History was made on Tuesday night. For the first time, Wrexham fans cheered a Chester goal!
What could make such a remarkable thing come to pass?
The short answer is that if both cross-border rivals won their FA Cup replays we’d clash in a barn-storming first round tie.
The long answer is considerably more nuanced.
When you get what you desire, it can mean you have to leave something behind. We’re enjoying a remarkably exciting period in our history, with remarkable owners committed to propelling us to new heights. Nobody would dream of changing that, but clearly we’d relish the thought of a clash with Chester.
At the risk of sounding over-confident, the clubs appear to be heading in opposite directions. Wrexham are aiming high, and have the resources to deliver the ambitious vision the owners have for the club. Crowds are phenomenal, the planned new Kop Stand is an exciting upgrade to the ground in all sorts of ways.
Chester, though, are toiling in the division below, as notorious a division to get out of as ours is. Their two cup ties against Oldham showed their potential: they very nearly knocked the National League side out, having matched them over two matches. The 2,000 fans who travelled to Boundary Park for the first match last weekend illustrated that the club can still rouse enthusiasm.
They’ve only beaten that figure in two home league matches this season, though, and one of those crowds was boosted by a good contingent of Hereford fans in the away end. To be fair, those attendance numbers are a decent showing in the National League North, especially considering how the season has gone so far.
However, that’s the other part of the problem. They’re currently on a 5-match winless run, although to be fair that includes their impressive efforts against Oldham, and started the season badly with 4 points won from the first 15.
They sit in 16th place, three points above the relegation zone, and as Wrexham experienced on Tuesday, at least one of the teams below them has the quality to raise itself to safety.
This is not intended as an exercise on gloating. All teams need rivalries and, while promotion to the EFL opens up the prospect of clashes with the likes of Shrewsbury and Tranmere, it’s just not the same.
Chester are our real rivals, and they are as big a part of our identity as we are of theirs. Hard as it is to admit it, we need them.
So that cheer on Tuesday, celebrating a spectacular goal by Kevin Roberts, a full back who slammed a beauty past us in a cross-border derby, then ended up playing two seasons for us without threatening the opposing net, was complex.
Obviously the prospect of first derby under the new ownership would be a massive occasion, and there’s no doubt what was in the forefront of fans’ minds. This would be a chance to unleash Paul Mullin and Ollie Palmer on Chester when they are at a low ebb and enjoy a comprehensive win which would ring down the ages. Set aside the fact that while the excitement rose, we were toiling to get past Blyth Spartans at the second attempt!
However, there was something deeper in the fans’ subconscious that fuelled their excitement. If we achieve our ambition and rise through the divisions, the prospects of facing Chester will be slim. The dream would come true, but we’d have to leave something important behind.
Of course, that epic first round tie is not going to happen. The media spent post-match gathered around a mobile phone in the press room, listening to commentary from the Deva Stadium as the Chester match went to penalties. Phil Parkinson turned up for his post-match interview, listened for a bit and then proposed he’d return when the drama had concluded.
Oldham prevailed and they’ll be visiting The Racecourse on Bonfire Night. It’s still a juicy tie, but not quite the inflammable match we might have experienced. The fans’ reaction to Chester going ahead on Tuesday showed that, however much we love to taunt our neighbours, our rivalry is an important part of what we are. Parting really is sweet sorrow.