Tranmere Rovers 0 Chester 1 (FA Cup 2nd Round) – Dec 13th 1947

1 – Pre-Match

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.

Tranmere Rovers – Payne, Johnstone, Connor, Steele, Bell, Malcolm, Harlock, Lamb, Bridges, Leeming, Pollard

Chester – MacLaren, Butcher, McNeil, Williamson, Walters, Lee, Hamilton, Burden, Coffin, Astbury, Colville

Scorer – Burden 77

Attendance – 14,132

3- Post-match

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.

Jim MacLaren

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.

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Chester 3 Bishop Auckland 1 (FA Cup 1st Round) – Nov 29th 1947

1 – Pre-Match

For the first time since the 1934/35 season Chester were drawn against non-league opposition in the 1st Round of the 1947/48 FA Cup. Bishop Auckland were one of the most famous names in amateur football having won the Amateur Cup on seven occasions and the Northern League nine times including the previous campaign.

The tie, against a team unbeaten in the league, was considered one of the most attractive games of the round and it was not an easy proposition for Chester who had failed to recapture their form from the previous season. They also had three key players on the injury list with goalkeeper George Scales and forwards Tommy Astbury and Phil Turner all set to miss out.

One of the major concerns for Chester was the loss of form shown by Dick Yates. The centre forward had scored 36 goals during the previous campaign but had only managed one prior to the FA Cup tie and that had been in the first game of the season against Oldham. The previous Saturday Frank Brown’s side had lost by a single goal at Accrington Stanley when, despite having the majority of possession, they had failed to create many scoring opportunities.

The Bishop Auckland team, comprising of school teachers, steelworkers, electricians and clerks, arrived in Chester the day before the game and stayed at the Queen Hotel. The Chronicle reported that they were hopeful of securing a draw and their secretary, Kit Rudd, was quoted in the same paper as saying: ” We have a very good amateur side and we shall fight very hard.”

The game was scheduled to kick-off at 2pm with a new ruling meaning that their would be 30 minutes extra time if the game finished all square after 90 minutes in order to obviate the necessity of mid-week replays.. If a replay was required it would take place the following Saturday.

2 – The Match

The Chester team lined up with one change from the Accrington defeat with winger Joe Brown replaced by former Raith Rovers player, Harry Colville who had been playing centre forward for the reserves. Another Scot, Jimmy MacLaren, continued to deputise for George Scales in goal while Eric Lee returned to right back in a straight swap with Tommy Burden who moved to inside right as Tommy Astbury failed to recover from his knee injury.

The conditions for the game were not conducive to good football with a soft surface covering very hard ground underneath.

Chester got off to a perfect start and took the lead in the 12th minute when Dick Yates played a beautiful pass to Bobby Hamilton who beat Farrer twice before his cross-cum-shot found Yates who applied the finishing touch. In fact the centre forward should have scored before this but, when put clean through, his shot was blocked at close range by Washington

On the half hour mark the lead was extended but there was large element of doubt about the goal. Colville played a perfect ball through to Tommy Burden whose shot struck the inside of one post, bounced across the goal and was fielded by Washington. However the linesman ruled that the ball had crossed the line and a goal was given. There were no protests from the sporting visitors. Three minutes before the interval the Bishops pulled a goal back when Farrer scored from the penalty spot after Colville had been adjudged to have fouled Twigg although the decision looked harsh. On the stroke of half time Colville had the chance to make amends but he blazed over the bar with the goal at his mercy.

The goal spurred on the visitors, who were well backed by 10 coach loads of supporters, and for the first 20 minutes of the second half it looked as though they might snatch an equaliser. Nevertheless the best chance fell to Yates who headed wide of the upright from a Washington clearance. At the other end Douglass shot wide of the upright before Yates wrapped the game up in the 78th minute with a great shot from Reg Butcher’s excellent pass. The strike showed some of the hallmarks of one of his goals from the previous season. The match finished with Bishops almost scoring a second but Douglass’ well-struck shot was brilliantly saved by MacLaren.

It had been a mediocre display from Chester. They had just about deserved their victory but the visitors came out of the game with a great deal of credit. Man of the Match by some distance was Bishops’ left-half Bob Hardisty, who was competing with Eric Lee for a place in the England amateur team. The 26 year old school teacher put in an energetic performance and, according to the Chronicle reporter, his accurate passing along the ground made the Chester half-backs look shoddy by comparison.

The Cheshire Observer felt that the difference between the sides was the Chester defenders who proved to be too strong for the opposing attackers. While MacLaren dealt with everything that came his way he was ably assisted by full backs Freddie Willcox and Dave McNeill who both put in whole-hearted displays and were fast in the tackle. However, the home forward line was less impressive and looked disjointed. Although outside right Bobby Hamilton had one of his best games Colville was disappointing on the other wing. The two Tommys, Best and Burden, performed ‘quite well’ while Yates showed some glimpses of his old self and it was hoped that his goals would help increase his confidence.

Chester – MacLaren, Willcox, McNeil, Butcher, Williamson, Lee, Hamilton, Burden, Yates, Best, Colville

Scorers – Yates 12, 78 Burden 30

Bishop Auckland – Washington, Hadfield, Farrer, Egdell, Tulip, Hardisty, Twigg, Gilhome. Douglass, Teasdale, Smith

Scorer – Farrer pen 42

Attendance – 8,300

3- Post-match

Despite scoring two goals this proved to be the final FA Cup match in Chester colours for Dick Yates. The Queensferry born striker played in the next league game against Stockport County but was surprisingly transferred to Wrexham for a four figure fee in December, The move provided instant dividends for the centre forward as he scored a hat-trick in his debut for the Reds against Halifax. He went on to play for New Brighton in the Football League before turning out for Flint Town United, Colwyn Bay, Bethesda Athletic and Connah’s Quay. He later worked as a petrol pump attendant at John Summers Steelworks and died in 1976.

Tommy Best – 1947

It was also the final game for fellow striker Tommy Best who was unfortunate to miss the rest of the cup run. The first coloured player to represent Chester in the Football League Best ended the campaign as Chester’s second highest scorer behind Tommy Burden with 10 goals in 30 league games. By the start of the following season he was attracting the attention of bigger clubs with Cardiff, Blackburn and Blackpool all interested in signing him. In the end he opted to join Cardiff City and Chester received £7,000 for his services. After a season at Ninian Park he signed for QPR in 1949 but only made 12 appearances, scoring three goals before moving into non-league football with Milford Haven. This was followed by a successful three seasons at Hereford United and then 18 months at Bromsgrove Rovers. After leaving football he worked as a baker for Mother’s Pride. In February 2009 he made his first visit to Chester in 60 years when he was a guest at the game against Gillingham. Tommy died in September 2018 at the grand age of 97.

Tommy Best – Feb 2009. (photo Fraser Bird/Chester Chronicle

Opponents Bishop Auckland went on to have another successful season in the Northern League and finished as runners-up as well as reaching the semi-final of the Amateur Cup. Bob Hardisty, who had such an impressive game, went on to play alongside Eric Lee in the Great Britain team in the 1948 Olympics.

The draw for the 2nd Round handed Chester an intriguing away tie at local rivals Tranmere Rovers.

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