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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Olympian 2

Following on from the Grenville Millington article, another former Chester player played a key role in the Great Britain team that reached the Semi-Final of the football competition at the 1948 Olympics in London. Eric Lee played in all of Britain’s fixtures in the competition and by all accounts emerged with a great deal of credit. Legendary former Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby, who coached the Olympic team, rated him as potentially one of the best half-backs in the game at the time.

Eric was born in 1922 and signed for Chester after being spotted by manager Frank Brown as a 17 year old playing in local football for Hoole Alex. During the war he served in India and Burma and made his full debut for his home-town club in the first post-war fixture at York City in August 1946. Over the next 11 years Eric played 363 league games for Chester placing him fourth in the list of the club’s Football League appearances. In recognition of his service he was awarded a benefit game against Liverpool in 1952.

Eric Lee

Eric Lee

Throughout his entire time on the books at Sealand Road Eric remained as an amateur as he advanced his career in teaching. Chester themselves offered Eric a professional contract and at least one other unnamed club offered a similar deal but, perhaps with an eye to the future, he turned them both down. Although this decision cost Eric the opportunity of playing at a higher level it did open the door for him to represent his country at an amateur level. During the 1946/47 season he was a regular at left half for Chester where his performances earned an England amateur call-up against Wales.

By the following campaign Eric had started his teacher training at Loughborough College which restricted his appearances for Chester. These limitations did not always go down well at Sealand Road and it appears that there was some discussion and doubts about whether the Chester team should be disrupted to accommodate him.

Despite these doubts and a lack of match practice, a late call up to appear in a representative game against a University eleven in Bristol saw Eric impress the selectors who proceeded to pick him for an FA X1 in an Olympic Trial match at Portsmouth in February 1948. The FA X1 consisted of players from the likes of Yorkshire Amateurs, Bromley and Sutton and Eric captained the team that beat Scottish amateurs Queen’s Park 4-0. The Sporting Chronicle reported that Eric had a good game and he was chosen to play in another trial match at Hampden Park in May.

For the second trial Eric furthered his ambition to get into the Olympic team as he played for the Stripes against the Whites. In the first half he played at left half and switched to centre-half for the second 45 minutes as the Stripes won 4-1.

On June 19th Eric was selected at centre half for the final British Association Olympic trial team to play Holland in Amsterdam. Although the British team were beaten by a last minute goal Eric was reported to have played brilliantly and this was followed by the news that he was one of 23 players to report to coach Matt Busby for special training in readiness for the Olympic Games. This good news was accompanied by the announcement that he had also re-signed for Chester with the prospect of increased availability in the new season.

A final warm-up game was played against France, in Nantes, on July 25th before the Olympic competition opened with a First Round fixture against Holland at Arsenal on July 31st. Playing at centre-half Eric helped Britain to an unexpected victory over the Dutch team and five days later a 1-0 win over the French at Fulham earned the side a place in the semi-finals. The Daily Dispatch reported that Britain’s strength against the French had been in the half-back line and Eric was said to have played better than he did against the Dutch.

In the Semi-Final Yugoslavia deservedly triumphed over Britain by three goals to one but Eric emerged as one of the successes in the game and was described by one radio commentator as “iron-curtain Lee”. Two days later Denmark defeated the British 5-3 in the Third and Fourth place play-off game to deny the players a bronze medal.

After the tournament Eric returned to his teacher training at Loughborough while continuing to establish his reputation at Chester as an ice-cool player, calm under pressure and a master of the sliding tackle.

Eric left Chester in 1957 and emigrated to Canada where he took up a teaching job, initially in Manitoba before moving to Quebec. A Physical Education and geography teacher, Eric took up a position with Saguenay Valley High School in Arvida, Quebec in 1960 where he later became Principal. In 1970 he moved to Ottawa where he lived until his death in June 1999. The two photos below are taken from Saguenay Valley school yearbooks and I’m indebted to Francois Lafortune of Arvida for supplying the photographs and the information on Eric’s life in Canada.

As a postscript the Lee family had a more recent link to the Olympics with Peter, the youngest of Eric’s three sons, having an illustrious career as an ice hockey player. In 2006 Peter was assistant coach to the Switzerland Ice Hockey team at the Winter Olympics in Torino as well as at Vancouver in 2010.

PE Teacher Eric in the 1960s

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