Steve Finney (1973-2022)

Former Chester City striker Steve Finney has sadly passed away at the age of 48 after a short illness. Steve was playing part-time football for Barrow when he was given an opportunity to return to the Football League by Terry Smith who signed him for Chester in October 1999. He went on to make 13 Football League appearances, including 9 from the bench, and was one of the players retained by Graham Barrow for the first season in the Conference. Alongside Paul Carden he was the only player to start the last game in the Football League, against Peterborough, and the first fixture in the Conference, against Rushden and Diamonds, and he made a further four starts and five substitute appearances before being released in late 2000.

Steve Finney

Born in Hexham Steve started his career as a youth player with Preston North End and went on to make his Football League debut for the Lancashire side in the 1991/92 season. He had the most successful spell of his footballing career at Swindon Town after joining from Manchester City in summer 1995. A goal on his debut, against Hull City, immediately endeared him to supporters and he went on to score 16 goals as Swindon were promoted to the second tier. 

After representing Cambridge United, Carlisle United and Leyton Orient Steve dropped into part-time football with Gretna and Barrow but after circulating his CV to north west clubs he was contacted by Terry Smith who brought him to the Deva Stadium in 1999. He made his debut, as a substitute, in a 4-1 defeat at Lincoln but after featuring in the next seven games he was only used intermittently during the rest of the campaign. 

For the first season in the Conference Steve started the first three games before dropping to the role of substitute and the signing of Steve Whitehall marked the end of his City career. His final match proved to be a Nationwide Variety Club Trophy match against Hednesford Town before a move to Altrincham after a successful loan spell.

At the time of his death he was part of the management team with Ullswater United in the Westmorland League.

Gary Moore (1945-2021)

Gary Moore, a member of the 1974/75 promotion side that also reached the last four of the League Cup, has sadly passed away at the age of 76. In two seasons at Sealand Road Gary made 43 league appearances and scored four goals but will best be remembered for scoring the second equaliser in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final against Aston Villa that finished 2-2.

Gary Moore

Born in Sedgefield, Gary started his career as an apprentice at Sunderland, where he became an England youth international, and signed professional terms at Roker Park in 1962. A move to Grimsby Town followed in 1967 but his best years came at Southend United where he scored an impressive 55 goals in 188 appearances. Most notably he scored seven goals in two FA Cup ties against King’s Lynn and Brentwood in the 1969/70 season.

The blond-haired striker had a loan spell at Colchester before Ken Roberts brought him to Chester for £10,000 in August 1974. Gary made his debut as a replacement in defence for the injured Trevor Storton in a 3-0 win over Hartlepool but found first team opportunities limited by the form of lethal striking partnership Derek Draper and John James and was mainly used as a substitute. Nevertheless he made significant goal contributions, coming off the bench to head the only goal of the game at Swansea and scoring twice in a superb 4-1 win over promotion rivals Lincoln City. Those two strikes proved crucial as Chester pipped the Imps to the fourth promotion spot by the slimmest goal average margin. 

n the League Cup run of 1974/75 Gary was used as a substitute against Blackpool and in the first leg of the semi-final against Aston Villa. It was in the latter game, in front of a packed Sealand Road End, that the burly forward replaced John James with 20 minutes to go and in the 80th minute turned home a Derek Draper cross from close range to keep alive Chester’s Wembley dream. He kept his place in the starting eleven for the 2nd leg as the Seals were narrowly beaten 3-2. 

Gary Moore (left) celebrates with Terry Owen and Norman Whitehead after the 1st leg of the League Cup semi-final against Aston Villa

Opportunities continued to be limited in 1975/76 and at the end of the campaign he signed for Swansea City but injury forced him into retirement in 1978. Gary continued to be involved in football and was a coach at Blyth Spartans before becoming manager of Northern League sides Consett and Crook Town. He was later a scout for Aston Villa and England under his old Grimsby colleague Graham Taylor. Away from football Gary worked as a sales rep in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Andy Higgins (1960-2021)

Former Chester City player Andy Higgins has passed away in Australia at the age of 61. A versatile player he featured in both attack and defence in his 19 Football League appearances for the club.

Andy Higgins

Born in Bolsover Andy represented his native Derbyshire at both under 15 and under 19 level and after leaving school accepted an apprenticeship at Chesterfield. He made just one appearance for the Spireites, against Mansfield Town, in the final game of the 1978/79 season. Following his release by Chesterfield in 1980 he was snapped up by John McGrath, who was then manager at Port Vale, and made 14 league appearances over the following two seasons. 

In 1982 Andy dropped into the Northern Premier League and signed for King’s Lynn but after only a handful of appearances he moved on to Hartlepool United. His stay in the north east proved to be brief and by November he had returned to King’s Lynn. Deployed as a striker his goalscoring exploits attracted Rochdale for whom he signed non-contract terms in March 1983. At Spotland he became a regular at centre half until a foot injury, in January 1984, sidelined him for the remainder of the campaign.

In Summer 1984 Andy was reunited with John McGrath who had been appointed manager at Sealand Road at the start of the year. Chester had finished bottom of Division Four in 1983/84 and they again failed to find any consistency at the start of the following campaign. With McGrath struggling to find the right blend from a host of new signings Andy was asked to perform in a variety of roles and after making his debut as a centre forward in the opening game against Scunthorpe he had a run of games at the centre of the defence before returning to the forward line in November. Andy’s only goal came in a 5-1 defeat at Stockport which marked the end of the road for McGrath. His final appearance came as a substitute against Peterborough on New Year’s Day 1985 and after being released by Chester he emigrated to South Africa where he represented Hellenic. Andy later moved to Australia where he passed away following a heart attack.

Dennis Keating (1940-2021)

Dennis Keating, who made a single Football League appearance for the club against Bradford City in the 1962/63 season, sadly passed away earlier this month. A tricky winger he retired from football at an early age to join a religious order and was well known in later years for his work as a priest in the Catholic parishes of St Columba and St Theresa.

Born in Cork, Dennis initially joined Chester as a part-time professional in June 1962 after graduating from Manchester University. While at university he had played for the Varsity team and was a member of the English Athletic Union side that played against Wales. He also represented Saltney Juniors and Bill Lambton signed him as an inside right after he had impressed in trial games played at the Stadium. 

After initially playing for the A team Dennis graduated to the reserves in the Cheshire County League in September. After sparkling performances on the left wing for the reserves, in particular against Bangor City where he gave former Chester full back Bill Souter a torrid afternoon, he was given the opportunity to play against Blackburn Rovers in the Lancashire Cup. Forming a youthful left wing partnership with hat-trick hero Alan Pritchard he set up the first goal in a 3-2 victory and both players were promoted to first team action against Bradford City. Once again Dennis impressed with the Cheshire Observer reporting: 

Keating certainly has got plenty of heart, and though he was bumped in occasions, he kept coming back for more, and while he is doing the job like he will be difficult to displace.”

He kept his place for the home FA Cup tie against Tranmere Rovers the following week but with left wing partner Pritchard dropped in favour of the more experienced Bill Myerscough he struggled to make an impression as Chester fell to a 2-0 defeat. Only two weeks later Dennis was transferred to Wellington Town saying that, as a teacher, he thought that non-league football would suit him better. A quiet and studious individual at Sealand Road he was not your typical 1960s footballer and in turning to a life of religion he found his true calling. 

John James (1948 – 2021)

Former striker John “Jesse” James has sadly passed away at the age of 72. John joined Chester in February 1973 and scored 40 goals in 98 Football League matches but will best be remembered for his goalscoring exploits in the 1974/75 League Cup campaign when he put League champions Leeds United to the sword with two goals in an amazing 3-0 victory. The big number 10 followed that up with the only goal in the 5th round replay against another First Division side, Newcastle United, before Chester’s glorious run was ended by Aston Villa at the semi-final stage. For a few short weeks in 1974 his name was on everyones lips as pictures of him raising both arms in triumph in front of a packed Sealand Road and filling his goalscoring boot with beer adorned the back pages of the national newspapers.

John’s sad passing comes only days after that of legendary manager Ken Roberts who signed him from Port Vale for £5,000 and paired him with Derek Draper to form a deadly if unconventional looking forward partnership. The wily Draper proved a perfect foil for the wholehearted striker who seemed to spend much of the game on the ground as he threw himself at every ball ensuring that he never came off the pitch without being covered in mud having given 100%. When upright, he would roam the field with his trademark long blue and white sleeves pulled down past his wrists and shirt cuffs gripped tightly in his fingers looking like he was suffering badly from the cold but appearances were deceptive and he was a handful for every defender. He may not have been blessed with pace and his goals were never spectacular but he knew where to find the back of the net and was deadly in the six yard box. Coupled with an unerring ability to win free kicks and hold the ball up, he was a perfect striker for the time and a key figure in that successful 1974/75 team.

Born in Stone in 1948 John signed professional terms with Port Vale in April 1966. He went on to make 210 league appearances at Vale Park, scoring 39 goals, and was a member of their promotion winning team in 1969/70. In February 1973 he moved to Sealand Road and made an instant impression with a goal on his debut as the Seals produced their best performance of the season in beating struggling Darlington 5-0. He went on to score another five goals that campaign. 

The 1973/74 season proved to be John’s most prolific as he netted 21 times in the league, the first player to score more than 20 league goals since Gary Talbot in 1968/69.. He was in top form when champions Leeds United visited a stadium packed to the rafters and ‘Jamo’ raised the roof when he crashed the ball past David Harvey at the second attempt to open the scoring. He followed this up with a second half penalty to sew up the most famous of all giant-killing acts. In the next round Chester forced a goalless draw at Newcastle and in the replay it was John who was on hand to profit from a knock down by Trevor Storton and force the ball home from barely two yards. Once again he was on target in the second leg of the losing semi-final against Aston Villa but a March injury saw him add only two more goals as Chester won promotion for the first time. 

John James scores the first goal against Leeds United – Nov 1974 (Chester Chronicle)
Toasting the famous victory over Leeds United
John James celebrates scoring the winning goal against Newcastle – December 1975 (Cheshire Observer)

After featuring in the first game in Division Three, at Crystal Palace, John was replaced by Barney Daniels and the following month moved to Tranmere Rovers in an exchange deal with Paul Crossley. He regained his goalscoring form at Prenton Park scoring 19 times in 38 games as Rovers won promotion to Division Three. A spell with Chicago Sting in the NASL was followed by a return to Tranmere before a move into non-league football with Stafford Rangers.