Chester 2 Plymouth Argyle 0 (FA Cup 3rd Round) – Jan 11th 1947

1 – Pre-match

Chester started their first post-war FA Cup campaign at the 3rd Round stage having been one of only three clubs from the Third Division North and South to be given a bye. This was a result of their success in the 1938/39 season when they reached the Fourth Round and took 2nd Division Sheffield Wednesday to three games.

The draw matched Frank Brown’s side with 2nd Division Plymouth Argyle who were making their first ever visit to Sealand Road. Chester had started the season in excellent form with 14 wins in their first 18 matches but a mini slump of three defeats in the previous five league games had seen them lose ground on Doncaster Rovers at the top of the 3rd Division North.

Argyle’s results had also declined in the month preceding the tie and they had a poor away record having only won one out of 11 away games. However they still retained the distinction of having scored in every league match. The recent slide had partly been attributed to the loss of injured goalkeeper Bill Shortt, who was reported as being the one consistent member of their back three. The Wrexham born keeper had been a butcher’s boy in Hoole and after playing for Hoole Alex. became a regular for Chester in wartime football. After being stationed with the Army in Devon he also played wartime football for Argyle and then represented them in the transition 1945/46 season. In summer 1946 he signed for Plymouth for £1,200 . The Welshman was expected to be fit for the tie having returned to the side the previous week in a 4-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday which halted a run of five consecutive defeats.

Plymouth goalkeeper – Bill Shortt

Chester prepared for the tie by spending a week training at Abergele on a diet of sherry, milk and eggs. All the players were present with the exception of Bobby Hamilton, Tommy Burden, Eric Lee and Reg Butcher.

The Chester Chronicle report of the get-together makes interesting reading. The party travelled down to the North Wales coast on Monday where they went for a brisk walk on the promenade before tea and then attended the pantomime in Rhyl before another promenade walk. The following day they trained on the beach in the sleet and rain before a game of golf in the afternoon. On returning to the hotel they were joined by Dick Yates who had got married the previous day. The evening was spent at the cinema in Rhyl.

Wednesday saw a more intensive round of training at the Abergele FC ground before a seven mile walk in the afternoon and another visit to the cinema in the evening. The following morning was devoted to sprinting in the morning before a walk in the afternoon and then a whist drive organised by Abergele Supporters Committee in the evening. Friday was intended for relaxing and the party returned to Chester on Saturday morning for lunch at the Albion Hotel before the game.

Plymouth made the long journey north on the Wednesday before the game and based themselves at the Wynnstay Hotel and trained at Wrexham.

Chester were confident before the game and captain Trevor Walters thought that Plymouth would be beaten quite easily noting that although they had a strong attack the defence wasn’t great. Manager Frank Brown was not so forthright with his comments stating in the Cheshire Observer that:

We realise that we are up against a good Second Division side and that our task is not an easy one. Having ground advantage, I’m certain we will win, but in cup football anything can happen.”

Although Plymouth manager Jack Tresadern though that his team would be good enough to reach the 4th Round it seems that the Plymouth supporters were not so confident and their league form did not inspire them to believe that it would be an easy victory despite their higher ranking. The general feeling was that Argyle would be satisfied with a draw.

Cup fever had gradually overtaken supporters and after the quick sale of the stand tickets there had been such a rush for the 15,500 ground tickets that a further 500 had been printed and an attendance of 17,700 was expected. A week before the game it was noted that although the majority of the 2s tickets had been sold there were still some available at Milton’s and Cestrian Electrical Co in Northgate Street, Upton Post Office and Upton’s in Handbridge. This figure fell short of the record attendance of 18816, against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup 3rd replay in January 1939, and it was reported that ticket-holders would be ‘comfortable’.

Secretary Billy Peters had done everything possible to ensure that the crowd could be handled smoothly and an additional 12 crush barriers had been installed on the Kop. Additional parking had been organised in the field opposite the greyhound track entrance in Sealand Road and arrangements had been made for buses to unload passengers in Gladstone Avenue and then pick them up outside the ground after the match. Milton’s radio van was also scheduled to be positioned outside the ground to direct the fans and help the police with traffic control.

An appeal was made for spectators to “pack well together’ and obey the stewards instructions while the 21 turnstiles were scheduled to open at 12:45 for a 14:30 kick-off.

2 – The Match

Chester entered the game with only one change from their regular line-up. Right winger Jackie Arthur had picked up an ankle injury in the Christmas Day game against Rotherham United and this had not responded to salt water treatment. Therefore Bobby Hamilton had been switched to the right wing with Hoole amateur Dennis Selby given his chance on the left wing for only his fourth first team appearance.

The game was played in a typical FA Cup atmosphere and a splash of colour was imparted by Chester mascot Mickey Moran who was dressed from head to foot in blue and white. He paraded around the ground before the match, rallying support and before kick off caused “a roar of amusement” by solemnly kissing the ball and placing it on the centre spot.

A thrilling cup-tie full of exciting incidents could have opened with a goal for either side in the first minute. First of all Syd Rawlings cross was met by Bill Strauss who fired fractionally wide of the home upright. Almost immediately the returning Bill Shortt misjudged a cross from Bobby Hamilton which hit the top of the bar with Dennis Selby unable to convert the rebound. It proved to be only a temporary respite for Pl;ymouth as Chester took the lead in the fifth minute when Dick Yates headed down to Tommy Astbury who advanced before unleashing an unstoppable shot past Shortt.

Tommy Astbury – Scorer of the first goal

The goal prompted a response from Plymouth who put the City defence under severe pressure as left back Dave McNeil struggled to cope with the dangerous Rawlings and both Dave and Richard Thomas came close for the visitors. Fortunately for Chester the Argyle forwards were unable to capitalise on the chances created by the wingers while man of the match Trevor Walters was outstanding in marshalling his defence.

The last 20 minutes of the first half proved to be all Plymouth and they had a penalty claim turned down but Chester almost scored a second when Tommy Burden’s header from an Eric Lee free kick hit the underside of the bar and was scrambled away by the Plymouth defence. Despite Argyle’s pressure City held on to hold a 1-0 lead at half time

The second half had barely started when the Pilgrims had a golden opportunity to equalise An attack down the left wing saw Bill Strauss hit the crossbar and when the ball fall to Dave Thomas a goal seemed inevitable. However, from no more than five yards out, the centre forward took a wild kick and fired into the Kop. The failure to take this chance proved to be a turning point in the game and Chester gradually took control of the game and began to outplay their 2nd Division opponents. Shortt saved well from both Lee and Frank Marsh while there were opportunities for Astbury and Tommy Burden before City extended their lead in the 62nd minute.

A punt upfield by Selby was chased by Burden who outpaced the Argyle defenders and although Shortt raced out it was the Chester number eight who reached the ball first and rounded the goalkeeper before shooting into an empty net for a fine finish.

Tommy Burden – 2nd Goalscorer

Chester continued to pile on the pressure but Shortt was safe in the Plymouth goal and it was only in the last 10 minutes that the visitors got back into the game. In the closing minutes George Scales made two spectacular saves from Dave Thomas despite suffering from an injury which saw him limping while Burden also picked up a knock which saw him leave the field for a short time.

In a game that was in the balance for large periods the Chester defence were the stars of the show with Walters, in particular, and Marsh the pick of the eleven. Meanwhile the Argyle defence struggled under pressure and it was reported that the score might have been more convincing had the Chester wingers Hamilton and Selby been more proficient on the day.

Chester – Scales, Butcher, McNeil, Marsh, Walters, Lee, Hamilton, Burden, Yates, Astbury, Selby

Scorers – Astbury 5, Burden 62

Plymouth Argyle – Shortt, Royston, Dyer, Jones, Dixon, Boyd, Rawlings, R Thomas, D Thomas, Tinkler, Strauss

Attendance – 18,000

3 – Post match

Victory over Plymouth earned Chester an attractive 4th Round home tie against Stoke City and Stanley Matthews.

The attendance was reported by the Cheshire Observer as around 17,000 but as 18,000 in the Chester Chronicle with gate receipts of £2000. Given ticket sales it seems likely that the figure was somewhere in between but it fell short of the 18,816 who had been at the Sheffield Wednesday tie eight years earlier.

Amateur left winger Dennis Selby only played two more first team games and three Cheshire County League matches before joining Altrincham in the summer. Born in Broughton he died in 1969.

Bill Shortt went on to make 374 appearances for Argyle in all competitions making him their 16th ranked player in terms of games played before retiring in 1956. He was also capped by Wales on 12 occasions between 1947 and 1953. He went on to become a publican in Devon and was awarded a benefit match by Plymouth in 1985. He died in 2004.

Bill Shortt Benefit Match

Plymouth finished the season in 19th position in Division 2.

This was the first of four FA Cup ties between the sides. In 1993/94 Chester were beaten 1-0 at Home Park while the two sides also met when the Blues were in the Conference in 2000/01. On the latter occasion Chester were once again the giant killers winning 2-1 at Plymouth after a 1-1 draw at the Deva Stadium.

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Green Day 1

Thanks to Fraser Warburton for providing his memories of the green kit:

When I first starting watching Chester they played in green shirts, old gold trim and white shorts. This sounds very appealing and I was rather pleased as the colours were very unusual, in a period of unimaginative and somewhat plain strips, but it was not a pleasurable experience to see the kit in action.  The green, though by no means the dark ivy green of a hundred years or so ago, was by no means vibrant and was not as light as say Burscough’s kit. Neither did it have the brightening effect of a combination with white which we have seen in recent years with the hoops of  Yeovil and Northwich. The ‘old gold’ is an intriguing description, but was in practice a dark (you could almost say ‘dirty’) yellow, and had the effect of muting the green. It was the official kit for three seasons, from 1959 to 1962.  In the first two seasons it was combined with green and yellow hooped stockings, and in the last with yellow (‘old gold’). 

I don’t know whether statistics would prove that the winter of of 1960-1 was unusually wet, but my overriding memories of the time were of watching soaked and drab green shirts on a churned muddy pitch against the background of the weathered concrete and corrugated iron of the old stadium on an overcast day.  What wasn’t actually rusty was painted a dark rust-red colour; even the gravel on the Kop, where the flagged terracing finished, seemed to be crushed from the local sandstone.  Muddy green, brown, rust-red – it was like camouflage.

So where did the green come from?  For obvious reasons green isn’t the most practical colour to play a field-based sport in, and the few teams that use it tend to throw in generous dollops of white.  Was it a memory in the mind of a director of the older green kit?  Information was at a premium in those days, and no-one in my generation was aware that Chester had played in green until 1920.  But that was only forty years before 1959, when the colour was reintroduced.  Nowadays we’re well aware of Chester’s colours in the 1970s; in fact, next season’s kit is a bow to the 1974 strip.  So it could have been a harking back to the past. 

Or was it associated with Stan Pearson as manager?  It was certainly dropped pretty sharply when he left.  He was of course notably associated with Manchester United, and we have become aware in recent years that Newton Heath played in green and yellow.  But this is last recorded in 1896 and in seems unlikely that in those pragmatic and non-nostalgic days that Pearson would have been influenced by this.

It wasn’t very popular.  There was a feeling amongst the older generation that it was something of an aberration from the traditional colours of blue and white stripes, and even the younger supporters, who hadn’t seen the old strip, felt that it was a somewhat unnatural colour.  So the change to the iconic pinstripe in 1962-3 was generally welcomed. If nothing else it was brighter and cleaner.

News travelled slowly in those days.  Teams normally playing in predominantly blue colours still absentmindedly turned up with their change strip, which I remember annoyed me as a youngster.  I was, for instance, looking forward to seeing Hartlepools United playing in their blue and white stripes and was less than impressed when they trotted out in red.  By the time Chester readopted their blue and white in 1962 the penny had dropped that they played in green and we were treated to a succession of teams having to play in Chester’s old green shirts because they had brought only their (by now clashing) first choice colours.  Take a bow again, Hartlepools United.

On a personal level, the colours caused me some embarrassment.  In 1961 someone gave me a programme of a League Cup tie between West Ham United and Plymouth Argyle in which it was stated that Plymouth were the only team in the Football League to play in green. Ever sensitive to any slight to my beloved Chester, I fired off a somewhat snotty letter pointing out the true state of affairs and was a little ashamed to get a nicely conciliatory letter in reply.

Not a kit whose demise should be regretted.  But I’m still fond of it because that was my bonding experience with Chester.

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Everything’s Gone Green

I like the look of the new green away shirt and it will not be the first time that the club have played in that colour. At various times throughout their history green has been used as the first choice strip as well as an alternative when colours have clashed.

2012/13 away shirt

After temporarily disbanding in 1899 Chester emerged at their new ground in Whipcord Lane in 1901 and played in various combinations of green and white until 1920 when they switched to black and white stripes. It appears to have been a dark green shirt and team photographs suggest that the club also played in green and white stripes. More recently the club switched to green shirts with gold trim and white shorts from 1959 to 1962 but more of that later.

By the time Chester entered the Football League in 1931 they had already adopted what we now consider the traditional blue and white stripes but initially used green as a change strip. For their first ever Division Three North away fixture, at Wrexham, Chester were forced to switch to green because of a clash with the home side’s blue shirts. Hard to imagine now.

More recently, in an era of some truly awful shirts, City used green and black stripes as an alternative in 1995/96 and green and black checks in 1997/98. The 1995 option was actually described as jade and black and I personally rate it as one of the best away strips the club has used. The less said about the checked shirt the better.

1995/96 away shirt

1997/98 away shirt

When Chester changed from blue and white stripes to green and gold in 1959 it was reported in the Cheshire Observer that the switch was made to avoid changes when colours clashed at away grounds. These days it seems to be the done thing for a club to automatically revert to a different strip for away games but at the end of the 1950s clubs would only change shirts if absolutely necessary. Blue was a popular colour at the time and a number of other clubs appear to have changed in 1959 including Watford (blue to yellow) and Southend (blue to white). With Cardiff City reputedly changing from blue to red next season it’s interesting to note that there were no reported objections when the change was announced at Chester.

In changing to green Chester became one of only two teams to play in that colour alongside Plymouth Argyle. There doesn’t seem to be any explanation as to why green was chosen but it appears to have been chosen for its rarity value rather than as a conscious move to revert to the green used at the start of the twentieth century. There certainly seems to have been no rational reason why gold should be chosen for the collar and cuffs.

The change in colours marked the beginning of Stan Pearson’s first full season in charge. The former Manchester United and England international had taken over as player-manager in March 1959 but the new kit brought little luck and became associated with a particularly bad run in the club’s history. The “continental style” kit had its initial outing in the traditional trial game at Sealand Road when the first team wore it against the reserves and promptly lost 3-1. It made its first appearance in a league game at Notts County where Chester lost 2-1 after Eric Davis had given Pearson’s side a first half lead.

Eric Davis scores the first goal in green at Notts County

Chester managed to narrowly avoid re-election in 1959/60 but the next two campaigns proved disastrous with two bottom of the league finishes. The green kit outlasted Pearson who was sacked after a 1-0 FA Cup defeat to non-league Morecambe at Sealand Road in November 1961. By that time Chester were in the middle of a run of 26 league games without a win and the green shirt was seen by some supporters as one of the factors behind this run.

In December, after a 3-2 home defeat to Aldershot, the Cheshire Observer reported that one gentleman in the boardroom had put the blame on defeat on the green shirts. There certainly seems to have been a general feeling amongst supporters that the colours were associated with bad luck and that the green was not bringing Chester the luck of the Irish. Many fans also expressed their regret that the traditional blue and white stripes had been abandoned as this was still associated with many pre-war achievements.

At the end of March 1962 the club announced they were discarding the green and gold and replacing it with white shirts with narrow blue vertical stripes and the new kit was first used in a friendly against German side Hamborn in April. Chester had briefly flirted with white shirts and black shorts in the weeks leading up to the announcement although ironically they were wearing the green and gold when the long run without a win was ended with a 4-1 victory over Chesterfield.

I’ve never seen a colour photograph of the old green shirt but even in the black and white pictures it comes across as an extremely lacklustre kit. Next season’s away shirt looks a lot more vibrant and it’s impossible to imagine it having the same disastrous effect as the early 1960s version.

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