Keith Curle admits his brief spell as Chester manager was a case of ‘what could have been’ but is glad to see the club back on their feet.
Now in charge at Carlisle United, Curle oversaw nine months at the helm at the Deva Stadium following his appointment in summer 2005, and the Blues looked set to challenge for promotion to League One after a swashbuckling start to the campaign saw them climb to fourth in the table in December.
A famous 3-0 FA Cup victory over Nottingham Forest followed, but a dreadful run of 15 defeats in 17 matches soon cost Curle his job, sacked in February with the off-field turmoil contributing to his downfall.
“It’s a travesty what happened at Chester, I was there at a difficult time,” he said. “I had a decent relationship with Steven Vaughan, but things were happening at the football club that simply weren’t right. I also had a great relationship with Tony Allen, a really good person at the club.
“When I took over the club was just back in the Football League and the people running the club did want it to be successful.”
However, the former England international and Manchester City defender is convinced he could have made a success of his time at Chester under different circumstances.
“I wasn’t there long enough to make the impact or do the things I wanted to do at Chester. I know if I’d had more time and circumstances had been different I could’ve made a success of it,” he added.
“But it’s a fantastic club, the city is absolutely brilliant, I’ll always have a strong affinity with the place.
“The club folding has had a galvanising effect on the supporters and the people at the club and that’s great to see.
“If I’d been at the club at a different time, under different circumstances, I think I could’ve made things work, but it wasn’t to be and this is the way it goes in football.”
Chester have suffered relegation and liquidation since Curle was in charge, followed by reformation, three promotions and a dramatic let-off from returning to National League North.
But Curle now calls Cumbria home, having taken charge of Carlisle in 2014, transforming the north-west outfit from relegation strugglers to promotion contenders.
Carlisle narrowly missed out on promotion last season, losing out in heartbreaking fashion in the play-off semi-finals against Exeter City, but he remains confident the club can continue to build towards their ultimate goal of a return to League One.
“We’ve given a good account of ourselves, we’ve exceeded expectations in terms of where we’re meant to finish in terms of budget,” he continued.
“We’re on a mid-table budget but up until January we were looking at automatic promotion. We were playing great, free-flowing football, the fans were happy.
“We had to sell Charlie Wyke on January deadline day. We had four major injuries and if you take five key players out of any team then it’ll affect you.
“We made changes to try and start winning games again and we did that. We found a way to win, but obviously it didn’t end as we’d have liked in the play-offs.
“People say the aim for next season will be automatic promotion but our budget is being reduced as a result of not having a cup run or reaching the play-off final. Either of those would’ve been a big boost for the finances of the club. We will work with what we’ve got to play with, but the likes of Lincoln and Forest Green have big spending power, plus the teams coming down offer further competition.”
Cumbria was battered by torrential rain and high winds in December 2015, causing major flooding across the region with the Carlisle, Keswick, Kendal and Glenridding devastated by the effects.
“The floods were a terrible time for the people of the region,” added Curle, who witnessed the community rallying round in support for each other during that period of severe rainfall.
“Communities come together when things like that happen. It is similar in a way to Chester reforming, suddenly everyone is pulling in the same direction and nothing else seems to matter.
“There’s a unity now at Carlisle on and off the pitch which we’ve established over the past three seasons but that off-pitch unity definitely stems from the floods.
“When you’ve got thousands of fans clearing the ground ready to play Everton in the FA Cup, that’s what pulls people and towns together.”
See full story in the Chester Leader