Well. What a time it has been for Chichester City FC. The big win on the road in the FA Cup to get into the First Round Proper was good enough. But when the draw was unfolding, with no sign of ball number 71, City’s players, coaches and fans started to believe that the bye was theirs.
Captain Connor Cody told me ‘The longer the draw went on, the more nervous I got. We were just so excited to get a league team and even with 8 or 9 balls left, we didn’t even contemplate getting the bye.’
And then the unthinkable happened. Chichester City, the team I have supported and worked with for the past three years (leaving in May when I finished university), the lowest team still in the competition, got the free pass to the Second Round Proper.
The media attention since has been unbelievable, with the likes of Sky Sports and BBC making the club headline news, which was all surreal for the club and those who love it so dearly.
Cody explained ‘The media attention was a bit strange but it was fantastic to get the club out there and even put the city on the map, and the boys along with those who volunteer by helping out the club are there in front of the media now, just like they deserve to be.’
It has been a big three years for the club, with many ups and downs on the journey since I have followed the club. There were times when there were whispers of the club being in trouble just a few seasons back, but that seems a long time ago now with £36,000 coming in the clubs direction, albeit the club announcing some of that prize money will go towards Bury FC’s rebuild.
Andy Bell, Chichester City’s club chairmen told me ‘Myself and Wayne Dalton (the club secretary) were day dreaming about the bye on Sunday and we ended up realising that we were very near to be in the same position as Bury FC found themselves just 18 months ago.
There are also a lot of Portsmouth fans at the club and we have seen how it affected people locally. We decided then that we would like to do something if we were lucky enough to get the bye.’
This was a special moment in what was an extra-special few days for the club and has brought in plaudits from all in football.
Bell continued ‘The money is vital to us but we shouldn’t forget that there are thousands of fans that have lost the football club that they loved. They will probably start up at the level we have been for years. Every penny counts in that position.’
I remember in my first ever game at the club back in 2016. The spirit was the same. The people around the ground loved the club just as much as they do now. The players have changed a little, with Josh Clack and Scott Jones the only standout remainders, with Dan Heggarty, Ant Ender and Harry Williams also being in and around being fans favourites up to last season.
However, boy have they brought in some quality players since. Lorenzo Dolcetti was an absolute Maestro, Clack himself isn’t bad, albeit being absent for much of the second season, but boy he came back with a bang. Gicu Lordarche came in last season and changed the game, along with Kaleem Haitham. Old head Matt Axell controls that midfield week in, week out. That is just to name a few.
The way City played changed, in my opinion, in 2018/19 season. Whilst captain and character Jack Lee was a joy to watch down to his ‘shithousery’ tactics, bringing back Conor Cody, who is now captain, and transforming Ben Pashley into a ball playing centre-back did wonders.
All-in-all the club have been thriving for a season or two, and the standout point was winning the league last season. This FA Cup run is nothing more than they do deserve.
Coach Danny Potter has said ‘The club has come leaps and bounds the last two years. The first few seasons myself, Myles and Gee took time to settle in, see what squad we had to work with. We had made some early additions. I think the most significant season was last year when we won the league and we have kept the momentum going since then.
‘The FA Cup has highlighted how far we have come. It isn’t just on the pitch with the players but also off the pitch and additions we have made including Ian Worden who has brought in people like yourself and other Sports Media students from Chichester University. We now have photographers, quality physiotherapists, the right fitness coaches. So much has happened behind the scenes.’
As mentioned earlier, this may not have happened as the club were so close to go bust only 18 months ago.
Potter openly said ‘We have to thank Guy Rutherford for saving the club when we were going through a very difficult time where we lost the lease and very nearly went bust.’
Bell added to Potters comments by stating ‘The club is now set up in such a manner that the men’s sections only income is through gate money, fund raising and sponsorship. Promotion to Step 4 football has been an eye opener and we decided to push on and make the club sustainable at that level.’
This, firstly through Potters’ comments shows how bad things got for the club, and how bad it may have been still, with credit due to Guy Rutherford, who saved many people’s football club from going bust. Secondly, Bell’s comments show that the club have bounced back in the right way, and all involved, including Bell deserves a huge amount of praise for even getting the club in a position so they can play football, let alone have the FA Cup run they’re having.
Chi’s captain Cody added ‘The progression has been amazing since I signed really, a lot down to the players that have come in along the way. Dabba coming has been massive for us technically. For me being a local lad, going away for a while and seeing the club struggling and to come back and help us achieve what we are achieving at the moment, it is just incredible.
Bell continued by saying ‘We have worked hard over the last year to dig the club out of a massive hole. We have cleared the remaining debt, won back the lease and set the club on a sound financial footing.’
The FA Cup magic of the last few months will do wonders for the club, mentally and financially.
Potter told me ‘We have not only made history in the past few weeks for the club with the FA Cup run, we have won a lot of people over. It’s also a fact of how sustainable we can make this, how we can get more people supporting the club. Also, how we can get more volunteers involved.
When we look back, this will be a significant moment of putting Chichester on the map, both locally and regionally.’
Bell added ‘I am so happy for everyone that supports us, but especially the older fans who have been through the bad times. There were a few hidden tears at the draw on Monday.
I cant wait to see what happens in the next tie.’
Captain Conor Cody sums up the joy by stating ‘We all thought the feeling that we felt as players on Saturday, getting into the First Round Proper, couldn’t be topped. That feeling on Monday night after the draw, you can’t even describe it.’
Whatever happens from here, Chichester City have trumped everybody’s expectations as well has having shown the class that I knew they had, whilst displaying the fight to come from most probably the toughest time the club has had, to turning it around into the best time of their history in a matter of months. You must salute them.
On a personal note, watching people I know take notice of a club I love, be that back in Chichester, here in Jersey or even further afield, it is truly special.
I can only wish that they get the draw that they wish in the second round, and who knows, I may be there to catch up with some old faces, whilst hopefully seeing many more new faces enjoying football in the great city of Chichester.