Gutsy Guiseley Grab A Point At Chester
Whilst there’s little of the heady drama of Saturday’s last-gasp 2-1 victory at Macclesfield Town, it seems Chester F.C. will hold on for a hard-fought if slightly fortuitous three points. Guiseley, backed by a small but vocal away support are pressing, but cannot seem to force the ball over the line. Then, the latest in a succession of sloppy mistakes appears within the Chester defence. Liam Boyes is left unmarked to gobble up a rebound from inside the six yard box, and calmly slots home to level it. But it isn’t over yet…
Whilst plans for matchday travels usually include some cerebral vision of coasting through rural England by train, the trip to Chester shakes me into my senses. I’m stood in a carriage so tightly packed as to appear like a human jelly, and it lasts for the best part of 90 minutes. If I were headed anywhere else, I’d regret ever leaving my bed, but Chester’s historic center is truly inspiring. Its majestic cathedral and timbered architecture are almost as intriguing as the upcoming clash between last-season’s surprise mid-table success story and their newly promoted adversaries.
My first stop in the city is Marmalade. This friendly, snug café sources all its food from local farms. Every traditional eatery up North will claim to have its own unique charm, but this place truly is like the Hairy Bikers’ wet dream. I settle down for a Panini in its cosy environs as tourists from all corners of the world brave a dismal downpour for snapshots of some of the city’s biggest attractions. I’m off, though, to see the most exciting one of all. It’s to the Swansway Chester Stadium (or, Deva Stadium, to everyone but the sponsors) that I’m headed.
Opened in 1992, Deva Stadium was the first stadium to fulfil all the recommendations of the Taylor Report, following the tragedies at Valley Parade and Hillsborough. Though this ground was designed with modernity and safety as the primary focus, it’s certainly not without character. There are traditional turnstiles. The squat dugouts are seemingly superglued onto the sides of the pitch. Part of the ground is (*whisper*) actually in Wales! The little circular clock perched on top of the Swansway Chester Stand (these guys are getting their money’s worth!).
It’s a genuine rarity – a ground which is modern without being dull or uniform. In fact, my only grumble regarding Deva lies with the entry price. £18 entry for an adult ticket is extortionate for Non-League football, and it’s especially disappointing to see these prices charged at an otherwise exemplary, fan-owned club.
Deva Stadium has three seated stands, and one pleasingly bustling standing area – the Harry McInally terrace. The West Yorkshire faithful are in a small corner of a stand running alongside the pitch, whilst I (and many of the Chester support) are opposite, in the smart main stand, which offers excellent views. The Stone Roses’ ‘Waterfall’ echoes from the tannoy, the sound fittingly swirling around this windswept ground on a day punctuated by rain-sodden showers.
The atmosphere is friendly, lively and relaxed – a reminder of the fact that this campaign has started well for Chester, and today lacks the intensity of derby fixtures like Wrexham or Macclesfield. And, whilst Chester are showing potential to be dark horses to return to the Football League they so long occupied, new-boys Guiseley are enjoying the experience of being in Non-League’s top tier for the first time. The ref’s whistle blows for kick-off, and nothing of note happens for a while after that.
The opening 10 minutes fail to muster a chance. Both sides are notably physical, with the challenges ranging from firm-but-fair to bonafide assaults. Guiseley’s Wayne Brooksby, who looks lively all game, has the first attempt of note just past the ten-minute mark, as Chester ‘keeper Jon Worsnop saves his low attempt at the near post.
In the early stages, Chester’s two bright sparks are John Rooney and defender Michael Kay, though neither keep this performance level up throughout the 90. Rooney fades out of the game, whilst Kay’s display is a mixture of skilled and sloppy. The one constant in this match is the level of physicality. Following one especially bruising tackle on a Guiseley player, his genuinely pained hobbling is greeted with a rebuke from one bloke in the stand, of “it’s a man’s game”. The referee seems to agree, and to everyone’s surprise, this bruising fixture passes without a single red card.
As the first period wears on, Chester do attempt to take the game to their opponents, but after an exhausting and emotional victory on Saturday, energy and ingenuity are in short supply. Rooney smashes a free-kick into the grateful hands of Guiseley stopper Steve Drench, before Higgins lets one fly from 40 yards…and lands it in the car park. Guiseley respond with a few decent attempts, and after the half-time break, have a close-range effort superbly tipped over by the dependable Worsnop.
Guiseley look the more likely to break the deadlock, but in front of a healthy crowd of 2,403 Chester are awarded a penalty for handball. Despite one of the away side’s players cheekily scuffing the penalty spot, John Rooney converts calmly from the penalty spot. Yet again, the brother of Manchester United’s Wayne makes a crucial contribution for City (as Chester are still affectionately known), though his overall performance is slightly disappointing.
Despite the setback, The Lions roar forward. Atkinson nearly draws them level, before celebrations are cut short when a would-be equalizer is chalked off for offside. At the other end, Shaw hits a magnificent curling effort inches over the bar. And whilst that would have been a stunning goal, the Guiseley support won’t mind one bit that their side’s equalizer was a good deal less attractive. Having averaged around a goal every two games for the Yorkshire side, composed substitute Adam Boyes taps home from inside the 6-yard-box after lax defending following a Worsnop parry. The away fans go wild, and for the second successive home game, Chester have lost a lead.
Right at the death, Worsnop proves himself invaluable, saving fantastically from a Craddock effort – to prevent a disheartening reverse of the Macclesfield game. As I wander to the warmth and shelter of the ground’s Blues Bar, I’m aware that whilst today’s game has been rather short on quality, it’s been an intriguing and hard-fought endurance test between two teams who’ve faced the grueling task of kicking-off two games 48 hours apart.
My final stop is the Town Crier, a stunning 19th century pub opposite Chester railway station. I sit down with a pint of Harviestoun’s Twisted and Bitter (lovely) and under a dry roof (even better) to watch a bit of the televised National League game. Whilst it’s a good contest, it all feels a bit tame in comparison to being there. In the old Roman fortress of Chester, the boys in blue and white have more to do to make their defences impenetrable, but whatever their performances, the crowds will keep coming here. It’s how it should be.
Chester – 1 (Rooney, pen ’65)
Guiseley – 1 (Boyes, ’84)
3pm, 31st August 2015
Swansway Chester Stadium, Chester (Att: 2304)
Travel & Ticket Info:
Ticket Prices: Adults (£18), Concessions (£12), Under-21s (£10), 5-15 year olds (£5), under-5’s (Free)
Travel: Chester is well served by rail, with regular direct trains from Liverpool Central, London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly as well as several locations in North Wales. By car, the quickest way from Manchester is via the M56 and from Liverpool by the A550 (toll route).
Ground Location: A few miles west of Chester’s city centre and from its railway station, Deva Stadium is surrounded by industry and greenery, but not much else. Besides the Blues Bar, there’s not much to see in this part of town before kick-off.
Posted on September 2, 2015, in Dave's Matchday Adventures, Vanarama National League and tagged Adam Boyes, Chester FC, Guiseley FC, John Rooney, Vanarama National League. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.