Thursday 5 September 2013

In the Bubble

Any thoughts of being part of history are far from my mind when the alarm clock goes off at 4.45am.

In a few hours, along with 887 other Chester fans, I will be part of the first non-league ‘bubble’ fixture. At the behest of North Wales Police every away supporter must travel by official coach from Chester.

It’s a controversial move, which has dissuaded hundreds of fans from attending. But for the rest of us, this game has been three years in the making. The return of the derby is all part of what we’ve been striving for since the club reformed. There’s no way I’m missing it.

One hold up and we’re done for but a bonus is that the roads are clear at this ridiculous time of day. After picking up two more exiles en route from Sussex we’re at the Deva by 10am, in plenty of time for the scheduled 11am departure. The bacon butties on sale at the kiosk in the Harry Mac are an inspired idea.

There’s also the opportunity to mingle with the players as they arrive in dribs and drabs, including new signing Danny Higginbotham who’s played in the Tyne-Wear derby but is left in no doubt that the cross-border fixture is much more important!

Next we earwig on a police briefing for the coach drivers who, rather ominously, are warned that they are “on their own” if they slip out of the convoy or take a wrong turning. Are we heading into Wales or Afghanistan?

A few minutes late, 18 packed coaches roll out of the car park - not surprisingly travelling nose to tail. It all feels a bit like heading off to a Cup Final and only adds to the memorable experience. On board coach J it’s already getting lively and we’re only on Sealand Road.

The convoy is an impressive sight and we attract lots of attention. Police outriders speed past every few minutes, going ahead to close junctions so our journey is not impeded. At red lights and roundabouts we’re waved through. The police helicopter hovering above seems a bit over the top.

Despite the circuitous route we’re at the Racecourse Ground well before kick off and the singing begins as the ground begins to fill. The racket from the Blues doesn’t stop for the next two hours. The roof helps but it’s the best atmosphere I’ve ever encountered at a Chester game.

On the road north earlier there was agreement that we’d settle for a decent performance. All we asked was that we weren’t two goals down inside the first 20 minutes, with nothing to do but sit there and endure the taunts of the Wrexham fans. Well, that’s what 30-plus years of following Chester does to you.

Yet, incredibly, Linny powers in a header within the first five minutes and the away end goes ballistic. Then Nathan Turner somehow wriggles through on the left and his twin, Lewis, is on the end of the cross to poke home the second. Forget the Futchers.  

No-one can quite believe what is happening. “You’re getting beat by a pub team” rings round the ground. We’re jumping now. 20 minutes gone, 2-0 up. I’d still take a draw.

At half time we prepare for an onslaught, but it never materialises. Higginbotham goes off. Surely now we will crumble. If anything we look more comfortable. Any chance of a goal down our end lads?

It’s all over. After losing our first five games we’ve beaten Wrexham in an away league game for the first time since 1978. You only have to look at the surrounding faces to see what it means - and I can say I was there. Get the T-shirts printed.

The journey back to Chester is uneventful. There’s been sporadic trouble in the ground but around me the general opinion is that the bubble worked well, removing the threat of random, unprovoked violence outside the stadium. Despite my fears that there would be a monumental cock-up it’s been well-organised.

Apart from anything else there’s no need to worry about parking, while some might argue that anything that reduces the time spent in Wrexham can only be commended. The result has also helped but I’m a convert.

Whether we like it or not, this arrangement is probably here to stay for the derby, although we can lobby for a return to 3pm kick offs and a way must be found to make the ticketing arrangements more slick.

The party continues in the Blues Bar and we’ve still got the prospect of a five-hour journey home. But who cares? I am a Cestrian, I am a Chester fan and it doesn’t get any better than this.

Yet for some reason there’s an old Beach Boys tune running on a loop inside my head.

Adrian Lee

Pictures © Rick Matthews (Chester Leader)