John Sainty, who has sadly passed away at the age of 77, served Chester as manager for 12 months between November 1982 and November 1983. When John was appointed he was faced with the unenviable task of managing a club at one of its lowest ebbs as severe financial constraints affected many decisions. In many weeks he had to rely heavily on non-contract players in order to field a team but he did mastermind two notable victories. In the Milk Cup, in 1983/84, the Seals overcame a 3-0 first round first leg deficit against Bolton Wanderers with an impressive 3-0 triumph at Sealand Road to go through on penalties and this was followed, in the second round, by a first leg 1-0 win over second tier Leeds United at Elland Road with a goal from Andy Elliott.
John started his footballing career as an apprentice at Tottenham Hotspur before going on to play in the Football League with Reading, Bournemouth, Mansfield and Aldershot. After serving on the coaching staff at Norwich he moved with John Bond to become assistant at Manchester City and Burnley before replacing Cliff Sear at Sealand Road. Initially appointed as ‘caretaker coach’ for a six week period this role was extended until Easter when he was finally confirmed as manager. Chester finished the season in 13th place, a respectable achievement given the financial economies which had seen John lose two members of his coaching staff, Jim Walker and Vince Prichard.
For the 1983/84 season the newly renamed Chester City faced even deeper financial problems and after losing leading scorer John Thomas to Lincoln John also had to contend with an even lower budget as the wage bill was slashed in half. Although he did bring in future Welsh international Andy Holden it was a measure of how difficult the situation was by the fact that two players, Paul Raynor and Trevor Phillips, rejoined the club after being released when Chester had been relegated in 1982.
A season of struggle was inevitable and with only one league John was relieved of his duties with Chester bottom of Division Four.
John went on to serve Glossop North End and Mossley as a manager before serving as assistant manager at Stockport County and then moving back down south to become Academy Director at Southampton and managing Lymington & New Milton and Bemerton Heath Harlequins in the Wessex League.
A recent request for a list of Chester’s highest attendances prompted me to look through the records and expand the search to find the top 20. I thought the results might provide interesting reading:
1 – 20,378 Chelsea FA Cup 3rd Round replay 18/01/52 L 2-3
2= 19,000 Leeds United League Cup 4th Round 13/11/74 W 3-0
2= 19,000 Newcastle United League Cup 5th Round 18/12/74 W 1-0
2= 19,000 Aston Villa League Cup Semi-Final 22/01/75 D 2-2
5 – 18,816 Sheffield Wednesday FA Cup 4th Round replay 25/01/39 D 1-1
6 – 18,706 Stoke City FA Cup 4th Round 25/01/47 D 0-0
7 – 18,251 Newcastle United FA Cup 3rd Round 22/01/66 L 1-3
8 – 18,004 Wrexham Division 3 North 29/08/36 W 4-1
9 – 18,000 Plymouth Argyle FA Cup 3rd Round 11/01/47 W 2-0
10 – 16,835 Wrexham Division 3 North 04/02/33 L 0-3
11 – 16,375 Tranmere Rovers Division 3 North 28/03/36 D 1-1
12 – 16,283 Wigan Athletic FA Cup 2nd Round 04/12/65 W 2-1
13 – 16,160 Wrexham Division 3 North 28/02/48 W 4-1
14 – 15,882 Derby County FA Cup 3rd Round 02/01/71 L 1-2
15 – 15,255 Stockport County Division 3 North 24/04/37 D 1-1
16 – 15,202 Wrexham Division 3 North 01/10/55 W 2-1
17 – 15,106 Wrexham Division 3 North 29/09/34 W 6-2
18 – 15,024 Wrexham Division 4 26/12/69 W 2-0
19 – 14,921 Wrexham Welsh Cup Final 03/05/33 W 2-0
20 – 14,782 Wrexham Division 4 27/02/65 W 6-1
I have seen various figures quoted for the Chelsea FA Cup tie in 1952 but have gone for the more precise figure of 20,378 rather than the rounded up one of 20,500 that is often used. I have also little doubt that the attendances of 19,000 for all three League Cup ties were probably based on the capacity of the ground at the time rather than a fully accurate total.
Given that there is a general belief that Chester always lose when there is a larger than expected attendance It is interesting to see that only four of the top 20 games resulted in defeat and three of these were against teams at least two divisions higher.
When Matt Sargent scored after 87 seconds with his first touch of the ball against Kettering Town the question was asked if a Chester player had ever scored a quicker goal on his league debut.
The previous record holder for the reformed club was Johnny Hunt who scored after 4 minutes in the first game of the 2015/16 season when Chester beat Braintree Town 1-0.
Special mention should be made to Jamie Menagh who scored in the 8th and 10th minute in a 4-1 win over Lincoln City in December 2013 while Akwasi Asante scored a hat trick in 69 minutes against Darlington in December 2018 on his debut.
The following table is a definitive list of goalscoring league debutants since the club reformed in 2010 with the quickest first.
Matt Sargent v Kettering Town 19/3/22 – 87 seconds
Johnny Hunt v Braintree Town 8/8/15 – 4 minutes
Wayne Riley v Kidderminster Harriers 25/8/14 – 5 minutes (substitute 78 score 83)
Rob Hopley v Warrington Town 24/8/10 – 6 minutes
Jamie Menagh v Lincoln City 21/12/13 – 8 minutes
James McCarthy v Skelmersdale United 20/11/10 – 11 minutes (substitute 72 score 83)
Jordan Archer v Barrow 24/10/17 – 11 minutes
Brendon Daniels v Vauxhall Motors 23/2/13 – 12 minutes
Luke Holden v Whitby Town 12/11/11 – 14 minutes
Matt McNeil v Rushall Olympic 13/8/11 – 14 minutes
Matt McGinn v FC United 24/8/11 – 17 minutes
Levi Mackin v Rushall Olympic 7/1/12 – 17 minutes (substitute 73 score 90)
Danny O’Brien v Altrincham 16/2/16 – 26 minutes
Akwasi Asante v Darlington 1/12/18 – 27 minutes
Jack Redshaw v Blyth Spartans 25/9/21. – 27 minutes (substitute 59 score 86)
Chris Simm v Ossett Albion 22/1/11 – 43 minutes
James Caton v Grimsby Town 12/4/14 – 45 (substitute 45 score 90)
Okera Simmonds v Curzon Ashton 22/1/22 – 47 minutes
Matty Taylor v Welling United 1/2/14 – 55 minutes
Declan Weeks v Kidderminster Harriers 6/10/20 – 57 minutes
Cain Noble v Maidstone United 21/4/18 – 58 minutes
Jerome Wright v Burscough 17/8/11 – 62 minutes
Danny Williams v Vauxhall Motoirs 30/10/12 – 65 minutes
Although the introduction of the training floodlights in 1956 was deemed a success no progress was made towards a more permanent solution over the following two campaigns. The club was still struggling financially, with gate receipts down by the end of 1956, and the Supporters Association were bridging the gap with a range of social functions such as dances.
The big breakthrough occurred in May 1958 when the Supporters Association offered to make an initial donation of £1,500 towards the cost of permanent floodlights. Installation estimates now put the cost at around £12,000 and, even allowing for this generous contribution, it was still seen as beyond the financial capacity of the club. Nevertheless chairman Sam Argyle promised that they would look at alternatives with an awareness that inflationary pressures would only increase costs.
There was now some momentum towards floodlights and there was more positive news a couple of months later when the club announced a profit of £2,616 for the 1957/58 season, despite a large increase in costs. This was largely down to the repeal of the Entertainments Tax as well as donations of over £7,000 from the Supporters Association. It prompted the setting up of a Floodlight Fund with the directors matching the initial donation from the supporters who also handed over another cheque for £350 at the end of 1958 followed by £750 in summer 1959 when the fund reached just under £5,000. Despite the positive funding news the directors still did not feel in a position to progress in 1959 as the club was once again running at a loss and the estimated costs had now escalated to between £16,000 and £18,000. However, with questions been asked about an installation date, the directors said they would start work once the fund reached £10,000.
By the 1959/60 season floodlights were being seen as a necessity rather than a desire and with local rivals, Crewe and Tranmere, both becoming floodlit Chester were one of the few remaining clubs without facilities. It was generally felt, in the days when gate receipts were shared, that they would soon become a mandatory requirement as clubs with lights would complain about smaller gates at clubs without them. At Chester it was thought that the ability to have a later kick-off time and night games could be worth as much as £3,000 a year so, although there was a high initial cost, they would pay for themselves in the long run. As an example a Wednesday fixture against Hartlepool in October 1958, kicking off at 3pm, had a ‘meagre’ attendance of 3,220 compared with the home game against Aldershot the following weekend which attracted 6,655. In addition the chairmen of the Division 1 and 2 clubs were talking about the possibility of running a floodlit cup competition which would effectively exclude the unilluminated teams like Chester.
The Supporters Association continued to drive the project forwards and the weekly lottery fund was reported to have a membership of 11,000 raising around £200 a week for the club. The importance of the group cannot be underestimated and, as well as contributing to the Floodlight Fund, they also funded a new half-time scoreboard, development under the main stand and a donation to cover the cost of a postponed fixture at Gillingham.
At the end of May 1960 the long awaited announcement was made that the club were in a position to finally go ahead with the installation. The contract was awarded to the Edinburgh engineering company, Miller and Stables Ltd, who undertook to have the lights in place and operating by mid-September. The drench lighting system was considered to be the best available, due to the height of the towers, which were 126ft tall instead of the usual 80ft and it was estimated that the ball could be kicked 50ft in the air without players the players losing sight of it. The delay in installing the lights had worked in Chester’s favour as the 25 degree beam angle towers and intensive lighting easily exceeded the requirements of the Football Association and were considered future proof. The system had first been introduced seven years ago with the first set implemented at Easter Road, Hibernian. Since then they had been installed at Celtic, Newcastle United, Queen of the South, and Windsor Park amongst others while systems at Raith Rovers and Motherwell were completed just before Chester’s.
The fact that the club felt in a position to install the lights was due to another cheque for £5,000 from the Supporters Association who also gave a pledge that no other schemes would be undertaken until the lights were paid for. Nevertheless it was a brave move by the directors on the back of overall losses of over £3,000 in both 1958/59 and 1959/60. When the club released the financial accounts for the 1960/61 season it was revealed that the final installation had cost £15,417.
Surveying took place in June and July 1960 while the first sod was cut on Wednesday July 20th and the lights were ready for Chester’s first ever League Cup tie, against Leyton Orient, on October 12th. The official switch on was undertaken by Supporters Association chairman Reg Moore and the crowd of 9,074 was treated to a dramatic cup tie. The Division Two visitors held a comfortable 2-0 lead at half-time but Stan Pearson’s side made a fight of it after the interval and in the final four minutes Ron Davies and Jimmy Cooper scored in a stirring comeback. Chester lost the replay in London by a single goal and there was nothing to celebrate in the league as the club finished bottom of Division Four and had to apply for re-election.
Fortunately the introduction of floodlights gave Chester a good case when they went cap in hand to the League and they finished comfortably top in the re-election vote. In addition there was a boost to finances with friendlies against Manchester United and Third Lanark attracting attendances of 8,673 and 3,621 respectively. However, the novelty of floodlight friendlies quickly wore off and matches against Stirling Albion and German side Hamborn the following year only drew relatively small crowds of 841 and 2,318.
The floodlights remained a landmark until the ground was demolished in 1992 and those supporters who were fortunate to see evening games at the Stadium will fondly remember the approach to the ground down Sealand Road with the giant structures lighting up the area and visible for miles around. Matches under the Stadium lights always seemed to hold a special magic and remain an indelible memory of the 1974/75 League Cup games against Leeds, Newcastle and Aston Villa standing as a tribute to the hard work of the directors and Supporters Association who made it all possible.
One of the most distinctive features of the old Sealand Road ground was the impressive set of floodlight which bowed down over the Stadium. The lights were state of the art when they were constructed in 1960 and the fact that they were ever erected at all was almost entirely down to the efforts of the Chester FC Supporters Association.
Although there had been experiments with floodlights going back to the 19th century it wasn’t until the 1950s that they began to be widely installed at grounds. In the 1930s Arsenal had placed permanent lights at Highbury but the Football League only allowed there use in friendlies and unofficial games. It wasn’t until 1956, when Portsmouth hosted Newcastle United at Fratton Park, that the first Football League match was played under lights.
Chester’s first experience of floodlit football occurred when the youngsters played a Youth Cup 2nd Round tie at Preston North End in November 1954 with the Deepdale side winning 4-1. The following October the seniors played their first game under lights, winning a thrilling Lancashire Cup encounter at Accrington Stanley’s Peel Park ground by three goals to two.
The Chester board of directors, under chairman Sam Argyle, recognised that times were changing and at the AGM in August 1956 the subject of floodlights was raised. The club realised they would be invaluable for training and allow later kick off times for cup ties and attractive friendlies against foreign opposition. However, Argyle explained that a sub-committee established to look at the cost of floodlights felt that a sum of at least £9,000 was currently beyond the club’s financial capabilities.
Under the circumstances this announcement was hardly a surprise given recent financial tribulations. In March 1955 the board had called a crisis meeting at the Town Hall amidst a real fear that the club would be forced out of the Football League. The club was in the red to the tune of around £7,500, a situation not helped by falling attendances caused by a bottom place finish in the Third Division North in 1953/54, a position set to be repeated in 1954/55. An attempt to raise £3,000 through a share issue had received a very muted response as local businesses showed little enthusiasm. At the Town Hall meeting a call was made to urgently raise £5,000 through a 100,000 shillings fund. This received a positive initial response but by the end of the season only £1,750 had been reached.
Despite the doom and gloom there was one very positive consequence of the 1955 meeting and that was the formation of the Chester FC Supporters Association. The group was a merger of the Supporters Club and Supporters Committee and charged a 2s 6d subscription. By the end of the 1954/55 season membership had already reached 2,500 and the group would have a considerable impact over the subsequent years. When the dynamic Association celebrated their fourth anniversary in 1959 it was reported that they had raised a phenomenal £21,072 for the club which included the original shilling fund as well as money from a hugely successful weekly football pool.
The Supporters Association had a strong bond with the board of directors so although Sam Argyle had announced that floodlights were financially out of reach in August 1956 the board must have felt some cause for future optimism through the strength of this new group and their fund raising activities. In addition attendances had shown an improvement during the 1955/56 campaign and the club had made a small profit to reduce the overall overdraft to just under £5,000. The summer had also seen the appointment of ex Chelsea centre-half John Harris as player manager and the return of popular Welsh international winger Billy Foulkes so there were reasons for positivity on the field of play.
One idea being considered was to ask 60 supporters to contribute £150 each repayable over 5 years with 5% interest and although this failed to get off the ground the first steps towards illuminating the ground took place in October 1956.
With half the squad either amateur or part time the club were experiencing difficulty giving them the necessary ball practice so the club planned to install a modified form of floodlighting to aid those who could only train in the evening. The idea was to illuminate one end of the ground by putting lights on the grandstand and on the shelter on the popular side. If the light wasn’t sufficient there was an intention to increase the number. This was intended as the start of a scheme to illuminate the whole ground and the cost of “hundreds” was aided by a donation of £750 from the Supporters Association.
The official switch on took place in November with one of the directors stating that they were “almost good enough to play a match” but it was clear that more substantial floodlighting was needed if Chester wanted to keep up with the rest of the Football League.