Player Profile – Harry Smith

Former Chester player Harry Smith sadly passed away last month at the age of 89. While never establishing himself as a first team regular he managed 78 Football League appearances between 1953 and 1958 as well as more than 100 appearances for the Cheshire County League team. I interviewed Harry for the programme in the early 1990s and he had some wonderful stories of his footballing days which I thought worth reproducing here:

Harry Smith





“I first joined Chester as an amateur in 1944 straight after leaving school. I played 2 seasons at Chester before joining Liverpool where I stayed for 3 years until I joined the RAF. Although I remained on Liverpools’ books during this time I didn’t play any football and when I left the RAF I signed for Connahs Quay. Frank Brown, who was then manager at Chester, saw me play and asked if I would be interested in playing for the Reserves. This was in about 1950 and from then on I continued to play for Chester. As a player I played in virtually every position at Chester, if someone got injured they would play me as a utility player. I liked wing half best of all but mostly I played as an inside left.” 

“It was only when I lost the chance of an amateur International cap that I signed as a part-time professional in 1955. I didn’t really want to become professional at all because as far as I was concerned the game was there to be enjoyed rather than to make money out of. In fact when I was an amateur I often used to play for local teams like Kelsall in mid-week cup competitions because I enjoyed playing so much. My other job was a milkman and I used to deliver the milk in the morning then do some training and on some occasions used to work on the ground in the afternoon. I used to cut the grass, mark the pitch and do repairs and painting with the groundsman, Tommy Gardner. I always stayed as a part-time professional like Tommy Astbury and Dave McNeil because it was difficult to make a living otherwise.”

“There were no particular matches that stand out for me because every match was a highlight. Being a local lad just playing for the town team was special because you were the envy of all your old schoolmates. Having said that beating Wrexham was always a bit special. Of the goals I scored I remember a controversial goal against Mansfield which was either offside or an infringement. The Mansfield wing half threatened to knock my head off afterwarsds, mind you there used to be a lot of intimidation like that in those days.”

“I left Chester at the end of the 1957/58 season to set up my own milk business and was awarded a Testimonial game in May 1958. Towards the end it had proved difficult being a part-time professional because I would like to know in midweek whether I was going to be in the team on Saturday. However John Harris was not in a position to guarantee me a first team place so I stepped down to the Welsh League. I played for Flint at first and from there went to Pwllheli where I stayed for a further two years. Like many other players I finished my career at Chester Nomads.”





“I remember the Austrian National team coming to train at Chester before an International at Wrexham against Wales. I was amazed at their training techniques. At Chester we used to have a really tough training routine, it was all track based and there was very little work on the ball. When the Austrians came they lined up with a ball each and practised their skills. In comparison we used to work non-stop for an hour then be given one ball between us. The training was so hard that we were exhausted by the time Saturday came around. It was very enlightening to see the Austrians train.”

“It was very rare in those days for a match to be called off and we used to play in all weather and alter our boots to suit the conditions. In the old days studs used to be built up of little segments of leather. If you wanted a long stud you used to add segments, conversely if you wanted a short stud you would remove them. If the weather was icy many players would remove the segments but leave the nails sticking out and file them to a point so that they could get a better grip of the surface. Of course they didn’t have regular boot checks before the start of the game in the 1950s.”

“One winter we travelled up to Accrington Stanley for an away game and it was snowing like mad. When we arrived the snow must have been about six inches deep on the pitch but both managers agreed the game should be played. Accrington had a really open ground and it was bitterly cold, some of the players wore gloves and one or two even had scarves on underneath their shirts. While the game was going on the groundstaff were actually clearing the pitch because the markings were being obliterated by the snow. During the second half one player, Ray Griffiths, got so cold that he just stood in the centre circle while the ball whizzed past him. When we went over to him he could hardly talk and he was taken to the dressing rooms. We were about to throw him in the bath to thaw him out when the doctor came in and told us that the shock would probably kill him. It took over an hour to get the circulation going again.”

Player Profile – Willis Bentley

I was contacted a few months ago by Nick King who was looking for information on his great-great grandfather Willis Bentley as part of his family history research. Willis briefly played for Chester during the 1891/92 season, the club’s second season in the Combination League, when they were based in Faulkner Street. Between us we managed to piece together some information on his time playing for the club and Nick has put together this interesting biography with input from me in the Chester section.

WILLIS BENTLEY (1860-1916)

Willis Bentley was born in Sheffield in 1860, and played mainly as an amateur back / half back for major teams for ten years between 1882 and 1892.  He also played cricket in the summer months, mainly for his employers’ teams.

Willis lived in the northern industrial and terraced housing area of Sheffield all his life, and local sporting pages indicate that he started playing football as a teenager.  

In the period 1878 to 1882, he played for local teams Walkley FC, founded by his father in the 1850s, and Owlerton FC.  On the 1881 census he was a steel worker.

In 1882, Willis registered as a player for Sheffield Wednesday FC.  He played several games for them commencing January 1883 with an F A Cup match against Nottingham Forest, with a brief pause from November of the same year when he fractured his skull during a regional match between Sheffield and Birmingham at Aston, Warwickshire.  His final game for Wednesday was in 1885, with a letter in a local paper mentioning his health, and his registration formally ended in 1889.  

Willis got married in 1887 and newspaper reports indicate that he played for Owlerton between the years 1886 to 1888.  Around 1889, Willis found work as a (physical exercise) attendant at the Wadsley Asylum and formed a works team.  Soon after, he played a single match as goalkeeper for Sheffield United FC in their founding 1889/90 season. 

Whilst still employed by the Asylum, Willis joined Gainsborough Trinity for their 1890/91 season, in which they won the Lincolnshire Cup and Midland League medals.  Unlike his service with previous teams, this presumably involved considerable travel on trains.

Willis started 1891 playing for Trinity but, for unknown reasons, moved to Chester where he  participated in a trial match at the start of September. The match attracted a lot of local interest and Willis, who played as a forward, was picked out for his performance although the Cheshire Observer reported that he received little help from Newton, one of the other forwards.

He made his Chester debut in the second Combination fixture of the season, a home game against Denton at Faulkner Street which finished 3-3. In the next game against Stoke Swifts a “fearfully disorganised” Chester were heavily beaten 9-1. However Willis seems to have come out of the game with his reputation intact with the report stating that his play had greatly improved and that he promises to develop into a good back. He was again complemented on his performance in the friendly against Halliwell where it was mentioned that the club had finally secured his services.

After playing in both the league game and FA Cup tie at home to Wrexham he missed the league game against Everton Reserves through injury but returned for his final game, against Macclesfield in November. By the end of December Willis had returned to Gainsborough Trinity where he remained for a few more months.

After ‘retirement’ from playing, sometime after 1892, Willis coached junior teams and playing cricket for Neepsend Gas Works.  From the late 1890s on, Willis worked as a gas stoker alongside celebrated Wednesday player Billy Betts, who had been active with the team at the same time as Willis.    

Willis died from pneumonia in 1916.  He had four children, but only one survived infancy.

Further Reading

‘Sheffield Wednesday FC: The Official History 1867-2017’ by Jason Dickinson (ISBN: 9781445619538)

“The Origins of Sheffield Wednesday” by Jason Dickinson (ISBN: 1445619709)

‘The Men Who Made Sheffield Wednesday FC’ 2007 by Tony Matthews (ISBN: 9780752441566)

‘Trinity Champions’ by Andrew Stothard. 

‘On the Borderline: Official History of Chester City F.C.’ 1st Edition by Chas Sumner (ISBN: 9781874427520)

Photo Feature 3 – Half-time Scoreboard

This photo was taken in August 1949 and features Ted Elliott in pre-season training. The Carlisle born goalkeeper joined Chester from Wolves in October 1948 and played 59 league games for the club before moving to Halifax Town in November 1950 after losing his place to Harry Threadgold.

It is the background of this photograph which is probably of more interest as it features a great view of the Kop which is not normally seen from this angle. The most obvious feature is the half-time scoreboard at the back of the terrace. I believe the scoreboard was first erected around 1933 as the key to the games featured in programmes for the 1933/34 season. It is visible in one of the photos from the late 1930s that features in my Images of Sport book.

Interestingly the scoreboard seems to have disappeared by the time of the 1952 FA Cup tie against Chelsea and photos from the mid-1950s confirm that it had been removed. However it looks like it was replaced at a later date further to the right of the goal with a different framework. It is still visible in photos as late as the 1971/72 season but I personally don’t remember it being there for the 1974/75 promotion season. In later years I remember there being a half-time scoreboard along the wall of the Popular Side by the Kop and there was also one at the corner of old wooden main stand by the Sealand Road End which is visible in photos from the late 1950s and 1960s.

Ted Elliott – Chester Chronicle Image

In addition to the scoreboard the white circle in the centre of the goal was put there for shooting practice while it is surprising to see how overgrown the Kop was at this time. It is reminiscent of how the terrace looked in the late 1980s.

If anyone else has any more background information concerning the half-time scoreboard and other aspects of the Kop I would be interested to hear from them as I would like to expand on this article with a few more pictures if possible.

Copyright ©  Chas Sumner http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com All Rights Reserved

Photo Feature 2 – Pre-season 1969/70

These photographs were taken at the start of the 1969/70 season as Chester prepared for their 12th season in Division 4. As the longest serving member of the league, alongside Aldershot, there was the usual degree of optimism that this would be Chester’s year as Ken Roberts’ started his second full campaign in charge. Roberts had gradually transformed the side and only four players, Terry Carling, Barry Ashworth, Mike Sutton and Graham Turner remained from when he had been appointed manager in February 1968. It was also the second season of the all sky blue kit which gave a fresh look to the team, evident from the pictures.

Although Roberts had been unable to prevent another application for re-election in 1967/68 there had been an improvement the following year with a 14th placed finish and this continued into the 1969/70 season as Chester ended the campaign in a comfortable 11th position. However it was cup competitions where the team excelled and they reached the 4th Round of the FA Cup for the first time since 1948 after victories over Third Division Halifax Town and Doncaster Rovers followed by Second Division Bristol City. The run was halted when an injury ridden team was beaten 4-2 at Swindon Town. Meanwhile there was another appearance in the Welsh Cup Final where they were beaten by Cardiff City over two games.

The first photograph shows captain Cliff Sear emerging from the tunnel of the old wooden stand followed by Terry Carling, Roy Chapman and Mike Sutton. Sear, a former Wales international and Manchester City full back, had signed the previous season and went on to have a long association with the club that continued until 1987. As well as a reluctant spell as manager at the start of the 1982/83 campaign he had two spells as caretaker manager but will be best remembered for his work with the youth team which included the development of Ian Rush.

Ken Roberts, Terry Bradbury, Albert Harley, Roy Chapman, Keith Webber – Chester Chronicle photograph

In the second photograph Ken Roberts is shown welcoming his four new signings to Sealand Road. Terry Bradbury, a former England schoolboy international, joined from Wrexham while Albert Harley was a local lad who had previously been with Stockport County. The experienced 35 year old Roy Chapman had made his Football League debut with First Division Aston Villa as long ago as 1953 and scored nearly 200 league goals. His Chester career started with a brace in a 3-2 win over Scunthorpe United but by October he had moved on to become player-manager at Stafford Rangers. The fourth player, Keith Webber, also features in the picture below and was bought from Doncaster Rovers.

Keith Webber – Chester Chronicle photograph

The Cardiff born inside forward had started his career with Barry Town before signing for Everton where he made a goalscoring debut in a 3-1 League Cup win over Walsall. A stocky player, he managed only four First Division appearances at Goodison Park before moving to Brighton in 1963, where his exceptional pace proved an asset. A spell with Wrexham was followed by a move to Doncaster in 1966 and after coming to Sealand Road he managed 14 goals in 74 Football League games as well as scoring one of the goals in the 2-1 giant-killing of Bristol City. In 1971 he joined Stockport County and also played non-league football for Morecambe, Northwich Victoria, Oswestry Town and Rhyl. He was later licensee at the Grosvenor Arms in Handbridge but sadly died of a heart attack in September 1983 at the early age of 40.

Back Row – Vince Pritchard (trainer), Mike Sutton, Keith Webber, Derek Draper, Terry Carling, Billy Dearden, Andy Provan, Albert Harley
Middle Row – Miss Elaine Clover, Eric Brodie, Terry Bradbury, Graham Turner, Roy Cheetham, Roy Chapman, Cliff Sear, Barry Ashworth, Stan Gandy (secretary)
Seated – Mr K M Jones, Mr J H Auckland, Mr A E Cheshire, Ken Roberts (manager), Mr M W Horne, Mr R A Rowley, Dr M Swallow
Front – Neil Griffiths, Alan Davies, Alan Caughter, Nigel Edwards

Copyright ©  Chas Sumner http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com All Rights Reserved

Photo Feature 1 – Harry McNally August 1991

Chester started their second season at the Moss Rose in Macclesfield with a home game against Fulham. The Blues gave debuts to veteran goalkeeper Barry Siddall and former Manchester United and Scotland defender Arthur Albiston but the big news was the return of Stuart Rimmer who rejoined the club from Barnsley for a record £94,000. The signing was a major boost for supporters who were growing increasingly despondent about the lack of progress on the new ground and Rimmer received a rapturous reception.

Although the returning hero failed to get on the scoresheet Chester won the game 2-0 with goals from Chris Lightfoot and Gary Bennett.

The Chester Chronicle photograph shows Harry McNally walking off the pitch at the end of the game receiving some advice from a supporter. Out of interest does anyone know the identity of the supporter?

Behind, and to the right of the manager, is the legendary Barry Butler who had been substituted earlier in the game. The utility man played in every position for the club, including replacement goalkeeper, and his conversion to a centre forward in the second half of the season went a long way to saving City from relegation.

Further in the background is the old Moss Rose pub which has now been demolished and to the right is the temporary portakabin that was used as a police control centre.

Copyright ©  Chas Sumner http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com All Rights Reserved