The Clarets are often regarded as one of the largest teams in Non-League football. But why is this the case when it is so clearly false?
It first came to my attention when I was on a coach home from an away game. The Chelmsford Directors and boss Rod Stringer were in deep discussion about how the Club is a “sleeping giant yet to be awoken.”
The Club has not played outside the Non-League pyramid. It has often been subject to financial strain. It regularly has to compete for supporters from West Ham United, Colchester and Southend.
So, why is it that football fans see Chelmsford City as a giant of non-league football?
The growth of the City
Since becoming a City in 2012, Chelmsford’s population has grown at a rapid extent. The city’s population breached the 100,000 landmark in 2011 and that figure is only going to increase.
Therefore, the potential for Chelmsford to have a large fan base are certain. However, the main factor limiting this is the Clarets’ home ground, the Melbourne Community Stadium.
Very rarely will an athletics centre double up as a successful football ground. West Ham struggled upon their move to the Olympic Stadium, whilst my visit to Gateshead last season saw how they are struggling too.
With the running track keeping supporters at least 12m away from the pitch, building an atmosphere is a troublesome task. Thus being a large factor that often stops football fans from following Chelmsford.
The potential for a large fanbase is clear though. Around 1,300 City supporters (myself included) made the trip from Essex to Wycombe Wanderers in the 2010/11 FA Cup. Another strong following headed to Crawley Town in 2012 and to last season’s Essex Senior Cup final against Billericay Town.
The main stumbling block to Chelmsford City’s desire to have a new stadium is clearly finances. With land also at a premium around the City, the Club would be forced to relocate to the boundaries of the City and potentially lose supporters as a result of troublesome travel connections.
Betsi’s takeover of the Club continues to slowly tick over and whilst they may boost the Club’s coffers, it would be naive to think that they will immediately throw money in the Club’s direction as though there was no tomorrow.
They will more likely start slowly by making a few subtle changes rather than take drastic action.
New chairman Steve Shore has admitted that a new ground would help the Club’s progression, however the current facilities are of a high enough standard to compete in the league above. He also suggested that a new ground is on the cards but it is more of a long-term aim rather than a short-term prospect.
The National League has become a much greater competitive league with the recent influx of now former Football League sides. The arrival of Leyton Orient was by no means a shock but now the division features the likes of Wrexham, Hartlepool, Barnet, Chesterfield and Dagenham Redbridge alongside Orient.
Along with this, their average attendances have remained far ahead of City’s. The Clarets have regularly flirted around the 1000 mark over the past few years, however, that would see City with the fourth-lowest average attendance in last season’s tables.
This comparison proves that City are by no means a ‘big club’ in terms of Non League. This may change in the future but not currently.
So, perhaps it’s because of the potential that the Club has. It will be an interesting few months as the Betsi takeover heads towards its conclusion. Perhaps we should take a step back, acknowledge that the past few seasons have been progressively successful, stop making our ambitions too unrealistic. We may be a large club in regards to the National League South, but we are not yet a Non-League ‘big boy’.