John Sainty, who has sadly passed away at the age of 77, served Chester as manager for 12 months between November 1982 and November 1983. When John was appointed he was faced with the unenviable task of managing a club at one of its lowest ebbs as severe financial constraints affected many decisions. In many weeks he had to rely heavily on non-contract players in order to field a team but he did mastermind two notable victories. In the Milk Cup, in 1983/84, the Seals overcame a 3-0 first round first leg deficit against Bolton Wanderers with an impressive 3-0 triumph at Sealand Road to go through on penalties and this was followed, in the second round, by a first leg 1-0 win over second tier Leeds United at Elland Road with a goal from Andy Elliott.
John started his footballing career as an apprentice at Tottenham Hotspur before going on to play in the Football League with Reading, Bournemouth, Mansfield and Aldershot. After serving on the coaching staff at Norwich he moved with John Bond to become assistant at Manchester City and Burnley before replacing Cliff Sear at Sealand Road. Initially appointed as ‘caretaker coach’ for a six week period this role was extended until Easter when he was finally confirmed as manager. Chester finished the season in 13th place, a respectable achievement given the financial economies which had seen John lose two members of his coaching staff, Jim Walker and Vince Prichard.
For the 1983/84 season the newly renamed Chester City faced even deeper financial problems and after losing leading scorer John Thomas to Lincoln John also had to contend with an even lower budget as the wage bill was slashed in half. Although he did bring in future Welsh international Andy Holden it was a measure of how difficult the situation was by the fact that two players, Paul Raynor and Trevor Phillips, rejoined the club after being released when Chester had been relegated in 1982.
A season of struggle was inevitable and with only one league John was relieved of his duties with Chester bottom of Division Four.
John went on to serve Glossop North End and Mossley as a manager before serving as assistant manager at Stockport County and then moving back down south to become Academy Director at Southampton and managing Lymington & New Milton and Bemerton Heath Harlequins in the Wessex League.
A recent request for a list of Chester’s highest attendances prompted me to look through the records and expand the search to find the top 20. I thought the results might provide interesting reading:
1 – 20,378 Chelsea FA Cup 3rd Round replay 18/01/52 L 2-3
2= 19,000 Leeds United League Cup 4th Round 13/11/74 W 3-0
2= 19,000 Newcastle United League Cup 5th Round 18/12/74 W 1-0
2= 19,000 Aston Villa League Cup Semi-Final 22/01/75 D 2-2
5 – 18,816 Sheffield Wednesday FA Cup 4th Round replay 25/01/39 D 1-1
6 – 18,706 Stoke City FA Cup 4th Round 25/01/47 D 0-0
7 – 18,251 Newcastle United FA Cup 3rd Round 22/01/66 L 1-3
8 – 18,004 Wrexham Division 3 North 29/08/36 W 4-1
9 – 18,000 Plymouth Argyle FA Cup 3rd Round 11/01/47 W 2-0
10 – 16,835 Wrexham Division 3 North 04/02/33 L 0-3
11 – 16,375 Tranmere Rovers Division 3 North 28/03/36 D 1-1
12 – 16,283 Wigan Athletic FA Cup 2nd Round 04/12/65 W 2-1
13 – 16,160 Wrexham Division 3 North 28/02/48 W 4-1
14 – 15,882 Derby County FA Cup 3rd Round 02/01/71 L 1-2
15 – 15,255 Stockport County Division 3 North 24/04/37 D 1-1
16 – 15,202 Wrexham Division 3 North 01/10/55 W 2-1
17 – 15,106 Wrexham Division 3 North 29/09/34 W 6-2
18 – 15,024 Wrexham Division 4 26/12/69 W 2-0
19 – 14,921 Wrexham Welsh Cup Final 03/05/33 W 2-0
20 – 14,782 Wrexham Division 4 27/02/65 W 6-1
I have seen various figures quoted for the Chelsea FA Cup tie in 1952 but have gone for the more precise figure of 20,378 rather than the rounded up one of 20,500 that is often used. I have also little doubt that the attendances of 19,000 for all three League Cup ties were probably based on the capacity of the ground at the time rather than a fully accurate total.
Given that there is a general belief that Chester always lose when there is a larger than expected attendance It is interesting to see that only four of the top 20 games resulted in defeat and three of these were against teams at least two divisions higher.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.