Deva Stadium Part 3

The final batch of pictures were taken after the turf was laid in May 1992 as the race to have the ground ready before the start of the season continued. Thanks to former programme editor John Martin for supplying many of these photographs which were taken by developers Morrisons. The remaining pictures were again provided by Fraser.

Of particular interest are the aerial views of the ground including a superb unique photograph showing both the Deva Stadium and the derelict Sealand Road ground. It is also possible to see the Stadium floodlights in one of Fraser’s pictures.

As a precaution Chester’s early season league fixtures had to be re-scheduled to allow for the ground to be completed and the season started with four away games where only one point was collected. The stadium staged it’s first game, in the Coca Cola Cup against Stockport, on August 25th and the first league game was played on September 5th against Burnley with Chester winning 3-0, Neil Morton had the honour of scoring the first league goal with Chris Lightfoot and Paul Comstive also on target.

The first league programme included a centre stage spread listing the materials used in the construction and, taken with the complete sequence of photographs, they merely serve to emphasise what was in effect a rush job. The list was as follows:

6,500 Tons of ready mixed concrete
52,000 Concrete blocks
48,000 Bricks
4,500 sq metres cladding
2,000 litres paint
40 miles cable
100 Electric sockets
550 Light fittings
171 Doors
1.5 miles Drainage pipes
16 Standards timber
4.5 Tonnes nails and screws

Twenty years on older fans like me still mourn the loss of the Sealand Road ground and it’s a shame that the shambolic events surrounding the sale of the old stadium resulted in a cobbled together compromise. It could have been so much better.

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Deva Stadium Part 1

It’s 20 years this year since the Deva Stadium was constructed with the £3 million ground completed in a mere 30 weeks. The first game took place on August 25th 1992, against Stockport County, in the Coca Cola League Cup and I have recollections of a chaotic opening night with reports of wet paint and club operations being run from portakabins in the car park.

No-one could ever call the Deva Stadium the most attractive ground in the country and at best it can be described as functional but after 20 years it does seem to have finally developed its own character and now feels as comfortable as an old shoe. I still think it must be the only ground in the country with its own micro-climate as a howling gale invariable sweeps the stadium on match day as the rest of the city experiences a zen-like calm.

One of the problems has always been the low capacity and it’s a shame that the proposals for a more practical 10,000 stadium couldn’t be implemented. Granted attendances may not have reached this level but at least it would have given more flexibility and reduced congestion when the ground reached more than two-thirds full. Remember Preston , Stockport and Scarborough?

When the subject of a move to the end of Bumpers Lane first arose in the latter half of the 1980s various pie in the sky proposals were put forward. The most ambitious being a 15,000-20,000 capacity ground as part of a sports complex with restaurant, leisure centre and athletics track. Gradually this was scaled down until the tight timescales meant we ended up with the basic 6,000 stadium we have today. Bearing in mind the current requirements for training facilities it’s interesting to note that one of the initial planning applications from developers Morrisons included two practice pitches occupying half the current car park area. This was rejected by the council who offered the land at a low rent on the condition that stringent parking criteria were met.

Over the next few weeks I intend posting a series of photographs showing the building of the ground which started on January 28th 1992 with a turf-cutting ceremony.  The first four photographs were actually taken as far back as February 1991 when the prolonged political machinations were still ongoing and no firm planning application had been approved. All four were taken from the end of Bumpers Lane looking towards Blacon and Sealand.

The second set of photographs were taken 12 months later at the turf-cutting ceremony.

Chairman Ray Crofts (with spade) alongside former chairman Reg Rowlands and vice-presidents Cliff Thompson (far left), Len Lloyd (second left). Also pictured are representatives from Morrisons while Harry McNally is partially hidden
Harry McNally digs the first sod with Les Perry from Blacon who won the special draw to make the first cut.
Ray Crofts with Les Perry
The cause of the drainage problems at the corner of the away end?

The ceremony was attended by more than 200 fans but the drama was still not over as an angry city council claimed that the whole event had been held on the land without permission as the rental agreement remained unsigned. The council were particularly annoyed that Morrison’s had started to move equipment on to the land and peg out the site and they only allowed the event to take place so as not to disappoint fans that had turned up. As a result an injunction was issued preventing any further work and the builders were evicted from the land immediately after the ceremony. Fortunately the problems were quickly ironed out and construction started for a second time on February 3rd.

Morrison’s themselves were desperate to get the ground completed as quickly as possible as they risked forfeiting a £500,000 bond left with the Football League if the new stadium was not completed by the start of the 1992/93 season. Construction moved swiftly on what was by now a very basic ground and many supporters regularly made the journey down Bumpers Lane, past the decaying skeleton of the Sealand Road ground, to take photographs of the new structure.  Meanwhile, 40 miles away in Macclesfield, Harry McNally performed miracles by dragging the Blues away from a seemingly impossible situation in the third tier relegation zone.

I’ll post some more photos of the construction over the next few weeks. If anyone else has any interesting photos of the ground building please get in touch.

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500 Games – Full Breakdown

As promised, for those of you who like poring over dull statistics, here is the complete record at the Deva Stadium following the 2-1 victory against Mickleover Sports on Saturday. The row and column headers should be self-evident.

It is noticeable how poor the home record is for the old City side with almost as many games ending in defeat (165) as in victory (168). Perhaps this is unsurprising when you consider that four of the 18 seasons ended in relegation and the figures also include the disastrous 2009/10 season. In comparison there were two promotion seasons and two seasons where City reached the play-offs.

Inevitably the highest number of victories for City were chalked up in the promotion seasons of 1993/94 and 2003/04 as well as the 2000/01 season when they won seven games in cup competitions reaching the Third Round of the FA Cup, FA Trophy Semi-Final and Nationwide Variety Trophy Final. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that most goals were scored in the 1995/96 season when Kevin Ratcliffe was manager although there was the bonus of having Cyrille Regis leading the attack for two-thirds of the campaign.

The statistics for Chester FC put the previous 18 seasons to shame. The club have already scored 109 goals in total and suffered only four defeats compared to 29 victories.

There are a couple of anniversaries that should be reached before the end of the season. Chester FC need 6 more goals to reach 100 league goals while three more wins will see the 200th victory at the ground. In addition another 5 goals will see the 600th goal conceded but with a bit of luck this will be avoided until next season.

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500th Game at the Deva Stadium

This Saturday’s game against Mickleover Sports will be the 500th game played at the Deva Stadium.

It’s 20 years in August since the first game was played at the ground, when Stockport County were the visitors. The grand total takes into account all first team league and cup matches played by Chester City and Chester FC.

I thought I would use my first proper post to briefly explain how I came to this figure and after Saturday’s game I will publish the full statistical breakdown. There will also be some more detail in Friday’s Leader article.

The games for Chester FC are easily accounted for and the Hednesford defeat was the 41st match at the ground. Although I have included last season’s Cheshire Senior Cup tie against Congleton Town I have excluded the county cup ties played when the Blues were in the Conference between 2000 and 2004. Although the competition was technically meant for non-league teams the old City never treated it as such and invariably played a second eleven. I used the same principle for first team matches in On The Borderline.

The pre-2010 Chester played 458 games at the Deva Stadium. This figure excludes the three abandoned games against Worksop Town in 2003, Stockport County in 2008 and Eastbourne Borough in 2009. However I believe it is valid to include all the games from the truncated 2009/10 season even though they were technically expunged from the record books.

While putting together these figures a couple of other recent landmarks came to light. First of all Chris Clements opening goal for Hednesford last Saturday was the 500th league goal conceded at the ground. Somehow it seems a lot more. Secondly Michael Powell’s second goal against Worksop Town was the 700th goal league and cup strike from the Blues.

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