Chester’s First Foreign Player

If asked to name Chester’s first foreign player I imagine that many supporters would look back to the 1999/2000 season when Terry Smith brought in a host of players born outside the British Isles. The introduction of the likes of Martin Nash, Angus Eve, Junior Agogo, Joe Carver and Goran Milosavijevic met with varying degrees of success but they added an international flavour to the team that was relegated to the Conference

Prior to that there were brief blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances from a variety of short-term signings such as Dutchman Jorg Smeets in the 1998/99 season, Canadian Geoff Aunger in 1994 and Australian centre-forward Ross Greer who was signed by Harry McNally in November 1989 and made two appearances memorable only for an own goal in a 2-0 defeat at Shrewsbury Town.

Going back even further supporters will have fond memories of South African Peter Hauser who was player-manager of the free-scoring Chester team in the 1964/65 season while the early 1950s saw a handful of appearances from Nelson Stiffle who was born in India.

However, the earliest foreign born player to make his mark at Sealand Road was Mahmoud Mokhtar an Egyptian student who scored 11 goals in just under 20 appearances for the Cheshire County League side between March and September 1924.

Mokhtar arrived in this country in September 1922 at the age of 23 to complete his training as an engineer at Bristol University and was initially linked with Bristol Rovers. At 5ft 9 inches and 12 stone he was described as having a splendid build for a forward. In Egypt he had played for the National Sporting club of Cairo and travelled to this country with a letter of recommendation from the secretary of the Anglo-Egyptian FA. The letter described how he had represented the Egyptian team at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp as an outside right and was considered second to none in that position in Egypt while he had also proved his competency in any forward position.

The glowing reference seems to have employed a certain amount of artistic licence. Although Mokhtar was a member of the squad he did not appear in either of Egypt’s games, a 2-1 defeat against Italy and a a 4-2 victory over Yugoslavia in a consolation match. Nevertheless some guide to the quality of the side can be gauged by the fact that two other members of the side played in the UK with Tewfik Abdullah representing Derby County, Cowdenbeath and Hartlepool and captain Hussein Hegazi featuring for Dulwich Hamlet and Fulham.

The Bristol Rovers Definitve History, published in 2003, seems to have confused him with a similar named player Mahmoud Mokhtar (also known as El-Tetsh), who became one of Egypt’s most renowned players appearing in the 1928 and 1936 Olympics, and having a stadium in Cairo named in his honour.

In this case Mahmoud Saqr Mokhtar arrived in the country as an outside right and was given a trial with Bristol Rovers against Reading but his career at Eastville seems to have ended as soon as it began. By February 1923 he was playing in an Inter-University match for Bristol against Nottingham. Not only did he score in a 6-0 victory but, along with his right wing partner Robin, was involved in the majority of the goals. In March he again featured for Bristol University, this time against Aberystwyth, and appears to have been the stand out player scoring once in a 4-1 win as the Western Daily Press described how he “beat man after man in the opposing defence with some bewildering footwork”. Clearly an extremely skilful player he again represented the university a couple of weeks later in a friendly against Wells City where “his puzzling movements proved very troublesome to the home half backs.”

In the summer of 1923 Mokhtar switched to Liverpool University and signed for Tranmere Rovers. He made his debut for them in a Cheshire County League game against Northwich Victoria and while the Liverpool Echo described him as being a trifle slow in speed he was said to have “put such passes along as have not been seen at Prenton for a long time”.

By December 1923 he was back playing university football, this time for Liverpool, and netted a spectacular five goals in a 6-3 win over Manchester University. Mokhtar also represented amateur team Northern Nomads in the first half of the season and was a member of the side eliminated from the Amateur Cup by Attercliffe United.

The following March he moved to Sealand Road and made an impressive debut in a Cheshire County League game against Ellesmere Port Cement in front of 2000 spectators. Showing some tricky touches he not only improved the forward line but scored a debut goal after 35 minutes as Chester chalked up their first win in five. Further goals followed in the next two games against Altrincham and Stockport County Reserves and Mokhtar again received positive reviews with the Cheshire Observer stating that he “gave spectators many exhibitions of how soccer should be played”.

On Good Friday nearly 5000 spectators saw another brilliant display from Mokhtar who scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Runcorn and was described as the outstanding man on the field. Playing at centre forward his goals were described as two of the best seen at the ground in a long time with the local papers again commenting that first time shooting was his forte and he came close to scoring on several other occasions.

Mahmoud Mokhtar in the middle of the front row prior to the Cheshire County League game against Macclesfield in September 1924

Mokhtar started the 1924/25 campaign with a brace against Altrincham followed by another strike against Macclesfield. After playing in the first five league games of the season he featured for the final time in Chester’s black and white on September 20th in an FA Cup defeat at Witton Albion.

It is likely that his university studies got in the way of his football because by December he was back playing for a joint Liverpool and Manchester University side against an FA X1 and also represented Liverpool in the Inter-Varsity cup match against Birmingham in March 1925.

There was one final return to Sealand Road for Mokhtar when he played for Northern Nomads in a Cheshire Senior Cup game in January 1925. Although he was on the losing side his return was well received and the Cheshire Observer noted how pleased Chester supporters were to see their old favourite. By the end of the season he was with Holyhead in the Welsh National League scoring two goals for the Anglesey team in a 6-2 win over Chirk.

This seems to be the last mention of Mokhtar playing in this country and it may be that after three years at university he returned to Egypt in summer 1925. Although his time playing for Chester was brief, match reports suggest that he was a very skilful player who was popular with the fans and he he clearly made a big impact at Sealand Road.

Copyright ©  Chas Sumner http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com All Rights Reserved

Player Profile – Mike Sutton

Following the sad passing of Mike Sutton on Boxing Day I thought I would reproduce an article I wrote for the Chester programme in the 1990s based on a telephone interview where we discussed his career. It appeared in the programme for the game against his former club, Carlisle United, on September 25th 1993 although for some reason only the first two paragraphs were reproduced so it didn’t make a great deal of sense. This is the full article.

********************************************************************************************************************

Mike Sutton spent 3 years with Chester at the end of the 1960s during which time he created a remarkable record by appearing in every single League game. Mike was a predominantly right-footed player who appeared in a number of different roles for the club from central defender through to striker.

Chester Chronicle image

Mike began his career as a forward with Norwich City where he played for 5 seasons alongside another ex-Chester player, Ron Davies. At the end of the 1966/67 season he had a contractual dispute with the club and Peter Hauser signed him for Chester on a free transfer. Mike made his debut against Notts County in the number 6 shirt and although he played in every game that season he failed to get on the score sheet. He made up for this the following season with 5 goals in the first 12 League games with the first of these coming in a 5-1 victory over Colchester. It was this same season that saw Chester play an epic 4 game League cup tie with Tranmere and Mike remembers scoring the equalizer in the 3rd game at Prenton Park.

The 1969/70 was Mike’s last at Sealand Road and it was during this season that he recalls playing in the side that beat Bristol City 2-1 in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup. Mike has many happy memories of his time with Chester and like many players he particularly remembers the derby matches with Wrexham as games with a special atmosphere.

Chester Chronicle image

At the end of the 1969/70 season Mike recollects that Chester experienced financial difficulties and the whole team was put on the transfer list. Three players left the club with Andy Provan joining Wrexham, Billy Dearden joining Sheffield United and Mike going to Carlisle. Mike believes that Carlisle payed about £10,000 for him and he made his League debut for them in the first game of the 1970/71 season at Middlesbrough, a game in which he scored in a 2-1 defeat. His stay in Cumbria lasted 2 seasons before he retired from league football at the early age of 27 with a re-occurrence of a medial ligament injury he suffered at Norwich.

In 1972 he went to Loughborough College for 4 years to study PE and Biology before returning to Norwich as a teacher. Mike is now in his eighteenth year at that same school where he is head of PE and also teaches human biology. On the footballing front Mike played for Great Yarmouth for 8 seasons on his return to Norfolk. In 1983 just missed out on playing at Wembley as Great Yarmouth were beaten by VS Rugby in the Semi-Final of the FA Vase. 

Mike still lives in Norwich with his wife Josephine and as well as his teaching job he also does some part time coaching with Norwich City schoolboys. Mike’s son Chris is carrying on the family footballing tradition with over 60 appearances for Norwich as well as appearing for England Under 21s and Mike is justifiably proud of his sons progress.  

********************************************************************************************************************

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.”