Chester’s second pre-season tour to Scotland took in games against East Stirlingshire, Dumbarton and Cowdenbeath along with an unscheduled fixture at Vale of Atholl. The first match was staged at East Stirlingshire’s Firs Park with Chester winning 5-2. Eddie Bishop scored a hat-trick with the other two goals scored by Stuart Rimmer and John Kelly.
East Stirlingshire vacated Firs Park in 2008 and it was demolished in 2012.
For their first match in the 1948/49 FA Cup competition Chester were handed an uninspiring draw at Third Division North rivals Hartlepools United. The North-East side stood in 15th place in the table, two places and one point above Chester, and had won the league fixture at the Victoria Ground in September by two goals to one. The Cheshire Observer bemoaned the club’s fortunes and pointed out that this was the fourth consecutive away draw while the other local sides, Crewe, Tranmere, New Brighton and Wrexham, had all been drawn at home.
The omens were not good for Chester who were without an away win all season and had only picked up two points on their travels, at Crewe and Doncaster. However Hartlepool’s home record provided some hope as they had won four, drawn three and lost three of their 10 league matches. The previous Saturday they had drawn 1-1 with mid-table Mansfield and Frank Brown was optimistic stating: “I think we shall get through and I shall be satisfied if we can force a replay.”
Although Chester were struggling in the league there had been an improvement on the playing field since the double signing of inside-forward Albert Burgess from Bolton Wanderers and Duncan Harrigan, a reserve centre forward from Aston Villa. Manager Frank Brown had been keeping an eye on Burgess for some time and beat off competition from three other clubs, including two from the Second Division, to sign the Birkenhead born striker. The fee was considered substantial and matched the amount paid for Ray Westwood the previous year with the deal aided by the sale of inside forward Tommy Best to Cardiff City.
Both players had made their debuts at Oldham Athletic in mid-October and had found the net the following week in a 3-0 win over Accrington Stanley at Sealand Road. That victory had been followed by matches against the top three where, despite only picking up one point, the team had performed admirably, particularly in forcing a goalless draw at Doncaster Rovers. The Saturday before the Hartlepools game Chester had beaten bottom of the table Bradford City 3-0 with Burgess and Harrigan once again finding the net.
The speed of the two new players was considered a big asset especially with regard to beating a Hartlepools’ offside trap that had proved problematical in the league game at the Victoria Ground. Although there was no special training away from the city the players were able to prepare together and a lot of the tactical talk centred on the experience gained from the previous encounter. Relaxation was provided in the form of golf at Vicar’s Cross and country walks.
There had been one previous meeting in the competition with Chester comfortably beating Hartlepool’s 4-1 in 1931, the first FA Cup tie after joining the Football League.
The kick-off was schedule for 2pm and Chester travelled up to the North-East by train from Liverpool the day before the game.
2 – The Match
There was only one change to the Chester team that had beaten Bradford City the previous week with Ted Elliott replacing George Scales in goal for the first time since fracturing his toe in the defeat at Rotherham at the end of October.
Very few Chester fans made the long journey to the North East and both the Chester Chronicle and Cheshire Observer saw fit to mention the Hope family who set off with the family dog by train at 3am and arrived in Hartlepool at midday after no fewer than six changes. In the event the trip proved memorable with daughter Joyce commenting it was: “a tedious journey, maybe, but the result made it worthwhile.”
The Hope family’s away day proved to be so successful largely due to the hard work spent on tactics by Frank Brown. Utilising the pace of forwards Harrigan, Burgess and Albert Foulds, Chester adopted a more direct approach to beat Hartlepool’s renowned offside trap. As the Cheshire Observer commented: “…there was the desire to get the ball into the Hartlepool’s net by the nearest route and in the quickest possible manner.” It was described as Chester’s best performance of the season and the 3-1 scoreline might well have been more emphatic. Veteran Hartlepool manager Fred Westgarth admitted “We were well-licked” and there were no complaints about the defeat.
Most of the credit for the victory went to the forward line with left winger, John Forsyth in particular, proved to be a real handful having his best game since signing from New Brighton. However, Chester were also indebted to centre half Eric Lee who subdued centre forward Harry Hawkins and never put a foot wrong.
The game opened in gathering fog and Chester’s first chance fell to Billy Foulkes who hurried his shot with the ball flying wide of the post. At the other end Elliott had to be alert to make two desperate dives at the feet of the home forwards.
Chester took the lead in the 12th minute when Forsyth whipped the ball across to Foulkes. The right winger delayed his shot, which was blocked by Ray Thomspon, but the ball fell to George Williamson who smashed the ball into the net leaving keeper Norman Rimmington helpless.
The goal spurred on Chester who continued to press forward and Rimmington saved at point-blank range from Forsyth. There was another excellent chance when Harrigan cleverly hung back to beat the offside trap allowing Forsyth to run from the halfway line but with only the goalkeeper to beat he shot wide of the post. Rimmington made further good saves from Burgess (twice) and Harrigan while the latter was also unlucky when his cross-shot missed the target. With Chester surging forward there were so many players in the Hartlepools’ half that when a long clearance found Laurence Nevins he was left with a clear run on goal but Lee performed one of his spectacular tackles to save the day.
On the balance of play Chester deserved to be two or three goals ahead at the interval but they came under sustained pressure early in the second half when full back Tom Mackie was stretchered off the field after going into a tackle with James Isaac. The departure of Mackie saw the home side sense an opportunity and in their best spell of the match they forced an equaliser when John Price headed past Elliott with the Chester defence claiming that the inside left was in an offside position. The goal, on 52 minutes, further encouraged Hartlepools and for five minutes Chester were put under intense pressure but Elliott and his colleagues held firm.
Fortunately for Chester Mackie returned to the field of play after 10 minutes treatment for what turned out to be cramp and the visitors took control of the game. On 68 minutes they regained the lead when Reg Butcher took the ball to the edge of the penalty area and passed to Burgess. From a poor angle the former Bolton man crashed the ball against the crossbar but Harrigan was on hand to steer the ball across the line.
Seven minutes later the tie was put beyond doubt when Forsyth netted with a superb cross shot. Harrigan nearly added a fourth when he used his speed to outpace the Hartlepool’s defence but shot wide of the post. In the final five minutes, with the fog closing in, Elliott made the save of the match from Nevins’ piledriver as the home supporters left the ground in their hundreds.
It had been a great performance from Frank Brown’s side and the Hope family were rewarded for their loyalty by travelling back with the Chester party of players and directors.
Chester had hoped for a home tie in the 4th Round but instead they faced a formidable trip to First Division Blackpool.
The Seasiders, who had beaten Leeds United 4-0 in the previous round, were regarded as joint favourites to win the FA Cup and had the most dangerous right wing pairing in the country in the shape of Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen. The Lancashire team had persuaded Stoke to sell Matthews for £11,500 the previous summer and he had formed a lethal combination with the equally skilful Mortenson. It was clear that Chester’s left-sided defenders faced a tough proposition but much was made of the fact that Dave McNeil and Eric Lee had successfully subdued Matthews in the two FA Cup ties against Stoke 12 months earlier.
Blackpool themselves approached the tie with caution having build a reputation as “The Team That Cannot Win A Cup Tie”. Between the wars they had been beaten at home by the likes of Luton Town, Watford and Oldham Athletic while they had also lost at Southport and Southend United. In fact, since joining the league in 1931, Chester’s FA Cup record had been as good as their opponents with both sides playing in the 4th Round on four occasions.
Reflecting on their recent cup record, Blackpool manager Joe Smith was quoted in the Cheshire Observer as saying “Do you wonder that nobody is inclined to be too confident about this Chester match?….I am taking nothing for granted. As soon as I knew that Chester were coming to town I told the boys “This is not necessarily a walk over””
Manager Frank Brown, who had won a Central League championship medal with the Tangerines in 1919/20, commented “It is one of the hardest ties we could possibly have had, but whatever the outcome I am sure our team will give Blackpool a real fight.”
There were a couple of familiar names in the Blackpool team. Centre forward Jimmy McIntosh had been a regular guest player for Chester during the war with his most notable performance coming in a 7-2 win over Wrexham in October 1942 when he scored a hat-trick. Meanwhile full-back Ron Suart had also made a couple of guest appearances at Sealand Road in 1944/45.
Chester warmed up for the game with a 1-1 draw at Darlington, in which new signing Ray Westwood scored his second goal in two league games, while Blackpool recorded a similar score at Wolves. The Seasiders approached the game as seriously as if they were playing a First Division side but had no special training other than a trip to the brine baths at Lytham and a planned game of golf.
There was no special training for the Chester players in Abergele either. With five part-time professionals unable to make the trip it was considered unviable, much to the disappointment of Abergele District Council who had made arrangements to host a dinner for the players. On the Thursday before the game most of the players went down to the Stadium for a final toning up and tactical talk and this was followed by an evening trip to the Regal Cinema. The following day they travelled up to Lytham St Annes where they stayed at a boarding house owned by a former employee of the Cheshire Observer.
Cup fever had overtaken Chester since the win at Crystal Palace and it was estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 supporters would make the journey. Some supporters had taken an option on buses before the draw was made and within half an hour of knowing the opposition every coach had been booked. Both Crosville and the Corporation had been inundated with calls and it was reported that parties had resorted to booking buses from Birkenhead and Shropshire. The Chester Chronicle stated that the convoy of buses would leave Chester at 9am with 2,000 supporters also expected to travel by train. The paper also suggested that there was hardly a pub, factory or office in the city which hadn’t arranged a trip.
Bloomfield Road had a capacity of 30,000 so the match was not made all-ticket. Chester were allocated 1,400 stand tickets which failed to satisfy the more than 4,000 applications that had reached the club on the Wednesday before the game. Stand tickets had been priced at 6s, 4s 6d and 4s while the paddock was priced at 4s 6d and 3s and the ground at 1s 3d.
The game was scheduled to kick-off at 2:30 while a replay was pencilled in for the following Saturday and made all-ticket.
2 – The Match
Chester named an unchanged starting eleven from the team that had beaten Crystal Palace in the previous round. Winger Phil Turner, who had been out of the side for two months with torn ligaments, had resumed training but wasn’t considered fully match fit.
In the end an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 Chester fans made the trip but there was no happy ending as Blackpool ran out comfortable 4-0 winners. It proved to be an uncomfortable afternoon for goalkeeper George Scales, the hero of the Crystal Palace match, who was at fault for the two goals scored before half-time. Although Frank Brown’s side had plenty of possession they were unable to tame Stanley Matthews who reportedly had one of his best games since joining from Stoke.
Blackpool got off to a quick start but Chester were in no way overawed and fought back strongly. However, just when it looked like they had weathered the early storm, they fell behind to a freak goal. On eight minutes full-back Eddie Shimwell launched a mighty clearance from within his own half but Scales badly misjudged the bounce and the ball hit the frozen ground, and soared high over his head into the net. Freddie Willcox made a vain attempt to clear the ball but collided with the upright and had to receive attention.
It was a disastrous early blow and the mistake seemed to affect Scales’ confidence. When Mortensen hit a simple low shot on 25 minutes the goalkeeper was late in diving and let in a goal which he would normally have comfortably saved.
Trailing by two goals, after only 25 minutes, Chester faced an uphill task but they stuck to their guns and had as big a share of possession as their illustrious opponents. Both Joe Brown and George Williamson had good opportunities but despite a good spell of pressure City were unable to breech the Blackpool rearguard.
At the other end Willcox cleared off the line when Alec Munro shot for goal after good work by Matthews.
In the second half Blackpool took control of the game with Matthews a constant threat. The Chester defence struggled to cope with his wizardry and Dave McNeil, who had mastered the right-winger the previous season, was often outwitted. Fortunately the central defenders were able to deal with the stream of crosses otherwise the damage might have been much worse.
After Scales had partially redeemed himself with a brilliant save from Matthews Blackpool extended the lead on 69 minutes when Jimmy McIntosh fed Mortensen who ran through the Chester defence to fire past the keeper.
Chester’s best chance fell to Tommy Burden, who worked hard throughout, but his shot was blocked by Joe Robinson. The centre-forward was also unlucky to see a header from Bobby Hamilton’s cross go across the face of goal and out of play.
Six minutes from time the Seasiders wrapped the game up when Harry Johnston’s shot beat Scales off the post. Chester kept on trying to the end but they had been beaten by a better side although they received plenty of plaudits with the Blackpool Evening Gazette stating: “This Chester team deserves all the praise which could be given to it. Some of its football was of a class which Third Division teams are not supposed to play.”
Amongst the congratulatory letters received by the club after the game was one from the Blackpool FC Girls’ Supporters Club who complemented the team on their display saying “I thought you put up a better fight here than many First division clubs have done.” they also expressed surprise that the club was only 17th in the Third Division North. In fact the FA Cup run was the highlight of a disappointing season and Chester’s final 20th position was the first time they had finished in the bottom half of the table since joining the Football League.
Opponents Blackpool also saved their best performances for the FA Cup and reached the final where they were beaten 4-2 by Manchester United in a thrilling match. This was the first time that Chester had been beaten by the eventual finalists since 1890/91 when they were hammered 7-0 by eventual winners Blackburn Rovers. In the league the Seasiders finished in what was considered a disappointing ninth position.
The Blackpool tie proved to be the final FA Cup match for six Chester players: George Scales, Tommy Burden, Bobby Hamilton, Joe Brown, Freddie Willcox and Ray Westwood.
Scales continued to make regular appearances for Chester as he shared goalkeeping duties first with Jimmy MacLaren and then Ted Elliott. By the start of the 1949/50 campaign Elliott was firmly established as first choice keeper and in September Scales joined Rhyl, initially on loan, before making the move permanent. He won a Welsh Cup winner’s medal with the Welshman in 1952 to match the one he acquired with Chester in 1947. On both occasions Merthyr Tydfil were the opposition.
He left Rhyl in summer 1952 and became long-term landlord at the Pen-y-Bryn Hotel in Llanrwst. He died in 1993.
Tommy Burden had joined Chester in November 1945 from Wolves and was one of the success stories of the early post war years. As well as scoring the winning goals at Tranmere and Crystal Palace he managed an impressive 40 goals in 82 league games. His performances attracted the attention of Leeds United who were then managed by his former boss at Wolves, Major Frank Buckley, and he signed for the Yorkshire club in summer 1948. At Elland Road he was converted to left half, made 243 league appearances and was captain for his final four years in Yorkshire. A disagreement with manager Raich Carter saw him transferred to Bristol City for £3,000 in October 1954 where he remained a stalwart for the next eight years and recored another 231 league appearances. In May 1961 he briefly joined Glastonbury. Away from football he worked in the shoe trade and died in 2001.
Former Hearts junior Bobby Hamilton had also signed for Chester in November 1945 after being stationed in the city during the war. Although he was used on both the right and left flanks at Sealand Road there seems to be some question as to which was his best position . During the 1946/47 season he was mainly utilised on the left and was only switched to the right when Jackie Arthur was unavailable as appears to be the case for the FA Cup tie against Plymouth. The following year he again started on the left but injuries to Phil Turner saw him feature on the right wing where he played in the 1947/48 FA Cup run. However, a letter in the Chester Chronicle at the time suggests that Hamilton looked uncomfortable at outside left and was much better on the right.
Although Hamilton was one of the players who had attracted the interest of Sheffield Wednesday in 1947 he ended up signing for non-league Yeovil Town in 1948. He featured at outside right in the Yeovil team that famously beat First Division Sunderland’s “Bank of England” team in 1949 and continued to play for the Somerset side until 1952. He died in 1999.
Outside left Joe Brown joined Chester as an amateur from Port Sunlight and made 13 league appearances for the club before being released by Frank Brown at the end of the campaign and signing for Runcorn. The Bebington born winger remained at Canal Street for many years and faced Chester Reserves in the Cheshire County League as late as 1958. He died in 2004.
Full-back Freddie Willcox had joined the club from Everton and made 16 league appearances in the 1947/48 season. Recalling the Blackpool game in 2007 Freddie said that he received mild concussion after colliding with the post in attempting to prevent the first goal and couldn’t remember anything about the rest of the match.
Towards the end of the season he broke his tibia and fibia in a tackle, an injury that eventually brought a premature end to his career. In the 1948/49 season he featured for the Cheshire County League side and eventually signed for South Liverpool who he captained against Chester in a Welsh Cup tie that went to three games in 1949/50. After retiring from football he worked at Ford’s in Halewood and died in 2015.
Former England international Ray Westwood was a major signing when he joined Chester from Bolton Wanderers for £2,400 on Boxing Day 1947. Although his class was evident, in the FA Cup ties against Crystal Palace and Blackpool, the 35 year old inside-forward struggled with injuries in his time at Sealand Road where he managed 13 goals in his 38 league appearances. At the time it was calculated that each appearance cost the club £70, an amount they could ill afford at a time when they were starting to struggle financially.
Before the start of the 1949/50 season he refused to accept terms and, after being made available for transfer, signed for Darwen. He continued playing for the Lancashire Combination side until 1951. A cousin of Manchester United and England international Duncan Edwards, he died in 1981 at the age of 69.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.