Plaque Restoration Progress

Last week I went along to West Cheshire College to see how work on the Supporters Club plaque was progressing. In fact the stone is now almost finished and they are currently painting the letters. The department estimates that it will need between one and two days to complete the job although you need to bear in mind that restoration work can only take place once a week.

Plaque restoration progress at Chester College

Plaque restoration progress at Chester College

We have been looking at a location for the plaque and hope to install it on the wall between the player’s entrance and the ticket office window, close to the supporter’s bricks.

There is a small piece missing from the right hand side of the plaque and stonemason Altomont Townsend thought it would be better to leave this rather than patch it up. I am in complete agreement with this as it serves to emphasise the restoration work that has been performed. Altomont also pointed out to me the symbolism in the broken plaque and the football club with the repair and return of the plaque imitating the work that the supporters have done in re-building and restoring the new Chester FC.  It also acts as a strong link with the supporters from the 1930s who did so much to help the club in their early years in the Football League.

As well as spotting the paintwork on the lettering, which would have only lasted for a few years, Altomont also had some interesting theories on the making of the plaque. First of all he thinks it would have been made by someone associated with Clegg’s who were based in Bumpers Lane (no relation to tannoy announcer Robbie Clegg). They were the only stonemasons in the city but went bust in the 1970s or 1980s. It is also likely that the engraving was done by an apprentice, perhaps a Chester supporter, rather than by a professional stonemason. He bases this theory on the fact that he identied one or two flaws in the original work and  it is certainly possible to spot that the five in the year does not quite match up with the rest of the date.

If anyone has any further information on the original making of the plaque then Altomont and myself would be very interested to hear from you.

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Another Records Update

There has been another three victories since my last post so it is time for another update and some more observations before tomorrow’s fixture at Gainsborough Trinity.

Unbeaten League Run

Following the 2-0 victory over Altrincham this now stands at an incredible 28 games. As mentioned in previous articles the overall club record is 31 games in the Combination between January 1908 and March 1909. This means that if Chester can avoid defeat against Gainsborough Trinity and Boston United the record will be equalled at Guiseley of all places.

Unbeaten Home Record

Chester are now unbeaten in 33 league and cup games at the Exacta Stadium. They are fast closing in on the post-war record set between November 1973 and January 1975 when Ken Robert’s Blues were unbeaten in 35 games at Sealand Road. In this current sequence there has been 27 league fixtures, two FA Cup ties, one FA Trophy match and three Cheshire Senior Cup games. This record can be equalled with the last home game of the season against Solihull Borough.

The overall club record was set in the early years of the 20th century when Chester rarely seemed to lose a home game. Between September 1904 and September 1908 there went 42 league and cup games unbeaten. This covered two different grounds as the club moved from Whipcord Lane to Sealand Road in December 1906.

The record for league games only is 44 games from the start of the 1925/26 season to September 1927.

Unbeaten Away Record

The Blues are now unbeaten in the last 13 away league games a record that stretches back to the Boston United fixture in September. The Chester FC record currently stands at 15 games. This began with the 1-1 draw at Warrington Town in the very first game in 2010 and ended at Lancaster City the following March.

The club record for away league games unbeaten is 17 in the Cheshire County League during the 1930/31 season. The run started with a 3-3 draw at Runcorn in September and was ended by Manchester North End the following April.

If the current run continues the overall record will be equalled in the last game of the season against Worcester City.

Goals

The 100 league goal target is looking a formality with only three more needed to reach 100 for the third consecutive season. The 300th goal was reached with Tony Gray’s first strike at Colwyn Bay. It remains to be seen if the current team can go on to beat last year’s total of 102 and the 2010/11 total of 107. In the Football League the best was 119 in 1964/65 while the club record is a frankly ridiculous 170 set in the Cheshire County League in 1930/31.

Victories

There have been 31 victories so far this season and with six games to go this record will almost certainly be overhauled. Chester won 31 games in the Evo-Stik league last year and also won the same number in 1926/27 and 1930/31. Out of interest City were champions of the Conference in 2003/04 with 27 wins and in other promotion seasons won 23 in 1974/75 and 1985/86 and 21 in 1993/94.

Defeats

Last season Chester was only defeated in four games which equalled the total of the 2003/04 Conference winning side. Although the team that won the 1908/09 Combination championship lost a mere two games they only played 30 matches so it is a bit of an unfair comparison.

Hat-tricks

Tony Gray became the fourth different player to score three in a league game this season with his hat-trick at Colwyn Bay. He follows on from Ben Mills (v Guiseley), Iain Howard (v Stalybridge) and Craig Curran (v Bishop’s Stortford). It is the first time that four different players have scored league hat-tricks in a season since1964/65 when Gary Talbot (v Stockport County), Elfed Morris (v Aldershot), Jimmy Humes (v Wrexham) and Mike Metcalf (v Newport County) all hit three.The last time five different players scored three was in 1934/35 so come on Nathan Jarman.

Tony Gray completes his hat-trick at Colwyn Bay Copyright © Rick Matthews

Tony Gray completes his hat-trick at Colwyn Bay
Copyright © Rick Matthews

Championships

It goes without saying that Chester has never won three back to back championships. Previously the club won two on the bounce in 1925/26 and 1926/27. I don’t want to tempt fate but hopefully this record will be beaten.

Blue Square North records

Following on from my article on March 14th Chester is threatening to completely tear up the record books for the Blue Square North. They have already equalled the 97 point total of Kettering Town in 2007/08 and beaten the same club’s record of 30 wins. The 97 goal total of Alfreton Town and Northwich Victoria has also now been equalled.

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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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Supporters Club Plaque Restoration

Since my February post there has been significant progress in the project to restore the sandstone plaque to its former glory. West Cheshire College has agreed to do the restoration work at no cost to the club. This has been made possible through Chester’s Volunteer Learning Co-ordinator Carol Bennett’s connection with the college.

Plaque just before ground demolition in 1992 Copyright © Steve Mansley

Plaque just before the ground demolition
Copyright © Steve Mansley

At the end of February we took the three sections down to the college in Handbridge and since then the students, under the leadership of master mason Altomont Townsend, have been hard at work on its re-construction.

Delivering the plaque Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Delivering the plaque
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Plaque ready for restoration Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Plaque ready for restoration
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

This project has proved beneficial to all parties and Altomont described how the college became involved:

“Carol approached us and said she had a small project to do with the football club. She asked if we could take it on so we asked her to bring it along and we would see what we could do. For us it was interesting to do something for the club and I like to pass on any jobs to the students so that they can work on it and gain more experience in stonemasonry.”

The college are trying to get a stonemason’s department up and running and are aiming to find a venue within the campus for their work. So far the project has been restricted to a Thursday evening and Altomont explained the processes involved in the restoration:

“First of all, we had to clean up all the stone and remove all the algae so that we could glue it together. Using steel dowels we drilled the stone and epoxy-resined them together to make sure it was flat. The second process was to rub the stone down so that we had a nice polished surface and then we will move on to carving into it. I want the students to re-carve the letters so they stand out a bit more.”

Master mason Altomont Townsend supervises student John RobertsCopyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Master mason Altomont Townsend supervises student John Roberts
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Work is expected to take another two or three weeks although Altomont is trying to make more time available so it can be finished a bit quicker. As he says it has been an interesting rather than a tough job to work on:

“We are looking for more projects like this that we can learn from so that we can see how it was done years ago and then re-create it. It’s a learning curve for us, we enjoy doing it and we learn how these old projects were done.”

One detail that has emerged from the work so far is that the letters were initially painted black and the intention is to restore the paintwork to match the original.

Restoration in progressCopyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Restoration in progress
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Once the restoration has been completed the next stage will be to return it to the club and arrange for it to be re-mounted on one of the walls at the ground.

The Sealand Road End in 1990 showing the brickwork that was added in 1935. The plaque is just visible by the lamppost. Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

The Sealand Road End in 1990 showing the brickwork that was added in 1935. The plaque is just visible by the lamppost.
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

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Records Update

Following on from the Blue Square North article I thought I would update the statistics before Saturday’s home game against Gloucester City.

Unbeaten League Run

Last Saturday’s win at Harrogate Town marked the 25th unbeaten league game since the defeat at Boston United. As mentioned in previous articles the overall club record is 31 games in the Combination between January 1908 and March 1909 so this could be beaten before the end of the season.

Unbeaten Home Record

Chester are now unbeaten in 31 league and cup games at the Exacta Stadium. This means that if they can avoid defeat in the last four home matches of the season they will equal the post-war record set between November 1973 and January 1975 when Ken Robert’s Blues were unbeaten in 35 games at Sealand Road. In this current sequence there has been 25 league fixtures, two FA Cup ties, one FA Trophy match and three Cheshire Senior Cup games.

Goals

Chester are on target to score 100 goals for the third consecutive season. Since the club was reformed there have been 297 league goals so the third goal (hopefully against Gloucester on Saturday) will be the club’s 300th in the league.

Cheshire Senior Cup

Chester will be appearing in the Cheshire Senior Cup Final for the first time since 1932 when they beat Crewe Alexandra 1-0 at Gresty Road in their first season as a Football League side. Having fielded a predominantly reserve team in the earlier rounds they relied on the first team in the final which was held a week after the end of the Division Three North season. Crewe, who finished three places below Chester in the league, also relied on their first eleven.

This was the seventh county cup victory for the club and came 12 months after they had beaten the Alex 6-1 at Northwich in the 1931 final. Chester never had the opportunity to make it three on the run as they voluntarily withdrew from the competition the following year along with other Football League sides Tranmere Rovers and Crewe. Although the exile was short lived the club has never returned to the final they first won in 1895. The match against Stalybridge Celtic will give the club the opportunity to win one of football’s oldest cup competitions and most handsome trophies.

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Blue Square North Records

As the Blues close in on a third successive title I thought it would be worth comparing their record with that of the previous title winners. With nine games to go Chester are on course to set several new Blue Square North records.

Points

The Conference North was established in 2004/05 when Southport were the first champions. They won the title with 84 points and Chester have already accumulated 88. In fact Chester would have already won the title in four of the previous eight seasons. Droylsden were promoted in 2006/07 with only 78 points. No club has ever hit the 100 point mark and the highest total was Kettering Town who got 97 points in 2007/08.

Wins

Kettering also hold the record for most wins in a season when they won 30 of their 42 games. With Chester already on 28 victories they look set to smash this record.  Last season Hyde were promoted with 27 victories and only Alfreton Town (29 in 2010/11) and Northwich Victoria (29 in 2005/06) has done better. In Alfreton’s case they only played 40 games.

Defeats

Chester has only lost one game so far and the record for fewest defeat in a season is currently held by Southport who won the title in 2009/10 with only four losses. Like Alfreton the Sandgrounders only played 40 games after Farsley Celtic folded mid-season.

Goals Scored

No club has managed more than 100 goals in a season and the best total has been 97 by Alfreton (2010/11) and Northwich Victoria (2005/06). Alfreton could potentially have passed the 100 mark had Ilkeston Town not folded early in the campaign. Amongst the goalscorers for Alfreton that season were Nathan Jarman and Daryl Clare. Chester are currently on 88 goals and look to pass the 100 barrier for the third consecutive season.

Goals Conceded

Once again Alfreton hold the record with 33 goals against. In the same season AFC Telford finished as runners-up to the Derbyshire side and only let in 29 goals. So far Chester has only conceded 27 so this could be a tough record to beat with nine games to go.

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Sealand Road Supporters Club Plaque

The Sealand Road stadium was demolished in 1992 with the club already in situ on Bumpers Lane. One remnant of the stadium that was believed missing was a plaque presented by the Supporters’ Club in 1935. The sandstone plaque was situated on the brick wall at the front of the ground, facing Sealand Road, but partially obscured by a badly placed lamppost.

Sealand Road End in 1976

Sealand Road End in 1976 – Cheshire Observer

The plaque in 1990

The plaque in place in 1990
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Sealand Road End 1990

Sealand Road End 1990
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Sealand Road 1990 Copyright © www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Sealand Road 1990
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Although the demolition men were asked to preserve the plaque it came down with the wall and was smashed into three segments. However all the pieces were salvaged by a supporter who handed them over to the Independent Supporters Association (ISA) at the start of the last decade. With continued uncertainty surrounding the club the broken plaque was stored away at the home of ISA chairman George Rogers. Now that the club is back in safe hands George attended a recent meeting of the Senior Blues and returned the plaque to the club.

The plaque, which is inscribed “Presented by the Supporters Committee 1935”, has flaked in places and a very small piece is missing but is otherwise in reasonable condition under the circumstances. The current intention is to possibly restore the plaque and re-instate it somewhere around the ground.

Most of the development on the Sealand Road game took place in the 1930s with an active Supporters’ Club contributing funds to help finance the changes. A total of nearly £3,000 was handed over between 1930 and 1935 and chairman Harry Mansley acknowledged that “without the efforts of the committee the ground would look bad.”

After a burst of activity in 1930 and 1931, when the main stand was extended and the Sealand Road End covered, the supporters were instrumental in the changes in the middle of the decade. In 1934 the rails around the pitch were replaced by a concrete wall. In “On The Borderline” I suggest this was done at the end of the 1934/35 season but I now believe this was done slightly earlier as the wall caused major drainage problems resulting in a poor pitch and many postponements during the 1934/35 and 1935/36 seasons. The problems with the pitch were exacerbated by the construction of terracing on the popular side. This new terracing accommodated 6,000 and was completed in time for the FA Cup tie with Nottingham Forest in January 1935.

At the start of July 1935 a meeting was held between the directors and the Supporters’ Committee in order to discuss further ground improvements. It was resolved to erect boundary walls on the city side of the ground (popular side) and at the Sealand Road End to take the place of the existing galvanised iron sheets. It was also proposed to fit steel girders in the walls of the popular side to prepare for further extension of the covered accommodation. The architect (Mr A J Hayton), on behalf of the supporters, was instructed to prepare the plans and invite tenders from local firms with the intention of completing the work in time for the first game of the 1935/36 season.

In the event the surrounding walls and popular side cover were both completed during the summer although the cover did not extend the full length of the pitch. It is this work that resulted in the plaque being placed on the new wall at the Sealand Road End.

As a postscript, in the first week of January 1936 the city was battered by a severe gale which caused several hundred pounds of damage to the ground. The new wall, erected by the Supporters’ Committee at the Sealand Road End, was severely damaged and the large entrance gate completely smashed with a side wall also demolished. Fortunately the section of wall directly facing Sealand Road (where the plaque was erected) remained undamaged. In addition a 90 yard section of fencing behind the Spion Kop, which had not been included in the summer changes, was completely flattened and had to be boarded up in time for the home game against Gateshead.

I would be interested to hear about the recovery of the plaque in 1992 so please get in touch if you know its whereabouts between 1992 and the early 2000s.

Marc Williams, me and the plaque.

Marc Williams, me and the plaque.

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