James Chester signed for Hull City in January 2011 and within half a game we knew we had a hell of a player on our hands.
Nigel Pearson bought Chester from Manchester United for £300,000 – an absolute snip. It was one of several signings made from United at the time and despite all of the players showing great promise - the results were mixed. Chester and Robbie Brady thrived, Corry Evans was under-appreciated and Cameron Stewart and Joe Dudgeon never recovered from injury problems.
Despite appearing small for a centre-half it was obvious that Chester was a “Rolls Royce” defender. A classy ball player. A sound reader of the game. Unflappable under pressure. And if all of that wasn’t enough to impress then bagging his first City goal against Leeds United won everyone over!
Pearson eventually paired Chester with Jack Hobbs at centre half (after Chester had a spell as a utility man) and they were an ideal Championship pairing. Between them they had pace, size, strength, agility, bravery and technical ability. Unfortunately “Nige” cleared off before we could see the completion of his team building but he’d started it from the back quite impressively.
When Steve Bruce replaced Nick Barmby, he achieved promotion and premier League survival but given that he’s never been able to solve the problem of our lack of goals, those achievements were built on a strong defence. Chester was clearly the best player in the team and Bruce’s favoured 3-5-2 suited him down to the ground.
Chester chose to represent Wales – being eligible because he likes cheese on toast or something – and he’s massively improved them too being part of a side that have leapt up to 10th in FIFA’s world rankings.
For all of his achievements at City, the name “James Chester” will always be synonymous with the 2014 FA Cup Final. Playing in the Cup Final for Hull City was probably beyond his wildest dreams but when he opened the scoring inside three minutes he achieved the boyhood ambition of every kid on the planet who has ever kicked a football. Just don’t mention the result.
Chester’s departure to West Brom doesn’t harm Hull City too much in the short term. In Michael Dawson, Alex Bruce, Curtis Davies and Harry Maguire - we still have four very good centre halves to call on.
However, if the club has any ambitions of ever getting back into the Premier league and establishing itself there – we’ve just lost a player who’ll be a very good top flight defender for at least the next five years. Given the constant inflating of talent in England, I’m not sure the club can buy another James Chester.
More than that, we've just lost the best defender I've ever seen in black and amber. Even better than Michael Turner. And that is praise indeed.