Bernard Fleming (1937-2021)

Former full-back Bernard Fleming has sadly passed away at the age of 84. One of Bill Lambton’s signings in summer 1962 he was an ever present in his first campaign at Sealand Road and made a total of 64 Football League appearances for Chester. 

Bernard Fleming

Born in South Bank, Bernard was spotted by Grimsby Town playing for Bomber Command at RAF Binbrook while doing his National Service. After a successful trial he turned professional with the Mariners in April 1957 and made his debut at Cardiff City in September of the same year. Although he only made 22 appearances for the Lincolnshire side he went on to have a long association with the club during the 1970s and 1980s serving as both youth team manager and club secretary.

On the playing side Bernard spent the 1961/62 with Workington but moved to Chester in May 1962 after failing to settle in Cumberland. It was disciplinarian manager Lambton who brought Bernard to Sealand Road as he completely rebuilt a side that had finished bottom of Division Four in each of the previous two seasons. Lambton had been trainer and caretaker manager when Bernard was at Grimsby and his former charge was seen a key component in a notoriously leaky defence that had conceded 200 goals in those previous two campaigns. While Lambton failed to last the season, and Chester again had to apply for re-election, there was a big improvement defensively where Bernard, alongside the returning John Molyneux and centre-half John Butler stemmed the tide of goals conceded.

Bernard remained first choice at the start of the 1963/64 season under Peter Hauser but an ankle ligament injury in September saw him struggle to regain his place in the team. Although he returned to the starting eleven, as a right half in December, the return of George Evans after injury saw him finish the campaign in the Cheshire County League side. He was made available for transfer in the summer and moved to Winsford United while also working as a clerk at the Co-op.

Returning to Lincolnshire he continued his association with Grimsby Town and also served as a scout with Southampton, Peterborough United and Darlington. 

John James (1948 – 2021)

Former striker John “Jesse” James has sadly passed away at the age of 72. John joined Chester in February 1973 and scored 40 goals in 98 Football League matches but will best be remembered for his goalscoring exploits in the 1974/75 League Cup campaign when he put League champions Leeds United to the sword with two goals in an amazing 3-0 victory. The big number 10 followed that up with the only goal in the 5th round replay against another First Division side, Newcastle United, before Chester’s glorious run was ended by Aston Villa at the semi-final stage. For a few short weeks in 1974 his name was on everyones lips as pictures of him raising both arms in triumph in front of a packed Sealand Road and filling his goalscoring boot with beer adorned the back pages of the national newspapers.

John’s sad passing comes only days after that of legendary manager Ken Roberts who signed him from Port Vale for £5,000 and paired him with Derek Draper to form a deadly if unconventional looking forward partnership. The wily Draper proved a perfect foil for the wholehearted striker who seemed to spend much of the game on the ground as he threw himself at every ball ensuring that he never came off the pitch without being covered in mud having given 100%. When upright, he would roam the field with his trademark long blue and white sleeves pulled down past his wrists and shirt cuffs gripped tightly in his fingers looking like he was suffering badly from the cold but appearances were deceptive and he was a handful for every defender. He may not have been blessed with pace and his goals were never spectacular but he knew where to find the back of the net and was deadly in the six yard box. Coupled with an unerring ability to win free kicks and hold the ball up, he was a perfect striker for the time and a key figure in that successful 1974/75 team.

Born in Stone in 1948 John signed professional terms with Port Vale in April 1966. He went on to make 210 league appearances at Vale Park, scoring 39 goals, and was a member of their promotion winning team in 1969/70. In February 1973 he moved to Sealand Road and made an instant impression with a goal on his debut as the Seals produced their best performance of the season in beating struggling Darlington 5-0. He went on to score another five goals that campaign. 

The 1973/74 season proved to be John’s most prolific as he netted 21 times in the league, the first player to score more than 20 league goals since Gary Talbot in 1968/69.. He was in top form when champions Leeds United visited a stadium packed to the rafters and ‘Jamo’ raised the roof when he crashed the ball past David Harvey at the second attempt to open the scoring. He followed this up with a second half penalty to sew up the most famous of all giant-killing acts. In the next round Chester forced a goalless draw at Newcastle and in the replay it was John who was on hand to profit from a knock down by Trevor Storton and force the ball home from barely two yards. Once again he was on target in the second leg of the losing semi-final against Aston Villa but a March injury saw him add only two more goals as Chester won promotion for the first time. 

John James scores the first goal against Leeds United – Nov 1974 (Chester Chronicle)
Toasting the famous victory over Leeds United
John James celebrates scoring the winning goal against Newcastle – December 1975 (Cheshire Observer)

After featuring in the first game in Division Three, at Crystal Palace, John was replaced by Barney Daniels and the following month moved to Tranmere Rovers in an exchange deal with Paul Crossley. He regained his goalscoring form at Prenton Park scoring 19 times in 38 games as Rovers won promotion to Division Three. A spell with Chicago Sting in the NASL was followed by a return to Tranmere before a move into non-league football with Stafford Rangers.

Ken Roberts (1936-2021)

Ken Roberts, who has sadly passed away at the age of 84, will always be remembered as the mastermind behind Chester’s greatest ever triumphs in the 1974/75 season. As manager he not only led the club to its first ever promotion but guided a loyal band of talented Fourth Division players to within a hair’s breadth of a Wembley appearance. That fairytale League Cup run was ended at the Semi-Final stage by a narrow 5-4 aggregate defeat to Aston Villa but it was a remarkable journey that grabbed the nation’s attention and will long be remembered by all that were fortunate to witness it. 

Born in Cefn Mawr in 1936 Ken joined Wrexham straight from school and by September he was in the record books as the youngest ever player to feature in a Football League match when he played for the Reds at Bradford Park Avenue at the tender age of 15 years and 158 days. Although he was released by Wrexham on the eve of his 19th birthday he was snapped up by Aston Villa and made his First Division debut at Blackpool in 1954. Over the next couple of years he made intermittent first team appearances before an injury at Manchester United in 1956 effectively ended his playing career.

Ken in action for Aston Villa at Newcastle, March 1954 – Ken Roberts Collection

After a failed attempt at a playing comeback with Oswestry Town he became first team coach at Wrexham in 1961 where he remained until 1965. However, 12 months later, he was back at the Racecourse Ground as coach and Chief Scout under Jack Rowley who he then followed to Bradford Park Avenue in April 1967.

In February 1968 Ken took over from Peter Hauser at Sealand Road where he forged a strong relationship with chairman Reg Rowlands. Signing the likes of Andy Provan and Billy Dearden, who were both later sold for a healthy profit, the club showed steady signs of improvement and the 1969/70 campaign saw an appearance in the Welsh Cup final and a first appearance in the FA Cup Fourth Round in more than 20 years. That FA Cup run included a 2-1 victory over Second Division Bristol City and the following year Chester narrowly missed out on promotion with a 5th placed finish.

Ken with Sir Alf Ramsey – Ken Roberts Collection

Although there was a slight slump in 1971/72 the sale of assets over the next two years helped release funds and Ken started the rebuild that would result in promotion three years later. With a series of astute signings like Trevor Storton he built a formidable, well-balanced team alongside coach Brian Green. 

Ken’s crowning glory was without doubt the League Cup run of 1974/75. After beating higher placed Walsall, Blackpool and Preston North End the League champions, Leeds United, were dismantled in front of a capacity 19,000 at Sealand Road. A brace from John James and one from Trevor Storton gave Chester a remarkable 3-0 victory in one of the greatest giant-killing acts of all time. In these days, when Premiership clubs habitually field weakened teams, it is hard to comprehend the magnitude of this feat against a team full of internationals that went on to reach the European Cup Final that same year. 

In the next round Ken orchestrated a magnificent goalless draw at Newcastle, a performance of which he always remained justifiably proud, before a goal from ‘Jesse’ James in front of another packed Sealand Road put Chester in the semi-final and that cruel defeat at Villa Park.

Throughout the cup run Ken’s belief and trust in his players was clearly evident and it was this relationship that went a long way to creating such a successful team. A calm presence on the touchline, he wasn’t an expressive manager but teased the best out of his players by building strong personal links and recognising their strengths and weaknesses. Throughout the League Cup run he represented Chester with dignity and as the club advanced in the competition his enjoyment shone through in his interviews. His charm and affability helped build a strong bond amongst the players who continued to address him as ‘boss’ long after they had finished working under him.

Ken stepped down as team manager in 1976 but remained as general manager as Alan Oakes took over playing responsibility. After leaving the club three years later he spent time at Wrexham and managed Cefn Druids before briefly returning to Chester under Kevin Ratcliffe who he also followed to Shrewsbury Town. 

Away from football he spent time running a tennis centre in Wrexham and was a very keen golfer and bowler. A regular fixture at Chester Former Players events he remained a very popular and well-respected figure amongst supporters and players and will be sadly missed.

Chester’s First Foreign Player

If asked to name Chester’s first foreign player I imagine that many supporters would look back to the 1999/2000 season when Terry Smith brought in a host of players born outside the British Isles. The introduction of the likes of Martin Nash, Angus Eve, Junior Agogo, Joe Carver and Goran Milosavijevic met with varying degrees of success but they added an international flavour to the team that was relegated to the Conference

Prior to that there were brief blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances from a variety of short-term signings such as Dutchman Jorg Smeets in the 1998/99 season, Canadian Geoff Aunger in 1994 and Australian centre-forward Ross Greer who was signed by Harry McNally in November 1989 and made two appearances memorable only for an own goal in a 2-0 defeat at Shrewsbury Town.

Going back even further supporters will have fond memories of South African Peter Hauser who was player-manager of the free-scoring Chester team in the 1964/65 season while the early 1950s saw a handful of appearances from Nelson Stiffle who was born in India.

However, the earliest foreign born player to make his mark at Sealand Road was Mahmoud Mokhtar an Egyptian student who scored 11 goals in just under 20 appearances for the Cheshire County League side between March and September 1924.

Mokhtar arrived in this country in September 1922 at the age of 23 to complete his training as an engineer at Bristol University and was initially linked with Bristol Rovers. At 5ft 9 inches and 12 stone he was described as having a splendid build for a forward. In Egypt he had played for the National Sporting club of Cairo and travelled to this country with a letter of recommendation from the secretary of the Anglo-Egyptian FA. The letter described how he had represented the Egyptian team at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp as an outside right and was considered second to none in that position in Egypt while he had also proved his competency in any forward position.

The glowing reference seems to have employed a certain amount of artistic licence. Although Mokhtar was a member of the squad he did not appear in either of Egypt’s games, a 2-1 defeat against Italy and a a 4-2 victory over Yugoslavia in a consolation match. Nevertheless some guide to the quality of the side can be gauged by the fact that two other members of the side played in the UK with Tewfik Abdullah representing Derby County, Cowdenbeath and Hartlepool and captain Hussein Hegazi featuring for Dulwich Hamlet and Fulham.

The Bristol Rovers Definitve History, published in 2003, seems to have confused him with a similar named player Mahmoud Mokhtar (also known as El-Tetsh), who became one of Egypt’s most renowned players appearing in the 1928 and 1936 Olympics, and having a stadium in Cairo named in his honour.

In this case Mahmoud Saqr Mokhtar arrived in the country as an outside right and was given a trial with Bristol Rovers against Reading but his career at Eastville seems to have ended as soon as it began. By February 1923 he was playing in an Inter-University match for Bristol against Nottingham. Not only did he score in a 6-0 victory but, along with his right wing partner Robin, was involved in the majority of the goals. In March he again featured for Bristol University, this time against Aberystwyth, and appears to have been the stand out player scoring once in a 4-1 win as the Western Daily Press described how he “beat man after man in the opposing defence with some bewildering footwork”. Clearly an extremely skilful player he again represented the university a couple of weeks later in a friendly against Wells City where “his puzzling movements proved very troublesome to the home half backs.”

In the summer of 1923 Mokhtar switched to Liverpool University and signed for Tranmere Rovers. He made his debut for them in a Cheshire County League game against Northwich Victoria and while the Liverpool Echo described him as being a trifle slow in speed he was said to have “put such passes along as have not been seen at Prenton for a long time”.

By December 1923 he was back playing university football, this time for Liverpool, and netted a spectacular five goals in a 6-3 win over Manchester University. Mokhtar also represented amateur team Northern Nomads in the first half of the season and was a member of the side eliminated from the Amateur Cup by Attercliffe United.

The following March he moved to Sealand Road and made an impressive debut in a Cheshire County League game against Ellesmere Port Cement in front of 2000 spectators. Showing some tricky touches he not only improved the forward line but scored a debut goal after 35 minutes as Chester chalked up their first win in five. Further goals followed in the next two games against Altrincham and Stockport County Reserves and Mokhtar again received positive reviews with the Cheshire Observer stating that he “gave spectators many exhibitions of how soccer should be played”.

On Good Friday nearly 5000 spectators saw another brilliant display from Mokhtar who scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Runcorn and was described as the outstanding man on the field. Playing at centre forward his goals were described as two of the best seen at the ground in a long time with the local papers again commenting that first time shooting was his forte and he came close to scoring on several other occasions.

Mahmoud Mokhtar in the middle of the front row prior to the Cheshire County League game against Macclesfield in September 1924

Mokhtar started the 1924/25 campaign with a brace against Altrincham followed by another strike against Macclesfield. After playing in the first five league games of the season he featured for the final time in Chester’s black and white on September 20th in an FA Cup defeat at Witton Albion.

It is likely that his university studies got in the way of his football because by December he was back playing for a joint Liverpool and Manchester University side against an FA X1 and also represented Liverpool in the Inter-Varsity cup match against Birmingham in March 1925.

There was one final return to Sealand Road for Mokhtar when he played for Northern Nomads in a Cheshire Senior Cup game in January 1925. Although he was on the losing side his return was well received and the Cheshire Observer noted how pleased Chester supporters were to see their old favourite. By the end of the season he was with Holyhead in the Welsh National League scoring two goals for the Anglesey team in a 6-2 win over Chirk.

This seems to be the last mention of Mokhtar playing in this country and it may be that after three years at university he returned to Egypt in summer 1925. Although his time playing for Chester was brief, match reports suggest that he was a very skilful player who was popular with the fans and he he clearly made a big impact at Sealand Road.

Copyright ©  Chas Sumner http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com All Rights Reserved

Player Profile – Mike Sutton

Following the sad passing of Mike Sutton on Boxing Day I thought I would reproduce an article I wrote for the Chester programme in the 1990s based on a telephone interview where we discussed his career. It appeared in the programme for the game against his former club, Carlisle United, on September 25th 1993 although for some reason only the first two paragraphs were reproduced so it didn’t make a great deal of sense. This is the full article.

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Mike Sutton spent 3 years with Chester at the end of the 1960s during which time he created a remarkable record by appearing in every single League game. Mike was a predominantly right-footed player who appeared in a number of different roles for the club from central defender through to striker.

Chester Chronicle image

Mike began his career as a forward with Norwich City where he played for 5 seasons alongside another ex-Chester player, Ron Davies. At the end of the 1966/67 season he had a contractual dispute with the club and Peter Hauser signed him for Chester on a free transfer. Mike made his debut against Notts County in the number 6 shirt and although he played in every game that season he failed to get on the score sheet. He made up for this the following season with 5 goals in the first 12 League games with the first of these coming in a 5-1 victory over Colchester. It was this same season that saw Chester play an epic 4 game League cup tie with Tranmere and Mike remembers scoring the equalizer in the 3rd game at Prenton Park.

The 1969/70 was Mike’s last at Sealand Road and it was during this season that he recalls playing in the side that beat Bristol City 2-1 in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup. Mike has many happy memories of his time with Chester and like many players he particularly remembers the derby matches with Wrexham as games with a special atmosphere.

Chester Chronicle image

At the end of the 1969/70 season Mike recollects that Chester experienced financial difficulties and the whole team was put on the transfer list. Three players left the club with Andy Provan joining Wrexham, Billy Dearden joining Sheffield United and Mike going to Carlisle. Mike believes that Carlisle payed about £10,000 for him and he made his League debut for them in the first game of the 1970/71 season at Middlesbrough, a game in which he scored in a 2-1 defeat. His stay in Cumbria lasted 2 seasons before he retired from league football at the early age of 27 with a re-occurrence of a medial ligament injury he suffered at Norwich.

In 1972 he went to Loughborough College for 4 years to study PE and Biology before returning to Norwich as a teacher. Mike is now in his eighteenth year at that same school where he is head of PE and also teaches human biology. On the footballing front Mike played for Great Yarmouth for 8 seasons on his return to Norfolk. In 1983 just missed out on playing at Wembley as Great Yarmouth were beaten by VS Rugby in the Semi-Final of the FA Vase. 

Mike still lives in Norwich with his wife Josephine and as well as his teaching job he also does some part time coaching with Norwich City schoolboys. Mike’s son Chris is carrying on the family footballing tradition with over 60 appearances for Norwich as well as appearing for England Under 21s and Mike is justifiably proud of his sons progress.  

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