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Ben Hayes - Charlton Athletic programme

When is a city a city?


Some clubs from relatively small towns have the name 'City' after their title, e.g., Ely City.   This is because they are the home to a cathedral, but the secular status of being a 'city' is quite different.   It has been recently granted to Brighton and Wolverhampton, for example.

I went to secondary school in Chelmsford, Essex and some of my friends went to New Writtle Street to see Chelmsford City play.   Chelmsford had a cathedral which looked like a parish church which is what it really was.  A new diocese had been carved out in response to population growth.   The secular status of 'city' was only granted in 2012.

In the 1960s and 1970s Chelmsford City were a major force in non-league football and there was talk of them breaking through into the Football League which was much more difficult in the days of re-election. The city had a number of major employers, having developed as a light engineering centre during the Second World War, of which Marconi was the best known.

Another friend of mine went to school in Chelmsford later than me and attended a technical school I went to the town's grammar school which then and now was an academic forcing house, although in my day I suspect that more of us came from modest backgrounds .  On the first day, my friend's class was told 'You guys are the lucky ones, you will end up in the drawing office at Marconi.'   That was a life changing event for him.  His response was essentially, 'I am not ending up there.'

Chelmsford has changed a lot.   Commuting into London has become much more important than it was fifty years ago when there were just steam trains.   It is now home to a university campus, built on the site on one of the demolished factories.   Anglia Ruskin University occupies most of the site of the Hoffman ball bearing company, which was actually a bigger employer than Marconi.

Chelmsford City left New Writtle Street in 1997 after the ground was sold for development.  After a period of exile in Billericay, they returned to the Melbourne Athletics Stadium in Chelmsford.  They got into the National League South with the help of millionaire Peter Webb who is no longer backing the club.  They have now secured big investment with a takeover from the Jade Global Group.

Their ambition, as is the case for many clubs, is to reach the Football League.   It's not easy with only one automatic promotion place from the National League and relegated Football League clubs trying to return, as Cheltenham did this year.

Chelmsford has a population of 120,000.   Adding in formerly independent villages like Galleywood (where I spent many happy hours with friends when I was at school), it comes to 168,000.   London's Premier League clubs are within easy reach and many of those who live in Chelmsford will have prior to allegiances to, say, Spurs or West Ham.  If they have a railway season ticket, they can use it on a Saturday.

My view is that Chelmsford could support a club at the top of the non-league pyramid.  Anything more could be a stretch, but I guess it's a case of 'watch this space'.