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

Cheshire Senior Cup 1932

When Chester face Stalybridge Celtic at Witton on April 17th it will be the first time they have featured in the Final of the Cheshire Senior Cup since 1932. For many years the competition has been regarded as an inconvenience but interest seems to have gathered this year as the Blues have moved closer to the Final and there should be a good turnout at Wincham Park in three weeks time.

The declining interest was no doubt due to the fact that once Chester were elected to the Football League in 1931 it essentially became a competition for the reserve team. When the club dropped out of the Cheshire County League in 1969 it seemed to further loosen the bonds and it became even more of an irritant over the next 30 years. The only time I can remember it being taken vaguely seriously was in 1998 when Kevin Ratcliffe played the first team in a Second Round tie against Altrincham. Two days earlier the Blues had been whipped 6-0 by Cardiff City in the FA Cup and Ratcliffe fielded the same team with the exception of Wayne Brown who was replaced in goal by Neil Cutler. This attempt to regain confidence backfired badly as the Robins won 3-0 with former Blue, Leroy Chambers scoring the first goal.

Even when City were relegated from the Conference in 2000 they continued to play a mixture of reserves and youngsters resulting in an inevitable, and probably welcomed, early exit.

All this contrasts with the early years of the cup, which was first contested in 1879/80. Northwich Victoria won the cup every year for the initial six seasons and Chester’s first match in the competition took place in December 1885 when they lost 3-1 at Middlewich. Before the end of the century Chester had featured in five finals winning it for the first time in 1895 and following up with another triumph two years later. They continued to figure prominently until the First World War with victories in 1904, 1908 and 1909.

There was a 22 year break until the next success when Charlie Hewitt’s all-star team hammered Crewe Alexandra 6-1 in the Final at Northwich. Salford school teacher Arthur Gale enhanced his goalscoring reputation with four of the goals in the Final to take his total in the competition to 17 goals in five games.

By the following season Chester had taken up their place in the Football League and it was left to the reserves, still competing in the Cheshire County League, to defend the cup.

First Round – Chester 3 Sandbach Ramblers 2 – December 26th 1931

Chester – Burke, Harris, W Jones, Evans, Capner, Atkinson, A Ferguson, Ward, Penk, G Jones, C Matthews

The tie against Sandbach Ramblers was originally scheduled as an away match but in order to help out the financially crippled opponents the game was switched to Sealand Road and brought forward to Boxing Day. Sandbach were duly rewarded with a bumper holiday crowd of 3,549 on a day that the first team played at Lincoln City.

In a keenly contested game Chester were much the better team and won more easily than the 3-2 scoreline suggests although they had to recover from 2-1 down to progress. The match was a personal triumph for Penk who scored all three goals. That he played at all was a surprise as he was a last minute replacement for Albert Valentine who had been called up for the first team duty at Lincoln.

The team contained six players who had featured in Division Three North action with the aforementioned Penk along with Harris, Capner, Ward and G Jones destined never to make the first team. Captain of the team was Josh Atkinson, the former Leeds and Barnsley defender who had led Chester to the championship the previous season.

Second Round – Planters 2 Chester 2 – January 30th 1932

Chester – Burke, Carr, W Jones, Keeley, Millsom, Evans, Atkinson, Penk, Harris, Valentine, C Matthews.

Planters were a works team from Bromborough and despite their lowly status they played above themselves to earn a replay at Sealand Road.

On a soft and heavy pitch Chester failed to impress and although Planters lacked the all-round ability of the visitors they showed great courage and tactical sense to twice come from behind. The Chester goals came from the returning Valentine and Harris but man of the match was Ernie Millsom, a former Charlton Athletic defender, who had been in and out of the first team in previous weeks.

The game proved to be one of the last Chester games for Ernie Keeley. The Ellesmere Port defender had moved to Sealand Road from his home town club but some impressive first team performances led to a transfer to Leicester City with the money raised going to finance ground improvements.

Second Round replay –  Chester 4 Planters 1 – February 10th 1932

Chester – Burke, Carr, Jones, Keeley, Atkinson, W Matthews, Owen, Robson, Evans, Harris, Valentine, Hedley

On a bitterly cold Wednesday afternoon there were no more than 400 present to see Chester progress to the Third Round. With no first team game scheduled the side was strengthened by the presence of left winger Foster Hedley as well as centre half Billy Matthews and Cud Robson who had both recently played in the Division Three side. The experienced Matthews was a former Bristol City, Wrexham and Bradford Park Avenue player who had also earned international caps for Wales.

In a scrappy game Chester again failed to impress despite the 4-1 victory while Planters put up a good performance but were let down by their finishing . The goalscorers were Valentine and Spencer Evans with two apiece and in the days before substitutes Chester played the second half with 10 men after Robson was taken ill.

Third Round –  Congleton 0 Chester 2 – February 27th 1932

Chester – Burke, Carr, Jones, Evans, W Matthews, Atkinson, A Ferguson, Harris, Valentine, C Matthews, Catherall

In front of a “promising” crowd Chester overcame their Cheshire County League rivals with a goal in each half from Flintshire based Catherall and winger Archie Ferguson. Although Chester were worthy winners on a sunny afternoon they could not repeat their goalscoring exploits of the previous week when they had defeated Whitchurch 7-3 with Valentine scoring six of the goals.

Semi-Final –  Chester 3 Stockport County 1 (at Altrincham) – March 19th 1932

Chester – Burke, Carr, Harris, Atkinson, W Matthews, Millsom, A Ferguson, Evans, Valentine, C Matthews, Catherall

With the first team playing at Sealand Road against Tranmere Rovers there were very few Chester fans present to see the reserves put up one of their best performances of the season. Stockport had been firm favourites to win the tie, as they were without a Third Division match that day, and as a result it had been expected that they would field a formidable team. In the event County fielded many of their first team players in a Central League fixture but were still able to select a strong team. Meanwhile Chester, with Mr George Russell (one of the directors) and Mr Harrison in charge of the team, had not been able to select new signings John Ranson and Allan Livingstone who were ineleigible after signing from financially troubled Colwyn Bay.

In a keenly contested game, that threatened to get out of hand at times, all the goals were scored in the second half. The turning point came when the tenacious Valentine scored with a goal out of nothing. Picking the ball up in the Stockport half he shook off the challenge of three defenders and put the ball past Finney in the County goal. Spencer Evans then added a second prompting County to stage an onslaught on the Chester goal. Smith pulled a goal back with 20 minutes to go but the defence held firm despite several near misses.

With a minute to go Finney went out of his goal to retrieve the ball but lost possession to Valentine who placed the ball into an empty net. It had been an outstanding team performance and Chester had been indebted to the finishing power of Valentine although special mention was also made of full backs Harris and Carr. Harris, who had often been criticised for his robust tackling, had the game of his life aided by the more experienced Carr.

In the other semi-final Crewe Alexandra beat Hyde United at Macclesfield to set up a repeat of the previous year’s Final.

Final –  Crewe Alexandra 0 Chester 1 – May 7th 1932

Chester – Johnson, Bennett, Herod, D Ferguson, Skitt, Reilly, C Matthews, Mercer, Jennings, Cresswell, Robinson

The Final was scheduled for a week after the end of the Division Three North season and both teams showed there determination to capture the handsome trophy by fielding their first elevens. Showing a complete lack of sentiment, the players who had done so much to take the club to the Final were cast aside and to add insult to injury the retained list had already been announced and the squad were already aware of their future at the club.

Atkinson, Spencer Evans and Harris had all been made open to transfer while the likes of Carr, Billy Matthews, Ernie Millsom and Archie Ferguson had been given free transfers. Perhaps unluckiest of all was centre-forward Albert Valentine who went on to sign for Crewe but made a name for himself with Halifax in the mid-1930s where he scored 89 goals in 114 games. Cyril Matthews was the only player to feature in the Final having played in an earlier round and he had also  been placed on the transfer list.

In an enjoyable game, that fluctuated from end to end, Chester were the better team and the game was settled by a single Matt Robinson goal in the 7th minute. The former Manchester United winger, who went on to have a long career at Barrow, scored with a first time shot after a right wing cross by Matthews.

The cup was presented to captain Tommy Jennings by the President of the Cheshire FA, Edward Case, who himself had been a Chester supporter for more than 30 years. When the team returned to the city they were greeted by hundreds of supporters at the town hall and speeches were made on the steps by Jennings, vice-captain Harry Skitt, chairman Harry Mansley, the Mayor and Edward Case.  had been to the assembled throngs by and the celebrations adjourned in the Nag’s Head.

Captain Tommy Jennings collects the Cheshire Senior Cup from Edward Case, President of the Cheshire FA- Cheshire Observer

Captain Tommy Jennings collects the Cheshire Senior Cup from Edward Case, President of the Cheshire FA
– Cheshire Observer

Chester were not given the opportunity to defend the trophy in 1933 as a resolution had been proposed by Northwich Victoria to exclude Football League clubs from the competition. This had reluctantly been passed at a meeting of the Cheshire FA at the Blossoms Hotel four days after the Final. This exclusion did not last long and although Chester returned to the competition they never reached the final again.

After an 81 year gap I’m looking forward to see Chester compete for a trophy that proved so important in the early years of the club.

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