If you didn’t know any better and had heard tales of Wrexham and Chester’s cross-border derby, then you’d be forgiven for thinking it was one of Europe’s fiercest derbies, up there with the Rome derby of Lazio versus Roma or CSKA v Spartak in Moscow. It does come with the reputation that we probably shouldn’t be living so close to one another in case all-out war broke out!
Speaking with fans on both sides of the divide, their main issue with the derby day travel restrictions is the blanket approach to dealing with a minority risk element, and the suggestion that opposing fans as a whole aren’t safe to be around one another.
Well there’s a group of fans who are currently trying to change that opinion in exemplary fashion. In fact there’s a whole league of them. The IFA (Internet Fans Association) is a league that’s been set up with the aim of building bridges between fans of rival teams, by playing each other before 3pm fixtures wherever possible.
It was off the back of this that last season something very positive happened at the Swansway StadiumChester. Between two sets of fans who by rights shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near each other. With no travel restrictions or helicopters, Chester played Wrexham, or at least their fans teams did.
Wrexham FFC took up an invite to play in a charity match versus Chester SFC, with all proceeds from the day going towards The Hospice of the Good Shepherd, Chester. Players made individual donations of £20 to take part, whilst the healthy crowd of unsegregated spectators were asked to make an entrance donation.
Wrexham player Dan Sear said; “The game and the day as a whole was all in great spirit. The game was a hard fought contest with strong tackles coming in from both sides and some great overall play.”
Josh Leach scored a late winner for the men in red and secured a one nil victory for Wrexham in a close game, but when asked, Chester player Andy Holliday appeared to have selective memory of the game, and who could blame him?
“I don’t recall the result to be honest… No in all fairness both teams turned up with the right mind-set and enjoyed playing in a professional stadium (cue jokes). The day was all about raising money for the hospice, and between us we raised over £800 which is a fantastic achievement.
The hospice is very important for me and other members of the team who have had relatives cared for there. I know of Nightingale House through working in Wrexham and I would support any Wrexham initiative for that charity. I think a game at the Racecourse for Nightingale House would be fantastic, and a chance for us to get some revenge by beating them on their home turf, whilst raising money for another worthy cause.”
Caring for more than 1,500 people from Chester, Deeside and Cheshire every year, the Hospice of the Good Shepherd helps to improve the quality of life for those living with any incurable illness and gives support to families, friends and carers. To provide free care, they need to raise more than £6,800 every day, which is an indication of just how vital the fundraising efforts of these kind hearted lads are to the charity.
The final whistle was met with loud cheers from the travelling team, followed by handshakes all round as the two sets of players walked off the pitch together and made for the bar, and there they stayed until staff wanted to close.
Andy added, “Whilst there was some degree of post-match crowing from the Wrexham players, it was all in good fun. On the way out the Wrexham lads emptied their loose change into a hospice collection bucket, which was a great gesture.
“I’ve worked in Wrexham for nearly ten years and I have always enjoyed the banter with the Wrexham fans I work with (especially recently!) I would rather chat to a Wrexham fan or would rather see a Wrexham fan walking around town than someone in a Premiership shirt. Lower league football is special, you go abroad and say to people you follow a team in the 5th tier and that you get 2-3,000 fans turning up, and they are bemused. It’s a very special thing we have and I would love to see more people getting through the turnstiles at both ends of the A483.”
When asked his thoughts on Chester and the derby, Wrexham fans player Jack Scott summed it up nicely.
“There was a time when I was 14/15 yearsold that everything was anti-Chester. Everything was quite aggressive towards them in my mind-set, but that’s changed as I’ve grown up. Of course I don’t want them to do well in the league; of course I laughed and cheered when I thought they were relegated last season. But I understand the limits that a rivalry should go to. There is a need for the rivalry; it makes the fixtures so much more special. We hurt, we gloat, we have an immense sense of pride in the team we support and the colours we wear.
“However the boundaries are being pushed far beyond their limits of late, and despite what some people think, there are more important things in life than football. It’s the work that charities such as the Hospice of the Good Shepherd and Nightingale House do that really helps to put that into perspective.”
A point well worth remembering when the two sides meet again Saturday 7th March.