About kwchas

I am the historian and statistican for Chester Football Club and have written a number of books on the subject. The most recent of these is 125 Years On The Borderline - The Complete History of Chester City Football Club 1885-2010

Chester 2 Plymouth Argyle 0 (FA Cup 3rd Round) – Jan 11th 1947

1 – Pre-match

Chester started their first post-war FA Cup campaign at the 3rd Round stage having been one of only three clubs from the Third Division North and South to be given a bye. This was a result of their success in the 1938/39 season when they reached the Fourth Round and took 2nd Division Sheffield Wednesday to three games.

The draw matched Frank Brown’s side with 2nd Division Plymouth Argyle who were making their first ever visit to Sealand Road. Chester had started the season in excellent form with 14 wins in their first 18 matches but a mini slump of three defeats in the previous five league games had seen them lose ground on Doncaster Rovers at the top of the 3rd Division North.

Argyle’s results had also declined in the month preceding the tie and they had a poor away record having only won one out of 11 away games. However they still retained the distinction of having scored in every league match. The recent slide had partly been attributed to the loss of injured goalkeeper Bill Shortt, who was reported as being the one consistent member of their back three. The Wrexham born keeper had been a butcher’s boy in Hoole and after playing for Hoole Alex. became a regular for Chester in wartime football. After being stationed with the Army in Devon he also played wartime football for Argyle and then represented them in the transition 1945/46 season. In summer 1946 he signed for Plymouth for £1,200 . The Welshman was expected to be fit for the tie having returned to the side the previous week in a 4-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday which halted a run of five consecutive defeats.

Plymouth goalkeeper – Bill Shortt

Chester prepared for the tie by spending a week training at Abergele on a diet of sherry, milk and eggs. All the players were present with the exception of Bobby Hamilton, Tommy Burden, Eric Lee and Reg Butcher.

The Chester Chronicle report of the get-together makes interesting reading. The party travelled down to the North Wales coast on Monday where they went for a brisk walk on the promenade before tea and then attended the pantomime in Rhyl before another promenade walk. The following day they trained on the beach in the sleet and rain before a game of golf in the afternoon. On returning to the hotel they were joined by Dick Yates who had got married the previous day. The evening was spent at the cinema in Rhyl.

Wednesday saw a more intensive round of training at the Abergele FC ground before a seven mile walk in the afternoon and another visit to the cinema in the evening. The following morning was devoted to sprinting in the morning before a walk in the afternoon and then a whist drive organised by Abergele Supporters Committee in the evening. Friday was intended for relaxing and the party returned to Chester on Saturday morning for lunch at the Albion Hotel before the game.

Plymouth made the long journey north on the Wednesday before the game and based themselves at the Wynnstay Hotel and trained at Wrexham.

Chester were confident before the game and captain Trevor Walters thought that Plymouth would be beaten quite easily noting that although they had a strong attack the defence wasn’t great. Manager Frank Brown was not so forthright with his comments stating in the Cheshire Observer that:

We realise that we are up against a good Second Division side and that our task is not an easy one. Having ground advantage, I’m certain we will win, but in cup football anything can happen.”

Although Plymouth manager Jack Tresadern though that his team would be good enough to reach the 4th Round it seems that the Plymouth supporters were not so confident and their league form did not inspire them to believe that it would be an easy victory despite their higher ranking. The general feeling was that Argyle would be satisfied with a draw.

Cup fever had gradually overtaken supporters and after the quick sale of the stand tickets there had been such a rush for the 15,500 ground tickets that a further 500 had been printed and an attendance of 17,700 was expected. A week before the game it was noted that although the majority of the 2s tickets had been sold there were still some available at Milton’s and Cestrian Electrical Co in Northgate Street, Upton Post Office and Upton’s in Handbridge. This figure fell short of the record attendance of 18816, against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup 3rd replay in January 1939, and it was reported that ticket-holders would be ‘comfortable’.

Secretary Billy Peters had done everything possible to ensure that the crowd could be handled smoothly and an additional 12 crush barriers had been installed on the Kop. Additional parking had been organised in the field opposite the greyhound track entrance in Sealand Road and arrangements had been made for buses to unload passengers in Gladstone Avenue and then pick them up outside the ground after the match. Milton’s radio van was also scheduled to be positioned outside the ground to direct the fans and help the police with traffic control.

An appeal was made for spectators to “pack well together’ and obey the stewards instructions while the 21 turnstiles were scheduled to open at 12:45 for a 14:30 kick-off.

2 – The Match

Chester entered the game with only one change from their regular line-up. Right winger Jackie Arthur had picked up an ankle injury in the Christmas Day game against Rotherham United and this had not responded to salt water treatment. Therefore Bobby Hamilton had been switched to the right wing with Hoole amateur Dennis Selby given his chance on the left wing for only his fourth first team appearance.

The game was played in a typical FA Cup atmosphere and a splash of colour was imparted by Chester mascot Mickey Moran who was dressed from head to foot in blue and white. He paraded around the ground before the match, rallying support and before kick off caused “a roar of amusement” by solemnly kissing the ball and placing it on the centre spot.

A thrilling cup-tie full of exciting incidents could have opened with a goal for either side in the first minute. First of all Syd Rawlings cross was met by Bill Strauss who fired fractionally wide of the home upright. Almost immediately the returning Bill Shortt misjudged a cross from Bobby Hamilton which hit the top of the bar with Dennis Selby unable to convert the rebound. It proved to be only a temporary respite for Pl;ymouth as Chester took the lead in the fifth minute when Dick Yates headed down to Tommy Astbury who advanced before unleashing an unstoppable shot past Shortt.

Tommy Astbury – Scorer of the first goal

The goal prompted a response from Plymouth who put the City defence under severe pressure as left back Dave McNeil struggled to cope with the dangerous Rawlings and both Dave and Richard Thomas came close for the visitors. Fortunately for Chester the Argyle forwards were unable to capitalise on the chances created by the wingers while man of the match Trevor Walters was outstanding in marshalling his defence.

The last 20 minutes of the first half proved to be all Plymouth and they had a penalty claim turned down but Chester almost scored a second when Tommy Burden’s header from an Eric Lee free kick hit the underside of the bar and was scrambled away by the Plymouth defence. Despite Argyle’s pressure City held on to hold a 1-0 lead at half time

The second half had barely started when the Pilgrims had a golden opportunity to equalise An attack down the left wing saw Bill Strauss hit the crossbar and when the ball fall to Dave Thomas a goal seemed inevitable. However, from no more than five yards out, the centre forward took a wild kick and fired into the Kop. The failure to take this chance proved to be a turning point in the game and Chester gradually took control of the game and began to outplay their 2nd Division opponents. Shortt saved well from both Lee and Frank Marsh while there were opportunities for Astbury and Tommy Burden before City extended their lead in the 62nd minute.

A punt upfield by Selby was chased by Burden who outpaced the Argyle defenders and although Shortt raced out it was the Chester number eight who reached the ball first and rounded the goalkeeper before shooting into an empty net for a fine finish.

Tommy Burden – 2nd Goalscorer

Chester continued to pile on the pressure but Shortt was safe in the Plymouth goal and it was only in the last 10 minutes that the visitors got back into the game. In the closing minutes George Scales made two spectacular saves from Dave Thomas despite suffering from an injury which saw him limping while Burden also picked up a knock which saw him leave the field for a short time.

In a game that was in the balance for large periods the Chester defence were the stars of the show with Walters, in particular, and Marsh the pick of the eleven. Meanwhile the Argyle defence struggled under pressure and it was reported that the score might have been more convincing had the Chester wingers Hamilton and Selby been more proficient on the day.

Chester – Scales, Butcher, McNeil, Marsh, Walters, Lee, Hamilton, Burden, Yates, Astbury, Selby

Scorers – Astbury 5, Burden 62

Plymouth Argyle – Shortt, Royston, Dyer, Jones, Dixon, Boyd, Rawlings, R Thomas, D Thomas, Tinkler, Strauss

Attendance – 18,000

3 – Post match

Victory over Plymouth earned Chester an attractive 4th Round home tie against Stoke City and Stanley Matthews.

The attendance was reported by the Cheshire Observer as around 17,000 but as 18,000 in the Chester Chronicle with gate receipts of £2000. Given ticket sales it seems likely that the figure was somewhere in between but it fell short of the 18,816 who had been at the Sheffield Wednesday tie eight years earlier.

Amateur left winger Dennis Selby only played two more first team games and three Cheshire County League matches before joining Altrincham in the summer. Born in Broughton he died in 1969.

Bill Shortt went on to make 374 appearances for Argyle in all competitions making him their 16th ranked player in terms of games played before retiring in 1956. He was also capped by Wales on 12 occasions between 1947 and 1953. He went on to become a publican in Devon and was awarded a benefit match by Plymouth in 1985. He died in 2004.

Bill Shortt Benefit Match

Plymouth finished the season in 19th position in Division 2.

This was the first of four FA Cup ties between the sides. In 1993/94 Chester were beaten 1-0 at Home Park while the two sides also met when the Blues were in the Conference in 2000/01. On the latter occasion Chester were once again the giant killers winning 2-1 at Plymouth after a 1-1 draw at the Deva Stadium.

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Featured Match 1

Hull City 3 Chester 2 (Div 3 North) – Apr 2nd 1949 

Seventy years ago today Chester played in front of their largest ever league attendance when 36,167 spectators attended their Division Three North fixture at Hull. Although there have been larger crowds for cup games, most notably 47,632 for the League Cup semi-final at Aston Villa in 1975 and 45,660 for the FA Cup 3rd Round tie at Manchester United in 1965, this is a record for a Chester league game. 

At the time Hull stood top of the league and were heading for promotion to Division Two while Chester were 16th although they had dropped another two places by the end of the campaign. Amazingly this was not Hull’s largest attendance of the season as they had several crowds above 40,000 with a peak of 49,655 for the Boxing Day match against promotion rivals Rotherham United.

The game itself proved to be a thriller with Chester twice taking the lead through Joe Davies and Albert Burgess before the Tigers fought back to win the game 3-2.

As for home games, the record attendance for a cup game was 20,378 for the FA Cup 3rd round replay against Chelsea in January 1952. In the league, 16,835 attended the February 1933 local derby at Sealand Road when Chester faced Wrexham in the 3rd Division North.

Hull City – Bly, Fowler, Taylor, Greenhalgh, Meens, Mellor, Harrison, Jensen, Moore, Buchan, Burbanks

Scorers: Jensen 37, Moore 66,76

Chester – Elliott, Butcher, McNeil, Beaumont, Lee, Astbury, Davies, Burgess, Foulds, Westwood, Forsyth

Scorers: Davies 35, Burgess 53

Attendance: 36,167

Charlie Hewitt – management 1930s style

A look through the minutes of the meetings in the 1930s ledger turned up some interesting information about the club. From my point of view the most fascinating revelation was Charlie Hewitt’s position at the club.

Hewitt’s job title at Chester was secretary-manager but I never appreciated how this role worked. Certainly I envisaged him as primarily a football man who handled some of the administration. However, the meeting minutes shed a different light on affairs and it seems that the balance was tilted more towards the running of the club than I imagined.

Charlie Hewitt

Charlie Hewitt

Hewitt was born in the north-east in 1884 and had an unremarkable football career spending short periods with Middlesbrough, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace and Hartlepools United. He took his first managerial role at Mold before spells in charge at Wrexham, Flint and Connah’s Quay. He became Chester’s first manager in 1930 and lead them into the Football League in 1931 after an incredible season in which they scored 170 goals in the Cheshire County League and finished runners-up to Port Vale Reserves. The season was notable for the quality of players attracted to the club with Chester taking advantage of the loan system and bringing in experienced Football League players like Arthur Gale, Frank Creswell and Dave Morris.

The minutes show that Hewitt spent a lot of time scouting for players and he would make transfer recommendations to the board but when it came to selecting or organising the team his input was more limited. I had read in the past that his philosophy was to find the right man for the right position and that seems to be the key to his success at Chester. He didn’t believe in using confusing tactics or giving a player a role for which he had no experience and as far as he was concerned it was a matter of getting the team forward to score goals in as straightforward a fashion as possible. Hewitt employed a number of trainers, like Jock Simpson and Hughie Ross, whose main job was to get the players fit, but on reflection I wonder how significant it is that in the majority of team groups in On The Borderline it is the trainer rather than Hewitt who appears in the team photograph.

In those early Football League days Chester employed a selection committee and this seems to have caused some conflict between Hewitt and the board of directors. An example of this can be seen in October 1933 when the committee met to select the team against Stockport. The minutes report that Hewitt recommended Gerry Kelly play in place of Sammy Armes who had picked up an injury but the selection committee was divided on who to select and in the end it was resolved to refer the position of outside right to the full board of directors which must have been extremely frustrating for Hewitt.

In the end Kelly played and scored with Chester drawing 1-1 but this coincided with a run that saw the club win only two of the first 12 games of the season. In a meeting at the end of October one of the directors expressed his view that the club would only start to win matches when the board accepted the selection recommendations of Hewitt. The secretary-manager certainly made his opinions known when he told the board where he thought the problems rested saying that Kelly would not make a centre-forward due to his not liking the position. He also suggested other changes in the starting line-up stating, amongst other things, that he was dissatisfied with the play and captaincy of Harry Skitt and accusing Frank Cresswell of malingering.

The situation appears to have been partially resolved the following week when the board agreed to cease with a selection committee and act on the recommendations of the secretary-manager. Although this seemed to place more power in the hands of Hewitt it still left the final decision with the board as can be seen when the decision to select Skitt against Darlington a few weeks later was passed by a vote of six to three.

In fact it could be argued that the board were often in a better position to judge current form than Hewitt who often appeared to be on scouting missions. In his time at Millwall (where he became manager in 1936) it was noted that he was rarely seen on match days which seemed to continue the trend he began at Sealand Road. Interestingly, when he took up the managerial position at Millwall, he insisted on having full control of affairs which is something he did not get at Chester.

A perfect example of Hewitt’s approach to match days can be seen in September 1933. While the first eleven were chalking up an impressive 3-0 win at Wrexham the secretary-manager was with the reserves at Stockport. In fact, even in games when Hewitt was present, he did not maintain control of the team and one of the resolutions in the minutes states:

“..during progress of any game, home or away, Directors present in charge or Sec-Manager be and is hereby empowered to make such positional changes as thought necessary.”

Clearly Hewitt was heavily involved in transfer activity but he also appeared to run all the day to day operations at the club. He was a trained accountant, in charge of all the financial books, as well as handling matters like ticket and travel arrangements, insurance and advertising. In June 1933, the board registered appreciation for Hewitt on his book-keeping and accountancy skills.

In these days of performance related payments it is notable that, at one board meeting, Hewitt requested that he be paid commission on the advertising in the ground as well as a percentage of any transfer fee received. This request seems to have been initially ignored but when it was brought up again at the end of the year the board agreed to his request for a percentage of the advertising revenue but, at least initially, turned down the transfer fee proposal much to Hewitt’s dissatisfaction.

When the secretary-manager moved to Millwall in 1936 he was replaced as manager by Alex Raisbeck with clerk Billy Peters took over the role of secretary.

Hewitt himself had a big impact when he first moved down to London taking Millwall to the semi-final of the FA Cup followed by the Division Three South title the following season. However, his time at the Den ended in disgrace when he was suspended for six months for making illegal payments to players before being sacked soon afterwards in 1940. After serving with the Royal Navy during the war he returned to football as Leyton Orient manager in 1946 but resigned less than a year later after a disagreement about signing players. Although he was reinstated at Orient he, perhaps surprisingly, returned to Millwall in August 1948 after two undistinguished seasons at Brisbane Road.

He was less successful in his second spell at Millwall and his autocratic style did not go down well as the team struggled. An abrasive character he was sacked in Janaury 1956 and it was reported that the players were so relieved by his departure that most of them went out for a celebratory drink together.

In the 1960s Hewitt made an unsuccessful attempt to join the board of directors at Chester and died shortly afterwards, in Darlington, in December 1966.

Charlie Hewitt’s time at Sealand Road proved to be one of the club’s most successful periods but his role incorporated activities not normally associated with today’s football manager. His talent seems to have revolved around wheeling and dealing in the transfer market rather than team selection and tactics. This approach would explain why very few local players made a breakthrough into the first team in his time in charge. Conversely his influence off the field appears to have been much greater than expected at a time that Chester were making the transition from the Cheshire County League to the Football League.

“The Stadium”

One of the most interesting items of club memorabilia I have ever seen was recently loaned to Chester FC chairman Tony Durkin.

A 336 page hardback ledger, spanning the period from November 1932 to February 1937, was in the possession of a relative of former clerk and secretary Billy Peters. It makes fascinating reading as it covers board meetings with subjects ranging from club finances and team selection down to travel arrangements and the provision of fire extinguishers.

After my recent articles on Sealand Road there was one item that took my eye. In January 1934 item 2945 referred to the naming of the ground:

Naming of the Ground

Naming of the Ground

“Sec-manager recommended the ground be given a name such as “The Stadium”, Sealand Road, Chester. Resolved on the suggestion of Mr C.J.F. Owen that the Chairman and Sec. Manager use the words The Stadium on posters and letterheads when the public would would follow the lead and accept the title.”

I never appreciated that the ground had formally been entitled “The Stadium” in this way. I had presumed that the name had been adopted by default after its construction in 1906. Given the circumstances I am surprised that such a bland, unimaginative name was endorsed. The naming may have been prompted by the imminent arrival of the Greyhound Stadium, which was built next door the following year, but I would have thought that this would have prompted a more creative title.

Ground name 1932

Ground name 1932

Ground Name 1935

Ground Name 1935

Although The Stadium may have been the official name I think it is fair to say that it never fully caught on. I always though of it as Sealand Road and this was always how the ground was known in footballing circles.

1932 Ledger  Copyright © Rick Matthews

1932 Ledger
Copyright © Rick Matthews

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Sealand Road Remains – 1

With the restoration of the plaque I thought it would be interesting to collate some pictures of other parts of the Sealand Road Stadium that have survived. I am hoping that this will be the first of a number of articles and I would urge anyone to get in contact if they have anything of interest.

The most obvious place to start is the roof of the main stand which was installed at the previously uncovered Hamil Road End of Port Vale’s Vale Park Ground in 1992. According to Simon Inglis’ Football Grounds of Britain book the stand roof was bought from Chester for a bargain price but the final bill for its transport, re-erection and repainting came to £350,000.

Main Stand 1990 Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Main Stand 1990
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Demolition of the stand roof Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Demolition of the stand roof
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Stand roof during demolition Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Stand roof during demolition
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Inglis’ book also states that some surplus roof cladding from Sealand Road was also used at the other end of the ground in the small angled Family stand between the Railway and Bycars Lane Stands.

Coincidentally the first team to utilise the new covered Hamil Road End was Chester when they played a League Two fixture at the ground in September 1992 and were beaten 2-0. The following photographs were taken by Fraser Warburton at that game and with no adverts or Vale branding the stand still looks very much like it did at Sealand Road.

Hamil Road End Port Vale September 1992 Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Hamil Road End Port Vale September 1992
Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Corner of the stand at Vale Park Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Corner of the stand at Vale Park
Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Standing at Vale Park in September 1992 Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Standing at Vale Park in September 1992
Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Port Vale v Chester - September 1992

Inglis’ book also states that some surplus roof cladding from Sealand Road was also used at the other end of the ground in the small angled Family stand between the Railway and Bycars Lane Stands.

In 1995, 4,550 seats were installed and Blues fans were able to sit under the stand roof for the first time for a Worthington Cup tie in 1998. Two Luke Beckett goals gave Chester a 2-1 victory in that game. There was a return to the ground the following year in the same competition for that memorable 4-4 draw in Terry Smith’s first game in charge.

Sitting under the stand roof - Port Vale v Chester in September 1998 Copyright © NWN Media

Sitting under the stand roof – Port Vale v Chester in September 1998
Copyright © Leader newspaper

The second item was salvaged form the demolition of the ground in 1992 by supporter Alan Potter who managed to carry it back to his house in Blacon which is quite an achievment given its size.

Entrance sign

Entrance sign

The admission price board was initially in place at the Sealand Road End as can be seen from my accompanying photo.

The entrance sign in its original location Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

The entrance sign in its original location
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

The final item is a gem from the old wooden Sealand Road stand and is the sign from above the away team dressing room that I was given several years ago.

Sign from old Sealand Road stand

Sign from old Sealand Road stand

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Plaque Unveiling

The installation was completed last week when Art Graphics of Saltney erected an information board alongside the sandstone plaque. This was followed by an unveiling on Saturday before the players embarked on the victory parade to the town hall.

The unveiling was attended by Rob Fleet, who retrieved the broken plaque back in 1992, as well as former ISA chairman George Rogers who had looked after the pieces in recent years. Also present were Pauline Meakins, representing the Chester Exiles who sponsored the information board, as well as Chester FC chairman Tony Durkin and members of the Senior Blues.

Plaque with Information Board

Plaque with Information Board

Plaque Unveiling - May 2013 Photograph - Rick Matthews

Plaque Unveiling – May 2013
Copyright © Rick Matthews

Before the event I was talking to Rob about the “Chester Football Club Limited” lettering that appeared above the plaque (see the picture in the February 1st article) and wondered what had happened to it. I had always thought they were individual letters attached to the wall but Rob says that they were embedded in breeze blocks and they were too big to remove. It begs the question did anyone salvage a letter as a souvenir?

This led me on to another thought. I know that other parts of the ground were salvaged by supporters after the ground’s demolition and I thought it might be a nice idea to put together some photographs and stories in an article. I have already received pictures of the old stand roof in place at Port Vale when it was still distinctly recognisable as coming from Sealand Road.

Unfortunately I missed out on taking pictures of the old stand seats which were used at the Greyhound Stadium in Ellesmere Port. These seats have recently been removed but if anyone has a picture that would be great.

Please get in touch via the message form below if you have anything of interest or just add a comment.

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Return of the Plaque

After 21 years the Supporter’s Plaque has returned home and been positioned on the outside of the ground by the main office.

Altomont Townsend and the students at the college have done a superb restoration job and three students from the Bricklaying Level 1 course, Joe Lawrence, Jamie Morgan and Danny Dowling put the plaque in place on the wall today.

Finished plaque at the college. Photo - Altomont Townsend

Finished plaque at the college.
Photo – Altomont Townsend

Installing the plaque Photo - Tony Pate

Installing the plaque
Photo – Tony Pate

Putting the plaque in place Photo - Tony Pate

Putting the plaque in place
Photo – Tony Pate

Bricklaying students with the finished plaque - Joe Lawrence, Jamie Morgan, Danny Dowling Photo - Tony Pate

Bricklaying students with the finished plaque – Joe Lawrence, Jamie Morgan, Danny Dowling
Photo – Altomont Townsend

The information board has been completed, thanks to sponsorship from the Chester Exiles, and this is expected to be erected alongside the plaque later this week.

In my previous posting I speculated that the plaque may have been made by Clegg’s stonemasons on Bumpers Lane but a more plausible explanation has since come forward.  Steve and Colin Mansley, whose grandfather’s cousin was Chester chairman at the time, tell me that there was a Mansley’s stonemasonry business at Handbridge, where Blackwell’s Stonecraft Ltd is now located, and it seems more likely to me that the plaque originated from there.

The finished plaque in place

The finished plaque in place

The finished article

The finished article

On Saturday May 11th, at 12:30 pm, there will be an official unveiling of the plaque which is scheduled to take place before the players embark on their open-top bus trip to the town hall. Supporters are welcome to attend.

For the full story behind the restoration there have been three previous posts on the topic which can be found in the archives under Grounds.

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