1 – Pre-Match
For their first match in the 1948/49 FA Cup competition Chester were handed an uninspiring draw at Third Division North rivals Hartlepools United. The North-East side stood in 15th place in the table, two places and one point above Chester, and had won the league fixture at the Victoria Ground in September by two goals to one. The Cheshire Observer bemoaned the club’s fortunes and pointed out that this was the fourth consecutive away draw while the other local sides, Crewe, Tranmere, New Brighton and Wrexham, had all been drawn at home.
The omens were not good for Chester who were without an away win all season and had only picked up two points on their travels, at Crewe and Doncaster. However Hartlepool’s home record provided some hope as they had won four, drawn three and lost three of their 10 league matches. The previous Saturday they had drawn 1-1 with mid-table Mansfield and Frank Brown was optimistic stating: “I think we shall get through and I shall be satisfied if we can force a replay.”
Although Chester were struggling in the league there had been an improvement on the playing field since the double signing of inside-forward Albert Burgess from Bolton Wanderers and Duncan Harrigan, a reserve centre forward from Aston Villa. Manager Frank Brown had been keeping an eye on Burgess for some time and beat off competition from three other clubs, including two from the Second Division, to sign the Birkenhead born striker. The fee was considered substantial and matched the amount paid for Ray Westwood the previous year with the deal aided by the sale of inside forward Tommy Best to Cardiff City.
Both players had made their debuts at Oldham Athletic in mid-October and had found the net the following week in a 3-0 win over Accrington Stanley at Sealand Road. That victory had been followed by matches against the top three where, despite only picking up one point, the team had performed admirably, particularly in forcing a goalless draw at Doncaster Rovers. The Saturday before the Hartlepools game Chester had beaten bottom of the table Bradford City 3-0 with Burgess and Harrigan once again finding the net.
The speed of the two new players was considered a big asset especially with regard to beating a Hartlepools’ offside trap that had proved problematical in the league game at the Victoria Ground. Although there was no special training away from the city the players were able to prepare together and a lot of the tactical talk centred on the experience gained from the previous encounter. Relaxation was provided in the form of golf at Vicar’s Cross and country walks.
There had been one previous meeting in the competition with Chester comfortably beating Hartlepool’s 4-1 in 1931, the first FA Cup tie after joining the Football League.
The kick-off was schedule for 2pm and Chester travelled up to the North-East by train from Liverpool the day before the game.
2 – The Match
There was only one change to the Chester team that had beaten Bradford City the previous week with Ted Elliott replacing George Scales in goal for the first time since fracturing his toe in the defeat at Rotherham at the end of October.
Very few Chester fans made the long journey to the North East and both the Chester Chronicle and Cheshire Observer saw fit to mention the Hope family who set off with the family dog by train at 3am and arrived in Hartlepool at midday after no fewer than six changes. In the event the trip proved memorable with daughter Joyce commenting it was: “a tedious journey, maybe, but the result made it worthwhile.”
The Hope family’s away day proved to be so successful largely due to the hard work spent on tactics by Frank Brown. Utilising the pace of forwards Harrigan, Burgess and Bert Foulds, Chester adopted a more direct approach to beat Hartlepool’s renowned offside trap. As the Cheshire Observer commented: “…there was the desire to get the ball into the Hartlepool’s net by the nearest route and in the quickest possible manner.” It was described as Chester’s best performance of the season and the 3-1 scoreline might well have been more emphatic. Veteran Hartlepool manager Fred Westgarth admitted “We were well-licked” and there were no complaints about the defeat.
Most of the credit for the victory went to the forward line with left winger, John Forsyth in particular, proved to be a real handful having his best game since signing from New Brighton. However, Chester were also indebted to centre half Eric Lee who subdued centre forward Harry Hawkins and never put a foot wrong.
The game opened in gathering fog and Chester’s first chance fell to Billy Foulkes who hurried his shot with the ball flying wide of the post. At the other end Elliott had to be alert to make two desperate dives at the feet of the home forwards.
Chester took the lead in the 12th minute when Forsyth whipped the ball across to Foulkes. The right winger delayed his shot, which was blocked by Ray Thomspon, but the ball fell to George Williamson who smashed the ball into the net leaving keeper Norman Rimmington helpless.
The goal spurred on Chester who continued to press forward and Rimmington saved at point-blank range from Forsyth. There was another excellent chance when Harrigan cleverly hung back to beat the offside trap allowing Forsyth to run from the halfway line but with only the goalkeeper to beat he shot wide of the post. Rimmington made further good saves from Burgess (twice) and Harrigan while the latter was also unlucky when his cross-shot missed the target. With Chester surging forward there were so many players in the Hartlepools’ half that when a long clearance found Laurence Nevins he was left with a clear run on goal but Lee performed one of his spectacular tackles to save the day.
On the balance of play Chester deserved to be two or three goals ahead at the interval but they came under sustained pressure early in the second half when full back Tom Mackie was stretchered off the field after going into a tackle with James Isaac. The departure of Mackie saw the home side sense an opportunity and in their best spell of the match they forced an equaliser when John Price headed past Elliott with the Chester defence claiming that the inside left was in an offside position. The goal, on 52 minutes, further encouraged Hartlepools and for five minutes Chester were put under intense pressure but Elliott and his colleagues held firm.
Fortunately for Chester Mackie returned to the field of play after 10 minutes treatment for what turned out to be cramp and the visitors took control of the game. On 68 minutes they regained the lead when Reg Butcher took the ball to the edge of the penalty area and passed to Burgess. From a poor angle the former Bolton man crashed the ball against the crossbar but Harrigan was on hand to steer the ball across the line.
Seven minutes later the tie was put beyond doubt when Forsyth netted with a superb cross shot. Harrigan nearly added a fourth when he used his speed to outpace the Hartlepool’s defence but shot wide of the post. In the final five minutes, with the fog closing in, Elliott made the save of the match from Nevins’ piledriver as the home supporters left the ground in their hundreds.
It had been a great performance from Frank Brown’s side and the Hope family were rewarded for their loyalty by travelling back with the Chester party of players and directors.
Hartlepools United – Rimmington, Leonard, Thompson, Donaldson, Hughes, Newton, Burnett, Isaac, Hawkins, Price Nevins
Scorer – Price 52
Chester – Elliott, Butcher, Mackie, Astbury, Lee, Williamson, Foulkes, Burgess, Harrigan, Foulds, Forsyth
Scorer – Williamson 12, Harrigan 68, Forsyth 75
Attendance – 8,563
Chester’s victory made it two FA Cup victories out of two against Hartlepools. Since then the clubs have been drawn together twice with a win for Pools in 1952/53 and Chester in 1976/77.
The draw for the 2nd Round gave Chester another away tie against either Aldershot or Ipswich Town. Their tie had been abandoned after just over an hour with Ipswich winning 1-0.
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