but neither is available. Bury’s 36-year-old hitman Carter, meanwhile, remains another possible target but he is on holiday and hasn’t been approached by the Blues.

But Milner won’t let Ratcliffe’s hunt for another hitman influence his decision about his future at Chester.

Said Milner: “All I read about in the paper is that the boss is after a striker. It’s not brilliant to read that but he is probably right. If we did have one, we would be right up there, but everyone wants a striker like that. It’s a fact of life and this is a squad game. Kevin will have five or six strikers who he can chose from. It’s up to me to do well if I stay on. But it definitely won’t affect my decision. You are never going to have just two strikers at a club - there is always going to be competition.”

The Blues’ assistant manager Gary Shelton added: “Strikers have been talked about – everyone agreed we needed one last year. But Andy was our top scorer and top with the assists. Andy is still a very important member of the squad. If he has agreed to stay, he will have to fight for a place like everyone else. Competition for places is healthy. I have inquired about two experienced strikers who are at lower division clubs but at the moment, their clubs aren’t going to release them so that is dead and buried.”

4 June 1997
Chester City’s promising young defender Mattie Woods is set to agree a new deal with the club this week.
The 20-year-old ex-Evertonian centre back is set to sign on Friday, assistant manager Gary Shelton confirmed today.

And the Blues received a double boost with the news that fellow 20-year-old, goalkeeper Wayne Brown, has also agreed a new deal.

Centre back Woods, a possible long-term replacement for Peter Jackson, and Brown, who arrived at the Deva from Weston super Mare as an understudy to Ronnie Sinclair, are expected to sign either one or two year deals. Said Shelton: “Matty has just broken into the team while Wayne had a couple of games last season. We were hoping both would stay because they are ones for the future.”

Veteran striker Stuart Rimmer has also pledged his future to Chester for another season while solid centre back Spencer Whelan has signed a two year deal. That leaves striker Andy Milner, Ross Davidson and Chris Priest still undecided.

Cumbrian-born 30-year-old Milner is thought to be considering a one-year offer, while Priest and Davidson have been offered two year deals.

Added Shelton: “They are three regular first team players so we are hoping they re-sign. But we haven’t heard anything yet. At the moment, you have got to think that is a negative sign but they do have two or three weeks to reply. We just have to wait until they come back from holidays. If they don’t sign, they go on to week-to-week arrangements.”

Ex-Evertonian Priest and ex-Sheffield United player Davidson have both been the subject of speculation regarding moves to top level clubs. But Shelton said: “We have had no offers. There are lots of rumours flying about but we have had no enquiries and no bids for any of our players.”


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