Buoyed by feeling of optimism

ONE man who knows Chester City better than most is Tony Allen. Not only is Allen a director, he is the club secretary and as is often the case at smaller clubs, he is the man who deals with virtually everything.

By Derek Davis

ONE man who knows Chester City better than most is Tony Allen. Not only is Allen a director, he is the club secretary and as is often the case at smaller clubs, he is the man who deals with virtually everything.

Want to know the club's history - ask Tony. Need Press passes, ask Tony. Car parking? Paperwork? Who is the best person to deal with this that or the other? Tony knows.

But Tony doesn't much want to talk about himself. He has been at the club since joining from Wigan Athletic in 1989 and apart from a spell at Port Vale, has been working behind the scenes since and has seen it all.

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He skims over the dark days of recent history when Chester had to move out of the town and play at Macclesfield's Moss Ross for two years between 1990-92, while the Sealand's ground was turned into the Deva Stadium with the now soulless name of the sponsors Honda Saunders.

Amazingly though the hard-core support remained and Allen said: “You can never underestimate the fortitude of true football supporters.

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“We may not have the biggest following, clearly having Liverpool and Everton on our doorstep has a detrimental effect, but the fans we have are incredibly loyal. Many of the faces we will see on Saturday against Ipswich will be the same people who watched us at Macclesfield when we were exiled.”

Chester have also suffered the heartache of relegation out of the Football League when they battled in the non-league wilderness for five years. In between they had to deal with Terry Smith, a chairman/ owner whose background was American football but took the club into administration and relegation.

As he tried to impose the gridiron principles to a football club even the most loyal fans briefly boycotted the club and it was only when current owner Stephen Vaughan took over, with Mark Wright at the helm, did they start to come back in numbers and league football was re-established.

They also battled back on the pitch and now ensconced in mid-table of League Two, there is a general feeling of optimism. Allen said: “Coming back to the city after two years was absolutely brilliant and really emotional. They are the highs you remember off the pitch and on it getting back into the league were special days.

“We have also enjoyed some big cup matches. In the carling Cup we had to battle our way through from the first round yet got to the semi-finals in 1975. We also had big games away to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light and drawing Leeds United away - great games.

“It is very special for clubs like ours when we draw big clubs like Ipswich Town. They have a wonderful history in cup and a marvellous tradition.”

FA Cup tradition is something Chester know about, or more pertinently their manager Mark Wright does. He captained Liverpool in the 1996 FA Cup final but will of course be remembered for being part of that Reds' side that wandered out at Wembley with those fashion disaster cream suits.

“He has still got it, you know,” whispers Allen mischievously. Dodgy suit aside, Wright is afforded hero status in the Roman city where commanders like him have historically seen battlers.

But there have also been moments of intrigue and friction like when Wright left the club on the eve of their first game back in the Football League.

Allen said: “Mark is a great character and has been great for this club. He left us and I won't go into all the ins and outs but he came back when we were struggling and saved us from going down. He and the chairman work together very well and it is a relationship that is benefiting the club.”

And if anyone knows then it is Tony Allen who - he admitted - is actually a dyed in the wool Notts County fan.

n Tomorrow's tie is not all-ticket, but Chester has also asked if, where possible, Town fans can bring the correct change to the turnstiles.

Price are: adults sitting - £17, standing £15. Senior citizens - £12 and £10. Under 16s £6 and £5.

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