Earlier this week, I sat down with Chester FC’s joint-manager, Anthony Johnson.
It was a frustrating end to the season for the Cheshire-based side who finished ninth in the Vanarama National League North during the 2018/19 campaign.
The Blues have already made several key signings ahead of the big kick-off on August 3rd as they make the trip up to Lincolnshire to take on Boston United.
And with the likes of James Jones making his return to the club on a season-long loan from Salford City, Anthony Jones following his release from Salford City, and Gary Roberts committing to the club for another year, it’s certainly going to be an exciting countdown to August.
On Saturday afternoon, Chester welcome Sky Bet Championship side Wigan Athletic to the Deva Stadium.
Johnson firstly reflected on what was a ‘frustrating’ end to the 2018/19 campaign:
“I think the overriding emotion would probably be frustration. In mid-November we could’ve gone top of the league, but drew away at York.
We then went into Christmas around six points off the top and in a great position. We then had a horrific run of injuries. At one stage we had four lads on the waiting list for knee operations alone.
The positive factor was that we were able to blood quite a number of our academy lads who gained valuable first team experience at a good standard of football.”
In terms of signings following the 2018/19 campaign, the club have secured the services of James Jones from Salford City on a season-long loan, and Anthony Dudley following his release from Salford. ‘Jonno’ was full of praise for both players:
“We actually sold JJ to Salford when we first came in. To be fair to James, he wanted full-time football, but we couldn’t offer him that so he went with our best wishes. Once we knew we could get him back on a season-long loan, it was a no brainer to bring him back.
Anthony is as talented as they come in non-league football, he’s a classy footballer but can also do the other side of the game too.”
In addition, Gary Roberts commited himself to the club for another year, and Johnson admits that the club are always on the lookout for fresh talent:
“Gary’s an unbelievable player for our level, he’s got himself into fantastic shape and is chomping at the bit to get going.
We’re always looking to improve in all areas of the squad. If the right player becomes available and he’s a realistic target then we’ll always try to strengthen.”
The squad returned to pre-season training this week, but Johnson concedes that it may have come a little early:
“If I’m being totally honest, it’s come a probably a week too soon. We’ve been back in now for two weeks and done nine sessions.
Asking the lads to jump into a game against a Championship club is a tough ask. We’ll probably look at playing two separate teams in each half which should at least mean we don’t get too fatigued, but it will certainly sharpen the lads brains with the way we expect Wigan to be zipping the ball around the pitch.”
For the supporters, it’s going to be great to see the players in action for the first time since May, and to see the brand new Chester FC home kit.
And ‘Jonno’ admits that plenty of game time is much needed ahead of the ‘big kick-off’:
“Game time. That’s the main thing for the lads, we know we’re not going to have lots of the ball so mentally, the lads are going to have to concentrate for long periods which will take a toll after not playing for so long. We’re excited about seeing the new boys but also the trialists who we have quite high hope for.”
Of course, both Johnson and Bernard Morley played their part in the success story at Salford City, Johnson reflects on the clubs success, but concedes that his long-term future lies with Chester Football Club:
“I was pleased to see people who were part of our journey carry on their own journey. We’re not bitter people and aren’t naive enough to think things always stay the same. They’re a big part of our past but for us everything is about Chester and the future.”
Johnson was quick to pay homage to the supporters following a frustrating campaign, and assures the fans that the hunger to succeed is stronger than ever:
“Every single person at the club whether it be supporters, players, directors etc are all desperate for some kind of success. Bernard and myself are as hungry as we’ve been in 10 years of management so we don’t even contemplate what failure might look like. Everything we did last season and everything we’ve done in the close season has been building towards this next season. We’ll be giving every second of every day (to the detriment of family life) to give the Chester fans what they want.”
Finally, Johnson spoke about the state of affairs at his childhood club Bury FC, following their off-the-field problems:
“Bury have been my team since I was five years-old when my Dad took me down to Gigg Lane. We’ve seen some tough times with relegations and administration in the past but what’s happening now feels like a systematic shut down of the club with no concerns for the people that work there or support it.
We can only hope that the creditors accept the offers made and the club can survive and find a way of looking to a positive future.”