BLUES legend and new chairman Grenville Millington has defended the club’s position in wake of the controversy that has fallen their way after the decision to make Tuesday’s game an all-ticket affair.
“We’re not good enough yet, we know that, we’re trying to improve, but some of the criticism is very very hard to take,” said Millington, who made more than 300 appearances in goal for Chester FC from 1969-1983.
The Chester and Cheshire West Council’s Safety and Advisory Group met with the club last week, resulting in the decision to go all-ticket for the Barnsley game and reduce the Swansway stadium’s capacity indefinitely, sparking angry reactions from supporters who felt alienated by the move.
Chester FC is a fan-owned club, run by the group City Fans United (CFU), and supporters felt the move for all-ticket was out of keeping with the club’s identity.
Millington, who was unanimously elected to chairman by CFU members in September, said the club had no choice: “The council made the decision for us, because of some concerns they had with the ground.
“In the game against Wrexham, the minute’s silence was broken and there was a near riot in the corner,” Millington said.
A number of emergency lights were not working, and the club failed to get planning permission for their work on a potential tuck shop on the far side of the stadium.
The tannoy was not working on the same side, which the council felt would be a risk issue in the event of any evacuation.
“So with that, they said they’re reducing the capacity to 4100 and they would increase it incrementally as we do that work,” Millington finished.
As for the all-ticket designation, he said the council didn’t want 200 supporters outside the stadium trying to get in.
The club find themselves in a difficult position, as they are looking to get a 50-year lease of the stadium from the council in January, a move which would give them greater access to grants to develop the stadium’s facilities.
Millington said the club would endeavour to regain the council’s good graces: “So we’re saying we’re sorry, we should have done it, we haven’t, can we put all these things right to enable us to have that lease in January.”
But Millington showed irritation at the ensuing criticism falling on the club, saying that it was especially harsh and unfair on the volunteers who help at the club.
“The volunteers are here at 9 o’clock in the morning and here till 6 o’clock at night and they have wasted a day because they haven’t resolved anything.
“I would be telling people, if you turn up and you’ve travelled 20 miles for a ticket, please don’t take it out on the people on the window, because they are stalwarts of the club and it’s not their fault.
“The people are volunteers, they’re doing their best, they’re not here all the time. I’m gonna defend the work of the volunteers a hundred percent, as far as you wanna go.
“If people are gonna phone me and talk about it, let them phone me and talk about it.”
Chester FC made a pre-tax profit of £33,000 after the 2013/14 season, signalling a positive turn in the financial fortunes of the club that had reformed in 2010, but Millington feels they are still not in a position to meet the Council’s expectations.
“We aren’t paying £30,000 for a health and safety worker, we’re not paying that money.
“I tried to tell the council, it’s not a flagrant disregard of their rules, it’s just that we’re a supporters-owned club and with that brings enormous pressures that need to be addressed.
“I think we’re getting better. We’re not good enough yet, but we’re getting there”.
Chester FC go into the Barnsley game knowing they could find themselves in the round three of the FA Cup against Championship high-flyers Middlesbrough, but Millington sees next Monday’s FA Trophy first round replay against AFC Telford as the bigger game.
“Telford is the game that might give us our biggest success by the end of the season. Because then we might end up in the semi-final or the final and people have to stop talking about tickets and all that’s gone on and start talking about beating Telford, sooner rather than later,” he said.