BY JOE ROBINSON
Perhaps one of the most vociferous rivalries outside of the top flight; Wales meets England, working class against ‘posh’. It’s Wrexham versus Chester and not one for the faint hearted…
‘Welcome to Hell’ was the message once hung from a bridge to greet Chester fans as they made their way towards Wrexham. But make no mistake, this wasn’t said tongue-in-cheek or in jest of Turkish football hooligans, the needle between these two clubs is sharper than most. In truth, the only thing Chester and Wrexham fans agree on is how much they despise the other’s club.
It’s a fixture played far from the dazzling lights of the Premier League; both Chester and Wrexham find themselves in England’s fifth tier.
But Wrexham aren’t English, in fact they’re decidedly anti-Saint George, and it is nationalism which makes this game like few others.
They attract a larger supporter base than their counterparts, despite having a population half the size. This is because they’re widely seen as the club representing North Wales. Fans from the surrounding areas and across neighbouring Flintshire bequeath Wrexham with a strong following.
Chester lies just over the frontier in England, their ground amazingly sitting literally on the border between both countries.
Patriotism, therefore, plays a central role in the pair’s undying hatred for one another, and it’s a fixture where taunts of both nations’ heritage are commonplace.
Residents of Chester will be well accustomed with the anachronistic law which once declared that a Welshman can be shot with a crossbow if he dares enter the walls of the city after sunset.
There’s also City Hall’s clock, of which there’s no side facing Wales, as the English literally don’t give their friends from across the border the time of day.
While Wrexham’s historic dislike of Chester more than encompasses nationalism, it also moves beyond.
It’s a town whose industry was crippled by Thatcherism. Home to one of the most deprived areas in Wales in the form of the Caia Park, formerly known as Queens Park, estate, the people of Wrexham are proud of their ‘working class’ image.
But they need only to look up the road to Chester to see an area of genuine attraction and affluence, despite the Lache and Blacon estates being as disadvantaged as parts of Wrexham.
Football has a way of channelling inner-feelings of resentment and Chester FC have become the focus of the indignation surrounding the population of Wrexham.
Sadly, the severe nature of the rivalry has provided an inevitable base for the uglier side of football. Violence has been rife both in and outside of their respective grounds since hooliganism spiralled out of control in the 1970s.
In 2014, North Wales Police infamously claimed that Chester versus Wrexham has a ‘greater hooligan risk than the Manchester derby’.
In an attempt to quell the trouble, the police have, until this season, made it the only ‘bubble match’ outside of the Football League. This has meant that if Chester are playing away to Wrexham, for example, their fans have been required to pick their tickets up at the Deva Stadium (Chester’s ground), and then travel in a strict convoy of coaches to Wrexham.
While this has had the desired effect in reducing levels of violence, it’s been in conjuncture with a spate of more sinister incidents involving the use of banners and chants inside the two grounds on derby-day.
In 2013, a small minority of Wrexham supporters unveiled sickening placards which spoke of ‘two dead fans, one dead club’. The former referencing recently deceased Chester fans and the club being Chester City, who were liquidated in 2010 but rose from the ashes as Chester FC. Another read ‘come join Lunty in hell’, mocking 21-year-old Danny Lunt, a follower of Chester who’d tragically taken his own life.
A year later, a handful of Chester fans interrupted a minute’s silence commemorating the victims of the Gresford Colliery disaster, one of Britain’s most devastating mining catastrophes, with cries of ‘Scotty’s in a box’. Heinous chants alluding to Scott Torrens, a young Wrexham fan and talented chef who’d recently died after suffering a seizure.
The two clubs have come out in condemnation of such incidents, but football has the unfortunate knack of attracting some of society's less desirable elements, meaning such denunciations often fall on deaf ears.
While it’s difficult to imagine the pain the families of Lunt and Torrens would have felt after such incidents, derbies remain arguably one of the best aspects of football. They may get hijacked by idiots, but can still provide mediocre seasons with a spark, a cup-final of sorts to which both clubs can look forward to. You can finish 17th in the league for the fifth season running, but winning both derby matches provides a sense of genuine achievement.
This is what makes British football so special, in the fact that matches in the fifth tier can still produce the same tribalism and meaning to a game involving Manchester United and Liverpool.
Chester travel to Wrexham this Saturday for another cross-border derby and we expect to see the same levels of passion and patriotism that make this fixture special.
But let’s hope the only line being crossed is that marking the England-Wales border.