Crystal Palace 0 Chester 1 (FA Cup 3rd Round) – Jan 10th 1948

1 – Pre-Match

Chester may have hoped for one of the big boys from Division 1 in the FA Cup 3rd Round but the tie at Crystal Palace gave them an excellent opportunity of making further progress in the competition. Much like Chester, the Division 3 South side had suffered an up and down campaign. Although they had failed to win an away league match they had proved to be a tough nut to crack at home with only one defeat to their name.

Speaking about the draw in the Chester Chronicle, manager Frank Brown was hopeful stating: “It could have been kinder to us but we have a real chance. The playing pitch at Selhurst is big, and that will suit our boys.”

The Londoner’s had reached this stage of the competition by beating Port Vale followed by Bristol City but were finding goals hard to come by having only scored 23 in 23 league games. Their main strength had been in defence but this had been tested in recent weeks and three goals had been conceded at both Torquay and Northampton.

Chester had struggled in the league since eliminating Tranmere Rovers in the 2nd Round. A defeat at Oldham Athletic had been followed by two setbacks against York City over the Christmas period. For the first league game of 1948, at home to Tranmere, goalkeeper Jim MacLaren had been dropped in favour of George Scales while Joe Brown had returned to the problematic outside left position. Meanwhile a bout of influenza for Trevor Walters had seen Eric Lee move to centre half. The changes had the desired effect and Chester completed their third victory of the season over Rovers by a comfortable 4-0 scoreline.

One player who missed the league game at Tranmere was new signing Ray Westwood, a pre-war England international from Bolton Wanderers. The 35 year old inside forward had made more than 300 league appearances for the Burden Park club and his signing, for a record £2,400 on Boxing Day, had been regarded as a major coup.

Ray Westwood and Frank Brown –
Image Chester Chronicle

Westwood had scored within 10 minutes of his debut, in the home game against York, and his steadying influence had been regarded as a positive sign despite the 3-2 defeat. However flu had prevented his inclusion against Tranmere although he was expected to be in contention for the Palace game.

Despite the expense involved, a trip to London sparked the interest of fans and the Chronicle reported that supporters all over the city were arranging coaches and train travel down to the capital. The match was not all-ticket but 250 tickets at 4/- had been reserved for Chester in the centre stand at a Selhurst Park ground that was reported to hold between 60,000 and 80,000 spectators.

In preparation for the FA Cup tie Chester once again chose to return to Abergele for special training. The arrival of the Chester team was an event for the town with the Publicity Association stating: “It is good news and a grand advertisement for Abergele to hear that Chester’s directors decided upon Abergele again against the claims of Brighton. Chester FC will join a long list of prominent individuals and organisations who have great faith in the health giving properties of the Abergele air.”

The Cheshire Observer reported that the players got a great welcome when they arrived at the North Wales resort on the Monday before the game and they stayed at “their lucky boarding house at Pensarn within a minute’s walk of the sea front and within easy reach of long country walks”. The players had a strict lights out at 11pm every night.

The stay took the usual format of training with plenty of leisure activities. On Tuesday morning the players had a round of golf before training at Abergele United’s ground in the afternoon. In the evening the squad attended a performance of “Victory Circus”, an animal revue at the Queen’s Theatre in Rhyl. On Wednesday the players did some sprinting on the promenade before a long walk around the grounds of Gwyrch Castle and a whist drive at the local golf club in the evening. Thursday’s programme included more sprinting and massage with a darts match against a local team in the evening.

The Chester team departed North Wales directly for London on the Friday where they stayed at the Imperial Hotel. In what had clearly been a well-organised week Frank Brown commented that the the players had taken the training very seriously and had ben able to completely relax. New signing Westwood was happy with the preparation saying: “I have had a grand week getting to know and settling down with my new colleagues – a great set of chaps.”

The match was scheduled to kick-off at 2:15pm.

Chester players training on the Annexe in January 1948.
Image – Chester Chronicle

2 – The Match

Chester made one change from the side that had beaten Tranmere in the league the previous week. The experienced Westwood returned to the starting eleven in place of Tommy Best while Eric Lee retained his place at centre half despite the recovery of Trevor Walters.

Around 1,000 supporters, led by cheer-leader Micky Moran, made the trip down to London, and were rewarded with a magnificent display. The game was settled by a superbly taken goal from Tommy Burden but they were indebted to an outstanding second half goalkeeping performance from George Scales who had the game of his life. The Cheshire Observer reporter, Ralph Houdley, stated that he could not remember a better exhibition of goalkeeping and the former understudy to Frank Swift at Manchester City fully deserved his standing ovation at the end of the game.

Chester Chronicle view of the game

In a hard-fought game the first half was evenly contested and Chester almost had a dream start when Bobby Hamilton’s well-placed pass found Westwood who rushed his shot and sliced the ball wide. Joe Brown had a good chance to score but elected to pass when he would have been better off shooting while Palace’s Alf Somerfield shot over from a good position.

In the 36th minute Chester took the lead when Westwood found Burden with a gem of a pass. The centre forward deceived Joe Millbank and crashed a magnificent left foot shot past Dick Graham into the Palace net. It was a beautifully worked goal and typical of the former Wolves forward who capitalised on the only opportunity presented to him in the game.

The home side, stunned by the Chester goal, responded quickly and Lewis’s free kick was pushed against the crossbar by Scales and scrambled away by Lee. At the other end Westwood almost added a second but this header from a George Williamson free kick narrowly passed the upright.

It was a different story in the second half when Chester were subjected to wave after wave of Palace attacks with Scales and a resilient rearguard preventing the home side snatching an equaliser. In between making outstanding saves the Northwich born keeper was in the wars and needed attention from trainer Vic Brown on no less than five occasions as he displayed a remarkable show of bravery.

Within five minutes of the resumption a thunderous free-kick from Thomas Reece was brilliantly tipped over the bar by Scales and from the resultant corner Jack Lewis charged the keeper against the upright leaving him briefly concussed. As soon as play restarted he was diving at the feet of Somerfield and receiving a kick to the head for his troubles which required more treatment from the overworked Chester trainer.

Further outstanding saves followed from Albert Robson (twice) and Reece and for half an hour the defence was put under immense pressure. Even when Scales lost possession and was lying on the ground the defenders stood firm and blocked shots by packing the goal.

Eric Lee clears another Palace attack.
Image Chester Chronicle

An equaliser looked imminent and Robson and Reece had further shots brilliantly saved but with ten minutes remaining the pressure started to relent and Tommy Astbury had a volley well saved by Graham with Williamson heading just wide from the resulting corner. In the closing minutes Scales capped a magnificent display with another great save from Reece and when the final whistle blew the Palace players rightly congratulated the keeper on his superlative display.

It had been a determined performance from Chester in a thrilling cup-tie and they were roundly cheered off the field by their relieved supporters who had endured a nervous afternoon.

While Scales made the headlines with his second half display plaudits also went to the rest of the defence who performed heroically. There had been doubts expressed beforehand about the deployment of Lee at centre half in place of Walters but the amateur kept a tight hold on Somerfield throughout. Meanwhile Reg Butcher was a tower of strength and Williamson, who was the outstanding player in the first half, never missed a tackle.

While Palace could consider themselves unlucky Chester’s refusal to cave in to pressure earned them a place in the 4th Round.

Crystal Palace – Graham, Harding, Dawes, J Lewis, Millbank, Reece, Mycock, G Lewis, Somerfield, Robson, Clough

Chester – Scales, Willcox, McNeil, Williamson, Lee, Butcher, Hamilton, Astbury, Burden, Westwood, Brown

Scorer – Burden 36

Attendance – 22,084

3- Post-match

Eric Lee’s appearance at centre half was a taste of things to come. Although the number five shirt was shared by Williamson and Walters for the remainder of the campaign it became the regular position for the Chester-born defender from the start of the following season through to 1956/57.

In the week following the game two letters appeared in the Cheshire Observer written by former Cestrians living near Selhurst Park. These forerunners to the Chester Exiles were full of praise for the performance from their native city team. This was only the second time the club had played a match in London, following an FA Cup win at Clapton Orient in 1934, so it was a rare opportunity for exiled supporters to see Chester in the flesh. In those days, long before the internet, one of the writers mentioned that the only way he could follow the club was by reading copies of the Observer which were forwarded to him every week.

Crystal Palace’s defeat did little to help their league form and they only won one of their next ten games but improved results in March and April saw them finish 13th in Division Three South.

This proved to be the only meeting between the sides in the FA Cup. The next time they crossed swords was in August 1958 when Chester visited Selhurst Park for their first ever away game in Division Four with the game ending in a 3-3 draw. Coincidentally Palace were also the opponents for the first ever match in Division Three in August 1975. On that occasion Malcolm Allison’s Eagles won 2-0.

The 4th Round draw handed Chester an away trip to First Division Blackpool and a second meeting with Stanley Matthews.

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Tranmere Rovers 0 Chester 1 (FA Cup 2nd Round) – Dec 13th 1947

1 – Pre-Match

After the 3-1 victory over Bishop Auckland, Chester were paired with fellow Division Three North side and local rivals Tranmere Rovers in the 2nd Round. It was a tough draw against a Rovers team that had shown improved form since the opening weeks of the season. Back in August Frank Brown’s side had secured their only away win of the campaign with a 3-2 victory at Prenton Park thanks to a last minute goal. The bookmakers certainly knew where the smart money should go as Chester were rated at 2,000 to one to win the FA Cup compared with Rovers at a mere 1,000 to one.

From a financial point of view it was considered to be a good draw but, perhaps surprisingly, the game had not been made all-ticket. Prenton Park was estimated to hold between 18,000 and 20,000 and a crowd of 17,359 had already attended their local derby against New Brighton in September. Chester expected a minimum of 3,000 fans to make the short journey to Birkenhead and every available coach in the area had been chartered.

Within the ground Chester had been allocated 140 seats at 3s in the 500 capacity centre stand while the unreserved 1200 capacity wing stand was priced at 2s 6d. The paddock and covered stand behind the goal was priced at 1s 9d and the rest of the ground at 1s 3d.

Only two weeks had passed since the Bishop Auckland game and Tranmere’s confidence was high following a good showing at Halifax when they had recovered from 2-0 down, with just over 20 minutes to go, to draw 2-2. The same could not be said of Chester who had been on the end of a heavy 4-1 defeat at Stockport, regarded as their worst display of the campaign.

The game was scheduled to kick-off at 2pm and in the event of the teams being level after extra time the replay would take place the following Saturday and would be all-ticket.

2 – The Match

The trouncing at Stockport saw Frank Brown make sweeping changes to the team as he pinned his faith on the formation from the previous season. The big change was at centre half where veteran Trevor Walters was restored to the starting eleven with George Williamson taking the place of Frank Marsh at right half and Eric Lee returning to the more familiar role of left half.

There was some surprise at the dropping of Freddie Willcox, and he was replaced at right back by Reg Butcher, who had featured in that position in 1946/47. It was less of a shock to see that Dick Yates had been excluded and his place at centre forward taken by local boy Geoff Coffin. Meanwhile Tommy Astbury had recovered from a knee injury, which had forced him to miss three games, and he returned at the expense of Tommy Best while Harry Colville continued on the left wing.

Although Chester travelled to Prenton Park more in hope than confidence the manager’s gamble paid dividends as his side played with some of their old swagger and secured a place in the 3rd Round thanks to a goal from Tommy Burden thirteen minutes from time. While it was not a brilliant game Chester had the majority of possession and fully deserved the victory which was more comfortable than the scoreline suggested.

In a game dominated by defences the recall of Walters made all the difference and he stood out as a colossus as the Tranmere forwards struggled to make any headway against his rock-like presence. In addition Williamson proved that he was best suited to the half back role while Lee enhanced his reputation with a superb second-half display. Such was the performance of the Chester defence that Jim MacLaren had little to do in goal and it was only in the closing stages that he was forced into a couple of smart saves.

In the first half Chester’s best chance came when Burden sent a beautifully weighted pass through to Bobby Hamilton and his well-judged cross found Coffin but the young striker’s header was over the bar. On the stroke of half time Williamson almost gave Chester the lead but his header, from a Hamilton corner, passed a few inches wide of the upright.

After the break MacLaren saved well from Bridges while Coffin fired into the side netting and Hamilton shot wide after good work from Burden. The winning goal came in the 77th minute when Lee headed forward and the ball fell to Burden whose shot struck the inside of the far upright and rocketed into the net. Tranmere rallied in the closing stages but the Chester defence held firm and almost added a second but Payne made the save of the match from Hamilton.

Although the vast majority of Chester fans were delighted with the result there was still a small group who demonstrated to the directors after the match about the dropping of certain players.

The victory put Chester into the 3rd Round for the fifth consecutive season and a chance of drawing one of the big clubs from the top two divisions.

Tranmere Rovers – Payne, Johnstone, Connor, Steele, Bell, Malcolm, Harlock, Lamb, Bridges, Leeming, Pollard

Chester – MacLaren, Butcher, McNeil, Williamson, Walters, Lee, Hamilton, Burden, Coffin, Astbury, Colville

Scorer – Burden 77

Attendance – 14,132

3- Post-match

The FA Cup victory vindicated Frank Brown’s team selection and he kept the same lineup for the following game at Oldham Athletic. Unfortunately his side couldn’t repeat the performance and were well beaten 3-1. The match at Boundary Park proved to be the last in Chester colours for Harry Colville after only four Football League appearances and two FA Cup ties. Despite a goal on his debut, ironically at Tranmere, Harry failed to create an impression at Sealand Road although the Chester Chronicle, reporting on the FA Cup tie at Prenton Park suggested that he should be given an extended trial in the first team to “overcome an obviously nervous disposition”. The former Falkirk and Raith Rovers player returned to the reserves where he played a handful of games before being given a free transfer at the end of the campaign.

Harry rejoined his former club Raith Rovers and within 12 months had won a Scottish League Cup runners-up medal and promotion from the Scottish Second Division. Despite appearing as an outside left at Chester Harry’s turn of speed and imposing presence saw him successfully converted to centre half and over the next seven seasons he made 290 first team appearances for the Kirkcaldy club. After returning to Falkirk for a season Harry signed for Dunfermline Athletic where he made 178 consecutive appearances in the centre of defence before retiring at the age of 36. In 1960 he was appointed manager of Cowdenbeath where he remained for four seasons. Away from football Harry proved himself an all-round sportsman by winning the British Curling Championship on three occasions. He died in March 1999.

Jim MacLaren

Another Scotsman, Jim MacLaren, also made his final FA Cup appearance in the Tranmere game. After three league defeats in December he lost his place to George Scales but returned to first team duties in April and retained his position at the beginning of the 1948/49 season. Unfortunately, Jim did not have the best of starts to the campaign and when his error cost two points in a 2-1 home defeat to Darlington he was dropped by Frank Brown and replaced by Scales. In October Chester signed the experienced Ted Elliott from Wolves and it was clear that Jim’s days at Sealand Road were numbered. In November he asked to be put on the transfer list which resulted in a move to Carlisle United at the end of the year. Like Colville the transfer proved to be his making and the Crieff-born keeper went on to make 261 appearances for the Cumbrians including a record breaking run of over 200 consecutive league and cup games from 1950 to 1954. In 1955 Jim was given a free transfer and crossed the border to join Berwick Rangers where he played for a further 18 months. After leaving football he worked as a sales rep in both Scotland and Lincolnshire and died in August 2004.

Man of the Match Trevor Walters was the third player appearing for the final time in a Chester FA Cup tie. The veteran defender had been a stalwart at Sealand Road, having joined the club in 1937, and although he made a further 17 league appearances in 1947/48 he made just a single appearance the following year and joined Caernarvon Town as player-coach in March 1949. He later played for Flint Town.

In April 1948 Trevor was awarded a benefit game against Manchester City, attended by more than 8,000 supporters, the first player to rewarded in this way for more than 40 years. He made a total of 151 league appearances for Chester but this would have been considerably higher had it not been for the war when he served as a Sergeant-Instructor in the army. While based at Aldershot he captained the local team which included guest players like Matt Busby, Joe Mercer and Tommy Lawton. He also served in the Middle East and captained the Wanderers team that featured Tom Finney and Bob Paisley.

For many years he was landlord of the Swan Hotel in Flint and later worked for Hawker Siddeley. He continued to attend Chester home games and died in June 1989.

Opponents Tranmere Rovers faded in the second half of the campaign and, despite a run of five consecutive victories in January and February eventually finished in 18th place in the Third Division North.

Meanwhile Chester’s reward was an away trip to London in the 3rd Round and a first ever trip to Crystal Palace.

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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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