1 – Pre-Match
Chester’s reward for their 1st Round victory over Goole Town was a long trip to Exeter City, the furthest distance the club had ever travelled for a fixture. Like Chester, the Grecians were struggling in their league and propped up Division Three South with only 11 points from their 18 league games. They looked particularly susceptible in defence, having conceded 45 goals, and it was reported that they were experiencing the worst season in their chequered history.
Despite the poor league results spirts had been raised in Exeter after a 5-3 win at Millwall in the 1st Round and their manager, George Roughton had proclaimed that: “…if the lads play as well as they did at Millwall on Saturday we shall be in the 3rd Round.” Unfortunately this optimism had quickly evaporated as the Grecians were hammered 7-1 in a league game at Swindon Town the following week. Chester manager Frank Brown had scouted that game and the Chester Chronicle stated that he returned from the game “cock-a-hoop’.
From a personal point of view the tie held additional interest for Brown as he had played a handful of games for the Devon club during the 1921/22 season.
While Exeter had their problems there was also an underlying feeling of discontent at Sealand Road as the club languished in 20th position in Division Three North and displayed a remarkable level of inconsistency. After joining the Football League in 1931 the club had been a top ten fixture throughout the 1930s and this had appeared to carry through the war with a 3rd place finish in 1946/47. Unfortunately, despite some notable FA Cup ties, league form had slumped dramatically and with a 20th position in 1947/48 and 18th in 1948/49 the local papers were increasingly peppered with letters from disgruntled supporters. The day before the cup tie the News Chronicle featured Chester in their “My Team” spotlight under the headline “Down in the Dumps on Deeside.” and a wide range of letters outlined the problems with the current team.
With both teams struggling there was little to choose in what was a closely matched tie. The Chester players did not engage in any special training but as usual there was time for golf at Hawarden and the players set off for Devon by train on Friday morning. Meanwhile the Chester’ Supporters Club arranged a day excursion, leaving at just after midnight on the day of the game and around 70 supporters availed themselves of the 47/2d trip. For those supporters who stayed at home it was arranged for the score at Exeter to be given out at the reserve game against Crewe at Sealand Road every 15 minutes.
2 – The Match
In between the Goole and Exeter FA Cup ties Chester had suffered a setback where they failed to take their chances in a 4-2 defeat to Carlisle United at Sealand Road.
While the attack came under fire for their lack of incisiveness there were clearly defensive problems with the left flank in particular singled out for criticism. Against this backdrop Frank Brown elected to move Eric Lee back to the left-half position, where he had made his name in the first season after the war. Meanwhile Dave McNeil, who had played in the Goole FA Cup tie, replaced Reg Butcher who had struggled in the problematic left back role against Carlisle. Frank Hindle, who had been signed as a left-back continued at centre half, a role he had taken after Lee’s call-up for England amateur duties.
Despite the defensive changes the tie was as good as decided in the first 15 minutes as Chester conceded an early, sloppy goal and then were unfortunate to lose goalkeeper Ted Elliott to concussion shortly afterwards. The loss of Elliott saw winger Bill Pearson take over in goal as Frank Brown’s team played the remainder of the game with only 10 men. Even with this handicap the team acquitted themselves well and played the better football so Exeter’s late penalty and the 2-0 scoreline slightly flattered the home side.
Exeter started the game brightly and produced their best football in the first 15 minutes. After only four minutes defensive lapses cost Chester dearly as Lee and McNeil failed to deal with right winger Bill Harrower who had all the time in the world to get in his cross. With Elliott static on his line and full back John Molyneux hesitant, Duggie Regan finished expertly to give the home side the lead.
It was a goal that should have been prevented and Chester responded quickly as Harry Jackson’s first-time drive was blocked by a defender with keeper Bert Hoyle beaten.
Worse was to follow for Chester on eight minutes when Molyneux missed a tackle and keeper Elliott received a kick on the back of the head as dashed out to save the situation. After a few minutes attention the former Wolves man returned but it was clear he was in no fit state to continue and outside left Pearson took over in goal.
Despite this setback Chester continued to have their fair share of the play and winger Jackie Davies, the pick of the forwards, was unlucky not to score when he set off on a dazzling run through the Exeter defence only to shoot a few inches wide from ten yards. Davies continued to cause the home side problems with his tricky running and he almost scored an equaliser before half time but his shot was blocked by Stan Rowe.
Chester continued to take the fight to Exeter in the second half but despite good work from Tommy Astbury, Billy Foulkes and Davies the forwards were not able to take advantage and few clear opportunities were created. Albert Burgess did get the ball into the back of the net on two occasions but both were rightly disallowed for offside. Chester’s best opportunities came from corner kicks and centre half, Frank Hindle was particularly unlucky when his towering header was blocked on the line by Leslie Doyle with keeper Hoyle nowhere.
Hindle, who had an outstanding game, was also a threat marauding out of defence and he was unlucky on one run when he was blocked by his own player Burgess when running through on goal. It was therefore unfortunate that the former Blackburn defender was culpable for Exeter’s second goal two minutes from time when he upended Archie Smith with an over-enthusiastic challenge.
Regan scored from the resulting penalty with a mishit shot that went where neither he or stand-in keeper Pearson expected. Talking about the penalty after the game Pearson said “I went to the left. Regan told me as we came off that he had miskicked and the ball went to my right instead of to the left as he intended.”
It was a shame for Pearson that he was unable to keep a clean sheet after such a confident display. His jumping, diving and one remarkable save from Charlie McLelland was appreciated by the Exeter crowd who sportingly applauded him off the pitch at the end of the game. The former Grimsby man admitted that he was no stranger to the role having represented the RAF in goal and he also confessed that it was his favourite position.
Despite Pearson’s heroics it was a game that Chester didn’t deserve to lose and even with only 10 men they created enough chances to win the game. If they had remained at full strength they would have beaten what was considered a moderate Exeter side.
Chester – Elliott, Molyneux, McNeil, Astbury, Hindle, Lee, Foulkes, Davies, Jackson, Burgess, Pearson
Exeter City – Hoyle, Johnstone, Rowe, Doyle, Davey, Greenwood, Harrower, Smart, Smith, McLelland, Regan
Scorer – Regan 4, 88 (pen)
Attendance – 11,025
While Chester were unlucky to be eliminated from the competition they had at least gone down fighting. The following week they suffered another defeat, this time 3-0 at Stockport County, and this result prompted another defensive reshuffle. Hindle returned to the left back role and Eric Lee was reinstated at centre half, a move that appeared to stabilise the team as results improved in the second half of the campaign. In the end Chester recovered to 12th position with only four defeats after January 1st.
Exeter were drawn against non-league Nuneaton Borough in the 3rd Round and comfortable beat the non-leaguers 3-0. In the 4th Round they received a plum draw against Liverpool at Anfield where they were beaten 3-1. Back in the league results improved in Division Three South and they hauled themselves off the bottom to finish the season in 16th position.
Despite his concussion Elliott returned to the team at Stockport the following week and surprisingly didn’t miss a league game in 1949/50. Although he started the first two games the following season he was displaced by promising young keeper Harry Threadgold before joining Halifax Town in November 1950. He died in 1984.
Dave McNeil also played in the defeat at Stockport County but this proved to be his last league game of the campaign. It was 12 months before his next appearance, one of only six in 1950/51, and in 1951 he moved to Holywell Town for two years before a season at Northwich Victoria and three at Colwyn Bay. A product of local football he had initially signed as an amateur of Chester in 1938 and his loyalty was rewarded with a testimonial against an Everton X1 in 1951. Always remembered as the full-back who tamed Stanley Matthews in the 1947 FA Cup tie at Stoke City he died in 1993.
The promising Jackie Davies, who had performed so well at Exeter, suffered a badly fractured leg in a league game at Bradford City only two weeks later. Although the 23 year old forward briefly returned to the team at the start of the 1951/52 season the injury effectively ended his career. He died in 1973.
Centre forward Harry Jackson, who had scored a hat-trick against Goole Town, found himself edged out of the side in the second half of the campaign when he lost his place to local lad Geoff Coffin. He was released at the end of the season and signed for Hyde United. The former Manchester City and Preston player died in 1984.
Hero of the day Bill Pearson only played 12 league games for Chester before a persistent knee injury forcing him into retirement from the professional game at the end of the 1949/50 season. The Irishman continued to play amateur football in Yorkshire and died in 2009 after a long illness.
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