Manchester’s Unsung Heroes: One man’s valiant efforts to build Cheadle Town Football Club

By Chris Bailey

When a teenager armed with a football rapped on his door more than a half-century ago, little did Chris Davies know he would go on to make the commitment of a lifetime.

Barrie Dean – a 14-year-old hailing from Chris’s street, Grasmere Avenue – asked for help setting up a youth team.

What came next makes Roy of the Rovers look like the Renford Rejects.

A total of 34 foreign tours to play 96 games in 30 countries, participating in front of 312,000 people having travelled 200,000 miles – the numbers are staggering. And so they should be to back the club’s plausible claim that Cheadle Town are the world’s most travelled amateur football team.

And however modest Chris is, their success is all down to him. As chairman, not for one minute during his 52 years nurturing the club has he tired of knitting together a whole community.

“It was just a hobby and something you try and do away from your normal workplace,” he says, looking out towards Park Road stadium from the confines of his office.

“I found that work-wise I was very involved at the time, working late at night, so it was something different.

“But I had no idea I’d end up here today. Somebody asked me to form a football team and I thought I’d see how it goes, then it just gradually took over my life.”

Cheadle lie in the North West Counties Football League Division One – a hugely respectable achievement considering many rivals dish out wages just to stay at the level.

However, Chris believes his greatest achievement is giving normal, football-loving people a chance to play in some of the world’s most exotic lands.

Under the touring name Manchester AFC – a more recognisable name in foreign climes – Cheadle have played in far-flung lands such as Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, Haiti and China.

It’s not as if they’ve played pub-standard competition, either.

Barcelona’s youth team, Mexican giants Cruz Azul and no fewer than seven national football teams are just some of the sides who have had the honour of competing against the travelling troupe.

They are also the only British team to have ever played in Cuba, in front of 25,000 fans, but even that was topped by the 65,000-strong horde at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico.

World-renowned figures such as Jairzinho, Indian president Rajiv Gandhi and great train robber Ronnie Biggs have all met Cheadle on their adventures.

The club were even given a helping hand by none other than Bobby Charlton.

“We’d use a travel agent in Altrincham and Bobby Charlton was one of the directors there,” Chris says.

“So I knew Bobby well, and he used to give me advice on where to go, telling me ‘it’d be great to go there, you must try’ so his influence was huge.” 

And as Chris looks back at so many resounding memories, he believes all the time, effort and money has truly been justified – dismissing any idea of a peaceful retirement.

“It’s been dramatic,” he smiles. “You can look back and the tours have probably been the highlight.

“So much happened and we met so many people and they’ve been the most outstanding achievement.

“I’m 72 now, but it keeps you young! I’m a very active person and keep going – you can’t just sit back, that’s not what I’m about.

“You have to understand football – for people who work every day it may be the thing they most enjoy on a Saturday or Sunday – it’s about trying to give pleasure to people.

“I think I can feel pride – there’s been many problems and issues which have gone wrong.

“But it makes you think ‘how may my life have gone otherwise’ if I hadn’t been here?  What would I have been doing – you could go on forever thinking that.”

Today, Cheadle are facing a different challenge. After taking over the lease to Park Road – once Manchester City’s training ground – in 1982, the financial worries which come with a stadium has meant Chris has slowly had to dedicate more time to keeping the club afloat than thinking about tours.

The club turned 50 in 2011, and for the best chance of it reaching its centenary, grand plans are being drawn up to expand its influence far beyond football.

“The facilities here are getting fairly old now,” Chris admits. “Next door we have a clubhouse but these offices are only portacabins, effectively.

“Weather-wise they’re falling down on us – we’re looking to improve not just for football, but for people in the community to come here for the facilities we want to offer.

“We want it to be a hub. At the moment we are looking into a modular building – which would be better, stronger and everything else.

“We’re hoping to be able to convert that into a function room, perhaps a nursery which could be a good idea.

“The plan is to get young people here – as young as we can – to come here and enjoy their football.”

Club secretary Brian Lindon has witnessed only a fraction of Chris’s work, but he is best-placed to testify how tirelessly committed he is to the cause.

Pumping his own money into the club, juggling bills, admitting to staying awake at night dreaming up of projects – Chris has confided to him all.

“Chris is one of nature’s gentlemen,” says Brian. “I have only met a few in my lifetime who are arguably too nice for their own good.

“But at his age he greets each win like a 20-year-old and keeps smiling and puts us to shame with his seemingly boundless enthusiasm.

“Many people would have called it a day long ago but not Chris and eventually he is going to have to step down.

“Cheadle Town will face the same problem his beloved Manchester United are going to have in replacing Sir Alex.”

Whether or not Chris stays for another year or ten, his legacy will leave an indelible mark on the players, fans and teams he has visited.

Now the battle is on to ensure he can continue inspiring a community for generations to come.

Check back later this week for a full and detailed account of Cheadle Town Football Club’s storied history.

Images courtesy of Chris Davies, via The Cheadle Town Story, with thanks.

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