The 1958/59 season marked the beginning of a new era in the Football League with the introduction of a new Division Three and Four to replace the old, regionalised Third Division North and South. Chester were placed in the Fourth Division having finished 21st in the 1957/58 campaign.
The club marked the occasion by launching a stylish, new continental shirt of blue and white stripes, with a V necked collar, together with the previous season’s black shorts and white socks. The kit was completed with the Chester coat of arms displayed prominently in the centre of the shirt directly below the V neck which was an attempt to “return to the tradition established by the knights of old” according to the Chester Chronicle.
This was the first time that the club had sported a badge on their shirt and the Sports Editor of the Chronicle commented that there would be “no more smartly turned out team in the four leagues than Chester.”
The usual procedure was to display a badge on the left hand side of the shirt so Chester were breaking with tradition by placing it in the centre. However Mr Alan Keith-Hill, an authority on heraldry from Bradley’s outfitters in the city centre, persuaded manager John Harris that the only place to wear it was bang in the middle of the shirt.
Mr Keith-Hill went on to explain that the practice of wearing the badge on the left breast probably derived from the custom of showing them on the breast pocket of blazers but argued that with an undivided garment like a jersey the proper position was in the centre. He went on to say “By displaying the Arms in this manner you could be, I imagine, the first of the Football League clubs to do so correctly.” Somewhat presciently he added “…you would undoubtedly be doing what is correct, although, perhaps unusual, and possibly invite comment at the outset.”
The shirt was first unveiled in the only public, pre-season trial match on August 16th but the club were probably taken aback by the criticism that they received from heraldry experts in letters to the Chronicle in the following weeks.
First up was a letter from someone who signed himself “Of Common Blood” who expressed his “profound disgust” that the club had incorporated the city coat of arms into the shirt and questioned who had given the club the authority to take this step.
A more rational argument appeared in two letters to the Chronicle the following week. In a letter headed “I Am Dismayed” a gentleman described as a Heraldic Designer pointed out that the badge was the shield of the arms of the corporation and it was contrary to the Laws of Arms to display the shield in this way. In a lengthy letter he pointed out that the use of the shield was granted to the corporation alone and no other organisation could use it.
A second letter pointed out that the club would not be the smartest in the country but the most improperly dressed. He also reiterated that the use of the arms was only available in a civic capacity and no-one in the council had the power to authorise its use. His suggestion was that the club “cannot whip the arms off the vest too quickly.”
Despite this outcry the club unsurprisingly continued to wear the kit for the remainder of the season but switched to a green and gold strip with no badge at all the following year. It was 1974 before a badge was re introduced when the Seals logo first appeared in the traditional position on the shirt.
After victory at Hartlepools in the 1st Round Chester were once again presented with an away tie, the fifth time in succession that they had been forced to travel. They were paired with the winners of the Ipswich Town v Aldershot tie which had been abandoned on the Saturday with the home side winning 1-0. Ipswich remained firm favourites to go through as they stood 8th in the Third Division South while the Shots were struggling near the bottom of the table.
Chester certainly expected to be making a trip to Ipswich and tentative arrangements were made to acquire hotel accommodation in the town. Manager Frank Brown, who travelled down to watch the replay, stated: “We should be meeting Ipswich but I don’t think we should be beaten if we can maintain our recent form and play the open football we did at Hartlepools.”
In the Chester v Wrexham programme, on the day of the replay, details were printed of the long coach trip to Ipswich. Departure was scheduled for 11pm on the Friday night at a cost of £1 8/-9d and time was scheduled for a meal after the match before returning home on what was a mammoth journey.
In the end Aldershot sprung a major surprise by winning 3-0, a result that merely increased Chester’s confidence that they could continue their record of appearing in the 3rd Round for every season since 1935. They had every reason to be positive against a team that had lost their previous three home games. Chester’s form had also taken a turn for the better since the signings of Albert Burgess, Ted Elliott and Duncan Harrigan. While the Shots had been beating Ipswich Frank Brown’s side had recorded a 2-0 win over Wrexham with Burgess again finding the back of the net with a brace.
In the week before the cup tie Chester embarked on what was becoming a traditional training session in Abergele. All the players made the trip with the exception of Reg Butcher, who had a market gardening business to look after, and Eric Lee who was a student at Loughborough college. As usual golf was high on the agenda with ball practice at Abergele United’s ground on the Tuesday along with sprinting and a tactical discussion on the Thursday. Talking to the Chester Chronicle, manager Brown revealed that he had a plan to defeat the Shots while also expressing his admiration for centre half Alf Rowland and goalkeeper Ron Reynolds
The Chester party travelled directly from Abergele to London on Friday afternoon where they stayed overnight before boarding a coach to Aldershot on the Saturday morning.
2 – The Match
There had only been one minor injury concern in the days leading up to the game with Elliott receiving treatment after picking up a leg injury in the previous week’s derby. However the former Wolves keeper responded to treatment and the side remained unchanged from the one that had beaten both Hartlepools and Wrexham.
Although there had been plenty of optimism before the game Chester slipped out of the FA Cup by a single goal despite having the bulk of possession, especially in the second half. The Cheshire Observer felt that they deserved at least a draw but the forwards failed to test Reynolds enough and with the home defence in outstanding form Chester’s inability to finish proved costly.
The game hinged on one incident after 20 minutes when Burgess squared the ball to Harrigan in a perfect position in front of goal. From only 10 yards out, and with Reynolds completely beaten, the former Aston Villa centre forward struck the underside of the crossbar and the ball rebounded back into play. It was a wonderful chance which should have been seized and with Chester on top at that point a goal would have altered the course of the game.
Only five minutes after this golden opportunity Chester fell behind to a sucker punch. A cross from Ron Hobbs was missed by both Reg Butcher and Eric Lee and met by Jack White who headed a perfect goal past Elliott. Although the keeper got a hand to the ball he could only push the ball against the inside of the post and his movement was hampered by a goalmouth that was a mixture of ankle-deep, mud and sawdust.
It was doubly unfortunate for the two Chester defenders who were the best performers on the day. Lee was virtually on his own in the second half, repelling Aldershot’s spasmodic attacks, while Butcher was the driving force in the team, pushing his men forward as they endeavoured to get an equaliser.
The Aldershot goal took the sting out of Chester for the remainder of the half although Burgess just failed to connect with a Bert Foulds cross and John Forsyth had chances only to shoot wide with one effort and delay too long with the second opportunity.
After the break it was nearly all Chester although they failed to create many clear cut chances. At the other end Elliott did well to save at point blank range from Frank Rawcliffe and there was a lucky escape when a Hobbs cross shot struck the inside of the upright and was cleared by Tom Mackie.
It was a disappointing result for Chester who had earned a good FA Cup reputation in recent seasons. The problematic area seems to have been the wing halves where Henry Sherwood and John Cropley were quicker to the ball and more determined than their opposite numbers Tommy Astbury and George Williamson. While the Aldershot men provided constant service to their inside forwards both the Chester men had poor games and struggled with their passing.
Despite these problems Chester were not disgraced and only had themselves to blame for not making better use of their chances. On another day it could have been very different.
Chester’s elimination from the competition left them to concentrate on their poor league position. Despite a victory in the next home game, against Carlisle, they only won four matches in the second half of the season and ended 18th.
Aldershot went on to meet another Third Division North side in the 3rd Round but progressed no further after a 3-1 loss at Gateshead. In the league they continued to struggle and eventually finished second from bottom and had to apply for re-election. Rowland, the impressive centre half for the Shots, was transferred to Cardiff later in the season for £10,000.
FA Cup ties against First Divison opponents, Blackpool and Stoke City had been financially beneficial in the previous two seasons but the returns in 1948/49 were not so lucrative. Receipts at Hartlepools had been just over £500 while the takings at Aldershot were £842. Chester received half of these sums after deduction of expenses and taxes.
Several Chester players appeared in their last FA Cup tie for the club. Bert Foulds, John Forsyth and Tom Mackie were all made available for transfer at the end of the season. Foulds played several games at centre forward in the second half of the season and finished equal top scorer alongside Burgess with 14 goals so it was perhaps a surprise that he was transfer-listed. He initially moved into non-league with Yeovil Town for a season before returning to the Football League with Rochdale, Crystal Palace and Crewe. He died in South Africa in April 1993.
Scotsman Mackie, who impressed with some strong tackling in the Aldershot match, had an unlucky time in his short spell at Sealand Road. After receiving concussion in the First Round tie at Hartlepools he was unlucky to break his collar bone in the Christmas Day fixture at Crewe. The injury kept him out of the game until April, when he returned to the Cheshire County League side. However, he could not regain his first team place from Dave McNeil and signed for Runcorn during the summer having only made seven first team appearances. He died in Scotland in February 1989.
John Forsyth, another Scotsman who had started his career at Dumbarton before the war, was a regular at outside left during the 1948/49 season playing 32 league games. A diminutive winger he also played for New Brighton and died in Wallasey in February 1995.
After a good start, with four goals in his first seven games, Duncan Harrigan began to find goals harder to come by and appearances were intermittent once Ray Westwood returned to the side with Foulds taken over at centre forward. After leaving Chester during the summer he signed for Colwyn Bay and died in February 2005.
Both George Williamson and Reg Butcher played for Chester in the 1949/50 season without appearing in an FA Cup tie. There had been some debate about Willimason’s best position and many people felt he was more comfortable at centre half rather than the half back position where he was deployed at Aldershot. He made 35 appearances during the 1948/49 season but was in and out of the team the following year and asked to be put on the transfer list in March 1950. During the summer of 1950 he moved to Bradford City and revealed his full potential with 223 appearances over the next six years. He was one of the Parader’s most outstanding performers in the 1950s and later played for Colwyn Bay and Oswestry Town and died in 1994.
Captain and Man of the Match Reg Butcher continued to be a regular at right back for the remainder of the campaign but the arrival of Eric Sibley, followed by the emergence of promising youngster John Molyneux saw his appearances limited in 1949/50 although he still managed another 20 league games to take his Chester total to 155. Butcher had originally come to Sealand Road in 1937 after a brief spell as an amateur with Liverpool and they remained his only professional club. The departure of Trevor Walters to Caernarfon in March 1949 had left Butcher as the last player to have played both pre and post war football for the club. In May 1950 he was awarded a testimonial against Blackpool and left the game to concentrate on his fruit and veg business. He died in Birkenhead in October 2000.
After playing East Stirlingshire on the Saturday, Chester paid a visit to Vale of Athol for an informal game against a team organised by Morrisons, the Scottish company that built the Deva Stadium. The team, largely comprised of youngsters, was notable for an appearance by manager Harry McNally at right back.
Only a handful of supporters attended the match, which Chester won 5-0. I’m grateful to Dave Wright for his photos of the game and the team line-up which estimates the crowd as between 25 and 30.
Chester played in the rarely seen red shirt and the match proved memorable for an injury sustained by McNally early in the second half. At first it was believed he had twisted his ankle but this turned out to be a broken leg and supporters may remember him hobbling around at the start of the first season at the new ground.
Dave has these memories of the Vale of Athol game:
“I remember we got a taxi to the ground/pitch and wondered how we would get back. As luck would have it the people from Morrison’s offered us a lift back into town, but that changed to the hotel where the team were having post match food. We then had to rush for our train back to Edinburgh. When stepping on to the train I slipped and my right leg went between the train and the platform edge, it hurt and I still have the scar on my leg.“
Another fan who attended the game with Dave was Howard Jolley. He remembers that the game was meant to be played at Pitlochry but when they arrived they found a fairground on the pitch and discovered that the match had been moved a couple of miles down the road to a Sunday League pitch at Vale of Athol. There were four Chester fans at the ground and Howard recalls that Sunderland were on tour in Scotland at the same time and quite a few fans had gone to see them play instead.
Like Dave he also remembers waiting in the car park and being taken by Morrisons staff back to the hotel where they were given food and drink with the players.