1 – Pre-Match
Chester may have hoped for one of the big boys from Division 1 in the FA Cup 3rd Round but the tie at Crystal Palace gave them an excellent opportunity of making further progress in the competition. Much like Chester, the Division 3 South side had suffered an up and down campaign. Although they had failed to win an away league match they had proved to be a tough nut to crack at home with only one defeat to their name.
Speaking about the draw in the Chester Chronicle, manager Frank Brown was hopeful stating: “It could have been kinder to us but we have a real chance. The playing pitch at Selhurst is big, and that will suit our boys.”
The Londoner’s had reached this stage of the competition by beating Port Vale followed by Bristol City but were finding goals hard to come by having only scored 23 in 23 league games. Their main strength had been in defence but this had been tested in recent weeks and three goals had been conceded at both Torquay and Northampton.
Chester had struggled in the league since eliminating Tranmere Rovers in the 2nd Round. A defeat at Oldham Athletic had been followed by two setbacks against York City over the Christmas period. For the first league game of 1948, at home to Tranmere, goalkeeper Jim MacLaren had been dropped in favour of George Scales while Joe Brown had returned to the problematic outside left position. Meanwhile a bout of influenza for Trevor Walters had seen Eric Lee move to centre half. The changes had the desired effect and Chester completed their third victory of the season over Rovers by a comfortable 4-0 scoreline.
One player who missed the league game at Tranmere was new signing Ray Westwood, a pre-war England international from Bolton Wanderers. The 35 year old inside forward had made more than 300 league appearances for the Burden Park club and his signing, for a record £2,400 on Boxing Day, had been regarded as a major coup.
Westwood had scored within 10 minutes of his debut, in the home game against York, and his steadying influence had been regarded as a positive sign despite the 3-2 defeat. However flu had prevented his inclusion against Tranmere although he was expected to be in contention for the Palace game.
Despite the expense involved, a trip to London sparked the interest of fans and the Chronicle reported that supporters all over the city were arranging coaches and train travel down to the capital. The match was not all-ticket but 250 tickets at 4/- had been reserved for Chester in the centre stand at a Selhurst Park ground that was reported to hold between 60,000 and 80,000 spectators.
In preparation for the FA Cup tie Chester once again chose to return to Abergele for special training. The arrival of the Chester team was an event for the town with the Publicity Association stating: “It is good news and a grand advertisement for Abergele to hear that Chester’s directors decided upon Abergele again against the claims of Brighton. Chester FC will join a long list of prominent individuals and organisations who have great faith in the health giving properties of the Abergele air.”
The Cheshire Observer reported that the players got a great welcome when they arrived at the North Wales resort on the Monday before the game and they stayed at “their lucky boarding house at Pensarn within a minute’s walk of the sea front and within easy reach of long country walks”. The players had a strict lights out at 11pm every night.
The stay took the usual format of training with plenty of leisure activities. On Tuesday morning the players had a round of golf before training at Abergele United’s ground in the afternoon. In the evening the squad attended a performance of “Victory Circus”, an animal revue at the Queen’s Theatre in Rhyl. On Wednesday the players did some sprinting on the promenade before a long walk around the grounds of Gwyrch Castle and a whist drive at the local golf club in the evening. Thursday’s programme included more sprinting and massage with a darts match against a local team in the evening.
The Chester team departed North Wales directly for London on the Friday where they stayed at the Imperial Hotel. In what had clearly been a well-organised week Frank Brown commented that the the players had taken the training very seriously and had ben able to completely relax. New signing Westwood was happy with the preparation saying: “I have had a grand week getting to know and settling down with my new colleagues – a great set of chaps.”
The match was scheduled to kick-off at 2:15pm.
2 – The Match
Chester made one change from the side that had beaten Tranmere in the league the previous week. The experienced Westwood returned to the starting eleven in place of Tommy Best while Eric Lee retained his place at centre half despite the recovery of Trevor Walters.
Around 1,000 supporters, led by cheer-leader Micky Moran, made the trip down to London, and were rewarded with a magnificent display. The game was settled by a superbly taken goal from Tommy Burden but they were indebted to an outstanding second half goalkeeping performance from George Scales who had the game of his life. The Cheshire Observer reporter, Ralph Houdley, stated that he could not remember a better exhibition of goalkeeping and the former understudy to Frank Swift at Manchester City fully deserved his standing ovation at the end of the game.
In a hard-fought game the first half was evenly contested and Chester almost had a dream start when Bobby Hamilton’s well-placed pass found Westwood who rushed his shot and sliced the ball wide. Joe Brown had a good chance to score but elected to pass when he would have been better off shooting while Palace’s Alf Somerfield shot over from a good position.
In the 36th minute Chester took the lead when Westwood found Burden with a gem of a pass. The centre forward deceived Joe Millbank and crashed a magnificent left foot shot past Dick Graham into the Palace net. It was a beautifully worked goal and typical of the former Wolves forward who capitalised on the only opportunity presented to him in the game.
The home side, stunned by the Chester goal, responded quickly and Lewis’s free kick was pushed against the crossbar by Scales and scrambled away by Lee. At the other end Westwood almost added a second but this header from a George Williamson free kick narrowly passed the upright.
It was a different story in the second half when Chester were subjected to wave after wave of Palace attacks with Scales and a resilient rearguard preventing the home side snatching an equaliser. In between making outstanding saves the Northwich born keeper was in the wars and needed attention from trainer Vic Brown on no less than five occasions as he displayed a remarkable show of bravery.
Within five minutes of the resumption a thunderous free-kick from Thomas Reece was brilliantly tipped over the bar by Scales and from the resultant corner Jack Lewis charged the keeper against the upright leaving him briefly concussed. As soon as play restarted he was diving at the feet of Somerfield and receiving a kick to the head for his troubles which required more treatment from the overworked Chester trainer.
Further outstanding saves followed from Albert Robson (twice) and Reece and for half an hour the defence was put under immense pressure. Even when Scales lost possession and was lying on the ground the defenders stood firm and blocked shots by packing the goal.
An equaliser looked imminent and Robson and Reece had further shots brilliantly saved but with ten minutes remaining the pressure started to relent and Tommy Astbury had a volley well saved by Graham with Williamson heading just wide from the resulting corner. In the closing minutes Scales capped a magnificent display with another great save from Reece and when the final whistle blew the Palace players rightly congratulated the keeper on his superlative display.
It had been a determined performance from Chester in a thrilling cup-tie and they were roundly cheered off the field by their relieved supporters who had endured a nervous afternoon.
While Scales made the headlines with his second half display plaudits also went to the rest of the defence who performed heroically. There had been doubts expressed beforehand about the deployment of Lee at centre half in place of Walters but the amateur kept a tight hold on Somerfield throughout. Meanwhile Reg Butcher was a tower of strength and Williamson, who was the outstanding player in the first half, never missed a tackle.
While Palace could consider themselves unlucky Chester’s refusal to cave in to pressure earned them a place in the 4th Round.
Crystal Palace – Graham, Harding, Dawes, J Lewis, Millbank, Reece, Mycock, G Lewis, Somerfield, Robson, Clough
Chester – Scales, Willcox, McNeil, Williamson, Lee, Butcher, Hamilton, Astbury, Burden, Westwood, Brown
Scorer – Burden 36
Attendance – 22,084
Eric Lee’s appearance at centre half was a taste of things to come. Although the number five shirt was shared by Williamson and Walters for the remainder of the campaign it became the regular position for the Chester-born defender from the start of the following season through to 1956/57.
In the week following the game two letters appeared in the Cheshire Observer written by former Cestrians living near Selhurst Park. These forerunners to the Chester Exiles were full of praise for the performance from their native city team. This was only the second time the club had played a match in London, following an FA Cup win at Clapton Orient in 1934, so it was a rare opportunity for exiled supporters to see Chester in the flesh. In those days, long before the internet, one of the writers mentioned that the only way he could follow the club was by reading copies of the Observer which were forwarded to him every week.
Crystal Palace’s defeat did little to help their league form and they only won one of their next ten games but improved results in March and April saw them finish 13th in Division Three South.
This proved to be the only meeting between the sides in the FA Cup. The next time they crossed swords was in August 1958 when Chester visited Selhurst Park for their first ever away game in Division Four with the game ending in a 3-3 draw. Coincidentally Palace were also the opponents for the first ever match in Division Three in August 1975. On that occasion Malcolm Allison’s Eagles won 2-0.
The 4th Round draw handed Chester an away trip to First Division Blackpool and a second meeting with Stanley Matthews.