One of Chester’s most notable players, Tommy Astbury, would have celebrated his 100th birthday on February 9th 2020. The inside-forward or half-back, who died in October 1993, spent 17 years with the club from 1938 to 1955 making 303 Football League appearances. There is no doubt that Buckley-born Tommy would have gone on to greater things had it not been for the outbreak of war and although clubs came in for him after the hostilities he remained loyal to Chester. Despite being only 5ft 6ins he made up for a lack of height with his energetic performances and non-stop running. A great passer of the ball he never ceased to give his all and proved to be a popular player at Sealand Road.
Tommy was initially spotted in 1938 by manager Frank Brown. He was playing for Mold Alex at Helsby BI in a West Cheshire League game and as a result of his performance signed as an amateur for Chester. Quoted in a Chester programme in 1972 Brown said: : “There on Helsby Green, I came across that great gift to the game – a natural player. I watched a boy footballer whose eyes never left the ball, weaving his way with all the tricks of a natural body swerve and throughout remaining cool, calm and collected.”
After appearing for the reserves in the Cheshire County League Tommy signed professional in 1939 and was on the verge of making the first team when war broke out. He made a promising start in the first home friendly of the war years, against Liverpool, and quickly built up a reputation with his clever displays. In 1942 he played for a Wales X1 against the Western Command and was further rewarded in 1945 when he featured in two wartime internationals, against England. During the war Tommy also guested for Wrexham, Everton and Manchester United. In fact United had wanted to sign him in 1943 and he was a member of their side that was beaten 4-3 by Bolton Wanderers in a two-legged wartime Cup Final in front of an aggregate of 100,000 spectators.
In the 1946/47 season Tommy was a member of the Chester team that famously gave Stanley Matthews’ Stoke a good run for their money in the 4th Round of the FA Cup and finished 3rd in Division Three North. The form of Tommy, and fellow forwards Dick Yates and Tommy Burden, attracted interest from Sheffield Wednesday who came in with an offer for all three players but the Yorkshire team couldn’t meet Chester’s valuation. His form during this season lead to suggestions in the local papers that he might be chosen for full international honours and he can probably count himself unlucky not to have been selected. Tommy finished the season with a Welsh Cup winners medal after Chester defeated Merthyr Tydfil and he also appeared as a losing finalist in 1953 and 1954.
In 1949 his 11 year service was rewarded with a testimonial against Bolton Wanderers which attracted 5000 fans on a wet April evening with the visitors winning 3-2. In January 1952 Tommy played in the FA Cup replay against Chelsea which attracted Sealand Road’s largest ever crowd and he continued to be a first team regular until 1953 when appearances became more intermittent. He played his final game for the club at Rochdale in February 1955 before hanging up his boots.
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