Updates from clubs in trouble including Chester City and Oxford United

Among the plausible candidates for this season’s spectacular calamity club are Chester City, where Kevin Ratcliffe’s resignation as manager after the first three games of the season has severely dented any optimism generated when Terry Smith, the former coach of the Great Britain gridiron team, took control of the club in July. Understandably, given the mess left by the previous administration, City fans have so far been prepared to give Smith the benefit of the doubt, despite his “colourful” past on the UK ice hockey and gridiron scene. 

His first few months at the Deva Stadium at least promised a new spirit of openness, and supporters’ representatives have been invited on to the board. However, Ratcliffe’s sudden and acrimonious departure was described by City’s main unofficial website as “a clear indication that things aren’t right behind the scenes”.

Things aren’t great in front of them either, with the threadbare squad taking only one point from their first five games. Smith, with finances tight, has joined the coaching staff himself. Worryingly, he reckons “80 or 90 per cent of coaching is the same in all codes” and, as if to prove it, has appointed three separate captains for defence, midfield and attack. Don’t be surprised if he’s calling in the wide receivers before the season’s out.

At least Chester have already been through their stadium trauma, having spent two years groundsharing with Macclesfield before moving into the Deva. Not so Oxford United, where the interminable saga of the Minchery Farm development has taken twists and turns far too complicated to detail throughout the summer. Fans have been submerged in an avalanche of acronyms (the good news is the CVA has been agreed, the GOSE has lifted its holding order and the ABC’s objection has been rejected) but seem at last to be coming out on the other side. Essentially, further development of the half-finished stadium depends on the club building a multiplex cinema next door. The labyrinthine planning obstacles have been all but overcome and if there are no further hitches work may resume on the site before the end of September – only three years after it was interrupted.

Time is tight, as United have to be out of the Manor Ground before the end of the season. But fans’ groups have so far been impressed with the attitude of the club’s new owner, hotelier Firoz Kassam, and things look rosier than for some time.

The same cannot be said for Barnet, where fans are seeking to have the decision by the Department of the Environment to reject redevelopment plans for the Copthall Stadium reviewed by the ombudsman. Bees fans claim plans to site swimming facilities for a prospective London Olympic bid at Copthall make the decision on their application flawed. The club has to leave Underhill by the start of next season, or spend a lot of money on a temporary fix to bring it marginally above League standards. So desperate is the club’s plight – crowds have slumped below 2,000 – that the fans have allowed Eddie Brimson to do a stand-up comedy benefit gig for the campaign.

owner Dan McCauley has finally agreed to support the local council’s plans for a new ground – the attractively titled “Tradium” – though no one is quite sure where the money for the £27 million-plus development is coming from. “It could prove to be the start of a new era for this football club in a new millennium,” said manager Kevin Hodges, with just a hint of over-enthusiasm. More sceptical fans are unimpressed by the fact that McCauley seems to have cash to invest in a new leisure development on Drake’s Island in Plymouth Sound, but not in the club. The disgruntled planned a boycott of the Lyndhurst Stand for September 5th’s game against Brighton, “making the ground appear empty to the TV cameras”. If only the campaign against Murdoch at Man Utd had thought of that one.

From WSC 152 October 1999. What was happening this month

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