FA Cup Oddity

Chester have not received much luck in recent seasons when it comes to the FA Cup and it was no surprise when they were handed a trip to Worksop in this season’s 2nd Qualifying Round. In the nine seasons and 13 FA Cup draws since reforming they have had to travel nine times and only been pulled out of the hat first on four occasions.

Even when drawn at home they have only managed to win one tie and that was two seasons ago when City of Liverpool were convincingly beaten 4-0. On the other occasions, Gateshead won at the Deva Stadium in 2013/14 while matches against FC Halifax in 2012/13 and Altrincham in 2019/20 both finished all-square with Chester losing the away replay. Two other FA Cup matches have been played at home as a result of drawn games at Gainsborough Trinity (2012/13) and Barnsley (2014/15). In the first case Chester came out on top after extra time while Barnsley were comfortable 3-0 winners after the heroic goalless draw at Oakwell.

Regardless of whether the Blues have been drawn at home or away the FA Cup record has been nothing to shout about with only four wins against the aforementioned City of Liverpool and Gainsborough alongside the thrilling away wins at Stockport County and Southend United in 2014/15.

While the reformed Blues may not have had much luck in the FA Cup they had a remarkable run of good fortune against non-league teams after joining the Football League in 1931. Although they were beaten 2-1 at Darwen in the 2nd Round in 1931/32 the draw favoured them in subsequent campaigns and over the next 50 years they were drawn against non-league opponents on 13 occasions with every single one played at Sealand Road. It wasn’t until 1981/82, when they were beaten at Penrith, that they received another away draw at a non-league ground.

The full record reads as follows:

1932/33 – Yeovil & Petters United W 2-1

1934/35 – Dinnington Athletic W 4-1

1947/48 – Bishop Auckland W 3-1

1949/50 – Goole Town W 4-1

1951/52 – Leyton W 5-2

1958/59 – Boston United W 3-2

1961/62 – Ashington W 4-1

1961/62 – Morecambe L 0-1

1963/64 – Blyth Spartans W 3-2

1965/66 – Wigan Athletic W 2-1

1973/74 – Telford United W 3-2

1978/79 – Runcorn D 1-1 (won replay 5-0)

1979/80 – Workington W 5-1

Elfed Morris and Gary Talbot in action during the 3-2 FA Cup win over Blyth Spartans in November 1963 – Chester Chronicle

Chester’s First Game

When I wrote On The Borderline there was one piece of information that eluded me but I have finally managed to discover the result of the first game played under the Chester name in 1885.

The original Chester were formed in 1885 as an amalgamation of Chester Rovers and King’s School Old Boys. As I explained in the first chapter of the book this was essentially the Chester Rovers team augmented by committee members from the scholars.

The first game mentioned in the local papers took place on September 19th 1885 at Victoria Road, Oswestry where Chester were beaten 10-0 while the inaugural home match, at Faulkner Street in Hoole the following week, resulted in a 3-0 defeat to Northwich Victoria. There was no coverage of any game in the local papers prior to Oswestry but a fixture card referenced in the fascinating 1936 Reminiscences booklet by “Bevys” mentions a game at Earlestown on September 5th. In the first edition of On The Borderline I inadvertently put the date of this game as September 12th and although it was corrected in the text in the 2nd edition it is still incorrect in the statistics section at the back.

The Reminiscences booklet states: “The first fixture on the 5th September 1885, was against Earlstown away, but with what result is not recorded in the local newspapers which serve us so well these days. Whatever happened is lost in obscurity.”

Despite ploughing through the local papers and a trip to Earlestown I was never able to discover the result of the first game although I knew that Chester had been beaten as a letter appeared in the Cheshire Observer on December 26th 1885 from the club secretary A Carden Lockwood. The correspondence, in response to a critical letter the previous week, stated: “In their first match at Earlstown they were beaten by the Liverpool and District cup holders, as everyone who really knows anything about Chester football well knows.”

I have finally unearthed a match report from the Earlestown game in the Liverpool Mercury from Monday September 7th 1885 which reveals that Chester lost the game 2-0. It reads as follows:

EARLESTOWN v CHESTER – The Chester first team journeyed to Earlestown on Saturday and met the holders of the Liverpool and District Challenge Cup, in the presence of a good number of spectators. The cup holders were without the services of Rich, Ellison, and Ogden, while the visitors also failed to turn up with their full strength. Earlestown won by 2 goals to none. Teams: Earlestown – J Appleton, goal: R. Green and J. Green, backs: J Whalley, W Lane, and R Bowker, half-backs: J Duxbury and T Siddeley, right wing; A. W. Dagnall (captain), centre: J. W. Simms and T. Ferguson, left wing. Chester – G. James, goal; Southworth and Higginson, backs; Hack (captain), Moss and Roberts, half-backs; Lockwood and Marsh, right wing; Sanders, centre; Banks and Wright, left wing.

Player Profile – Harry Smith

Former Chester player Harry Smith sadly passed away last month at the age of 89. While never establishing himself as a first team regular he managed 78 Football League appearances between 1953 and 1958 as well as more than 100 appearances for the Cheshire County League team. I interviewed Harry for the programme in the early 1990s and he had some wonderful stories of his footballing days which I thought worth reproducing here:

Harry Smith





“I first joined Chester as an amateur in 1944 straight after leaving school. I played 2 seasons at Chester before joining Liverpool where I stayed for 3 years until I joined the RAF. Although I remained on Liverpools’ books during this time I didn’t play any football and when I left the RAF I signed for Connahs Quay. Frank Brown, who was then manager at Chester, saw me play and asked if I would be interested in playing for the Reserves. This was in about 1950 and from then on I continued to play for Chester. As a player I played in virtually every position at Chester, if someone got injured they would play me as a utility player. I liked wing half best of all but mostly I played as an inside left.” 

“It was only when I lost the chance of an amateur International cap that I signed as a part-time professional in 1955. I didn’t really want to become professional at all because as far as I was concerned the game was there to be enjoyed rather than to make money out of. In fact when I was an amateur I often used to play for local teams like Kelsall in mid-week cup competitions because I enjoyed playing so much. My other job was a milkman and I used to deliver the milk in the morning then do some training and on some occasions used to work on the ground in the afternoon. I used to cut the grass, mark the pitch and do repairs and painting with the groundsman, Tommy Gardner. I always stayed as a part-time professional like Tommy Astbury and Dave McNeil because it was difficult to make a living otherwise.”

“There were no particular matches that stand out for me because every match was a highlight. Being a local lad just playing for the town team was special because you were the envy of all your old schoolmates. Having said that beating Wrexham was always a bit special. Of the goals I scored I remember a controversial goal against Mansfield which was either offside or an infringement. The Mansfield wing half threatened to knock my head off afterwarsds, mind you there used to be a lot of intimidation like that in those days.”

“I left Chester at the end of the 1957/58 season to set up my own milk business and was awarded a Testimonial game in May 1958. Towards the end it had proved difficult being a part-time professional because I would like to know in midweek whether I was going to be in the team on Saturday. However John Harris was not in a position to guarantee me a first team place so I stepped down to the Welsh League. I played for Flint at first and from there went to Pwllheli where I stayed for a further two years. Like many other players I finished my career at Chester Nomads.”





“I remember the Austrian National team coming to train at Chester before an International at Wrexham against Wales. I was amazed at their training techniques. At Chester we used to have a really tough training routine, it was all track based and there was very little work on the ball. When the Austrians came they lined up with a ball each and practised their skills. In comparison we used to work non-stop for an hour then be given one ball between us. The training was so hard that we were exhausted by the time Saturday came around. It was very enlightening to see the Austrians train.”

“It was very rare in those days for a match to be called off and we used to play in all weather and alter our boots to suit the conditions. In the old days studs used to be built up of little segments of leather. If you wanted a long stud you used to add segments, conversely if you wanted a short stud you would remove them. If the weather was icy many players would remove the segments but leave the nails sticking out and file them to a point so that they could get a better grip of the surface. Of course they didn’t have regular boot checks before the start of the game in the 1950s.”

“One winter we travelled up to Accrington Stanley for an away game and it was snowing like mad. When we arrived the snow must have been about six inches deep on the pitch but both managers agreed the game should be played. Accrington had a really open ground and it was bitterly cold, some of the players wore gloves and one or two even had scarves on underneath their shirts. While the game was going on the groundstaff were actually clearing the pitch because the markings were being obliterated by the snow. During the second half one player, Ray Griffiths, got so cold that he just stood in the centre circle while the ball whizzed past him. When we went over to him he could hardly talk and he was taken to the dressing rooms. We were about to throw him in the bath to thaw him out when the doctor came in and told us that the shock would probably kill him. It took over an hour to get the circulation going again.”

Player Profile – Willis Bentley

I was contacted a few months ago by Nick King who was looking for information on his great-great grandfather Willis Bentley as part of his family history research. Willis briefly played for Chester during the 1891/92 season, the club’s second season in the Combination League, when they were based in Faulkner Street. Between us we managed to piece together some information on his time playing for the club and Nick has put together this interesting biography with input from me in the Chester section.

WILLIS BENTLEY (1860-1916)

Willis Bentley was born in Sheffield in 1860, and played mainly as an amateur back / half back for major teams for ten years between 1882 and 1892.  He also played cricket in the summer months, mainly for his employers’ teams.

Willis lived in the northern industrial and terraced housing area of Sheffield all his life, and local sporting pages indicate that he started playing football as a teenager.  

In the period 1878 to 1882, he played for local teams Walkley FC, founded by his father in the 1850s, and Owlerton FC.  On the 1881 census he was a steel worker.

In 1882, Willis registered as a player for Sheffield Wednesday FC.  He played several games for them commencing January 1883 with an F A Cup match against Nottingham Forest, with a brief pause from November of the same year when he fractured his skull during a regional match between Sheffield and Birmingham at Aston, Warwickshire.  His final game for Wednesday was in 1885, with a letter in a local paper mentioning his health, and his registration formally ended in 1889.  

Willis got married in 1887 and newspaper reports indicate that he played for Owlerton between the years 1886 to 1888.  Around 1889, Willis found work as a (physical exercise) attendant at the Wadsley Asylum and formed a works team.  Soon after, he played a single match as goalkeeper for Sheffield United FC in their founding 1889/90 season. 

Whilst still employed by the Asylum, Willis joined Gainsborough Trinity for their 1890/91 season, in which they won the Lincolnshire Cup and Midland League medals.  Unlike his service with previous teams, this presumably involved considerable travel on trains.

Willis started 1891 playing for Trinity but, for unknown reasons, moved to Chester where he  participated in a trial match at the start of September. The match attracted a lot of local interest and Willis, who played as a forward, was picked out for his performance although the Cheshire Observer reported that he received little help from Newton, one of the other forwards.

He made his Chester debut in the second Combination fixture of the season, a home game against Denton at Faulkner Street which finished 3-3. In the next game against Stoke Swifts a “fearfully disorganised” Chester were heavily beaten 9-1. However Willis seems to have come out of the game with his reputation intact with the report stating that his play had greatly improved and that he promises to develop into a good back. He was again complemented on his performance in the friendly against Halliwell where it was mentioned that the club had finally secured his services.

After playing in both the league game and FA Cup tie at home to Wrexham he missed the league game against Everton Reserves through injury but returned for his final game, against Macclesfield in November. By the end of December Willis had returned to Gainsborough Trinity where he remained for a few more months.

After ‘retirement’ from playing, sometime after 1892, Willis coached junior teams and playing cricket for Neepsend Gas Works.  From the late 1890s on, Willis worked as a gas stoker alongside celebrated Wednesday player Billy Betts, who had been active with the team at the same time as Willis.    

Willis died from pneumonia in 1916.  He had four children, but only one survived infancy.

Further Reading

‘Sheffield Wednesday FC: The Official History 1867-2017’ by Jason Dickinson (ISBN: 9781445619538)

“The Origins of Sheffield Wednesday” by Jason Dickinson (ISBN: 1445619709)

‘The Men Who Made Sheffield Wednesday FC’ 2007 by Tony Matthews (ISBN: 9780752441566)

‘Trinity Champions’ by Andrew Stothard. 

‘On the Borderline: Official History of Chester City F.C.’ 1st Edition by Chas Sumner (ISBN: 9781874427520)

Photo Feature 3 – Half-time Scoreboard

This photo was taken in August 1949 and features Ted Elliott in pre-season training. The Carlisle born goalkeeper joined Chester from Wolves in October 1948 and played 59 league games for the club before moving to Halifax Town in November 1950 after losing his place to Harry Threadgold.

It is the background of this photograph which is probably of more interest as it features a great view of the Kop which is not normally seen from this angle. The most obvious feature is the half-time scoreboard at the back of the terrace. I believe the scoreboard was first erected around 1933 as the key to the games featured in programmes for the 1933/34 season. It is visible in one of the photos from the late 1930s that features in my Images of Sport book.

Interestingly the scoreboard seems to have disappeared by the time of the 1952 FA Cup tie against Chelsea and photos from the mid-1950s confirm that it had been removed. However it looks like it was replaced at a later date further to the right of the goal with a different framework. It is still visible in photos as late as the 1971/72 season but I personally don’t remember it being there for the 1974/75 promotion season. In later years I remember there being a half-time scoreboard along the wall of the Popular Side by the Kop and there was also one at the corner of old wooden main stand by the Sealand Road End which is visible in photos from the late 1950s and 1960s.

Ted Elliott – Chester Chronicle Image

In addition to the scoreboard the white circle in the centre of the goal was put there for shooting practice while it is surprising to see how overgrown the Kop was at this time. It is reminiscent of how the terrace looked in the late 1980s.

If anyone else has any more background information concerning the half-time scoreboard and other aspects of the Kop I would be interested to hear from them as I would like to expand on this article with a few more pictures if possible.

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