The sad passing of Ray Crofts marks the end of an era.
Following in the footsteps of former chairman like Harry Mansley and Reg Rowlands he was the last of the principled local men to hold the position. A true gentleman who always had the interests of Chester City at heart he had been a supporter since the 1950s and, as chairman at the start of the 1990s, had the onerous task of guiding the club through the traumatic two seasons at Macclesfield as well as overseeing the building of the Deva Stadium and subsequent return to the city.
Ray was a successful local businessman when he was asked to join the board in 1980 where he initially served under Reg Rowlands. In 1989 he became a reluctant chairman when Eric Barnes, who had taken over the club in 1982, sold the Sealand Road ground and his majority shareholding to Scottish construction firm Morrison Shand. With the club having no option but to vacate the ground at the end of the 1989/90 season Ray had the immense task of leading the search for a temporary home as well as overseeing the return to a new ground in the city. A trusted figure with the supporters he held talks with a host of local clubs including Tranmere, Crewe and Wrexham before a deal was struck with Macclesfield Town. A familiar figure during the years in exile he always had time for the fans who made the long round-trip across Cheshire.
As chairman Ray formed a strong bond with manager Harry McNally who he had been first to welcome to the club in 1985. His decision to stand by the maverick manager after a well-publicised drunken incident at a Christmas party was vindicated when McNally kept the club in the third tier against all the odds. He also rubber-stamped the deal to bring Stuart Rimmer back to the club for a club record fee of £94,000 in 1991.
The return to the city was a personal triumph but Ray was forced to step down from the club in November 1993 due to ill-heath. His departure changed the face of the club forever as a string of wayward owners dragged the club deeper into the mire culminating in the club folding in 2010. There is no doubt that if the club been able to remain under the capable guidance of such a loyal supporter then much of the damage inflicted on the club could have been avoided and Chester City may have remained in existence.
Former defender Graham Abel said: “Ray was a real gentleman who always treated the lads very well. He had the club at heart and it was a big shock to hear the sad news.”
Club president Barrie Hipkiss added: “ I was chairman of the supporters Club and worked with Ray in the office and he always had the club at heart. He was very popular with the fans and worked hard and tirelessly for them. If he hadn’t done what he did then the club would not have survived.”
The club send out their condolences to his family and friends.