Chester’s controversial 1958/59 kit

The 1958/59 season marked the beginning of a new era in the Football League with the introduction of a new Division Three and Four to replace the old, regionalised Third Division North and South. Chester were placed in the Fourth Division having finished 21st in the 1957/58 campaign.

The club marked the occasion by launching a stylish, new continental shirt of blue and white stripes, with a V necked collar, together with the previous season’s black shorts and white socks. The kit was completed with the Chester coat of arms displayed prominently in the centre of the shirt directly below the V neck which was an attempt to “return to the tradition established by the knights of old” according to the Chester Chronicle.

This was the first time that the club had sported a badge on their shirt and the Sports Editor of the Chronicle commented that there would be “no more smartly turned out team in the four leagues than Chester.

The usual procedure was to display a badge on the left hand side of the shirt so Chester were breaking with tradition by placing it in the centre. However Mr Alan Keith-Hill, an authority on heraldry from Bradley’s outfitters in the city centre, persuaded manager John Harris that the only place to wear it was bang in the middle of the shirt.

Mr Keith-Hill went on to explain that the practice of wearing the badge on the left breast probably derived from the custom of showing them on the breast pocket of blazers but argued that with an undivided garment like a jersey the proper position was in the centre. He went on to say “By displaying the Arms in this manner you could be, I imagine, the first of the Football League clubs to do so correctly.” Somewhat presciently he added “…you would undoubtedly be doing what is correct, although, perhaps unusual, and possibly invite comment at the outset.”

The shirt was first unveiled in the only public, pre-season trial match on August 16th but the club were probably taken aback by the criticism that they received from heraldry experts in letters to the Chronicle in the following weeks.

First up was a letter from someone who signed himself “Of Common Blood” who expressed his “profound disgust” that the club had incorporated the city coat of arms into the shirt and questioned who had given the club the authority to take this step.

Winger Jimmy Cooper in the controversial shirt
Image – Chester Chronicle

A more rational argument appeared in two letters to the Chronicle the following week. In a letter headed “I Am Dismayed” a gentleman described as a Heraldic Designer pointed out that the badge was the shield of the arms of the corporation and it was contrary to the Laws of Arms to display the shield in this way. In a lengthy letter he pointed out that the use of the shield was granted to the corporation alone and no other organisation could use it.

A second letter pointed out that the club would not be the smartest in the country but the most improperly dressed. He also reiterated that the use of the arms was only available in a civic capacity and no-one in the council had the power to authorise its use. His suggestion was that the club “cannot whip the arms off the vest too quickly.”

Despite this outcry the club unsurprisingly continued to wear the kit for the remainder of the season but switched to a green and gold strip with no badge at all the following year. It was 1974 before a badge was re introduced when the Seals logo first appeared in the traditional position on the shirt.

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