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:
“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.”
The 1st Round of the 1950/51 FA Cup paired Chester with fellow Third Division North side, Bradford PA. There was little to choose between the teams in the league with the visitors in 8th position and Chester two points behind in 12th place. However Frank Brown’s side were considered favourites having beaten Avenue 2-0 three weeks earlier at Sealand Road in what had been the first ever competitive meeting between the clubs.
The Yorkshiremen had been relegated from Division Two the previous season and this was their first campaign at this level since 1927/28. They had the reputation as a big spending club and the Cheshire Observer noted that over £60,000 had been spent in aggregate transfer fees on those players who had represented the club so far during the season. Perhaps the most notable name in the Bradford team was Jack Haines who had signed from West Bromwich Albion the previous season for £12,000. A pre-war Liverpool player he had won an England cap against Switzerland only two years earlier and had also played for Swansea Town and Leicester City. Despite this pedigree he had been in and out off the Bradford team and had recently asked to be placed on the transfer list.
A more familiar face to Chester supporters was left back Stan James who had made a number of guest appearances at Sealand Road during the war when he was stationed at Blacon Camp. He won a runners-up medal for Chester in the Third Division North Cup Final against Rotherham United in 1946 and the club had hoped to sign him from Bradford but the fee had proved prohibitive.
Bradford had been convincingly beaten in the league encounter at Sealand Road, thanks to first half goals from Tommy Astbury and Geoff Coffin and Avenue manager Fred Emery had recognised that his team had played badly and were capable of far better things. Meanwhile, Frank Brown was quoted in the Cheshire Observer as saying: “We are anticipating a hard game and must not under-estimate Bradford’s cup fighting ability…..We have ground advantage and our own supporters to cheer us on.”
Unfortunately Chester had failed to build on their commanding performance league win against Bradford. It had been followed by a 3-1 defeat at top of the table Tranmere and then a dismal home showing against Barrow resulting in a 2-1 setback. Frank Brown had boldly experimented by playing three centre forwards against Barrow. Ralph Morement, Tommy Tilston and Geoff Coffin had all donned the number 9 shirt during the campaign but the experiment failed to pay off as Chester wasted a host of chances to give the visitors their first away win of the season.
The big news in the week leading up to the game was the transfer of goalkeeper Ted Elliott to Halifax Town. The former Wolves man, had picked up an early season injury and lost his place to Harry Threadgold who had seized the opportunity with both hands and put in some brilliant performances. As a result Elliott had asked to be put on the transfer list and the deal was completed two days before the cup tie. Tattenhall-born Threadgold was not the only local player to be making the news as Cestrians Tilston and Coffin both signed professional terms prior to the Barrow game after being part-time at Sealand Road since 1944 and 1946 respectively.
There was no special training for the players before the cup tie which had a 2:15 kick-off.
2 – The Match
After the failure against Barrow, Frank Brown took a pragmatic approach for the cup tie by reverting to the same side that had defeated Bradford in the league game three weeks earlier. Jimmy Hankinson and leading scorer Albert Burgess were both recalled while Geoff Coffin took over the number 9 shirt from the injured Tommy Tilston and utility man Ralph Morement dropped to the reserves.
Despite taking an early lead Chester succumbed to a much improved Bradford team who had lost their three previous matches. In the end Chester were perhaps unlucky not to draw and were left to rue Frank Hindle’s missed penalty with the score at 1-1.
Chester got off to a perfect start and took the lead in 4 minutes when Coffin headed in a cross from Les Devonshire. Instead of building on the lead Chester surrendered the initiative and allowed the visitors back into what developed into an end to end encounter. Bradford came close to scoring when Hindle cleared a John Smith shot off the line with Harry Threadgold out of position while, at the other end, Mitchell Downie pushed away a Devonshire free kick and a fierce drive from the same player just passed wide of the post.
In the 29th minute Bradford capitalised on Chester’s failure to extend their advantage when the ever dangerous Billy Elliott came inside to head a Bill Deplidge cross past Threadgold. Chester had the perfect opportunity to regain the advantage on the stroke of half-time when Arthur Wheat was harshly adjudged to have handled the ball. Hindle was the man who stepped up to take the penalty but his weak effort passed wide of the post. The decision to hand responsibility to the normally reliable full-back was questioned by the Chester Chronicle who pointed out that this was his first ever penalty kick.
Bradford took the lead in the 66th minute when Smith headed down an Elliott cross for Deplidge whose shot gave Threadgold no chance. The Yorkshire side also struck the crossbar while Threadgold made a good save from Smith. Meanwhile Downie saved well from Astbury and both Burgess and Coffin missed good chances when well placed. The best opportunity for an equaliser came in the later stages when Billy Foulkes went on a mazy run from his own penalty area and slipped the ball to Coffin who shot straight at Downie. Bradford had to contend with a number of goalmouth scrambles but Downie continued to make some excellent saves and Chester were left to face an early cup exit.
Bradford’s outstanding player proved to be outside-left Billy Elliott who caused problems all afternoon with a brilliant exhibition of wing-play which right-back John Molyneux could not match. While an uncoordinated Chester defence struggled to cope with a potent Bradford strike force the visitors proved stubborn at the opposite end with centre half Les Horsman particularly dominant. Wingers Devonshire and Foulkes were arguably Chester’s best forwards but they lacked service with neither Burgess and Hankinson being particularly effective. Wing-backs Tommy Astbury and Peter Greenwood were not as impressive as usual and Coffin should have scored more than one goal had he displayed more steadiness.
The attendance of 8,255 drew gate receipts of £701.
Chester’s defeat cost them a meeting with the man who had lead them into the Football League in 1931. Charlie Hewitt had moved to Millwall after leaving Sealand Road in 1936 and the London side were drawn against Bradford in the 2nd Round. Hewitt’s side went on to win this encounter after a replay. In the league Bradford climbed to 6th place, seven places above Chester who struggled to maintain any consistency and neither troubled the top or bottom of the table.
Astonishingly the 1st Round elimination was the first time that Chester had been defeated at this stage of the competition since a defeat to Lincoln City in 1890.
Bradford man of the match, the promising Billy Elliott, had asked to be put on the transfer list before the FA Cup tie and went on to greater things. The following summer he moved to Burnley for £23,000 and was awarded the first of five England international caps in 1952. He later spent six seasons at Sunderland. Another man on the transfer list at Park Avenue was inside-forward Jack Haines. He remained with the club until 1953, when he was transferred to Rochdale, before signing for Chester in 1955 at the age of 35.
Four players featured in their final FA Cup game for the club. The man who missed the penalty, full-back Frank Hindle, ironically moved to Bradford in the summer after two seasons at Sealand Road. He never managed to find the back of the net for Chester in any of his 81 appearances and, despite making more than 200 appearances for his new club, he also failed to score at Park Avenue. Hindle died in Scotland in 2013.
Former Preston inside-forward Jimmy Hankinson failed to establish himself at Sealand Road and only made 15 appearances for the club. Although he was retained at the end of the season he appears to have left Chester during the summer.
Another player who only spent one season at Chester was outside-left Les Devonshire. The Londoner was a regular at outside left and only missed two league games in 1950/51. Like Hankinson he was retained in the summer but returned to London and signed for Crystal Palace where he remained for a further four years. He later played for Margate and Canterbury City and died in Middlesex in 2012. He was the father of future West Ham and England player Alan who has been a visitor to the 1885 Arena in recent years as manager of Braintree Town and Maidenhead United.
Another player who signed for Crystal Palace was Birkenhead-born Albert “Cam” Burgess who managed an impressive average of more than a goal every two games at Chester. He was leading scorer in each of his three seasons at Sealand Road and moved to Selhurst Park for £3,000 in September 1951. The nippy forward continued to find the back of the net regularly for Palace including a hat-trick in his 2nd game and 18 in his first 15 league starts. In a four game spell the following season he netted three hat-tricks. In July 1953 he moved back north, to York City for £850, and after one season returned to Cheshire with Runcorn. He died in 1978.
One of Chester’s most notable players, Tommy Astbury, would have celebrated his 100th birthday on February 9th 2020. The inside-forward or half-back, who died in October 1993, spent 17 years with the club from 1938 to 1955 making 303 Football League appearances. There is no doubt that Buckley-born Tommy would have gone on to greater things had it not been for the outbreak of war and although clubs came in for him after the hostilities he remained loyal to Chester. Despite being only 5ft 6ins he made up for a lack of height with his energetic performances and non-stop running. A great passer of the ball he never ceased to give his all and proved to be a popular player at Sealand Road.
Tommy was initially spotted in 1938 by manager Frank Brown. He was playing for Mold Alex at Helsby BI in a West Cheshire League game and as a result of his performance signed as an amateur for Chester. Quoted in a Chester programme in 1972 Brown said: : “There on Helsby Green, I came across that great gift to the game – a natural player. I watched a boy footballer whose eyes never left the ball, weaving his way with all the tricks of a natural body swerve and throughout remaining cool, calm and collected.”
After appearing for the reserves in the Cheshire County League Tommy signed professional in 1939 and was on the verge of making the first team when war broke out. He made a promising start in the first home friendly of the war years, against Liverpool, and quickly built up a reputation with his clever displays. In 1942 he played for a Wales X1 against the Western Command and was further rewarded in 1945 when he featured in two wartime internationals, against England. During the war Tommy also guested for Wrexham, Everton and Manchester United. In fact United had wanted to sign him in 1943 and he was a member of their side that was beaten 4-3 by Bolton Wanderers in a two-legged wartime Cup Final in front of an aggregate of 100,000 spectators.
In the 1946/47 season Tommy was a member of the Chester team that famously gave Stanley Matthews’ Stoke a good run for their money in the 4th Round of the FA Cup and finished 3rd in Division Three North. The form of Tommy, and fellow forwards Dick Yates and Tommy Burden, attracted interest from Sheffield Wednesday who came in with an offer for all three players but the Yorkshire team couldn’t meet Chester’s valuation. His form during this season lead to suggestions in the local papers that he might be chosen for full international honours and he can probably count himself unlucky not to have been selected. Tommy finished the season with a Welsh Cup winners medal after Chester defeated Merthyr Tydfil and he also appeared as a losing finalist in 1953 and 1954.
In 1949 his 11 year service was rewarded with a testimonial against Bolton Wanderers which attracted 5000 fans on a wet April evening with the visitors winning 3-2. In January 1952 Tommy played in the FA Cup replay against Chelsea which attracted Sealand Road’s largest ever crowd and he continued to be a first team regular until 1953 when appearances became more intermittent. He played his final game for the club at Rochdale in February 1955 before hanging up his boots.
Chester’s reward for their 1st Round victory over Goole Town was a long trip to Exeter City, the furthest distance the club had ever travelled for a fixture. Like Chester, the Grecians were struggling in their league and propped up Division Three South with only 11 points from their 18 league games. They looked particularly susceptible in defence, having conceded 45 goals, and it was reported that they were experiencing the worst season in their chequered history.
Despite the poor league results spirts had been raised in Exeter after a 5-3 win at Millwall in the 1st Round and their manager, George Roughton had proclaimed that: “…if the lads play as well as they did at Millwall on Saturday we shall be in the 3rd Round.” Unfortunately this optimism had quickly evaporated as the Grecians were hammered 7-1 in a league game at Swindon Town the following week. Chester manager Frank Brown had scouted that game and the Chester Chronicle stated that he returned from the game “cock-a-hoop’.
From a personal point of view the tie held additional interest for Brown as he had played a handful of games for the Devon club during the 1921/22 season.
While Exeter had their problems there was also an underlying feeling of discontent at Sealand Road as the club languished in 20th position in Division Three North and displayed a remarkable level of inconsistency. After joining the Football League in 1931 the club had been a top ten fixture throughout the 1930s and this had appeared to carry through the war with a 3rd place finish in 1946/47. Unfortunately, despite some notable FA Cup ties, league form had slumped dramatically and with a 20th position in 1947/48 and 18th in 1948/49 the local papers were increasingly peppered with letters from disgruntled supporters. The day before the cup tie the News Chronicle featured Chester in their “My Team” spotlight under the headline “Down in the Dumps on Deeside.” and a wide range of letters outlined the problems with the current team.
With both teams struggling there was little to choose in what was a closely matched tie. The Chester players did not engage in any special training but as usual there was time for golf at Hawarden and the players set off for Devon by train on Friday morning. Meanwhile the Chester’ Supporters Club arranged a day excursion, leaving at just after midnight on the day of the game and around 70 supporters availed themselves of the 47/2d trip. For those supporters who stayed at home it was arranged for the score at Exeter to be given out at the reserve game against Crewe at Sealand Road every 15 minutes.
2 – The Match
In between the Goole and Exeter FA Cup ties Chester had suffered a setback where they failed to take their chances in a 4-2 defeat to Carlisle United at Sealand Road.
While the attack came under fire for their lack of incisiveness there were clearly defensive problems with the left flank in particular singled out for criticism. Against this backdrop Frank Brown elected to move Eric Lee back to the left-half position, where he had made his name in the first season after the war. Meanwhile Dave McNeil, who had played in the Goole FA Cup tie, replaced Reg Butcher who had struggled in the problematic left back role against Carlisle. Frank Hindle, who had been signed as a left-back continued at centre half, a role he had taken after Lee’s call-up for England amateur duties.
Despite the defensive changes the tie was as good as decided in the first 15 minutes as Chester conceded an early, sloppy goal and then were unfortunate to lose goalkeeper Ted Elliott to concussion shortly afterwards. The loss of Elliott saw winger Bill Pearson take over in goal as Frank Brown’s team played the remainder of the game with only 10 men. Even with this handicap the team acquitted themselves well and played the better football so Exeter’s late penalty and the 2-0 scoreline slightly flattered the home side.
Exeter started the game brightly and produced their best football in the first 15 minutes. After only four minutes defensive lapses cost Chester dearly as Lee and McNeil failed to deal with right winger Bill Harrower who had all the time in the world to get in his cross. With Elliott static on his line and full back John Molyneux hesitant, Duggie Regan finished expertly to give the home side the lead.
It was a goal that should have been prevented and Chester responded quickly as Harry Jackson’s first-time drive was blocked by a defender with keeper Bert Hoyle beaten.
Worse was to follow for Chester on eight minutes when Molyneux missed a tackle and keeper Elliott received a kick on the back of the head as dashed out to save the situation. After a few minutes attention the former Wolves man returned but it was clear he was in no fit state to continue and outside left Pearson took over in goal.
Despite this setback Chester continued to have their fair share of the play and winger Jackie Davies, the pick of the forwards, was unlucky not to score when he set off on a dazzling run through the Exeter defence only to shoot a few inches wide from ten yards. Davies continued to cause the home side problems with his tricky running and he almost scored an equaliser before half time but his shot was blocked by Stan Rowe.
Chester continued to take the fight to Exeter in the second half but despite good work from Tommy Astbury, Billy Foulkes and Davies the forwards were not able to take advantage and few clear opportunities were created. Albert Burgess did get the ball into the back of the net on two occasions but both were rightly disallowed for offside. Chester’s best opportunities came from corner kicks and centre half, Frank Hindle was particularly unlucky when his towering header was blocked on the line by Leslie Doyle with keeper Hoyle nowhere.
Hindle, who had an outstanding game, was also a threat marauding out of defence and he was unlucky on one run when he was blocked by his own player Burgess when running through on goal. It was therefore unfortunate that the former Blackburn defender was culpable for Exeter’s second goal two minutes from time when he upended Archie Smith with an over-enthusiastic challenge.
Regan scored from the resulting penalty with a mishit shot that went where neither he or stand-in keeper Pearson expected. Talking about the penalty after the game Pearson said “I went to the left. Regan told me as we came off that he had miskicked and the ball went to my right instead of to the left as he intended.”
It was a shame for Pearson that he was unable to keep a clean sheet after such a confident display. His jumping, diving and one remarkable save from Charlie McLelland was appreciated by the Exeter crowd who sportingly applauded him off the pitch at the end of the game. The former Grimsby man admitted that he was no stranger to the role having represented the RAF in goal and he also confessed that it was his favourite position.
Despite Pearson’s heroics it was a game that Chester didn’t deserve to lose and even with only 10 men they created enough chances to win the game. If they had remained at full strength they would have beaten what was considered a moderate Exeter side.
While Chester were unlucky to be eliminated from the competition they had at least gone down fighting. The following week they suffered another defeat, this time 3-0 at Stockport County, and this result prompted another defensive reshuffle. Hindle returned to the left back role and Eric Lee was reinstated at centre half, a move that appeared to stabilise the team as results improved in the second half of the campaign. In the end Chester recovered to 12th position with only four defeats after January 1st.
Exeter were drawn against non-league Nuneaton Borough in the 3rd Round and comfortable beat the non-leaguers 3-0. In the 4th Round they received a plum draw against Liverpool at Anfield where they were beaten 3-1. Back in the league results improved in Division Three South and they hauled themselves off the bottom to finish the season in 16th position.
Despite his concussion Elliott returned to the team at Stockport the following week and surprisingly didn’t miss a league game in 1949/50. Although he started the first two games the following season he was displaced by promising young keeper Harry Threadgold before joining Halifax Town in November 1950. He died in 1984.
Dave McNeil also played in the defeat at Stockport County but this proved to be his last league game of the campaign. It was 12 months before his next appearance, one of only six in 1950/51, and in 1951 he moved to Holywell Town for two years before a season at Northwich Victoria and three at Colwyn Bay. A product of local football he had initially signed as an amateur of Chester in 1938 and his loyalty was rewarded with a testimonial against an Everton X1 in 1951. Always remembered as the full-back who tamed Stanley Matthews in the 1947 FA Cup tie at Stoke City he died in 1993.
The promising Jackie Davies, who had performed so well at Exeter, suffered a badly fractured leg in a league game at Bradford City only two weeks later. Although the 23 year old forward briefly returned to the team at the start of the 1951/52 season the injury effectively ended his career. He died in 1973.
Centre forward Harry Jackson, who had scored a hat-trick against Goole Town, found himself edged out of the side in the second half of the campaign when he lost his place to local lad Geoff Coffin. He was released at the end of the season and signed for Hyde United. The former Manchester City and Preston player died in 1984.
Hero of the day Bill Pearson only played 12 league games for Chester before a persistent knee injury forcing him into retirement from the professional game at the end of the 1949/50 season. The Irishman continued to play amateur football in Yorkshire and died in 2009 after a long illness.
After five consecutive away ties Chester finally received a home draw for the first time since hosting Bishop Auckland in the 1st Round in 1947. They were the first team out of the bag and paired with the winners of the Goole Town v Scunthorpe United tie which had finished goalless the previous Saturday. Both teams were in the Midland League but top of the table Scunthorpe remained favourites to go through against a side who were bottom of the table with only five points from 13 games.
The replay took place the following Saturday and manager Frank Brown travelled to Goole to watch the game which was abandoned, due to fog, with 15 minutes to go. The home side had been winning 3-1 and the scoreline was repeated the following Monday as Goole sprung a major surprise to reach the 1st Round for the first time since 1915.
Remarkably, the Chester tie was scheduled to be Goole’s 10th in the competition that season with four of their Qualifying Round ties needing replays. Having comfortably beaten Barton Town in the Preliminary Round they had needed replays to dispose of Frickley Colliery, Bentley Colliery, Brodsworth Main and Scunthorpe.
The extended cup run partially explained why Goole were rooted to the bottom of the Midland League having played far fewer matches than everyone else. Frank Brown was keen to say that he wouldn’t take the opponents lightly and reported that: “They are a strong workmanlike side who believe in the direct approach to goal.”
The part-time visitors had every reason to be confident as Chester themselves were having an up and down season and languished in 17th place although they had beaten Lincoln City 3-1 at Sealand Road the previous week. This improved performance had come on the back of four consecutive defeats and the club were keen to have a good cup run to revive the flagging enthusiasm of supporters.
The victory over Lincoln had seen Chester make an enforced change. Eric Lee had missed the game due to an amateur international trial match so Frank Hindle, a summer signing from Blackburn Rovers, had been moved from left back to centre half while long-serving Dave McNeil returned to the team for the first time since the opening week of the campaign. Both were set to retain their positions for the Goole match with Hindle’s sturdy build seen as invaluable against robust opponents.
One other positive for Chester was the form of 18 year old defender John Molyneux. The Warrington-born, England youth international had made his debut against Rochdale in September after two years careful development with the ‘A’ team and reserves. He had replaced veteran Eric Sibley, a summer signing from Grimsby, at right back and was considered to be a very bright prospect.
Chester’s only injury concern was on the left wing where another former Grimsby player, Bill Pearson, had picked up an injury against Lincoln. He was expected to be replaced by Grenville “Bunty” Booth, a locally-born school teacher who had made eight league appearances in the 1948/49 season but had yet to feature in the current campaign. Booth had been a regular with the Cheshire County League team but had made his first appearance for the club in wartime football. Although recognised as a half back he was seen as a reliable replacement for Pearson with his height and weight seen as a positive asset against the strong Goole side.
Goole were expected to bring around 1,000 supporters and the game was scheduled to kick off at 2:15pm.
2 – The Match
As expected, Bill Pearson failed to recover from his knee injury and was replaced by Grenville Booth at outside left otherwise Chester lined up with the same side that had beaten Lincoln City the previous week. Meanwhile Goole relied on the same starting eleven that had beaten Scunthorpe in the previous round.
In the end Chester had little difficulty in disposing of their Midland League opponents and once Harry Jackson had put Frank Brown’s team ahead in the first five minutes there was little doubt about the result. Jackson went on to complete a hat-trick as Chester dominated the game and were much the better side. Goole did have a short spell of pressure at the end of the first half but it became a case of how many goals Chester would score.
Chester Chronicle headline
Chester almost opened the scoring in the opening minute. First of all goalkeeper Robert Ferguson had to make a smart save low down from Joe Davies before a smashing drive from Jackson struck the inside of the post and bounced back into play. The respite only lasted until the 4th minute when Jackson collected the ball from Davies and calmly steered the ball past Ferguson.
Chester continued to control the game but just before half time Ted Elliott was forced into a brilliant save when he pushed a powerful effort from Pringle round the post.
Early in the second half Brown missed a golden opportunity for Goole before Kimber cleared off the line from Albert Burgess and Ferguson saved well from Jackson. In the 68th minute Chester extended their lead through Jackson and 10 minutes later the centre forward completed his hat-trick when he headed in a Billy Foulkes cross.
Cutts pulled a goal back for Goole, after Brown had hit the post, but the afternoon was rounded off when Burgess added a fourth with two minutes remaining.
It was a comfortable win for Chester and could easily have been more convincing. Grenville Booth did himself justice at outside left and almost scored a couple of goals including a header that hit the underside of the crossbar. Joe Davies also did well at inside right and deserved to be amongst the scorers with two great shots, one of which was brilliantly saved by Ferguson.
Goole Town – Ferguson, Kimber, Rogers, Sherwood, Towle, Pringle, Cutts, Hall, Hunt, Glasby, Brown
Scorer – Cutts 85
Attendance – 6,774
The attendance of 6,774 was the lowest FA Cup attendance for a Chester game since 1938 when 6,672 attended the 1st Round match against Bradford City at Sealand Road. It was estimated that 500 Goole fans made the journey, half the original estimate, and the receipts were £525.
The FA Cup match marks the only meeting between Chester and Goole.
Harry Jackson became the first Chester player to score an FA Cup hat-trick since Sammy Armes against Darlington in 1933.
Grenville Booth returned to the Cheshire County League side and made no further first team appearances for the club. He went on to play for Colwyn Bay but remained a teacher in Chester. He died in 1990.
The 2nd Round draw handed Chester a long trip to Devon where they faced Division Three South side Exeter City.
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 Bert 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.